Dr. Charles Monnett Investigation Ends Strangely. It May Be Shell Oil’s Only Arctic Victory for 2012 – Updated

Dead Polar Bear in Chukchi Sea on SHELL logo

Late last week, Dr. Charles Monnett, one of most highly regarded scientists in Alaska, was informed by Walter D. Cruikshank, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, that the 16-month long investigation into his scientific integrity has been concluded.  Though there was no adverse finding on Monnett’s integrity, he received a written reprimand regarding emails he had passed on to an Alaska tribal agency, and to an environmental activist.  The emails ended up playing an important part in court proceedings which resulted in Shell Oil having to delay their plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean from 2008 to 2012. This has cost Shell several hundred million, if not more.

There was nothing in the reprimand critical of Monnett’s handling of information having to do with the 2004 sighting of dead Polar Bears in the Chukchi Sea, which became iconic through Al Gore’s use of the imagery in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

The organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has been representing Dr. Monnett from the beginning of the investigation.  They issued a press release on his reprimand on Friday:

DROWNED POLAR BEAR PROBE CLOSES WITH A WHIMPER — Unrelated Disclosures from 2007 and 2008 Dredged Up in Questionable Reprimand

Washington, DC — No charges will be brought against the federal scientist regarding his high-profile research on polar bears, despite a two-and-a-half year investigation, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).   Instead, he has received a letter of reprimand for allegedly improper disclosures back in 2007 and 2008 which helped reveal that Bush administration Arctic offshore drilling reviews illegally suppressed adverse environmental consequences.

Up until July 2011, Dr. Charles Monnett had directed a multi-million dollar portfolio constituting a majority of research on Arctic wildlife and ecology conducted for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).  He was temporarily suspended due to an Interior Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation into a polar bear research contract managed by Dr. Monnett.  The OIG probe, which began in March 2010, also centered on a 2004 paper authored by Dr. Monnett in the peer-reviewed journal Polar Biology concerning observations of drowned polar bears following a storm.

The final IG report, delivered to BOEM three months ago, is slated for imminent release.  On Friday, September 27, 2012, BOEM informed Dr. Monnett that no action would be taken against him based on “findings made by the OIG in its report regarding your conduct” with the exception of a series of “improper disclosures of internal, deliberative government documents to a non-governmental entity” back in 2007 and 2008.   These disclosures had nothing to do with polar bear research but they embarrassed the agency and were, according to the letter of reprimand, “cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in making decisions to vacate BOEM’s approval of the Shell exploration plan” for Arctic waters.

PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, who – along with me and a few others – has characterized the proceedings against Dr. Monnett as a “witch hunt,” stated Friday:

Late, Late Night FDL: Homegrown

Neil Young, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp & Dave Matthews – Homegrown (Live at Farm Aid 25)

Neil Young, John Mellencamp + More Turn Out for Farm Aid 2012

…At 27 years and counting, Farm Aid is one of the longest-running rock festivals around — but as far as co-founder Willie Nelson is concerned, the fact that the show still exists is actually something of a disappointment.

“I’m very sorry that we have to be here, because this problem should have been solved many years ago,” Nelson told reporters before this year’s show, held Saturday (Sept. 22) in Hersheypark, Pa. “We were all young men when we started this,” added John Mellencamp, pointing out that “We’ve helped a lot of people. I’m proud to be here every year and stand up for family farmers.”

For their fellow co-founder Neil Young, it’s a fight worth continuing indefinitely. “We are not going anywhere — we are going to stay right here and fight as long as we can stand,” he vowed. “Farmers out there have got to get together, even more than they have so far, so that all farmers have a big voice.” He encouraged American youth to enter farming, saying, “Be a rebel. Become a farmer. It’s a mission from God. We need young blood on the farm.”

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Reason to Hope: A New Deal for Religion and Science

Live your life as if there are no miracles and everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein

Crisis in Religion
A spate of bestsellers—The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; The End of Faith by Sam Harris; and God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by the late Christopher Hitchens—argues that religion, as we’ve known it, no longer serves the needs of our scientific, cosmopolitan world.

