Existing home sales were recently reported as being up 1.7 percent for 2011. That is cause for some economic optimism, but the underlying numbers should perhaps give reason for further examination. Inventories of existing homes dropped to a 6.2 month supply of homes. In other words, we have more than a six month’s supply of homes overhanging the market nationwide before demand for new homes would substantially increase.
New home construction drives a lot of things. In order to build a new home, materials are purchased -- everything from wood and brick to plumbing supplies and copper wire.
These purchases and construction cause beneficial effects on demand throughout the economy. Maybe most importantly, new jobs are created.
Currently, however, almost a third of homes are being bought for cash, many of them by investors. In other words, we are still working through the existing home inventory. And although new construction is starting to occur, strong demand for new homes is awaiting the inventory for new homes to be absorbed.
Analysts regard the large number of new cash purchases as being caused by the fact that it is currently far more difficult to qualify for financing, leaving many homes to be purchased by cash or with very large down payments -- by the few who can afford it. A few years back, it was far too easy to qualify for a home loan, but – like we do so often – it appears that now we have swung to the other extreme. It is now too hard to borrow.
In the meanwhile, according to the numbers, we have some sluggish improvement in home purchases, and no doubt many older homes are being remodeled. This helps employ a few people, but the national economy, the people and our local governments await a more reasonable increase in the pace of construction that would follow more rational loan guidelines from our masters in Washington.
One of several important breakthroughs in political science our Founding Fathers achieved, is the establishment of an entirely new category of law; namely, the Constitution. The Constitution is the nation’s highest legal and moral authority—popularly accepted as such. Yet its ratification took place over 200 years ago, amongst a generation long since dead and gone. Charles Kesler, professor of government at ClaremontMcKennaCollege , says “Thus for Americans, the oldest law is the highest law.” And he continues to point out how unique this is among nations:
This is not a normal or an automatic outcome of popular government.
Most of the time, republics and the people who move their politics
tend to think that if they make a law “A” one day, and a law “B” that
contradicts “A” the next day, the newer law supersedes the old. What
is unusual about the Constitution is that this rule is completely reversed
in respect of it. The oldest law is the most authoritative, and is indeed
the only law that “the people” as such have ever passed. Other law is
statute law, law made by representatives of the people. Thus every
other law needs to be adjudged in light of the only law that is genuinely
ours, the Constitution.
Clearly, some would prefer that the Constitution evolve and stay up with the times. There is even a modern liberal legal theory that affirms a so-called “living Constitution.” This is another way of saying the Constitution means what lawyers and judges say it means.
Besides the Constitution as a category of law, the Founders also bequeathed an aspect of culture, which helped to give the Constitution stability and its impressive longevity. Historically a part of America ’s democratic culture, the aspect has sadly deteriorated as “living Constitution” theory advances. I’m referring to political civility, the idea that citizens will be civil to one another despite political disagreements. The disagreements are less important than the resolve to remain fellow citizens. Of course, a necessary precondition for this type of civility is that citizens do agree on certain fundamentals, so that disagreements really involve secondary issues. This is possible when the central government remains limited, or when fundamentals are settled at State and local government levels. The War Between the States was a time when folks (rightly and wrongly) disagreed on fundamental issues, which the federal government could not leave to States or localities. With discrete fundamentals settled on the battlefield, we’ve stayed more or less civil since Reconstruction.
