Friday, February 29, 2008

Foreclose your house now!

The government is making noises about how foreclosure should be harder. If you're got real property with a mortgage, you got that mortgage with the implicit promise that you could always turn over the house in lieu of the money. But, that promise may well be broken.
Some in the industry want to toughen the consequences for borrowers who walk away. Executives at Fannie Mae say they are working to create harsher penalties for people who walk away from mortgages, and they plan to pursue some borrowers in court. They also want to extend the amount of time between when borrowers default and when they become eligible again for a Fannie Mae-backed loan.

"Of course, we will make exceptions for extenuating circumstances, like divorce or death," says Mike Quinn, a Fannie Mae executive. "But who we are trying to get are the people who can afford to make payments but have decided not to."

Mr. Obama’s voting record has been... the most liberal of any of the Senate’s 100 members

Didn't they say this about John Kerry? Hearing it actually makes me tired. I suspect they don't do that analysis until they know who's running for president.
Mr. Obama’s voting record has been designated by the respected and nonpartisan National Journal as the most liberal of any of the Senate’s 100 members. This is not merely an epithet: it represents a series of policy choices and legislative votes that leave Senator Obama to the left of Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. Even the most inspirational and inclusive language in the world will face a stern test in the face of accusations on that front.

72 Raisins

So, in May of 2000, Christoph Luxenberg released Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Koran. Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Koransprache, which talks about the effects of Syriac on the language of the Koran, most famously asserting
Luxenberg, to the probable horror of all Muslim males dreaming of sexual bliss in the Muslim hereafter, ... conjure[s] away the wide-eyed houris promised to the faithful in suras XLIV.54; LII.20, LV.72, and LVI.22. Luxenberg 's new analysis, leaning on the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, yields "white raisins" of "crystal clarity" rather than doe-eyed, and ever willing virgins - the houris. Luxenberg claims that the context makes it clear that it is food and drink that is being offerred, and not unsullied maidens or houris.
This may have had some role in a panicky launch for plans of large scale terrorist attacks. If you had a bunch of men you believed were willing to martyr themselves for virgins, would you sit around while the risk grew that there was a reasonable chance they'd actually been promised raisins?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How the foreclosure crisis really happened

46 slides tell the story of 'the foreclosure crisis' in cartoons. I particularly like slides 28 & 29, but the whole thing is hilarious. Normally jokes about how something 'really' happened are mean-spirited and frivolous, but this is really more like one of those 'cartoon history of the world' things.

Update: Maybe slide 26 is really my favorite.
[W]e have convinced them that it is vitally important to the health of the US financial system that investors not know about these complex transactions and what is behind them

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Suspicious Missing Spoonerism

I finally got my liverwurst sandwich today. I know I haven't been blogging about this, but I've been jonesing for one. I worked in a deli in college, and ate liverwurst all the time. I realized the other day I hadn't had a liverwurst sandwich in years.

But, at the beginning of this process, I became aware of the cold cut counter at my local deli. And they're serving Boar's Head, the same brand we served. So, I've been aware of this brand since I was a teenager. And at that time, I engaged in many conversations about Boar's Head with other teenagers.

But, I don't recall that anyone ever made the rather obvious spoonerism. Google's only got 443 hits, and the first page has no reference to the brand of meats and cheeses.

This creates a little hole in my worldview. Ah, well, maybe it'll be complete when I hit 40.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Not to be overlooked

There's a more direct way in which we end up with all this bad debt. Banks take FDIC-insured deposits, buy inflated houses, let people live there as long as they pay part of the interest with their option ARM, and then foreclose at the reset.

So... then they have this house, nobody paying interest, and no way to get rid of it. They just knock it over and plow it into the earth. But, this is expensive, and while the managers are zooming around in their foreign-built high performance convertibles and smoking cocaine rolled up in $100 bills, the bank fails. And the FDIC is on the hook for the money. The FDIC, not to put too fine a point on it, being funded by me. And to some extent you.

Funniest Line Ever

[David Hendler, an analyst at CreditSights Inc.,] said... "Everybody wants more disclosure, but when they get it, they get more depressed."

Three points on a Green Party presidential bid

I wrote a comment over at TPMMuckraker, and I'm reposting it here. It's a response to a call for discussion on four points on Nader: 1. That he didn't throw the 2000 election to Bush, 2. That there was no difference between Bush and Gore, 3. That a Nader election will keep Democrats aware of a progressive agenda, and 4. That a Nader run won't hurt the Democrats.
I will vote for whosoever wins the Green Party nomination process. The only Nader myth that matters to me, really, is the idea that he's the Green Party candidate, as he was in 1996 and 2000. He was not in 2004, and it's rather unlikely he will be this year.

As to the Florida canard, the Socialists got enough votes to tip the initial count to Gore. But, nobody ever dumps on David McReynolds for throwing the election to... whomever's been running the country for the last seven years.

That GOP thugs got to stop the recount with government complicity is appalling. Yes, Gore made huge mistakes both tactical -- Elian Gonzales? -- and strategic -- Lieberman? Distancing from Clinton? -- and made a campaign that should have been a walk into a close contest, but the central atrocity is that strongmen stopped the recount. Kenya and Ukraine have both since shamed us with their reaction to similar events; maybe they had the advantage of having seen what happened here.

Al Gore is one of my favorite politicians ever. I think he would have made a wonderful president. But, the administration he was part of gave us NAFTA, failed to deliver universal health care, and essentially ignored climate change after dropping the BTU tax. As long as Al Gore ran with the Democrats, he wouldn't challenge the personhood of the corporation or dismantle the architecture of the oil dominion or weapons trade. He might even have kept Alan Greenspan around. There were real differences between Al Gore and George Bush. But, pretending the Democrats were palatable wasn't for me.

I want to spend a little time on Reality Three, which many other commentors have noted is likewise no myth. To an outside observer, it looks like the only reason progressive politics gets mentioned in this election at all is because John Edwards forced it into the campaign. Hillary Clinton certainly wouldn't have mentioned health care again. With one Democratic candidate focused on electability and the other focused on bipartisanship, what chance does progressive politics really have without a strong third party voice?

A third party progressive platform will take votes from the Democrats -- that's certainly true. But, it's only true because of Realities Two and Three. And, actually, the whole impetus of Reality Three is to make it less true.