Books like these appeal to a public put off by science deniers, repulsed by clerical abuses, and alarmed by fundamentalist zealotry. Contemporary religious leaders, painfully aware of the relationship between public participation and institutional viability, know that empty pews, like empty theaters, herald obsolescence.

If religion is serious about restoring its public reputation, it could do so by partnering with science. I know that sounds naive, but hear me out. Religion heralds “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.” Science gives us reason to think we can vanquish famine, disease, and poverty. What would it take for these venerable antagonists to emulate Rick and Louis in Casablanca and form a beautiful friendship?

By way of introducing my answer to this question, I’d like to acknowledge that, despite its current ill-repute in some quarters, religion has in fact gotten some very big things right.

A Few Things Religion Got Right
Any short list of religion’s greatest hits would include (1) the idea of god, (2) the golden rule, and (3) a vision of universal human dignity.

Ryan doubts effectiveness of torture

In contrast to Gov. Romney, Paul Ryan may well agree with those who oppose torture — at least with some of the arguments raised.

The Septebmer 2011 Romney torture memo, on page 4, claimed “there is ample evidence in the public record that enhanced interrogation techniques did indeed generate significant intelligence….”

But Ryan today, in response to a question from Chris Wallace concerning independent economic studies, said: “Look, this just goes to show if you torture statistics enough, they’ll confess to what you want them to confess to.”

I do believe Mr. Ryan was implying that he doubts the effectiveness of torturing people as a way to get reliable information.

Sunday Late Night: Getting Around

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I grew up on the Eastern Seaboard and spent every summer at my grandparents on Cape Cod. We drove everywhere! Then my Dad took a promotion and moved our family to Northern Virginia. Cars were always really, really important to me; I drove up and down my folks’ driveway a LOT when they were out for the day/evening/weekend. At 8, I think I pretty much ruined the clutch on my Dad’s Nash Metropolitan and I know I prematurely ground down the brakes on his Rambler American 440 convertible when I was 12. I never did confess how that AMC convertible top motor could have burned out so early: up, down, up, down, up, down. All afternoon.

And then, when I could drive with a license, well it was “Katy bar the door.” I never had my very own car in high school or college, but my mom broke both her ankles just as my senior year started at Langley High School. That pretty much ceded me her Catalina Safari wagon for my senior year. Dad was traveling a LOT for work, and I was the family hauler.

So to speak.

If you don’t think you can get up too much trouble in a nine-passenger 22-foot long station wagon with a four-barrel V-8 and a long, um, load floor, let me tell you some tales…

Graduating from college and getting a job at a Beltway bandit consulting firm, I pestered my Dad until he co-signed a note for me to buy a red MGB (pre-rubber-bumpers) with a four-speed, drum brakes and two wee batteries that sat behind the seats, practically in the road — those batteries remain the source of my continuing back pain in my mid-fifties.

OK — late fifties. I guess I have to ‘fess up as I leave my Heinz year (57!) in the rear view mirror.

Managing a statewide US Senate campaign in Virginia made me realize that big, reliable transport was key. I know this is hard for the i-Pad generation to grasp, but I had two four-drawer filing cabinets full of information about every local Democratic committeeman and -woman, every little town and hamlet official in Southside, Tidewater, Richmond (the “fightin’ Third!“), Southwestern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley — set into the very, very commodious trunk of my 1973 gold Lincoln Continental four-door sedan with white leather upholstery and a white vinyl top. We worked hard in that campaign to win the hearts and minds of disaffected Richmond African-Americans, and they worked hard to elect our guy, so I never heard my car called a ‘pimpmobile,’ if that word was even in use then.

But it was a popular ride: when I’d arrive in Richmond, my driver, Jimmy Walker, who was also the doorman at the Virginia State House of Delegates (oyez, oyez!), would commandeer my car. He would call in regularly to see if I needed to go anywhere. He’d come right away, with the car washed and gassed up, and drive me anywhere I wanted. Otherwise I never saw my car; if I wanted to go up to Northern Virginia for a change of clothes or a strategy meeting or to beg another campaign account deposit from the candidate, Jimmy would drive me up I-95 from Richmond, wait for me, and drive us back to Richmond.

