Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving for Stephanie Anne Lyon Kirkpatrick

Wilsonville, Alabama, November 24,2010
Cody Lyon
We lost my little sister, Stephanie Anne Lyon Kirkpatrick on November 10th, 2010, just ten days after her 38th birthday on October 31st. She died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm (coupled with Mitral Valve prolapse) while jogging, training for a half marathon.

Stef, a pharmacist, died while doing what she loved, running and preparing for yet another competitive event. She leaves behind her husband Jay Kirkpatrick, her parents, me her brother, as well as many friends.

Although Stephanie's far to early departure from this world has left me and my family infected with excruciating pain, simply put, heartbroken, I am thankful for the precious time we shared and the memories she leaves behind with all those who loved her. I'm also comforted on this very sad Thanksgiving by an important fact; During the years Stephanie was here, she made this world a much more beautiful place. Thank you little sister.

I'll miss her terribly as will everyone who knew and loved her.

For those wishing to reach out, donations can be made in her name, Stephanie Anne Lyon Kirkpatrick, to the Shelby County Humane Society in Columbiana, Alabama.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A view from Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park (video)

video


by Cody Lyon

The view in the above footage is from Fort Tryon park in Manhattan.

Named after Sir William Tryon, the last British Governor of New York, the 67 acre Ft Tryon Park sits on a commanding ridge in the Washington Heights section, overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades of New Jersey. The park is home to the Metropolitan Museum's medieval collection "The Cloisters." Ft Tryon park was constructed after John D Rockefeller bought the land as part of an estate purchase from the Billings family for $35,000 an acre.

Rockefeller hired Frederick Law Olmstead Jr.,, son of the Central Park planner to design the park. Rockefeller then donated the park to the City of New York.

Interestingly, the ambitious project's construction commenced during the Great Depression, and reportedly created a number of jobs. Around the same time, the expansion of a 140 feet deep tunnel that allowed for a new subway station along the IND subway line at 190 street, an effort that opened in 1932. After a period of disrepair in the 1970's, today, the park is seen as one of New York City's greatest treasures, a testament to visionary individuals and a city's spirit despite what was a crippling economic depression.

One wonders if even an inkling of such vision exists today.

Footage from a protest on 9/11 (video)

video

Riding in new bike lane on Broadway (Video)

Cody Lyon's bike ride in a new Broadway bike near Union Square in New York City's Manhattan. video

The city is home to around 200 miles of designated bike lanes with more planned for the future according to information at the New York City Department of Transportation.

Hearing spooky sounds in the NYC subway (Video)

video

TRAINSPOTTING;AMTRAK Train coming into New York City along the Hudson (video)

video

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Intolerance in America and the tragic death of Tyler Clementi

OPINION- By Cody Lyon

The story of 18 year old Rutgers student Tyler Clementi has broken hearts across America, as countless individuals come to terms with the piercing pain and humiliation that could lead such a talented and gifted young man to jump from the George Washington Bridge into the cold, fast moving currents of the Hudson River.

According to most news reports, the New Jersey teenager took his life on September 22nd after he realized his roommate and another dorm mate had pulled what looks to be a cyber-world prank, and broadcast live images of Clementi having a sexual encounter with another man.

But if widely reported details of what happened are correct, the heightened humiliation and shame that drove the distinguished musician to suicide offers further evidence, we still live in a society where vast portions consider homosexuality taboo, immoral or at least, not normal.

Just last May, Gallup, the polling organization, published its annual values and beliefs survey. Results showed that Americans' support for the moral acceptability of gay and lesbian relations had crossed the symbolic 50% threshold in 2010. But, at the same time, the percentage calling these relations "morally wrong" was still at 43%. And, while that's the lowest in Gallup's decade-long trending of the issue, it's still significant.

Gay people are acutely aware of those sentiments, many struggle with internal homophobia and others attempt to project an image of normalcy to the masses in a world where many still consider them abnormal. In fact, a barometer of society's attitudes about homosexuality often shows up in the gay male community itself, for example, when gay men make a point of labeling themselves "straight acting" or "down low," as if the articulation as such, connotes masculinity, once again, normal behavior for men, an attribute society dictates is worth striving for.

More aptly to this latest tragedy, ponder this; While there is no tangible way to measure the pain or embarrassment that drove Tyler Clementi to take his own life, one wonders, would this talented young man have chosen a different path, were he living in a more tolerant and accepting world? Put more simply, assume for just a moment that Clementi's web-cast was heterosexual, not homosexual.

Days after news reports and talking head reactions to the awfulness of this human tragedy saturated the nation, conversations held with reasonably minded people led to similar hypothetical questions. If during similar invasions of privacy, where two individuals had been broadcast having sex, all without their knowledge, and one of those individuals had been either a married woman, or a married man with children, would the level of heightened humiliation be as measurable as what we appear to be assuming Tyler Clementi felt as he took his own life, after the broadcast of a same sex encounter?

There's simply no way to know for sure, but the mere comparisons beg a very important question about American attitudes towards LGBT people, that despite all the remarkable progress we see on the surface, the deeper answers seems pretty clear, and still, are quiet troubling.

Changing hearts and minds is sometimes best left to moments like this horrible tragedy in the Hudson when a young and gifted soul felt he had to leave this earth. The brutal evidence of society's intolerance often shows up in the most hurtful events. This appears to be one of them.

Once the coverage, celebrities and discussion fades, it is imperative that LGBT youth constantly be reminded and understand, that no matter how cruel, painful or embarrassing this big mean cyber world may seem at times, it all gets better with time. We all become better with time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MTA - Smart Card future Feature story (GOTHAMGAZETTE.COM)

From my story on the NYC Transit's fare collection technology at Gotham Gazette.com:

excerpt:
...Indeed the messages ticking across the tops of two of the three machines informed MetroCard buyers, this machine "does not accept bills at this time." One of the three also advised, no single ride tickets. All three card dispensers did welcome plastic.

New York's time consuming and often inconvenient fare collection lags far behind that of many other large cities, according to experts. Some might say the dysfunctional MetroCard vending machines reflect deeper systemic problems at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, one of the world's largest public transit agencies.

Change, though, might be on the way. Within the next few years, transit riders might be able to simply tap their cards and go, rather than having to swipe -- and sometimes swipe again and again. In addition, rather than purchasing a ticket from the transit authority, they could have their fares automatically debited from their bank accounts or charged to their credit cards....


Link to full story:
http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/Transportation/20100922/16/3370

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The R&R brought by Legal Marriage

By Cody Lyon

The executive director of a non profit organization that’s been campaigning since 2003 to end exclusion of same sex couples from what it says are the ‘the rights and responsibilities conveyed by legal marriage’ said a Tuesday resolution by the American Bar Association “signals a growing consensus” among the nation’s lawyers that “marriage is a fundamental right that belongs to every citizen.”

“Freedom to Marry’ founder, civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson, said in a statement that the ABA has “strongly declared that there is no good reason to continue excluding same sex couple from marriage.”

In its resolution, ABA urges, “state, territorial and tribal governments to eliminate all of their legal barriers to civil marriage between two person of the same sex who are otherwise eligible to marry.”

The resolution comes just a week after a federal judge in San Francisco struck down California's Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. The California ruling has opened up a Pandora’s box of both supporting and opposing opinions on whether or not same sex marriage is a constitutional right.

For example, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who participated at a press conference organized by a few Senate Republicans in Washington Wednesday signaled many in his party are taking the Court ruling by an openly gay judge into the political arena.

Smith said “It simply doesn't get much worse than this: you have a biased judge imposing his personal views contrary to the wishes of the majority of the people of the state.”

Of the ABA resolution, Doug Napier, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund told ‘One News Now’ that "once again the American Bar Association is purporting to represent American lawyers, when in fact they only represent about a quarter of American lawyers,"

With its 400,000 members, ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.

