Thursday, March 29, 2007

Michael D. Roberts Meets.The.Bloggers tonight. Be there. Michael D. Roberts Meets.The.Bloggers at Gypsy Beans and Baking Company (Thursday, March 29, 2007): Just a quick reminder of the session at 6 PM this evening.

"Mr. Roberts began his writing career here in Cleveland as a beat reporter at the Plain Dealer when one of his editors admonished him to always remember 'Politicians lie' Over the years, he has revealed those lies with investigative insights and talents. Today, he continues to prod his readers into thinking about our situation in Northeast Ohio and taking action. Some of his recent articles at 'Inside Business' deals with the lack of political power in Cuyahoga County and what that means in regards to enterprise and innovation. He wonders what effect the feud between heart surgeons and cardiologists will have on The Clinic. He tells us that we are at The City's most pivotal time in history. Needless to say, this conversation will not lack for topics. We just may run out of time.

All of you are invited to attend this conversation. I am sure that it will prove to be an event not to be missed."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hearing on Predatory Lending: Cuyahoga County Treasurer

Dennis Kucinich introduces Jim Rokakis who proceeds to give testimony for Congress on the lending fraud that has stripped and continues to strip the wealth from our neighborhoods.

Jim Rokakis' Opening Statement--I heard it first from Okie lawyer

Satellite Sky: Congressional Hearing On Predatory Lending Opening Statement -- Here's our county treasurer on YouTube. Okie Lawyer posted this on March 22nd at his blog called SatelliteSky. Good stuff, but you probably have come to expect that from Jim. Strong stuff. Persuasive. Compelling. Listen to find out a new meaning of "ninja."

I'll post this again with a direct link to YouTube so we can see the picture on this blog, too. This speech begs for a transcript, so it is text-searchable.

Donny Osmond and American dreaming on reality tv

Just when I think I'll get a momentary respite from things acting strangely, here comes Donny Osmond in a reality-tv series about Great Americans trying to envision being anywhere or anyhow or any which way but "present," and Donny is preempting James Spader and William Shatner in the Tuesday 10 PM slot. I much prefer the fantasies about the American legal system I watch in my only regular weekly show, Boston Legal. Which is more real or unreal doesn't really matter--I know the writing product will be better in the environs of Crane, Poole, & Schmidt.

Monday, March 26, 2007

freakonomics road show visits Youngstown

YSU News Releases--Just a reminder that author and economist, economist and author Steven Levitt appears tonight in Youngstown. They seem to be getting excited about it--

First, the obligatory Staubaugh listing:

Then Janko mentions the appearance along with lots of background and pictures:

And then, two days ago, the Vindy has Levitt angering "liberals and conservatives alike." I guess they're trying to create some common ground, in a backhanded way, and raise the level of excitement based on controversy.

Personally, I would like to be going over there today to cover this as a Meet.The.Bloggers engagement, but we couldn't make the connections. This is a good series, and the participants need to have their content posted in the perpetuity that MTB brings to the community dialogue. This isn't just about Youngstown, and it's not just about our region; this is a huge discussion, and can become huger quicker if we share. The knowledge economy starts now and grows exponentially, once we begin to share openly and freely.

YSU, through the income from an endowment established by Paul J. and Marguerite K. Thomas, established the Colloquium on Free Enterprise in 1981. The Colloquium is a series of lectures or workshops by recognized leaders in business, economics and finance for both the public and academic community.

"an extra helping of attitude and entitlement..."

Maybe we should call it Cleveland Shopkins -- I loved the letters to the editor in yesterday's Sunday PD, the letters about the Ricky Smith article on Tuesday, in which Ricky inadvertently shows his true stripe: He really doesn't want to serve the public as much as he wants to use the public.

When we had the MTB interview with Fred Krum down at CAK, the message was service, service, service, resulting in a pleasant travel experience that a passenger would willingly replicate or repeat. CAK is prospering and seems to be on an advertising offensive all over the region--their yellow signs are everywhere, at least in the more expensive advertising media. CAK apparently has the financial means to advertise, and now Ricky, saddled with one billion of debt, wants to go still further into debt to counter their blitz:

Smith said he is putting together a strategic plan for Hopkins. He said he
wants to bring in new airlines and launch an aggressive marketing campaign,
partly to compete with the recent advertising blitz by Akron-Canton Airport.
Smith said he also wants to improve the looks of the airport's terminal and
customer services, including taxi service.