I thought he was doing us both a favor; of course I later found out that my car was the largest floating craps game and mobile football betting parlor Richmond ever saw.

Cars, getting around in them, getting in them, driving them, partying in them, and other fun times in them whether stopped or moving, have always been a big part of my life on the East Coast.

But that’s changed. Visiting Northern Virginia now, pressed for time and operating on multiple projects at the same time, and sharing the road with other drivers who are also, apparently, pressed for time and multitasking (if eating a scone, brushing your hair, sipping a VentiBux, chatting on a cellphone, yelling at your kids, changing lanes without signaling and then panic braking can be considered multitasking) has shown me that either driving is not as fun any more or I’m not as good at it as I used to be.

Beltway and Tysons Corner and McLean Safeway and hardward store errands — all of which require driving a car, a way I no longer Get Around in my personal, regular life: all these take a surprising amount of my energy now. Driving from place to place, which one cane spend literally all day doing, isn’t fun. Used to be, I would find being behind the wheel all day a perfectly valid way to spend the day.

But moving to a city (Alexandria, then DC, then SF, and now Portland) and then deciding to be carless by choice for about ten years until I bought a zippy Mazda RX-7 roadster, kept it about three years, and then went ZipCar all the time — it’s changed me. I no longer like driving.

I no longer like other drivers.

I no longer look forward to a day in the car (or while visiting Mom, a day in a Giant Red Chrysler mini-van).

I long to walk to the corner store, I long to walk out for a coffee at Peet’s or Sisters Coffee. I miss walking across the Willamette, or walking up into the park.

I miss walking, period. I miss it!

I’m a city boy now; if I need a car for a big Safeway run, I ZipCar. If I need to go to IKEA, I ZipTruck it. And if go to Seattle to see friends or spend the day at the Seattle Art Museum (reciprocal members’ privileges for the Portland art Museum, yay!) I take a BoltBus (fare between $1 and $25) or the train.

“Personal transportation” no longer means a Gran Prix or a Thunderbird or a Lincoln Continental to me, as it did when I was a pesky youngster going from car dealer to car dealer, snagging brochures about the new models whenever each fall — “But, mister, my dad might buy a car this year, and I advise him. Also: it’s my birthday!

Getting around is different now. Is it only I who’ve changed, or has the actual getting around changed for you as well?

The floor is yours.

Grandpa Was a Pool Shark

Pool Table Green Balls Arm Cue Movement
(photo: cdsessums / flickr)

As I first wrote about in my diary “A Letter From Einstein”, my home is currently filled with dozens of dusty boxes that I’m slowly working my way through, archiving my family history. My mother’s father a man of prominence for his place and time, most of the dozens are filled to bursting with his life.

My father is represented by two boxes, recently arrived from the family storage unit. My brothers tasked with clearing out my dad’s room after my parents’ deaths, I didn’t even know the boxes existed and was despairing at ever knowing more about his side of the family.

An only child, he lost his young, loving mom to pneumonia when he was five and was dropped off to live with his paternal grandparents while his traveling salesman dad spent his life on the road chasing fortune’s dreams. The grandparents not high on warmth or welcome, my dad basically raised himself and developed a hard shell for sheer survival. By the time I came along, he was a Stanford-grad engineer courtesy the GI Bill, and he and my mom were raising their three on a comfortable tree-lined street, my grandfather a distant voice on the phone calling from Michigan a few times a year. He came out to California to visit us maybe three times before his death, my mom having to train us out of our habit of calling him by his first name, picked up from our father. I was too young to understand the terms of their estrangement, but did get that his visits were for our – the kids – benefit. This silver-haired man, dapper dressed with shiny shoes and silk pocket square, my only living grandparent.