Founded in 1881, the ABA was founded by one hundred lawyers from 21 states who had gathered in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

In just under 130 years ago, ABA grew into the nation’s largest voluntary professional organization. The resolution on same sex marriage was approved by the 560-member ABA House of-Delegates during its annual meeting held this month in San Francisco.

The resolution’s lead sponsor was the New York State Bar Association under auspice of the ABA’s Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities. Created in 1966, soon after a number earth moving court rulings related to the civil rights movement, the ABA ‘Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities’ provides leadership within the ABA and the legal profession in protecting and advancing human rights, civil liberties, and social justice

The full resolution approved Tuesday states that “the assertion that separate systems for classes of citizens can satisfy constitutional equality guarantees, as long as identical legal rights are conferred, invokes the long-repudiated reasoning in the court case Plessy v. Ferguson.

In that case, the Court upheld separate railway cars for African-Americans because “when the government… has secured to each of its citizens equal rights before the law, and equal opportunities for improvement and progress, it has accomplished the end for which it was organized. However, as our constitutional tradition and history has made clear, only full marriage equality comports with our constitutional standards that separate is not equal.

With that, ABA says see Brown v. Board of Ed., 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Biggest reason some Right Wing groups Oppose Kagan nomination?

by Cody Lyon
analysis

Now that Alabama Senate Republican Jeff Sessions has won a weeklong delay on any final vote to confirm Soliciter General Elena Kagan as a supreme court justice, a right leaning, tea party affiliated organization called Judicial Action Group or Jag, also based in Session's home state, is reportedly buying up commercial time for a new video ad aimed at swaying three important senate votes to 'no on Kagan.'

It was just over a year ago in June 2009 that Sessions, the Judiciary Committee's Ranking member vigorously questioned the record of then Supreme court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, focusing attention on Sotomayor's affiliation with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. After Sessions raised those concerns, another right leaning organization called "Judicial Watch" released a report on Sotomayor's record it said shows PRLDEF supports a “radical legal agenda. That campaign failed and Sotomayor went on to see confirmation.

The more recent video campaign is specific, aimed at two Democrats, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, as well as Republican Senator Lindsay Grahm of South Carolina. Each video has basically the same script, however, each is tailored to either one of the the three Senators, for example, viewers are urged to call and tell Senator Ben Nelosn to vote no on Elena Kagan.

The "Judical Action Group" video features an urgent toned voice claiming Kagan, as professor and Dean at Harvard Law School, 'advocated judicial activism and favors foreign law over our constitution." The ad also says Kagan "welcomed law firms representing terrorists" and "banned our military recruiters" from the school's campus. Kagan also "welcomed law firms representing terrorists' and "took $20 million in Saudi Money to establish a center for Islamic Studies and Sharia Law." The video, set against still photos of Kagan and hightlighted text of the charges leveled in the video, does not offer any sort of context or tracable sources as to where the charges extend from.

On July 12, JAG issued a press release saying it was launching a “Nelson & Kagan” ad campaign by co-hosting a
press conference that day in Omaha, NE. The group confirmed the effort is meant "to put pressure on Sen. Nelson to vote “No” on Kagan." JAG said it was co-hosting that event with Jennifer Hulsey of Tea Party Express, Doug Kagan of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, and Benjamin Smith (former Navy seal) of Move America Forward. They say similar Pressers and TV ad buys will occur Tues in Little Rock, AR and Thurs in Columbia, SC.

Judicial Action Group is a 501(c)4 non-profit corporation with offices in Washington, D.C. and Birmingham, Alabama. Founded in 2006, the 501(c)4 status (unlike a tax-deductible 501(c)3 status) allows JAG to engage in unlimited lobbying, 'maximizing its influence.' The group is part of a larger coalition of right leaning groups including the web umbrella, Freedom Federation.' That particular coalition of activists calls itself "a federation of multiracial, multiethnic and multigenerational faith-based and policy organizations and leaders committed to plan, strategize, and mobilize to advance shared core values to preserve freedom and promote justice" Featured along with Judicial Action Group on the Freedom Federation website, several other widely known Right Wing groups including better known groups like Family Research Council, American Family Association, Eagle Forum and The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Leading JAG is president Phillip Jauregu,a partner at Birmingham law firm Jauregu & Lindsey who Jauregu's biography says represents various clients ranging from small business, to corporate entities, to individuals, such as former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Judge Roy Moore, a hero in right wing circles gained national attention when as Chief Justice, he placed a washing machine sized replica of the biblical ten commandments in the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court. When challenged and eventually court ordered to remove the replica, hordes of fundamentalist Christian groups from around the nation descended onto the capital Montgomery to pray, protest and hold vigils.

Moore was eventually ordered out of office and Jauregui led the legal team that eventually lost an appeal that resulted in the removal of then Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore from office, over his refusal to remove the granite replica.

Jauregui's JAG says it believes that the present state of the culture war created the need for a Special Forces unit that single-mindedly devotes itself to one mission: "defeating judicial activism." On its website, JAG says it serves this vital niche.

But, some saw Jauregui client Roy Moore as an activist judge. In a November 2003 Court of the Judiciary hearing, Alabama's Assistant Attorney General said Moore's defiance, left unchecked, "undercuts the entire workings of the judicial system. He said what message does that send to the public, to other litigants? The message it sends is: If you don't like a court order, you don't have to follow it."

Recently, Moore made a run in the 2010 Republican primary for Governor. Winning just 19% of state votes, he placed fourth.

The 40 year old Jauregu also served as Assistant Legal Advisor to Alabama Governor Fob James, the Alabama governor who gained attention by opposing the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools. James' son, Tim James recently also recently made a run for Governor in the same race as Moore. He gained national attention of his own through television ads decryiny multi-linguil drivers license exams. James, like Moore, lost in the election, placing third in the primary.

As the Sotomayor nomination came closer to vote, in June 2009, JAG's Jauregu as President of JAG, joined a large group of conservative activists who wrote and signed a letter to Republican Senators urging that they fillibuster then nominee Sotomayer. But, many in that same group of activists had signed a similar letter a few years earlier during the Bush Administration "opposing" the use of filibusters during Supreme Court nominations.

That said, more recently, Jauregu's JAG has made the opposition of Kagan as a supreme court justice a priority. JAG's website points visitors to research and analysis by Alliance Defense Fund, American United For Life, Family Research Council and the Aiken ScotusBlog.

Perhaps more telling, an article detailing Jauregui and apparently the worry of many Right Leaning groups titled 'Do Ask, Do Tell - Whether Kagan's Public Policies are Improperly Dictated by Her Private Affairs.'

Here, Jauregui worries that "Kagan’s decision to bar military recruiters from Harvard was either a horrible legal decision, or a use of her office to impose her personal views on the military."

Then, Jauregui writes "if media reports that Kagan is a lesbian are true, then her decision to bar military recruiters from Harvard has every appearance of growing from her personal preferences and practices. Obama says that he wants justices who have empathy and know what it is like to be gay. Well, it is relevant for Americans to know whether such a preoccupation of knowing how it feels to be gay, led Elena Kagan to ignore the law and ban the heterosexual military from Harvard because it conflicted with her own personal feelings and practices."

No word as to whether or not, Jauregui wondered if he thought Judge Roy Moore's defiance over a large replica of the Ten Commandments in the state Supreme Court building might indicate that the the former chief justice intended to impose "his" personal views on the state's highest court.

Meanwhile, the video targeting the votes of the three Senators makes no mention of Kagan's rumored sexuality

Friday, July 02, 2010

Dysfunction Junction and Unemployment Insurance

Dysfunctional Washington and Unemployment Insurance
July 2, 2010, 4:03PM

by Cody Lyon
OPINION

During a conversation with ABC News this past Thursday, Politico.com's Chris Frates told Ron Claiborne that the inability of Congress to pass an extension of unemployment benefits was in part a "battle of approach."

