The Next Housing Bubble Courtesy of Private Equity

Sigh. Heavy sigh. Oy. In the Nation – How Wall Street Has Turned Housing Into a Dangerous Get-Rich-Quick Scheme – Again

So who do you think owns the most rental housing in the country?  

Few outside the finance industry have heard of Blackstone. Yet today, it’s the largest owner of single-family rental homes in the nation—and of a whole lot of other things, too. It owns part or all of the Hilton Hotel chain, Southern Cross Healthcare, Houghton Mifflin publishing house, the Weather Channel, Sea World, the arts and crafts chain Michael’s, Orangina and dozens of other companies.

As you could have guessed, when the last housing debacle happened the folks with ALL the money saw an opportunity and bought up houses all over the country like a whale effortlessly sucking up tons of krill. They’ve spent an average of $100 million a week snapping up the homes people used to live in before Wall Street tanked the economy and, you know, threw us all to the wolves.  

So now that housing is coming back, prices rising, construction restarting, Blackstone and their owner/investors will once again reap a harvest of cash.  The cruel plan is essentially to rent houses back to the people who used to own them, or whomever. Because people do tend to need housing to keep them from the elements and roving bands of zombies. 

In hindsight, it’s clear that the Great Recession fueled a terrific wealth and asset transfer away from ordinary Americans and to financial institutions. During that crisis, Americans lost trillions of dollars of household wealth when housing prices crashed, while banks seized about five million homes. But what’s just beginning to emerge is how, as in the recession years, the recovery itself continues to drive the process of transferring wealth and power from the bottom to the top.

I do have a problem calling this a get-rich-quick scheme because 1. the people doing this are already rich, and 2. it doesn’t have to be quick, these parties can hold onto properties forever and play the long game because they’re never desperate to rent or make a sale. You will pay their price or you can live around a fire in a garbage can keeping one eye open for the zombies, it’s all good to the pirates of the street called Wall.

And with all of this formerly owned housing now off the market, held out for renting, and all the speculation taking place, that means the price of houses is going up faster than it would have, and pricing actual sincere want to be homeowners out of the house they want.

Last year, Mark Alston, a real estate broker in Los Angeles, began noticing something strange happening. Home prices were rising. And they were rising fast—up 20 percent between October 2012 and the same month this year. In a normal market, rising home prices would mean increased demand from homebuyers. But here was the unnerving thing: the homeownership rate was dropping, the first sign for Alston that the market was somehow out of whack… 

“Institutional investors are siphoning the wealth and the ability for wealth accumulation out of underserved communities,” says Henry Wade, founder of the Arizona Association of Real Estate Brokers.

 But that’s not all. You didn’t think that Wall Street could keep their rape simple did ya? Nope. When Wall Street does anything they do it with the power of lawyers and quants and armies of people whose job is to figure out how to maximize every tenth of a penny. So inevitably they would come up with a securitization scheme, ’cause like the scorpion on the frogs back “it’s their nature” to sting the frog and kill us all. 

Wall Street’s rental empire is entirely new. The single-family rental industry used to be the bailiwick of small-time mom-and-pop operations. But what makes this moment unprecedented is the financial alchemy that Blackstone added. In November, after many months of hype, Blackstone released history’s first rated bond backed by securitized rental payments. And once investor stripped over themselves in a rush to get it, Blackstone’s competitors announced that they, too, would develop similar securities as soon as possible…. 

According to interviews with economists, industry insiders and housing activists, people are more or less holding their collective breath, hoping that what looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck won’t crash the economy the same way the last flock of ducks did.

It’s worth the read to get all the details. And be out ahead of the next potential crash. Get your zombie protection kits here. Now that’s a get-rich-quick scheme.

The Pope Gets It

Somebody tweeted “If Sarah Palin thinks the Pope is too liberal, wait till she meets Jesus.”

Looks like this new Pope is more Jesusian (Christian is overdone) than even Jesus. He issued an 84-page “apostolic exhortation” that if he were a guy in a shack in the woods would be referred to as a “manifesto”.  He called unfettered capitalism “tyranny”. The Pope did! Not Paul Krugman or your Uncle Morty who gave money to Dennis Kucinich. It was the freaking Pope!  From The Guardian:

In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money” and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare”.