If Democratis candidates focus less on pandering, and more on creating solutions to the very real and immediate dangers that face our party, fewer Democratic voters will cross the line that without the Green Party, wouldn't even be there. We're only a danger to the Democrats to the extent that they let you down.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Steve Moyer is a little anxious about real property

I know you sometimes think I'm the most alarmist guy in the world. So, to make myself look more reasonable and moderate, I'll quote this guy.
I now expect every property category to become significantly affected — houses, condos, fourplexes, apartment buildings and complexes, shopping centers, office buildings, industrial complexes, lots, land — you name it. The evidence (and a growing and overwhelmingly negative real estate buying psychology) has me convinced that no property type will be spared.
Given my grave doubts that a combined Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac crisis plus credit-derivatives-nightmare can be averted as asset deflation intensifies, I now expect a frightening systemic event in the U.S. at some point, possibly within the next few years, which will take property values out at the knees and cause transactions to come to an utter standstill for a time. At that point I expect loans to become almost impossible to get and buying psychology to be so damaged, a generation of people will tell you “you should never buy real estate.” Regardless, the economy will be shaken by these unfolding events to the extent that the mere thought of buying real estate (absent a massive cash discount) will be considered by most a preposterous notion.
Which isn't to say he isn't right. And, he uses the word 'dunderheads.'

Luckily, you can still sell property, albeit for less money, to 1) dunderheads, 2) folks who have pawned off other property and foolishly want to exchange into another to “avoid paying tax,” 3) folks who don’t recognize that we are post-bubble and therefore think this is a short-term phenomenon or “typical real estate cycle,” or 4) folks who think this is a good time to buy and hold to the notion that “real estate values will always go up in the long run.” Hey, god bless ‘em; that’s what makes horse races.

You will probably be a bit disappointed with what price the market will bear for your property right now, but that’s nothing compared to losing 70% or more of value when the shinola is all the way done hitting the deflationary real estate fan. When property values tanked during the Great Depression, it took them more than 20 years to get back to “par”; do you really want to run the risk of waiting an entire generation for the real estate market to return to 2005-2006 values? Don’t.

WSJ Promo for the Heartland Institute Climate Change Denier festival

I want to ridicule this more later? But
* A Harvard astrophysicist denies climate change
* Astrophysicists are scientists
* Harvard researchers are respected
> A respected scientist denies climate change
Is a syllogism with at least one fatal problem.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Those Wizards? Not in Oz

If you've known me for any length of time, I have at some point mentioned to you that I saw the movie that Lyman Frank Baum made out of his "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." And that it starts with a bunch of Wizards who go to the moon.

Well, this turns out to be false. I just saw the wizard/moon thing again, at the beginning of "Around the World in 80 Days."A bunch of old men load themselves into a giant bullet and fire it at the moon, where they explode natives by whacking them with umbrellae. I was a fan of a cartoon version of AW80D, I think the one on NBC in 72/73 when I was a child, and I wanted to see the David Niven film, which I've just done. It starts with that short, From the Earth to the Moon, famous for being the first science fiction film, by "that authentic genius" Georges Méliès. It's on YouTube.

YouTube's also got a 1910 version of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which according to OzClub, Baum may have written the scenario for.

Cash Back on Debit Cards

So... I've been making a lot of purchases on my credit card and paying it off every month, in part to get American Express' payment protections, but mostly to get points. And, it's kind of a crappy points program -- I can get 1 % back, but only if I take it in big box retailer gift cards (if you got a big box retailer gift card from me for Christmas, that's why,) and usually I get half a percent I can spend on high premium items through their shopping website.

So, crappy.

Go Daddy sent me an offer for a 3% cash back card, but that turns out to only be on purchases of fuel, dining and office supplies. I buy very little fuel and very few office supplies, and 'dining' deals usually insist that you eat at large national chains, which runs counter to my shopping principles. However, this sparked a little quest, and I headed over to, as I always do in times of such uncertainty -- these are the people who told me that only Countrywide is offering a better rate on CDs than I'm getting on my eTrade savings account. You gotta love the mortgage lenders, but I'm really worried that no savings mechanisms seem to beat inflation. Gold's got a lot of fluctuation, diamonds will all lose value at once if DeBoers decides it should, it's hard to know where to hide. Ah, well, that would be a different blog post.

BankRate has a story on cash back debit cards! Cash back debit cards! I can get free money without borrowing anything. Now, these are all banks you probably don't want to do business with -- Chase, Bank of America, Citi, WaMu -- as they go down the shitter they'll expend a lot of brainpower on extracting money from their customers. I know this sounds contradictory, but I expect banks holding a lot of mortgage debt to be somewhat more generous and trustworthy than banks holding a lot of collateralized debt obligations.

I suspect that everyone else already knows this. It's easy to underestimate how complex the world we live in is, until you find out something that everyone else already knows -- drinking alcohol while taking antibiotics nearly killed me a few years back. I express my emotions largely with old television comedy skits, hence the link: Socrates is condemned and drinks the hemlock, then he's pardoned. He gets up to go, and receives some bad news.
Look, I only know general things. What is truth, what is justice. I never learned details like what is poisonous and what is not poisonous.... It was always, 'Socrates, what is truth?' 'Socrates, what is the nature of the good?'... And not ONCE did anyone ever say, 'Socrates, hemlock is poisonous.'"
Video reenactment here.

Anyway, my anti-Discover-Card bias has been shaken by the idea that they'll give me 20 % for shopping with top online retailers. But, it's sleazy. Of the retailers they list, I only ever shop at Only a few high premium sites like and give you the full 20 %. And, they require that you go to the retailer web site through their web site, which is the sleazy part.
  1. It's a rule that's easy to forget, which lets them pay out less than they seem to promise to
  2. It warns the retailer that you're expecting money back before they show you goods and prices. I buy almost exclusively clearance and heavily discounted items online, and I worry that these would go away.
And they change the categories in which I'd get 5% cash back four times a year. Does this sound incredibly suspicious? Building on my existing distrust of DiscoverCard, which comes from having done a lot of business with them, I'm staying away.