He's referring to the differing approaches by which Democrats and Republicans would fund a $33 billion dollar extension of the expanded safety net for long term unemployed Americans. Democrats are looking to fund the program with emergency funds that would add to the stimulus while Republicans say part or all of the program must be paid for by taking money from the stimulus program. b Long term unemployed include those people unemployed for six months or longer. While many on both sides claim to want to extend the program, the reality is, millions of the long term unemployed are getting cut off from an economic life line over the next few weeks, thanks to the inability of a partisan congress to reach a solution.

To some Americans, this latest `real life' impact roadblock, is yet another reason to view the legislative branch as an increasingly pungent cauldron of dysfunction beholden to the next election and not the good of the people the elected officials were called to serve.

Washington reads like the ugly and mean spirited setting of a novel about corruption. It is a government where hypocrisy laden Republicans are bent on stopping any legislation that's touched by Democrats. Meanwhile, whiny Democrats eager to point the finger at Republicans, have apparently come to relish this role that would be better on the playground. That's where one usually finds the annoying tattle tale child who constantly points out the flaws of the other kids. It seems that the truly sincere defenders of the down trodden are absent. In a nutshell, neither party seems to want to rise above the fray and exhibit the qualities of true leadership on this topic.

By not moving forward with a simple extension of unemployment benefits for millions of unemployed Americans, Republican and Democrat Senators can march up and down main street's across the nation on "Independence Day" and self righteously proclaim they may support an extension, while Republicans claim the 'opposing' party is fiscally irresponsible, or in Democrats case,claim Republicans are increasingly a party that's home to a philosophy based in cold blood. Meanwhile, among many of the parade viewer's will be friend's and neighbors that are impacted by this latest lack of movement. It is a stalemate that will send them even further into the abyss of what's fast turning into a ruthless recession, an economy that the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman worries may be the beginnings of the `Third Depression."

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/28/opinion/28krugman.html

Pure and simple, during the economic challenges of the past, unemployment insurance extensions were pretty much routine. The National Employment Law Project reported that since the 1950s Congress has not allowed extended jobless aid to expire when the national unemployment rate is above 7.2 percent. In 1973, extended benefits remained in place until unemployment sank to 5 percent.

On Friday, July 2, the Labor Department released a report saying that there was a June drop in unemployment from 9.5% to 9.7%. That number sends the statistic to its lowest point since July, one year earlier.

But as a chilling analysis piece by the Wall Street Journal notes, that decline wasn't due to improvement in the labor market. Instead, jobless Americans simply dropped out of the labor force in droves.

Friday's labor report shows that sectors like manufacturing grew payrolls by just 9,000. That was a much smaller jump than the average of 25,400 jobs over the past five months.

Note, Democrats have resisted calls to take cash from the `stimulus' to fund unemployment checks because they say the stimulus is creating so many jobs. But, contained in the report, numbers showing that the United States construction industry shed yet another, 22,000 jobs this past June. The hope was that when the stimulus package first emerged, America might see tangible WPA like investment in its failing infrastructure that would increase construction hiring by the thousands. There was also hope the investment might produce significant spikes in green technology, innovation and manufacturing, whereby workers might be re-trained for jobs of the future, and more importantly, we'd be weaned away from our dependence on fossil fuels. Some thought, these hard times presented the country with an opportunity to pause, soul search and plant the necessary seeds that would lead us to a new landscape where evidence of new rapid rail systems, windmill energy and bio technological hubs were soon to be the norm of the future. Perhaps the jobs picture would be even bleaker were it not for this attempt at treading water, but that's another story

Meanwhile, Republicans have jumped on the rampant fear of a politically motivated austerity band-wagon. And, as many have pointed out, this latest policy shift by the GOP reeks of corrupt hypocrisy. Remember, it was the Bill Clinton administration that produced a deficit surplus of almost $300 billion according to FactCheck.org. But, these are some of the same people who endorsed huge tax cuts for wealthy Americans, relaxed rules on Wall Street and wars we never could have never afforded in the first place. Any semblance of surplus all got quickly erased by President George W. Bush. So, some might see this latest Republican roadblock as just a bit disingenuous In fact, when President Barack Obama came to office, just as the economic meltdown was getting into full swing, he inherited a federal deficit of $1.2 trillion the day he was sworn in.

And all this political showmanship has culminated during what's become the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. It is a confusing patchwork of American pain that impacts some areas worse than others. But, rest assured, this latest move by Congress is wrecking lives and sending thousands if not millions into despair. How the Senate could simply up and leave the capital for a week long vacation without passing an life line extension to Americans that are facing one of the toughest job markets ever, is outrageous. If either side had truly believed putting food on the table of the unemployed was a moral issue they would have seen to it that is passed. Considering there is one job out there for every five Americans looking, if they truly cared,they would have given and taken, it's called a compromise, and the long term unemployed might have joined those parades on main street this July 4, and cheered the Senators as fine examples of a working Democracy surviving during a time of economic crisis.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Toying with a Life-Line for Millions-

Opinion-Cody Lyon

This past Thursday, a number of media outlets were reporting on a Labor Department report that said new weekly claims for unemployment fallen by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 456,000. Most of those same stories included details that total unemployment benefit rolls had fallen by 255,000 to 4.5 million.

The unemployment claims drop was called the 'largest decline in almost a year.' In its story, The Associated Press reported speculation that the decline could be because more people are finding work. But then again, it could simply mean that those individuals exhausted their initial state unemployment insurance benefits. The same report said that a Labor Department analyst said state agencies didn't provide any explanation for the drop.

The news helped send the stock market up around 273 points. Reports said traders were encouraged by the 2225,000 drop in total unemployment benefit total claims the week before.

But later that day Barron's Tiernan Ray reported how East Shore Partners exec Joan McCullough had written in a memo to clients that the big drop-off in unemployment roll benefits coincides with the May 22nd cut-off date set by Congress. She noted that's the point when recipients of regular or extended unemployment are no longer eligible to receive emergency unemployment compensation, if there state even offered it.

link to Barrons -http://blogs.barrons.com/stockstowatchtoday/2010/06/10jobless-claims-drop-not-as-nice-as-it-seems-says-east-shore)

Barron's said, McCullough's conclusion is that 46% of the unemployed have just passed the threshold of no return. They've dropped off the edge, rather than simply finding jobs, as it might seem at first.

Add to that, just over a week ago the "The Center for American Progress" lamented the fact "there were 6.7 million long-term unemployed who now account for 46 percent of all unemployed job seekers. The think tank noted that because there are nearly six job seekers for every opening available and little net hiring, the chances of getting one of those (jobs) is indeed slim."

Of course, the hope is that some sort of recovery will chip away at that frustrating statistic and offer some nuggets of hope to jobseekers and for that matter, the overall economy. Americans are rightfully confused about the state of the economy and where its headed as each day seems to bring yet another jumbled and conflicting shard of data. But, one likely and sure fire conclusion is this; thousands of unemployed Americans probably will face many more months of frustration in the job hunt.

Right now, jobseekers-to-jobs ratio, which tells how hard positions are to get, remains around 5.6 to 1.

As things stand now, of the 15 million unemployed, over 7 million have been out of work for more than six months, nearly 5 million for a year and over 1 million for two years.

That leads back to the data from last week, and the way it got reported by a number of news organizations. Reading through the lines, some news stories read like desperate PR blitzes that were seeking to offer a bit of good news in a dismal situation. After all, psychology plays a role in all this.

Still, there were stories like the one from Barron's,that in essence challenged the intial market-moving Thursday stories and the way the data got framed. For instance, McCulough aargued 255,000 unemployed individuals have now dropped out of sight from Continuing Claims. According the article, she said "And the New York Times is touting this as a positive? "

It's worth wondering, where the questions that seek a solid explanation for that huge drop in unemployment benefit rolls? That particular statistic, as evidenced by that day's market shift, is the sort of indicator that has the potential to impact perception and move Wall Street.

