Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Daily Sprawl is Watching...

...presenting the winner of this year's CNU short film contest.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Daily Sprawl is Watching...

...this short documentary explains how much of the current economic crisis was artificially instigated.

Watch the thought-provoking story here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Daily Sprawl is Considering...

Well, it doesn't take much of an I.Q. to see that the federal government is spending like a mall rat with their parents credit card in hand. It's really quite startling when you consider the actual numbers.

To do so, check out these videos which explain the math in interesting but basic terms.

A couple of things before you do though:

1. These videos are based on math, not partisanship. That's key because, like many, Daily Sprawl is independent. No party-carrying cards here. So, while watching, view the facts presented independently without political assumptions or biases. Doing so will lead to the second curious point...

2...of the last five Presidents, there was one Administration and Congress that spent much less than others. Can you guess? Reagan (nope). Bush One or Two (wrong again). Obama (no way so far).

That leaves Clinton. Now I'm not a big fan of Clinton but the math is the math. It does not lie. Meaning that, when it comes to fiscal restraint--that Administration and that Congress were the most frugal since, well, Truman.

Anyhow, take a look. It's quite starting where the current Administration is taking federal spending.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Daily Sprawl Reading...

...interested in how you can improve your health by eating better? Well, noted author Michael Pollan has an excellent interview now on-line.

Check it out here.

He goes a long way toward dispelling the intellectually-weak argument that you can't eat naturally without spending gobs of money. That's really nothing more than following the sheep-like marketing that agribusiness spends alot of money promoting.

Don't be a sheep.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Daily Sprawl Watching...

...I.O.U.S.A--an excellent documentary on the devastating, long-term fiscal challenges that our national budget is facing.

Watch a free version of the documentary here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Now This Is Shocking...

Check out these videos of nearly finished new homes being demolished essentially because of no demand and negative value.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Real Life Fiction?

Is there any truth to the rumor that "24"'s tragic hero Jack Bauer will next take on Goldman Sachs?

Not quite, but this MarketWatch columnist finds some comparisons worth noting.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Green Commute?

It looks like that's the literal truth for several European rail lines.

Read (and see) the whole story here (h/t John Acken).

UPDATE: See the above image. It's not just Europe...New Orleans also has some greened rail/trolley track, too...

Some of the Best Cookies Ever...

...sounds like a big compliment, right?

Well, it's well-deserved for Nadja's Cookies. We recently sampled several for an upcoming magazine article on organic and natural foods.

Let's just say that if you like macaroons then this is your moment of cookie zen...

Imagine Living in This Place...

...Stark. Brutually stark in a oddly surreal way.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Government Sachs...

...from Rubin with Clinton, to Paulson with Bush, and now Geithner with Obama, "Government Sachs" a/k/a Goldman Sachs has been pulling the levers of regulatory power across a host of administrations.

This NYT column
explains the problem with that:
Why kill Lehman and save A.I.G.? The theory, we now know, was that the government felt it needed to save the firms, including Goldman Sachs, that had insured many of their risky ventures through the insurer. Indeed, had Mr. Paulson decided not to save A.I.G., its counterparties would have suffered serious losses. Lehman’s creditors will be lucky to get back pennies on the dollar.
Daily Sprawl predicts that Goldman that aspiring politician (probably a State Attorney General or such) will decide that taking on Goldman will be a good political move and indictments will result.

Don't be surprised at all to see this in 2009.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Lawsuit Forces Companies to Come Clean...

Too often, companies are able to hide the chemicals in their cleaning products from the consumer.

Fortunately, a recent lawsuit has pushed one major corporation to become more transparent about their product contents.

Read the story here.

Feeling Down?

Maybe you need something uplifting, something that inspires you today?

If so, then watch this.

What a wonderful example of refusing to concede to conventional wisdom...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

India's Agricultural "Revolution"...

...NPR had a story this morning on how India's alleged "revolution" in agriculture is actually leading the country toward an abyss of unsustainable, petro-chemical addicted farming.

Why should Daily Sprawl's non-Indian readers care about what is happening in India?

The answer is simple: it's current problems foreshadow potential agriculture problems here in the U.S. because they are both based on the false hope of petro-chemical farming.

Listen to the NPR story here.

And, while you're at it, rent, buy, or borrow this book: Animal, Vegetable, MiracleIt's one book that, more than just about any other, has changed our way of thinking about how we grow, what we grow, and when we grow. A must-read for Daily Sprawl Readers.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

What is the Real Unemployment Rate?

Well, it's not the 8.5% that is generally being reported. That number is flawed because it excludes several categories of people who are suffering job income loss but do not fall within the very narrow, technical definition of unemployment used by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As usual, Mish Shedlock has an excellent post explaining this shell game in easy to understand detail. Read it here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fighting Asthma and Other Respiratory Problems...

Did you know that many common household products can exacerbate various breathing problems such as asthma? Yet another reason to get rid of chemical-based cleaners and bodycare products.

