Advertisements



Lake County city may waive impact fees in CRA

The CRA includes much of downtown Tavares......»»

Category: topSource: bizjournalsMay 13th, 2022

Why is a market-rate, downtown high-rise getting $7.5M in city incentives?

Combined, the city and county are providing more than $8.2 million in incentives through rebates for property taxes and SAWS impact fees for the projects, which is expected to exceed $107 million......»»

Category: topSource: bizjournalsApr 22nd, 2022

Inside the World of Black Bitcoin, Where Crypto Is About Making More Than Just Money

“We can operate on an even playing field in the digital world” At the Black Blockchain Summit, there is almost no conversation about making money that does not carry with it the possibility of liberation. This is not simply a gathering for those who would like to ride whatever bumps and shocks, gains and losses come with cryptocurrency. It is a space for discussing the relationship between money and man, the powers that be and what they have done with power. Online and in person, on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., an estimated 1,500 mostly Black people have gathered to talk about crypto—decentralized digital money backed not by governments but by blockchain technology, a secure means of recording transactions—as a way to make money while disrupting centuries-long patterns of oppression. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] “What we really need to be doing is to now utilize the technology behind blockchain to enhance the quality of life for our people,” says Christopher Mapondera, a Zimbabwean American and the first official speaker. As a white-haired engineer with the air of a lecturing statesman, Mapondera’s conviction feels very on-brand at a conference themed “Reparations and Revolutions.” Along with summit organizer Sinclair Skinner, Mapondera co-founded BillMari, a service that aims to make it easier to transmit cryptocurrency to wherever the sons and daughters of Africa have been scattered. So, not exactly your stereotypical “Bitcoin bro.” Contrary to the image associated with cryptocurrency since it entered mainstream awareness, almost no one at the summit is a fleece-vest-wearing finance guy or an Elon Musk type with a grudge against regulators. What they are is a cross section of the world of Black crypto traders, educators, marketers and market makers—a world that seemingly mushroomed during the pandemic, rallying around the idea that this is the boon that Black America needs. In fact, surveys indicate that people of color are investing in cryptocurrency in ways that outpace or equal other groups—something that can’t be said about most financial products. About 44% of those who own crypto are people of color, according to a June survey by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. In April, a Harris Poll reported that while just 16% of U.S. adults overall own cryptocurrency, 18% of Black Americans have gotten in on it. (For Latino Americans, the figure is 20%.) The actor Hill Harper of The Good Doctor, a Harvard Law School friend of former President Barack Obama, is a pitchman for Black Wall Street, a digital wallet and crypto trading service developed with Najah Roberts, a Black crypto expert. And this summer, when the popular money-transfer service Cash App added the option to purchase Bitcoin, its choice to explain the move was the MC Megan Thee Stallion. “With my knowledge and your hustle, you’ll have your own empire in no time,” she says in an ad titled “Bitcoin for Hotties.” Read more: Americans Have Learned to Talk About Racial Inequality. But They’ve Done Little to Solve It But, as even Megan Thee Stallion acknowledges in that ad, pinning one’s economic hopes on crypto is inherently risky. Many economic experts have described crypto as little better than a bubble, mere fool’s gold. The rapid pace of innovation—it’s been little more than a decade since Bitcoin was created by the enigmatic, pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto—has left consumers with few protections. Whether the potential is worth those risks is the stuff of constant, and some would say, infernal debate. Jared Soares for TIMECleve Mesidor, who founded the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain What looms in the backdrop is clear. In the U.S., the median white family’s wealth—reflecting not just assets minus debt, but also the ability to weather a financial setback—sat around $188,200, per the Federal Reserve’s most recent measure in 2019. That’s about eight times the median wealth of Black families. (For Latino families, it’s five times greater; the wealth of Asian, Pacific Island and other families sits between that of white and Latino families, according to the report.) Other estimates paint an even grimmer picture. If trends continue, the median Black household will have zero wealth by 2053. The summit attendees seem certain that crypto represents keys to a car bound for somewhere better. “Our digital selves are more important in some ways than our real-world selves,” Tony Perkins, a Black MIT-trained computer scientist, says during a summit session on “Enabling Black Land and Asset Ownership Using Blockchain.” The possibilities he rattles off—including fractional ownership of space stations—will, to many, sound fantastical. To others, they sound like hope. “We can operate on an even playing field in the digital world,” he says. The next night, when in-person attendees gather at Barcode, a Black-owned downtown D.C. establishment, for drinks and conversation, there’s a small rush on black T-shirts with white lettering: SATOSHI, they proclaim, IS BLACK. That’s an intriguing idea when your ancestors’ bodies form much of the foundation of U.S. prosperity. At the nation’s beginnings, land theft from Native Americans seeded the agricultural operations where enslaved Africans would labor and die, making others rich. By 1860, the cotton-friendly ground of Mississippi was so productive that it was home to more millionaires than anywhere else in the country. Government-supported pathways to wealth, from homesteading to homeownership, have been reliably accessible to white Americans only. So Black Bitcoiners’ embrace of decentralized currencies—and a degree of doubt about government regulators, as well as those who have done well in the traditional system—makes sense. Skinner, the conference organizer, believes there’s racial subtext in the caution from the financial mainstream regarding Bitcoin—a pervasive idea that Black people just don’t understand finance. “I’m skeptical of all of those [warnings], based on the history,” Skinner, who is Black American, says. Even a drop in the value of Bitcoin this year, which later went back up, has not made him reticent. “They have petrol shortages in England right now. They’ll blame the weather or Brexit, but they’ll never have to say they’re dumb. Something don’t work in Detroit or some city with a Black mayor, we get a collective shame on us.” Read more: America’s Interstate Slave Trade Once Trafficked Nearly 30,000 People a Year—And Reshaped the Country’s Economy The first time I speak to Skinner, the summit is still two weeks away. I’d asked him to talk through some of the logistics, but our conversation ranges from what gives money value to the impact of ride-share services on cabbies refusing Black passengers. Tech often promises to solve social problems, he says. The Internet was supposed to democratize all sorts of things. In many cases, it defaulted to old patterns. (As Black crypto policy expert Cleve Mesidor put it to me, “The Internet was supposed to be decentralized, and today it’s owned by four white men.”) But with the right people involved from the start of the next wave of change—crypto—the possibilities are endless, Skinner says. Skinner, a Howard grad and engineer by training, first turned to crypto when he and Mapondera were trying to find ways to do ethanol business in Zimbabwe. Traditional international transactions were slow or came with exorbitant fees. In Africa, consumers pay some of the world’s highest remittance, cell phone and Internet data fees in the world, a damaging continuation of centuries-long wealth transfers off the continent to others, Skinner says. Hearing about cryptocurrency, he was intrigued—particularly having seen, during the recession, the same banking industry that had profited from slavery getting bailed out as hundreds of thousands of people of color lost their homes. So in 2013, he invested “probably less than $3,000,” mostly in Bitcoin. Encouraged by his friend Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, one of the largest platforms for trading crypto, he grew his stake. In 2014, when Skinner went to a crypto conference in Amsterdam, only about eight Black people were there, five of them caterers, but he felt he had come home ideologically. He saw he didn’t need a Rockefeller inheritance to change the world. “I don’t have to build a bank where they literally used my ancestors to build the capital,” says Skinner, who today runs a site called I Love Black People, which operates like a global anti-racist Yelp. “I can unseat that thing by not trying to be like them.” Eventually, he and Mapondera founded BillMari and became the first crypto company to partner with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to lower fees on remittances, the flow of money from immigrants overseas back home to less-developed nations—an economy valued by the World Bank and its offshoot KNOMAD at $702 billion in 2020. (Some of the duo’s business plans later evaporated, after Zimbabwe’s central bank revoked approval for some cryptocurrency activities.) Skinner’s feelings about the economic overlords make it a bit surprising that he can attract people like Charlene Fadirepo, a banker by trade and former government regulator, to speak at the summit. On the first day, she offers attendees a report on why 2021 was a “breakout year for Bitcoin,” pointing out that major banks have begun helping high-net-worth clients invest in it, and that some corporations have bought crypto with their cash on hand, holding it as an asset. Fadirepo, who worked in the Fed’s inspector general’s office monitoring Federal Reserve banks and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is not a person who hates central banks or regulation. A Black American, she believes strongly in both, and in their importance for protecting investors and improving the economic position of Black people. Today she operates Guidefi, a financial education and advising company geared toward helping Black women connect with traditional financial advisers. It just launched, for a fee, direct education in cryptocurrency. Crypto is a relatively new part of Fadirepo’s life. She and her Nigerian-American doctor husband earn good salaries and follow all the responsible middle-class financial advice. But the pandemic showed her they still didn’t have what some of his white colleagues did: the freedom to walk away from high-risk work. As the stock market shuddered and storefronts shuttered, she decided a sea change was coming. A family member had mentioned Bitcoin at a funeral in 2017, but it sounded risky. Now, her research kept bringing her back to it. Last year, she and her husband bought $6,000 worth. No investment has ever generated the kinds of returns for them that Bitcoin has. “It has transformed people’s relationship with money,” she says. “Folks are just more intentional … and honestly feeling like they had access to a world that was previously walled off.” Read more: El Salvador Is Betting on Bitcoin to Rebrand the Country — and Strengthen the President’s Grip She knows frauds exists. In May, a federal watchdog revealed that since October 2020, nearly 7,000 people have reported losses of more than $80 million on crypto scams—12 times more scam reports than the same period the previous year. The median individual loss: $1,900. For Fadirepo, it’s worrying. That’s part of why she helps moderate recurring free learning and discussion options like the Black Bitcoin Billionaires chat room on Clubhouse, which has grown from about 2,000 to 130,000 club members this year. Jared Soares for TIMECharlene Fadirepo, a banker and former government regulator, near the National Museum of African American History and Culture There’s a reason Black investors might prefer their own spaces for that kind of education. Fadirepo says it’s not unheard-of in general crypto spaces—theoretically open to all, but not so much in practice—to hear that relying on the U.S. dollar is slavery. “To me, a descendant of enslaved people in America, that was painful,” she says. “There’s a lot of talk about sovereignty, freedom from the U.S. dollar, freedom from inflation, inflation is slavery, blah blah blah. The historical context has been sucked out of these conversations about traditional financial systems. I don’t know how I can talk about banking without also talking about history.” Back in January, I found myself in a convenience store in a low-income and predominantly Black neighborhood in Dallas, an area still living the impact of segregation decades after its official end. I was there to report on efforts to register Black residents for COVID-19 shots after an Internet-only sign-up system—and wealthier people gaming the system—created an early racial disparity in vaccinations. I stepped away to buy a bottle of water. Inside the store, a Black man wondered aloud where the lottery machine had gone. He’d come to spend his usual $2 on tickets and had found a Bitcoin machine sitting in its place. A second Black man standing nearby, surveying chip options, explained that Bitcoin was a form of money, an investment right there for the same $2. After just a few questions, the first man put his money in the machine and walked away with a receipt describing the fraction of one bitcoin he now owned. Read more: When a Texas County Tried to Ensure Racial Equity in COVID-19 Vaccinations, It Didn’t Go as Planned I was both worried and intrigued. What kind of arrangement had prompted the store’s owner to replace the lottery machine? That month, a single bitcoin reached the $40,000 mark. “That’s very revealing, if someone chooses to put a cryptocurrency machine in the same place where a lottery [machine] was,” says Jeffrey Frankel, a Harvard economist, when I tell him that story. Frankel has described cryptocurrencies as similar to gambling, more often than not attracting those who can least afford to lose, whether they are in El Salvador or Texas. Frankel ranks among the economists who have been critical of El Salvador’s decision to begin recognizing Bitcoin last month as an official currency, in part because of the reality that few in the county have access to the internet, as well as the cryptocurrency’s price instability and its lack of backing by hard assets, he says. At the same time that critics have pointed to the shambolic Bitcoin rollout in El Salvador, Bitcoin has become a major economic force in Nigeria, one of the world’s larger players in cryptocurrency trading. In fact, some have argued that it has helped people in that country weather food inflation. But, to Frankel, crypto does not contain promise for lasting economic transformation. To him, disdain for experts drives interest in cryptocurrency in much the same way it can fuel vaccine hesitancy. Frankel can see the potential to reduce remittance costs, and he does not doubt that some people have made money. Still, he’s concerned that the low cost and click-here ease of buying crypto may draw people to far riskier crypto assets, he says. Then he tells me he’d put the word assets here in a hard set of air quotes. And Frankel, who is white, is not alone. Darrick Hamilton, an economist at the New School who is Black, says Bitcoin should be seen in the same framework as other low-cost, high-risk, big-payoff options. “In the end, it’s a casino,” he says. To people with less wealth, it can feel like one of the few moneymaking methods open to them, but it’s not a source of group uplift. “Like any speculation, those that can arbitrage the market will be fine,” he says. “There’s a whole lot of people that benefited right before the Great Recession, but if they didn’t get out soon enough, they lost their shirts too.” To buyers like Jiri Sampson, a Black cryptocurrency investor who works in real estate and lives outside Washington, D.C., that perspective doesn’t register as quite right. The U.S.-born son of Guyanese immigrants wasn’t thinking about exploitation when he invested his first $20 in cryptocurrency in 2017. But the groundwork was there. Sampson homeschools his kids, due in part to his lack of faith that public schools equip Black children with the skills to determine their own fates. He is drawn to the capacity of this technology to create greater agency for Black people worldwide. The blockchain, for example, could be a way to establish ownership for people who don’t hold standard documents—an important issue in Guyana and many other parts of the world, where individuals who have lived on the land for generations are vulnerable to having their property co-opted if they lack formal deeds. Sampson even pitched a project using the blockchain and GPS technology to establish digital ownership records to the Guyanese government, which did not bite. “I don’t want to downplay the volatility of Bitcoin,” Sampson says. But that’s only a significant concern, he believes, if one intends to sell quickly. To him, Bitcoin represents a “harder” asset than the dollar, which he compares to a ship with a hole in it. Bitcoin has a limited supply, while the Fed can decide to print more dollars anytime. That, to Sampson, makes some cryptocurrencies, namely Bitcoin, good to buy and hold, to pass along wealth from one generation to another. Economists and crypto buyers aren’t the only ones paying attention. Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Reserve have indicated that they will move toward official assessments or regulation soon. At least 10 federal agencies are interested in or already regulating crypto in some way, and there’s now a Congressional Blockchain Caucus. Representatives from the Federal Reserve and the SEC declined to comment, but SEC Chairman Gary Gensler assured a Senate subcommittee in September that his agency is working to develop regulation that will apply to cryptocurrency markets and trading activity. Enter Cleve Mesidor, of the quip about the Internet being owned by four white men. When we meet during the summit, she introduces herself: “Cleve Mesidor, I’m in crypto.” She’s the first person I’ve ever heard describe herself that way, but not that long ago, “influencer” wasn’t a career either. A former Obama appointee who worked inside the Commerce Department on issues related to entrepreneurship and economic development, Mesidor learned about cryptocurrency during that time. But she didn’t get involved in it personally until 2013, when she purchased $200 in Bitcoin. After leaving government, she founded the National Policy Network of Women of Color in Blockchain, and is now the public policy adviser for the industry group the Blockchain Association. There are more men than women in Black crypto spaces, she tells me, but the gender imbalance tends to be less pronounced than in white-dominated crypto communities. Mesidor, who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti and uses her crypto investments to fund her professional “wanderlust,” has also lived crypto’s downsides. She’s been hacked and the victim of an attempted ransomware attack. But she still believes cryptocurrency and related technology can solve real-world problems, and she’s trying, she says, to make sure that necessary consumer protections are not structured in a way that chokes the life out of small businesses or investors. “D.C. is like Vegas; the house always wins,” says Mesidor, whose independently published book is called The Clevolution: My Quest for Justice in Politics & Crypto. “The crypto community doesn’t get that.” Passion, she says, is not enough. The community needs to be involved in the regulatory discussions that first intensified after the price of a bitcoin went to $20,000 in 2017. A few days after the summit, when Mesidor and I spoke by phone, Bitcoin had climbed to nearly $60,000. At Barcode, the Washington lounge, Isaiah Jackson is holding court. A man with a toothpaste-commercial smile, he’s the author of the independently published Bitcoin & Black America, has appeared on CNBC and is half of the streaming show The Gentleman of Crypto, which bills itself as the one of the longest-running cryptocurrency shows on the Internet. When he was building websites as a sideline, he convinced a large black church in Charlotte, N.C., to, for a time, accept Bitcoin donations. He helped establish Black Bitcoin Billionaires on Clubhouse and, like Fadirepo, helps moderate some of its rooms and events. He’s also a former teacher, descended from a line of teachers, and is using those skills to develop (for a fee) online education for those who want to become crypto investors. Now, there’s a small group standing near him, talking, but mostly listening. Jackson was living in North Carolina when one of his roommates, a white man who worked for a money-management firm, told him he had just heard a presentation about crypto and thought he might want to suggest it to his wealthy parents. The concept blew Jackson’s mind. He soon started his own research. “Being in the Black community and seeing the actions of banks, with redlining and other things, it just appealed to me,” Jackson tells me. “You free the money, you free everything else.” Read more: Beyond Tulsa: The Historic Legacies and Overlooked Stories of America’s ‘Black Wall Streets’ He took his $400 savings and bought two bitcoins in October 2013. That December, the price of a single bitcoin topped $1,100. He started thinking about what kind of new car he’d buy. And he stuck with it, even seeing prices fluctuate and scams proliferate. When the Gentlemen of Bitcoin started putting together seminars, one of the early venues was at a college fair connected to an annual HBCU basketball tournament attended by thousands of mostly Black people. Bitcoin eventually became more than an investment. He believed there was great value in spreading the word. But that was then. “I’m done convincing people. There’s no point battling going back and forth,” he says. “Even if they don’t realize it, what [investors] are doing if they are keeping their bitcoin long term, they are moving money out of the current system into another one. And that is basically the best form of peaceful protest.”   —With reporting by Leslie Dickstein and Simmone Shah.....»»