The first of my dad’s two boxes I opened was the one containing the remnants of my grandfather’s life. His little leather address book with his traveling sales contacts, reading like something out of an Arthur Miller play. Wedding photos from his last – and lasting – marriage, a happy one after several not so. Proud mementos from his WWI service in France. A plaque honoring his decades-long membership in the S.A.E. (Society of Automotive Engineers). Each like a piece of a puzzle to a man I barely knew.

Next out of the box came a small color photo: my grandfather in his sleek suit standing alongside a gentleman in a rumpled suit and dark-rimmed glasses holding a large silver trophy in his right hand. On the back my grandfather had written: “St. Louis June 1967 – when Jimmy Caras won Worlds Championship”. From the google I pulled up a July, 1967 article from Sports Illustrated on the recently concluded U.S. Pocket Billiards Championship won by Jimmy Caras, 58, of Springfield, Pa. He’d won four world titles in 1936, ’38, ’39 and 1949, and had come out of semi-retirement twelve years later to take one last run at the title, joining fellow competitors like the Knoxville Bear, Weenie Beanie Staton and Machine Gun Lou Butera. My grandfather traveled to St. Louis to cheer on his old friend.

I looked at this photo and smiled, instantly transported to my favorite memory of my Grandpa. The rare times he had come to visit there was one constant: regaling us with stories of his pool hall past, from playing against Minnesota Fats in his younger days to repping a Pool Table company in his present. My parents’ unease at this topic – pool halls barely a step above bordello in their view – was in contrast to the kids utter delight, my oldest brother especially pumping him for details. [cont’d.]

Spanish Banks Need 60 Billion Euros in Aid

Spanish demonstration against public service cuts

Spain announced the results of a stress test of its banks, finding a €60 billion shortfall, in line with estimates.

It’s important to understand that there are two bailouts as it pertains to Spain. The bank bailout, meant to cover this €60 billion shortfall, has already been requested and approved. Europe has reserved around €100 billion for this purpose. The other bailout, a bailout for Spain’s sovereign debt, has not yet been requested, much to the consternation of top European officials.

The EU Commission welcomed the results of the stress tests in a statement, saying that state aid will be determined in the coming months and that banks now need to file recapitalization plans.

The EU went on to say that the banks will be required to either restructure or recapitalize, and that it sees the recapitalization of the first Spanish banks by November […]

Spanish officials asserted that the scenarios employed in the stress tests are very unlikely to play out – deputy finance minister Fernando Jimenez Latorre said Spain may only need 40 billion euros from the EU to shore up its banks.

Spain may be too optimistic even in its adverse case scenario, actually. So I would err on the side of more, not less, money being needed.

So European officials are generally pleased over the bank bailout terms; now they want to see the conclusion of a sovereign debt bailout. That would be the wrong way to go, according to Paul Krugman. Protesters demonstrated against more austerity in these countries, the eventual result of any bailout, for the right reasons.

Much commentary suggests that the citizens of Spain and Greece are just delaying the inevitable, protesting against sacrifices that must, in fact, be made. But the truth is that the protesters are right. More austerity serves no useful purpose; the truly irrational players here are the allegedly serious politicians and officials demanding ever more pain.

Consider Spain’s woes. What is the real economic problem? Basically, Spain is suffering the hangover from a huge housing bubble, which caused both an economic boom and a period of inflation that left Spanish industry uncompetitive with the rest of Europe. When the bubble burst, Spain was left with the difficult problem of regaining competitiveness, a painful process that will take years. Unless Spain leaves the euro — a step nobody wants to take — it is condemned to years of high unemployment.

But this arguably inevitable suffering is being greatly magnified by harsh spending cuts; and these spending cuts are a case of inflicting pain for the sake of inflicting pain.