This recent article from the Seventh Generation blog does a good job framing the issue:
Case in point is a new study from Johns Hopkins, which finds that the risk of asthma rises with the increase in air pollution inside the home. The study is one of many that have recently connected the quality of the air kids are breathing at home with the number of emergency room visits they make for asthma attacks.
On that same topic, Daily Sprawl recently ran across a fantastic-sounding air purifier product while doing research for another article. Check out the Paralda by Alen Corp. (image above) and the interesting and important story behind its founder and his family's battle with childhood respiratory challenges.

A very compelling example of how its time to ditch the chemicals--if for no other reason than to reduce the threats to our childrens' health...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bank Bailout Protests...

...seem to be getting more and more organized lately. Here's an example.

Monday, April 6, 2009

NFL Writer Advocates for Walkable Communities?

Yep, you read that one right. It appears that well-known Sports Illustrated writer and television personality Peter King is clicking with his new walkable life.

Now, I wouldn't sign him up for the CNU just yet but sometimes you find accidental allies in the most curious places.

From his weekly NFL column:
Aggravating/Enjoyable Travel Note of the Week
Stayed close to home this week. But I'm finding something interesting about city life. (For those who don't know, my wife and I moved to Boston a month ago, and we're still settling in. Enjoying it a lot so far.) From last Monday morning to Sunday night , I drove my car once, two miles to the Home Depot. That's it. I wonder if I need a car. I suppose I'll need one as time goes on, but I miss nothing about driving. Walking is good.

Scenes from the Recession...

...The Boston Globe has put together a powerful photo essay--several of which are very sprawl-centric--of the current economic difficulties.

Check out the photo essay here

Friday, April 3, 2009

This is Bewildering!

From the Financial Times::
US banks that have received government aid, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, are considering buying toxic assets to be sold by rivals under the Treasury’s $1,000bn (£680bn) plan to revive the financial system.

The plans proved controversial, with critics charging that the government’s public-private partnership - which provide generous loans to investors - are intended to help banks sell, rather than acquire, troubled securities and loans.
Really very little commentary is needed. If this is allowed to happen, then the current mortgage crisis will essentially become a close-circuited, self-perpetuating problem. I mean really: buying depreciated loans to help raise money to pay off your existing depreciated loans. Sounds like the person who cuts off their left arm to buy a better right one.

Congress must act quickly to prevent this brazen effort by certain banks that exist only because the Federal government is propping them up as it appears that the Treasury Department is prepared to allow this to go forward.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shouldn't More People Just Be Paying...

...HR Block or some other tax service to do this.

This has become a pattern and I suspect its not limited to any particular party or administration. Yes, the tax code is complicated, but professional tax services don't really cost that much to get it right.

Forget Homebuyers... even the banks are walking away from properties.

The new reality conversation apparently goes something like this:

City: "Foreclosure?"
Bank: "Uh, no thanks, our CEO doesn't think its worth the cost."

Mish Shedlock has the story here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Here's a Very Important Article...

A Daily Sprawl "Must Read" from the latest issue of The Atlantic.

More AIG Mischief...

The Zero Hedge blog has an exclusive on very, very troubling details related to AIG.

Read the entire story here:
For those to whom this is merely a lot of mumbo-jumbo, let me explain in layman's terms:
AIG, knowing it would need to ask for much more capital from the Treasury imminently, decided to throw in the towel, and gifted major bank counter-parties with trades which were egregiously profitable to the banks, and even more egregiously money losing to the U.S. taxpayers, who had to dump more and more cash into AIG, without having the U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner disclose the real extent of this, for lack of a better word, fraudulent scam.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another City and its Slow Demise...

...this time its Flint, Michigan.

As a child and through my college years, I would often drive through Flint, Michigan on the way to my grandparents home in Bay City, Michigan. While we would rarely spend time in the downtown part of city, Flint was a frequent passage in my childhood travels.

Even then, the city seemed mired in a certain type of melancholy. Like the tired workers in an industry whose brightest days will remain long past.

Sadly, Flint's demise continues. Worse still, little hope appears to be left.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trouble for the Geithner Plan...

"Quite frankly, this amounts to robbery of the American people. I don't think it's going to work because I think there'll be a lot of anger about putting the losses so much on the shoulder of the American taxpayer."
Read the whole story here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

This is a very good start:
Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of the South Lawn on Friday to plant a vegetable garden, the first at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II. There will be no beets — the president does not like them — but arugula will make the cut.

While the organic garden will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama said, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Alabama is a Roadblock for High Speed Rail...

Read the story of how the State of Alabama (where Daily Sprawl resides) is gumming up efforts to garner stimulus funds to develop an Atlanta to New Orleans high speed rail line.

Probably the biggest problem stalling the plan is this:
All taxes earmarked for Alabama’s Department of Transportation are constitutionally designated for roads and bridges, said Tony Harris, special assistant to the transportation director. Harris said the state has no role in transit, although it does dole out federal dollars and serve as a watchdog over those funds.
Truly archaic and a major reason why Alabama is a transportation laggard when compared to its sister Southern states.