But all this news of being stuck in the economic mud poses tougher questions and perhaps too, challenges American society to at least rethink and look more aggressively to what a future economy and workforce can and should be, long term. ,

But, for now, the Senate is debating another emergency unemployment benefits extension, part of H.R. 4213, and once again, there are holdouts in that governing body who say the weekly checks, a lifeline to millions, are to big a cost, in these days of growing national deficit. Others take a condescending view arguing, that the continuous unemployment extensions create America's own real version of the British term, being on the Dole, that they retard job hunt motivation.

But while the deficit looms large and very real on the horizon, it seems almost cruel that the Senate would even flirt with cutting off economic lifelines to so many Americans who, in most cases, arrived at this unfortunate state existence though no fault of their own. Besides that, the benefits are basically a form of stimulus since that money mostly gets pumped back through spending., etc.

And, unless you live in place where the cost of living has plummeted down a cliff, you would be hard pressed to find a laid off American worker satisfied and secure with the amount of money one gets to live on from unemployment insurance. In most cases, the weekly sums are a small portion of what the worker made while employed. For example, in New York State, the highest weekly payment is just over $400. Other states, offer max payments lower than that, a few others, slightly higher. Usually, they provide enough to get by, pay some bills, put food on the table. If it weren't for a current 65% subsidy for COBRA plan payments, which costs roughly the same amount as a month's unemployment benefits, the number of uninsured would have spiked even higher as well. But, that's another sad story.

A study on the effect of recessions on health by Economics Professor Christopher Ruhm, found that because unemployment insurance in the U.S. does not typically replace 50% of the income one received on the job, the unemployed often end up tapping welfare programs such as Food Stamps or accumulating debt.

The sad fact is that the high numbers of long term unemployed continues growing into a scourge in America. It not only decimates consumer power, it tears at less measurable indicators like the psychology of the nation infected by labor insecurity and a large pocket of hopelessness sense born out of the frustration of millions. The hope in all this, is that United States citizens will see immediate relief, but also demand greater investment in the future. There's never been a better moment to call upon the nation's best and brightest innovators, and begin rethinking the ways, places and rules by which we work, produce and buy.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Consider the Truths on Jobs Numbers

OPINION Cody Lyon

A number of early news stories on the Friday labor department jobs report were reading as if written encouraged by the spin patrol. Most of the stories opened with news that the US had added 431,000 new (nonfarm) jobs this past May. At a number of media outlets, the good news was reinforced with the line, it's the "largest (job creation) gain in the monthly figure in a decade."

But, after the good news, came a dose of reality that pointed out, 411,000 of those 'new jobs' were for Temporary Census Workers. Those jobs will disappear come August.

In truth, as the Labor Department data shows, big as it is, the private sector of the entire United States only added 41,000 new jobs to payrolls this past May. That leaves the unemployment rate essentially unchanged at 9.7%, a slight drop from 9.9% in April.

Around 15 million workers are now unemployed in the United States. That's more than double the 7.7 million at the end of 2007.

As a Labor Department and National Employment Law Project report highlighted by "TheHill.com's" Vicki Needham noted, the number of long-term unemployed has increased from 1.3 million at the start of the recession and has climbed to 6.8 million, making up 46 percent of all unemployed, up from 15 percent more than 2 years ago.

With all that, it was hard understand how the President and members of the administration can say the job market in the United States is “getting stronger by the day.”

The spin didn't fool the market, as U.S. stocks, already spooked by the debt of Hungary, dove to their lowest closing bell since February.


Perhaps it's even more difficult to understand why so many reporters and even respected economists initially attempted putting a positive spin on things when in fact, the nation's economy is still facing trying times. Truth and Leadership are crucial when faced with crisis of any magnitude, and even in a spin filled culture, people can smell smoke and read through mirrors.


But even more hair raising the fact that so many Americans will lose their only financial lifelines this week as extensions of unemployment insurance benefits expire after the Senate up and went home before passing an extension of benefits. Some in the Senate are warning of impending deficit crisis, which is a legitimate concern, but, in this case of humanitarian aid to fellow Americans, more debt maybe necessary. The House passed the new extension a few weeks ago, but, the Senate left the capital for its Memorial Day holiday break before taking up the issue. The Senate is meant to address the topic when it returns, June 7.

The hope is, the numbers will shrink, the lifeline will become less inflated and the nation, will witness a full recovery.
LINK TO VICKI NEEDHAM at THEHILL
http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/domestic-taxes/101517-americans-face-eight-month-wait-to-find-a-job

Saturday, May 29, 2010

New York’s Eccentric Road Signs - City Limits Magazine - CityLimits.org

My story at www.citylimits.org

New York’s Eccentric Road Signs - City Limits Magazine - CityLimits.org

Alabama, Tim James, George Wallace and Campaign Exploitation

by Cody Lyon


During a chat on politics while home visiting friends and family in Birmingham Ala., one friend remarked that candidates who speak in ‘positives’ rarely do well in campaigns for state office in Alabama. She pointed to the legacy of unfortunate condescension, that use political formulas where candidates steer people’s attention from true ‘center of life’ issues towards hot button social topics.

Of course, this is probably one of the easiest, oldest and cheapest tricks in politics but, fueled on by a media focused on the sensational, it often works, not just in the South, but, across the nation,

And, for some us who grew up or live in Alabama, headlines seem to say this deep-south state has produced more than its fair share of this sort of similar political games.


Over the past few weeks, Americans have met Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James, the 48-year old son of former Governor Fob James who was noted in part for blunt language and loud opposition to the teaching of evolution.

The younger James, a millionaire businessman, has inspired news headlines, sneers from liberals and now a barrage of viral videos based on a real television campaign ad where the candidate for governor tackles Alabama’s practice of offering drivers license exams in 12 languages.

During the ad, James looks earnestly into the camera and say’s “this is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.” One would be hard pressed to find evidence that offering drivers license tests to a variety of languages is a ‘central to Alabama life issue,’ nonetheless, since the ad’s debut, James’ poll numbers have gone up and local interest in the governor’s race has jumped. These days, he’s drawing big crowds as he criss-crosses the state in the ‘common sense’ express.

James’ exploitation of anti-immigrant sentiment is one of the latest incidents in an immigrant backlash we’re seeing in many states like Arizona. But, in Alabama, one can’t help but draw comparisons to other candidates who, especially during times of economic instability, have exploited the insecurity of voter fear and insecurity.


As meticulous research in the book ‘Alabama, Portrait of a Deep South State,’ notes, in the 1960’s, when poor whites who’d recently entered the middle class saw their earning power failing to keep pace with inflation, instead of acting rationally and organizing or joining unions, they often acted in non-rational ways, “through scape-goating, fatalism, or blind rage.” To champion the cause, “they chose George C. Wallace.”

Interestingly, when George Wallace’s first ran for Governor in 1958, he ran with the support of the NAACP. Wallace was defeated by fellow democrat John Patterson who himself, had the support of the Ku Klux Klan. Afterwards, Wallace, who had been vocal in his opposition to the Klan and apparently seen by blacks as ‘fair’ before the first governors race, reportedly told an aide, that he’d been “outniggered” in the campaign by Patterson, and that he’d “never be outniggered “ again.

Then, in 1962, the historically familiar George Wallace was elected. He proclaimed against the backdrop of whoops and hollers during his Montgomery inauguration that he stood in defiance of coming change, proclaiming “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”


Earlier, he’d reportedly told a supporter that people didn’t pay attention to his campaign in 1958 when he tried to forward a progressive agenda peppered with talk of all the good he would do like building better roads and schools. In essence, although social change was inevitable, reactionary politics had become his ticket to the state capital in Montgomery.

In truth, Wallace had taken the cheap and easy highway to power, using persuasive political trickery, appealing to base emotions like fear. Although he lived to regret his tactics, begging history to paint him as reasonable, he took the sins of blood stained rhetoric to the grave.