And there's more. Capital One will give me a "Decoupled Debit" credit card which immediately pays itself off from my checking account -- no interest, cash back. And I can tie this to any checking account, such as INGDirect's Electric Orange, which'll pay me 2.25%. Tempo apparently delivers infrastructure for the delivery of similar products, used by CVS and Pathmark as loyalty rewards. CVS is testing this out in Indianapolis, and I don't know where my nearest Pathmark is. And I can't find any information from Capital One on the Decoupled Debit program.

So, back to credit cards. BankRate eventually sends me over to, which recommends (1) DiscoverCard, which, again, I distrust, and (2) a cashback Blue card from AmEx. Apparently my mistake was in getting a rewards card when I could have had a cashback card. 5 % at supermarkets, gas stations and drugstores -- what are they charging the vendor! -- and 1.5 % for everything else. So, OK. Let's see how this works out.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A mislead by Warren Buffet

There's no link. I'm just thinking here. We've been dissing the monoline insurers because they took their perfectly safe little racket -- insuring rock solid municipal bonds -- and ruined it by looking for the most enormous and highly correlated sort of bad investment possible, these AAA rated mortgage backed securities.

So, Warren Buffet says, "OK, I'll take the perfectly safe bit." And offers to reinsure the muni bonds.
But, I think he just did that to manipulate markets with his reputation. The food company securities play -- the other news he made recently -- seems legit, but he had to know he'd be rebuffed (Warren Rebuffet?) on the bond insurance front. And, where do cities get money? Property taxes. Which are on the one hand based on plummeting assessments. And on the other hand based on people not going into foreclosure and mailing their keys to the bank, who won't pay taxes until they sell.

So, revenues are bound to crash, especially in many of the new towns. Which needed new municipal features. Which were financed with bonds. Which get repaid with property tax. Which won't get collected.

AMBAC and FGIC can split up all they want. I'm not sure they have a good part left.

If you don't say anything, Mr. President, I will accept that as a go for this mission

So, I'm at about 4:20:00 in Season Three of 24. Jack Bauer has called President David Palmer (America's first [of two!] black president) on his cell phone to offer to break a drug dealer out of prison and become a fugitive, in order to yadda yadda yadda.

Anyway, the President thinks this is a good idea, but balks at giving the go ahead. So, Jack gives the "I will accept that as a go" line. This would make a pretty funny "dropped call" ad -- I think they're Cingular's. Picture the President saying, "No, Jack, I appreciate the offer, but that would damage this country's integrity beyond repair and ask too much of you as an individual" and Mr. Bauer hearing... nothing.

update: I've gone on to "You've never been about what's easy. You've been about what's right. That's who the people elected to lead them." I think I want to go live with the television electorate.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Government and the Housing Bubble

via Housing Bubble Blog

[Former President Bill] Clinton [explained] his wife's plan.... "She wants to freeze monthly payments for 90 days, and give $30 million to states," in order to implement a bailout plan.

"We'll tell the mortgage companies: you eat 20 percent, we (the government) will eat 20 percent, you won't foreclose on these people," he said. "When you're in a hole, you quit digging."

First of all 20 + 20 is something less than one hundred (I don't have time to work it out here,) so Mr. Clinton is clearly not referring to the entire cost of the program. Could he be suggesting that banks just drop loan principal amounts by 40 %? That doesn't sound right, either. I think the metaphor "once you've dug a hole, find someone to bury in it" might be more apt.

Now, as Dan'l Webster said, a strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures. However, government's clearly going to have some role in mitigating the mass homelessness and joblessness resulting from the Greenspan Housing Bubble. But, we can't just step in and start covering mortgages -- those loans were made by bad actors, and they've got no business getting bailed out by the taxpayer.

Nouriel Roubini

Nouriel Roubini was something like the economist with best access to corporated decision making who called the housing bubble. So, I wanted to recommend his blog.
I will argue that the most important first-order risk for financial markets derives from the likelihood that 10 million to 15 million households may walk away from their homes if – as likely - home prices fall another 10% in 2008 and further in 2009. When – in the summer of 2006 – this author argued that this would be the worst housing US recession in the last 50 years and that home prices would fall – from their peak value – by 20% such predictions were taken as being nearly lunatic. Too bad that this author ended up being too optimistic, not too pessimistic, about the severity of this housing recession. Indeed, this will end up to likely to be the worst housing recession in US history – not just in the last 50 years – and home prices may likely eventually fall by 30%, not this author’s “optimistic” 20%.
Don't you love this guy? Again, I think it's more like 70%. Actually, it's meaningless in some areas that will be completely abandoned -- housing developments that were built in the last five years were only bought into with the idea that they'd be sold at a profit.
[N]ow that home prices keep on falling and an increasing number of home owners end up in negative equity territory voluntary defaults and “jingle mail” are surging. Is there then anything to be surprised about?

How many households will end up in negative equity territory and will thus an incentive to walk away from their mortgages? The answer to this question of course depends on how much home prices will eventually fall from their peak. A recent analysis by Goldman Sachs suggests that if home prices fall another 10% in 2008 after having fallen by about 8% from peak in 2007 (based on the Case-Shiller/S&P index) about 15 million households will be in negative equity territory. There are other estimates that are consistent with the Goldman Sachs one. Calculated Risk – a very well respected housing blogger – estimated that if home prices decline by 10% in 2008 the number of households with negative equity will be 10.7. But this estimate was based on a partial underestimate of the fall in home prices in 2007 relative to its 2006 peak (as the Case-Shiller data for all of 2007 were not available at the time of that estimate). Thus, the number of households with negative equity could be closer to 12 million. Calculated Risk also estimates that a cumulative fall in home prices of 20% implies 13.7 million households with negative equity while a 30% cumulative fall implies 20.3 million households with negative equity.