Now, I'm not necessarily a huge fan of fancy high speed rail lines. The more comprehensive solution would seem to be to expand existing conventional lines to provide a wider scope of access to different destinations. After that is done (and only after that) should some major lines be configured for higher speeds.

But, alas, if the federal government is determined to spend a certain amount of money on high speed rail, then it really behooves Alabama to serve its citizens by bringing some of that effort to this state.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Economic Crisis...

...filled with graphs and images. Click here for a very interesting graphical essay, if you will.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vacation Blogging...

The Daily Sprawl family is on spring break this week so updates will be less frequent than normal. However, this article on a troublesome new Congressional bill that could adversely affect community farming is worth noting.

Considering that I'm sitting about 100 yards from the Seaside School's new corner garden--one that is organic and a great teaching tool for students and the community--isn't it unfortunate that Congress is again imprecisely addressing food problems.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Orange Juice Myth?

That's what this interview suggests:
IDEAS: What isn't straightforward about orange juice?

HAMILTON: It's a heavily processed product. It's heavily engineered as well. In the process of pasteurizing, juice is heated and stripped of oxygen, a process called deaeration, so it doesn't oxidize. Then it's put in huge storage tanks where it can be kept for upwards of a year. It gets stripped of flavor-providing chemicals, which are volatile. When it's ready for packaging, companies such as Tropicana hire flavor companies such as Firmenich to engineer flavor packs to make it taste fresh. People think not-from-concentrate is a fresher product, but it also sits in storage for quite a long time.

What is "householding"?

Click here to read an interesting article on this time-honored avocation.

Meanwhile, Reason # 4453987 that Food, Inc. is literally making us sick--read more in this fascinating NYT story on how animal antibiotic treatments are hurting humans.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Las Vegas is Losing Big...

This Review Journal story reports that the city has lost a whooping $130+ million in canceled convention bookings and related non-gambling revenue (we can only imagine how much this number would grow if you added lost gambling revenue to the total. ouch.)

The ironic thing is that Las Vegas is quickly becoming an amazingly cheap place to go. While I don't gamble, I do enjoy the spectacle of great dining, shows, and the outrageous "lights" of Las Vegas. As a result, I regularly receive offers to go there.

One recent one was for $59 per night rooms at a nice resort on Las Vegas Blvd (the "strip"). Plus, it offered a $20 per day dining credit and half-price Cirque tickets.

What a steal...literally cheaper than the Motel 6 down the street.

Wow, what interesting things that an economic crisis can foster...

Bio-Diesel Blog

Here's an interesting blog from one of the Hampstead Institute's founding members, Clay McInnis.

It focuses on certain biodiesel strategies. Take a look and we think you'll find some thought-provoking content...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Rarely Agree With...

...Paul Krugman, but he has a really good point here:
Has the risk of a US government default risen? Probably. Nonetheless, the people buying these contracts are crazy. A world in which the US government defaults would be a world in chaos; how likely is it that these contracts would be honored?
Indeed. The whole premise of a Credit Default Swap being paid if the U.S. sovereign debt fails is another example of a hocus-pocus financial product. That is to say, it may exist (and even be bought) but it does not exist as a transactable event in any real sense.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Upcoming Sustainable Farming Event...

The Jemison, Alabama-based Petals from the Past (located roughly between Birmingham and Montgomery off of I-65) is offering an interesting free event this Saturday. I'll be attending with several friends so make sure and say hello if you attend.

Here's a link to details:
Saturday March 14, 2009 A Sustainable Approach to Gardening -Part 2

10:30am Time to Plant - Edwin Marty - Edwin Marty is the executive director of Jones Valley Urban Farms and he will guide you through plant selection, planting and care and maintenance of edibles incorporated in your landscape.

12:00 Lunch can be ordered for $10.00 or you may bring your own. Reservations required. Please call before 3:00pm on March 13 to make your your lunch reservation. 205-646-0069

12:30 Who's Hiding in Your Backyard- Taylor Hatchett - Let Taylor Hatchett, Regional Extension Agent help you with pest management methods that are safe. Learn how to identify and control common pests that would love to make a buffet out of your landscape.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Time Magazine Asks a Great Question...

Is this the country's last indoor mall?

With the answer being a likely yes, isn't it odd to think of that great symbol of an entire American generation or two--the indoor shopping mall--becoming extinct. In a weird way, it's a bit sad if only because melancholy isn't limited for worthy things alone.

Lesson #50594335... to why most commentators are not worth listening to when it comes to the current economic issues.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Big Boxes Empty Out...

...thanks to the Daily Sprawl reader that forwarded us this article on how a growing number of big boxes are showing up empty in Birmingham, Alabama:
The nation's retail slump is being felt across the Birmingham-metro area as big-box retailer after big-box retailer closes its doors.

As the losses of those hulking retail spaces pile up, empty parking lots become common sights, leaving questions about how long they will stay vacant since the prospects of filling them are slim.