Category: topSource: timeOct 15th, 2021

China Will Struggle To Reach Positive GDP This Quarter Premier Says, Warning Economy "To Some Degree" Worse Than 2020

China Will Struggle To Reach Positive GDP This Quarter Premier Says, Warning Economy "To Some Degree" Worse Than 2020 Over the weekend, we quoted Goldman's head of hedge fund sales Tony Pasquariello who had some very choice words for China, saying its economy was so bad, "it’s simply eye-popping (witness the worst IP print on record)", and prompted Goldman's sellside research desk to cut its expectation for 2022 Chinese GDP growth to just 4%, which ex-2020 would be the slowest growth rate since 1990! For the sake of balance, Pasquariello noted that Shanghai was set to reopen on June 1st which could be a potential upside catalyst at a time when foreign investors have largely written away Chinese equities. Fast forward to today when we find that Pasquariello's hedging was not necessary, because on Wednesday, China's Premier Li Keqiang held a teleconference this afternoon under the topic of "stabilizing economic growth" with provincial, city-level and county-level local government officials across the country in which he had some very dismal comments about the current state of China's economy. As Goldman notes, "while there are not many new measures being announced from this conference, the nature and scale of this conference is quite unusual. Chinese policymakers are in greater urgency to support the economy after the very weak activity growth in April, anemic recovery month-to-date in May, and continued increases in unemployment rates." Specifically, premier Li said China’s economy is worse off to a “certain extent” than 2020 when the pandemic first emerged, urging efforts to reduce the unemployment rate which as we noted recently has soared to the highest level since the covid crash. “Economic indicators in China have fallen significantly, and difficulties in some aspects and to a certain extent are greater than when the epidemic hit us severely in 2020,” Li said Wednesday following a meeting with local authorities, state-owned companies and financial firms to discuss how to stabilize the economy, Bloomberg reported. China’s premier also said the world’s second-largest economy would struggle to record positive growth in the current quarter, urging officials to help companies resume production after Covid-19 lockdowns, according to the FT. “We will try to make sure the economy grows in the second quarter,” Li said, according to a transcript that the Financial Times verified with three people briefed on the premier’s remarks. “This is not a high target and a far cry from our 5.5 per cent goal. But we have to do so.” The last time China’s growth entered negative territory was when output plunged 6.9 per cent year on year in the first quarter of 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic ended an era of uninterrupted growth dating back more than 30 years. The comments by Li Keqiang, to tens of thousands of officials on an internal videocast on Wednesday, underscore the difficulties President Xi Jinping’s administration will have in reaching its annual growth target of 5.5% while also battling Omicron outbreaks. Concerned that the unemployment rate is approaching levels where the dreaded "social unrest" becomes a possibility, the premier urged officials to make sure the unemployment rate falls and the economy “operates in a reasonable range” in the second quarter of this year, state media cited him as saying. Earlier in May, Li warned of a “complicated and grave” employment situation after the nation’s surveyed jobless rate climbed to 6.1% in April, the highest since February 2020, and sent the yuan plunging to the lowest level since late 2020. Today's meeting was the latest in a series of urgent calls by Li (who is quitting his job next March) to shore up the economy, which has come under enormous pressure from Covid outbreaks and lockdowns in recent months, threatening the government's growth target of about 5.5%. President Xi's stubborn commitment to Covid Zero means China is guaranteed to miss that goal this year: Economists now forecast gross domestic product growth will hit just 4.5%, according to a new Bloomberg survey, with Goldman predicting GDP will rise just 4.0% as noted above. In hopes of offsetting some of the gloom and doom unleashed by Beijing's flawed covid policies, Li indicated that China will try to reduce the impact of its strict Zero-Covid policy on the economy. “At the same time as controlling the epidemic, we must complete the task of economic development,” he said. Li also stressed implementation of current support policies, and said more detailed implementation measures would be issued by the end of this month. Somewhat bizarrely, he said that economic data for the second quarter would be released “accurately”, hinting that prior Chinese data was - gasp - inaccurate? Perish the thought. As Bloomberg reported earlier this week, China's State Council outlined 33 support measures on Monday to help businesses struggling to cope with the lockdowns, including extra tax rebates, relief on social insurance payments and loans, and additional funding for aviation and rail construction. Local governments were told to spend most of the proceeds from special bonds -- used mainly for infrastructure -- by the end of August. Judging by the lack of market reaction, investors saw right through this latest mostly verbal attempt to prop up confidence in the country ahead of the 20th Party Congress later this year, where Xi's fate will be determine (amid some rumors that his political career may be cut short if China's economy does not stabilize). The central bank and banking regulator also held a meeting with major financial institutions on Monday to urge them to boost loans. Li met with local authorities in April, when Shanghai was in the middle of a lockdown, telling them to “add a sense of urgency” as they rolled out policy. During a trip to Yunnan province last week, he said they should “act decisively” to support growth. Of course, when banks artificially inject loans into an economy where there is no loan demand, what you end up getting is just another bubble. Tyler Durden Wed, 05/25/2022 - 11:25.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMay 25th, 2022

A "Perfect Storm": Sharp Rise In Home Prices, Mortgage Rates Driving Working Americans Out Of The Market

A 'Perfect Storm': Sharp Rise In Home Prices, Mortgage Rates Driving Working Americans Out Of The Market Authored by Michael Washburn via The Epoch Times, The dramatic rise in home prices and mortgage rates in the early months of 2022 has had a relatively limited effect on wealthy buyers and sellers, but has had a severe impact on lower-income Americans - and the Democratic Party may pay a steep price for their frustrations in the November midterm elections and beyond, according to real estate analysts and commentators. Average payments on mortgages went from 3 percent to 5 percent in the first three months of the year, and are now 38 percent higher than a year ago, according to a Politico report citing figures from real estate listing service Zillow. Partly because of inflation, the average rate on 30-year mortgages this week hit 5.46 percent, the highest figure since August 2009, according to Bankrate statistics. Rates are up across the board, including 30-year fixed rates, 15-year fixed rates, and 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) rates. As of April 2022, the median home price in America stood at $344,141, a 20.9 percent leap from a year before, Zillow states. Inflation, driven by the pandemic and other factors including the government’s expansionist monetary and fiscal policies, has contributed to adverse market conditions where lower-income voters whom the Democratic Party claims to represent have it the hardest. The sharply rising mortgage rates, compounded by an inventory shortfall, are driving many prospective buyers out of the market, experts say. President Joe Biden replies to questions from the media after delivering remarks on inflation and lower costs for working families in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS) Lower-End Buyers Bear the Brunt Some who work in real estate say that the competition for a limited number of houses has reached levels that they have rarely seen in years, and affects lower-income buyers above all. “I think it probably does disproportionately affect the lower end. If you’re at the higher end of the market, and rates are in the 4s or 5s, that’s not a crazy number. But if you’re trying to get in, a fluctuation in the interest rates can price you out and make you not able to compete with the cash developers,” said Zachary Schorr, a real estate attorney based in Los Angeles. “The real estate market has been going up and up, outpacing income. As that disparity keeps growing, it becomes increasingly difficult for the lower end to get into entry-level homes,” he said. High inflation and global uncertainty fostered by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine are commonly offered as reasons for high mortgage rates, but they only partly explain why buyers have it so hard. The relatively low number of houses on the market is due partly to the fact that some homeowners who might otherwise be inclined to sell do not want to have to go looking for new homes in the current market, according to Mark Pruner, a sales executive at Compass Real Estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. “One of the reasons we have low inventory is that many sellers, particularly ones who bought post-recession, have ‘silver handcuffs’ in that they have a very low-interest rate on their mortgage. If they were to list their house, i.e., add it to the inventory and alleviate pressure on buyers, they would be looking at higher prices, higher interest rates, and substantially higher monthly payments” on a new home they set out to acquire, Pruner explained. Hence the market in which Pruner operates is far more favorable to wealthy buyers. In Greenwich, 50 percent of the home sales he handles are cash deals, and 20 percent take place without a mortgage contingency in the contract, because buyers are not worried about their ability to get financing. The median price for sales in Pruner’s market is $384,400, and in 2021 the lowest value of a home sold through his agency was $450,000, he said. Pictures of properties for rent or sale hang on the window of a real estate company on Sept. 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Buyers Give Up In the face of these trends, some buyers are simply abandoning their plans. “It’s gotten to a point where it is almost impossible for real estate brokers to do their job. There is such a lack of inventory, and so many more buyers than sellers,” said Mark Scheier, managing attorney of Scheier Katin & Epstein, an Acton, Massachusetts-based law firm with a focus on real estate. “It just becomes a joke for a lot of people. After six or seven tries at buying a house, they just give up. I’ve had two clients in the last week tell me, because of increasing mortgage rates, that they’re out of the buying market and will continue to rent. I think you’re going to see a lot more of that,” Scheier added. The current state of the market is highly favorable to cash buyers unaffected by changes to the interest on mortgage loans. “I’ve never seen so many cash buyers in over four decades. They are a tremendous number,” Scheier said. The lack of inventory is so severe that trying to be a real estate agent in this market exacts a toll, said Cara Ameer, a realtor at Coldwell Banker in Orange County, California. “Real estate agents are worn out from having to vigorously monitor inventory 24/7 to be ready literally to pounce on a new listing the moment it hits,” she said. In addition, buyers feel enormous pressure to buy sight unseen or to commit to prices way beyond what they can reasonably afford in order to secure a property before cash purchasers snatch it up. The rise in mortgage rates, and the higher monthly payments on homes, are likely to hit people at the lower end of the socio-economic scale the hardest even as they contemplate purchases in the mid-market range. In Acton and in Cape Cod, where Scheier handles large numbers of transactions, a $500,000 house is a relatively modest one. “For the poor couple trying to scrape together $100,000 as a down payment, now they’re looking at an increase of $500 a month or more over what they would have paid three months ago. That’s going to create significant changes in the whole dynamics,” Scheier said. Scheier has noted a number of changes in home-buying protocols in the markets where he works. Some buyers are foregoing spending money on inspections of homes prior to closing, even though inspections may be necessary to alert them to potentially serious damages or structural flaws that may be expensive to fix. Some are waiving mortgage contingencies, which are clauses in homebuying contracts that give buyers an out if financing falls through and provides that the seller will return their deposit and relist the home. A home for sale in Mount Lebanon, Pa., on Sept. 21, 2021. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo) Thwarted Dreams The pandemic of the past two-plus years inspired some people to reflect on how they live and on whether they might benefit from having a secondary property or a new primary residence, observed Ameer. Besides remote working arrangements, the pandemic prompted some people to think about taking advantage of the relatively low mortgage rates of 2020-21. For some of these people, the changes to home prices and mortgage rates have hampered or altogether ruled out such moves. “Prices have jumped very quickly, and in some cases completely priced buyers out of the market or caused them to readjust what they can afford and make some big compromises,” Ameer said. “This trend, coupled with low inventory, is causing multiple offers across all price points which are driving prices up even further on top of some crazy asking prices to begin with. With rising interest rates, it is the trifecta of the perfect storm, unfortunately for buyers and would-be buyers who would sell their home if they could afford somewhere else to go,” she added. Ameer described a market in which would-be buyers face heightened pressures all around. The rents that they currently pay have risen markedly, which prompts them to look seriously at buying, but the rapid changes to prices and interest rates have simply priced many of them out. The trend is the same across many of the biggest and most sought-after real estate markets throughout the country, from California to Massachusetts to Florida. “I regularly talk with agents, many working with buyers, including first-time buyers. Yes, many are being priced out of the market,” said Francois Gregoire, a realtor and appraiser based in Tampa Bay, Florida. Appraisals that Gregoire has undertaken recently in Pinellas County, Florida, provide a sense of just how acute the price hikes are in certain markets. In one area of southeast Clearwater, he noted, the median listing price rose by 17.9 percent from March 2021 to March 2022, from $427,500 to $504,000, and in an area of northwest St. Petersburg, the median rose 25 percent from April 2021 to April 2022, from $324,500 to $405,000. Although some of the change is a function of sellers flipping and remodeling properties, Gregoire said, the change in listed prices is nevertheless dramatic. Potential Remedies Observers hold out hope that the most worrying trends are temporary, though whether they will abate before the midterm elections is highly uncertain. “I think the Fed is doing its best right now to curb inflation. You have so many things going on in the world right now which leads to an inflation spiral. My sense is that it’s going to level off and then we’re going to get into a more normal economy,” Scheier, the real estate attorney, said. Realtor Ameer sees a few possible ways to alleviate the inventory shortfall and level the field a bit in favor of buyers, especially those who are not super-wealthy. In her analysis, the trend in recent years of corporate purchasers buying up large rental portfolios has helped constrict the number of homes available for sale. “Markets wax and wane, but perhaps some regulations can be put in place to limit the amount of residential properties any particular company can own in a given zip code, county, or city,” she said. Ameer also sees a need to improve the prospects for buyers who plan to be owner-occupants but cannot compete with cash offers. Many first-time homebuyer programs are unavailable for buyers who make too much money to qualify for them, but not enough money to avoid getting outbid when they seek to buy a home or condo, she said. Moreover, changes to the appraisal process could also be made to ensure that the valuations of properties put forward by inexperienced appraisers do not stay on the books. “The appraisal process has become antiquated and a huge wild card that often prevents buyers from being able to compete with cash offers,” Ameer said. But to some observers, overregulation seriously compounds the lack of inventory. In realtor Gregoire’s view, it would be wise to slash regulatory red tape that currently inhibits development and construction and commonly results in a lag of five years between the concept for a building and its completion. In the view of real estate sales executive Pruner, excessive federal largesse is another culprit. “Washington poured $2 trillion into the economy, and that really drove up prices. It was too much relief, more than was needed. You ended up with classic supply-demand inflation, where there was far more demand for the available supplies that were out there,” Pruner said. Tyler Durden Mon, 05/16/2022 - 11:24.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMay 16th, 2022

"A "Perfect Storm": Sharp Rise In Home Prices, Mortgage Rates Driving Working Americans Out Of The Market

"A 'Perfect Storm': Sharp Rise In Home Prices, Mortgage Rates Driving Working Americans Out Of The Market Authored by Michael Washburn via The Epoch Times, The dramatic rise in home prices and mortgage rates in the early months of 2022 has had a relatively limited effect on wealthy buyers and sellers, but has had a severe impact on lower-income Americans - and the Democratic Party may pay a steep price for their frustrations in the November midterm elections and beyond, according to real estate analysts and commentators. Average payments on mortgages went from 3 percent to 5 percent in the first three months of the year, and are now 38 percent higher than a year ago, according to a Politico report citing figures from real estate listing service Zillow. Partly because of inflation, the average rate on 30-year mortgages this week hit 5.46 percent, the highest figure since August 2009, according to Bankrate statistics. Rates are up across the board, including 30-year fixed rates, 15-year fixed rates, and 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) rates. As of April 2022, the median home price in America stood at $344,141, a 20.9 percent leap from a year before, Zillow states. Inflation, driven by the pandemic and other factors including the government’s expansionist monetary and fiscal policies, has contributed to adverse market conditions where lower-income voters whom the Democratic Party claims to represent have it the hardest. The sharply rising mortgage rates, compounded by an inventory shortfall, are driving many prospective buyers out of the market, experts say. President Joe Biden replies to questions from the media after delivering remarks on inflation and lower costs for working families in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS) Lower-End Buyers Bear the Brunt Some who work in real estate say that the competition for a limited number of houses has reached levels that they have rarely seen in years, and affects lower-income buyers above all. “I think it probably does disproportionately affect the lower end. If you’re at the higher end of the market, and rates are in the 4s or 5s, that’s not a crazy number. But if you’re trying to get in, a fluctuation in the interest rates can price you out and make you not able to compete with the cash developers,” said Zachary Schorr, a real estate attorney based in Los Angeles. “The real estate market has been going up and up, outpacing income. As that disparity keeps growing, it becomes increasingly difficult for the lower end to get into entry-level homes,” he said. High inflation and global uncertainty fostered by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine are commonly offered as reasons for high mortgage rates, but they only partly explain why buyers have it so hard. The relatively low number of houses on the market is due partly to the fact that some homeowners who might otherwise be inclined to sell do not want to have to go looking for new homes in the current market, according to Mark Pruner, a sales executive at Compass Real Estate in Greenwich, Connecticut. “One of the reasons we have low inventory is that many sellers, particularly ones who bought post-recession, have ‘silver handcuffs’ in that they have a very low-interest rate on their mortgage. If they were to list their house, i.e., add it to the inventory and alleviate pressure on buyers, they would be looking at higher prices, higher interest rates, and substantially higher monthly payments” on a new home they set out to acquire, Pruner explained. Hence the market in which Pruner operates is far more favorable to wealthy buyers. In Greenwich, 50 percent of the home sales he handles are cash deals, and 20 percent take place without a mortgage contingency in the contract, because buyers are not worried about their ability to get financing. The median price for sales in Pruner’s market is $384,400, and in 2021 the lowest value of a home sold through his agency was $450,000, he said. Pictures of properties for rent or sale hang on the window of a real estate company on Sept. 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images) Buyers Give Up In the face of these trends, some buyers are simply abandoning their plans. “It’s gotten to a point where it is almost impossible for real estate brokers to do their job. There is such a lack of inventory, and so many more buyers than sellers,” said Mark Scheier, managing attorney of Scheier Katin & Epstein, an Acton, Massachusetts-based law firm with a focus on real estate. “It just becomes a joke for a lot of people. After six or seven tries at buying a house, they just give up. I’ve had two clients in the last week tell me, because of increasing mortgage rates, that they’re out of the buying market and will continue to rent. I think you’re going to see a lot more of that,” Scheier added. The current state of the market is highly favorable to cash buyers unaffected by changes to the interest on mortgage loans. “I’ve never seen so many cash buyers in over four decades. They are a tremendous number,” Scheier said. The lack of inventory is so severe that trying to be a real estate agent in this market exacts a toll, said Cara Ameer, a realtor at Coldwell Banker in Orange County, California. “Real estate agents are worn out from having to vigorously monitor inventory 24/7 to be ready literally to pounce on a new listing the moment it hits,” she said. In addition, buyers feel enormous pressure to buy sight unseen or to commit to prices way beyond what they can reasonably afford in order to secure a property before cash purchasers snatch it up. The rise in mortgage rates, and the higher monthly payments on homes, are likely to hit people at the lower end of the socio-economic scale the hardest even as they contemplate purchases in the mid-market range. In Acton and in Cape Cod, where Scheier handles large numbers of transactions, a $500,000 house is a relatively modest one. “For the poor couple trying to scrape together $100,000 as a down payment, now they’re looking at an increase of $500 a month or more over what they would have paid three months ago. That’s going to create significant changes in the whole dynamics,” Scheier said. Scheier has noted a number of changes in home-buying protocols in the markets where he works. Some buyers are foregoing spending money on inspections of homes prior to closing, even though inspections may be necessary to alert them to potentially serious damages or structural flaws that may be expensive to fix. Some are waiving mortgage contingencies, which are clauses in homebuying contracts that give buyers an out if financing falls through and provides that the seller will return their deposit and relist the home. A home for sale in Mount Lebanon, Pa., on Sept. 21, 2021. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo) Thwarted Dreams The pandemic of the past two-plus years inspired some people to reflect on how they live and on whether they might benefit from having a secondary property or a new primary residence, observed Ameer. Besides remote working arrangements, the pandemic prompted some people to think about taking advantage of the relatively low mortgage rates of 2020-21. For some of these people, the changes to home prices and mortgage rates have hampered or altogether ruled out such moves. “Prices have jumped very quickly, and in some cases completely priced buyers out of the market or caused them to readjust what they can afford and make some big compromises,” Ameer said. “This trend, coupled with low inventory, is causing multiple offers across all price points which are driving prices up even further on top of some crazy asking prices to begin with. With rising interest rates, it is the trifecta of the perfect storm, unfortunately for buyers and would-be buyers who would sell their home if they could afford somewhere else to go,” she added. Ameer described a market in which would-be buyers face heightened pressures all around. The rents that they currently pay have risen markedly, which prompts them to look seriously at buying, but the rapid changes to prices and interest rates have simply priced many of them out. The trend is the same across many of the biggest and most sought-after real estate markets throughout the country, from California to Massachusetts to Florida. “I regularly talk with agents, many working with buyers, including first-time buyers. Yes, many are being priced out of the market,” said Francois Gregoire, a realtor and appraiser based in Tampa Bay, Florida. Appraisals that Gregoire has undertaken recently in Pinellas County, Florida, provide a sense of just how acute the price hikes are in certain markets. In one area of southeast Clearwater, he noted, the median listing price rose by 17.9 percent from March 2021 to March 2022, from $427,500 to $504,000, and in an area of northwest St. Petersburg, the median rose 25 percent from April 2021 to April 2022, from $324,500 to $405,000. Although some of the change is a function of sellers flipping and remodeling properties, Gregoire said, the change in listed prices is nevertheless dramatic. Potential Remedies Observers hold out hope that the most worrying trends are temporary, though whether they will abate before the midterm elections is highly uncertain. “I think the Fed is doing its best right now to curb inflation. You have so many things going on in the world right now which leads to an inflation spiral. My sense is that it’s going to level off and then we’re going to get into a more normal economy,” Scheier, the real estate attorney, said. Realtor Ameer sees a few possible ways to alleviate the inventory shortfall and level the field a bit in favor of buyers, especially those who are not super-wealthy. In her analysis, the trend in recent years of corporate purchasers buying up large rental portfolios has helped constrict the number of homes available for sale. “Markets wax and wane, but perhaps some regulations can be put in place to limit the amount of residential properties any particular company can own in a given zip code, county, or city,” she said. Ameer also sees a need to improve the prospects for buyers who plan to be owner-occupants but cannot compete with cash offers. Many first-time homebuyer programs are unavailable for buyers who make too much money to qualify for them, but not enough money to avoid getting outbid when they seek to buy a home or condo, she said. Moreover, changes to the appraisal process could also be made to ensure that the valuations of properties put forward by inexperienced appraisers do not stay on the books. “The appraisal process has become antiquated and a huge wild card that often prevents buyers from being able to compete with cash offers,” Ameer said. But to some observers, overregulation seriously compounds the lack of inventory. In realtor Gregoire’s view, it would be wise to slash regulatory red tape that currently inhibits development and construction and commonly results in a lag of five years between the concept for a building and its completion. In the view of real estate sales executive Pruner, excessive federal largesse is another culprit. “Washington poured $2 trillion into the economy, and that really drove up prices. It was too much relief, more than was needed. You ended up with classic supply-demand inflation, where there was far more demand for the available supplies that were out there,” Pruner said. Tyler Durden Mon, 05/16/2022 - 11:24.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMay 16th, 2022