"It's crucial that the airport runs well, has strong customer service programs and that it's aesthetically pleasing," he said. "All I've done is put paint on the walls. I haven't done anything yet."

chas wants bob to fight Weblogs: Fight Bob, Fight--In case you missed it last week, Chas. Rich has an interesting take on how this BOE situation can play out optimally for the citizenry. I hope he's not counting on the BOE members' being dumber than they actually are.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"a kind of reciprocity emerges"

The text of Pope Benedict’s message for the 41st World Communications Day - Catholic Online: Back at the end of January, the new pope reflected on the role and shape of communications in the world today. His reflective comments made me think about the changing nature of my own consumption of information, the emergence of the Meet.The.Bloggers phenomenon, and the idea that there are just some ideas whose time has come, and they come to us all simultaneously, with a slightly different personal perspective to each. The bold emphasis is mine.
"The complex challenges facing education today are often linked to the pervasive influence of the media in our world. As an aspect of the phenomenon of globalization, and facilitated by the rapid development of technology, the media profoundly shape the cultural environment (cf. Pope John Paul II, apostolic letter “The Rapid Development,” 3). Indeed, some claim that the formative influence of the media rivals that of the school, the church, and maybe even the home. “Reality, for many, is what the media recognize as real' (Pontifical Council for Social Communications, “Aetatis Novae,” 4). 2. The relationship of children, media, and education can be considered from two perspectives: the formation of children by the media; and the formation of children to respond appropriately to the media. A kind of reciprocity emerges which points to the responsibilities of the media as an industry and to the need for active and critical participation of readers, viewers and listeners. Within this framework, training in the proper use of the media is essential for the cultural, moral and spiritual development of children. How is this common good to be protected and promoted? "

If you would just substitute "community" where you find the word "children" above, I think the reflection holds together. In a certain way, aren't we all just children after all?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

hoya boys

The Holy Cross Fraternity -- I'm glad others like Father Brooks as much as I do. Each year when he used to breeze into town around this time of year for the annual NEO alumni dinner, he was like a breath of fresh air--or more specifically, a breath of Boston--for those of us who hadn't heard or had an Eastern Massachusetts accent for a while. Note that there are two side features here, one a slide show in which you see a youthful Ted Wells, pre-Scooter-Libby, and another in which Clarence Thomas makes a rare concession to the MSM and grants an interview, because Father Brooks asked him. Another Brooks fan who just recently popped up is Mark Holowesko of Templeton. Jesuits have an impact, to be sure.

Monday, March 19, 2007

desperately seeking wisdom

OpinionJournal - Featured Article: While we're talking about Mike Dovilla, here's a fairly balanced piece he sent me a few weeks back, from Joe Lieberman in the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal on February 26th. Read the whole thing. It speaks to the political environment and the war environment under which Mike and everybody else we've required to serve over there must endure, and we must not jeopardize their safety or compromise the mission at this point based on knee-jerk reactions of the lightweights in the rear; most of them are not leaders, they're merely politicians; many of them don't serve our interests first. One of the worst feelings we all had during the RVN era was having our fate being decided by the politicians--thinking first of their safety, some of them, and then of ours--and by the irate public who weren't there, some of whom had opted not to serve. Here's Joe, who's beginning to show wisdom.

"I understand the frustration, anger and exhaustion so many Americans feel about Iraq, the desire to throw up our hands and simply say, 'Enough.' And I am painfully aware of the enormous toll of this war in human life, and of the infuriating mistakes that have been made in the war's conduct.

But we must not make another terrible mistake now. Many of the worst errors in Iraq arose precisely because the Bush administration best-cased what would happen after Saddam was overthrown. Now many opponents of the war are making the very same best-case mistake--assuming we can pull back in the midst of a critical battle with impunity, even arguing that our retreat will reduce the terrorism and sectarian violence in Iraq."

Dovilla's back, sort of

Three months ago, we covered Mike Dovilla's departure for the zone, the theater. Today, he's back with us, in a way, because he is announcing his new blog presence. I got this from an email he sent out St. Patrick's Day:

Dear Friends,

My blog on is now live and can be accessed at:

I wish to thank The Plain Dealer, especially Denise Polverine, editor of, for this opportunity to share my story – and Frank O'Grady, my good friend and one of our most indefatigable volunteers during last year's Congressional campaign, for his helping in setting up and maintaining the blog. We will be updating this page regularly, so visit "early and often."

Please keep in touch.

All the best,


Sunday, March 18, 2007

connecting the dots, doing simple math, just noticing, just wondering

Taxing balance Abatement reviewed: From the SunNEWS on March 15th, with my emphasis added. The SunNEWS quote is italicized:

"Cleveland's existing citywide residential property tax abatement law was renewed in 1999 and is set to expire June 15. A separate abatement law for downtown won't expire until 2010. Cleveland began offering residential tax abatement, at 100 percent for seven years, for new downtown construction in 1987.
In the decade prior, new housing construction in Cleveland was almost non-existent. In some years, fewer than 20 homes were built. After 1987, the pace quickened. It accelerated in 1991 when the use of tax abatement was expanded citywide, offering a 100 percent abatement over 15 years. The abatement applies only to structures, not land.
Since then, 11,259 residential units were built, according to a 2007 study by Cleveland State University's College of Urban Affairs. The study also showed 60 percent of people buying tax-abated housing are coming from outside Cleveland. "

The forecast for 2007 is that Cleveland will have between 10,000 and 12,000 vacant or abandoned properties, which can be accounted for nearly directly by the 11,259 tax-abated new properties. The overall Cleveland population is less now than what it was in 1991. Where is the benefit? Where exactly is the gain? What is the loss?

