US Housing Market Remains Confusing, Contradictory

The first two months of 2018 saw some rather negative news about the housing market–concern about Trump’s tax cut and how it would impact home ownership, lack of housing inventory, increasing interest rates and declining home sales seemed to dominate news about the housing market.  Over the last week, however, the headlines have changed and we are seeing a mixed bag of positive and negative news.

First, the good news is that it appears home sales are increasing after several months of declining sales:

Contract closings increased 3% month-over-month to a 5.54 million annual rate (the estimate was 5.4 million) from an unrevised 5.38 million. The median sales price rose 5.9% year-over-year to $241,700. The inventory of available properties declined 8.1% year-over-year to 1.59 million, the lowest for February in data going back to 1999.

Tucked away in the last paragraph of the same article, however, we see some fairly negative news about condo sales.  And what is the old saying?  Condos are the first to go up and the first to go down?  Are they leading the way down this time?

Purchases of condominium and co-op units declined 6.5% to a 580,000 pace. First-time buyers made up 29% of all sales in February, unchanged from prior month. Homes sold in 37 days, compared with 41 days in January and 45 days in February 2017.

Inventory continues to remain tight, and realtors are wondering out loud if sellers don’t want to sell because they’d rather keep their current low interest rate than buy a new home with a higher interest rate:

“The one concerning trend is the interest rate lock effect,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the NAR. Sellers are telling agents increasingly that they do not want to move because they will lose the record-low mortgage rate they have locked in.

Meanwhile, people are pulling back on refinancing their homes and also cutting back on their spending.  Are people getting nervous about something called “interest rates?

Affordability is weakening across the nation due to the combination of short supply, high demand and rising interest rates. And the respite for interest rates was short lived. They began rising again this week in advance of the Federal Reserve’s expected rate hike Wednesday.

Or are other factors bothering homeowners?

“Treasury rates declined slightly on average last week, as a mixed bag of economic news and geopolitical concerns made investors more cautious overall,” said Joel Kan, an MBA economist. “A significant driver of the decline was retail sales data showing less than expected spending by U.S. households for the third month.”

Whatever is spooking investors and homeowners, we know for a fact that builders are getting very concerned about increasing interest rates and overhead:

Like 2017, 2018 isn’t setting up to be particularly favorable for builders — construction materials and permitting costs are high and rising, labor is tight, and desirable, buildable land is scarce and expensive,” wrote Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow. “It seems clear that we shouldn’t expect a big breakthrough in new home sales any time soon, and should instead look for incremental progress at best. At this point, we’ll take whatever we can get.

The quote above is from an article that is a few weeks old and written before the slight bump in sales that is being reported today.  Nonetheless, we are seeing the concerns expressed by builders being played out.  As a result…

“This one-two punch has created a situation in which existing sales appear to be plateauing at around 5.5 million sales per year, well below the 6 million or more we might otherwise expect to see,” said Aaron Terrazas, senior economist at Zillow.

Reverse mortgages–where the bank pays you a monthly payment until you die then takes the house, are booming (according to a company’s press release)…

 Reverse Mortgage Lending, Inc., a San Diego–based HECM provider, announced today it ended 2017 with record growth and received top honors from partner Liberty Home Equity Solutions. Reverse Mortgage Lending CEO Collin Knock attributed the growth to his team and credits them for earning Liberty’s Top TPO Sales Producer award for the final quarter of 2017.

Meanwhile, Fox News has taken to calling the lack of affordable housing being built a “crisis.”  Naturally, as Fox does, it blames Obama and democratic policies for the problem.  At the end of the article Fox begrudgingly admits that the problem is actually a labor shortage:

The construction industry is suffering from a shortage of workers, potentially facing a 1.5 million shortfall in personnel by 2020. That is restricting the number and type of jobs that companies are willing to take on.

Stay tuned.


Iraq War, 15 Years Later

Exactly 15 years ago today, president George W. Bush announced that the United States was going to attack Iraq with a campaign of “shock and awe” and then invade and occupy the country due to weapons of mass destruction that were never to be found.

Estimates are that up to 500,000 Iraqis were murdered or killed as “collateral damage” or as a result of the war.

15 years on, Iraqi leaders, like Prime Minister al-Abadi, worry about corruption and about getting torn apart by US and Iran as each try to influence and control Iraq:

To see how al-Abadi plans to do that, TIME sat down with him in his office, inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, in the palace where Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq until the U.S. invasion in March, 2003. During the discussion, Abadi spoke about the “epidemic” of corruption in his country, what it will take to keep ISIS from regrouping, as well as regional issues such as the war in Syria and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Prime Minister was also frank about the support Iraq received from Iran, and pleaded with the Islamic Republic and the U.S. not to turn his country into a battlefield for any proxy conflict. “Keep your differences away from Iraq,” he said.

Iraqi members of parliament, meanwhile, worry about the US using the fight against ISIS as an excuse to re-occupy the country:

Knooz Media quoted MP Ali al-Morshidy as saying Sunday that the U.S. administration is plotting to expand its “military bases in Iraq under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State (IS) group and providing security advice for the Iraqi government.”

The American public, meanwhile remains fairly divided by people who say the war was worth it and those who say it wasn’t:

Nearly half (48%) of Americans say the decision to use military force was wrong, while slightly fewer (43%) say it was the right decision, according to a Pew Research Center survey, conducted March 7-14 among 1,466 adults. Current opinions about the war in Iraq are little different than in early 2014, when 50% said the decision to use force was wrong and 38% said it was right.

For a more in-depth Iraq war veteran perspective, you can listen to a fascinating interview from Vince Emanuele, an Iraq war veteran and community organizer.

Gen. David Petraeus, who led U.S. forces in Iraq during the difficult “surge” period, was asked about the war.  And while he could not say much about the success of the war, he had nothing but good things to say about the Americans who sacrificed and fought in the war:

“I think everybody who was in Iraq, who served there, who knows the sacrifice it entails, who knows the cost in blood and in treasure… has been frustrated to see how the country slid back after we left in late 2011,” Petraeus said in an exclusive interview. “But at the end of the day, I think we also have a degree of quiet pride that when our country needed us, we answered the call.”

The “truly remarkable Americans” who joined the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks knew that their country would send them to war, said Petraeus, who added that it was an incredible privilege for him to lead U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our job was to do what our country needed us to do to carry out the policies that were decided,” Petraeus said. “We certainly did that to the best of our ability. The accomplishments during the surge, in particular in Iraq, were truly historic, if you think about driving violence down by some 85% and bringing a country back together that had been on the verge of an all-out Sunni-Shia civil war.”

Trump’s Administration Continues to Crumble

It’s been over a year now and with every bombshell, political observers ask if the latest will be the end for the Trump.  And it never has been and never will be one event that will push his presidency over the cliff.  Instead, we see a slow drip of bad news that indicates Trump is dying a death of a thousand political paper cuts.

Just this week, we saw Trump fire his Secretary of State, which is basically the number #3 position in the administration behind the president and vice president.  And he did it with a tweet.  Today we learned that Trump has effectively fired national security advisor McMaster.  The only reason McMaster remains in the position is that they are trying to find a new place to put him so he is not completely embarrassed.

Next we hear rumors that chief of staff Kelly is headed out the door.  Reports are mixed.  Some say he’s going to resign today, some say he and Trump “worked it out,” some say he is going to be on his way out in the next weeks.  Who knows.

Rumors of firings have reached a fever pitch.

We also learned this week that Vanessa Trump, the wife of Don Jr., has filed for divorce.  But instead of hiring a divorce lawyer, she instead decided to hire a criminal defense attorney to represent her in the divorce.  Perhaps she knows a lot about crimes that took place within the Trump Organization?  The fact that Mueller is now subpoenaing documents from Trump’s company shows that people like Vanessa are getting really concerned.

As for Vanessa, she seems to be cut from the same cloth as the Trumps:

Trump filed for divorce from Don Jr. on Thursday, providing a statement to Page Six. It’s assumed that the couple have a prenuptial agreement since Trump filed for an uncontested proceeding, meaning there will be no back-and-forth over the custody of their five children and assets.

Page Six spoke to Nancy Chemtob, an attorney unassociated with the Trumps’ divorce proceedings, who speculated that Vanessa Trump timed the filing so it could come before the Robert Mueller investigation potentially put her husband’s assets in danger. Planned out like a true ill thug.


Australia’s Racist Mentality

The US gets slammed as racist, and our conservative leaders take a lot of heat for having white “centric” policies.  And European nations and other western nations usually escape a lot of the heat and get characterized as “more welcoming,” even though that’s simply not the case.  Enter Australia.  In recent years the world has faced a refugee crisis, and many countries including the US and European countries took on thousands–in some cases millions–of refugees who faced likely death, imprisonment, or safety risks back home.  Australia, however, ruthlessly rejected refugees who have nowhere else to go:

“Australia’s policy of exiling asylum seekers who arrive by boat is cruel in the extreme,” Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty International, said in the group’s report on migrants who’d been held at Australia’s behest on Nauru — most for at least three years. “Few other countries go to such lengths to deliberately inflict suffering on people seeking safety and freedom.”

Now this is not to say Australia is right or wrong or whether its policies should change.  That’s up to the Australian people.  The point is, however, that Australia’s reaction to refugees is entirely different when they are of the white race, rather than members of one of the “lesser” races:

White farmers “deserve special protection,” Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, who oversees immigration, said in an interview on Wednesday, amid a debate in South Africa over redistributing white-owned land to black citizens.

“I think these people deserve special attention and we’re certainly applying that special attention now,” said Mr. Dutton, who proposed offering white farmers expedited visas to resettle in Australia on humanitarian grounds.

Asians escaping communist countries?  Get the hell out!  White farmers from South Africa, “Special attention” for you!  Dutton in particular seems to love to help out white people while making excuses about why he can’t help the “lesser” races:

The Australian government has turned back 20 boats carrying 633 asylum seekers in the past 18 months, the immigration minister announced on Thursday.

Peter Dutton confirmed there had been 20 turnbacks since December 2013 but would not go into detail about when they occurred.

He framed the announcement as the successful prevention of asylum seeker deaths at sea and said that if those 20 boats had been allowed to reach Australia “200 or 2,000” could have followed.

No no, it’s not that we are ruthlessly turning their boats around in open sea and sending them back to brutal and oppressive regimes where they face imprisonment and interrogation.  We’re just saving lives!!  If they were white, however, maybe they’d get special attention and expedited visas.



Stephen Hawking, Rest in Peace

Stephen Hawking, a gifted physicist who was able to bring science into the living rooms of common folk everywhere, has passed away.  You might know him as the “wheel chair science guy with the computer voice.”

Hawkings may not have made the biggest contributions to science since Einstein, but he popularized it, published frequently, went into the big existential debates about physics and space, and served as an inspiration to disabled people everywhere.

Towards the end, his ideas may have fallen a bit on the fanciful side of the spectrum, but what scientist doesn’t begin to daydream and ponder in their later years?

Trump to Fire More People

The president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday via an early morning tweet.  And it looks like the president really liked humiliating Tillerson with the surprise and the disrespect of announcing it publicly on social media before Tillerson knew anything.  It also looks like the president is not done.

First up, we have Andrew McCabe, someone that the presidents’s supporters hate as a person with a “conflict of interest.”  Looks like President Trump is trying to get Sessions to fire McCabe a day or two before he is set to retire, obviously having an impact on his pension.

We also now have reports that Trump wants to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well, and in fact appears to be actually in the planning stages of this:

President Donald Trump has been formulating a plan to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Vanity Fair reported on Wednesday.

Sessions has been a target of Trump’s ire since he recused himself from the FBI’s Russia investigation last March, following reports that he was not forthcoming during his Senate confirmation hearing about his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign season.

Next we have National Security Adviser McMaster:

And three sources told me that the next official likely to go is National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster

Is this all part of a brilliant leadership strategy to deflect criticism, out play everyone, and win the political game?  Probably not, in fact it appears to be a sign that Trump is feeling extreme pressure and is starting to get out of control and nonsensical:

When he’s under pressure is when he tends to do this impulsive stuff,” said Jack O’Donnell, former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. “That’s what I saw in the business. When he began to have pressure with debts, when the [Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City] was underperforming, is when he began acting very erratically.”

O’Donnell pointed to the increasing pressure on Trump with the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the scandal surrounding Trump’s alleged affair with a pornographic film star. “I think he likes the vision of himself being in control,” O’Donnell said. “I doubt he realizes the consequences of North Korea, just like he didn’t realize the consequences in business of walking in and firing someone at the Taj without thinking about it. It’s Trump.

The walls are caving in?


The Stratford Heist.

It started with a man who staged a fake play on Shakespeare’s gravestone.  Why would he do it?  In reality, he wanted to scan the grave with a radar device to prove that Shakespeare’s grave actually had a compartment with hidden works inside.  He came up with the theory from clues left at the alter:

Green began to concoct a story surrounding a well-known cypher at Shakespeare’s grave. While researching his story, he visited The Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, where William Shakespeare was not only baptized but also buried. Green studied the known cypher and tried to come up with some fictional solution.

Instead of coming up with a solution for his book, he noticed a small, real-life discrepancy. This discrepancy was the key to cracking the previously unsolvable code. Now, he just needed to prove his theory beyond a shadow of a doubt and to do that, he would need a plan, which he later dubbed ‘The Stratford Heist’.

Instead of uncovering secret works, however, it appears that the scan instead uncovered the fact that the Bard’s skull was likely stolen many years ago by grave robbers:

A story often dismissed as wild fiction, that 18th-century grave robbers stole Shakespeare’s skull, appears to be true, archaeologists have said.

The first archaeological investigation of Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity church in Stratford-on-Avon has been carried out for a documentary to be broadcast by Channel 4 on Saturday.

The most striking conclusion is that Shakespeare’s head appears to be missing and that the skull was probably stolen from what is a shallow grave by trophy hunters.