Today I wonder about the Founders’ great handiwork. Though altered much, it has survived in large measure. But I worry as civility departs, because government has grown too big and too intrusive in matters belonging outside its scope. I worry as respect for the Constitution itself declines, when citizens fail to distinguish rights from their desires, and political expediency supplants principle. During the last presidential election, people were tempted to say the popular or consolidated national majority (pure democracy) should rule the day—even though the constitutional majority entails both democracy and federalism and is the only majority that may govern the United States as a free country. What would George Washington have thought of the spectacle? The first president was quintessentially both civil and constitutional, in his personal example and professional conduct. He was also straightforward and literate. The following is taken from his Circular Letter of 14 June 1783, but Washington ’s words ring true today:
The foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance
and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better
understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period; the researches
of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent;
the Treasures of knowledge, acquired through a long succession of years, by
the labors of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, are laid open for our use,
and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our
forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension
of Commerce, the progressive refinement of manners, the growing liberality
of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had
a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society. At
this auspicious period, the United States came into being as a Nation, and if
their Citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be entirely
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford . Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves asState Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC) and is currently running for U.S. Congress (TX-District 25) in the Republican Primary election scheduled April 3, 2012. His newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium is available on-line and at most bookstores.Visit: www.WesRiddle.com.
I was pleased to see that, in the Presidential debate in South Carolina Monday night, Newt Gingrich came out in support of a proposal I presented in testimony before Congress on February 2011. It deals with the issue of extended unemployment benefits and is called “train while you claim.” Here is an excerpt from that testimony:
“I recommend that, as a condition for receiving extended unemployment benefits, recipients would have an option to “Train While They Claim”. Those without a high school diploma could choose to study for their GED. UI claimants in that category would be entitled to first priority for participation in existing federally funded Adult Basic Education programs.
Those with a high school degree, but lacking specific vocational training, would be able to receive job skills training. Again, this would not require an increase in federal funding, but simply give claimants top priority to participate in existing federally funded training programs.
Alternatively, those who don’t choose to get a GED or receive additional skills training would be required to gain additional on-the-job experience or training by volunteering for community service work for public institutions or approved non-profits like Habitat for Humanity. Those who refuse to participate in one of these three options would no longer be entitled to receive extended unemployment benefits.”
To me, this is a commonsense approach for providing the unemployed with additional skills while they look for work as well as dropping from the rolls those who want to “game the system.” The full testimony to the Subcommittee of Human Resources of the House Ways and Means Committee can be found here:
Like many Americans, I had more than my fill of three things this holiday season: turkey, egg nog, and movies.Not just the big, splashy blockbusters, mind you, like “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” but also those smaller art-house films that become critical darlings and Oscar favorites.But now, just as I resign myself to the filmgoer’s malaise that accompanies the string of movies released early in the year that won’t light up the box office or garner golden statuettes, I’ve realized that there is an endless source of almost cinematic entertainment waiting for me down at the courthouse.So forget your local multiplex and come with me to see what’s playing at a courthouse near you (and don’t forget the popcorn),
If you liked films like “The Parent Trap” or any movie with identical twins who get themselves into sticky situations where hilarity ensues, then you’ll love the case of State of Missouri v. Darrel W. White, Jr. in Jackson County, Missouri (not far from Kansas City).Criminal defense attorney Dorothy Savory was representing the defendant at a preliminary hearing on charges of robbery.When the victim was asked to identify the man who snatched her purse, she pointed to “Mr. White,” the gentleman sitting next to Savory at the counsel table, as her assailant.However, in the hall outside the courtroom, the arresting officer noticed a familiar-looking person getting off the elevator—Darrel W. White, Jr.In short order, it was revealed that the man next to defense lawyer Savory was the defendant’ identical twin brother, Darion White.Both prosecutor Jean Baker and Judge Kenneth R. Garrett III were furious at the switcheroo.Although Ms. Savory was reportedly mystified at the fuss and the allegation that her conduct was deceptive, Judge Garrett pulled no punches, calling her actions “disrespectful” and continuing the hearing until contempt charges (and possible disciplinary action) against the defense attorney could be considered.That’s what I call “double trouble.”