Nobody's doing the simple math. Nobody's talking straight talk.

lots of statistics, for the record

Mortgage Trouble Clouds Homeownership Dream - New York Times -- Now, nearly two years after we gave testimony for the Cuyahoga County commissioners and five years since Cleveland-Marshall law professor Kathleen Engel began writing her papers warning of the impending debacle, the numbers begin to appear in the popular press, and the evidence of greed is incontrovertible.

In the same edition, the NYT tells in "Buying With Help From Mom and Dad" about how the high price of residential real estate is spawning new specialties among lawyers, third-party administrators, psychiatrists, and counselors, as parents and children cope with the imbalanced behavior of committing more money to the children's housing than the children can afford. I wonder what the upshot of all this will be if ever the prices in the housing markets recede, and they find themselves in the uncomfortable condition called "upside down."

Finally, Gloria tells me that in the PD Friday, someone with insight into the mortgage and real-estate industries talked of "mortgages that are designed to strip wealth rather than allow homeowners to build up equity in their properties." It's good that all this is coming out now, while the huge intergenerational transfer of wealth from the post-WWI crowd to the post-WWII crowd is still under way.

Do you think that, if we paid cash for our housing and our cars, that the prices would moderate and approach true value?

tax credits, restoration, and economics

i will shout youngstown: from one theater to another theater -- Here's something unique and refreshing: Our Youngstown friend Janco shows how the numbers might work on a proposed downtown theatre restoration by the partnership of Paul Warshauer of Grand Venues in Illinois and Lou Frangos of USA Parking in Cleveland. Janco's reporting works well because he uses pictures of the legal pad on which the rough estimates appear:

Let's focus on a few of the numbers:The idea, as proposed at the meeting was to utilize the basement, the main floor for theater, and the upper floors for two small modern theaters (editor's note: hopefully with a bar serving alcohol in the back). The first photo of these easel has for all of these components the square footage, renovation cost per square foot, and total cost. So for the individual floors, this would come out to:

9,750 sq. ft. $573,250 - Basement
9,300 sq. ft. $2,785,000 - Street Level Theater
1,950 sq. ft. $585,000 - Mezzanine
4,250 sq. ft. $1,225,000 - Upper Cinemas A&B

Thus the total estimate for the project is a total of 26,950 sq ft of renovated space, at an average of $216 a sq ft, for a total of $5,829,500. So this brings up a question . . . really the 5,829,500 dollar question: Who might pony up the cash for this project?

Well, as presented, here are some numbers:

20% - Federal Historic Tax Credits = $ 1,165,900
15% - Ohio Historic Tax Credits = $ 874,425
10% - The LLC of the owners = $ 582,950
5% - "Direct Grants" = $ 291,475
50% - Dontations from public, YSU, naming rights,corporate sponsors, etc. = $ 2,914,750

You can look at the picture for further information. I'm making no judgement on this one, just reporting the news.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

the Tofflers, & Janko, & Youngstown

Tribune-Chronicle Editorial: Embrace the insight of futurist--A week ago this past Thursday, Gloria and I hopped over to Youngstown for the day to meet Alvin and Heidi Toffler, who are there because of the leadership initiative and community dialogue being promoted by Congressman Tim Ryan. The Tribune-Chronicle came out with an editorial on the event yesterday, and two articles, one on March 9th and the other on March 11th. Ed Morrison's weighed in yesterday with a comment on BFD. I'm sold on Youngstown.

I've followed Toffler since the late '60s and early '70s, when he came out with the paperback of many colors that everybody had on the beaches for a couple of summers. Back then, his futurism came for us as the logical extension of things like the advertising commentary of Vance Packard and The Hidden Persuaders, the upbeat communications ideas of Marshall McLuhan, and the forward-looking mysticism of Teilhard de Chardin. I fell out of touch over the years, but the Tofflers kept on thinking and writing about the idea of this new Third Wave we have been riding since 1956 and fleshing out the ideas of this transformation, as it became more manifest. Before going to Youngstown, I lined up all the Toffler books I could from the library and skimmed over them, only to find that things I thought were my ideas were actually things the Tofflers had put into my head years ago. Humbled and in touch with basic realities, I climbed into the car and made the pilgrimage. These are exciting times.

At the afternoon session at the Butler Museum of American Art, we ran into Hunter Morrison, Janko of the I Will Shout Youngstown blog, Jim Cossler of the Youngstown Business Incubator, and Allen Hunter of the YSU chemistry department. The main idea I took out of this introductory Toffler talk was that there are people and institutions with vested interests in the old organizations--the unions, the hospital systems, the government, to name but a few--who are going to resist the shift to the new knowledge economy, and have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of their comfort zones. I've been thinking this all along, but it was good to have these thoughts validated, that we as a society are our own worst enemies.

In the museum, we had lunch in Winslow's Thymely Cafe and then got the Cook's tour treatment by preeminent Youngstown ambassador Janko, a cosmopolitan young fellow just returned from the Netherlands and working in Columbus. We ran through the museum, over the YSU campus, through the gardens, into the student center, through one of the world's largest Arby's (world HQs in Youngstown?), down the hill, past a Michael Graves post-modern work, past the square, through the YBI, onto the bus, and back to our cars for the quick hop over to the Stambaugh Auditorium, where we found that, if you're good enough to play Youngstown, you can play Carnegie Hall. Janko's commentary was incredible. Mike Gesing, you have to get him on tape, now.