There are only 300 million Americans. If we lived 15 to a house, that'd be everyone.
These figures are staggering considering that in 2006 the total number of households with mortgages was 51.2 million. So between 20% to 40% of households with mortgages may end up with negative equity in their homes and with a big incentive to walk away from their mortgages.
Not to put any ideas in your head? But, banks aren't set up to process this many defaults. About six months from now you can probably stop paying your mortgage and expect to stay in your house for five or six years. At some point they may just assume they've evicted you, and their acquirer will fold your property taxes and utility fees into their operating expenses.
That would wipe out most of the capital of most of the US banking system and lead most of US banks and mortgage lenders – that are massively exposed to real estate – to go belly up. You would then have a systemic banking crisis of proportions that would be several orders of magnitude larger than the S&L crisis, a crisis that ended up with a fiscal bailout cost of over $120 billion dollars. And the scary part of this scenario is that – with home prices likely to fall by 20% or more – this scenario of systemic banking crisis is becoming increasingly likely.
Let's take it as read that Barack Obama is the next President. What's he going to do about Greenspan's destruction of our banking system? It might not seem like a fair question, but it's pertinent. Banks do valuable things! I'll be a little sorry to see them go.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Salim Hashim smokes pot

Too often, somebody talks to the press, gets quoted by name, and ends up imprisoned, divorced or killed. I think this guy's just in for some difficult questions when he gets home.
[Salim Hashim and another student] from Dubai seemed to have [Lake Nakuru National Park] all to themselves, relaxing on a steep cliff overlooking the lake as the smell of marijuana from their pipe drifted through the air.
I went to this park when I was hitchhkining from Kisii to Nairobi and my ride wanted to see it. On our way out, a ten-meter long python lay across the road, blocking our path. Driving over enormous snakes in game parks is poor form. The driver got out and threw pebbles at it until it slithered away.

Manhattan Rents

I know you worry about trends in East Village One Bedroom rents as much as I do, so I thought I'd share this.
This January seems to have shrugged off the seasonal trends typically followed by the Manhattan rental market. While the market often sees a January rebound from December’s historically weaker prices, this month, average citywide rents continued to cool across all apartment sizes and service levels. Additionally, The Real Estate Group has received many inquiries from landlords—large and small alike—asking for guidance on how to market and price their properties in an increasingly unstable housing market. The combination of these factors reinforces our sentiment that the market has, in fact, turned.

Greatest changes since December:

  • Non-doorman one-bedrooms – East Village – Down 7.4% ($197)

Where Prices Decreased:

East Village—East Village prices decreased notably in almost every category, including a 7.4% reduction in non-doorman one-bedroom prices.

Wikileaks, Kibaki, Githongo

You may have heard, that to protect Swiss bank Julius Baer's money laundering ways, US District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White ordered that Wikileak's DNS information be erased. Now, when I first started using the world wide web, all we had were IP addresses written on napkins that we'd pass around in public parks and use to arrange the vacuum tubes on our internet machines, so this really brings me back.

So, really maybe more out of nostalgia than anything else, I went and visited the Wikileaks site. And what did they have on their front page other than a Kroll Associates report detailing former President Moi's improper accumulation of more than 3 billion dollars in Kenyans' money? It may suggest one reason why wananchi are a little impatient with President diselect Kibaki.
In December 2002, the 24 year rule of Kenya's President Daniel Arap Moi was ended by the election victory of Mwai Kibaki. Elected on an anti-corruption platform, it was hoped that President Kibaki would end grand corruption in Kenya. In January 2003 Kibaki appointed John Githongo, formerly of Transparency International, as his personal advisor on Anti Corruption and Good Governance.[1] One of the first anti-corruption activities of Mr. Githongo on behalf of President Kibaki was to engage Kroll & Associates (UK), a private investigation and security firm, to trace and report on what was said by Transparency International to be over 3 billion US Dollars stashed abroad, by the former President Moi and his closest associates.[2]
On August 28th 2007, about 100 days before the forthcoming Presidential election, President Kibaki's re-election campaign received the formal endorsement of his predecessor, Daniel Moi.[6] Ex-President Moi's influence over Kibaki's regime is obvious and also evidenced by his recent appointment as a Personal Peace Envoy of Kibaki to the Sudan.[7]
Contemporaneous media coverage of the time reveals a determination by the Kibaki government to trace and seize the foreign assets of Moi's associates.[4] However at some point in May 2004, the Kibaki government itself suffered a credibility blow when several of the President's closest advisors were implicated in a 777 million US Dollar corruption scandal known as the Anglo Leasing scandal. The fallout of this scandal resulted in the gradual sidelining and eventual exile in the UK (in January 2005) of John Githongo after threats to his life.[5]
The leak which emanated from within high levels of the Kenyan Government is motivated by the desire to demonstrate that President Kibaki has clear-cut evidence of his predecessor's corruption and complicity in corruption, and has chosen to suppress the evidence and worse still has gone into a political and economic alliance with the Moi group.

A second motivation is the sheer scale of the theft of public funds by Moi and his associates. The figures in the report run into (if added up) the billions of US Dollars - comparable in magnitude to the looting of other infamous kleptocrats such as Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Sani Abacha of Nigeria, Suharto of Indonesia and Alberto Fujimori of Peru.
So, maybe that adds a little color to the story of the Kisii Chingororo and other tribes' militant groups. I'm not suggesting it's a possible or even defensible step to start attacking local Kikuyu -- which, to needlessly complicate matters, is the tribe of Moi's predecessor Kenyatta and successor Kibaki, but not Moi himself, who belongs to the Kalenjin, an opposition-aligned tribe -- but, then again, I don't personally want to be held to account for American slavery, the slaughter of the American Indians, Climate Change, the collapse of the hunter gatherer culture, haggis, or any of the ills that can be lain at the feet of my ethnic brethren. Individualism is idemnification, deracination unaccountability.

I can't see any lasting political reconciliation in Kenya that doesn't take the Kroll report into account. Kenyans were betrayed by Kibaki, and are angry for a reason. Not to split hairs, it's wrong to start killing local members of a tribe the person you're angry with belongs to. But, electoral politics didn't work.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What's the New York Times preparing us for?

This, perhaps, is the great lesson of Teapot Dome. No one suffered too much. Secretary Fall, whom Mr. McCartney erroneously credits as the inspiration for the term “fall guy,” became the first cabinet member to be convicted of a felony and died in disgrace. But the rest of the big fish made out fine.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The importance of breathing

The link is to photos of the New York Road Runner's Bronx Grand Prix Half Marathon sponsored by Continental Airlines. I came in in the top 89 % (top 92 % of men; 10:44 miles), similar to my showing in Manhattan (82 %; 87 %; 10:22)two weeks earlier.

Incidentally, I fell in love with this girl while looking for photos of myself. If you know her, could you ask her to call me?