Almost 50 years after the Wallace segregation speech, Alabama has seen remarkable economic and social transformation. It is a place filled with ethnic diversity, thousands of new jobs, many of them brought by foreign investment. But, like other states, Alabama has been hit hard by recession, so the appeal of anti-immigrant sounding rhetoric that we’ve seen in states like Arizona, comes as no surprise.

And although Tim James’ English only ad is a far cry from the dangerous 1960’s rhetoric of George Wallace, James tactic is at the core, cheap and easy politics.

Instead, why doesn’t James produce and star in an ad that taunts the insanity of Alabama tax structures? For example, a 2008 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study that says that Alabama’s tax system is regressive, relying on income and sales taxes that are skewed against low income people.

Or perhaps, he could get people stirred up over Alabama’s consistent ranking as one of the top states for dangerous levels of obesity, smoking, diabetes and poverty. Another potential point of contention, Alabama’s localized school systems are markedly disparate, where in a few wealthy suburbs near cities like Birmingham, children are guaranteed public educational opportunity on a par with the best offered anywhere in the country. Meanwhile, inner city or rural areas, the bigger challenge is to simply see a child graduate from high school. And, while dramatizing these social ills, mention that the state’s biggest city, is home to one of the nation’s top ten homicide rates, yes, Birmingham is statistically a much more dangerous than New York City.

Those tidbits touch on a few problems facing today’s Alabama. But those problems are also America’s problems because we all operate under the same umbrella in this Republic of ours. Yet, with all that going on in this economically uncertain time that’s ripe for change, the most enthused political rhetoric spewed onto the nation’s airwaves is negative and marked by blame, finger-pointing and once again, scape-goating. For example, news stories in the mainstream media featuring colorful notes on the tea party movement trump stories on exactly how, why or who led America into the current Great Recession.

Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that Tim James is charismatic, smart and a good businessman who might make a fine Governor for Alabama.

But, like the originally moderate candidate named George Wallace, who made a campaign decision 50 year ago and won office, the political calculation behind James’ English only ad may grab attention now, but ultimately, such diversion mutes hope for healthy open discussion and debate that leads to change for the better of a people. In the end, these tactics block the path to progress into the future.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thought for the day

With thousands of square miles to choose from, how is it possible, Science can pinpoint where to drill and extract oil, but, when faced with environmental catastrophe, human ingenuity fails to deliver a solution to plug up a hole in the ground....

Friday, May 07, 2010

Interview with Limelight Marketplace Developer Jack Menashe at Portoflio.com

Back Into the Limelight
Cody Lyon

The Limelight Marketplace, New York City retail developer Jack Menashe’s latest vision for a 163-year-old former Episcopalian Church turned legendary nightclub is set to finally open this week as a boutique mall.

Read more: http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/entrepreneurship/2010/05/06/jack-menashe-turns-limelight-nightclub-into-artisan-mall#ixzz0nIvzw2SL

You want some design with those Fries? Story looks at McDonald's new Euro Look in NYC (Portfolio.com)

Cody Lyon for Portfolio.com


Curing a Big Mac attack with a visit to McDonald’s has gotten a little more chic in a handful of the fast-food giant’s 250 New York City locations. Diners are treated to egg chairs, wide tables, bright walls, and fresh art deco panels, elements based on a store model created by French interior designer Phillipe Avanzi, the mastermind of similar redesign efforts at McDonald’s locations in Europe.

Read more: http://www.portfolio.com/companies-executives/2010/05/06/will-redesign-boost-mcdonalds-franchisees-bottom-line#ixzz0nIuz28ur

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cody Lyon's Reflections on an earlier time in NYC

Back in the Day (from Portfolio.com)

by Cody Lyon Apr 26 2010
A New Yorker’s reflection of an earlier time in Manhattan, back when nightclubs were more than $300 bottles of vodka and when restaurants weren’t part of chains. Now, those were fun times.

Read more:


http://www.portfolio.com/views/columns/2010/04/26/cody-lyon-on-past-new-york-city-clubs-and-restaurants

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Lower Manhattan CRE could take a hit (story at Portfolio.com)

http://www.portfolio.com/business-news/portfolio/2010/04/01/lower-manhattan-real-estate-hits-the-skids#
by Cody Lyon Apr 01 2010
After surviving 9/11, the credit crisis and the Great Recession, the commercial real estate market in lower Manhattan finally shows signs of exhaustion. But investors are looking ahead to the resilient neighborhood's recovery.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Prom Tolerance and the Changing of Hearts and Minds

by CODY LYON

OPINION


News that the Itawamba County Mississippi school board would cancel its upcoming prom rather than allow a gay student, Constance McMillen, to bring her same sex date to the event was a disturbing but necessary reminder of just how hostile much of the nation to the 'full acceptance' of LGBT people, and that includes students.

Perhaps the school system's decision is based in fear rooted in flawed and prejudiced assumptions, that by allowing a teenager to bring her same sex date to such a traditional event as the prom, the powers that be may appear to be condoning gayness to the local masses. More likely,moral concerns extending from literal interpretations of scripture, verses located on the same pages where one finds instructions for the stoning of adulterers and punishments for wearing certain types of textiles. But then again, the Mississippi prom case is more likely just another piece of fallout from a very commonly held membership in a society where there is a quiet tolerance of homophobia which is nothing more than a phobia of homosexuality itself.

It's easy to draw comparisons to this incident and a 1994 case involving a student in the little east Alabama town of Wedowee. In February of that year, the principal of Randolph County High School called the student body, then around 60% white and 40% black, to an assembly, where he asked the group how many juniors and seniors planned to attend the prom with 'dates' as he put it, "outside their race?" To his, and perhaps many northern readers who later read details of this tale surprise, several students did in fact raise their hands. Reportedly, the principal, a white man named Hulond Humphries, promptly cancelled the prom, asking, "how would that look at a prom, a bunch of mixed race couples?"

Most would probably agree, that no matter how you phrase it, spin it or frame it, at the root of the Wedowee principal's prom decision in 1994, was phobia, a phobia of African American students mixing with whites, and that phobia, still held by many in America, is most likely rooted in racism of one form or another.

But, back to present day Mississippi. There is no denying the bravery of this young student who with help from the ACLU is standing up to authority. It is a shame, that the majority of students who are most likely heterosexual are upset about seeing their big night get spoiled. Like the 1994 Wedowee principal, Itawamba County officials had rather cancel the event, than run the risk of 'appearing unsavory' after all, how would it look if their are lesbians at the prom? Worth mentioning, for those LGBT leaders in bastions of tolerance, far from places like rural Mississippi, the hope is they will not only take notice of this young girl's brave actions, but, instill the support of all watching this little drama unfold. Because, in truth, its those drama's that unfold daily in the smaller places of America's heartland, where hearts and minds are changed, ever so slowly, but oh so often, surely. You see that kind of change in places like Ashburn Georgia, a small town 160 miles south of Atlanta, that held its first integrated black and white together prom in 2007, yes, that' just two years ago. Guess who voted for the change from 'Jim Crow" appearing segregation to modern day integration, the majority of the student body, all 212 of them. One hopes too, that despite old thought principals or school boards caught up in society's prejudices, moral conflicts or hang-ups based in misinterpretation or hate, that students like Constance McMillen, will someday have the support of her student body, and that they too, will vote for an integrated prom along the same lines as those kids in Georgia but perhaps, these kids will go a bit further on the tolerance trail, a place where black, white, straight, gay or whatever well behaved junior or senior from that school gains admission to the prom and dances the night away with his or her date, regardless of whether that date is a boy or a girl.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Drawing a line in the sand on Healthcare reform

OPINION
by CODY LYON

Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY-R) told Democrats in the Senate that `every election this fall will be a referendum" on health care reform. McConnell, was rattling his saber after President Obama threw down the gauntlet, where he said congress owes the American people a final vote on healthcare reform. The president gave his blessings to procedural `reconciliation,' a way by which Democrats bypass what has become unanimous Republican opposition to the legislation, in other words, get'er done!