At dinner, we got a chance to spend a few minutes with the Tofflers themselves before they spoke, and at our table were two Toffler Associates, Bonnie Wald and Dick Szafranski. These folks, the Tofflers, have some momentum behind them, I'm beginning to think. The speech was good, the crowd was appreciative, Stambaugh was a marvel to behold. We left with a great impression of Youngstown; most of my preconceptions were shattered. The people are gracious, they are proud and enthusiastic, they know how to put their best foot forward. They don't understand the bum rap they get. Now, neither do I.

I am now reading Revolutionary Wealth; it's pulling it all together for me; it's dramatically shortening my learning curve; I'm getting lots of wows and ahas and wearing out my yellow highlighter. Gloria is reading another copy simultaneously. I guess we feel this must be extremely important--we've never done this reading-in-tandem thing before. We have always had a growing sense of purpose, but now we have an acute sense of urgency. The Tofflers are catalysts, and quiet leaders.

"Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world."

Susan Sontag: Pay attention to the world Review Guardian Unlimited Books -- here's a good preview of a book on Susan coming out in April. I'm not suggesting these are practices to which bloggers should subscribe, but this certainly does throw some light on how some of us find fun and fulfillment in working with words. Note the "unconventional proposition" from Doctor (not Doc) Johnson : "The chief glory of every people arises from its authors." Blog on.

Cleveland 2.0 & going regional

Bytes From Lev: An Invitation to Cleveland 2.0: An Open Planning Forum -- Gloria got back from a good community discussion yesterday convened by Lev Gonick at the Cleveland 2.0 Open Planning Forum. One thing that emerged from her debriefing (yes, we do debrief each other, and it has nothing to do with confiscating underwhere or any other liberties married people take with each other) was that there are a small minority who seemed fixated on Cleveland-centricity, the idea that Cleveland is the center of the universe, Cleveland is the leader, Cleveland is the end-all and be-all of Midwestern sophistication and charm, Cleveland alone rocks--and it just ain't so, especially if you happen to talk to somebody from Akron, Youngstown, or Lorain. Mass doesn't matter any more; just being big, or having been big, is just a fact, not an advantage or a disadvantage. It doesn't qualify you for anything or give you any sort of superiority or natural selection.

This CleveCentricity (was this coined by Hunter Morrison III?) is the type of thinking that got us into the position that we are in, behind the eight-ball, woofing about how great we are, whistling in the dark, despised by our regional neighbors. Our own publicity has been shown to be hollow, and shallow--we're all talk, no action. We're not really the lead dog any more. All of which reminds me of the exchange a few years ago between two of my favorite guys, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, as they were contending for the position of king of the contemporary living writers, or novelists, if you will [emphasis mine]:

The feud has evidently drawn blood all round, but it is still only in its early rounds. Wolfe has a score-settling essay in the pipeline, called The Three Stooges (no prizes for guessing who). It will be published later this year in a collection of short pieces, Hooking Up, which will also include a side-swipe at an old enemy: the New Yorker, which Wolfe views as the kingpin of a literary establishment which has tried for so long to keep him out in the cold.

The Wolfe-Mailer feud is by far the oldest and cattiest of the three. As far back as 1989, Mailer remarked: "In my mind, there is something silly about a man who wears a white suit all the time, especially in New York."

Wolfe brushed off the sartorial attack, simply pointing out that "the lead dog is the one they always try to bite in the ass". To which Mailer quickly responded: "It doesn't mean you're the top dog just because your ass is bleeding."

Deep below the multiple layers of bitchiness, it is possible to pick out a substantive battle over the future of American novel. The line followed by Updike, Mailer and Irving is that there is a qualitative leap from journalism to literature which Wolfe has tried but failed to complete.

there's no code of honor among the war-wimps

Ex-CIA agent blasts White House - The Boston Globe -- Gloria summed it up this morning as we were talking over this reprehensible betrayal of a government employee by her employers: They just have no sense of honor any more.

It seems to me that all of these present-day political operatives--the Rove- and Cheney-style war-wimps operating behind the scenes and away from the front lines, as they did during the Viet Nam conflict and continue to do today--had read The Art of War by Sun Tzu and forgotten the ethic, the code of honor, that made America as great as it has been. My biggest problem with Sun Tzu is his amorality: You do whatever you need to do to attain the objective. Remember that this book made him the darling of the investment bankers, especially the leveraged-buyout kings of the 1980s, who took apart the wealth of industrial-age corporations without regard to the moral and social ramifications.

Now, we have the war-wimps running their woosie games, ruining peoples' careers, endangering peoples' lives, and undermining the effectiveness of our government agencies (perhaps this will be an ancillary overall benefit to society, though, in the long run). The code of the American West has been sublimated to things Oriental; the code of the cowboy is supplanted by that of too-clever white-shoe boys riding side-saddle; as a people, we are losing the one thing that made us great, the fact that we were trustworthy.

