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July 18, 2011

Krugman: We are letting the banks off too easy

Letting Bankers Walk - NYTimes.com
Why the rush to settle? As far as I can tell, there are two principal arguments being made for letting the banks off easy. The first is the claim that resolving the mortgage mess quickly is the key to getting the housing market back on its feet. The second, less explicitly stated, is the claim that getting tough with the banks would undermine broader prospects for recovery. Neither of these arguments makes much sense. The claim that removing the legal cloud over foreclosure would help the housing market — in particular, that it would help support housing prices — leaves me scratching my head. It would just accelerate foreclosures, and if more families were evicted from their homes, that would mean more homes offered for sale — an increase in supply. An increase in the supply of a good usually pushes that good’s price down, not up. Why should the effect on housing go the opposite way? You might point to the mortgage relief that would supposedly be extracted as part of the settlement. But if mortgage relief is that crucial, why isn’t the administration making a major push to reinvigorate its own Home Affordable Modification Program, which has spent only a small fraction of its money? Or if making that program actually work is hard, why should we believe that any program instituted as part of a mortgage-abuse settlement would work any better? Sorry, but the case that letting banks off the hook would help the housing market just doesn’t hold together. What about the argument that getting tough with the banks would threaten the overall economy? Here the question is: What’s holding the economy back?

Borders is dead

Borders Group will be liquidated as soon as Friday - Crain's Detroit Business - Detroit News and Information
With no bidder coming in over the weekend, Borders Group Inc. will be liquidated. The company issued a statement today indicating that the failure to find a bid from an investor willing to operate the Ann Arbor-based bookseller means that no auction will be needed, and a group of liquidation companies will take over the company to sell its assets. Subject to the approval of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York City, liquidation is expected to commence for some stores and facilities as soon as Friday.

July 16, 2011

America now has the strictest crib standards in the world

And it only took 30 years and lots of dead children to get here. New Safety Rules for Cribs - Makers Scramble and Retailers Fume - NYTimes.com
“After dozens of babies had tragically been entrapped and died, and millions of defective cribs had been recalled, the actions of this commission to ensure the swift movement to market of only safer cribs undoubtedly was justified,” she said in a statement. Mr. Vieira, the Massachusetts retailer, said his complaint was not with the regulation. “It’s certainly a good thing we are making cribs better,” he said. “We didn’t have a problem with the regulation. We have a problem with how it was implemented.” The retailers’ complaints, however qualified, have received little sympathy from parents whose children have died in cribs. “You can’t tell the safety of a crib by looking at it, and you certainly can’t maintain its safety because it met weak industry standards in place prior to 2010,” three sets of parents wrote in an open letter to the industry. “Those that killed our sons also met those same inadequate standards.” The new crib standards were the first major revisions in 30 years and were approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission after years of agitation by advocacy groups, parents of children who had been killed and news organizations, particularly The Chicago Tribune. Since 2007, the safety commission has recalled more than 11 million cribs, 10 million of which had drop sides. (Manufacturers voluntarily stopped making drop-side cribs two years ago.)

In St. Louis and Detroit, thieves burn down houses to harvest bricks

Thieves Cart Off St. Louis Bricks - NYTimes.com
Law enforcement officials, politicians and historic preservationists here have concluded that brick thieves are often to blame, deliberately torching buildings to quicken their harvest of St. Louis brick, prized by developers throughout the South for its distinctive character. “The firemen come and hose them down and shoot all that mortar off with the high-pressure hose,” said Alderman Samuel Moore, whose predominantly black Fourth Ward has been hit particularly hard by brick thieves. When a thief goes to pick up the bricks after a fire, “They’re just laying there nice and clean.” It is a crime that has increased with the recession. Where thieves in many cities harvest copper, aluminum and other materials from vacant buildings, brick rustling has emerged more recently as a sort of scrapper’s endgame, exploited once the rest of a building’s architectural elements have been exhausted. “Cleveland is suffering from this,” said Royce Yeater, Midwest director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “I’ve also heard of it happening in Detroit.”