Cause Of Spike In Homeless Deaths In LA During First Year Of Pandemic Revealed

Cause Of Spike In Homeless Deaths In LA During First Year Of Pandemic Revealed Authored by Jack Phillips via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours), There was a more than 50 percent spike in deaths among Los Angeles County’s homeless population during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recently released data, which found that it was mainly driven by overdoses—not COVID-19. A homeless encampment in near the popular boardwalk area of Venice Beach, Calif., on June 9, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times) Los Angeles County, which has been dominated by Democratic executives and elected officials for years, said that between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, some 1,988 overall deaths among the homeless were recorded. That’s up about 56 percent from 1,271 deaths during the same time period one year earlier, said a report from the LA Department of Public Health, dated April 22. As a result, the county concluded that drug overdoses remained the top cause of death among homeless individuals during that timeframe. Overdose deaths also increased 78 percent “from the pre- to post-pandemic onset year,” the country wrote. There were 402 fatal overdoses in the pre-pandemic year, the country said. That “nearly doubled” to 715 in the first year of the outbreak, LA County said. “The findings in this report reflect a true state of emergency,” said LA County First District Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement. “In a civil society, it is unacceptable for any of us to not be profoundly disturbed by the shocking needs documented in this year’s homeless mortality report.” Arson within a homeless encampment creates smoke from fires in Los Angeles, Calif., on Jan. 2, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)A homeless encampment in downtoen Los Angeles on Jan. 20, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times) Heart disease was the second leading causing of death—increasing 29 percent year-over-year—and COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death, said the report. Traffic injuries and homicide were the fourth and fifth leading causes of death, respectively, during that time period, according to officials. “The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on people experiencing homelessness has clearly extended beyond the immediate effects of this new and deadly virus,” Los Angeles Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. “The pandemic has exacerbated stressors already burdening this vulnerable population.” Los Angeles, which has favorable weather conditions, is home to the city’s notorious Skid Row district, which has been home to a significant number of homeless people for years now. Recent video footage uploaded to YouTube shows the area dominated by tents, cardboard shelters, old RVs, plywood structures, and other makeshift living quarters strewn about sidewalks and in parking spots. A study of San Francisco homeless deaths that was released in March 2022 revealed a similar trend. There were some 331 total homeless fatalities between March 2020 and March 2021, more than twice the previous year, according to findings posted by the University of California San Francisco and the city’s Department of Public Health. They found that drug overdoses were the leading cause of death during the first pandemic year. Meanwhile, a study released last week by the University of California-Los Angeles found that the overall quality of life in Los Angeles has dropped to its lowest levels in years. The so-called Quality of Life Index survey dipped to an overall rating of 53 out of 100, down five points from last year, according to UCLA. Tyler Durden Tue, 04/26/2022 - 22:20.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeApr 27th, 2022

Republicans Are Punishing Disney for Opposing Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay Law.’ Here’s What That Means for the Company

Having benefited from limited red tape and exemptions from certain taxes for 55 years within the special taxing district, Disney—and quite possibly local taxpayers—could lose out from the district’s dissolution. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis terminated Disney’s special tax status in Florida, signing legislation on Friday that effectively punishes the entertainment giant for its opposition to the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. The measure, which passed swiftly through the state’s GOP-led House and Senate this week, strips Disney of protections that have allowed the company’s theme park to self-govern for nearly six decades within a special Orlando-area taxing district. DeSantis’s move is a financial and operational blow to Disney, since its theme park and resort have benefited from limited red tape and certain tax exemptions. Why is Gov. DeSantis targeting Disney? [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Disney chief executive, Bob Chapek angered Republican lawmakers when he said at a shareholder meeting on March 9 that he had called DeSantis to “express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.” Chapek also said Disney would review the political contributions it makes to Republican lawmakers who supported the bill. Many other critics have labeled the so-called Don’t Say Gay law as discriminatory, as it bans teaching sexual orientation and gender identity in primary schools. It was signed into law in late March. Read more: Florida Just Passed the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. Here’s What It Means for Kids The new law highlights the collision of two national trends: A deeper involvement of companies in social-political discourse and a growing eagerness among lawmakers to strike blows against corporations with legislative measures. As more socially-conscious younger generations demand higher levels of corporate responsibility, employers like Disney are forced to balance their needs with the conservative views of some Republican lawmakers. Last year, after Texas enacted a law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Citigroup offered to cover the travel expenses of employees traveling out of state for abortions. One lawmaker in the state threatened to introduce legislation that would prevent the bank from underwriting municipal bonds in the state. Here’s what to know about the new law and what it means for Disney: What does the legislation do to Disney? The law dissolves Disney’s special taxing district in June 2023. Known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the 40-square-mile zone allowed the company to run its resort like a municipal government. The status helped Disney circumvent some state and county regulations when constructing, expanding, or improving its parks, and allowed it to run its own emergency services in the district. The company was also exempt from many taxes and fees, which saved it tens of millions of dollars a year. It’s unclear exactly how much Florida’s move will cost Disney. Disney’s loss will also have an impact on local taxpayers. Disney contributed the bulk of the $153 million in tax revenue and fees collected in the district over the last fiscal year. Now, Reedy Creek’s governance becomes the responsibility of nearby Orange and Osceola counties, and taxpayers there may now get saddled with millions of dollars in bond debt taken on by Reedy Creek in recent years. Democratic state lawmakers say the interest on those bonds equates to an additional tax burden of $580 per person for the 1.7 million residents of the counties. How has Disney responded? Disney’s revenue growth is at stake with the possible loss of special tax district status, as the company will not only lose autonomy but its expenses are likely to increase. Following a pandemic-induced dent in sales, Disney’s theme parks have been enjoying a boom. As lockdown restrictions eased, attendance at the company’s parks grew throughout 2021. A hike in ticket prices sent revenue for the final quarter of last year up to $7.2 billion, compared to $3.6 billion in the same period of 2020. The increase helped the parks attendance generate a third of Disney’s $22 billion in quarterly revenue. What happens next? DeSantis’s salvo could have national implications, possibly emboldening lawmakers in other states to strike out against major corporations whose leaders disagree with their policies. For Disney, the Reedy Creek district’s imminent dissolution, could mean that it will apply to reestablish its status, but at the time of writing, Disney has not yet addressed the issue publicly. The company did not respond to TIME’s request for comment. The new law is a big win for Gov. DeSantis as he continues to stoke culture war issues ahead of a potential 2024 presidential run. “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” DeSantis wrote in a recent campaign fundraising email......»»

Category: topSource: timeApr 22nd, 2022

Los Angeles County Fears RV Encampments May "Spill Over" Into Unincorporated Areas

Los Angeles County Fears RV Encampments May "Spill Over" Into Unincorporated Areas Authored by Jamie Joseph via The Epoch Times, The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is concerned that homeless people from vehicle encampments in the City of Los Angeles will spill over into unincorporated county areas after the city resumed its parking enforcement policies earlier this month. During a board meeting on April 19, the supervisors passed a motion that will require the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) in collaboration with the CEO Homeless Initiative to report back within two weeks “with recommendations to mitigate any potential spillover effects of the City of Los Angeles’s RV enforcement for unincorporated areas,” according to the motion. On April 6, the Los Angeles City Council, which operates separately from the county supervisors, directed the department of transportation to resume enforcement of parked vehicles that were suspended during the pandemic. The enforcement directive identified five categories of vehicles that would be subject to immediate removal: if they present a traffic safety hazard, environmental or public health threat, interfere with public works projects or special events, or if they are inoperable or unregistered. Enforcement for all other vehicles not following parking restrictions will begin May 15. “This is a very responsible and I think much needed motion about hopefully some coordination with some additional housing resources,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said during the meeting. “But it’s likely to [cause] an abrupt increase for us in RV encampments in our surrounding areas.” Kuehl said the board has been clear regarding past motions to address RV encampments that they don’t want to “see an increased criminalization of folks who simply have nowhere else to go.” The board attempted to address the RV encampments in 2018 and offer RV dwellers housing and resources, and those efforts were revisited in January to implement strategic outreach. Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she’s walked by some of the parked RVs that are not running and seen them dump waste into the street’s gutters. “I saw it firsthand, so if you look at it from an environmental impact standpoint, it is real,” Barger said. “I highly encourage the department’s report back to develop community outreach strategy for the counties unincorporated areas that are most likely to be impacted by the effects of this policy change.” Meanwhile, resident Lucy Han and founder of Friends of the Jungle—a local environmental advocacy nonprofit—has been sounding the alarm on the RV encampment in the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, the city’s largest wetland in Playa del Rey. The unincorporated wetlands fall under the city’s authority. She told The Epoch Times that “the county is wiping their hands of the wetlands and marsh because it is the city’s jurisdiction.” “The city and county should work together to find spots and prioritize high category tows; they should work together but they’re not,” she said. The county’s move, she says, does not affect the city’s decision to enforce parking violations since the two authorities don’t work together. “Which is unfortunate because the wetlands are Indian burial grounds, and they are … dumping their propane tanks in this environmentally sensitive wetland,” Han said. Tyler Durden Thu, 04/21/2022 - 21:00.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeApr 21st, 2022

Florida Republicans Want to Punish Disney for Opposing the ‘Don’t Say Gay Law.’ Here’s What That Means for the Company

Having benefited from limited red tape and exemptions from certain taxes for 55 years within the special taxing district, Disney—and quite possibly local taxpayers—could lose out from the district’s dissolution. Florida’s Senate passed a bill this week that would effectively punish Disney for its opposition to the state’s new “Don’t Say Gay” law. The measure proposes to strip the company of protections within a special Orlando-area taxing district that have allowed it to self-govern its theme park for nearly six decades. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis introduced the bill in what was widely seen as retaliation against Disney’s opposition to what critics are calling a discriminatory legislative measure, as it bans LGBTQ teaching in primary schools. The new legislative proposal would be a blow to Disney, since its theme park and resort have benefited from limited red tape and exemptions from certain taxes for 55 years within the special taxing district. It could also hurt local taxpayers, who could lose out from the district’s dissolution. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Why is Gov. DeSantis targeting Disney? Disney angered Republican lawmakers when the company’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, said in a shareholder meeting March 9 that he had called DeSantis to “express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.” Chapek also announced that Disney would review the political donations it makes to Republican lawmakers who supported the bill. Read more: Florida Just Passed the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. Here’s What It Means for Kids The proposed law highlights the confluence of two national trends: A deeper involvement of companies in social-political discourse and a growing eagerness among lawmakers to strike blows against corporations with legislative measures. As more socially-conscious younger generations demand higher levels of corporate responsibility, employers like Disney are forced to balance their needs with the conservative views of some Republican lawmakers. Last year, after Texas enacted a law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, Citigroup offered to cover the travel expenses of employees traveling out of state for abortions. One lawmaker in the state threatened to introduce legislation that would prevent the bank from underwriting municipal bonds in the state. Here’s what to know about the bill and what it means for Disney: What would the legislation do to Disney? The bill, passed by the Florida Senate 23 votes to 16, would dissolve Disney’s special taxing district in June 2023. Known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the 40-square-mile zone allows the company to run its resort like a municipal government. The status allows Disney to circumvent some state and county regulations when constructing, expanding, or improving its parks, and allows it to run its own emergency services in the district. It’s also exempt from many taxes and fees, which saves the company tens of millions of dollars a year. Stripping Reedy Creek of its special status would remove the Disney resort’s autonomy and likely introduce legislative complications that the company has been able to avoid for 55 years. Disney contributed the bulk of the $153 million in tax revenue and fees collected in the district over the last fiscal year. It’s unclear exactly how much the proposed legislation could cost the company if passed, but it would also have an impact on local taxpayers. Reedy Creek’s governance would become the responsibility of Orange County and Osceola County. This means that taxpayers could be saddled with millions of dollars in bond debt taken on by Reedy Creek in recent years. Democratic state lawmakers say the interest on those bonds equates to an additional tax burden of $580 per person for the 1.7 million residents of Orange and Osceola counties. How has Disney responded? Disney’s revenue growth is at stake with the possible loss of special tax district status, as the company would not only lose autonomy but its expenses would undoubtedly increase. Following a pandemic-induced dent in sales, Disney’s theme parks are enjoying a boom. As lockdown restrictions eased, attendance at the company’s parks grew throughout 2021. A hike in ticket prices sent revenue for the final quarter of last year up to $7.2 billion, compared to $3.6 billion in the same period of 2020. The increase helped the parks attendance generate a third of Disney’s $22 billion in quarterly revenue. If the new bill is passed into law and the Reedy Creek district is dissolved, the company could apply to reestablish it. At the time of writing, Disney has not yet addressed the issue publicly. Disney did not respond to TIME’s request for comment. What could happen next? Florida’s Republican-led House is expected to vote on the measure on April 21. The legislation would be a big win for Gov. DeSantis, who has been stoking culture war issues ahead of a potential 2024 presidential run. “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” DeSantis wrote in a recent campaign fundraising email......»»