Here's an excerpt of the GLOBE article:

By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff March 17, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Former covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson yesterday publicly accused the White House of destroying her career for political purposes, telling a congressional committee her identity was "carelessly and recklessly abused" by officials who revealed her name to the media.

In dramatic and unusually public fashion, the former undercover spy went before a blaze of camera lights, discussing her ordeal before a hushed, packed committee room. Speaking calmly but with an undercurrent of anger, Plame Wilson described how her "outing" not only derailed her career path in intelligence, but jeopardized the lives of her former contacts as well as future recruitment by the CIA.

Plame Wilson's appearance before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform ended 3 1/2 years of silence over an episode that began when syndicated conservative columnist Robert Novak identified her as a CIA operative in his column and ended with last week's conviction of a top White House aide who was charged with lying to a grand jury investigating the matter

Friday, March 16, 2007

everything that rises must converge

InformationWeek Weblog: Travel Tools That Let You Leave The Laptop Behind -- Mary Flannery O'Connor gave us the phrase "everything that rises must converge" years ago, and today we see it in action. Here's a great article about crossovers and synergies. Especially slick is the click-through to GrandCentral and the fact that the New York TIMES is now following InformationWeek leads, and with as little as a 6-week lag. The GrandCentral blog talks about today's "David Pogue impact", as well.

I just signed up for the GrandCentral beta, which gives no-charge full-featured access to the entire service. Moreover, after the beta period ends, GrandCentral promises some level of on-going free access. Check it out. It can give added levels of functionality--recording, screening, archiving, messaging, another email--even to those who have only one line.

"a cool place for shady people"

When we rolled out of Gypsy Beans last night after our MeetTheBloggers talk with Professor Kathleen Engel (a really good one, by the way, so watch for it), Gloria and I decided to head up 65th Street towards the lake to see a place that she remembered from her teaching days, and we found it, over on West 58th, overlooking the lake and the freeway: The Parkview Nite Club. It's a really comfortable, cool place with lots of room, lots of things on the walls, TVs, projection screens, and a history of hosting good bands and good music. The food was most excellent, too, and we ate a lot--killer chili (the best I've had in a while), a great juicy burger, pulled pork, fries, chips, cole slaw--and got out for $25, tip included. We'll be back. We're liking what's going on up around Detroit and 65th.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

if I ran the city, the series, #10: show us your guns

Cleveland files suit to uphold right to pass its own gun laws -- Good grief! I can't even get through a workday without having to stop to write about something inane going on in the city government. Here's Frank Jackson, again, making a big to-do about home rule, and how we in the CleveCentric universe can do just about anything we please, like continue to try to subvert the state and federal constitutions (instead of coming to grips with the real issues, the ones that call for tough solutions). He wants to dog-paddle against the current again and put us at further competitive disadvantage, and I just have one question: If we're such shit-hot home-rulers around here, then why are things so stalled out these past 15 years or so? What other cities have home rule? Do they lean on it so as a solution to a questionable yet authoritarian leadership style of "my way or the highway" or "it's my city, and I'll do with it as I please, because I'm in charge, and I can"?

I find Steve Leavitt's story about the Swiss more to the point in a community discussion (we need to have one here) about who will have guns, and who won't, and what kind of guns they will be, as well. It's stuck in the middle of chapter 4 of Freakonomics ("Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?"), around page 131. What it relates is that male Swiss of age to serve in the SwissMilitia are issued assault rifles and allowed to keep them at home. Switzerland has more firearms per capita than just about any other country, yet it's one of the safest places in the world--ample argument for the position that guns don't cause crime. Outsiders think Switzerland is safe, too, in a lot of ways, and entrust the Swiss with the custodial duty of safe-keeping lots of money there.

So, as counterpoint to the doofy idea of stripping us of still more of our protections, I want to suggest that we use our home rule to establish a city militia, issue each of our militia an assault rifle, and allow them to keep their rifles at the house. If I ran the city, this would be one of the first things I'd do, right after I scrapped all the traffic-camera equipment and sold it at pennies on the dollar to another, dumber emerging third-world country, if I could find one that retarded.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Blackwell tries endless-loop theory on legal system

Plain Dealer Business: Former OSU prof loses appeal of insider trading conviction -- Roger Blackwell keeps squirming and trying to introduce the frustration of the endless-loop theory into the legal system, even as he is told to report to prison and ante up a $1 million dollar fine. The noted OSU prof and strategist is a bright guy, granted, but there may be such a thing as "too clever"; another way of stating this would be to say he's become the "poster child for hubris," but hasn't quite acknowledged it, yet. He still seems to think that the courts will abandon their claims against him if only he can wear them down and overwhelm them with his brilliance. He's still parsing the insider-trading issue to the point where he comes out right, and everybody else, even his own legal representation, is wrong. It's them, not him, you see.

Stay on top of the business strategies revolving around the idea of "the endless loop." It's one of those things that's unconscionable but not really illegal, yet. People tell me Blackwell, who seems to be a good example of amoral intellect, was one of its proponents. We should be seeing it discussed more and more as we delve into the depradations of the mortgage-lending, the mortgage-servicing, and the mortgage-foreclosure industries, as well as other things that disenfranchise the consumer to enrich the provider.

