The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Who's stupider, a lawyer or a Fox reporter?

Via Calculated Risk, apparently Wells Fargo is suing itself over a mortgage foreclosure, which Fox Business columnist Al Lewis fails to understand, and so, because it's Fox, decides to criticize:

You can't expect a bank that is dumb enough to sue itself to know why it is suing itself.

... In this particular case, Wells Fargo holds the first and second mortgages on a condominium, according to Sarasota, Fla., attorney Dan McKillop, who represents the condo owner.

As holder of the first, Wells Fargo is suing all other lien holders, including the holder of the second, which is itself.

Most of the column slams Wells Fargo for being stupid, for wasting paper, for abusing the legal process, etc., rather than trying to explain why the bank did this. Possibly, Lewis could read the third paragraph of his own column, in which he quotes a Wells Fargo spokesman explaining that "[d]ue to state foreclosure laws, lenders are obligated to name and notify subordinate lien holders." Guess how you're required to do that in most states' foreclosure laws? Through a court filing.

As one who possesses a (seldom-used and quite dusty) juris doctorate, I understand why this looks odd but is, in fact, appropriate under the law. The bank has this obligation so that other leinholders' rights are protected. Lewis, himself about as ignorant of the law as he is of journalism, asks "wouldn't it be easier for Wells Fargo to release one of the liens to itself?" I'm not sure what he means, because he doesn't seem to understand the fundamentals of real property law. As the bank's spokesman said, "The primary reason is to clear title and ownership interest in a property to prepare it for sale." (Emphasis mine.) It's not a contested suit; Wells Fargo will not be taking itself "to the Supreme Court," despite how much Lewis would enjoy that.

In the alternative I suppose Lewis could mean that Wells Fargo should simply walk away from the second lein, which would, in effect, put money in the pockets of all the other leinholders at its own expense. That would not only be stupid, it could generate a shareholder derivative suit.

The truly stupid person here is Lewis, who refuses to understand what his own sources are saying in his own column.

Since Lewis' main source seems to be the owner of the property under foreclosure, you can bet that if Wells Fargo had done something hinky with the second mortgage, Lewis would be all over that, too. That this is a complicated and somewhat nuanced legal situation doesn't seem to enter into his thinking; the Rights of the People (including—or, given this is Fox again, especially—those of millionaire property developers) Must Be Protected. The Outrage! The Outrage!

In sum: the bank really, really doesn't want to sue itself, a point several bank and legal sources make clear in the column to any person of average literacy. The bank has no choice, both as a matter of Florida law and as a matter of arithmetic. Yes, the bank probably shouldn't have agreed to an 80/20 mortgage during a real-estate boom on overly-optimistic condo project, and as pennance will now have to eat a good bit of both loans. But Lewis would rather waste column-inches getting mad rather than do what he as a journalist should do, which is to understand and explain a seemingly odd event.

Again, though, this is Fox. Understanding is not encouraged.

AleFest 2009

What a brilliant idea. Get 30 brewers together under some tents, charge a reasonable amount ($40) for admission, and provide everyone with a 60 mL tasting glass. Yum. (For the most part.)

Yesterday I went to AleFest 2009 in the shadow of Soldier Field, and in the aftermath of severe thunderstorms. (Note to self: bring dry socks next year.)

I must confess to a slow but perceptible change in the sensitivity of my palatte as the afternoon wore on, but I did come away with some new beers to buy when I can: Southampton IPA from, of all places, Long Island; Emmett's Victory Pale, from West Dundee, Ill.; and Granite City Duke of Wellington IPA, from St. Cloud, Minn.

There weren't as many people there as I would have expected, probably no more than 500 or so, but by 4pm every single one of them was in this line:

This is what happens when 500 people each have about two pints of ale simultaneously.

Excellently fun afternoon. And, given a small amount of discipline and a large amount of time, I did not overindulge. (In fact, more beer than you might guess wound up discreetly feeding grass and trees. Hey, not everyone likes every beer.

Anxiety-provoking intersection now less so

Whole Foods recently opened its new, enormous Chicago store at 1550 N. Kingsbury St., on an old brownfield lot. The old industrial infrastructure surrounding the site—including a still-active spur line railway running down the center of Kingsbury St.—still has some, ah, quirks from the days before tens of thousands of shoppers went there every week. The intersection of Weed, Kingsbury, and Sheffield, for example, goes off in five directions, not including the three parking entrances:

The store occupies the vacant patch in the lower-left quadrant of this image from Google Maps. The store parking lot has entrances near where Weed meets the river, and also near the "A" marking on this photo. North Ave., Clybourn St., and Halsted St., the largest streets in the area, are just beyond the top and right sides.

So a lot of traffic now goes past that intersection. Not just cars, either; with two major bus routes and a Red Line station right there, the store attracts lots of pedestrians. (Parker and I often go there, for example; it's about 3 km from home, so the round-trip makes for a good hour of walking.)

Until this week, the intersection only had two stop signs, one on the southbound Kingsbury corner, the other on the westbound Weed corner.

Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic, and Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck, the authors of Suburban Nation, would argue that this is probably less dangerous than it sounds. Everyone approaching the intersection instantly realizes that he has no idea where anyone is coming from or going to, no idea who's going to stop or go, and no idea where the guy with the dog will choose to cross. Consequently, he slows down and starts paying attention.

I am surprised that it took two months for the city to respond. Clearly we can't have people thinking for themselves at a dangerous intersection. So now the intersection has stop signs all around. My prediction: drivers will pay less attention, except to struggle with remembering who goes first when you all arrive at an intersection simultaneously,[1] with no effect at all on accident rates. As long as Parker and I can get across the street, we're fine.

[1] In Illinois, there is no rule. Probably you should observe the majority rule and wait for the person to your left to go before you.

With friends like these

Wow. You know you've jumped some serious GOP shark when even Peggy Noonan stomps on you:

Mrs. Palin has now stepped down, but she continues to poll high among some members of the Republican base, some of whom have taken to telling themselves Palin myths.

To wit: ... "The elites hate her." The elites made her. It was the elites of the party, the McCain campaign and the conservative media that picked her and pushed her. The base barely knew who she was. It was the elites, from party operatives to public intellectuals, who advanced her and attacked those who said she lacked heft. She is a complete elite confection. She might as well have been a bonbon.

"She makes the Republican Party look inclusive." She makes the party look stupid, a party of the easily manipulated.

"The media did her in." Her lack of any appropriate modesty did her in. Actually, it's arguable that membership in the self-esteem generation harmed her. For 30 years the self-esteem movement told the young they're perfect in every way. It's yielding something new in history: an entire generation with no proper sense of inadequacy.

After reading the column twice, I'm not sure I understand who Noonan is addressing. I think she's talking to members of her own party; I just can't tell, despite her conclusion:

It's not a time to be frivolous, or to feel the temptation of resentment, or the temptation of thinking next year will be more or less like last year, and the assumptions of our childhoods will more or less reign in our future. It won't be that way.

We are going to need the best.

A clue, perhaps, is the column's presence on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page. Still, as one of the media elite she blames for Palin's ascendancy, perhaps Noonan is talking to herself?

Anyway, the GOP has needed "the best" for 49 years now, but has instead chosen a string of mediocrities and ideologues as party leaders (with a couple of exceptions, including Bob Dole). Not that we haven't presented our own mediocrities and ideologues, but ours tend toward gluttony and lust rather than wroth and envy, which results in much less death and destruction for the most part. Plus ours tend not to secretly hate the people they represent.

Still, it's an odd feeling to agree with Peggy Noonan. This bears more thought.

Comments on yesterday's post

Yesterday's post "Subsidizing rural folk" generated more commentary than usual. All of it was through my Facebook profile (I cross-post the Daily Parker there), so I thought I should copy it over here.

Debbie K. of Highland Park, Ill., wrote: "In urban areas, cities maintain roads, or the Fed maintains freeways. There are more county roads to maintain in rural areas. A fact also conveniently left out of a similar story when in ran in the SF Chronicle about a week ago."

I responded: "But that's the point: the stimulus money is going disproportionately to highways, which are disproportionately rural. Urban areas have old bridges, canals, railroads, buses, and, yes, roads, many of which need repairs, and which provide significantly higher ROI. Even highways in urban areas make better investments. Of course I want the good people of Kittitas County, Wash., to have decent infrastructure, but more people drive on Lake Shore Drive (U.S. 41) every day than will drive on U.S. 2 through Wenatchee, Wash., in a month."

Debbie K. followed up: "My issue isn't necessarily whether county roads are more valuable than city roads, but that the fact, which is relevant to the issue, was left out of a news story. Kind of like how everyone seems to be leaving out the whole 'Manuel Zelaya's removal was required by the Honduran constitution' thing. I'm so incensed that I can't trust newspapers to deliver the entire story anymore."

Samantha D., writing from the U.K.: "David, I am inclined to agree with you, but our fuel is $5.60 a gallon (equivalent) and there's no more investment in public transport. It's so bad, in fact, that people are driving more than ever and the south-east of England is virtually gridlocked at some times of the day. I wish they would invest in it more, but instead they keep hiking up the fuel duty (on which we also pay sales tax, BTW) and spend the money giving themselves pay rises and gold-plated final salary pensions, which the rest of us don't get."

Nancy R., a professional journalist in Lexington, Ky.: "I think it's a bit more complicated than traffic volume. At least my take coming from a largely rural state that is subsidized heavily by the cities, specifically the one in which I live. But I always expect a city perspective on everything from the NYT. Case in point: story on laid-off moms that interviwed only weathy moms who shared how interesting it was to actually figure out where the playgrounds were and what their kids pediatricians looked like. The nannies had always taken their kids to those place in the past. Really representative of most people's experiences, I bet. The NYT always (almost gleefully) plays the rural stereotype, at last that's my experience as a Kentuckian."

John H. said: "David, do you like to eat? I thought so. Those rural roads you are complaining about are used by trucks to get the raw materials used in most of the food you eat to where you can buy it. If those roads aren't maintained well, then the trucks need more maintenance, which costs money, which is ultimately passed on to us. Also, the porkulus money is supposed to go to 'shovel ready' projects. If these other areas are like where I live, these projects have been on the books, ready for funding, for some time. Where I live there is a project to reroute a state highway that has been on the books to be done for 55 years, and it's being bypassed (pun intended) for other projects as far as the porkulus money is concerned. As for the $5 gas; my brother used to think that too, until he had to pay it, and saw the actual impact on the economy, then he changed his mind."

Finally, Yoshio K., Debbie's husband, summed it up neatly: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!"

Quelle surprise

Roland Burris won't run for Senate after all:

The decision, which is expected to be formally announced Friday, comes as a surprise to absolutely no one in local politics.

... Mr. Burris has raised almost nothing of the millions of dollars he would need for a serious campaign, and another well known African-American figure, Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson, has formed an exploratory committee.

So, with Madigan and Burris both out, the 2010 election campaign should be a hoot. I can't wait.

Subsidizing rural folk

The New York Times has a must-read article today about disproportionately small shares of transportation stimulus money going to places that produce disproportionately large shares of GDP. More simply: we in cities are subsidizing rural roads:

According to an analysis by The New York Times of 5,274 transportation projects approved so far — the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend their stimulus money — the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money. In many cases, they have lost a tug of war with state lawmakers that urban advocates say could hurt the nation’s economic engines.

...[T]he projects also offered vivid evidence that metropolitan areas are losing the struggle for stimulus money. Seattle found itself shut out when lawmakers in the State of Washington divided the first pot of stimulus money. Missouri has directed nearly half its money to 89 small counties which, together, make up only a quarter of the state’s population.

...Obama administration officials, who have called for ending sprawl and making sure that federal transportation spending is cost-effective, say they are looking at how states are spending the money from the stimulus law...

For example, New York, which produces almost 9% of U.S. GDP, is getting 2.9% of the money; Chicago, at 3.7% of GDP, gets 2.6% of the money. Contrast those figures with Kittitas County, Washington (population: 39,000), which is getting $836 per capita to resurface roads.

We don't need more roads. We need repaired bridges. We need trains and buses. Frankly, I also think we need $5 per gallon gas, which I think would lead directly to heavier investment in public transit, but that's a rant for another time.

Palin <i>qua</i> Palin

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick hypothesizes why Sarah Palin really quit:

[W]hen the dust settles, the lesson may be that she was simply a woman who made no sense. Her meteoric rise and dubious fall will say less about America than you think, beyond the fact that America likes its politicians to communicate their ideas clearly. We will someday come to realize that while it's all well and good to be mavericky with one's policies, it's never smart to be mavericky with one's message.

...It's too easy to characterize Sarah Palin as an irrational bundle of bristling grievance. But I think it's more complicated than her simple love for playing the victim all the time. ... Think of an American visiting France who believes that if he just speaks louder, he will be speaking French. Palin has done everything in her power to explain herself to us, and still we fail to appreciate what she is all about. I'd be frustrated, too, if I thought I was offering up straight talk and nobody was getting the message. Especially if I held a degree in communications.

In any event, after this month, we won't have Dick Nixon Sarah Palin to kick around anymore.

Lovely spring weather

Chicago had its coolest July 8th in more than a century yesterday, capping the coolest summer (to date) in decades:

For the 12th time this meteorological summer (since June 1), daytime highs failed to reach 70°F Wednesday. Only one other year in the past half century has hosted so many sub-70-degree days up to this point in a summer season -- 1969, when 14 such days occurred.

Wednesday's paltry 65°F high at O'Hare International Airport (an early-May-level temperature and a reading 18°F degrees below normal) was also the city's coolest July 8 high in 118 years -- since a 61°F-degree high on the date in 1891.

The flipside, of course, is that the weather is delightful. Unfortunately the forecast for this week calls for much warmer (i.e., seasonal) temperatures. Pity.

Lisa Madigan sitting out 2010

As someone who has contributed to Lisa Madigan's campaign fund, thinking it would help her become governor, I'm surprised about her pre-announcement this morning that she's not running for that office in 2010:

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is expected to announce today that she'll seek re-election to her current office and bypass bids for governor or U.S. Senate, a source told the Tribune.

Madigan has a 2 p.m. political news conference scheduled at a Chicago hotel.

The move comes as a surprise, as Madigan had been strongly mulling a run for governor and had been heavily courted by national Democrats to run for Senate. A Democratic source told the Tribune today that Madigan had ruled out a Senate run.

Dang. I wonder who's running for Senate then? (Presumably Pat Quinn will run for election to the office he inherited from impeached former governor Rod Blagojevich in January.)

Update: Madigan's press release.