Category: topSource: timeApr 21st, 2022

California"s Vanished Dream, By The Numbers

California's Vanished Dream, By The Numbers Authored by Joel Kotkin via RealClear Investigations, Even today amid a mounting exodus among those who can afford it, and with its appeal diminished to businesses and newcomers, California, legendary state of American dreams, continues to inspire optimism among progressive boosters. Laura Tyson, the longtime Democratic economist now at the University of California at Berkeley, praises the state for creating “the way forward” to a more enlightened “market capitalism.” Like-minded analysts tout Silicon Valley’s massive wealth generation as evidence of progressivism’s promise. The Los Angeles Times suggested approvingly that the Biden administration’s goal is to “make America California again.” And, despite dark prospects in November’s midterm elections, the President and his party still seem intent on proving it. But most Californians, according to recent surveys, see things differently. They point to rising poverty and inequality, believe the state is in recession and that it is headed in the wrong direction. Parting with the state’s cheerleaders, the New York Times’ Ezra Klein, a reliable progressive and native Californian, says the Golden State’s failures are “making liberals squirm.” Reality may well be worse than even Klein admits. In a new report for Chapman University, my colleagues and I find California in a state of existential crisis, losing both its middle-aged and middle class, while its poor population faces dimming prospects. Despite the state’s myriad advantages, research shows it plagued by economic immobility and inequality, crushing housing and energy costs, and a failing education system. Worse than just a case of progressive policies creating regressive outcomes, it appears California is descending into something resembling modern-day feudalism, with the poor and weak trapped by policies subsidized by taxes paid by the rich and powerful. California may conjure images of Rodeo Drive and Malibu mansions in the public imagination, but today the state suffers the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate in the U.S. The poor and near-poor constitute over one third – well over 10 million – of the state’s residents according to the Public Policy Institute of California. Los Angeles, by far the state’s largest metropolitan area, and once a magnet for middle class aspirations, has one of the highest poverty rates among major U.S. cities. A United Way of California analysis shows that over 30 percent of residents lack sufficient income to cover basic living costs even after accounting for public-assistance programs; this includes half of Latino and 40 percent of black residents. Some two-thirds of noncitizen Latinos live at or below the poverty line. While many Californians are fleeing, some are decidedly less bearish. “In California, there is this idea of ‘Oh, we care about the poor,’ but on this metric, we are literally the worst,” Stanford’s University’s Mark Duggan, principal author of an economic comparison of California with Texas, told the San Francisco Chronicle. The state’s poverty and associated dysfunction are on full display in leading cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where a large underclass now inhabits the streets – the once-iconic locales having become poster children for urban dysfunction. Beyond massive homeless camps, crime has become so bad that the LAPD has warned tourists it can no longer protect them. San Francisco, meanwhile, suffers the highest property crime rate in the country. Businesses like Walgreens have shut down numerous Bay Area locations due to “rampant burglaries.” Homelessness and crime increasingly dominate the state’s political discourse, particularly in these two deep blue bastions. California also faces growing inequality. By the Gini index, a measure of the distribution of income across a population, California has the third-highest inequality behind New York and Louisiana, and has experienced the fifth largest expansion of inequality since 2010, according to American Community Survey data. California also suffers the widest gap between middle- and upper-middle-income earners of any state. In leading cities, homeless encampments line streets such as San Francisco's Golden Gate Avenue. AP Once among the most egalitarian regions in the country, Silicon Valley has become among the most segregated places in the country. CityLab has described the technology hub as “a region of segregated innovation,” a trend becoming more pronounced, according to recent research. Silicon Valley now boasts its own underclass of those who clean its buildings and provide food service. Nearly 30 percent of its residents rely on public or private financial assistance. Similarly, according to the Brookings Institution, San Francisco, the technology industry’s most important urban center, has experienced the most rapid growth in inequality among the nation’s large cities in the last decade. The California Budget and Policy Center has named the city first in California for economic inequality; the average income of the top one percent of households in the city averages $3.6 million, forty-four times the average income of the bottom 99 percent, which stands at $81,094 in a city and state with a high cost of living. The situation is worse elsewhere in the state. Over the past decade more than 80 percent of California jobs paid under the median income, and most under $40,000 annually, a poverty wage in California. Worse yet, as demonstrated in our analysis, California lags all peer competitors – Texas, Arizona, Tennessee, Nevada, Washington and Colorado – in creating high wage jobs in fields like business and professional services, as even tech growth begins to shift elsewhere. The biggest losers in California have been those industries that historically provided the best opportunities for working-class people – manufacturing, construction, energy – as well as agriculture, the state’s historic economic powerhouse. On a per capita basis, California builds only a fraction of the housing compared to its main rivals, while corporate new investment, suggests a new Hoover Institution study, has shriveled to a rate one-tenth Texas and one-sixteenth that of Ohio. The state’s climate change policies, however well-intentioned, have had a particularly devastating impact on manufacturing. California’s “renewable energy” push has generated high energy prices and the nation’s least-reliable power grid, crippling an industry reliant on fossil fuels and a stable electric supply. The state fell to 44th in the country in manufacturing sector employment growth last year; its industrial new job creation has lagged competitors such as Nevada, Kentucky, Michigan and Florida. Even without adjusting for costs, no California metro ranks in the U.S. top ten in terms of offering well-paying blue-collar jobs, notes The New York Times. But four – Ventura, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego – sit among the bottom ten. Under California’s green agenda, electricity has skyrocketed while its grid has become less stable. Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity As the environmentalist Breakthrough Institute summarizes it, the state’s climate agenda has created a “new Green Jim Crow era” keeping more people, particularly minorities, in poverty. Housing policy has also hurt most those who can least afford it. California’s state planning policies aim to reduce urban sprawl – the shift to locales where costs are lower and the state is gaining migrants. The heavily minority Inland Empire, which has little political influence, now has more people than the San Francisco metropolitan area, which dominates state politics, but the former is unable to reverse any of these policies. Despite expectations by planners that limiting suburban growth would reduce prices for the masses and greenhouse emissions by encouraging density, studies in Vancouver, Canada and several other locations have shown the opposite; they associate densification with higher land and housing prices. California has the highest urban density of any state, yet suffers the second highest housing costs and rents of any state except Hawaii. On this issue, some media coverage appears to have been influenced by the pro-density preferences of tech titans like Mark Zuckerberg. Striving, largely minority middle- and working-class families bear the brunt of such policies. According to a recent American Enterprise Institute survey, California is home to six of the nation’s worst markets for first-time homebuyers. It would take more than 100 years for the median-income household to save for a mortgage on a median-priced home in San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Jose. The state now ranks 49th in homeownership rate, producing far less new housing than competitive regions like Arizona, Texas or Florida. A recent study by economist John Husing found not one unionized construction worker can afford a median-priced home in any coastal California county. Unable to buy their own home, many working class families find themselves paying extraordinarily high rents, with more than half of all renters shelling out in excess of 30% of household income, the traditional definition of an outsized housing burden. Nearly four in ten California households meet or exceed this level. Not surprisingly, one quarter are contemplating a move elsewhere. High rents and house prices, along with low wages, also have produced the nation’s highest level of overcrowding. Nor has densification brought the purported environmental benefits cited by California’s champions at Brookings and in the Biden Administration; the pro-density Terner Center projects that if California’s cities followed the density guidelines, at best the state would see a 1% reduction in emissions. Manifest Education Failures Historically education was seen – particularly among traditional liberals – as critical to upward mobility for poor and working-class people. Yet for decades the state’s schools have underperformed national norms, particularly for poor students. Since 1998, California has ranked, on average, 46th in 8th-grade reading and mathematics subject-area performance on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), the only comparable assessment between states nationwide. This includes comparisons with demographically similar states like Texas, which spends less money per student. Today, almost three of five California high schoolers are not prepared for either college or a career; the percentages are far higher for Latinos, African Americans, and the economically disadvantaged. Among the 50 states, California ranked 49th in the performance of poor, largely minority, students. San Francisco, the epicenter of California’s woke culture, and site of the recent recall of several far-left school board members, suffers the worst scores for African Americans of any county in the state. These students are often unprepared for college. At California State University – where ethnic studies programs are now mandated – the need for remedial courses or 40 percent of freshmen demonstrates a low level of preparedness in such basic skills as reading comprehension, writing and mathematics. Some educators have decided to eliminate this problem by eliminating remedial classes. California’s model curriculum, which focuses on how to “build new possibilities for post-imperial life that promotes collective narratives of transformative resistance,” may only exacerbate these problems by inculcating attitudes antithetical to those necessary to succeed in a highly competitive capitalist economy. Many California educators from the highest reaches of academia down to the grade school level champion “equity” in education over developing hard math skills and fostering excellence. Even basic life skills such as being on time are eschewed: The San Diego Unified School District will no longer count such scruples as turning in work on time in grading and evaluation. It may reduce the penalties for cheating. This is justified as a way of redressing racial issues, as many of the malefactors (like most California students) are from disadvantaged minority groups. Most Californians support charter schools, including nearly half of all Democrats, and three chapters of the Southern California NAACP – San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside. The state’s powerful teachers unions, and the Democrats they back, oppose such education alternatives. Tech titans, once focused on improving schools, now seem less engaged. This may make sense given the extent to which tech relies on global talent rather than recruiting locally. In 2018, three-quarters of the tech workforce in the Bay Area was foreign-born, a majority on short-term non-immigrant visas. The answer to many of the problems plaguing California’s struggling lower classes has been to throw more of the upper class’s money at them. Michael Bernick, a former director of the state’s Employment Development Department, says “The culture for much of California, driven by state politics, is one of benefits (and now guaranteed income), not a jobs strategy or expectation.” California is unlikely to be devoting the state’s surplus –driven largely by stock and property gains among the wealth – as Texas and other states do, to attracting businesses. Instead, as Bernick suggests, the preference has been to boost the welfare state, as it did in initiating record-setting stimulus payments during the pandemic. It is now contemplating handing out debit cards to cope with high energy prices created by the state’s environmental policies. California’s technology industry consists of staunch funders of the states’ progressive Democrats. They may themselves be obsessed workaholics and living testaments to entrepreneurial capitalism, but Greg Ferenstein, who interviewed 147 digital company founders, says most believe that “an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial ’gig work ‘and government aid.” Many prominent business people, including those who made their fortunes in California such as Zuckerberg, Pierre Omidyar, Elon Musk, and Sam Altman, founder of the Y Combinator, have embraced the notion of a "guaranteed wage," that would cover most critical bills. Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s campaign was built around this concept. In the interim, people are fleeing the state. Demographer Wendell Cox notes that since 2000, California has lost 2.6 million net domestic migrants, more than the current populations of San Diego, San Francisco and Anaheim combined. In 2020, California accounted for 28 percent of all net domestic outmigration in the nation, about 50 percent more than its share of the US population. California’s population growth has fallen below the national average for the first time, and the state appears to have even possibly lost population the last two years. The pandemic seems to have accelerated this movement. Last year California was home to three of the five large regions over one million with the highest percentage population loss – San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts face large decreases in enrollment; the LA district, the state’s largest, projects a 20% cut in this decade. This outmigration trend cannot be dismissed as “white flight.” An analysis of minority population flows shows that Latinos and African Americans are settling increasingly west of the Sierra, particularly in the south, Texas, and parts of the Midwest. Similarly, the foreign-born population – so critical to the state’s economy – has declined in Los Angeles over the past decade, and stagnated in the Bay Area while swelling in places like Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, Houston, Nashville and even midwestern cities like Columbus, Des Moines and Indianapolis. Simply put, California is in danger of losing its youthful mojo. Many of those leaving, according to IRS data, come from young, middle and working class families. When these people leave, birthrates plummet. Los Angeles and San Francisco rank last and second-to-last in birthrates among the 53 U.S. major metropolitan areas. Among California's big metros, only Riverside/San Bernardino exceeds the national average in women aged between 15 and 50 with births. California’s total fertility rate, long above the national average, is now the nation’s 10th lowest. Los Angeles County alone has lost three quarters of a million people under 25 over the past twenty years. California today is as old as the rest of the country and aging 50 percent faster than the national norm. It is rapidly replacing the surfboard with a walker. *  *  * Joel Kotkin is a Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Tyler Durden Fri, 04/15/2022 - 22:15.....»»

Category: worldSource: nytApr 15th, 2022

Longtime Disney Cast Member Speaks Out: "We Are Ashamed To Work For This Company"

Longtime Disney Cast Member Speaks Out: 'We Are Ashamed To Work For This Company' Authored by Patricia Tolson via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours), As the battle between Florida and The Walt Disney Co. executives continues to rage on, a longtime employee of Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando is speaking out, sharing how he and the majority of his fellow cast members are “ashamed to work for this company.” Protestors rally in opposition to The Walt Disney Co.'s stance against a recently passed Florida law outside of the company's headquarters in Burbank, Calif., on April 6, 2022. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times) The employee, a custodial cast member of 35 years for Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park, spoke to The Epoch Times under the condition of anonymity for the fear of being fired. He said Disney’s stance against the Parental Rights in Education bill is just another part of the ongoing effort of the company’s new progressive management to push their “California Disney liberal policies” onto the Disney experience of the Sunshine State. “They’re calling it the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill,” the cast member told The Epoch Times. “It’s not a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. It’s a parental rights issue.” As The Epoch Times recently reported, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law on March 28, 2022. House Bill 1557, inaccurately branded by liberal opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prohibits Florida educators from teaching anything about sexual orientation or gender identity to children in Kindergarten through third grade and enables parents to sue if they believe schools or instructors have violated the law. A week prior, after facing pressure from LGBTQ communities and staff for his silence, Disney CEO Bob Chapek issued a statement apologizing for not being a “stronger ally” to them, calling the bill “yet another challenge to basic human rights.” Chapek then announced Disney would immediately halt all political donations in Florida. In a March 28 statement, Disney’s corporate office vowed to have the law repealed and to support organizations that tried to do the same. After the Covid-19 outbreak, the vaccine mandates were introduced, the Disney cast member said, and employees were told they would lose their jobs if they did not conform. “Thank God DeSantis slapped that down,” the Orlando cast member said. Then Disney CEO Bob Chapek and Disney President Josh D’Amaro decided it would be a good idea to protest the Parental Rights in Education law, which the Orlando Cast member said the majority of his fellow Disney employees support. As The Epoch Times reported April 1, DeSantis floated the possibility at a March 31 press conference that lawmakers might repeal the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act in response to Disney’s ongoing opposition. Reedy Creek provides Disney with numerous advantages not enjoyed by Orlando’s other theme parks. The nearly 40 square miles of land that Disney controls, located within the Reedy Creek Improvement District, is exempt from all county—and nearly all state—regulations. This means that, among other things, Disney is exempt from impact fees, building codes, surface water control, drainage, and all waste treatment regulations. Another Disney employee, an openly gay cast member named Gary Lucia, shared the same sentiments in a lengthy essay he posted online, in which he condemned Disney’s new political stance, particularly regarding the Parental Rights in Education legislation. “The purposely misleading nickname ‘Don’t Say Gay’ was a Trojan horse. It drew people in and got them all fired up because they thought the bill was attacking gay people,” Lucia wrote. The Orlando cast member also told The Epoch Times about Disney’s new “diversity and inclusion” policies, described on their website as a “way of amplifying underrepresented voices and untold stories as well as championing the importance of accurate representation in media and entertainment.” “We’ve always included everybody at Disney,” the cast member said. “They didn’t need to come up with this stupid idea. We’re always inclusive. Straight people have been working together with gay people at Disney for years and years and nobody I’ve seen has a problem with anybody. We all do our job, and we don’t care what people do in their private lives. It’s none of our business. We’re there to do our job. It’s a theme park. It’s an entertainment company. There’s no problem with straight and gay people at Disney and there never has been. “What they’re doing with this inclusion clause and the fight over the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is they are creating a problem that never existed before,” he said. “They’re wanting to ‘solve’ a problem that they are creating. Ask the average gay employee at Disney and they will tell you, they agree with DeSantis.” Over the past few days, numerous social media posts have suggest a “silent majority” of Disney’s employees are unhappy with the company’s protest of the legislation. Writer and filmmaker Christopher Rufo released an internal Disney video on social media in which Disney Television Animation executive producer Latoya Raveneau boasted about how she is inserting the “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” into children’s programming and “adding queerness” wherever she can—with Disney’s blessing, and how the company is “going hard” to be supportive. Another segment from the internal video featured Disney Parks’ diversity and inclusion manager, Vivian Ware, announcing how the company has “removed all of the gendered greetings” like “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.” “That is totally ridiculous,” the Orlando cast member said. “We hate that. We can’t believe Chapek and D’Amaro would allow such a stupid idea. I don’t know where these two executives get their ideas.” According to the veteran cast member, Disney should not be interjecting sexual issues into its park policies or shoving transgender characters into movies directed at children. “Kindergarteners don’t know anything about transgenders and sex, and they don’t care,” he added, saying “a very small percentage of people in California have created this problem. They’re catering to a group of liberals in California. We’re not like that in Orlando. This is a Republican red state. Thank God we have Ron DeSantis to slap their hand.” Another thing the Orlando cast member said he finds ridiculous is something Disney instituted about a year ago. For some of the employee restrooms—located in an area he refers to as “the tunnels,” below the Magic Kingdom, where staff clock in and take lunch breaks—they took the urinals out of the men’s restrooms and took down the signs with the male figures and replaced them with gender neutral signs. “It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen,” he said. “On the one sign, you have a stick figure of a man, a stick figure of a woman, and a third stick figure that’s half-male and half-female.” So far, he said they’ve only implemented the idea in the cast area. “They aren’t doing this in the guest area—yet,” he said. “I think guests would go ballistic.” According to the Orlando Disney cast member, the current managers need to go. “We don’t like them. I’m embarrassed to work at Disney World,” he said. He spoke of how Disney conducted an employee survey recently in which he “gently admitted” he wasn’t happy. “But I can’t tell them what I really think,” he said. “If they knew what I was telling you, I’d be fired.” “They’re making cast members who haven’t been vaccinated to wear masks, but a lot of us wear them even if they are vaccinated,” the veteran Orlando cast member shared with some regret. “You know why? Because we’re miserable. We wear the masks because we don’t want the guests to see our faces. We’re walking around pretending we’re happy but under that mask, we’re sad because we are ashamed to work for this company. “I’ve been here for 35 years, and I only have a few years left before I can retire,” he said. “I’m trying to keep my sanity, but it’s very difficult.” The Epoch Times has reached out to Disney for comment. Tyler Durden Sun, 04/10/2022 - 15:30.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytApr 10th, 2022

No Clean Water, Unplowed Streets: What the Public Sector’s Hiring Problem Means For All of Us