Now, you might think, "That's fine. Manhattan people are among the most driven and accomplished in the world. You can't expect to outrun them." Well, you've got another think coming. Apparently, we're incredibly average. I'm looking at Zillow's neighborhood data for the boro, and it has a lot of surprises. Almost a quarter of us commute more than an hour. Our median household income is $38,293, 14 % less than the national median of $44,512. Our median age is 35 (A quarter of our people are over 50), one year less than the median age of the country -- I'm older than most people not only in Manhattan, but in the US -- and 28.6 % of New York households have kids, compared with 31.4 % nationally. Wouldn't you have expected our rate to be more than an eleventh less?

So, we're much poorer, but only slightly less fecund. I'm going to consider this data suspect. If you look at the ten year chart of affordability, though, you'll see Manhattan housing prices plummet 80 % approximately to the national average at September 11. However, there are two vertical lines. Sometime in 2003, we have as sharp a rise up, where housing regains about half its cost instantly. What drove that? Did we one day decide the danger was just over, and we were going to start paying through the nose for realty again? Or is this incredibly suspicious?

Anyway, I'm going to blame this cold. I couldn't really breathe for either half. I got all antsy letting people pass me in the Bronx (no one passed me in Manhattan, because I started 19:09 late,) but I was just trying to finish. It does translate to a marathon time noticeably worse than Oprah's, though, so I've got to pick it up.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You think of what the implications are, and it’s pretty scary

The linked story is about the loss of Lake Mead as a reservoir.
Lake Mead, the vast reservoir for the Colorado River water that sustains the fast-growing cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas... has a 50 percent chance of becoming unusable by 2021, the scientists say, if the demand for water remains unchanged and if human-induced climate change follows climate scientists’ moderate forecasts, resulting in a reduction in average river flows.
And, you know, blah blah blah. The take away is that it's scary to think of the implications of climate change, so the best course of action is to not think about it. I kind of advocate thinking about it so much that you're comfortable with the desolation of the future, but certainly the amount of fear between not thinking about it at all and thinking about it all the time is uncomfortable, and best avoided.
O thus be it ever,
when freemen shall stand
between their loved homes
and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace,
may the heaven-rescued land
praise the Power that hath made
and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must,
when our cause it is just,
and this be our motto,
"In God we trust."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Targeted Bacteria being used against Quagga Mussels at Hoover Dam

Via The Housing Bubble Blog:
"It is going to cause a lot of problems when we're going to have to install control measures," [Leonard Willett, the Bureau of Reclamation's quagga mussel coordinator for the lower Colorado River dams,] said.

Among the options for controlling the invasion is to use a bacteria product that targets the quagga mussels.

While that method is still being developed, Willett said, "It looks very promising."
I kind of thought the liberals had stopped tailored bacteria from being released in the wild. But, I see more cool monster movies on the horizon!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Edwards in Question, Huckabee still a lock

So, with John Edwards having temporarily suspended his presidential campaign, it's becoming hard to see how he'll end up as the candidate. His nomination was always predicated on one of Senators Clinton and Obama dropping out of the race and endorsing him to spite the other -- as they're tied, and Edwards has enough delegates to make up the difference, this is still possible. But, the scenario gets a little more strained every day.

However, this?
Despite McCain's role as the all-but-official Republican nominee, Mike Huckabee was the big winner this weekend with victories in two of Saturday's three contests. Huckabee won Kansas and Louisiana, and barely lost Washington state. Huckabee's campaign is challenging the Washington results, noting that officials declared McCain the winner when there was less than a 2 percent difference between the two candidates and only 87 percent of precincts had been counted. Although no one thinks Huckabee stands a chance to catch up to McCain in delegates, Huckabee's weekend victories highlight the problems McCain continues to face with the GOP's conservative base.
It's nonsense. We can talk about Washington State for a second -- you've heard repeatedly that McCain was 1.8 % ahead with 13 % of caucus voters left to count. But, maybe you haven't heard that this was the first time McCain had been ahead. They'd been counting and counting, and Huckabee had been winning. When McCain pulled ahead, they stopped counting. This is like our deciding to play several rounds of Rummy or Scrabble, and deciding to quit when I'm ahead. This is actually how I prefer to play multiround games, many of which lay unfinished. And it's how the Washington GOP does elections.

You can follow the numbers at RealClearPolitics, or, as I recommend, you can take my word for it. Senator McCain is 467 delegates from securing the nomination, and Governor Huckabee is 490 points behind him. Governor Romney, who has dropped out, and Representative Paul, who has other priorities, have 285 and 14 delegates respectively. So, McCain would have to win 167 delegates in states and get both non-Huckabee delegate holders to endorse him, and even with Romney's "givin' it to McCain" speech, it's not clear he can do any of those three things.

McCain's won some contests because Romney looked (a) more viable than Huckabee and (b) an obvious liar. So, the GOP base either stayed home or held their noses and voted. But, now that Romney's out and the MSM is calling McCain the 'presumptive nominee,' they know they've got to get out there and stop him.

If Governor Huckabee is reading this? I just want to ask that you forgive all the people who rallied behind Romney and then McCain when you were running. We don't need more vindictiveness in the White House. Forgive them! They know not what they do!

You guys ready to talk about the fact that the occupation and invasion of Iraq were apparently planned and executed by total morons?

A friend sent me this article from the Times today:
The report on rebuilding Iraq was part of a seven-volume series by RAND on the lessons learned from the war. Asked why the report has not been published, Timothy Muchmore, a civilian Army official, said it had ventured too far from issues that directly involve the Army.

“After carefully reviewing the findings and recommendations of the thorough RAND assessment, the Army determined that the analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army,” Mr. Muchmore said in a statement. “Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the Army and therefore of limited value in informing Army policies, programs and priorities.”
That seemed really familiar to me. And Google News now has an archive functionality, so I found this pretty easily:
Friday, April 1, 2005; Page A03

A study of U.S. military operations in Iraq, prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, sharply criticizes Pentagon attempts to plan for the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion two years ago, saying stabilization and reconstruction issues "were addressed only very generally" and "no planning was undertaken to ensure the security of the Iraqi people."
Now, there's three things here:
  1. It's a seven volume series! They're two different volumes! It's an entirely different story!
  2. The first time? It came out on April Fool's Day. Everybody probably thought it was a joke, with the exception of my entirely humorless self.
  3. The story didn't "catch fire." It didn't get endlessly repeated on cable news networks, and just sort of fizzled out. My extract's from the Washington Post, so it's not like the MSM never published it, but it wasn't on the front page -- since I've started getting the daily paper, I realize that I really only read the front pages of various sections.