Monday, March 12, 2007

"socially responsible" a hot issue; bandwagon gains momentum

The Global Roundtable on Climate Change -- One of our vendors, noted for being "socially responsible", has just directed us to this link. I also noticed this morning that John Kerry is trying to climb onto the same bandwagon Al Gore has had himself harnessed to for a few years now, and the whole situtation is getting interesting in how the bandwagon is picking up momentum.

On February 20, 2007, Calvert joined with nearly 100 organizations, including some of the world's largest auto, energy and insurance companies, in endorsing the Global Roundtable on Climate Change's groundbreaking joint statement: The Path to Climate Sustainability.

The statement,
available in full online, advocates a broad-based approach to global climate change, including scientifically-informed targets for reduced greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions, a world-wide market for placement of a consistent international price on carbon emissions, energy conservation, use of non-fossil based fuels, and development of technologies for trapping and storing CO2.

The statement seeks a balance between climate conservation and economic growth, stating, "Confronting climate change depends, in many ways, on adopting new and sustainable energy strategies that can meet growing global energy needs while allowing for the stabilization of atmospheric CO2 concentrations at safe levels." . . .

. . . Signatories of the joint statement beside Calvert include Air France, Alcoa, Allianz, American Electric Power, Bayer, China Renewable Energy Industry Association, Citigroup, DuPont, Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, ENDESA, Eni, Eskom, FPL Group, General Electric, Iberdrola, ING, Interface, Marsh & McLennan Companies, Munich Re, NRG Energy, Patagonia, Ricoh, Rolls Royce, Stora Enso North America, Suntech Power, Swiss Re, Vattenfall, Volvo, World Council of Churches, World Petroleum Council, and many others.

If you'd like to endorse this statement as an individual, you can add your name to a list at, a web site which gives people an opportunity to have their voices heard on issues of global well-being and environmental sustainability.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

New York Times wheels in its big financial gun

Crisis Looms in Market for Mortgages - New York Times -- here, the NYT has wheeled in its big gun, financial-press hit-woman Gretchen Morgenson, to level the mortgage market, perhaps to drive a panic, certainly to bang a gong and sell the news. The excerpt below is the tip of the three-page iceberg:

The analyst’s untimely call, coupled with a failure among other Wall Street institutions to identify problems in the home mortgage market, isn’t the only familiar ring to investors who watched the technology stock bubble burst precisely seven years ago.

Now, as then, Wall Street firms and entrepreneurs made fortunes issuing questionable securities, in this case pools of home loans taken out by risky borrowers. Now, as then, bullish stock and credit analysts for some of those same Wall Street firms, which profited in the underwriting and rating of those investments, lulled investors with upbeat pronouncements even as loan defaults ballooned. Now, as then, regulators stood by as the mania churned, fed by lax standards and anything-goes lending.

Investment manias are nothing new, of course. But the demise of this one has been broadly viewed as troubling, as it involves the nation’s $6.5 trillion mortgage securities market, which is larger even than the United States treasury market.

Hanging in the balance is the nation’s housing market, which has been a big driver of the economy. Fewer lenders means many potential homebuyers will find it more difficult to get credit, while hundreds of thousands of homes will go up for sale as borrowers default, further swamping a stalled market.

private transit catching on

Google’s Buses Help Its Workers Beat the Rush - New York Times -- Here, Google offers as a perk what we in Cleveland, East Cleveland, Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, and Lakewood take for granted--mass transit. Private, customized transit systems seem to be catching on. In addition to Google, Ebay is trying private systems. Around here, The Cleveland Clinic runs its own bus system despite the presence of RTA, and yesterday, we noticed the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority also has its own little private transit system.

Google and Ebay do business in the open market of for-profit corporations and contract their transit service through an outside provider. The Cleveland Clinic finances its transit, and its real estate, using dollars gleaned in the nonprofit market for health-care services, and the CMHA exists because of the tax dollar. The more I think about it, the more I come to the realization that the Clinic and the CMHA transit services may be redundant and need to be looked at very closely.

We don't have much choice about paying the "taxes" levied either by the health-care system or by the entities that finance the CMHA as well as the RTA. Bear in mind, too, that the Clinic does not pay into the tax pool that the rest of us do. What I'm getting to is that we are probably paying for way more transit than we need, and not maximizing the usage of what we pay for. We ought to consider having CMHA use the RTA for its needs, and we ought to ask the Clinic to contribute to the tax pool before it goes starting up its own bus system. Then, we ought to ask the Clinic to cut back on health-care costs by having its employees use what the rest of us use--unless of course, the employees are so special and hard to recruit that they need the same livery service perquisite that Google employees have on that other coast. Am I making sense?