"There is no modern historical context for where we are in the market right now," said Hugo Isom, a partner with The Shopping Center Group, a retail brokerage firm that looks to fill about 1.5 million square feet of vacancies for clients in north-central Alabama.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

From the Excellent "Green Fork Blog"...

...comes the Eat Healthy Monday idea.

Check it out here and learn how your pantry can incrementally get better for you and your family with every visit to the grocery store and/or farmers market.

Simple and affordable in many respects.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

AIG Should Go Bankrupt...

From CNBC on whether AIG should be allowed to fail:
Suppose AIG goes bankrupt, it is better that AIG goes bankrupt and we have a horrible two or three years than that the whole US goes bankrupt," Rogers said. "AIG has trillions of dollars of obligations, let them fail, let the courts sort it out and start over. Otherwise we'll never start over."

On Monday, CEO Edward Liddy told CNBC that the insurer is far more stable and secure than it was last fall but acknowledged that it was "difficult to say" if AIG will need even more money from the government in the future.

Bailing out the banks is going to increase the debt spiral and finally cause the destruction of the world's biggest economy, Rogers said.

"I think it's astonishing, they're ruining the US economy, they're ruining the US government, they're ruining the US central bank and they're ruining the US dollar," he said.

"You are watching something in front of our eyes, very historically, which is basically the destruction of New York as a financial center and the destruction of America as the world's most powerful country."
Well, Jim Rogers pretty much summed up what we've been arguing for quite some time. That is, nothing can fundamentally improve until the fundamentally-flawed debt is forced into default. That's the endgame. Nothing else.

Classic closing quote from Rogers:
"The idea that you have too much debt, too much borrowing and too much consumption and you're going to solve that problem with more debt, more consumption and more borrowing? These people are nuts."

A New Reader Blog...

...a Daily Sprawl reader recently emailed us about this new blog that he has started. So far, it looks interesting and is certainly an important topic.

Check it out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Semi-Official Song of...

...the Dow Jones Industrial Average?

"An Ode to Cashing Out"...

The "Bezzle"

The Market Ticker blog explains today how the "bezzle" is making a economic recovery almost a mathematical impossibility unless it stops soon:
We have exactly one opportunity to stop this, and that opportunity is now.

Government simply must stop "The Bezzle" in all parts of our economy and capital markets, and must do so right here, right now, today.

If we fail to demand this as Americans or our government fails to implement this across the board then we will suffer a Depression worse than the 1930s.

This is not conjecture.

It is not a prediction, nor drawn from how I "feel".

This is mathematics; it is a fact that we cannot possibly maintain anything close to our current standard of living unless private capital decides to re-enter our marketplace - a decision that government cannot force.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Another Reason that We Love...

...Whole Foods. This time it's their "Unacceptable Ingredients" list--a great starting place to research things that just should not be going into your body (even though the big corporate food companies continue to use them).

Have a look at the list here.

p.s. The above image is from their "Whole Story" blog. A great place to read up on healthy alternatives and options.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Buying Local...

One thing that we are trying to do more of this year is to buy our food products directly from Alabama farmers and producers. The idea for doing so was inspired by the fantastic Eating Alabama project and blog.

Well, if you are looking for a good source for Alabama grown turkey--one that is both local and raised in a healthy and sustainable way--then check out Bates Turkey in Fort Deposit, Alabama.

If you're not from Alabama, then we still recommend that you try to source as much locally as possible. Especially if you can find natural and health-friendly options like Bates.

A Very Interesting Interview...

While the article's headline is somewhat overblown, this interview from the Globe and Mail is a very informative read on the past, present, and likely future of the current economic problems. Definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More Outrage...

Word is that AIG will be asking the United States government for billions upon billions of more taxpayer dollars.

The reason? Well, the company is anticipating a loss than exceeds $50 billion dollars for this quarter (yes, you read that correctly--a private company is about to report an over $50 billion quarterly loss and, yet, will continue to apparently exist).

Folks, this alone is outrageous. At some point, a company that keeps losing TENS OF BILLIONS of dollars is simply not a viable company. It exists only as an extension of the federal government's funding. Any guise that AIG remains a "private" company is strictly that: a fiscal disguise.

But wait. There's more.

The excellent Market Ticker blog wonders if there might be more to this story beyond just bad business decisions.

Read the details here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ignore Statements From...

...the Federal Government that have anything to do with "capitalization". This excellent Calculated Risk blog post explains why they are either negligent or monunmentally uninformed (or both).

What is LTCM?

While doing some follow-up research on my article that will appear in an upcoming volume of the University of Oklahoma Law Review, I came across this New York Times article.

It makes an interesting argument that I've also offered before--that is, the federal government's role in the bailout of the Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) hedge fund in the late '90s played a key role in today's crisis by advancing the "moral hazard" theory.

You see, by bailing out all of these banks, insurance companies, car manufacturers and such, the federal government is not only delaying the inevitable pain of default but it is also propping up the idea that bad decision-makers have a decent chance of finding a final backstop in the form of Uncle Sam and his ability to create money.

