The debt ceiling issue has dominated almost all facets of the news this week, to the point where I am even pondering weighing in on Monday with my thoughts (which are not what you are hearing from left or right). When in Rome.... I was able to eek out some other news amidst the hysteria, however, so I have something to share today for those of you seeking relief from the debt discussion. Just skip to the third item -- the rest is debt ceiling free.

Enjoy this week's news:

  • I'm sure every reporter out there is looking for an original angle on the debt ceiling issue so I knew it was only a matter of time before the housing market was brought into the fold. National Public Radio had this simplistic take on how the "debt drama could be another blow to housing," as if "housing" were some poverty-stricken child with leukemia whose dog just got ran over. In reality, "housing" personified would be the meth addict coming down from a monster high, injecting whatever they can get their hands on to avoid facing reality. No matter what happens with the debt ceiling, the U.S. should have high interest rates because, in a real market, interest rates reflect the supply/demand of money. We are a nation of debtors, not savers, and interest rates should be much higher to reflect that reality. The only reason they are not is the meth handed out by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury. Poor housing.

Right now, interest rates are low, and that means the government can borrow money cheaply to finance its huge debt load. Likewise, many home buyers can get low mortgage rates, which is a rare bright spot for the beaten down housing market.

"Rates are unbelievable, they've been unbelievable for a while," says Patrick Fortin, who runs Century 21 Commonwealth in Boston. "It's a huge factor, it's kept the market from being in much worse shape."

  • Usually when pundits or politicians talk about needing more infrastructure spending, I immediately assume they are mindlessly ill-informed. Our nation is awash in infrastructure, most of it having very low productivity. The last thing we need is more of the same. However, this article in the Atlantic by Michael Mandel questioned the standard orthodoxy in regards to the type of infrastructure we should be building. He's close enough to the Strong Towns message that I believe we could have an intelligent conversation on the issue.

The big question is: Do we want to build roads, bridges, harbors and airports to support the current consumption- and import-oriented economy? Or should we focus infrastructure spending to encourage the shift to a more sustainable production- and export- oriented economy?

...

Should we spend scarce resources on improving road links to a regional shopping mall? Or should we place top priority on infrastructure improvements that might entice foreign firms to locate manufacturing facilities in the U.S.? These are tough questions to answer.

With the number of cars on Chinese roads tripling in the past five years, the government has begun a crackdown on drunken driving, imposing stiff prison sentences. Those convicted can get six months of jail time and fines, plus lose their license for five years. Local dial-a-chauffeur services reap the benefits.

  • The city of Stillwater, MN, is a great little town from a visitor standpoint -- at least the historic part of it that has some character, not the Anywhere USA part they have built around it -- but the more I learn about the place the more diseased they seem to me. The amount of money these guys are chasing around, and the amount of time and resources spent doing it, is staggering. It is kind of sad, really, because they could of had so much if they just had a different perspective on life.

The work of a Stillwater consultant hired for $1,500 a month to advise city leaders on legislative matters is under increasing scrutiny as debate intensifies over a new four-lane St. Croix River bridge.

The city's contract with Mike Campbell said he will "obtain Legislative support" for four major projects -- the bridge, the Browns Creek State Trail, a new National Guard Armory for Stillwater and a city flood wall along the river.

Three months after hiring Campbell, the city also appropriated $80,000 in tax-increment financing money to the bridge effort.

  • Of course, there is our own sad local story of incompetence and low-level corruption to report on. Here in my hometown of Brainerd, MN, we have another easy-money scheme -- this one government financed -- transfer from one bureaucracy to another. Imagine what the local housing redevelopment authority could have done with $6.5 million if they had actually worked on "housing redevelopment" in the historic neighborhoods of town and not a greenfield project out on the edge.

The Brainerd HRA had purchased the Brainerd Oaks housing development in 2003, but slow sales on the few houses built and more than 80 empty lots resulted in $6.5 million in debt. 

Kirk Titus, county land services supervisor, said the county will transfer title to the lots in the development to the county HRA for less than market value, $1 under the Tax Forfeit Act, to assist low-income housing and return the property to the tax rolls.

  • I have to say that I know very little about Tim DeChristopher of the organization Peaceful Uprising and even less about what he got thrown in prison for, and I'm not one generally prone to lashing myself to trees or laying down in front of bulldozers, but I must admit, I found his statement to the court to be both inspiring and largely compelling, especially parts like this:

The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it’s that I have greater respect for justice.  Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code.  I know Mr Huber [the prosecutor] disagrees with me on this.  He wrote that “The rule of law is the bedrock of our civilized society, not acts of ‘civil disobedience’ committed in the name of the cause of the day.”  That’s an especially ironic statement when he is representing the United States of America, a place where the rule of law was created through acts of civil disobedience.  Since those bedrock acts of civil disobedience by our founding fathers, the rule of law in this country has continued to grow closer to our shared higher moral code through the civil disobedience that drew attention to legalized injustice.  The authority of the government exists to the degree that the rule of law reflects the higher moral code of the citizens, and throughout American history, it has been civil disobedience that has bound them together.

  • I run across links to our web site all over the place and am often amazed by the diversity of viewpoints that find value in linking to us. This week I was alerted to a link on the Drift Design Office website, one of only two links they have. I don't know who they are, but we're flattered. Thank you.

Drift, Inc.: Design Office is an architecture, design and advocacy firm working alongside Earth.

  • A few weeks ago I gave a speach to a group of town officials. Someone recorded it and posted a this bit about the growth ponzi scheme online.

  • There is a great line in the movie Good Will Hunting where the math professor looks at Will and says something to the effect that, "there are only a few people in this world that understand the difference between you and me, even though it is tremendous." The point being, there is greatness, and then there are a special few that transcend even that. Even though I was not a huge fan, the senseless passing of Amy Winehouse this week feels a little like we've lost one of those transcendent people.

 

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