In February, roughly one million residents of Austin, Texas, were told to boil their tap water before drinking it, because for three days, people in one of America’s fastest-growing cities did not have access to clean drinking water. One of the main reasons the city utility initially missed the poor water quality? Twenty employees quit… In February, roughly one million residents of Austin, Texas, were told to boil their tap water before drinking it, because for three days, people in one of America’s fastest-growing cities did not have access to clean drinking water. One of the main reasons the city utility initially missed the poor water quality? Twenty employees quit in January, the highest number in at least five years. “We are very challenged right now with our workforce in that we have numerous vacancies,” said Stephanie Sue, Austin’s Water Operations Manager, at a March hearing. “We are asking our staff to do some really important things. They’re working harder than ever and not getting paid as much as their peers are.” [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Many employers across the U.S. are saying they can’t find the workers they need, but the public sector is facing some of the biggest hiring problems. Public sector workers skew older—just 8.1% of the federal workforce is younger than 30, compared to 23 percent of the private sector—and older workers retired en masse during the pandemic. More than half of state and local workers said they were considering leaving their positions voluntarily to retire, change jobs, or leave the workforce entirely, according to a December 2021 survey by MissionSquare Research Institute. Some of the top reasons: they want a higher salary and they feel burned out from the pandemic. Many said that they were shouldering a larger workload since many of their colleagues had left. Because government salaries often can’t match those in the private sector, recruiting new employees is a difficult process. While private-sector employment has surpassed March 2019 levels, there were about 400,000 fewer government employees in March of 2022 than there were in March of 2019. And as the problems in Austin show, vacancies in government jobs can lead to bigger issues than just a company selling fewer hamburgers. The public sector crisis is reverberating across the country. In Brunswick, Maine, an ice rink didn’t open this winter because of a shortage of workers in the parks and recreation department. Philadelphia imposed mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks on its sanitation workers because of staffing issues. A charter school in Delaware offered to pay parents $700 to drive their kids to school because of problems hiring school bus drivers. Read More: Schools Are Raising Pay and Lowering Job Requirements as They Struggle to Hire Substitute Teachers There are the little things that erode when the government is short-staffed: zoning permits take longer to process, and the wait to get a new driver’s license may be even longer than usual. But long-term hiring problems in government could lead to bigger economic issues in the U.S. economy. Public sector employees maintain the roads that workers drive on every day and operate the buses and trains that move them around. On the local level, they educate children, put out fires, and keep drinking water safe. On the federal level, they guide airplanes and create weather forecasts and process taxes. In short, without enough government employees, a lot of things stop working smoothly. “The bottom line is that the people rely on government services, often without realizing it, and the core of the government services on which they rely is the people,” says Don Kettl, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland who studies the public sector. “A neglect of those issues is something that will have an enormous impact on every single citizen in the country.” Olivier Douliery—AFP/Getty ImagesSchool buses are parked at the Arlington County Bus Depot, on January 26, 2022, in Arlington, Virginia. A mass exodus from the public sector For decades, demographers have been warning of a “silver tsunami” or “gray wave” in which Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, would retire. But that tsunami didn’t really happen until the pandemic, says Kettl. Boomers saw their home values and stock market portfolios soar and decided to retire rather than risk contracting COVID-19. In 2019, 1.5 million Baby Boomers retired. In 2020, more than twice as many did. Many of the people who retired were long-time public sector employees who had institutional knowledge and expertise that is hard to replace—especially with public-sector salaries. Some had been working past retirement age, but the vitriol that arose during the pandemic towards government workers because of mask mandates and general frustrations also made many Boomers decide it was time to call it quits. “I have a number of quite senior individuals working for me directly as department heads, they’re all in their mid 50s to early 60s,” says Julia Griffin, the town manager of Hanover, New Hampshire, who is retiring in June. “And I think all of us are feeling that weariness that’s just come from trying to manage in a very dynamic environment with a lot of uncertainty.” In New Hampshire, there were 7.6% fewer government jobs in July 2021 than in July 2019, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. The town of Hanover has about 24 vacancies in a staff of 158, including half of the police department. It can’t find snow plow drivers or employees for its library, water department, or zoning department. Griffin, who has worked in the public sector for 40 years, thinks that the retirement and health care benefits that once lured people like her into the public sector may not be as important for younger workers, since they don’t plan to be at one employer for their whole careers. And many of Hanover’s jobs require workers to go into an office or physical location, which also isn’t as appealing to younger workers, she says. Decades ago, positions like Senior Planner in the zoning department would have 20 or 30 applicants, she says. Today, Hanover is lucky if it gets two. “We can’t find the bodies,” she says. “It’s not that we have a small applicant pool, we have no applicants.” Read More: The Postal Service Delivered on Election Day. But the Agency Remains in Peril The town has so many vacancies in its after school program—five—that Griffin has asked parks and recreation staffers to work at the after school program from 3 p.m. onwards to fill the gaps. A retirement in the town’s water division has meant that there’s only one employee maintaining the water distribution system instead of two. With so much trouble finding police officers, Hanover is thinking of discontinuing some longtime police services, like performing checks on people’s homes when they’re on vacation or helping people who have gotten locked out of their cars. Griffin started researching autonomous snow plows because it’s been so hard to find drivers. The town may wait to plow until there is three inches of snow on the ground, rather than one—something that could cause more car accidents and irk residents, even if they don’t want to pay more in taxes to raise driver pay. These retirements have created a vicious cycle where overworked government workers can’t do their jobs as thoroughly because they’re short-staffed, which frustrates residents. That frustration makes more public sector employees want to leave. “The more short-staffed you get, the more people resign,” says Heather Bollinger, a nurse at San Francisco General, the city’s public hospital. For nurses, short-staffing can be dangerous, she says—for example, a patient who was intubated came out of sedation unexpectedly and tried to pull out his breathing tube, but there was only one nurse available at the time. She had to lie on top of the patient to restrain him. Overworked government employees are starting to express their frustration across the country. In San Francisco, city and county workers marched down Market Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, in late March to protest the 3,800 openings across the city and calling on the city to fill San Francisco’s staffing gaps. “There’s a direct correlation between our quality of life in this city and the lack of staff in our departments,” says Kim Tavaglione, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, which coordinates 150 local unions. “Just look at all the complaints people make about the state of the streets, about trash, about potholes.” San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s office said, in a statement, that the city has lost workers since the pandemic began, and that it’s hard trouble keeping pace with hiring. The city is attempting to reform its hiring practices to allow the city to hire nurses and behavioral health workers in weeks instead of the 6 to 9 months it used to take, the mayor’s office said. How cities are hiring Recruiting younger workers is a tough sell in a tight economy where private sector employers are able to pay a lot more for less responsibility. Governments already have ceilings on what they can pay workers because of a complicated system that sets pay dependent on experience and certifications. Often, giving government workers raises means increasing taxes, which is never popular with the public. Government jobs also have an image problem. While Big Tech companies offer perks like unlimited vacation time, and retail offers to pay for college educations, government is still seen as a creaky bureaucracy where everything takes a long time and not much is accomplished. Kettl, the Maryland professor, says that his students worry that if they join a large government organization, they’ll just become a “cog in the wheel” and not be able to do anything meaningful. “When I think about my network, there’s not a lot of people who say, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to graduate and go work in a local government or in the public sector,’” says Gianluca Cairo, who spent much of his career in the public sector in Canada and who now consults local governments on how to retain and recruit more workers. There’s a big gap between what young workers want, and what they think they’ll get in the public sector, which becomes a problem when other industries are giving them what they want, he says. Some cities are making moves to modernize. The Washington, D.C., city government has started conducting much of its hiring process electronically. Columbus, Ohio, modernized its payroll process so that fewer staff were needed to do the same work, Cairo says. But changes in the public sector can take time. Genaro Baez, who heads human resources for Milwaukee County, has been trying to run the county more like the private sector companies he’s worked for in the past. Milwaukee runs a zoo, a parks system, law enforcement, and transit, among other agencies, but is competing against malls that offer workers $17 an hour, he says. He’s been able to change the hiring process somewhat, scrapping requirements for 4 year degrees for jobs that don’t necessarily need them, and using a new platform to track applicants and process them more quickly. He’s been thinking a lot about retention, and is training managers to make the government more appealing to all workers, as well as allowing some jobs to be remote. And he sidestepped an archaic rule that the county can’t interview candidates for a position until the ad is taken down by making some positions evergreen. In local government HR, Baez is not up against company policy—he’s up against laws. He wants to raise pay for positions with high turnover and a lot of vacancies, like officers at correctional facilities, but those pay rates are written into civil service statutes. Changing them requires a bill to make it through committee and then get ratified by the full board of supervisors. He’s been trying to make some of those changes for years. Some governments are trying to become more flexible, allowing workers to be remote if possible, and introducing more technology so that they need fewer workers. Gartner predicts that governments will spend half a trillion dollars this year in technology to improve the “resilience” of public service. Automation has helped the U.S. Postal Service sort mail, something employees used to spend hours doing—but that also means carriers spend more time on their feet delivering mail. And technology can’t replace many of the jobs that are empty right now in local government. “The business of operating a water treatment plant is not something we can fully automate,” Sue, of Austin Water said, at the March hearing. “It’s something we have to rely heavily on our people and invest in our people.” Austin is currently working on a program to help veterans enter the public sector, the city says, and is trying use stipends and other tools to retain its workforce. Despite all the vacancies, convincing Austin—or any other city—to invest in its people is an uphill battle. In March, Austin Water proposed two options after the boil water advisory, which was the third in four years. The first was to give Austin residents a “goodwill” one-time credit because of the inconvenience caused by having to boil their water for three days. Residential households would get $10, commercial customers would get $50. The total cost would be $3.9 million. The second option was to spend that money to add 12 full-time “core staffing” positions, as well as four support staff and software to modernize its standard operating procedures. That would have cost $3.3 million. The City Council will decide on the two options later this month. In a memo, the director of Austin Water recommended that the city implement the enhanced staffing to “reduce the risk of future operational upsets.” He won’t have very long to argue his case. He, too, has resigned......»»

Category: topSource: timeApr 8th, 2022

Unbeknown To Most, A Financial Revolution Is Coming That Threatens To Change Everything (And Not For The Better)

Unbeknown To Most, A Financial Revolution Is Coming That Threatens To Change Everything (And Not For The Better) Authored by Nick Corbishley via NakedCapitalism.com, Given how much is at stake, this financial revolution is among the most important questions today’s societies could possibly grapple with. It should be under discussion in every parliament of every land, and every dinner table in every country in the world. Around 90 central banks are either in the process of experimenting with or are already piloting central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). In a world of just over 190 countries that is a large contingent, but given they include the European Central Bank (ECB) which alone represents 19 Euro Area economies, the actual number of economies involved is well over 100. They include all G20 economies and together represent more than 90% of global GDP. Three CBDCs have already gone fully live in the past two years: the so-called DCash in the Eastern Caribbean, the Sand Dollar in the Bahamas and the eNaira in Nigeria. The International Monetary Fund, the world’s most powerful supranational financial institution, has been lending its expertise in the roll out of CBDCs. In a recent speech the Fund’s President Kristalina Georgieva lauded the potential benefits (on which more later) of CBDCs while heaping praise on the “ingenuity” of the central banks busily trying to conjure them into existence. Also firmly on board is the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, which helps many of the world’s largest central banks, including the Federal Reserve and the ECB, manage their assets while obviously keeping all potential conflicts of interests at bay. The fund was the largest beneficiary of the Federal Reserve’s bailout of exchange-traded funds during the market rout of Spring 2020. In his latest letter to investors, the CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, said the Ukrainian conflict has the potential to accelerate the development of digital currencies across the world. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has put an end to the globalization we have experienced over the last three decades As a result, a large-scale reorientation of supply chains will inherently be inflationary… “The war will prompt countries to re-evaluate their currency dependencies. Even before the war, several governments were looking to play a more active role in digital currencies and define the regulatory frameworks under which they operate… A global digital payment system, thoughtfully designed, can enhance the settlement of international transactions while reducing the risk of money laundering and corruption. Digital currencies can also help bring down costs of cross-border payments, for example when expatriate workers send earnings back to their families.” On Tuesday (March 22), the Bank for International Settlements published the findings of a study it had conducted with four central banks — the Reserve Bank of Australia, Bank Negara Malaysia, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and the South African Reserve Bank — into the practical challenges of executing cross-border payments between different central bank digital currencies. The report concludes that while major hurdles still remain, financial institutions could use CBDCs issued by participating central banks to transact directly with each other on a shared platform: The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub, the Reserve Bank of Australia, Bank Negara Malaysia, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and the South African Reserve Bank today announced the completion of prototypes for a common platform enabling international settlements using multiple central bank digital currencies (mCBDCs). Led by the Innovation Hub’s Singapore Centre, Project Dunbar proved that financial institutions could use CBDCs issued by participating central banks to transact directly with each other on a shared platform. This has the potential to reduce reliance on intermediaries and, correspondingly, the costs and time taken to process cross-border transactions. The project was organised along three workstreams: one focusing on high-level functional requirements and design, and two concurrent technical streams that developed prototypes on different technological platforms (Corda and Partior). The project identified three critical questions: which entities should be allowed to hold and transact with CBDCs issued on the platform? How could the flow of cross-border payments be simplified while respecting regulatory differences across jurisdictions? What governance arrangements could give countries sufficient comfort to share critical national infrastructure such as a payments system? The project proposed practical solutions for addressing these issues, which were validated through the development of prototypes that demonstrated the technical viability of shared multi-CBDC platforms for international settlements. The findings of the experimental CBDC program could assist in the adoption of CBDC international settlement for G-20 nations, though given the rising geopolitical fissures in the so-called “international rules based order”, it is far from clear which countries would be willing to engage with one another in such a way. China has already launched its own digital yuan and is piloting its use in more than a dozen cities and regions. It has also been experimenting with its cross-border functionality. This has ignited fears in the West that that U.S. “financial leadership” is under threat — fears that have been magnified by the way US and EU sanctions against Russia, particularly the confiscation of a large chunk of Russia’s foreign currency reserves have backfired, encouraging not just Russia but many countries on the planet to seek out an alternative cross-border payments system. At the same time, the U.S. is determined to continue playing a leading role in the new global financial architecture. To that end, it has cobbled together a tentative consortium of “seven of the largest Western-aligned central banks, led in practice by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank… aimed at creating a system of ‘interoperable’ CBDCs,” reports Washington DC-based blogger and analyst NS Lyons in the article, Just Say No to CBDCs. But what are CBDCs? How will they work? What purposes could they serve? How might they affect the general populations of the countries where they are introduced? To answer the first two questions, here’s an excerpt from “Just Say No to CBDCs“: You might assume that you are already using “digital currency” regularly if you rarely use physical cash anymore and instead buy almost everything with a credit card or a digital payment app. In truth, the process of moving money from A to B is vastly more complicated than that. It involves a tangle of payment processors, banks, financial clearinghouses, and, if your money is crossing borders, international communication and exchange systems, such as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). The money itself doesn’t move anywhere fast, so each intermediary institution must assume risks to fulfill your transaction by accepting promises, sending transfers, verifying receipt of funds, and so on. Many fees get collected along the way for such services. A CBDC system would be radically simplified. A customer would open an account directly with a country’s central bank, and the central bank would issue (create) digital money in the account. Crucially, this makes the money a direct liability of the Fed, rather than of a private bank. Using a simple smartphone app or other tools, the customer can then initiate direct transactions between Fed accounts. The digital money is deleted in one account and recreated in another instantaneously. Moving money across borders no longer requires something as complex as SWIFT or wire transfers, and currencies can be exchanged instantly as long as friendly central banks have agreements to do so. No promises or trust are necessary; every transaction is permanently recorded on a digital cryptographic ledger in real time—a bit like Bitcoin, but exquisitely centralized rather than distributed. This brings us to question 3: what purposes will CBDCs serve? The most commonly cited justification for launching CBDCs is to counter the risk posed by so-called “stable coins”, which are relatively new forms of cryptocurrency that are pegged to the value of a fiat currency (e.g, the dollar or the euro), to material assets such as gold or property, or to another cryptocurrency. There are also concerns that tech giants will begin challenging established banks and payment operators for market share in the financial sector, as already happened in China with Tencent and Alibaba. As a recent UK parliamentary report titled “Central Bank Digital Currencies: A Solution in Search of a Problem?!” put it, “the use of physical cash is in decline in many countries and some central banks are worried that this could undermine public confidence in the monetary system if individuals are unable to convert commercial bank money into cash, which is a direct claim on the state.” In March 2020, the Bank of England published a consultation which set out seven ways in which a CBDC could support the Bank’s objectives to maintain monetary and financial stability: By supporting a resilient payments landscape. By avoiding the risks of new forms of private money creation. By supporting competition, efficiency and innovation in payments. By meeting future payment needs in a digital economy. By improving the availability and usability of central bank money. By addressing the consequences of a decline in cash. As an enabler for better cross-border payments. In a speech to mark the launch of the G7’s report on central bank digital currencies, the UK’s Chancellor of Exchequer Rishi Sunak described CBDCs as “part of the wider story of digital innovation” that is sweeping the planet. But most people in the West are not even aware of CBDCs, let alone how they could impact their lives. According to a survey by G+D Currency Technology, one of the companies helping to develop CBDCs, less than 20% of people in the U.S. and Germany were respectively aware of the digital dollar or the digital euro. So how could CBDCs impact our lives? Here are four of the most important ways: It will grant central banks far more power over our payment behavior.  A central bank digital currency system will technically no longer require middlemen such as banks or credit card companies. That said, one can safely assume that the largest financial institutions, most of which have been helping to install the architecture for the CBDC system, will find a new role in the new digital reality. NS Lyons notes: [Central banks] will retain complete oversight and control over the creation, destruction, and “movement” of money, no matter where it is “held” or who “has” it. As Agustin Carstens, general manager of the Bank of International Settlements put it at a 2020 summit of the IMF: “We don’t know who’s using a $100 bill today and we don’t know who’s using a 1,000 peso bill today. The key difference with the CBDC is the central bank will have absolute control [over] the rules and regulations that will determine the use of that expression of central bank liability, and also we will have the technology to enforce that.” That power could be used to “program” our spending.  One way central banks could use its expanded influence is to exert control over people’s spending habits. In June 2021, the Daily Telegraph reported (behind paywall) that the Bank of England had asked Government ministers to decide whether a central bank digital currency should be “programmable”. According to Tom Mutton, a director at the Bank of England, “There could be some socially beneficial outcomes from that, preventing activity which is seen to be socially harmful in some way.” This could bring huge advantages for both government and central banks, says Lyons: The Fed could directly subtract taxes and fees from any account, in real time, with every transaction or paycheck, if it wished. There could be no more tax evasion; the Fed would have a complete record of every transaction made by everyone. Money laundering, terrorist financing, any other unapproved transaction would become extremely difficult. Fines, such as for speeding or jaywalking, could be levied in real time, if CBDC accounts were connected to a network of “smart city” surveillance. Nor would there be any need to mail out stimulus checks, tax refunds, or other benefits, such as universal basic income payments. Such money could just be deposited directly into accounts. But a CBDC would allow government to operate at much higher resolution than that if it wished. Targeted microfinance grants, added straight to the accounts of those people and businesses considered especially deserving, would be a relatively simple proposition. Other potential forms of programming applications include setting expiry dates for stimulus funds or welfare payments to encourage users to spend it quickly. As the FT reported, central bank digital currencies will almost certainly have to go hand in hand with digital IDs: “What CBDC research and experimentation appears to be showing is that it will be nigh on impossible to issue such currencies outside of a comprehensive national digital ID management system. Meaning: CBDCs will likely be tied to personal accounts that include personal data, credit history and other forms of relevant information.” Combining digital currencies with digital IDs while phasing out, or even banning, the use of cash would grant governments and central banks the ability not only to track every purchase we make but also to determine what we can and cannot spend out money on. They could also be used to strongly encourage “desirable” social and political behavior while penalizing those who do not toe the line. As Lyons points out, “The most dangerous individuals or organizations could simply have their digital assets temporarily deleted or their accounts’ ability to transact frozen with the push of a button, locking them out of the commercial system and greatly mitigating the threat they pose. No use of emergency powers or compulsion of intermediary financial institutions would be required: the United States has no constitutional right enshrining the freedom to transact.” No limit on negative interest rates. Beyond having far greater control over people’s spending habits, central banks would also have the possibility of taking interest rates into far deeper negative territory. If there is no cash, there is no means for people to escape negative rates no matter how negative they go. This is one of the benefits often lauded by Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff of a completely cashless society. Yet central banks continue to insist that physical cash will not be eliminated once the CBDCs are fully operational. But as I’ve noted previously, central banks are not exactly known for keeping their word. Financial exclusion on steroids. One of the most important benefits of cash is its universality, making it a vital public good, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Also excluded in a purely cashless society would be anyone who objected to having others spy on their transactions (h/t hickory). As I note in my book, Scanned: Why Vaccine Passports and Digital Identity Will Mean the End of Privacy and Personal Freedom, if central banks and governments were to do away with cash or to vastly accelerate its demise by penalizing its use (while incentivizing the use of CBDCs), we would probably see a huge increase in financial exclusion: Even proponents of CBDCs admit that central bank digital currencies could have serious drawbacks, including further exacerbating income and wealth equality. “The rich might be more capable than others of taking advantage of new investment opportunities and reaping most of the benefits,” says Eswar Prasadm a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and author of The Future of Money: Hoe the Digital Revolution Is Transforming Currencies and Finance. “As the economically marginalized have limited digital access and lack financial literacy, some of the changes could harm as much as they could help those segments of the population.” So, not only will the introduction of CBDCs strip global citizens of one of the last vestiges of freedom, privacy and anonymity (i.e., cash), it could also exacerbate the upward transfer of wealth and power that many societies have witnessed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Lyons warns that CBDCs, “if not deliberately and carefully constrained in advance by law,… have the potential to become even more than a technocratic central planner’s dream. They could represent the single greatest expansion of totalitarian power in history.” Given how much is at stake, CBDCs are among the most important questions today’s societies could possibly grapple with - not only from a financial or business perspective but also from an ethical and legal standpoint. They should be under discussion in every parliament of every land, and every dinner table in every country in the world. Tyler Durden Sat, 03/26/2022 - 11:50.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMar 26th, 2022