If your tastes run more to horror flicks like “Paranormal Activity,” then check out the criminal charges pending against former police officer Joseph Hughes of Mount Gilead, Ohio.Hughes was facing 20 charges, including theft and possession of stolen property, after a slew of stolen air conditioners and other goods (many belonging to the county) was found inside Hughes’ home.The case took a supernatural turn when Hughes attempted to explain why he was unaware that all those stolen goods were in his basement.“We believed that there was some kind of paranormal presence in the basement,” Hughes testified.“It sounds kind of ridiculous but there was evidence to support it.”The “paranormal defense” shocked prosecutors.Tom Elkinof the Morrow County Prosecutor’s Office said “I’ve been practicing since 1983 and I can say that’s the first time I’ve heard of paranormal activity in the course of a trial.”As it turns out, Hughes’ defense didn’t stand a ghost of a chance; he was found guilty of 18 out of 20 charges.
Of course, if your preferences are for more Disney-style family fare, along the lines of “All Dogs Go to Heaven,” then follow the lawsuit recently filed in New York City by dog owner Elena Zakharova against an Upper East Side pet store known as Raising Rover.Zakharova claims that the pet shop sold her Umka, a Brussells Griffon which was represented to her as healthy but which allegedly has bad knees and bad hips.What makes Ms. Zakharova’s lawsuit unusual is that she does not want just compensation for Umka’s vet bills (which exceed $4,000); she also wants compensation for the dog’s pain and suffering and recognition by the court that companion animals are not inanimate property but “living souls.”I’m not sure a court will be able to make such a declaration, but I’m cheering for Ms. Zakharova and little Umka anyway—all dogs go to heaven, as Disney fans will attest.
Of course, if your movie of choice is a grisly horror flick full of dismemberment and “creative” deaths like the “Saw” or “Final Destination” movies, then a recent Illinois appellate court decision will make lively reading.The bizarre case began with an unusual set of circumstances.In 2008, 18 year-old Hiroyuki Joho was hurrying to catch an inbound Metra train in the Chicago suburb of Edgebrook when he was struck by a southbound Amtrak train traveling at over 70 mph.In a lawsuit that even one of the lawyers involved described as “very peculiar and gory and creepy,” a passenger waiting on the southbound platform, 58 year-old Gayane Zokhrabov, was struck by “a large portion” of Joho’s body.The flying body part knocked her to the ground, injuring her shoulder and breaking her leg and wrist.Zokhrabov sued Joho’s estate, and a Cook County judge dismissed the case.But the Illinois appeals court disagreed, and in an opinion worthy of a law school exam hypothetical reasoned that it was “reasonably foreseeable” to Joho that a high-speed train could kill him, sever his body, and fling body parts down the tracks at a platform full of waiting people.Hollywood special effects people, get your moving trains and flying body parts ready.
Finally, if a romantic comedy where two people “meet cute” under unusual circumstances and eventually fall in love (like “When Harry Met Sally” or virtually any Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts movie) is your cup of tea, then check out another lawsuit pending in suburban Chicago.Stickney, Illinois police officer Chris Collins is apparently a lonely guy.On October 22, 2011, the 27 year-old officer pulled over Evangelina Paredes for speeding and issued her a $132 ticket.But he couldn’t get the comely motorist off his mind, and he allegedly searched her motor vehicle records for her address before leaving a handwritten note on her car windshield outside her apartment two days later.The alleged note said “It’s Chris . . . that ugly bald Stickney cop who gave you that ticket.I know this may seem crazy and you’re probably right, but truth is I have not stopped thinking about you since.I don’t expect a girl as attractive as you to . . . even go for a guy like me, but I’m taking a shot anyways.”The alleged note continues saying he’d understand if Ms. Paredes didn’t respond, but that “hey, I did cost you $132—least I can do is buy you dinner.”