Mind you, the healthcare reform bill is flawed. And, the ways by which the miles high pile of details contained in this bill, the nuts and bolts of "what this legislation" would mean to the American people, have been short in coming to say the least. Republicans and others have seized upon what they portray as frightening hints of socialism, portraying the bill as government interference into the private sector that they falsely proclaim serves us well. But, truth be told, we live in a nation that is home to a healthcare system that does serves some well, while it neglects our less fortunate, the uninsured citizens among us, a number now approaching 50 million with another 15 million considered "under-insured." Even those who are insured, are unlikely to sing the praises of their insurance companies, especially in these days of skyrocketing premiums and added costs where every nook and cranny within the healthcare system's costs are already interconnected much like a synthetic rubik's cube.

Take note, a February 16 RAND Corporation analysis found that the Senate healthcare reform plan would cause overall health spending to increase by 2 percent because of 'increased utilization among newly insured people.'
For those worried about increased health care costs, RAND says the legislation would help drive down out of pocket insurance premiums. Researchers at RAND estimated that premiums in the employer-sponsored market in 2019 would be 2 percent lower and the premiums paid by individuals buying insurance through exchanges would be 3.7 percent lower than otherwise expected.

Further the analysis found that by 2019, about 28 million people would purchase insurance through the Health Benefit Exchanges mandated by the legislation. The Exchanges would be state-run organizations through which private companies would sell health insurance to individuals. Researchers at RAND estimate that 15 million of those who use the exchanges would qualify for government subsidies to help pay for their insurance.

RAND predicts that among the 25 million Americans who would remain uninsured in 2019, about one-third (9 million) would be eligible for Medicaid but not enroll.

The study finds that health care legislation passed by the Senate would cut the number of uninsured Americans to 25 million by 2019 (a 53 percent decrease) and increase overall national spending on health care by about 2 percent cumulatively between 2013 and 2019.

Perhaps what makes all of this back and forth politicking over healthcare reform even more infuriating, is that Democrats have yet to seize this bull by the horns and broadcast the deeper truths and connect the dots for those Americans who do have insurance already. Truth's like findings from the privately run Commonwealth Fund who reported in a August 2009 study, that employer sponsored health insurance premiums increased by 119% from 1999 until 2008. The study projects that premiums will double again without some sort of reform measure.

Fact of the matter, with healthcare reform as it stands, American families will likely save almost $4,000 by 2020 according to the Commonwealth Fund study.

As things stand, Democrats have yet to demonstrate that they have gumption and ability to forge legislation through to fruition that will impact the lives of their constituents in a positive way. With the current somewhat flawed, but still `incrementally' positive healthcare reform bill, Democrats have the chance to show they are proactive as leaders and that government can do good things for its people. The President is correct to ask that they draw a line in the sand, and that they pass this bill.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Small Banks at Greater Risk from CRE mortgages (from September at globest.com)

FROM SEPTEMBER 2009...globeSt.com (ALM)

This past September, it was becoming increasingly clear that smaller banks would suffer greater hardship as more commercial real estate mortgages started coming home to roost...

by Cody Lyon
NEW YORK CITY-Commercial mortgage defaults, which are projected to reach unprecedented levels in 2011, pose an even greater risk for smaller, regional lenders than the nation’s more high-profile large banks. So says Dr. Sam Chandan, president of Real Estate Econometrics.

"If you look across the banking system, commercial mortgage loans represent about 14% of banks’ net loans and leases," Chandan tells GlobeSt.com. However, he says, banks that have assets of $10 billion or more typically see a less than 10% exposure rate to commercial real estate. On the other hand, smaller institutions with assets between $100 million and $1 billion see exposures as high as 30%.

And therein lies a very big problem and more pressing calls for policy interventions. "Some of these smaller institutions that have not been the direct focus of policy interventions are seeing a tremendous deterioration of commercial mortgage performance," says Chandan. "If default rates continue to rise in the way current trends suggest, and if low rates of recovery on exposures worsen, some institutions will be impacted in terms of their viability, not only in their terms of their capacity to lend for commercial real estate, but also in their capacity to participate in the market."

The handwriting is on the wall, according to data from federal bank regulators. During the second quarter of 2009, the FDIC issued 151 regulatory orders. Nearly half of those orders were "cease and desist," which often precede a bank’s closure. Already this year, the FDIC says there have been 89 bank failures with assets totaling $91.6 billion.

A spokesman tells GlobeSt.com that the FDIC is looking closely at commercial real estate, but adds, "we do not have any projections to make regarding its future impact."

But the alarm bells were ringing in July testimony before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress from Jon D. Greenlee, associate director of the Federal Reserve’s Division of Banking and Regulation. Greenlee told that committee, "A high proportion of small- and medium-sized institutions continue to have sizable exposure to commercial real estate, including land development and construction loans, built up earlier this decade, with some having concentrations equal to several multiples of their capital."

Those would be the banks with names like Platinum Community Bank of Rolling Meadows, IL; First Bank of Kansas in Kansas City, KS; and First Coweta Bank of Newnan, GA, to name three of the casualties in the past two months, according to FDIC data. According to local news reports, each had bet heavily in the commercial real estate market.

The now defunct First Coweta Bank’s web page read, "Let First Coweta be your business partner! For construction and real estate purchases, call one of our commercial loan officers today for rates!" Another regional bank, United Bank Corp. of Barnesville, GA, has assumed First Coweta’s deposits and loans.

"The difference is, we’re not talking about the biggest banks right now," Chandan says. "It’s not the TARP recipients: the JPMorgans and Citibanks. Instead, it’s the hundreds, perhaps thousands of smaller, community and regional banks that provide liquidity to people in smaller markets across the nation."

He says "the failure of any one of these smaller banks will not impact financial stability on a national level. Individually, the failures do not get the same degree of attention as the large institutions, whose failure would present systemic risk for the entire financial system and economy."

Chandan says policy makers have paid significant attention to conditions in the CMBS markets. But, he says, there has been little in the way of support for banks struggling with a deterioration of mortgage performance. The outstanding pool of commercial real estate mortgages on the balance sheets of banks is "much larger than the CMBS universe," Chandan notes.

And, he says, REEcon’s view is that the banking system will play the dominant role in the commercial real estate marketplace, as it has historically. Ultimately, Chandan says, "there can’t be a normalization of credit conditions without a healthy banking system."

As the latest Federal Reserve Bank Senior Loan Officer Opinion survey noted, 40% of lending institutions indicated that standards for investment-grade commercial real estate lending would remain tighter than their longer-term average levels for the foreseeable future. About 55% expected this outcome for non-investment-grade loans.

Chandan says that so far, there does not seem to be consensus on how policy makers and banks themselves will alleviate some of the strain on smaller and regional banks. He says banks are being encouraged to modify balances, so that loans can become performing again. But, he says, modification of loans implies significant cost to banks.

Ultimately, Chandan says, the costs to capital reserves are where policy needs to be focused. He says that to achieve that goal, there should be some sharing of the costs associated with writedowns.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Real Estate exposure pose Great risks to Small Banks

FROM September 15, GlobeSt.com (ALM)
by Cody Lyon

NEW YORK CITY-Commercial mortgage defaults, which are projected to reach unprecedented levels in 2011, pose an even greater risk for smaller, regional lenders than the nation’s more high-profile large banks. So says Dr. Sam Chandan, president of Real Estate Econometrics.

"If you look across the banking system, commercial mortgage loans represent about 14% of banks’ net loans and leases," Chandan tells GlobeSt.com. However, he says, banks that have assets of $10 billion or more typically see a less than 10% exposure rate to commercial real estate. On the other hand, smaller institutions with assets between $100 million and $1 billion see exposures as high as 30%.

And therein lies a very big problem and more pressing calls for policy interventions. "Some of these smaller institutions that have not been the direct focus of policy interventions are seeing a tremendous deterioration of commercial mortgage performance," says Chandan. "If default rates continue to rise in the way current trends suggest, and if low rates of recovery on exposures worsen, some institutions will be impacted in terms of their viability, not only in their terms of their capacity to lend for commercial real estate, but also in their capacity to participate in the market."

The handwriting is on the wall, according to data from federal bank regulators. During the second quarter of 2009, the FDIC issued 151 regulatory orders. Nearly half of those orders were "cease and desist," which often precede a bank’s closure. Already this year, the FDIC says there have been 89 bank failures with assets totaling $91.6 billion.

A spokesman tells GlobeSt.com that the FDIC is looking closely at commercial real estate, but adds, "we do not have any projections to make regarding its future impact."

But the alarm bells were ringing in July testimony before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress from Jon D. Greenlee, associate director of the Federal Reserve’s Division of Banking and Regulation. Greenlee told that committee, "A high proportion of small- and medium-sized institutions continue to have sizable exposure to commercial real estate, including land development and construction loans, built up earlier this decade, with some having concentrations equal to several multiples of their capital."

Those would be the banks with names like Platinum Community Bank of Rolling Meadows, IL; First Bank of Kansas in Kansas City, KS; and First Coweta Bank of Newnan, GA, to name three of the casualties in the past two months, according to FDIC data. According to local news reports, each had bet heavily in the commercial real estate market.

The now defunct First Coweta Bank’s web page read, "Let First Coweta be your business partner! For construction and real estate purchases, call one of our commercial loan officers today for rates!" Another regional bank, United Bank Corp. of Barnesville, GA, has assumed First Coweta’s deposits and loans.

"The difference is, we’re not talking about the biggest banks right now," Chandan says. "It’s not the TARP recipients: the JPMorgans and Citibanks. Instead, it’s the hundreds, perhaps thousands of smaller, community and regional banks that provide liquidity to people in smaller markets across the nation."

He says "the failure of any one of these smaller banks will not impact financial stability on a national level. Individually, the failures do not get the same degree of attention as the large institutions, whose failure would present systemic risk for the entire financial system and economy."

Chandan says policy makers have paid significant attention to conditions in the CMBS markets. But, he says, there has been little in the way of support for banks struggling with a deterioration of mortgage performance. The outstanding pool of commercial real estate mortgages on the balance sheets of banks is "much larger than the CMBS universe," Chandan notes.

And, he says, REEcon’s view is that the banking system will play the dominant role in the commercial real estate marketplace, as it has historically. Ultimately, Chandan says, "there can’t be a normalization of credit conditions without a healthy banking system."

As the latest Federal Reserve Bank Senior Loan Officer Opinion survey noted, 40% of lending institutions indicated that standards for investment-grade commercial real estate lending would remain tighter than their longer-term average levels for the foreseeable future. About 55% expected this outcome for non-investment-grade loans.

Chandan says that so far, there does not seem to be consensus on how policy makers and banks themselves will alleviate some of the strain on smaller and regional banks. He says banks are being encouraged to modify balances, so that loans can become performing again. But, he says, modification of loans implies significant cost to banks.

Ultimately, Chandan says, the costs to capital reserves are where policy needs to be focused. He says that to achieve that goal, there should be some sharing of the costs associated with writedowns.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Thought On Thursday's Supreme Judicial Activism

by Cody Lyon

In light of Thursday's apparent Supreme 'judicial activism' now capturing headlines and raising brows from coast to coast....It's important to understand that many important decisions in DC flow from an increasingly flawed system, a government where money fueled lobbyist exert influence on public policy in both parties. For far to long, 'sway' has been sold to the highest bidders from well moneyed interests, all with self serving agendas that in the end lead to actions that impact the day to day lives of millions America's people. It is a system of government bordering on the corrupt, that now more than ever, warrants public dissection and scrutiny by all Americans concerned with the survival of a free and open Democracy. Ultimately, public discourse and passions will demand decisive actions that lead to true reform where all people's voices are heard. And, with that, the hope is that America will see greater transparency, honesty and integrity in its halls of government, enabling elected US government representatives to carry out the true wishes, needs and collective missions of the citizens who voted them into power.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Economist Harry S. Dent's predictions From one Year ago:

BY CODY LYON- From January 2009, ALM's GLOBEST.com
**At a January 2009 CORENET Luncheon, Economist Harry S. Dent made interesting projections about the nation's economy and urged investment in tangible assets like infrastructure.

NEW YORK CITY-The current downturn is no ordinary economic crisis and nothing like it has been seen since the 1930s, economist Harry S. Dent told a CoreNet Global audience here on Friday. Author of The Great Depression Ahead: How to Prosper in the Crash Following the Greatest Boom in History, Dent warned attendees at the CoreNet luncheon not to expect miracles from President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.
He predicted that the current administration will put up around $3 trillion to $4 trillion in stimulus to try breaking the current downturn. But Dent said he sees the country as rounding the bottom of the crisis and over the next year and a half, the economy will have what he called a "choppy, wimpy bounce."

"We have a downturn that will not be inflationary," and instead "will be deflationary," he said. Tossing humor into the pain-filled punch, Dent said, "this much stimulus is like taking a whole bottle of Viagra and not having anything happen."

After the chuckles ended, Dent again assumed the tone of a Sunday morning preacher, saying that by late next year, the economy would crash yet again. "This is a classic scenario. We're telling people, particularly in commercial real estate, to be looking at late 2012 or maybe 2013 to come out of this deep mess." He added that this is a good time to refinance.

Dent said demographics ranging from age to location play a tremendous role in how this economy is playing out as well as its impact on commercial real estate. He said baby boomers are retiring, work force entry is shrinking and people are moving away from congestion. Places like Atlanta were once desirable but now are too congested and that instead, families are choosing places like Tucson, AZ and Birmingham, AL.

"In real estate, this is a shakeup," Dent said. "People left standing with cash flow and credit inherit the world, and the banks will give them all the devalued real estate for very low prices."

He also advised that making money should not be the number one priority. "Your goals should be, how do I refinance the property I have, how do I re-structure, sell the ones I can’t and maintain cash flow and credit." Offering the corporate example of General Motors, he said that despite their woes, the company didn't go down as fast and as far as their competitors.

Calling on history, Dent said there was a major crash in Japan in the 1990s and a major crash in the United States in the 1930s and that was it. The intervening years, he said, had been mostly up. "The Depression was a pretty good pattern for what happens, because we are going through a boom, bubble and bust. Stock markets and asset prices overreact and the banking system just gets killed."

Dent said this is a 12 to 14-year process, with the 1929-1942 cycle as the closet analogy. He added that the real estate bottom should occur in 2013.

If we only see a modest rebound from the current stimulus efforts, the stock markets are going to react negatively, Dent said. World markets are going to look at the US dollar and say it’s deflated and that the country has "debased itself and has nothing to show for it." Dent said that ultimately, either the stimulus will not be enough or the government will be forced to stop because its own dollars and financing become too questionable, too quick. He says for the economy to triumph, it will have to wash out the debt.

More specifically, he said there would be some temporary rebounds: stocks for three to six months; maybe commodities for 12 months; perhaps oil, silver and gold. But he warned that the US faces huge trade deficits and that half the debt is owned by foreign governments or entities who would not be as tolerant of the nation's stimulus programs.

To address this, Dent recommended that the greater part of the stimulus package should be directed towards infrastructure projects. At present, it’s about one third of the package.

Dent told the New York audience they should be lobbying for infrastructure project money, that it pays off in the long term and that investments in it help make the most of the most attractive mega-city in America. More broadly, "if you can borrow money when things are down, at least have an investment that pays off in the long term. In 2012 or so, China, Dubai or Japan will say to the United States, 'you guys are bankrupt, you threw away three or four bottles of Viagra.'"