China"s Belt-And-Road Comes To America"s Heartland, Part 2: This Is Not The End

China's Belt-And-Road Comes To America's Heartland, Part 2: This Is Not The End Authored by Fortis Analysis via Human Terrain, Earlier this year, Fortis Analysis released details on the proposal by Fufeng Group, a CCP-connected company, to build a wet corn mill and amino acid production facility in Grand Forks, ND. In conducting further research, interviewing local residents, and working with recognized experts in national security and United States trade law, it is more and more clear that the Grand Forks city council and mayor Brandon Bochenski are both economically and constitutionally illiterate. Pictured: Fufeng USA Chief Operating Officer Eric Chutorash, speaking to Grand Forks City Council A single line of inquiry into this project is impossible, so we will work to highlight a range of domains where this project falls short of both good sense and the law of the land. To that end, let’s first explore the FAQ on this project released by the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Council. There are numerous claims so easily rebutted that making them is either knowingly spreading false information, or an inexcusable lack of attention (or ability) to performing due diligence. A selection: CLAIM: ”Fufeng USA is a global leading bio-fermentation company manufacturing products that serve fast-growing animal nutrition. Their headquarters is in Chicago, Ill. Fufeng USA has chosen to invest in Grand Forks to establish a wet corn mill processing plant in the United States.” FACT: Fufeng USA Incorporated was established in the United States at the address of a private residence in Wheaton, IL. As of this writing, Fufeng USA Incorporated imports to the United States using the same Wheaton location as its official consignee address registered with US Customs and Border Protection. Another Fufeng USA corporate address noted on the Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce website (under the “Manufacturers” section) is located inside a multi-tenant office building in Oak Brook, IL. This entity is wholly-owned by Fufeng USA Holdings Limited, which is domiciled in Hong Kong, and is itself wholly-owned by Trans-Asia Capital Resources Ltd., also domiciled in Hong Kong. Trans-Asia Capital Resources Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fufeng Group, which has its principal place of business in Junan in the Shandong Province of China. It is beyond a stretch to say that Fufeng USA is anything more than a shell company to facilitate Fufeng Group’s ability to do business in the United States. This information comes directly from Fufeng Group’s annual report for 2020, published in 2021. CLAIM: “The North Dakota Trade Office has done a search for illegal import/export activity for Fufeng USA and its principles. No red flags or areas of concern were found. NDTO resources include access to 30 federal databases. Fufeng USA has been operating in the United States since 2020. Also, First Biotech, Inc., a Fufeng USA subsidiary, has been doing business in the US for over 10 years. Both have filed federal taxes in the US and have established international banking accounts with large financial institutions that have significant federal oversight. The company will be subject to all the same US laws, regulations, and oversight and any US company. Fufeng USA Group is publicly traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has a supervisory oversight relationship with the Exchange. Fufeng USA Group has many US and European institutional investors including TreeTop Management, Vanguard, Fidelity, Mellon, and Blackrock, all heavily regulated.” FACT: This is, quite simply, a word salad intended to obscure the real issue at stake here - the absence of correct and proper due diligence. The United States has multiple layers of regulatory oversight beyond basic financial oversight, few if any of which have been notified by GFREDC, the city, or Fufeng, let alone conducted formal inquiries. One other point that must be noted is that “Fufeng USA Group” is not a real entity, nor is any Fufeng USA entity “publicly traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange”. The publicly-traded entity is the ultimate parent company, Fufeng Group Limited. More detailed explorations of these points follow further in this analysis. In short, the absurd and incorrect statement that a cursory review of trade databases and some correctly-filed taxes is sufficient proof of Fufeng’s safety to national security should embarrass all involved in this process. CLAIM: “The development of the Fufeng USA plant will create a local market for corn and improve pricing. Regional farmers will have the option to sell to elevators or Fufeng USA. The North Dakota Corn Growers Association, a farmer led membership organization focused on policy that impacts North Dakota corn producers, were pleased with the announcement that Fufeng USA will establish a wet corn mill in Grand Forks. They issued a press release indicating the project will have tremendous value to regional farmers.” FACT: The claim made elsewhere by the city about the economic impact to farmers betrays a startling ignorance about the mechanisms of grain production and sales. The estimate of $.20 to $.40 per bushel of corn in premium versus current market conditions was not derived from careful analysis conducted by third-party experts. When pressed on the matter by Shaun Beauclair, himself a farmer and former board member of a regional corn processing facility, the GFREDC admitted that the premium assumption was given by a single farmer. In a February interview with AgWeek about the Fufeng project, Dr. Frayne Olson of North Dakota State University said that he believes the $.40 per bushel claim is only realistic for the first year or two to incentivize sales to the corn mill. Once the market settles back in future years, the realistic premium is closer to $.10 to $.20 per bushel. In practice, the grain elevators in the area who do not have direct interest in a value-added market for their purchased corn will quickly be faced with the choice of becoming a de facto origination and storage facility for Fufeng, or closing their doors. As one can see from this selection of “facts”, the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Council has not done its best work to provide complete or accurate information to its stakeholders. Now, if this was the only vector of misinformation and all others involved were honest brokers, one might understand how an economic development group would choose to shade the truth a bit in order to bring a splashy, high-revenue project to town. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Multiple other individuals in positions of city leadership have also willingly promoted dishonest talking points, or chosen unscrupulous partners for the city, all in the interest of pushing the project forward. Let’s examine a few of these. Fufeng Group Has No Financial Connection to the Chinese Government On November 17, 2021, in a publicly-posted comment on his official Facebook account, Grand Forks mayor Brandon Bochenski stated that: “…the company is an American subsidiary of a publicly traded company that has zero govt. ownership. They are investing in an American facility built by American contractors, using American corn stock to produce products sold in America and manufactured by American workers. The company is more American than Apple, Nike and Amazon quite frankly in the global economy of today.” Members of the city council have used similar talking points in publicly-available council discussions. Now, this particular formulation of the zero-affiliation claim is intended to reassure listeners that as Fufeng Group Limited is a publicly-traded company on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (a subsidiary of HKEx, or Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing), it is not reasonable to believe that the firm or any of its subsidiaries would choose (or be forced) to act in any way outside the direct fiduciary interests of its global shareholders. A complete overview of the complicated (and compromised) relationship between the HKEx and the Chinese Communist Party is beyond the scope of this piece, but for now, the following data will more than suffice to rebut this talking point. HKEx’s largest single shareholder is the Hong Kong Government, which also has the right to appoint six of thirteen directors to HKEx’s board. This matters for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most important is the Hong Kong national security law unanimously passed by China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on 30 June 2020 in the wake of widespread pro-democracy protests throughout Hong Kong. Among the various deeply anti-democratic provisions of the law are the requirement that companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange act in accordance with the security directives of a secret body called the Committee for Safeguarding National Security. This entity has the ability to at any time investigate, indict, prosecute, or ruin any non-compliant company who has any business interest in Hong Kong - and extend these enforcement protocols anywhere in the world in violation of sovereign law and international norms. It is impossible to believe that HKEx will push back in any way if the Chinese Communist Party directs Fufeng Group to perform certain actions or disclose confidential business, community, or employee information in any of its subsidiaries - including Fufeng USA Incorporated. In simplified form, if the secret national security entity in mainland China or Hong Kong creates any pretext whatsoever, it will be able to force Fufeng USA to reveal all personal details of any employee, contractor, or even guests of the corn mill, regardless of the laws of the United States. This is an extremely important detail that as of yet, has not been properly addressed by Fufeng or city officials. Moreover, it is not even accurate to say that Fufeng Group does not have a financial connection to the Chinese government. In the same annual report referenced earlier, Fufeng Group Limited lists an interesting disclosure: a 30% ownership stake in Jilin COFCO Biomaterial Co Ltd. This joint venture between Fufeng Group and China Oil and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO) is notable because COFCO is the largest agribusiness in China, and is a 100% state-owned enterprise under the management of the hyperpowerful State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC). Note that SASAC manages numerous entities that are currently sanctioned by the United States for espionage activities, use of forced labor in Xinjiang and elsewhere, and violation of international treaties or laws. Though COFCO has as yet not been similarly sanctioned, it is important to note that its sister companies under SASAC were penalized for carrying out the will of the Chinese Communist Party, and that COFCO can at any time be similarly leveraged by the CCP to perform illegal activities against the United States. As with numerous other claims made by the North Dakota Trade Office, Mayor Bochenski, GFREDC, and the Grand Forks city council, one cannot help but wonder how much due diligence has actually been put into this project. The City Is Taking All Appropriate Steps to Examine the Impact on U.S. National Security Interests This omnibus talking point, used repeatedly by city officials, is also completely inaccurate. There are numerous checks and balances that exist at the federal level concerning real estate acquisitions and foreign investments into the U.S. economy. The most well-known of these, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), is a multi-agency group under the Executive Branch that has the mandate of reviewing transactions by foreign entities into companies or technologies designated as “critical” to national security, and/or real estate transactions located within 100 miles of designated military installations. An examination of the facts shows that the Fufeng project may fall into the category of a “covered real estate transaction”, which means CFIUS expects voluntary disclosure of the project’s details. The risk is that if stakeholders do not disclose and CFIUS chooses to open an inquiry at some point, then an adverse finding from CFIUS will result in significant penalties for all involved, up to and including the forced sale of the property and assets to an approved third party. That the city and county have been courting Fufeng Group since mid-2020 and as of yet have not sought out independent legal review for compliance with FIRRMA (the law governing CFIUS’ activities), or submitted for a free voluntary review with CFIUS since the public reveal of this project in November 2021, does not argue well for the city council’s competence or motives in continuing to ignore public outcry and push the process forward at a breakneck pace. Another talking point used by the city and GFREDC is that the county and city’s “base retention” consultant, retired USAF General David Deptula, has reviewed the proposal and discussed it with the leadership at Grand Forks Air Force Base. The claim is that no one has issued an objection to the Fufeng proposal. There are a few things about this, however, that raise red flags. First, Deptula was the subject of a multi-year investigation by Department of Defense into illicit contracting activities and fraud while he was in uniform. In February 2015, Deptula agreed with the Department of Justice to pay a fine of $125,000, and was barred by the Air Force from conducting business with the federal government from November 2014 to February 2016. Despite this, the Grand Forks city council continues to authorize a $5,000 per month direct payment to The Deptula Group (Deptula’s lobbying and consulting firm) for base retention activities. When questioned about this, city council president Dana Sande initially insisted that Grand Forks County employs Deptula, not the city. After being reminded of the monthly expense approved by Sande and the rest of the city council, Sande admitted that the city pays a portion of the funding for base retention activities, but the county is in charge of selecting and coordinating with Deptula. However, a review of the county’s 2021 budget does not show a request or approval for funding to be allocated under the Base Retention line item, nor do county minutes throughout 2021 show approvals to remit any funds to Deptula, his company, or for base retention activities. It is possible that the county has allocated funding under a different line item to pay for Deptula’s services, but such is not noted. However, if the county is indeed not contributing to paying Deptula, then the city of Grand Forks appears to be willingly carrying the cost of Mr. Deptula for “base retention” activities, even as the Air Force already publicly committed in 2021 to expanding the base’s role and increasing its footprint in Grand Forks. Regardless, the ongoing payment of Deptula for at least $5,000 per month from city funds reflects the council’s comfort with employing fixers who have a questionable at best code of ethics when it comes to personal enrichment at the expense of taxpayers. Moreover, it is not for the leadership of the local military installation to make a determination on if a particular project is compliant with national security regulations. Thus, the constant talking points by city officials that Grand Forks Air Force Base has reviewed the project and not issued a complaint is misleading and wholly incorrect. The base leadership cannot review and rule on the Fufeng project, or any other potential commercial investment by foreign entities in the area of the base. The fact that city officials have continuously asserted that the Grand Forks Air Force Base commander has done so is incorrect, and jeopardizes the careers of both the commanding officer and any active duty personnel so connected to the claim. It also opens the door to civilian law enforcement involvement, as active duty military personnel allegedly issuing inappropriate and unauthorized statements in support of foreign investment may also entangle the civilians making such claims into criminal or civil charges. This is a tightrope for city officials to publicly walk, and it would seem from the outside that they have created a fiasco in the making in their haste to justify a lack of responsible and legal due diligence. There Are No Other Conflicts of Interest on the City Council with This Project Before each City Council vote on this project, the council brings up councilmember Jeannie Mock’s conflict of interest in the project and votes to force her to abstain. Mock’s company, AE2S, was involved in the preparation of land-use and infrastructure data before the project was publicly revealed, as can be seen on Slide 12 of the city’s pitch deck for the project. It is not known for certain how Mock would vote on the project, but it is proper for her to abstain on the basis of conflicts of interests and good ethics. However, there are other potential future conflicts of interest on the council not discussed or considered as exclusionary by the council. Kyle Kvamme is employed by ICON Architectural Group, a regional commercial project design firm headquartered in Grand Forks. Kvamme is the Director of Community Engagement and Project Development. He also recently became an owner in the firm. ICON is an obvious potential beneficiary of such a massive development as Fufeng’s, being a prominent local firm specializing in the design of buildings and layouts for large-scope projects. Bret Weber, who has been one of the most supportive voices on the council for the Fufeng project, is employed by the University of North Dakota as Department Chair and Professor of Social Work. Also employed by UND is Danny Weigel, who is the Investigations Commander and Public Information Officer for the UND Police force. Both have disclaimed any conflicts of interest. However, neither has disclosed that Fufeng USA is a tenant of the UND Center for Innovation, the university’s on-campus “entrepreneurial incubator”. Nor has Weigel shared if he has conducted any background checks on Fufeng Group or its representatives prior to them establishing occupancy in campus facilities. It is currently unknown if Fufeng USA is simply paying rent for part of the Center’s co-working office space in order to have a local presence, or if the company is a more integrated user of Center resources, such as the wet lab. The Center touts the wet lab as such: “High tech, bioscience, and scientific companies are all welcome at the UND Center for Innovation. Our state of the art wet lab makes innovations happen.” Given that Fufeng USA is, fundamentally, a biotech company that must cultivate and maintain various strains of bacteria to manufacture amino acids, it is not unreasonable to assume that the company has been, or will be, a major stakeholder in the Center. As the university already financially benefits from Fufeng’s presence in Grand Forks, the full scope of UND’s interest in current and future projects involving Fufeng should be disclosed. So, too, should it be considered a potential conflict of interest for university employees to vote as city council members on favorable considerations for a company that is an active revenue stream for the entity that cuts their paychecks. The obvious rebuttal of “it’s a drop in the bucket in the university’s overall revenue stream” is beside the point, and frankly, is an inappropriate attitude for a public official to hold. Just as with the city utilizing a disgraced former general to help gain Department of Defense approval for the project, or Weber indicating in the March 7th city council meeting that he feels public concerns about the project’s impact to national security are overblown, it seems that a number of city officials involved with this project are willing to excuse impropriety and ethical lapses as the cost of doing business with Chinese companies. Fufeng USA and Its Parent Companies Have No Known Connection to Forced Labor or Human Rights Crimes In China This is the murkiest and most troubling of all the accusations Fortis Analysis and other groups have leveled against Fufeng, yet has been hand-waived away by project proponents as unfounded innuendo because the firm has not been sanctioned specifically by U.S. authorities. But like most of the complex issues involved with this project, such casual dismissals betray a malignant ignorance of how and why sanctions law functions as it does in our nation. Fortunately for the Grand Forks city officials, we are here to provide accurate and detailed information that can help those officials make informed decisions in line with their sworn duty to their offices. The United States takes very seriously the issue of China’s human rights abuses, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China. In fact, the devastating suppression of non-Han ethnic groups in Xinjiang has been so intense that on 13 July 2021, the U.S. State Department issued its “Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory”, with the summary reading as such: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) government continues to carry out genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), China. The PRC’s crimes against humanity include imprisonment, torture, rape, forced sterilization, and persecution, including through forced labor and the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement. Businesses, individuals, and other persons, including but not limited to investors, consultants, labor brokers, academic institutions, and research service providers (hereafter “businesses and individuals”) with potential exposure to or connection with operations, supply chains, or laborers from the Xinjiang-region, should be aware of the significant reputational, economic, and legal risks of involvement with entities or individuals in or linked to Xinjiang that engage in human rights abuses, including but not limited to forced labor and intrusive surveillance. Given the severity and extent of these abuses, including widespread, state-sponsored forced labor and intrusive surveillance taking place amid ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law. Potential legal risks include: violation of statutes criminalizing forced labor including knowingly benefitting from participation in a venture, while knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the venture has engaged in forced labor; sanctions violations if dealing with designated persons; export control violations; and violation of the prohibition of importations of goods produced in whole or in part with forced labor or convict labor. Now, given how adept Chinese companies are at masking their participation in, or benefit derived in part from, these evil activities, the U.S. will utilize a standard called “rebuttable presumption” when investigating abuses and issuing sanctions under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and future similar laws. What this means is that a company accused of connection to human rights abuses in Xinjiang (or other provinces) in China are treated by U.S. authorities as essentially being guilty until proven innocent. Importantly, this does not just mean that the company in question is directly employing forced laborers. Any company that uses raw materials, goods, or labor at any point in its supply chain where forced labor is involved is considered just as guilty of the abuse - a presumption of illegal benefit that extends to every single subsidiary, wherever it may be located. As just one example of the new risk to American stakeholders from this expanded enforcement against China’s human rights abuse, Fufeng Group lists in its annual report that coal is the primary energy feedstock for its corn mills in China. Coal is one of the sectors most heavily targeted for enforcement and sanctions due to Chinese coal mining companies making extensive use of forced labor to keep production costs low. Fufeng Group specifically notes that it strategically locates its facilities close to coal-fired power plants, and that such practice is “instrumental in strengthening the Group’s pricing power.” Even more so than coal, Fufeng consumes corn at enormous rates. Thus, it makes sense that Fufeng tends to locate its operations not only close to coal power production, but also major agriculture regions. Here, too, Fufeng should be assumed to benefit substantially from lower raw material prices derived from the involvement of forced labor. In Heilongjiang province, Fufeng’s subsidiary Qiqihar Fufeng is located less than 50 miles from the sprawling Liusan Prison farm, managed by the Communist Party Committee Deputy Secretary of Liusan. Only a few miles further southwest from Liusan inside Inner Mongolia, there are numerous other farms at Wutaqi, Ulan, and the notorious Bao’anzhao Prison. Hulunbeier Northeast Fufeng Biotechnologies is located approximately 200 miles from the large prison farm at “Genghis Kahn Ranch” in Zalantun City. One of Fufeng’s largest plants, Neimenggu Fufeng Biotechnologies, is located in Hohhot City in Inner Mongolia. The entire administrative apparatus for the corporation that sells forced prison labor goods to Chinese and international consumers is called Inner Mongolia Hengzheng Industrial Group Co., Ltd., and also happens to be located in Hohhot City. As of October 2019, the company was run by Xu Hongguang, a CCP member and the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Justice of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Among the company’s primary goods produced in the prisons and sold to companies in China are grains, processed agriculture commodities, and food ingredients. Notably, the company was sanctioned by the United States in October of 2020 for use of forced labor in manufacturing stevia sweetener, which like Fufeng’s products, are a derivative of biological processing. [Edit, 21 March 2022 - The original comment that stevia sweetener is a derivative of corn processing is not correct. The author has corrected the article.] It would require an absurd leap of faith to state that Fufeng has no plausible connections to, or benefit from, the expansive use of forced labor in agriculture production so logistically close to Fufeng’s major corn- and coal-consuming plants in Xingang, Heilongjiang, and Inner Mongolia. Should an investigation be raised by Commerce, State, or Treasury into the activities of any Fufeng Group subsidiary in connection to forced labor, it is highly likely that Fufeng would be unable to satisfy the rebuttable presumption of participation in the forced labor and abusive regimes in place in China. This would trigger automatic sanctions not only against Fufeng Group in China, but also their international subsidiaries such as First Biotech and Fufeng USA. Such sanctions would make it impossible for banks to lend to any of the affected entities in the United States or conduct normal business operations, shutting down the entire project in Grand Forks and invalidating the letter of credit the city proclaims as providing a no-risk guarantee to local taxpayers the city has not wasted money chasing a pot of gold at the end of the CCP’s genocidal rainbow. This Is Not the End As one can see, there is not much more that needs to be said about the Fufeng Group’s bid to purchase 370 acres of land in Grand Forks and build its wet corn mill. Nearly every single major talking point used by city officials and Fufeng USA is provably false or shaded with just enough truth to pass scrutiny of low-information voters. This is how it works when one chooses to do business with CCP-aligned entities who deliberately target local and state officials to circumvent the United States’ federal national security countermeasures. The officials, craving a big win to build their next campaign on, or perhaps finding some compelling self-interest in the economic aspects of the project, suspend all good sense and dive headfirst into extreme legal and moral hazard at the expense of their communities, their state, and their nation. Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, City Council president Dana Sande, and their grasping enablers have (to this point) made the choice to do just that. And at least for now, we know that the most powerful weapon in the CCP’s gray zone war against the United States is not hypersonic missiles, cyberespionage, or theft of intellectual property. It’s 30 pieces of silver wrapped in a box of false promises to our elected officials. Addendum A number of Grand Forks residents and concerned stakeholders around the nation have expressed to this author their alarm and despair at the ease with which the Chinese Communist Party continues to corrupt and undermine the United States. That it all feels hopeless, and that our collapse as a nation is both certain and imminent. I will share this, then - Winston Churchill’s words to the Harrow School on 29 October 1941, in the midst of the darkest hours of Great Britain’s seemingly hopeless defense against the mighty Nazi war machine. “…Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy… Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days - the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.” Dum spiro spero. Subscribe to Human Terrain Tyler Durden Fri, 03/25/2022 - 23:00.....»»

Category: dealsSource: nytMar 25th, 2022

BHGRE Brokers Identify Potential Trends in Spring Selling Season

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC (BHGRE) is thinking spring—spring selling season that is. A recent roundtable discussion with several BHGRE brokers revealed that historic seasonality patterns have been affected by today’s market conditions. Most notably, record low inventory levels could provide an impact on this year’s spring selling season, the company reported. “Real […] The post BHGRE Brokers Identify Potential Trends in Spring Selling Season appeared first on RISMedia. Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC (BHGRE) is thinking spring—spring selling season that is. A recent roundtable discussion with several BHGRE brokers revealed that historic seasonality patterns have been affected by today’s market conditions. Most notably, record low inventory levels could provide an impact on this year’s spring selling season, the company reported. “Real estate professionals are highly adaptable and the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have proven that our industry is resilient in the face of change,” said Sherry Chris, president & CEO, BHGRE. “As we enter the third spring selling season since COVID-19 emerged, the BHGRE brand wanted to explore what our affiliates were experiencing in different parts of the country. The broker panel observed that strict seasonality is seeing signs of change. However, it is important to understand all of the underlying factors contributing to this significant shift in real estate market dynamics. What is clear is that a lack of inventory stemming from stalled new development is setting the industry up for continued disruption. Identifying and overcoming barriers to building new homes will be critical in meeting the incredible demand for housing that now exists in our country. In the short term, buyers and sellers can follow the advice of their agents on how to best position themselves for success.” Timing trends:  According to the brokers interviewed, the timing of the spring selling season varies. In Northern New England, the spring selling season typically kicks off in March, but with only 30 days of supply, there aren’t enough homes to create a seasonal sales “spike” this year. People also appear to be waiting out January and February to see COVID-19 cases go down to reduce potential exposure. In Portland, Oregon, spring selling season usually starts at the beginning of the year, although it was observed that 2022 activity was stalled by the omicron variant surge. Brokers are seeing some traces of seasonality, but it’s not full-blown. People will move as soon as the opportunity presents itself, which means for sellers, there’s never a bad time to sell anymore, according to BHGRE’s analysis. “With just one week of inventory, an uptick in seasonal activity is not possible here in Portland,” said Danielle Bade, principal broker and vice president, BHGRE Realty Partners & BHGRE Northwest Living. “Homes sell as soon as they come on the market. People aren’t waiting for a traditional season to enter the market.” “Despite having low inventory in our market, we may still see a surge across Sonoma and Lake County, California as some real estate professionals push their sellers to bring their homes onto the market to get the most value,” noted Randy Coffman, president, BHGRE Wine Country Group in Northern California. Pricing Fluctuations: According to the brokers interviewed for BHGRE’s report, in Northern New England, prices are still considered moderate compared to urban areas. However, they are increasing, which puts pressure on local residents looking to buy in-market. In Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, which sits between New York City and Philadelphia, home prices are lower compared to the major cities. In Northern California, prices are flattening out somewhat but are still higher than expected due to low inventory. In Portland, Oregon, prices are not expected to come down this year. Despite double-digit price increases, the brokers interviewed are confident this is not a real estate bubble. Appreciation rates could moderate a bit, but prices won’t come down. Panelists reported they are staying attuned to consumer tolerance for rising prices, and seller greed, which could cool the market. “This is an entirely different dynamic from 2008, which was driven by lax lending,” said Chris Masiello, CEO of BHGRE The Masiello Group in Northern New England. “This is a supply and demand issue that is being guided by demographics: millennials and baby boomers are orbiting the market for the same housing stock. These first-time homebuyers and downsizing buyers are vying for the same properties.” “There is a potential for prices to plateau and then return to a more normal appreciation rate,” said Jack Gross, owner of BHGRE Cassidon Realty in Lehigh Valley. “We might also see buyer frustration cause people to leave the market because they are tired of not getting a home. But consumer confidence in the housing market is high, which makes them open to overpaying.” “We are starting to see home price increases flatten out somewhat, but it is still higher than expected due to the low inventory,” added Coffman. Shifts in Buyer Mindsets: Brokers interviewed are seeing an increasing sense of urgency from consumers to “win” the home, bidding up the price beyond normal appreciation rates. This means they are paying now for what a house could be worth in two years. As a result, the phrasing has changed from “I bought a home” to “I won the bid.” And for those unable to “win,” buyer fatigue has kept people out of the market in recent months, BHGRE reported. Another shift noticed by the brokers who participated in the roundtable is that people are not interested in homes requiring significant sweat equity. Instead, they are more focused on their careers and don’t want to invest significant time or effort into fixing up an outdated house. Further, the brokers observed that living with COVID-19 has worn down buyers. Depending on the region, consumers are either tired of the coronavirus and moving forward with plans or still in a holding pattern created by health anxiety. “Despite home prices increasing about 30% in Central Florida, the market is not slowing down, although the lack of inventory is discouraging for buyers, particularly first-time buyers who are contending with rising rents,” said Dana Hall-Bradley, broker/owner, BHGRE Fine Living in Celebration, Florida. Seller Mindset: Participating brokers report that current inventory conditions are giving new meaning to the term “seller’s market.” In some cases, sellers are becoming irrational on pricing, insisting on list prices well above current market values. In other instances, sellers are getting more cautious with pricing too high. However, brokers report that homes are still getting multiple offers over list price when priced right. According to Masiello, “For most sellers, the biggest deterrent is ‘Where will I go?’” Brokers shared that people in Oregon are going to Arizona for some sun, often retiring a few years earlier than planned. Urban dwellers in California are moving north, while people in Pennsylvania are heading south to Florida. People in New England are selling their family homes and taking up primary residence in their second or summer home until a suitable primary home becomes available. Others are downsizing to a tiny home or RV. “We are hearing more from sellers that it’s not always about the highest price—offers with contingencies are less desirable,” said Bade. Interest Rates: The brokers interviewed observed that the increase in interest rates from 3.5% to 4% is not a real financial driver. They noted that they do not envision it having a substantial negative impact on the market. It may, however, be an emotional one as people get off the fence and try to beat the market. Interestingly, the participating brokers are noticing a shift in the historical relationship between inflation and interest rates, which is now inverted. “Buyers may initially see the rates as higher but remember—historically, they are still low, and there is bound to be a little give and take,” said Coffman. “Prices go down a little; rates go up. It evens out.” Migration: According to NAR, as more people can work from home, city dwellers are moving to the suburbs. Participating brokers report that those who come from New York City can sell a $2.5M townhome and move into a $600,000 4,000 square foot Colonial in Lehigh Valley. Similarly, people who move to rural Vermont from Manhattan still earn city wages. As a result of migration, primary markets are becoming saturated, making secondary markets the main focus, and tertiary markets secondary. As inbound moves from higher-priced markets drive up prices, the dramatic double-digit price increases serve to rise all tides. The brokers interviewed believe that local residents get an economic lift as more people migrate to the area, bringing their city spending habits and salaries, likely creating more job opportunities in the next 12-18 months. Brokers also report seeing a shift in priorities as people are no longer tied to a geographic area for their job. “We are seeing heavy migration patterns from the metro DC/Maryland regions, along the coastal corridor to Northern New England, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont,” remarked Masiello. “In lesser populated, rural areas, people are now buying property and land that hasn’t transferred in 30 years or more, which is creating a lot of title issues.” New Construction:  According to participating brokers, permit logjams, supply chain issues, and lack of builder confidence have created a dire shortage of new homes. COVID notwithstanding, significantly fewer new homes are being built while populations are increasing. For example, between 1950 and 2010, the number of new homes built in each decade ranged from 10 million to 14.5 million. But from 2010 to 2020, just 7 million homes were built, while the number of new households formed during that same time period exceeded 10 million. The brokers interviewed advise communities to decide how to help the new inventory issue, which requires cooperation at the local level. “Overcoming the inventory shortage will be the responsibility of local planning boards,” said Masiello. “They need to assess the needs and act. We are not seeing the supply chain issue or labor shortages as bad as they were last year. There is so much cash in the market now just looking for a place to go to work to get a return.” “Developers got caught in 2008, so they are not eager to jump back in,” said Gross. “In Lehigh Valley, it takes 3-5 years to approve a subdivision, which is a significant deterrent when you can get an immediate return in the stock market.” Tips for Sellers:  Even in today’s tight market, it is still important to put your best foot forward, so don’t skimp on staging, home repairs and cleanliness. Prepare your home for the market by hiring a professional cleaning crew and professional handyman/repair service to perform paint touch-ups, fixture upgrades, etc. This will encourage buyers to make their very best offers and result in fewer days on the market. Offering a home warranty can help encourage buyers to waive their inspection. Ensure all potential buyers are financially qualified. Consider the terms offered as just as critical as the price. A cash offer with fewer contingencies may be better than a higher offer with many contingencies. Tips for Buyers:  Get pre-approved. Have a substantial down payment saved. If you can pay cash, do so and refinance later. Be flexible on the closing date. Always make your best offer first and resist the temptation to hold back your effort upfront. Be willing to waive the inspection. Have the means to make an “additional down payment” if the appraisal comes in low. Line up short-term interim housing between sales to put yourself in a better position to compete in a multiple offer situation. To learn more, visit www.bhgre.com. The post BHGRE Brokers Identify Potential Trends in Spring Selling Season appeared first on RISMedia......»»

Category: realestateSource: rismediaMar 25th, 2022

Bloom Holding Launches ‘Bloom Living’ – an all-inclusive community of the future in Abu Dhabi

Leading real estate development company, Bloom Holding, has announced the launch of Bloom Living, a fully integrated and all-inclusive community located in Abu Dhabi. Built over an area of 2.2 million sqm, the iconic gated community features more than 4,000 homes, including a selection of villas, townhouses, and apartments to... The post Bloom Holding Launches ‘Bloom Living’ – an all-inclusive community of the future in Abu Dhabi appeared first on Real Estate Weekly. Leading real estate development company, Bloom Holding, has announced the launch of Bloom Living, a fully integrated and all-inclusive community located in Abu Dhabi. Built over an area of 2.2 million sqm, the iconic gated community features more than 4,000 homes, including a selection of villas, townhouses, and apartments to suit the unique needs of residents of all generations.  Bloom Living’s architecture is inspired by the rustic vibe of the Mediterranean and seamlessly fuses traditional Spanish design with contemporary finishings. The names of the neighbourhood are also in-keeping with the theme; phase one has been aptly named Cordoba after the Andalusian city. Bloom Living is closely aligned with Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 which highlights the importance of diversity, inclusivity, and a high standard of living to achieving sustained economic development. The aspirational community will bring together residents of all ages, cultures, and ethnicities, to deliver a superior living experience that promotes genuine human connection. Bloom Living’s Town Centre will feature a lively and bustling plaza with several F&B and retail outlets for residents and visitors alike to enjoy.  The Town Centre will also include a healthcare clinic and several other amenities to ensure that residents have everything they need without ever needing to leave the community – and all within walking distance.  Bloom Living will also be home to two outstanding international schools, which are strategically located to be reached by foot or bicycle from anywhere within the development.  The focal point will be a large lake which will represent a community meeting point, around which residents can walk, run, and cycle, and makes it an ideal community for those seeking a peaceful life. Furthermore, the lake will act as an important point of connectivity, with pathways linking to all amenities and neighbourhoods. The use of water, in addition to the community’s beautiful flora, aims to create calm and serene surroundings that reinforce Bloom Living’s commitment to promoting health and wellbeing.  Residents will also benefit from an extensive selection of recreational activities and facilities suitable for all energy levels – from yoga, linear and agro parks to swimming pools and gyms.  There will also be several regular events and festivities which will aim to bring the entire community together.  Pets are very welcome, with dedicated dog parks to ensure that every member of the family is catered for. Bloom Living is committed to delivering long-term social impact for the emirate by developing a community that promotes co-living, tolerance, and healthy living in addition to contributing to improved quality of life. Sales will now commence for a total of 257 town homes and detached villas within the Cordoba neighbourhood. Units range from two-and three-bedroom townhouses with sizes ranging from 150m2 to 170m2. There will also be a range of three- to six- bedroom detached villas from 250m2 to 515m2. Prices start from AED 1.5 million, with attractive payment plans available, reflecting Bloom’s commitment to providing value for money whilst also adhering to the highest quality standards. CEO of Bloom Holding, Carlos Wakim said: “The launch of Bloom Living, our flagship community development in Abu Dhabi, marks a significant milestone for Bloom Properties. With Bloom Living, we aim to offer a fully integrated community that goes far beyond providing a nice place to live. Our multi-generational community has everything one could possibly need to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life. Moreover, Bloom Living has been cleverly designed so that all the facilities, amenities and services are within walking distance for every resident.  Those living outside of the community will also be welcome to visit; our town centre will be easily accessible and will have a lively and vibrant atmosphere day and night representing the beating heart of the community. “We believe that Bloom Living serves as a representation of the modern Abu Dhabi – a cosmopolitan, multicultural and aspirational hub in which people of all backgrounds can flourish. The pandemic has served to highlight that our lives do not operate in silo – and neither should our homes.  We firmly believe that fully integrated communities are the future, Bloom Living as a shining example of community living of tomorrow.” he added. The highly convenient community is located close to Zayed City and Abu Dhabi International Airport.  Bloom Living will be built in various phases and Cordoba, Phase 1 of Bloom Living is scheduled for completion in latest Q4 2024. The post Bloom Holding Launches ‘Bloom Living’ – an all-inclusive community of the future in Abu Dhabi appeared first on Real Estate Weekly......»»

