Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 4, 2009



Bloomberg -
A record 19 million U.S. homes stood empty at the end of 2008 and homeownership fell to an eight-year low as banks seized homes faster than they could sell them. The number of vacant homes climbed 6.7 percent in the fourth quarter from the same period a year ago, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a report today. The share of empty homes that are for sale rose to 2.9 percent, the most in data that goes back to 1956. The homeownership rate fell to 67.5 percent, matching the rate in the first quarter of 2001.

The worst U.S. housing slump since the Great Depression is deepening as foreclosures drain value from neighboring homes and make it more likely owners will walk away from properties worth less than their mortgages. About a third of owners whose home values drop 20 percent or more below their loan principal will “hand the keys back to the bank,” said Norm Miller, director of real estate programs for the School of Business Administration at the University of San Diego.

Portland Press Herald, ME -
Because of the sour economy, people are thinking twice about buying new. Business is up for cobblers, vacuum repairmen and auto mechanics as consumers try to put off major purchases until the economy improves. . . Steve Foss, owner of Shoe String Exchange Shoe Repair in South Portland, said business is up 10 percent to 15 percent in the past year because it costs only $10 to put the heels back on a pair of ladies' pumps, but a lot more to replace them. . . Brian DiPietrantonio, owner of Best Vacuum Service in Westbrook, said the increase in his repair business has offset the loss of his sales.


Nina Shen Rastog, Slate -
I've always been dedicated to washing the peanut butter, Pepsi, and mayo out of my food containers before tossing them in the recycling bin. My sister, though, recently pointed out that I'm probably wasting gallons upon gallons of precious H20. Is it worth it to soap up my tin cans and soda bottles? Not really. Recycling facilities are well equipped to handle dirty cans and bottles, so some caked-on tomato sauce and the occasional stray chickpea won't significantly hinder the process. (These facilities can even handle that lime wedge you left in your Corona bottle.) Residue left on plastic or glass containers generally gets flushed out with water at some point in the process; most of the gunk left behind on steel and aluminum cans is burned away when those containers get melted down. So there's no need to waste water by running the faucet over your recyclables-even if you were to get them squeaky clean, they'd probably end up getting washed again, anyhow.


Boston Globe - Massachusetts has ordered a tire chain to charge Bay State residents a 5 percent sales tax on their purchases in New Hampshire in an unprecedented move that could have huge implications for consumers and other merchants. Town Fair Tire Centers, which is based in Connecticut but has six shops in New Hampshire and 25 in Massachusetts, is fighting back with a lawsuit now before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that accuses the state of violating the US commerce clause. If Massachusetts prevails in the case, which is likely to be heard next month, it could drive up costs for consumers and retailers such as Best Buy and Sears that sell expensive home appliances and other goods in New Hampshire, which doesn't have a state sales tax. It also could mean millions of dollars in new tax revenue for the Commonwealth as it faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit, according to tax analysts. . .


Washington Times - A new chief executive officer with no education background has been appointed by Chicago's mayor to run the city's schools, angering some who cite his lack of experience but making sense to others who point to a national trend of going outside traditional ranks for these positions. Before joining the nation's third-largest school district, Ron Huberman ran the city's transit authority, helmed its 911 center and served as chief of staff to the mayor. . . Mr. Huberman, a former police officer, marks the third Chicago schools chief appointed by the mayor who was, for the most part, an education outsider.


Unnoted aspect of the Obama victory
, reported by Working Waterfront: Obama won all of Maine's unbridged year round island except for one. There are over a dozen of them


Alejandro Melendez
called the Cleveland 911 line to say that two armed men were watching him. Then he hung up, so the dispatcher called back. This time Melendez said to hold on and in the background the dispatcher could hear someone saying, "What you need? A 10-pack? You need a 10-pack? All right." Police went to the location Melendez had given them and arrested him after finding cocaine in his trousers.

Dallas News - A Duncanville City Council member wants to re-evaluate how the city issues citations to red-light runners and make it easier for suspected violators to request a jury trial. Paul Ford questions the nearly 45,000 citations issued in 2008 at four intersections monitored by cameras. Compared with Duncanville's population of 38,500, he said, the number of citations seems excessive.


Stop the Drug War - A new CBS/NYT poll finds that 41% of Americans agree that marijuana use should be legalized. While legalization still fails to garner majority support, it's clear that we're headed in the right direction. Only 27% supported legalization in 1979. There is a huge generation gap on this issue. More adults under 45 (49%) approve of legalizing marijuana use than oppose (45%), while just 31% of adults over age 45 approve of it; six in 10 are opposed.




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