Awwh.Unfortunately, one woman’s cute is another woman’s creepy, and Ms. Paredes has filed a federal court lawsuit against Officer Collins, his police chief, and the village of Stickney.The lawsuit alleges invasion of privacy and stalking that has caused Paredes to “suffer great fear and anxiety.”It also accuses Collins of using his “authority and position as a police officer not to protect the public, but to attempt to manipulate the plaintiff into going out on a date with him.”Not exactly a Hollywood ending.Can’t you just see a movie version (with say, Eva Mendes as Ms. Paredes and Ryan Reynolds as Officer Collins) where, after a hilarious chain of events, the two meet up again in a climatic courtroom scene and realize that it’s true love after all?I guess not, but the courthouse can still be as entertaining sometimes as the movies, and admission is free.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929. He was assassinated in 1968. “MLK Day” as it were, is celebrated the third Monday in January close to the time of his birthday. One may ask how such a short life should warrant a federal holiday. Martin Luther King, Jr. never was elected to public office. His life was controversial while he lived it. Moreover, his memory is skewed given that FBI files were sealed under court order until 2027. These records were not accessible to lawmakers, who voted for his holiday in 1983. The measure nevertheless passed with bipartisan support and by large margin before Ronald Reagan signed it into law.
Martin Luther King, Jr. still evokes an ecstatic memory from his admirers, and the man has become something of an icon too. That is to say, the representation of high ideals and idealism is separate and distinct from his actual biography. Of course the same can be said of many others, including Lincoln and Jefferson. Great men are often given a public pass on their blemishes and shortcomings. Historians are or ought to be a bit more circumspect.
The reason for the Day, and celebrating the life of MLK involves the issue of race. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work was important in achieving a Second Reconstruction so-called, i.e., the end of segregation and the application of rights past state laws based upon the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
Martin Luther King, Jr. attended segregated public schools in Georgia. After that he went to MorehouseCollege in Atlanta and then to Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. At Crozer he was elected president of a predominantly white senior class. He then proceeded to BostonUniversity where he earned his Ph. D. in 1955 and met his wife Coretta Scott. They would have two sons and two daughters together.
After educational and professional preparations, King launched himself into the pastorate first in Montgomery, Alabama and then in his native Atlanta, Georgia. At the same time he dedicated himself to political activism throughout the South, in order to end “Jim Crow” discriminatory statutes. As a member of the executive committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) he led the Montgomery bus boycott lasting 382 days. This led to a Supreme Court decision ending bus segregation. During the days of the boycott, King was arrested and subjected to personal abuse, and his home was bombed.
In 1957 he was elected to head the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, from which he provided new leadership for the burgeoning civil rights movement. King employed the teachings and techniques of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi. His enduring success is largely attributable, however, to skilful adaptation of widely accepted American values, including the rule of law—albeit, through aggressive non-violence; as well as strong appeal to common spiritual beliefs, especially in the South, about God and the moral worth and dignity of man, and to Christian values of forbearance and brotherly love. His historicism was Lincolnesque and so helpful, in that he emphasized the text of the Declaration of Independence, characterizing that document as a promissory note as yet unfulfilled. Thus he appealed to American patriotism, while strongly criticizing social norms regarding race.
In the eleven year period from 1957 to 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled more than six million miles, gave over twenty-five hundred speeches, wrote five books and numerous articles, consistently preaching against racial hatred and injustice. His activity is largely credited with changing the conscience of America on the subject of race. In 1963 he directed a peaceful march on Washington, D.C. of 250,000 people and delivered perhaps his finest address, “I Have a Dream” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In 1965 he led 30,000 people on a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, where he demanded that black people be allowed to vote without unfair restrictions. The speech televised to a national audience, as well as the Selma march and various protests he orchestrated, stirred general unrest in the South and American cities, leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1964 he became the youngest man to have received the Nobel Peace Prize, turning over that considerable cash prize to the furtherance of civil rights. The iconic ideal he articulated at the Lincoln Memorial is still one of the highest domestic hopes in the land. It has come to define what we mean by a just equality. Speaking of his four little children, he said “I have a dream that … one day” they “will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves asState Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC). This article is from his newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium available on-line atwww.WesRiddle.net and from fine bookstores everywhere.Email: