Saturday, January 28, 2012

Debt And National Sovereignty

Interesting, but troubling article from the Washington Post. Germany is calling on Greece to temporarily cede its right to determine its tax and spend policies to a eurozone commissioner, before it can secure further bailouts. Let his be a lesson to the United States; spend beyond your means and sooner or later your national sovereignty will be compromised. 

German proposal seeks EU commissioner with sweeping powers to directly control Greece’s budget

(Associated Press) - Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, left, and Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos leave Maximos Mansion after a meeting Charles Dallara and Jean Lemiere from the Institute of International Finance in Athens on Saturday Jan. 28 2012. Talks between Greece and private creditors on halving the country’s privately held debt load have ended and a deal is very close, according to the creditors’ representatives.

BERLIN — Germany is proposing that debt-ridden Greece temporarily cede sovereignty over tax and spending decisions to a powerful eurozone budget commissioner before it can secure further bailouts, an official in Berlin said Saturday.
The idea was quickly rejected by the European Union’s executive body and the government in Athens, with the EU Commission in Brussels insisting that “executive tasks must remain the full responsibility of the Greek government, which is accountable before its citizens and its institutions.”

But the German official said the initiative is being discussed among the 17-nation currency bloc’s finance ministers because Greece has repeatedly failed to fulfill its commitments under its current €110 billion ($145 billion) lifeline.
The proposal foresees a commissioner holding a veto right against any budgetary measures and having broad surveillance ability to ensure that Greece will take proper steps to repay its debt as scheduled, the official said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential.
Greece’s international creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank — already have unprecedented powers over Greek spending after negotiating with Athens stringent austerity measures and economic reforms in return for the first bailout.
The so-called troika of creditors is currently negotiating another €130 billion rescue package for the heavily indebted country. German news magazine Der Spiegel on Saturday cited an unnamed troika official as saying Greece might actually need a €145 billion package because of its prolonged recession.
The German proposal, first reported by the Financial Times, is likely to spark controversy in Greece.
Despite the quick rejection from the EU Commission, Germany’s demand underlines the frustration of the eurozone with Greece’s slack implementation of the promised reforms, spending cuts and privatizations. During every verification mission last year, the troika found huge implementation shortfalls, which in turn increased gaps in Athens’ budget and intensified the need for a second bailout.
A powerful budget commissioner would further diminish the political leeway of Greece’s government, just as politicians there are gearing up for an election set to take place this spring.
A government official in Athens said a similar proposal had been floated last year but got nowhere. Greece would not accept such a measure, he added. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no formal proposal has been made by the EU or Germany yet.
The unprecedented and sweeping powers for creditors would indeed deal a huge blow to Greece’s sovereignty, but they could help mobilize more support for the government in Athens from its European partners.
Several German lawmakers have repeatedly said that giving more money to Greece is unthinkable without stricter enforcement and control of the conditions attached to the rescue packages.
Greece is currently locked in a twin effort, seeking to secure a crucial debt relief deal with private investors while also tackling the pressing demands from its European partners and the IMF for more austerity measures and deeper reforms.
Failure on either front would force the country to default on its debt in less than two months, pouring new fuel on the fires of Europe’s debt crisis.
In that case, Greece would likely leave the eurozone, which would bring disaster to the country, destabilize the currency bloc, fuel panic on financial markets and ultimately threaten the fragile world economy.
Despite two weeks of intensive talks, a debt relief agreement with private investors worth some €100 billion has yet to be reached.
Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos met anew with representatives of international banks and other private institutions Saturday, with a final deal being very close, officials in Athens said.
A statement from the creditor representatives said the two sides are “close to the finalization” of the voluntary writedown that would roughly halve Greece’s privately held debt. “We expect to conclude next week as discussions on other issues move forward,” they said.
The statement also referred to a previous framework agreement which indicated that the creditors have accepted an interest rate below 4 percent for the new bonds to be issued in place of the old ones — a very favorable rate that will make it easier for the Greek government to service its debt.
With the current troika mission still ongoing and no final deal with the private sector creditors, Greece is unlikely to feature prominently at a summit of the EU’s 27 leaders Monday, according to officials in Brussels.
Demetris Nellas in Athens and Gabriele Steinhauser in Brussels contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Adult Medicine

Personal testimony from a friend on the absurdity of the marijuana prohibition.

Adult Medicine

A number of years back I was in an accident. The lowest disc in my spine shattered and the shards floated into the spinal canal and began to carve up the spinal root sac.

I had a number of surgeries and treatments and years of rehab.

I also had loads of pills. I had morphine, Vicodin, Felxerall, Valium, Oxycontin and Lyrica just to name the main drugs I was taking.

And they didn't work. Or rather, they did work for pain in the sense that if I took enough, eventually I would pass out and not feel the pain. But there was no in-between; either I took enough to get unconscious or I was devastatingly high but still in pain.

I have been prescribed medical cannabis.

And it works. I am functional, I can work, I can interact and it more effectively deals with the pain and nerve involvement than any pill I've taken.

These doctors have given me back a life.

What I don't understand is who is against this treatment? Why is it even an issue? How can anyone imagine that Medical Marijuana is worse than the pills they gave me?

It's nice to be treated like an adult and get the most effective treatments with the fewest side-effects. Why can't everyone have this? Why do you need to be in the right location, the right State or Country? Why do you need to go through years of disgusting and noneffective treatments before they finally give you something cheap and simple that works?

And every single person I see at the dispensary says the same exact thing. Every time a doctor, nurse or staffer walks by they are greeted by a row or people all of whom stop them and thank them and are grateful for getting their lives back. Cancers, MS, Accidents and more... across the board.

It's a flower, a plant. Please stop being stupid.
It's time we stopped putting religion and politics above the well being of real people.

Peter the Great Saves Russia From the Hipsters

Alarmed by the growth of Hipster Douches in the Russian Empire, in 1705 Peter The Great issued a Degree, forcing  his citizens to shave off their beards. Only the clergy and those who paid a beard tax were exempt. In light of Chicago's budget deficit and hipster surplus, should we not consider the same? 

Friday, January 27, 2012

In Mayor Rahmulan Emanuel's Chicago...

Pictured Above: Rahmulan Emanuel's Top Advisors

It appears that in Mayor Rahmulan Emanuel's Chicago, support for questionable policies has to be manufactured and paid for. Wonder went on behind closed doors when he was President Obama's Chief of Staff? 

Two say they got paid to protest, back closing Chicago schools

Story Image
Thaddeus Scott poses for a photograph outside the HOPE organization, 6921 S. Halsted, Friday, Jan. 20, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: January 24, 2012 8:42PM

Always contentious hearings on whether to close failing Chicago schools have taken a bizarre twist this year with charges that cash-strapped residents were hired as “rent-a-protesters” and given pre-made signs and pre-crafted scripts to support school shakeups.
Two men told the Chicago Sun-Times they showed up to apply for financial help with their energy bills at the Englewood office of the HOPE Organization headed by Rev. Roosevelt Watkins III, only to be offered money to attend school-related “rallies” held Jan. 6. Watkins denies they were paid to protest, saying money paid was for training.
Both protesters said they didn’t realize until the last minute that they were supposed to support school closings. One said he was promised $50 to speak at a rally “for schools,” but was stiffed $25 after Watkins complained he had publicly revealed at the hearing he was “compensated” for speaking.
“I don’t want the $25 he owes me,” Thaddeus Scott, 35, told the Sun-Times. “He can keep his dirty money. You can quote that.
“Why am I speaking out? Because I am in support of Crane [the high school whose closure he says he was supposed to support]. . . .
“They thought for a few dollars they could get us to say whatever they want. . . . We were preyed upon.”
Stipends for ‘training’
Watkins, pastor of Bethlehem Star M.B. Church and founder of Pastors United for Change, acknowledged he organized busloads of people to attend the Jan. 6 school closing hearings.
Yellow buses delivered people from 69th and Halsted, where HOPE’s Englewood office is, to at least three closing hearings on that date. The hearings concerned Crane High, Guggenheim Elementary and Reed Elementary, hearing participants told the Sun-Times.
Scott said he was offered $50 to speak at a hearing from what turned out to be scripted remarks.
But Watkins said protesters were supposed to be paid to attend “training” first on “community organizing” and how “to be aware of what’s taking place in the community.”
“What we do — so you can hear it from the horse’s mouth — we provide training because we engage community activists to participate in things such as health care, affordable housing, education, safety. Those things. So we do training on community organizing,” Watkins said.
A “small stipend” helps “offset their car fare” or “babysitting,” Watkins said.
Of the Jan. 6 protesters, Watkins said, “Those that did not receive the training should not have received a stipend.”
A day after the Sun-Times asked Watkins about the payments, at least one protester said he received a call from organizers asking him to attend a meeting first if he wanted to attend the next rally.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey called the busloads of hearing participants “rent-a-protesters.” He likened them to “paid stooges” who “make a mockery of what public participation is about.”
Said Sharkey: “It’s a new low.”
Cash-filled envelopes
Scott and a second man, a Guggenheim Elementary alum, said they were paid after the Jan. 6 hearings at the HOPE Englewood office by a woman who pulled envelopes holding $25 in cash from a container full of envelopes. Scott said Watkins was in the room when the woman told him he had done them a “disservice” and handed him half the promised amount, but Watkins insisted he was not there. Watkins also denied he ever chided anyone for using the word “compensated” at the hearings.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “There are people saying we pay them. We provide training. We’ve always done this. And they receive a stipend for their time.”
Watkins said he used neither church nor HOPE funds for the stipends. The money came from a “coalition of clergy” who have “money set aside for outreach in the community,’’ he said.
“This is money from clergy. Clergy have money,” Watkins said. “We used private money.”
Initially, Scott said, he thought he would be joining “an act of activism. … They wouldn’t say what the rally was about until we got there.”
Only at the last minute, Scott said, was he asked to choose from a list of prepared remarks and told not to support Crane.
“If he calls that training and that’s what I was paid for, fine, but that’s not training,” Scott said.
The Guggenheim alum also said he received no training before he boarded a bus outside HOPE’s Englewood office at 6921 S. Halsted on Jan. 6. He said he, too, was seeking assistance with energy bills when he was offered $25 to attend a rally.
He said he was told the rally would be about “longer school hours” — an issue pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who announced last year that a long list of ministers supported his stand.
A woman at HOPE’s Community and Economic Development Association outlet for energy assistance “asked me did I want to go to a rally,” the Guggenheim alum recalled. “I said no. She said they will pay $25. She said they were rallying for longer hours in the school day. I said ‘I have no problem with that.’ ”
To his surprise, he said, a bus filled with people delivered him instead to a hearing about closing Guggenheim Elementary, where he had graduated. There, he was given a sign saying “something about ‘I cannot support failing schools.’ ”
“That’s how I knew I was on the wrong side,” he said. “I was on the ‘close’ side. I wanted to be on the ‘open’ side. . . . If I knew it was about closing Guggenheim, I never would have gone because I went to Guggenheim. . . . I never would have been in favor of closing Guggenheim.”
Watkins said people were not paid to take a specific side at the hearings, and if they were reading from scripts, “I’ll check into it.”
“My position is, we want [schools] fixed,” said Watkins, whose HOPE Organization offers after-school programming and won nearly $1.47 million in Chicago Public School contracts since 2010.
“We’re not siding with CPS or the Chicago Teachers Union. . . . We’re siding with the children. We don’t want the message to get faded in this.”

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Unintended Consequences of the Chicago Residential Landlord And Tenant Ordinance

Pictured Above: The Author Of The RLTO

Like many unduly heavy handed government regulation, the Residential Landlord And Tenant Ordinance of Chicago produces unintended consequences that harm the very group they were purportedly designed to help. This ever expanding set of codes is heavily biased against landlords and enables tenants and lawyers looking to gain a quick buck from frivolous lawsuits. As I will demonstrate, the end results are diminished housing opportunities, especially for families of modest means.

 The most egregious aspect of the ordinance are the heavy fines mandated for clerical errors such as not maintaining security deposits in separate, interest bearing, escrow account. I personally know an honest landlord who returned the full deposit plus interest in a timely fashion, but was fined twice the amount of the deposit plus the tenant's legal fees! In this case, a $1,000 deposit generated a $3,000 fine, much of which went to the tenant's parasitic attorney! It gets worse; there are lawyers who contact tenants engaged in eviction proceedings and offer them "free" legal assistance, but only if they provided the landlord a security deposit. The unscrupulous attorney then attempts to turn the tables by counter-suing the landlord for any failure to comply with the regulatory minutia governing the deposit. Thus the said landlord can potentially face thousands of dollars in lost rent, fines and legal fees from his own attorney as well as the derelict tenant's attorney! Even if he is not subject to a counter-suit, if a tenant is well versed in the law, it can potentially take 3 or 4 months to evict him. Given that very few landlords immediately begin the eviction process, most spend a month or more hanging onto the broken promises of deceitful tenants, they can potentially face 5 or 6 months of lost revenue. And if the judge rules in the landlord's favor, the chances of collecting the lost revenue is slim at best. Does this sound like equal protection under the law?

Understandably, a growing number of landlords have decided to waive the requirement for a security deposit. Even landlords who have not decided to take this course of action have gotten much stricter on their credit requirements for prospective tenants. Most landlords would be willing to "lend a hand" and "give working families a chance," but given the increasingly costly and time consuming nature of evictions, most would rather maintain their apartments empty than run the said risks. What this means is that a lot of good, hard working families are having even more trouble finding quality, affordable housing in decent neighborhoods. To make matters worse, the growing risks and regulatory burdens that landlords face in Chicago are causing fewer individuals to purchase  property, especially in the blighted neighborhoods that are most in need of investment. And the landlords who remain will direct more of their resources towards regulatory compliance and keeping up with surging property taxes, than the upkeep and improvement of their property.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Rule Of Law in Chicago & Mexico

In itself I do not find it so troubling that Chicago and Cook County are not systematically enforcing immigration laws, because limited resources should be directed towards apprehending dangerous criminals. And contrary to far right wing narratives, few immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, commit serious crimes. But, I  find it unsettling that given the extent to which immigration laws are violated, we now don't even have the option to choose to systematically enforce them. Given demographic and economic realities, doing so would cause greater damage and dislocation than continued non-enforcement.

While I sympathize with the mostly good and hard working families that have been driven by desperation to cross the border, it is a troubling precedent that a law has in effect been overturned not through the democratic process, but  because the extent of its violation has made it virtually non-enforceable. This is exacerbated by the nature of the Chicago Machine, a patronage system in which individuals and groups believe that their electoral and financial support for a political machine entitles them to economic and political benefits, including immunity from the law. A repeated theme in discussions led by Univision Anchorman Jorge Ramos is that the federal government should enact amnesty, not so much because it serves broad national interests, but because electoral support for Obama has entitled Latinos to it. 

So, in effect the decision to enforce a law has now been determined by its violators and not by the will of the public. Is this not the very phenomena that has rendered Mexico, a country rich in human and natural resources largely ungovernable? The problem is not that Mexico lacks laws and regulations, but the extent to which they are disregarded by the public and the collusion of key segments of the police and politicians, has created widespread impunity for minor and major offenses alike. Is this not the foundation of Mexico's endemic corruption? This holds true for "harmless offenses" like the bootlegging of movies and music, unregulated food vending and littering, as well as more serious violations, like drug trafficking. It has been speculated that the reason why illicit industries are allowed to operate with a considerable degree of impunity is that they now constitute such a significant portion of the economy that their elimination would cause a sharp economic decline in the "lawful sectors" of the economy, like banking and transportation.

I am not for one second comparing undocumented immigration to the drug trade, because whereas the former has offers some economic benefits, the latter is almost entirely destructive. And in no way is an undocumented drywaller or dishwasher comparable to a vicious drug trafficker. But, the underlying principles holds true: the unwillingness or inability of political elites to enforce existing laws and regulations, even ones that we do not entirely agree with, erodes the rule of law. Overtime the social, political and economic repercussions of allowing the rule of law to deteriorate renders cities, states and nations ungovernable, if not unlivable. 

One thing is for certain, we the people cannot expect change to come from our rotten politicians; if we wish to clean up our city and our country, we  must first affirm the rule of law in our daily lives, in our public and private conduct, in the board room and classroom, in the toll booth and voting booth. Whether we are in Chicago or Mexico, we cannot seek to gain rewards and immunity from the law, through the pursuit of political clientelism and expect our politicians to behave any more responsibly.