Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington under nine presidents and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

January 16, 2009



Chief Organizer -
Studies in recent years have indicated that an abandoned house within even a mile of your own home can reduce the value of your home by more than 1% to 2%, depending on the proximity. There is a real and present danger in community deterioration as foreclosures increase, values plummet, and the resale market continues to atrophy. New York City and HUD give a sense of part of the other costs of dealing with this problem in an announcement [by] the Mayor and HUD that they will spend $24 million to takeover, rehab, and sell 115 houses.

You can do the math as easily as me. Long division indicates the expenditure would be almost $209,000 per house for this project. That is a lot of money even though it is a good investment in saving whole neighborhoods worth billions of dollars. This is New York, so granted that prices are in a different world and market environment, but still the rest of the math gets staggering when one thinks about the dimensions of the problem nationally.

If we are looking at even 2,500,000 foreclosed homes across the country, which is half of the estimated 5M that many experts fear, and if we said, hey, that's New York, and cut the cost of acquiring, fixing, holding, and then reselling all of these properties in half and pegged the fix-it price at $104,500, then let's look at what a national program would cost to save these houses and the communities where they are found. The simple math is . . . $261 billion, 250 million.

Congressman Barney Frank is huffing, puffing, and begging for $30-40 billion to help with loan modifications to prevent foreclosures. Looks like a bargain compared to that arbitrary, low-balled number.

You can look all over the Obama bailout projects and not find another $261 billion to offset the impact of foreclosures on communities.

The government and all of the rest of us need to start looking at the simple math that defines a complex problem that will keep on increasing costs without immediate investment in real solutions.


Haaretz, Israel - A group of rabbis and other religious leaders bought advertising space in the New York Times this week to call for U.S. president-elect Barack Obama to push for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. The ad, placed by the Network of Spiritual Progressives and claiming to represent more than 2,800 other religious, cultural and community leaders, urges Obama to convene an international Middle East peace conference to "facilitate a lasting and just settlement for all parties." Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, who convened the group, said the group had to buy the advertising space because the national newspapers would not make room for their perspective. "They feel that AIPAC's choice is overwhelming, and there's no space left for empathy or objective coverage - the media, according to the group, simply ignored the voice of the Jewish opposition to war in Gaza," Rabbi Lerner said.

Americans for Peace Now has sent a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights organization, urging it not to build its Jerusalem "Museum of Tolerance" and "Center for Human Dignity" on top of a historic Muslim cemetery. The letter, signed by Israeli and American political, cultural and security figures, calls the Wiesenthal center's insistence on building the Museum at the Mamilla site in Jerusalem "foolish," "divisive," and "dangerously wrong," and calls on the Wiesenthal Center to find an alternative location.


- In a follow up to a 2005 story where Florida judge Doug Henderson ruled that breathalyzer evidence in more than 100 drunk driving cases would be inadmissible as evidence at trial, the Second District Court of Appeal and Circuit Court has ruled to uphold the 2005 ruling requiring the manufacturer of the Intoxilyzer 5000, Kentucky-based CMI Inc, to release source code for their breathalyzer equipment to be examined by witnesses for the defense of those standing trial with breathalyzer test result being used as evidence against them. "The defendant's right to a fair trial outweighed the manufacturer's claim of a trade secret," Henderson said. . . . What this really means is that outside corporations cannot sell equipment to the state of Florida and expect to hide the workings of their machine by saying they are trade secret. It means the state has to give full disclosure concerning important and critical aspects of the case.


Washington Post - The planned U.S. military and counterinsurgency drive in Afghanistan is meeting public and official resistance that could delay and possibly undermine a costly, belated effort that American officials here acknowledge has a limited window of time to succeed. The officials say they are optimistic that the planned addition of up to 30,000 troops, combined with a new strategy to support local governance and development aimed at weaning villagers away from Taliban influence, will show significant results within the year. . . Yet they also acknowledge that they face an array of obstacles, including: widespread public hostility to international forces over bombing raids and civilian abuses; the growing influence of Taliban insurgents in areas where central authority and services are scarce; and controversy over plans to establish village defense groups. Officials are also worried about other issues: the upcoming Afghan presidential election and the revived hostility between Pakistan and India caused by a deadly terrorist rampage in Mumbai in November, could inject unpredictable tensions and competing priorities into the region just as a new administration in Washington tries to focus afresh on the anti-terrorist struggle here.


John Sents, Elko Daily Free Press, NV - Elko County and Spring Creek Association employees are taking inventory on their traffic signs in anticipation of what could be costly impacts, after an Elko judge found a driver not guilty of speeding in Spring Creek because a speed limit sign doesn't comply with federal standards and state law. . . At 18 inches by 24 inches, the speed limit signs in Spring Creek are almost 300 square inches smaller than the 24-inch by 30-inch signs required.


Business Roundtable - Business Roundtable member CEOs congratulate President-elect Obama on the selection of Arne Duncan as the next Secretary of Education. . . Mr. Duncan has a strong record of working with the business community to improve schools in Chicago.


UPI - Police in Pennsylvania said six high school students are facing pornography charges after three girls sent photos of themselves via cell phones. Greensburg police said the three female Greensburg-Salem High School students, ages 14 and 15, have been charged in Westmoreland County with manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography after they allegedly took pictures of themselves -- two of the girls nude, the other semi-nude -- with their cell phones and sent them to other students. . . Three male Greensburg-Salem students, described as 16 and 17 years old, were charged with possession of child pornography after the pictures were found on their cell phones.


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