But he added that these countries would be willing to make deals and help us if they get a piece of an investment like infrastructure, which is broadly defined. "If we’re going to add debt to stimulate the economy, you need to be lobbying for infrastructure."

NYC Seeks to get Fresh Produce into Underserved Areas through Economic Incentives to Grocery Store Developers

New York City Gets FRESH With Grocery Incentives in Fresh Produce deprived neighborhoods( From October 2009, GLOBEST.COM-New York)




By Cody Lyon
Post
Republish
NEW YORK CITY-To the developer, owner or grocery chain looking for a potentially recession-proof and, perhaps, highly profitable investment opportunity, consider this: New York City, the most densely populated city in the United States, is experiencing a shortage of grocery stores and supermarkets, particularly in lower-income areas where lack of access to fresh produce contributes to higher rates of diabetes and obesity. Hoping to impact health outcomes by encouraging greater private investment in supermarket-challenged areas, the Bloomberg administration is proposing the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health program, or FRESH.
Through enticing zoning initiatives, the proposed action, set to be voted on by the City Council sometime this year, seeks to “facilitate the development of stores that sell a full range of food products,” with an emphasis on perishable items that are fresh.

“Part of what the incentives are meant to do is attract the attention of the business community to the opportunities they’ve been missing out on,” Ben Thomases, New York City’s first ever food policy coordinator, tells GlobeSt.com. He and representatives from other city agencies spearheading the proposal believe that "landlords, developers and supermarket operators haven’t quite put together that the growth of population in these communities, and the lack of high quality supermarkets, is a lucrative opportunity."

In fact, according to research by the Center for an Urban Future’s City Limits magazine, 1.67 million New Yorkers have, on average, less than one square foot of grocery store space each. Of those, 74,178 have no grocery store at all. More recently, the Department of City Planning summed that up more grimly, saying that three million New Yorkers are caught in areas with limited access to fresh produce, areas of the nation’s largest city it calls “food deserts.”

The stats tell a typical tale of urban sociological disparity. According to a 2008 study by the New York City Economic Development Corp. and the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and City Planning, a good number of the fresh food denied, live in low to moderate income neighborhoods. That lack of easy access and choice contributes to the fact that some city neighborhoods are home to some of the nation’s highest rates of diabetes and obesity and all the ills that come with it.

“We have wealthy neighborhoods in Manhattan where less than 10% of the adults are obese, and low income neighborhoods in the South Bronx, north and central Brooklyn where more than 30% of the adults are obese,” says Thomases. “Even if you factor out median income or mean educational attainment in an area, you still find that the presence or absence of a quality grocery store makes a substantial difference in health outcomes in that area.”

John A. Williams, senior managing director at Savills, tells GlobeSt.com that investors are willing, and are in fact, “eager” to invest in the city’s targeted neighborhoods. “We’ve seen performance levels that are among the tops in the nation,” in lower income areas that had been traditionally under-served by supermarkets.

For example, the 50,000-square-foot Harlem Pathmark, which anchors an $85-million retail complex, has been one of the chain’s highest-grossing stores since opening in 1999, according to the NYCEDC. According to a report from the Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds, the Harlem store generates sales of around $800 per square foot.

The proposed FRESH program chose 19 of the city’s 54 community districts as the test fields for the program. Among them are neighborhoods in Northern Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, with a special target district in Jamaica, Queens. All the districts showed population growth from the 1980 census to the last official count in 2000, unlike a number of economically challenged areas in other parts of the country.

For example, the area served by Brooklyn’s Community Board 5 grew from 154,932 residents in 1980 to 173,198 in 2000. The Bronx’s Community Board 4 grew from 114,309 in 1980 to 139,513 while Manhattan’s CB12 saw a growth spurt from 179,941 to 208,414 in 20 years. Estimates indicate even greater population growth over the years since.

Thomases says despite that growth, supermarkets--many of which had left in the 1970s and 1980s--have not yet returned en masse. He says that some of the tepidness about returning was because rents had gotten so expensive. “When the real estate market was booming so rapidly, rents in those neighborhoods went from being really depressed to being speculatively very high.”

The city’s Planning Commission says the FRESH initiative includes a zoning text amendment with a series of incentives allowing developers and retailers to get certain zoning benefits if they will put a food store in their development. “Having zoning initiatives for building a grocery store is unique,” says Barry Dinerstein, senior planner at the New York City Department of Planning.

Among the nuts and bolts of the proposal he explains to GlobeSt.com are incentives to residential developers. They will be allowed to increase floor area by one foot for every foot of grocery put into the development, with a maximum of 20,000 square feet. Another incentive eases parking requirements, and the plan also increases the size of as-of-right stores in M1 districts, where development is capped at 10,000 square feet, to 30,000 square feet.

The Department of Planning stresses bringing the grocery stores to the people, since the city’s neighborhoods are pedestrian-centric, meaning that New Yorkers are more likely to walk to their local grocery store than most places in the nation. The department also notes that since New York City is a built environment, stores no larger than 30,000 square feet can usually be built on most commercial corridors.

Williams tells GlobeSt.com that from the “developer’s standpoint, whatever incentives go into place and allow you to get bigger spaces for tenants” are an inducement. “Obviously, larger supermarket chains would like to operate in the manner they are accustomed to.”

The larger stores “like to be as cookie cutter as they can,” he says. But those companies “are willing to modify concepts and prototypes to get into urban areas.”

As part of an effort to incorporate community concerns, the new zoning was modified to require that any grocery store that comes in be first referred to the local community board. “We assume that will alleviate fears that might exist within the communities, and also provide the operator with insight on the community” he’s investing in, says Dinerstein.

He adds that once the FRESH plan is passed, a point person will be coming on board to handle the new program. Dinerstein says the Planning Department has been in conversation with people who build and develop grocery stores, as well as those who specialize in apartment buildings.

The department has upped its dialogue with people in the supermarket industry including major wholesalers who distribute into the targeted neighborhoods. Dinerstein tells GlobeSt.com that as soon as the City Council approves the proposal, the initiative will begin a major marketing effort at attracting grocery stores to those neighborhoods.

“Obviously, the economic situation doesn’t make it ideal to open new stores or build new buildings,” says Dinerstein. However, he adds, “if you look at what’s happening with retail, food sales are holding their own, unlike sub-sectors like apparel.”

And, people have to eat. Data from industry trade association the Food Marketing Institute shows that nationwide, supermarket sales in 2008 were up around 5% from the year before to $547.1 billion.

In areas of New York City, where grocery stores are rare, or non-existent, the average price of basic fresh food items--like milk--trends more expensive than areas served by quality supermarkets. Thomases says he’s aware of the issue, and has heard of the FRESH initiative.

But, he says “in any economic system, when there are barriers for new players, it weakens competition for the existing players, and in a more competitive environment, that would create a situation where the existing supermarkets would have better products and competitive prices.” That often motivates shoppers to commute to other areas for their food shopping.

According to the multi-agency ’08 report, the city has the potential to capture around $1 billion in lost grocery sales to suburbs. The report says that loss alone is enough to support more than 100 new grocery stores and supermarkets in New York City. Enticingly, the report promotes the theory that having nearby food retail serves as a selling point in residential real estate listings.

Nonetheless, future supermarkets in New York City neighborhoods will be determined by the private sector who make the investment decisions of when, where and how food retail will be developed. “The challenge on the financing side is pretty straightforward,” according to Williams. In fact, he says that’s not such a big obstacle. “If you have a good solid sponsor or developer, the banks have been traditionally eager to lend in the areas the city is targeting,” since the lenders stand to win points from the community reinvestment act.

Thomases goes further, saying “the FRESH program is designed to create partnerships between developers and supermarket operators. It’s designed to be a win-win.”