Reducing the debt through budget cutbacks only exacerbates the economic situation. And that in turn reduces investor confidence even more than a reduced ability to repay financing would. Employment is the real disease and austerity is no cure.

employment & GDP revisions, August’s incomes & outlays & durable goods, July home price indexes, et al

there were major revisions this past week to a couple of numbers which we’ve reported previously, so we better review them before we look at the new reports…first, the BLS released a preliminary estimate of the annual benchmark revision to non-farm payrolls which will be applied when the January unemployment report is released on February 1st of next year; we’ve repeatedly reminded you that “the confidence interval for the monthly change in…employment from the establishment survey is on the order of plus or minus 100,000 monthly, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that when the BLS reviewed the state’s files of employees actually covered by unemployment insurance that they should discover some major discrepancies; in some years it has approached a million jobs; this year the preliminary estimate shows that there were actually an additional 386,000 more payroll jobs than originally reported as of Mar 2012; 145,000 jobs in trade, transportation & utilities had gone unreported; as did 99,000 jobs in leisure & hospitality and 85,000 in construction; meanwhile, government jobs had been over-reported by 67,000…on net, this revision means that the economy had added about 32,000 more jobs per month between April 2011 and March 2012 than previously believed, meaning that the monthly pace of job creation during that period was about 194,000 jobs a month, rather than the 162,000 jobs a month originally reported…while any improvement over the dismal numbers we have reported is welcome, an extra 32K is nothing to write home about; unfortunately, it’s the silly season, and the total 386,000 additional was just enough to put the obama job record in the black by 125,000, and the net positive was seized on by his supporters; so their happy tell had to be deconstructed in a post at naked capitalism, which pointed out that we’re still 10.837 million short of full employment, with a jobs deficit of 5.056 million for Obama’s time in office alone… 

the other revision this week was a major & unexpected reduction to previously reported GDP for the 2nd quarter of this year; based on more complete data than was available for their second estimate issued last month, the BEA (Bureau of Economic Analysis) reported that the economy grew at an annualized rate of 1.3% in the 2nd quarter, down from the 1.7% originally reported; there were downward revisions to all major components, but the lions share of the decrease was attributed to a reduction in farm inventories caused by the Midwest drought, which as we now know became more severe as the summer progressed, so it would not be a surprise to see a similar hit to GDP in the 3rd quarter, which will be released next month…in the revised estimate, BEA contrasts the anemic 2nd quarter to the just weak 1st quarter, when growth was at a 2.0% annual rate; the above graph shows just how slowly we’re recovering compared to recoveries from previous recessions; personal consumption expenditures, which make up 70% of GDP, increased 1.5% in the second quarter, compared with a 2.4% increase in the first, mostly because durable goods purchases decreased 0.2%, in contrast to an increase of 11.5% earlier in the year…exports, nonresidential fixed investment, and residential fixed investment also made positive contributions to 2nd quarter growth, but they were partly offset by the negative contributions from private inventories and state and local government spending; imports, which are subtracted from net GDP, also increased…

                                                                         graph note: the y-axis doesn’t start at zero to better show the change.
Personal Consumption Expendituresthe major economic release of this past week was on Personal Income and Outlays for August, released by the BEA; the BEA reported small nominal increases – less than 0.1% – of $15.0 billion in personal income and $12.5 billion in disposable personal income (DPI); however, adjusted for inflation, real disposable income fell 0.3% in August, the first monthly decline in DPI since November 2011; in July, personal income had increased $18.5 billion, or 0.1 percent, DPI had increased $15.4 billion, so with that revision we’ve had a pair of weak months back to back…however, even with stalling increases in income, personal consumption expenditures (PCE) for August increased $57.2 billion, or 0.5%; but real PCE, which is adjusted to remove price changes, only increased 0.1% in August, compared with an increase of 0.4% in July, which bodes for a weak contribution to 3rd quarter GDP from this major component, as you can see suggested on the adjacent graph of monthly PCE results, sectioned quarterly, from Bill McBride (recall that PCE is 70% of GDP)…purchases of durable goods, mostly autos, increased 0.5 percent in August, and higher gas prices also contributed to the increased spending; the increase in outlays for services, which is about 2/3rd of PCE, was a more modest $11.1 billion…of contributions to income, wages and salaries increased an anemic $4.7 billion in August, compared with an increase of $9.3 billion in July, mostly because goods-producing payrolls decreased $6.4 billion, in contrast to an increase of $3.2 billion a month earlier; most of this was because manufacturing payrolls decreased $5.2 billion for the month…although proprietor’s income increased $7.3 billion and rental income increased $5.3 billion, those were partially offset by a $1.4 billion decrease in current transfer receipts, in contrast to an increase in transfer payments of $9.5 billion in Julypersonal saving, which is DPI less personal outlays, was at $444.8 billion in August, compared with $492.2 billion in July..as a percentage of disposable personal income that was 3.7% in August, compared with a savings rate 4.1% in July; the year to date personal savings rate is now the lowest it’s been since before the recession started in 2007…this report also generates a PCE price index; despite the fact that the price index increased 0.4% in August, it was largely driven by higher gas prices; the core PCE price index, which excludes fuel & food, was only up 0.1% on the month; july’s PCE price index, which wasn’t impacted by rising gas prices, was up less than 0.1%doug short tracks these price indexes, which the Fed has explicitly named in their 2% inflation target, and computes them to two decimal places due to their impact on policy; according to his calcs, the headline August PCE was at 1.49%, up from Julys 1.29%, while the August Core PCE index of 1.58% decreased from July’s 1.64% annual rate