Having been ignored in 2005, the story's getting rereleased now, when a more responsible Congress is engaging in a little oversight. Waxman's starting to seem a little overtaxed, though. Does anybody want to pick up some slack?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

One thing I find hilarious?

When you click into the website for Metro North from the MTA, you're asked to choose which side of the Hudson River your destination is on. This is usually a question I can answer, because I grew up just a few miles from the Hudson, which loomed large in the minds of the people who settled my hometown. But, I don't always know -- there's a lot of towns in New York, and I usually just start with a town name -- nobody says, "Oh, I'll meet you at Beacon, East of the Hudson." Imagine not having grown up here, and having to find, say, New Paltz.

It gets a little funnier, even. Because if you do click 'West of Hudson,' you get a web page that says, "Psych! You want New Jersey Transit!" So, if you've been told to take a Metro North train somewhere, and you go to the website, you're confronted with a question you can't answer as opposed to a notice that New Jersey Transit runs the lines West of the Hudson.

So, this is a combination of two information cultures -- transit people tend to assume you already know everything about the area you're traveling in, and web information architects get more happiness and satisfaction from arranging the information they have in consonant ways rather than displaying the information you need. It's funny to see these interface pathologies work so well together.

Shout out to HopStop! It still can't get me to New Paltz, which might be a foolish dream in any case, but it guides me through this information in a much more accessible manner. I've essentially stopped using the MTA Trip Planner. But, don't ask me about web revenue models.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008

More from my Representative Carolyn Maloney's RSS feed. She's introduced a bill to help credit card holders -- the first principle it's based on is "Issuers Should Issue Credit Cards on Terms that the Individual Can Repay." It's hard to understand why the issuers couldn't come up with that rule on their own, until you realize credit card accounts were being securitized just like mortgages.

Now, I like people. Just, really, in general. And, a lot of the pleasure I take in careful enforced regulation is in its reduction of human suffering. But, I do appreciate the odd ancillary good effect on our financial markets. These sound like they'll be good for that, too.
The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights:

-Protects cardholders against arbitrary interest rate increases
-Prevents cardholders who pay on time from being unfairly penalized
-Protects cardholders from due date gimmicks
-Shields cardholders from misleading terms
-Empowers cardholders to set limits on their credit
-Requires card companies to fairly credit and allocate payments
-Prohibits card companies from imposing excessive fees on cardholders
-Prevents card companies from giving subprime credit cards to people who can’t afford them
-Requires Congress to provide better oversight of the credit card industry
-Contains NO rate caps, fee setting, or price controls
Thanks, Representative Maloney!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

What's the government's role in preventing terror attacks?

As commander of the military's Joint Detention Group at Guantanamo, [Army Col. Bruce] Vargo is responsible for the camps holding 260 detainees.... For his part, Vargo said he is preoccupied by the possibility of an al-Qaida attack on Guantanamo.... Vargo declined to discuss whether the U.S. has received information that al-Qaida may be planning such an attack. "We have intelligence reports, but I don't want to release what we know for obvious reasons," he said.
Do you ever wonder what those obvious reasons are? If I come out and say, "Al Qaeda is planning to spread e. coli on spinach originating in China," what might happen? Might people be a little wary of Chinese spinach? Might we be able to get better intelligence on the plot? Maybe, just maybe, if they thought we expected it, we wouldn't do it?

I think that's really the answer. I think that Colonel Vargo is worried that if he spills the beans about a plot somebody made up under torture, the plot wouldn't come to pass and he wouldn't be able to say , "I told you so."

Seriously. Usually, we say we have to keep information secret because the way we got it would be endangered. But, we got this information by electrocuting some guy's testicles in Cuba! I really don't see the obvious reasons.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Combining anti-anxiety medications with painkillers can be particularly lethal

Heath Ledger's death falls into the celebrity news category. I don't mean to seem hard-hearted, but Mr. Ledger was firmly in the column of people I don't know -- given that there are around 6 billion of them and they live to around 60, 100 million of them should die every year, 300, 000 every day, 10 thousand an hour.

But, the great thing about celebrities is that they take things that happen to everyone, and bring them into the popular conciousness. So, when Jim Brady gets shot in the head, we can talk about gun control.

The New York City chief medical examiner’s office has ruled that the actor Heath Ledger, whose body was found in a SoHo apartment on Jan. 22, died of an accidental overdose of prescription medications that included painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs.


Told about the drugs found in Mr. Ledger’s body, Dr. Vatsal G. Thakkar, a psychiatrist at N.Y.U. Medical Center and a clinical assistant professor at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine, said in a statement, “Six different sedative drugs in Heath Ledger’s system show something was amiss. Whether that was in taking combinations of drugs without proper medical guidance or sloppy prescribing, it was an unfortunate situation and with a tragic outcome.”


Dr. Andrew J. Kolodny, the vice chairman of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center and an authority on deaths by accidental overdose, said that combining anti-anxiety medications with painkillers can be particularly lethal. Both types of medications can lead to addiction, he said, making it more challenging for someone using the two types of drugs to avoid combining them.
When Heath Ledger combines prescription medications with an over the counter antihistamine, we can talk about that.

And, by the way, prescription anti-anxiety medications taken under a doctor's supervision are entirely safe. I don't mean to suggest that they're not. It's just that they make painkillers lethal.

Foreclosures come to the Hamptons

It's my understanding that the same population owns in the Hamptons and in Manhattan. So...
via Housing Bubble Blog:

[T]he Hamptons, the summer hangout for Manhattan’s rich and famous, is seeing its fair share of troubled real estate—not unlike the rest of the nation.

There are about 40 homes in various stages of foreclosure in East Hampton and another 40 in Southampton, he said. “A year ago, you just didn’t see that.” The houses involved include a $4 million property, although most are more modest homes, he said.

Many of the houses are unoccupied and serve as second or even third homes for the wealthy. Mr. Brady said some buyers put little money down on their purchases, believing that the properties would not only serve as vacation getaways, but as rapidly appreciating investments and tax write-offs. Most of the foreclosed properties are at the lower end of the price scale for the area, however, and some are primary residences, he said.