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

I just wonder what devout Catholics like Antonin Scalia or Rick Santorum think when the Holy Father spouts Jesus for realz, while being chauffeured around in a Ford Focus.

“I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”

Is he calling out the Tea Party? Whoa, Palin’s really gonna hate that.

I say don’t lighten up Francis! Keep it coming.

Oh and the guy kisses disfigured people.

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Oh There’s a War Alright – A War on Thanksgiving

Christmas-Thanksgiving

And it’s being waged by Christmas, my friends. Christmas is eclipsing and co-opting our very own American holiday. With the Christmas music, decorations, and above all the insanely decadent shopping obsession starting earlier and earlier each year, Thanksgiving is at risk.

And if Thanksgiving isn’t scared it only needs to look at the late, great, Halloween.

There used to be 3 distinct holidays in the fall/winter. Halloween, at the end of October was pretty big and was in complete control of the agenda for October. Candy and costumes dominated with nary a hint of Thanksgiving, or God forbid Christmas, until Halloween was successfully prosecuted. Then, and only then, did stores put their Thanksgiving paraphernalia up and on display. Everything closed for Thanksgiving and then, the day after Thanksgiving was when Christmas took it’s place in stores. Although even so, decent people didn’t put trees up and didn’t start playing 24/7 “Santa Baby” in rotation with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” until December – often mid-December!

It made sense.

It was proper.

It worked.

But Christmas got greedy and started pushing the boundaries. “Black Friday”, the satanically ominous name by which we refer to the day after Thanksgiving nowadays, became the biggest shopping day of the year. And then, since the power of a great deal is seductive, why not encroach on Thanksgiving itself? Do we really need to close and let people have their day with their families? Wouldn’t they rather have the $7.25 an hour? Lots of money on the line, why not open Thanksgiving night?

The day the stores start pushing Christmas goodies pushed past Thanksgiving all the way to October, upstaging Halloween. There really isn’t even any distinct pre-Thanksgiving with paper turkeys and cardboard cornucopias anymore! Halloween hasn’t even tricked or treated yet and is that a Christmas tree and tinsel in aisle 7 ALREADY?

Greed head Christmas wants it all. It won’t stop until it starts on July 5th and continues through New Year’s.

And doesn’t it make perfect sense that such a well coordinated, well funded lobbying mechanism like Christmas would cover its ambitious power grabs by concocting the laughable lie that is the “War on Christmas”? Yes, it does. And that it’s being pushed by the same corrupt outfits that pushed the mythical “liberal media” says so much.

Fight back Americans. Get angry.

When you see Christmas decorations in your supermarket or department store before Halloween is over, get angry!

When you hear “Silent Night” playing in a store on November fucking 15, get angry!

When stores stay open on Thanksgiving and make good people work so stupid people can get a cheap HDTV, get angry!

Get angry and demand a robust response to the War on Thanksgiving. Let’s stop Christmas and it’s takeover of all we hold dear. Thank you!

Overuse of Antibiotics Revisited – The Apocalypse in Perspective

I’ve written about this issue before in the context of the Superbugs, contracted by 2,000,000 Americans a year, that are being created by the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in farm animals (that we eat) and in people. Maryn McKenna writes in Imaging the Post-Antibiotics Future that the 2,000,000 people who get infected by these superbugs every year will be a trivial part of the new reality with no effective antibiotics. 

To imagine it, you have to look back to what medicine was like before antibiotics, what a miracle they were. To know where we are going, you have to know where we were:

Before antibiotics, five women died out of every 1,000 who gave birth. One out of nine people who got a skin infection died, even from something as simple as a scrape or an insect bite. Three out of ten people who contracted pneumonia died from it. Ear infections caused deafness; sore throats were followed by heart failure. In a post-antibiotic era, would you mess around with power tools? Let your kid climb a tree? Have another child?