Click to View

the August Report on Durable Goods from the Commerce Department (pdf) was just awful; new orders for long-lived manufactured goods fell $30.1 billion or 13.2% to $198.5 billion, the worst decline since January 2009, the deepest part of the recession; much of the decline was related to the transport sector; as Boeing received only one aircraft order in August, after logging 260 in July, which came on the back of the cancellation of a large order from Qantas which was reported just after last month’s report, this left transport equipment down $27.8 billion for the month, a decline of 34.9%, after four consecutive monthly increases previously; but even excluding transport equipment durable goods orders still fell 1.6% for the first time in four months; defense orders, which were expected to be weak in anticipation of the year end budget sequester, did not really fare badly, as they were down 1.7%; ex defense, new orders still decreased 12.4%…probably what was most unsettling in this report was that new orders for non-defense capital goods in August decreased $18.5 billion or 24.3% to $57.7 billion, which tells us that companies have stopped investing in themselves, which suggests they see no opportunity for expansion…included here to the right is doug short’s chart that shows us a three-month moving average of real, inflation-adjusted, durable goods, without the volatile defense & transport sectors, on a per capita basis, as the insert shows. the trend  for core durable goods has been down all year; if you click on the chart, it will open in a new window with links above to his other charts on this report…this report also covers durable goods shipments, unfilled orders and inventories for August; shipments decreased $6.8 billion or 3.0% to $222.5 billion, which was also the largest decrease in shipments since January 2009; unfilled orders were down 1.7% following two consecutive monthly increases; the $978.7 billion decrease was the largest since December 2009, while inventories increased $2.2 billion or 0.6%t to $371.6 billion, to the highest level since the series was first published in 1992

leading up to the national purchasing managers index which we’ll get next week were a few regional reports; the Dallas Fed reported that manufacturing in their region was contracting at a slower pace, as their general business activity index rose to -0.9 in September from -1.6 in August..the July index had plunged to -13.2 so they’ve had 2 months of improving bad conditions in a row; their new orders index rose to 5.3 following a reading of zero last month, a they note a pickup in demand…the Richmond Fed’s manufacturing current business conditions index increased to 4 in September from -9 in August, which had been the 3rd month of contraction (recall positive numbers indicate expanding activity); positive readings for shipments and new orders more than offset the negative reading for employment…and the Kansas City Fed reported Growth in Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Slowed Somewhat, as their month-over-month composite index was 2 in September, down from 8 in August and 5 in July, and the lowest in nine months…in another major business barometer, the Chicago PMI fell below 50 for the first time since 2009, reading a seasonally adjusted 49.7, down from 53.0 in August; their new orders index fell to 47.4 from 54.8 in August, while the employment index fell to 52.0 from 57.1 in August