Final thought: Do you suppose the perk, the shuttle-bus service, that the Clinic employees now receive is listed as such, as additional compensation, on their wage and earnings statements submitted to the IRS?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

we talked about this with Jim Rokakis

Lender Stops Accepting Mortgage Applications - New York Times--We talked about this subprime mortgage-lender meltdown situation with Jim Rokakis a few weeks ago in a MeetTheBloggers session at Gypsy Beans, and how our county and our state may proceed in the matter. Gloria tells me that our governor has little more sympathy than Rokakis for the people who have created this sloppy subprime mess. Here's an excerpt from the NYT March 9th article about this New Century, "at the center of the subprime storm:"

Like other subprime lenders, New Century’s problems can be traced to a sharp spike in defaults among mortgages written last year, when lending standards eased across the industry and companies sought to increase loan volume. More borrowers with extremely poor credit were given mortgages without being required to make down payments or to prove the income they stated on mortgage applications.

As more recent borrowers began falling behind on payments, New Century’s financial backers on Wall Street demanded the company buy back nonperforming loans under terms of its securitization agreement with the company. It appears that New Century compounded that problem by incorrectly accounting for loans that it had to buy back and by not setting aside adequate reserves to deal with the problem.

The company said yesterday that it had significantly tightened its lending standards in the last few months and was no longer allowing borrowers to take out loans without putting any money down. The new policies, it says, have reduced the number of borrowers who are defaulting on their first mortgage payment to 1.9 percent in February, from 2.5 percent in 2006.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Haviland preview: Ruthie and Moe's to reopen

Last week, when we MTB-talked to Jim Haviland from Midtown Cleveland, Inc., he told us that the owner of Somers Restaurant was purchasing Ruthie and Moe's Diner at 40th and Prospect, with an eye towards reopening soon. Two nights ago we checked out the Wednesday fish fry at Somers Place at 4197 West 150th (no website available that I could find), and we also found a little bit more about the plans for the diner. This morning, we happened to drop back by for breakfast (Somers has the largest selection of steak and eggs combinations I have ever seen anywhere) and ran into our old waitress friend Judy Scott, who's traveling back to the diner on Prospect when it reopens this May. Judy tells us Ruthie is now at Bistro 185, and that the new hours of the diner are 0600 to 1500, which should be good for early breakfast appointments all this summer, at Somer's. Judy's also looking forward to getting back in touch with her old clientele.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

East Cleveland benefits from our random synchronicity

Those who know NEO know "ITS A NEW DAY IN EAST CLEVELAND" REALNEO for all--I just got done with my post on the latest MTB interview with Mayor Brewer, below, and here comes Norm Roulet with a huge retrospective from Joe Stanley, two years ago. It's fascinating how people independently seem to come to think about the same things at the same time--the phenomenon of "ideas whose time has come."

Eric Brewer, first elected official with second MTB interview

Meet the Bloggers » The Mayor of East Cleveland Eric Brewer--On February 16th, 2007, Eric Brewer, Mayor of East Cleveland, took a second shot at using the MTB platform to promote the community dialogue. George tells us he's the first elected government official to do this. His first session had been March 16, 2006. It's worth listening to both back-to-back. Things are definitely on the upswing in East Cleveland; they're taking their city back and achieving efficiencies in the process. On this podcast, you'll hear Norm Roulet, Sudhir Raghupethy, and Mike Gesing, in addition to the regulars. Brewer and his administration have many other well-wishers and fans, and I've made up my mind to be one of them. Personally, I'm going to do whatever I can to assist their succeeding--they're on the right track (there's a busline, too) and have the assets to work with. Go to the city's website for more, and see what John D. Rockefeller, the world's first billionaire, saw about East Cleveland.

Eric may be making history here, in what is a last-to-first sprint to the reclaiming of a grand city, and it would be great if we also had the transcripts of both podcasts in searchable-text form. George gives instructions here on how that can happen.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

draft-dodging gamers and gangsters: high time for Rove & Company to account

A New Mystery to Prosecutors: Their Lost Jobs - New York Times--here's another smelly long tale about behind-the-scenes machinations prior to the political change of command at the start of 2007. What's so ironic is that these creeps in Republicans clothing, these draft-dodgers, these boys who would never put it on the line themselves but love to do sneaky-pete, clandestine operations from the shadows of government--what's so ironic is that we're losing our freedoms and our government and our assets to a bunch of adolescent-level gamers who operate as gangsters with impunity and government immunity. We have to expose them and strip them of their protections. (how about old gamers versus young gamers, CIA versus CIA (Central Intelligence Agency versus Cleveland Institute of Art?) It came as a revelation to me a few months ago, reading through The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, that our young gamers here in Cleveland can save the world. (in the sections about PAM, decision markets, games, and simulations). We also need to be aware that these old gamers, like Karl Rove, have the potential to destroy the world as we know it, as well.

Read the whole article; the link is permanent. Here's an excerpt:

United States attorneys have four-year terms but can be removed at any time, and for almost any reason.

But across the country, legal and public officials have expressed dismay over the firings. In Western Michigan, for example, lawyers and a federal judge came to the defense of Margaret M. Chiara, the United States attorney there, saying she was well regarded.

“It just doesn’t look right,” said James S. Brady, who was United States attorney in Western Michigan during the Carter administration. “It compromises the credibility that justice is being dealt with fairly and impartially. There is a fear that politics have entered in life and death situations.”