Nationally, foreclosure filings rose 75% in 2007 from a year earlier, to 2.2 million, RealtyTrac reported last week. That’s 1% of U.S. households

Hilarious 'Blue Chip Real Estate' Slide Show on

OK. The problem wasn't paying insane amounts that no non-speculator would ever match for residential properties. The problem was that you were doing it in the wrong places. According to Forbes, this is where prices will never, ever go down.
  • New York, NY. Well, not the boroughs. Or the whole Upper East Side. Really, just Fifth Avenue And 70th Street, which is up 325 % since 1990, according to
  • Chicago, Lake Shore Drive and Route 41, 236 %. Oh oh! Only number two, and they've no longer quadrupled!
  • Dallas, University Park, 148 %
  • Philadelphia, Third & Walnut, 184 % -- Hmmm, I'm not sure how these are ordered.
  • San Francisco, El Camino Del Mar and Lake Street, 282 %
  • L.A., Pacific Palisades, 440 %
  • Houston, West University Place, 194 %
  • Miami, Brickell Avenue and 13th, 471 %
  • Phoenix, Village on the Lakes and Taliverde, 177 %
  • D.C., Rock Creek Park and Massachusetts Avenue, 393 %
  • Atlanta, Ponce De Leon & Oakdale, 237 %
  • Detroit, Grosse Point Park, 142 % -- Yes, Detroit
  • Boston, Chelsea & Medford, 221 %
  • Seattle, Laurelhurst, 216 %
  • Minneapolis, Cedar Lake Road and Theodore Wirth Parkway, 197%

This is from the accompanying story:
While gambles on up-and-coming neighborhoods and new developments paid off for many real estate investors during the boom, housing markets across the country are now awash with unsold condos and suffering from sluggish sales.

But this is not the case for homeowners in so-called "blue chip" neighborhoods..... After all, a truly robust market can weather market downturns and grow during market spikes, no matter how many cycles it goes through.

We constrained our data set in two ways. Neighborhoods had to post prices in the city's median range or above in 1990, and the majority of homes in the neighborhood had to be built before 1990.... In some cases, our blue-chip picks encompass a city's priciest area.... Still, in some places, the strongest-growing parts of town were middle- or upper-middle-class areas that were a good value in 1990, have exploded in value since, and are presently proving they can withstand the downward draft.


[H]omes that are smaller [or] apartments... represent affordable buying opportunities in many blue-chip neighborhoods.

The prices are high, but you get what you pay for--especially when it comes time to hang out the "For Sale" sign.
Seriously. Forbes wants you to invest in residential real estate in areas that have quadrupled in value in the last twenty years. While houses are deflating everywhere else. As worthwhile as it would be simply to make fun of a magazine, I bring it up to bolster part of my thesis about Manhattan -- that price collapse will be steep and harsh here in part because speculative investors from the rest of the country are seeking it out as one of the few safe places left.

And, as an aside, this is sort of where Math fails you. You can give a guys a bunch of data and say, "find me safe real estate investments." And, they'll come up with something. But, it's an ill posed question. You have to have a credible theory to work with.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The states tried to avert the housing bubble disaster

Via unsettling economics:
As the federal government scurries to prevent the subprime mortgage crisis from sending the economy into a deep recession, many of us are asking why it waited so long to intervene. As it turns out, the government wasn't exactly sitting on its hands. Instead, for reasons that now appear hopelessly shortsighted, an obscure federal agency torpedoed legislation from a handful of states that would have made institutional investors far charier of buying mortgage loans that were likely to go belly-up. If the legislation had been permitted to go into effect, the crisis we now face would probably look a lot less grim. The right question, then, is not why the feds did so little. It's why they did so much.
This is the sort of realization that's going to close down the Republican Party altogether.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Stimulus Plan Raises Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae's lending limits

This should rank up there with 'Soylent Green is People' or 'How to Serve Man! It's a Cookbook!'
via Housing Bubble Blog:

It's been highly touted as an economic stimulus bill that will help millions of Americans - and has the backing of both President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.... As part of the bill, Congress is set to rush through an increase in the mortgage loan limits for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (and Federal Housing Administration insurance, too) - from $417,000 to $729,750 - the first step toward a massive financial disaster in which taxpayers will end up paying through the nose.

Here's how we got to this point. Domestic and international investors hold hundreds of billions of dollars in bad debt, because U.S. investment houses sold them junk securities based on often fraudulent mortgages. Many of these mortgages were sold to unqualified buyers under terms that made widespread foreclosures a certainty once the housing market began to fall.

Investment banks and bond rating agencies sat down and tried to figure out how to describe Americans with insufficient incomes and little for a down payment as great credit risks on loans too big for their incomes. The new rules focused on credit scores, because it was a good excuse to avoid looking at income and down payment, factors that would have restricted this moneymaking fiasco.

You have to stop this. Yes, you! Write your Representative and your Senators. As opposed to stealing money from home owners, investment banks are now seeking to steal money in a new way from taxpayers, one of whom it is harder to avoid being.

This is what I wrote:
Dear [Representative/Senator][name here],
I read a very alarming column in the San Francisco Chronicle today pointing out that part of the economic stimulus package was an expansion of the size of the loans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could buy by 75 %. Congress should be acting to make homes more affordable by limiting mortgage terms to 30 or fewer years, not attempting to prolong their anhistoric divergence from income distributions.

If this stimulus package can not be stopped, please support an amendment to remove this provision.

Thank you! I remain

Rionn Fears Malechem
Update: I mean 75%, of course. Never do math with calculators. The letters I actually sent said "17.5%."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Let's Picket the Heartland Institute's "Climate Conference"

So, one of the main clearinghouses of climate change disinformation is the Heartland Institute, and they have a conference in Manhattan from March 2 to 5. I think I'll go out and picket it on March 2nd, but I'll have to get a band together. Watch this space.
Heartland promises a free weekend at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan, including travel costs, to all elected officials wanting to attend.

This is very nice hotel indeed. Our recommendation to those elected officials tempted by the offer: enjoy a great weekend in Manhattan at Heartland's expense and don't waste your time on tobacco-science lectures - you are highly unlikely to hear any real science there.