Real House Prices

among the week’s housing related releases, we’ll look at the Case-Shiller Home Price Indices for July first, which actually report a 3 month moving average of prices for homes sold in May, June & July…both indexes rose over the last report; prices as indicated by the 10 city index were 1.5% higher than June’s report, and the 20 city composite was up by 1.6%…for the 3rd consecutive month, prices were also up for the month for all  20 individual city indexes on an unadjusted basis, led by price increases of 3.7% in Minneapolis and 3.3% in Detroit; on a seasonally adjusted basis, both composite indexes were up 0.4% for the month, and only Cleveland prices registered a decline; lower priced houses rose in price by 1.0%, will mid-tier houses rose 0.4% and top tier home eked out a 0.1% seasonally adjusted gain….year over year, prices increased 1.2% for the 20 cities in July; 0.6% for the 10 MSA index, and 16 of the 20 cities showed higher prices than a year ago, with only the Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas and New York MSAs trending lowerthe WSJ has an interactive table of all 20 city indexes; values for each city & the composites are based on year 2000 = 100.0…interest rates on 30 year fixed mortgages averaged 3.55% in July if this year, while they averaged 4.55% in July 2011, so on a monthly payment basis, equally priced homes were 12.8% cheaper this July than last…on the same day that the Case-Shiller index was released, the Federal Housing Finance Agency released it’s July home price index based on prices of houses purchased with mortgages backed by Fannie & Freddie; on a seasonally adjusted basis, the FHFA price index was up 0.2% over June’s index; and June’s index was revised from a gain of 0.7% to a gain of 0.6%; however, home prices were still reported 3.7% higher than a year ago…other July price indexes which have reported recently include FNC, which reports residential property indexes non-distressed housing for 10 MSAs, 20 MSAs, & 30 MSAs, as well as a composite 100 index; all their unadjusted indexes increased 0.8% or 0.9% for July; their 100 city index, which combines appraisals and sales, is up 0.6% from last July; Trulia, which reports an asking price index based on listings, has their index 2.3% higher than a year ago and up in 68 or the 100 metros they cover; and the LPS home price index, which reported a 0.2% price increase for July only as homes in the New England region lagged, a year to date gain of 4.3% (which was obviously seasonally influenced) and a one year july to july gain of 1.8%…the CoreLogic HPI for July was reported much earlier and it will be updated for August next week; in July, it recorded it’s biggest year over year jump in 6 years as it reported home prices nationwide increased 3.8%...bill mcbride reminds us that none of these home price indexes are adjusted for inflation and that’s it’s useful to look at them in real terms; he takes the CoreLogic index, the Case Shiller 20, and the Case Shiller national index and adjusts them for inflation using the CPI less shelter, which you can see in the graph to the right above; in those inflation adjusted terms, prices for the Case Shiller national index in yellow is back to mid-1999 levels, the Case Shiller 20 index (red), despite being up 7.8% from the low, is only back to July 2000 prices, and prices for the CoreLogic index in blue are just back to levels of February 2001…

the Census Bureau reported new home sales for August (pdf) at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 373,000, which means 31,000 new homes were sold in August; that was 0.3 percent (±9.3%) below the revised July rate of 374,000, but is 27.7 percent (±18.8%) above the estimate of a 292,000 annual rate last August; the median sales price of new houses sold in August 2012 was $256,900, while the average sales price was $295,300, the highest since August 2008; page 3 of the census pdf breaks out the sale prices into $100,000 price ranges; the bureau’s seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of August was 141,000, which be a 4 1/2 month inventory at the current sales rate…another report we follow is the LPS mortgage monitor; this week they released their “first look” at mortgage conditions in August, which reported the mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) decreased to 6.87% from 7.03% in July, while the percentage of mortgages in foreclosure fell 1.0% to 4.04% of the total outstanding, as 2,020,000 homes remained in foreclosure…this is still close to the 4.12% that were in the foreclosure process a year ago..the total number of properties that are at  least 30 days delinquent or in foreclosure has fallen slightly to 5,450,000?, but it still means nearly 11% of US homeowners are not paying on their mortgages….