All in all, definitely an article worth reading.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Great Viewing from Frontline...

...on how the Financial Crisis developed. Check it out here.

While in Greenville County, South Carolina...

...I came across a fantastic coffee shop with a fascinating shade grown and sustainable story.

Check out more about Leopard Forest Coffee Company here.

p.s. They ship their great beans throughout the U.S.

More Outrage...

Headline: "Did Campaign Cash Influence Bailout? Banks Get 258,000 Percent Return from Investments in D.C. Pols.":
“Some of the top recipients of contributions from companies receiving TARP money are the same members of Congress who chair committees charged with regulating the financial sector and overseeing the effectiveness of this unprecedented government program. They include Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (he received $854,200 from the companies in the 2008 election cycle, including money to his presidential campaign) and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chair of the Senate Finance Committee (he received $279,000).

In total, members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Senate Finance Committee and House Financial Services Committee received $5.2 million from TARP recipients in the 2007-2008 election cycle. President Obama collected at least $4.3 million from employees at these companies for his presidential campaign.”
This is yet another example of the outrageous type conduct that exacerbated this problem in the first place.

I suspect some prosecutor looking to make a name will begin aggressively pursuing these type matter. In fact, maybe that has already started.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Food Price Battles...

I'm in Greenville, South Carolina today for a SmartCode OnSite work session, but prior to starting, I found this article to be very interesting on the growing price battle between food makers and food providers:
Food makers who raised prices repeatedly to fight soaring commodity costs in recent years are now battling with retailers to hold onto those increases as the global economy grinds to a standstill.

Many are touting the relative value of their products versus eating out, promoting their products together with retailers' own brands and holding extensive conversations to let retailers know that in some cases their costs remain high even though many commodity prices have fallen, industry executives and analysts said.

"We're all trying to deal with a difficult economic reality where consumers are getting more demanding and competition is increasing to meet the needs of consumers, so it's just more pressurized," Campbell Soup Co (CPB.N) Chief Executive Douglas Conant said in an interview.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Two Important Articles...

Please carefully note this article:
Part of the problem is that the U.S. is "overstored," as retail analyst Jennifer Black and even store officials often say. Indeed, few can argue that the more than 200 million square feet of retail space added each year since 2004 was truly needed. J.C. Penney CEO Mike Ullman, chairman of the National Retail Federation, estimates that there is at least 100 million more square feet of retail space than the market needs.

And then this article:
The sums needed are beyond the limits of the IMF, which has already bailed out Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Iceland, and Pakistan – and Turkey next – and is fast exhausting its own $200bn (€155bn) reserve. We are nearing the point where the IMF may have to print money for the world, using arcane powers to issue Special Drawing Rights.

Its $16bn rescue of Ukraine has unravelled. The country – facing a 12pc contraction in GDP after the collapse of steel prices – is hurtling towards default, leaving Unicredit, Raffeisen and ING in the lurch. Pakistan wants another $7.6bn. Latvia's central bank governor has declared his economy "clinically dead" after it shrank 10.5pc in the fourth quarter. Protesters have smashed the treasury and stormed parliament.

"This is much worse than the East Asia crisis in the 1990s," said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank.
Both provide very stark yet very realistic warnings. Again, we must re-allocate wasted capacity toward useful and sustainable capacity. There will be less and, therefore, that which remains must be better.

Montgomery Mayoral Debate...

...on Growth and Development Issues.

The Hampstead Institute is presenting this debate which will convene at 7pm in Flowers Hall on the campus of Huntingdon College.

The debate is this Tuesday. We hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More Than a Trillion Dollar Problem?

If European Banks potentially have multi-trillions in toxic assets, one wonders what U.S. Banks may hold in their secret, off the book caches.

Watch this story carefully:
European Commission officials have estimated that “impaired assets” may amount to 44pc of EU bank balance sheets. The Commission estimates that so-called financial instruments in the ‘trading book’ total £12.3 trillion (13.7 trillion euros), equivalent to about 33pc of EU bank balance sheets.

In addition, so-called 'available for sale instruments' worth £4trillion (4.5 trillion euros), or 11pc of balance sheets, are also added by the Commission to arrive at the headline figure of £16.3 trillion.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Another Green Cleaning Option...

Bayes Premium Cleaners offer a wide variety of indoor and outdoor cleaners for houses and cars.

Daily Sprawl likes them because they work well and because several of their products have recently received the EPA's Design for the Enviroment label.

Plus, they are non-toxic and biodegradable.

So, you can clean with a piece of mind to boot...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Video of the Year Nominee...

Classic. Very, very classic.

(Thanks to Nathan N. for the find).

Another Green Option...

...this time we recommend the Kombucha Wonder Drink--a great option for a natural health and energy drink. The antioxidants and vitamins give a great boost with fantastic flavors, too...

Transect-Based Planning

Here's an interesting thread from a discussion forum on the issue of transect-based planning.

Included in the thread is an equally interesting and useful YouTube video discussing some of the issues.

We recommend both.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Dubai Is Emptying Out"

Remember not long ago when Dubai was concerned the shiny light of prosperity among a growing world of financial gloom?

Well, that shine is gaining some serious luster according to this article from the UK TimesOnline:
For many expatriate workers in Dubai it was the ultimate symbol of their tax-free wealth: a luxurious car that few could have afforded on the money they earned at home.

Now, faced with crippling debts as a result of their high living and Dubai’s fading fortunes, many expatriates are abandoning their cars at the airport and fleeing home rather than risk jail for defaulting on loans.

Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai’s international airport in recent months. Most of the cars – four-wheel drives, saloons and “a few” Mercedes – had keys left in the ignition.

Some had used-to-the-limit credit cards in the glove box. Others had notes of apology attached to the windscreen.

“Every day we find more and more cars,” said one senior airport security official, who did not want to be named. “Christmas was the worst – we found more than two dozen on a single day.”
Surely, this is a first. Drive to the airport, skip the short term and long term parking lots and, instead, leave the Benzer in the forever term parking lot. With the max'd out credit cards next to the keys (nice touch).

Wethinks that Mr. Perot might be hearing a new giant sucking sound out of that particular desert kingdom real soon...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Sign of Things to Come?

Congressman Ackerman appears to be quite upset. And for good reason.

Another Green Option...

Looking for great organic and fair trade coffee from a small business to boot?

If so, we've tested the options from Backcountry Coffee Roasters and found them to be fantastic.

Check out the website of this sustainable-focused company right here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Disney World Advocates Commuter Rail?

In addition to sprawl-related blogging, writing, and research, I also write columns covering the amusement industry. Here is one set of examples.

I note that because the two worlds recently collided a bit when Disney World's President, Meg Crofton, wrote an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel voicing support for the proposed SunRail commuter rail line in Orlando.

This is significant for several reasons such as the fact that--to varying degrees--both the government and Disney have been hesitant in the past to support various commuter and/or light rail efforts.

This very clear and open support of SunRail by Disney will be interesting to follow. After all, when the region's largest employer (over 50k employees) comes out for something--that's a pretty big boost to the project's prospects.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Back From...

...the Hampstead Institute Jim Kunstler talk and the SmartCode Advanced conference--both in Montgomery last week.

Overall, both were fantastic events. Spending much of the day with Kunstler tooling around town was a very curious experience.

Anyhow, this was waiting for me when I got back: Japan, Game Over?

While one might say that we are not Japan, our economies are closely and intricately linked in many ways. As a result, could Japan be America's canary in the coal mine?

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is This Really Change?

I'm certainly not going to reflexively bash our new president. But, his appointment of Tim Geithner to the position of Treasury Secretary continues to get worse and worse.

The Naked Capitalism blog does an excellent job chronicling how Geithner is exactly the wrong type of candidate we need right now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And Now Some Daily Sprawl...

...humor: from on how allegedly smart money managers really do dumb things when trying to fake their own death.

Nothing like a financial industry meltdown to bring out the fake dead people:
Another fugitive, suicide-faking fraudster is in police custody and all I can say is — I'm appalled!

Rule No.1 of Faking Your Death: Do NOT choose a getaway vehicle that will call attention to you.

Wall Street guys like to make you think they're the smartest guys in the room. And they talk a lot of trash that money management is risky business and if you can't run with the big dogs, you'd better get your assets back on the porch.

And then they deliver these ridiculous fake suicides like Florida's Art Nadel, who left a suicide note for his wife and then vanished for a month before turning himself in to police.

For such "smart" guys, these fake suicides are getting ridiculous!

The previous one-hit wonder, Marcus Schrencker, gets points for style — faking a plane crash, parachuting out and making a getaway on a motorcycle.

UPDATE: offers it advice on faking your own death with some moxie and success.

Monday, January 26, 2009

An Excellent Coffee Alternative... someone who runs into heartburn and acid reflux now and then, coffee and its caffeine plus high acid can be real problems.

That's why I've been searching for a hot coffee type drink that is low in acid and has no caffeine.

Well, the search has found a great option--Teeccino.

Not only is it caff-free with very low acid, it also tastes fantastic and even has a host of healthy ingredients.

Daily Sprawl is now very "pro-Teeccino"!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jim Kunstler Comes to Montgomery...

...for his first ever public presentation. The event is part of the Hampstead Institute Speaker Series. Click here to learn more.

We hope to see you there at this free event on Thursday, January 29th at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A New Phrase for 2009...

"Man, that guy really pulled a Geithner!" As in, the new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

If you haven't been following things, Mr. Geithner--who as SecTreas will head the IRS--failed to pay several years worth of various taxes to the IRS. Apparently, cued into this fact during his background check by the Obama Transition Team, Geithner paid most of the back taxes just before he was nominated by President Obama.

Add to this fact that Geithner was one of the Three Musketeers of the Bailout (along with Fed Head Bernanke and former SecTrea Paulson) and one wonders why in the world would the Obama Administration want Geithner anywhere near any economic activity that mattered.

But, alas, it gets better as during his questioning yesterday in his confirmation hearing before Congress, Mr. Geithner found yet another person to blame for his tax problems: TurboTax software.

Yep, that's right. The proposed Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner is pointing fingers at a piece of computer software for his tax failures.

Outstanding. Not even officially on the job yet and this nominee is starting to make Hank Paulson look more competent every day.

President Obama, do the right thing: ditch Geithner.

Should Merrill Lynch Be Allowed to... blatantly undermine and even defraud taxpayers.

This story absolutely sickens me.

It perfectly represents the very type of underhanded greed that advanced many of the current financial industry problems and failures.

The Treasury Department and Obama Administration should move boldly in addressing this travesty and refuse to allow either Merrill or BoA any access to federal taxpayer monies until these bonuses are revoked (and by the way, bonuses for what? screwing up your decades-old company? geez.)

UPDATE: New York's AG (and Senator-seeker) Andrew Cuomo will investigate these bonuses. Maybe disrupting this fraud has some traction after all...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Another Natural and Organic Snack Alternative...

Try Funky Monkey--they have some excellent and healthier snack alternatives than typical HFCS laden "fruit snacks".

One word of semi-warning though: their website has some serious dance-inducing music when first opened. Lower your computer's volume or your colleagues might wonder what's the office party all about...
The biggest unknown is when or if shoppers will ever resume spending the way they did when the housing market was booming, credit was easy and jobs were more plentiful.
A great quote from this AP article--one which really nails the key issue.

By the way, the answer to the implied question embedded in that quote is "No".

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Mess in California...

If there ever was a state budget that demonstrates the resounding thumps of the current economic woes, California is the poster child right now.

Read this Reuters article to see why.

UPDATE: This article from the San Jose Mercury News puts all things California budget-wise in an even more stark setting. Ouch.

An Alternative to Red Wine...

We often read about the health benefits that red wine offers--especially when it comes to a healthier heart.

Unfortunately, some of those benefits can be offset by potential problems resulting from the alcohol content of the wine.

That's what the Embodi drink is trying to strike a balance between: the health benefits of red wine without the alcohol content.

We've tested the product for an upcoming magazine article and it was fantastic.

An Open Letter...A Very Interesting One...

Mish Shedlock does some of the best financial analysis anywhere on his Global Economic Analysis blog. Today he's posted a very interesting "Open Letter" to the new President.

Read it here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ever Heard of Badger Balm?

If not, then you need to check out their website at

We've been reviewing several of their products for an upcoming Urban Green article and have found them to be fantastic natural options to the typical OTC drugs that people often first resort to.

Daily Sprawl recommends badger balm.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Is President-Elect Obama's Treasury Nominee... trouble?

This entry from the Big Picture blog suggests yes and further offers why that is a good thing:
That said, I think the decision to delay the Geithner hearing has given opponents a chance to educate members of Congress and defeat this ill-advised nomination. Indeed, based on conversations I have had with several members of the GOP leadership in the past 24-hours, it seems that members of Congress in both parties are starting to ask themselves what also they do not know about Tim Geithner. I believe that we can stop this nomination and give President Obama another chance to fill this key Cabinet post with a competent candidate.

Goodbye Circuit City... the story here.

But a preview of things to come...

UPDATE: From the Circuit City website. It appears that upwards of 34,000 jobs will be lost as a result of this bankruptcy.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When Will House Prices Stabilize?

That's the big question for many people. After all, it is the falling "paper value" of homes that have instigated much of the "paper wealth" destruction in the last 24 months.

Well, to answer this question, I've been doing some research. Here's a good rough way to calculate a likely stabilization point for home values:

When the median home price of an area is roughly three times the median income level of that same area.

This would mean the following:

If metro area X had a median income of $50,000 (roughly what the Census Bureau calculated for the U.S. in 2007) then the median home price for the same metro area should be no more than $150,000.

Sounds good and all, right? Well, Houston, we actually might have a big problem.

Why, you ask?

Because in 2007, with the 50k median income, the median nationwide home price was over $200,000 (note: all of these stats vary depending on specific regions of the country and further vary for specific localities within those regions).

Meaning that, the median income/median home price calculation is out of whack (a term not found in Black's Law Dictionary but which is clearly understood by most Americans) by a factor of at least 1.

But, you say, home prices have fallen a great deal since 2007. True.

Yet so has income.

Ultimately, the key will be for home prices to fall at a faster rate than income in order to reach that 3x ratio.

Hopefully that will be a shorter rather than longer time frame. And, even more hopefully we will reach that equilibrium of sorts at a higher income figure than lower one.

If not, the stabilization point of home prices will be well past the point of major fiscal discomfort.

Housing Foreclosures Continue to Grow...

Here's an interesting article on the foreclosure problem from
Foreclosure activity surged 81 percent in 2008 compared to 2007, despite the undying efforts by lenders and lawmakers to ease the foreclosure fiasco, according to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac.