Boondocks on Happiness and Desire

It seems like you're bound to fail at anything worth doing, but you can only be truly* happy if you're doing it. So, every moment of a happy life is bound up with misery and disgrace. Ah, I love Boondocks. I'm sorry there aren't any more of them.

* -- A little Orwell humor. Or maybe I'm crazy. Didn't Orwell right a semi-autobiographical story where he was shacked up with some older woman (kind of an Alan Greenspan/Ayn Rand thing) in London creating a scandal, and his earnest friend visited him and was arguing about 'true freedom' and 'true happiness' when the Orwell-based character asked him why prepending 'true' to an abstract noun seemed to totally invert its meaning? A little help, anyone? The Google Book search, Amazon and Wikipedia are not backing me up, here. Is this not Orwell?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Inconceivable Chaos in Kenya

The road from Eldoret to Kericho ... is a gauntlet of machete-wielding teenagers, some chewing stalks of sugar cane, others stumbling drunk.

On Friday, there were no less than 20 checkpoints in the course of 100 miles and at each barricade — whether it was a downed telephone poll, a charred truck or a 500-pound gnarled tree stump — mobs of rowdy young men jumped in front of cars, refusing to let them pass.

The crisis in Kenya in which more than 800 people have been killed since a flawed election in December is certainly ethnic. But there is another, simpler side emerging.


“It has led to an intolerable level of deaths, destruction, displacement and suffering,” [Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations,]said. “This is unacceptable. It has to stop.”
So, I'd really like to see more out of Barack Obama on this. If you haven't been following, he's half Luo, and Raila Odinga who feels that he won the Presidential election, has stated that he's Barack's father's cousin (although that can be a pretty loose term in Kenya.) Barack's got standing in Kenya.

President Mwai Kibaki is pushing for a "US 2000" resolution to the crisis: let the true winner fade into the background and have his adherents grumblingly accept the theft. (The winner in our case wasn't the sitting president, so a little protest might have gotten us somewhere.) Raila Odinga is not happy with that, and is not advocating peace.

Barack Obama has been in presumably supportive contact with Mr. Odinga, but doesn't seem to have done anything with his existing relationship with Mr. Kibaki from his 2006 visit, on which
He praised Kenya’s lack of major ethnic conflict and its history of clean elections. But he added, “You’re starting to see the reassertion of ethnic identity as the basis for politics,” which he said was not good.
So, buddy. You want to show your foreign policy chops? It's not like I know the way out here, but I'm not asking to be president. Here's a problem tailor made for you to solve.

Give $250 to Cynthia McKinney

In order to qualify for federal matching funds, Representative McKinney has to get $5000 in donations of up to $250 in all 50 states. So, if you live in a state, you can double your money!

Note that the donations are made using PayPal -- I had to give the last four digits of my credit card before they let me in on this, and it made a difference. So, I'm telling you now.

Mad TV - Apple iRack

A friend was showing off his iPhone tonight, and showed me this allegorical video. It's very funny. Check it out!

Manhattan Exceptionalism

So, housing prices and sales in the Wayne White Plains MSA are going down like they are in all of them. But, Manhattan's still vibrant, posting one insane increase after another. In my insufficiently substantiated worldview this is mostly driven by
  • Bonuses in finance, which I've spoke about at length, and
  • Capital flight from Real Estate investments elsewhere in the country - as this is the place where real property continues to appreciate, flippers who survived elsewhere are investing here, in some analog to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are other worldviews. One of the common things you hear people who believe the Manhattan real estate market will continue to inflate say is that foreigners are now outbidding one another for housing here. Paul Krugman has a nice recent column on the reliability of foreign capital, but one might reasonably ask what they expect to achieve.
KENNY TIMMONS... a 32-year-old carpenter from County Meath, Ireland... put down 10 percent on a $760,000 studio under construction at 75 Wall Street[, which] he hopes to rent... out for $3,000 a month when it’s finished next year and [to] eventually... sell it at a profit.
Manhattan real estate is also benefiting because buyers have lost confidence in other United States markets....
Mr. Timmons is like many of [Dublin broker Kyle Thomason's (who is also licensed to sell real estate in New York)] clients in Ireland who view these properties purely as investments. They typically don’t ask quality-of-life questions — about schools, for instance. “It’s all based on what their rental yield is going to be,” she said.
Ana Maria Ruiz, 22, ... is from Bogotá, Colombia.... Her parents, who run a general hospital in Bogotá... [w]ith help from their broker, Jamie Breitman of Bellmarc Realty... found a $499,000 studio at 145 East 48th Street, with a view of the Chrysler Building.... Once her daughter moves out of the apartment, Mrs. Ruiz hopes to rent it for $3,000 to $3,500 a month.
Brokers say that Korean families who are buying Manhattan apartments typically use them for relatives to live in rather than as rental investments.... Youngchul Kim and his wife, Namjoo, first began looking for a Manhattan apartment in 2003 when their middle daughter, Yoojung, 31, began working as an architect here.... This summer, the Kims helped [their 26-year-old youngest daughter] Heekyung buy a $1.5 million two-bedroom at the Avery with views that rival their views of the Han River from their apartment in Seoul. Their oldest daughter, Yeonjung, 32, may relocate from Korea to live with her.
Dr. Nick Kotsomitis, a 39-year-old orthodontist from Brisbane, Australia... [w]ith help from a family friend, Jimena Yudi, a broker at Citi Habitats New York... chose a $1.885 million studio at the Plaza ....
He felt that an apartment at the Plaza would hold its value better than larger apartments in lesser-known buildings....
When Nick Ayer moved to Manhattan from London, he was looking for... a way to invest a £500,000 inheritance (about $1 million).... His agent, Andrusha Bohackova of Bellmarc, helped him find a $668,000 one-bedroom condo at 230 Riverside Drive. He moved into the apartment in April and says he’s happy with his investment — for now. He hopes to sell the apartment eventually, move to France or the Amazon and live off the profits. “My money increased 100 percent by just coming over here,” he said.
The point here, if it were too dull, is that the foreigners are also expecting rents and real estate values to keep increasing. Ireland, Australia and Korea are all in their own bubbles. I don't know about Columbia. But, there's trouble brewing.

Thanks to all of our foreign friends who have decided to take some of this on.