N.B. i had some damage to my own house during the storms last weekend, which will need to be repaired before winter sets in…accordingly, my time spent with blogging and commentary will be less than normal until the real work gets done…

(the above is my weekly commentary that accompanied my sunday morning links mailing, which in turn was mostly selected from my weekly blog post on the global glass onion, and also includes other links of interest…if you’d be interested in getting my weekly emailing of selected links that accompanies these commentaries, most coming from the aforementioned GGO posts, contact me…)

Oakland City Council: “We’re gonna party like it’s 1984.”

It’s deja vu all over again.

Back in May, I wrote a diary about Alan Blueford, the African-American high school student who was murdered by Officer Miguel Masso of the Oakland Police Department. Initially, OPD said that Officer Masso and Blueford had been in a “gun battle.” That’s what Blueford’s parents were told hours after they arrived at police headquarters seeking answers. They’d been notified by Alan’s friends (as opposed to police) that their son was dead. Police informed them that their son (and the officer that he supposedly shot at) had been rushed to Highland Hospital. Those were lies. It turns out that Officer Masso shot himself in the foot. Alan was apparently left to die in the street and was never transported to the hospital. The coroner found that Alan had not fired a gun. Officer Masso’s credibility has been further undermined by revelations that he may have been hired by OPD while he was still under investigation in a civils rights lawsuit filed against him when he was a New York city cop.

On May 15, the Bluefords appeared before the Oakland City Council asking for help in finding out what had really happened to their child. Chief Jordan was missing in action and the council had no answers for the Bluefords that evening, although one of them helpfully proposed that a more efficient next-of-kin notification protocol might be in order the next time the pigs blow a black teenager to Kingdom Come.

On September 18, frustrated by more than four long months of obfuscation and stonewalling by the City and OPD, Alan’s family once again appealed to the City Council, asking them to produce the police report on Alan’s death. Once again, the council promised that Chief of Police Howard Jordan would materialize. And once again, after a “10-minute break” that lasted more than a half hour, HoJo was a no-show.

Council chambers were packed with hundreds of supporters of the Blueford family from all segments of the community, including—but by no means limited to—members of Occupy Oakland. When it became obvious that no police report was forthcoming, the crowd began to chant, “Where’s Howard Jordan?” The council attempted to reconvene and introduce the next item, which was a resolution to name Oakland as an “International City of Peace.” Although the irony may have been lost on the council, it was not lost on the crowd. The next chant became the familiar standby: “No justice, no peace.” Council president Larry Reid abruptly adjourned the meeting, leaving the Blueford family without answers and the remainder of city business undone. A few days later, OPD leaked a “new” report that Alan Blueford’s fingerprints had been found on a gun at the scene. The Blueford family quickly responded, saying that OPD was continuing to slander their son and that the timing of the leak was suspicious and self-serving, given OPD’s ongoing inability to produce a police report.

The Bluefords and their supporters—in particular, members of the interfaith community—have vowed to return to the next city council meeting on Tuesday, October 2nd. Anticipating that another large crowd of people might show up and demand accountability from their elected representatives, City Administrator Deanna Santana is attempting to limit the number of people allowed to attend the meeting. In a series of off-the-record meetings with other high-level city officials, Ms. Antoinette Santana has proposed that the balcony area of the chambers be closed, reducing the current 214 seats by about half. She also wants to bar citizens from standing in the chambers or congregating immediately outside the doors, which has been a longstanding tradition. Instead, overflow crowds would be diverted to rooms with video feeds (and, of course, no access to the council members safely ensconced in chambers with a manageable group of 100 or so).

Edited to add this lovely bit of doublespeak:

“The primary goal is to make sure the city’s business moves forward and the public has a chance to participate in the political process,” city spokeswoman Karen Boyd said.

You can imagine how Oakland is reacting to this latest fascist fantasy dreamed up by the gang that brought you Scott Olsen. Stay tuned for an update on Tuesday.