Discussions began in October at the Justice Department about removing prosecutors who were considered flawed or deficient in carrying out administration policy by law enforcement officials, lawmakers and others, several officials said. The White House eventually approved the list and helped notify Republican lawmakers before the Dec. 7 dismissals, officials said.
While Justice Department officials expected that top assistant prosecutors in each office would probably fill the jobs initially, the officials said they had not chosen permanent successors. However, officials knew that if the replacements were to have a substantial tenure before Mr. Bush left office, they needed to be named quickly.

The list of prosecutors who were targets was approved by Attorney General
Alberto R. Gonzales and the deputy attorney general, Paul J. McNulty, the day-to-day manager of the Justice Department since he was appointed in the fall of 2005.

Under Mr. Gonzales, Mr. McNulty has become a powerful deputy with a wide-ranging portfolio. He was a United States attorney in Virginia, but he worked in Congress for more than a decade and was once legal counsel to the House majority leader. He is regarded in legal circles as more attuned to policy and politics than his predecessor, James B. Comey, a former career prosecutor in New York.

That leadership change may explain the removal of prosecutors who had mostly been in place since the start of the Bush administration.

“I and my colleagues are the same people in December of 2006 that we were in 2001,” said one former prosecutor who would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “The only thing that has changed is the administration of the Department of Justice. We were making the same arguments and the same points before.”

Justice Department officials, who would speak about the department’s decision making only anonymously because they were not authorized to discuss personnel matters publicly, now acknowledge that the dismissals were mishandled. They failed to anticipate how much attention the highly unusual group firing would draw, and the agency’s contradictory accounts about whether the dismissals were performance-related helped spur suspicions.

government & nonprofit reps now fly to the rescue of more banks

Banks have a confirmed commitment to the city--In yesterday's Letters to the Editor in the PD, two of our representatives, one from the government and the other from the nonprofit sector, flew to the rescue of still more banks, citing specific nice little things these other banks do and why they should have a bigger share of whatever City-of-Cleveland preferences shifted to KeyBank a few days ago. Joe Cimperman and Ann Zoller cite a few instances of bank beneficence, but then Joe goes on to begin to start to get around to getting to a key point:

This picture of those two banks is different from the one painted by an outdated city administration formula that doesn't tell the true story. Cleveland's needs change daily. So must its relationships with financial partners. To continue to grade on a scale that does not reflect the banks' support of community needs sends the wrong message. We must recognize when institutions serve our community in ways that mean real quality-of-life improvements for all Clevelanders.

First of all, is there a formula, is this preferential-treatment-of-banks thing actually quantified, and who has seen it lately? Does this formula have at the top of the list the amount that the institution expects to pay the city on the deposits? The term and liquidity of the deposits? The ratings of the institution to hold the deposits, and the default insurance available per account? The ability to provide multiple accounts and also good accountability? The percentage of employees who actually live in Cleveland proper (no municipal income tax recripocity) and the payroll specifically attributable to those employees? The dollar amount of mortgage loans let out, with an offset for sloppy lending practices evidenced by foreclosures? A benevolent practice of cashing government and payroll checks for ordinary people with small or no accounts, so they aren't forced to go to the high-fee check-cashing gouge joints?

Way after all these things, we can list the actual amounts the banks give to city politicians and to the nonprofits, to make sure nobody is buying the business, and the amount of fees they use as incentives for the nonprofits to promote their banking products. Anything over $50 should be accounted for, just like our former governor's golf perks.

We need lots of analysis and then transparency and accountability, so that we can proceed to talk intelligently about who gets what city-deposit business, and how much.

a new tax, because universal coverage isn't free

Insurers slice rates on health premiums - The Boston Globe--Interesting story in the Boston GLOBE about Deval Patrick tuning up Mitt Romney's mandatory health coverage. There is no magic here; there are no miracles. From the pricing I see in the article, this is pretty much a market rate, and it feels a bit on the high side. I see no subsidy or benefit of volume pricing. I wonder if this is more of a welfare plan designed to support the Massachusetts health industry than it is universal coverage to spread risk fairly and bring about an improvement in public health.

Also, I would like to know from the journalist (Jeffrey Krasner can be reached at the cost of opting out, in dollars, for the same hypothetical people for whom they quote the premiums. That would be balanced reporting. These paid writers need to start earning their keep and not leaving it up to the public dialogues of the blogosphere to extract the facts and frame the issues as they should be framed.

We need to start talking about truly catastrophic insurance coverage to cover the big bills, cash-only fee-for-service care with uniform price schedules for most other procedures, and public-health-clinics for maintenance and wellness programs. If we want to have a health tax, then instead of putting it off soley on the people, we can also put it off on anybody who sells things that make us fat or sick or crippled--vendors of soft drinks, stores that sell cheap plastic shoes, smoking supplies (again), fast-food emporiums, publicly traded corporations who load foodstuffs up with preservatives to prolong shelf life or stretch things out with high fructose corn syrup to maximize profits, dealers who sell raggedy used cars--in short, anybody who now profits from selling a product whose health benefits to the buyers have been reduced to increase the bottom line.