The Foreclosure Market report showed a total of 3,157,806 foreclosure filings — including default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions — were reported on 2,3330,483 U.S. properties during the year. In more digestable terms, one in every 54 housing units received at least one foreclosure filing during the year. Wow.
"Wow" is right. We discussed this issue last fall in my Property I class and this 1 in 54 number is even worse than the worst case problem I discussed with my clients. Ouch.

The SmartCode Advanced...

...comes to Montgomery, Alabama.

On January 30-31, the City of Montgomery in conjunction with land planning firm PlaceMakers will present the first ever SmartCode Advanced.

This unique seminar will explore the SmartCode efforts in the River Region through work sessions, tours, and other small group settings.

Here's the agenda.

Bank Stocks Get Hit Hard...

CNBC is reporting that this is not a good start for bank stocks on this particular Thursday.

So, where's this pre-inauguration stock market bounce that had been predicted?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Return of Rail?

This Washington Monthly article discusses why that's a very good and plausible idea:
For years, state transportation officials have watched I-81 get pounded to pieces by tractor trailers, which are responsible for almost all non-weather-related highway wear and tear. To make matters worse, traffic is projected to rise by 67 percent in just the next ten years.

The conventional response to this problem would be simply to build more lanes. That’s what highway departments do. But at a cost of $11 billion, or $32 million per mile, Virginia cannot afford to do that without installing tolls, which might have to be set as high as 17 cents per mile for automobiles. When Virginia’s Department of Transportation proposed doing this early last year, truckers and ordinary Virginians alike set off a firestorm of protest. At the same time, just making I-81 wider without adding tolls would make its truck traffic problems worse, as still more trucks diverted from I-95 and other routes.

Looking for a way out of this dilemma, Virginia transportation officials have settled on an innovative solution: use state money to get freight off the highway and onto rails. As it happens, running parallel to I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley and across the Piedmont are two mostly single-track rail lines belonging to the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Known as the Crescent Corridor, these lines have seen a resurgence of trains carrying containers, just like most of the trucks on I-81 do. The problem is that the track needs upgrading and there are various choke points, so the Norfolk Southern cannot run trains fast enough to be time competitive with most of the trucks hurtling down I-81. Even before the recent financial meltdown, the railroad couldn’t generate enough interest from Wall Street investors to improve the line.

Cool Thing To Do...

...while many of our readers are not from around the Montgomery River Region area, those that are might be interested in this cool upcoming event in Downtown Montgomery.

It's the ClefWorks concert and promises to be unlike anything you've seen before.

Very urban setting. Very interesting music.

Hope to see you there.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Remember That Place You Grew Up...

Here’s an article that I thought you might find interesting about Detroit. As I read it, I nodded the whole way through because it perfectly described the spirit of the place where I grew up.

2009 is Only Twelve Days Old...

...but we might have already found our leading candidate for "Most Ridiculous Idea for '09":
Instead of reducing taxes on interest payments, the Government could tax all bank deposits and other risk-free savings. This would create a negative risk-free interest rate, encouraging savers either to invest in property, shares and other productive assets - or simply to save less and consume more. In either case, the result would be more consumption and physical investment, less unemployment and faster recovery from the slump.
It is somewhat hard to fathom that this idea made its way into the printed world. Penalizing people for saving when it was excessive lending that created this huge problem in the first place?

This is akin to forcing the credit drunk to not just drink more liquor but, if they don't, then punishing them for even an iota of sobriety.

Strange. Bizarre. And an early candidate for this year's "Most Ridiculous"...

Stimulus Dollars for Demolishing Sprawl?

That's what the Calculated Risk blog is suggesting:
And since Obama asked for suggestions ... How about a demolition program?

First, if any state and local governments have old idle buildings waiting for future plans, why not demolish them today? This would provide jobs for local workers, and prepare the land for future development and remove an eyesore. The Federal Government could pay for this demolition.
While we don't support another large government "stimulus", if one must occur, this sounds like a very interesting idea.

The federal government can pay people to demolish the bad rather than build more of it. This has alot of potential.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Monumental Stupidity"

That's what Mish Shedlock is calling Zakaria's ridiculous declaration related to governments and the markets in the latest Newsweek.

We tend to agree (and, might even have considered a stronger adjective to go with it).

Read Shedlock's post and Zakaria's article here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

More Calls for "Stimulating Sprawl"...

This time a quartet of large Democratic governors are leading the charge for $350 billion worth of federal fake money to build and repair roads and bridges:

My response is simple: when are we going to get some freaking non-idiots to run our governments. The Republicans screwed it up in one direction and now the Democrats are aiming to do the same in the opposite direction.

Where are the people listening to the Mish Shedlock's and Karl Denninger's who have been consistently correct on economic issues. We seem predestined to either finance sprawl with fake money or fake credit. This is very troubling in a macro sense.

p.s. Caveat: I voted for neither major candidate. This is not intended as any type of partisan comment (other than noting that almost all the partisans seem to be losing their minds).