This shit is scary and it is real. The CDC keeps changing the guidelines trying to get veterinarians and physicians to stop overprescribing antibiotics, but without real legislation it is hard. Like with climate change it’s a slow motion train wreck.

In 2009, Tom Dukes — a fifty-four-year-old inline skater and body-builder — developed diverticulosis , a common problem in which pouches develop in the wall of the intestine. He was coping with it, watching his diet and monitoring himself for symptoms, when searing cramps doubled him over and sent him to urgent care. One of the thin-walled pouches had torn open and dumped gut bacteria into his abdomen — but for reasons no one could explain, what should have been normal E. coli were instead highly drug-resistant. Doctors excised eight inches of his colon in emergency surgery. Over several months, Dukes recovered with the aid of last-resort antibiotics, delivered intravenously. For years afterward, he was exhausted and in pain. “I was living my life, a really healthy life,” he says. “It never dawned on me that this could happen.”

IT… CAN… HAPPEN. We all need to be aware and insist on no antibiotics in our food supply and not taking them ourselves unless they are appropriate, and then using the full course, always!

Harry Reid Finally Did IT! – The Nuclear Option triggered

FINALLY! 

Fifty-two Democrats voted against upholding the filibuster rules after Republicans again blocked cloture on the nomination of Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Democratic Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) voted with Republicans to sustain the filibuster rules.

“Republicans have routinely used the filibuster to prevent President Obama from appointing his executive team or confirming judges,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “We’re burning wasted hours and wasted days between filibusters. I could say instead we’re burning wasted days and wasted weeks between filibusters. … It’s time to change. It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.”

Here Here!

What does the Turtle say:  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) fumed at Reid’s decision, accusing him of trying to change the subject from Obamacare and “cook up some fake fight over judges.” He argued that “by any objective standard, Senate Republicans have been very, very fair to this president.”

The fact that the press will report that statement without comment is the problem with politics and media in this country today. Because that right there is a fucking joke.

So, media, let me get this straight

Democrats try to do things, big things. Trying to slow the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and get millions of Americans with no health insurance coverage, while guaranteeing they can’t dump you if you get sick or have a preexisting condition, etc. etc. etc. is VERY BIG. But if it’s not perfect, from the beginning, the country will turn to the party that doesn’t even try?

Help me out here media.  You’re saying Democrats have to be perfect, but the GOP just has to exist? The party that has no big plans or even small plans to make people’s lives better, the party that shut down the government, the party that threatened to blow up our credit rating – that party is the DEFAULT that everyone will turn to if the Democrats big plans aren’t perfectly realized immediately? Really? The party that has had the House for three years and done almost nothing besides restrict abortion rights and voting rights is America’s party?

How is it that the current President has taken more shit for stuff the right wing media has either made up or exaggerated than the last President did for starting a war under false pretenses? And then you have the nerve to compare a faulty website to people drowning in New Orleans?

So, what you’re saying is in trying to do that big thing, get health insurance for 50 mil uninsured people, if you fail (or even falter), voters will reward the party who went out of its way to obstruct, demean and dismantle the attempt, actually going so far as to take out ads to get young people not to sign up – for health care coverage?!

I don’t think so. I think the GOP was rewarded for their very bad behavior in 2010, but that is not going to happen again. 

Welfare Queen WalMart asks Underpaid Workers to Help Other Underpaid Workers

This kind of takes the cake, and turkey. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports about a food drive being held in a local WalMart by the employees, FOR THE EMPLOYEES.

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Norma Mills of Canton, who lives near the store, saw the photo circulating showing the food drive bins, and felt both “outrage” and “anger.”

“Then I went through the emotion of compassion for the employees, working for the largest food chain in America, making low wages, and who can’t afford to provide their families with a good Thanksgiving holiday,” said Mills, an organizer with Stand Up for Ohio, which is active in foreclosure issues in Canton. “That Walmart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers — to me, it is a moral outrage.”

Moral outrage, yep!  Oh and they’re making their workers come in sell shit to people on Thanksgiving too. I guess they figure their workers can’t afford to stay home and enjoy a feast with their families anyway so…

Barry Ritholz on how WalMart & McDonalds became Welfare Queens