Category: realestateSource: realestateweeklyMar 20th, 2022

State Governments Shedding Millions Of Square Feet Of Office Space Amid Hybrid Work Revolution

State Governments Shedding Millions Of Square Feet Of Office Space Amid Hybrid Work Revolution By Jarred Schenke and Matthew Rothstein of BisNow, State and local governments lease tens of millions of square feet of office space across the country, but that number is falling fast as the push for remote and hybrid work has made civil servants rethink their real estate. From California to Georgia and Maine to Utah, the pandemic thrust government agencies into an entirely new way of working. Two years later, many have found that offering flexible working arrangements can solve two ever-present challenges they face: attracting and retaining their workers and maximizing taxpayer dollars. “The savings are real,” Nebraska Department of Administrative Services Director Jason Jackson said. “I think future administrations are going to be hard-pressed to say, ‘We should be spending more on office space.’” Philadelphia City Hall sits across the street from the Municipal Services Building, a more conventional office home to many of its departments. At the end of 2019, state and local governments leased 22.6M SF of privately owned, corporate-grade office space across the U.S., comprising 21.6% of all government tenants, according to data compiled by JLL U.S. Office Research. By the end of last year, that total had dropped by 2M SF. That nearly 10% reduction may be the tip of the iceberg, said Bob Hunt, the national leader of JLL’s public institution and higher education department. Over time, state and local office footprints could shrink by as much as 25% or 30%, Hunt told Bisnow. The pandemic and its effects on remote work policies have prompted 87% of state governments to rethink their real estate strategies, according to a JLL survey conducted between February and April 2021. Forty percent of respondents said the rethinking would likely result in a reduction in office space, Hunt said during a November webinar with the National Association of State Facilities Administrators, while the other 60% were unsure what level of impact these considerations would have. “That's a profound amount, for the vast majority [of states] to say, ‘Hey we're thinking about doing something differently as a result of this,’” Hunt said during the webinar. For private companies, expenses on office space can be as much as 50% of their net income, according to a 2017 paper from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The equation is less straightforward for the revenues and financial outlays of state and local governments, and functions like emergency services or community-based programs have non-negotiable space requirements. But plenty of administrative functions have been carried out remotely since the pandemic began, and the offices they left behind represent real financial commitments. “My impression is that last year and two years ago, when everyone was looking at empty buildings, they saw dollar signs,” said James Burroughs, an associate professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Public Policy. “They were paying for things they couldn’t use when they emptied out a lot of departments and agencies. Now, I think discussions have evolved to be about the broad future of work.” The city of Fort Worth, Texas, purchased the former Pier 1 Imports headquarters in 2021 to redevelop it as the new City Hall State officials across the country told Bisnow in recent weeks that their workers have embraced the ability to go remote, and they see a chance to redefine their real estate portfolios to tilt more toward employee attraction and retention. How much less space they take remains to be seen, as does how future budget impacts could play out. But the opportunity to spend more on services rather than office space isn’t lost on the civil servants making these decisions. “I think whenever you're talking about several hundreds of thousands of dollars, you're talking about money that is meaningful to Nebraskans,” Jackson said. “For us, when we're talking about managing our real estate strategically, the total size of the opportunity there is pretty substantial.” California has already cut 767K SF of its 14.4M SF office footprint, providing an annual savings of $22.5M. Over the next three years, California is looking to reduce 20% of its overall leased office portfolio, which will save the state $84.7M annually, California Department of General Services Deputy Director Monica Hassan said in an email to Bisnow. By comparison, the state already expects to have a surplus of $20B in its discretionary fund for fiscal year 2022-2023. The Georgia State Properties Commission works with nearly 50 state agencies that occupy 12M SF of office, half of which is leased from private landlords, said Lee Nelson, GSPC's leasing manager and assistant director of space management. “It seems like just about all of [the agencies] are in some stage of figuring out the proper way for us to be organizing our in-office experience going forward,” Nelson said, adding that many agencies have budgetary motivations to reduce leased space.  The Georgia Department of Education has already decided to shrink its footprint at its 150K SF, state-owned headquarters in Downtown Atlanta down to 70K SF, with part of the staff working from home or in remote counties, Nelson said. “We’ll find a state entity to backfill it,” Nelson said. “And whether that [entity] gets pulled from space that is leased from a private sector landlord hasn't been determined yet.” The Maine state government recently consolidated a 180-employee department, which was spread across three office buildings, into a single space, Maine Bureau of General Services Director Bill Longfellow said during the NASFA webinar. About 75% of those 180 workers expect to work remotely three days a week as part of the arrangement, he said, which took away assigned desks. Nelson and Longfellow also cited cost savings as a motivation behind their respective consolidation drives. The state of Tennessee introduced a remote work option for employees of 16 departments starting in 2016, initially as a cost-saving measure. Tennessee Department of General Services’ former deputy commissioner, Reen Baskin, told Governing.com that the state only realized the benefits for worker retention after the fact, but well before the pandemic forced the consideration onto other jurisdictions and the private sector. In Nebraska before the pandemic, the concept of remote work “wasn’t even on our radar,” said Jackson, the state’s director of general services. Now 18 of 80 state agencies, accounting for 13,000 employees, continue to employ remote or hybrid work arrangements. “We surprised ourselves with our own capability to leverage this [situation],” Jackson said. The potential for budget savings is just one motivation for states to look at reducing their office usage; work flexibility has been a major factor in employee recruitment and retention, particularly in a job market increasingly defined by labor shortages. State and local governments are used to doing more with less, but allowing remote and hybrid work is already necessary to stop a major brain drain, Hunt and Burroughs said. “At the end of the day, state and local governments are employing knowledge workers, just in a different regulatory environment [from the private sector],” Hunt said. “And they had an issue with attraction and retention to begin with.” Figuring out how to formulate long-term work strategies is what JLL’s public sector and higher education division, led nationally by Hunt, has been focusing on since before the pandemic. His team consulted on a 2019 pilot program in the state of Utah with the goal of getting 8,000 employees to work from home part time over three years, but around 10,000 Utah employees signed up for the program in just three months, Hunt said.  His team is now under contract to consult with Oregon’s state government, with the assumption that hybrid work will be a permanent part of its real estate equation. Allowing workers to stay remote, in full or in part, is as easy as sending an email in many cases, but amounts to a triage effort for keeping workers happy, Burroughs said. For the model to be sustainable long-term, it requires a right-sizing of real estate usage and a redesign of often outmoded office spaces to the shared desks, conference and breakout rooms heavily utilized by coworking operators and private companies with permanent remote work plans, and such overhauls come with price tags. “No one’s going up to a legislator and suggesting a $1B plan to redesign an office so that it will eventually save money,” Hunt said.  The easiest and cheapest option for transitioning to a new work model is to simply let leases in private office buildings expire and move those functions either to another space with more time on its lease or one that a jurisdiction owns. “They’ve got to address the human problem immediately, but if you do it without addressing the design problem, ultimately you’ve got a lot of idle space,” Hunt said. There are very real limitations of remote work in the public sector, which go beyond the need for police stations and schools. Departments having staff available for local residents who struggle either with internet access or phone usage is key to ensuring equitable access to government services regardless of means. Smaller local governments have less need to radically rethink their real estate, especially since so many already own their own city halls and county complexes, said Chrelle Booker, the mayor pro tem for the town of Tryon in western North Carolina. For much of the pandemic, city employees came to work in person when they were allowed at Tryon Town Hall, Booker said, and public meetings were still held in person in the town of fewer than 2,000 people.  “The pandemic didn’t change anything for us,” Booker said. “It's almost as if we were in another part of the world I guess. Our own little private island.” Booker, who is on the board of directors for the National League of Cities and is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, said her peers in larger cities could benefit from building a one-stop shop for multiple city services. In Tryon’s case, no consolidation was necessary. “Our police station is part of the same building, and of course, they can't just sit at home,” she said. Office footprints of bigger cities could increasingly look more like Tryon’s as they consolidate departments and lean on hybrid work.  Last year, Fort Worth, Texas, purchased a 20-story, 425K SF tower that had been the headquarters of Pier 1 Imports to convert into its new seat of government. The new Fort Worth City Hall will be home to 16 different departments that had occupied nine other city-owned buildings between them, Fort Worth Director of Property Management Steve Cooke told Bisnow. The consolidation helps especially in the case of individuals or businesses who need permits or forms from multiple departments. Whereas previously, someone might be running all over town to get the correct materials, the new City Hall can function as a one-stop shop, Cooke said. “We're going to be putting that big, pretty building on the front of everything so that it becomes the face of the city,” he said.  The city of Fort Worth paid $69.5M for the building and initially estimated that renovations would cost around $30M, compared to the $200M it estimated new construction would cost. Unlike many other jurisdictions, Fort Worth is amenable to selling the properties it is vacating, further defraying the cost of the move. “We’re going to empty them and sell them for the most part. To sit here and say that it’s going to save us 30 million bucks, I can’t do that sitting here right now,” Cooke said. “But it certainly helps.” Tyler Durden Fri, 03/18/2022 - 21:40.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMar 19th, 2022

The Man Behind Ethereum Is Worried About Crypto’s Future

In a few minutes, electronic music will start pulsing, stuffed animals will be flung through the air, women will emerge spinning Technicolor hula hoops, and a mechanical bull will rev into action, bucking off one delighted rider after another. It’s the closing party of ETHDenver, a weeklong cryptocurrency conference dedicated to the blockchain Ethereum. Lines… In a few minutes, electronic music will start pulsing, stuffed animals will be flung through the air, women will emerge spinning Technicolor hula hoops, and a mechanical bull will rev into action, bucking off one delighted rider after another. It’s the closing party of ETHDenver, a weeklong cryptocurrency conference dedicated to the blockchain Ethereum. Lines have stretched around the block for days. Now, on this Sunday night in February, the giddy energy is peaking. But as the crowd pushes inside, a wiry man with elfin features is sprinting out of the venue, past astonished selfie takers and venture capitalists. Some call out, imploring him to stay; others even chase him down the street, on foot and on scooters. Yet the man outruns them all, disappearing into the privacy of his hotel lobby, alone. [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”] Vitalik Buterin, the most influential person in crypto, didn’t come to Denver to party. He doesn’t drink or particularly enjoy crowds. Not that there isn’t plenty for the 28-year-old creator of Ethereum to celebrate. Nine years ago, Buterin dreamed up Ethereum as a way to leverage the blockchain technology underlying Bitcoin for all sorts of uses beyond currency. Since then, it has emerged as the bedrock layer of what advocates say will be a new, open-source, decentralized internet. Ether, the platform’s native currency, has become the second biggest cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin, powering a trillion-dollar ecosystem that rivals Visa in terms of the money it moves. Ethereum has brought thousands of unbanked people around the world into financial systems, allowed capital to flow unencumbered across borders, and provided the infrastructure for entrepreneurs to build all sorts of new products, from payment systems to prediction markets, digital swap meets to medical-research hubs. Photograph by Benjamin Rasmussen for TIME But even as crypto has soared in value and volume, Buterin has watched the world he created evolve with a mixture of pride and dread. Ethereum has made a handful of white men unfathomably rich, pumped pollutants into the air, and emerged as a vehicle for tax evasion, money laundering, and mind-boggling scams. “Crypto itself has a lot of dystopian potential if implemented wrong,” the Russian-born Canadian explains the morning after the party in an 80-minute interview in his hotel room. Buterin worries about the dangers to overeager investors, the soaring transaction fees, and the shameless displays of wealth that have come to dominate public perception of crypto. “The peril is you have these $3 million monkeys and it becomes a different kind of gambling,” he says, referring to the Bored Ape Yacht Club, an überpopular NFT collection of garish primate cartoons that has become a digital-age status symbol for millionaires including Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton, and which have traded for more than $1 million a pop. “There definitely are lots of people that are just buying yachts and Lambos.” Read More: Politicians Show Their Increasing Interest In Crypto at ETHDenver 2022 Buterin hopes Ethereum will become the launchpad for all sorts of sociopolitical experimentation: fairer voting systems, urban planning, universal basic income, public-works projects. Above all, he wants the platform to be a counterweight to authoritarian governments and to upend Silicon Valley’s stranglehold over our digital lives. But he acknowledges that his vision for the transformative power of Ethereum is at risk of being overtaken by greed. And so he has reluctantly begun to take on a bigger public role in shaping its future. “If we don’t exercise our voice, the only things that get built are the things that are immediately profitable,” he says, reedy voice rising and falling as he fidgets his hands and sticks his toes between the cushions of a lumpy gray couch. “And those are often far from what’s actually the best for the world.” The irony is that despite all of Buterin’s cachet, he may not have the ability to prevent Ethereum from veering off course. That’s because he designed it as a decentralized platform, responsive not only to his own vision but also to the will of its builders, investors, and ever sprawling community. Buterin is not the formal leader of Ethereum. And he fundamentally rejects the idea that anyone should hold unilateral power over its future. Benjamin Rasmussen for TIMEButerin dons Shiba Inu pajama pants onstage at ETHDenver Which has left Buterin reliant on the limited tools of soft power: writing blog posts, giving interviews, conducting research, speaking at conferences where many attendees just want to bask in the glow of their newfound riches. “I’ve been yelling a lot, and sometimes that yelling does feel like howling into the wind,” he says, his eyes darting across the room. Whether or not his approach works (and how much sway Buterin has over his own brainchild) may be the difference between a future in which Ethereum becomes the basis of a new era of digital life, and one in which it’s just another instrument of financial speculation—credit-default swaps with a utopian patina. Three days after the music stops at ETHDenver, Buterin’s attention turns across the world, back to the region where he was born. In the war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin, cryptocurrency almost immediately became a tool of Ukrainian resistance. More than $100 million in crypto was raised in the invasion’s first three weeks for the Ukrainian government and NGOs. Cryptocurrency has also provided a lifeline for some fleeing Ukrainians whose banks are inaccessible. At the same time, regulators worry that it will be used by Russian oligarchs to evade sanctions. Buterin has sprung into action too, matching hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants toward relief efforts and publicly lambasting Putin’s decision to invade. “One silver lining of the situation in the last three weeks is that it has reminded a lot of people in the crypto space that ultimately the goal of crypto is not to play games with million-dollar pictures of monkeys, it’s to do things that accomplish meaningful effects in the real world,” Buterin wrote in an email to TIME on March 14. His outspoken advocacy marks a change for a leader who has been slow to find his political voice. “One of the decisions I made in 2022 is to try to be more risk-taking and less neutral,” Buterin says. “I would rather Ethereum offend some people than turn into something that stands for nothing.” The war is personal to Buterin, who has both Russian and Ukrainian ancestry. He was born outside Moscow in 1994 to two computer scientists, Dmitry Buterin and Natalia Ameline, a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Monetary and social systems had collapsed; his mother’s parents lost their life savings amid rising inflation. “Growing up in the USSR, I didn’t realize most of the stuff I’d been told in school that was good, like communism, was all propaganda,” explains Dmitry. “So I wanted Vitalik to question conventions and beliefs, and he grew up very independent as a thinker.” The family initially lived in a university dorm room with a shared bathroom. There were no disposable diapers available, so his parents washed his by hand. Vitalik grew up with a turbulent, teeming mind. Dmitry says Vitalik learned how to read before he could sleep through the night, and was slow to form sentences compared with his peers. “Because his mind was going so fast,” Dmitry recalls, “it was actually hard for him to express himself verbally for some time.” Instead, Vitalik gravitated to the clarity of numbers. At 4, he inherited his parents’ old IBM computer and started playing around with Excel spreadsheets. At 7, he could recite more than a hundred digits of pi, and would shout out math equations to pass the time. By 12, he was coding inside Microsoft Office Suite. The precocious child’s isolation from his peers had been exacerbated by a move to Toronto in 2000, the same year Putin was first elected. His father characterizes Vitalik’s Canadian upbringing as “lucky and naive.” Vitalik himself uses the words “lonely and disconnected.” Courtesy Dmitry ButerinButerin on his IBM In 2011, Dmitry introduced Vitalik to Bitcoin, which had been created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. After seeing the collapse of financial systems in both Russia and the U.S., Dmitry was intrigued by the idea of an alternative global money source that was uncontrolled by authorities. Vitalik soon began writing articles exploring the new technology for the magazine Bitcoin Weekly, for which he earned 5 bitcoins a pop (back then, some $4; today, it would be worth about $200,000). Even as a teenager, Vitalik Buterin proved to be a pithy writer, able to articulate complex ideas about cryptocurrency and its underlying technology in clear prose. At 18, he co-founded Bitcoin Magazine and became its lead writer, earning a following both in Toronto and abroad. “A lot of people think of him as a typical techie engineer,” says Nathan Schneider, a media-studies professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who first interviewed Buterin in 2014. “But a core of his practice even more so is observation and writing—and that helped him see a cohesive vision that others weren’t seeing yet.” As Buterin learned more about the blockchain technology on which Bitcoin was built, he began to believe using it purely for currency was a waste. The blockchain, he thought, could serve as an efficient method for securing all sorts of assets: web applications, organizations, financial derivatives, nonpredatory loan programs, even wills. Each of these could be operated by “smart contracts,” code that could be programmed to carry out transactions without the need for intermediaries. A decentralized version of the rideshare industry, for example, could be built to send money directly from passengers to drivers, without Uber swiping a cut of the proceeds. Read the rest of Buterin’s interview in TIME’s newsletter Into the Metaverse. Subscribe for a weekly guide to the future of the Internet. You can find past issues of the newsletter here. In 2013, Buterin dropped out of college and wrote a 36-page white paper laying out his vision for Ethereum: a new open-source blockchain on which programmers could build any sort of application they wished. (Buterin swiped the name from a Wikipedia list of elements from science fiction.) He sent it to friends in the Bitcoin community, who passed it around. Soon a handful of programmers and businessmen around the world sought out Buterin in hopes of helping him bring it to life. Within months, a group of eight men who would become known as Ethereum’s founders were sharing a three-story Airbnb in Switzerland, writing code and wooing investors. While some of the other founders mixed work and play—watching Game of Thrones, persuading friends to bring over beer in exchange for Ether IOUs—Buterin mostly kept to himself, coding away on his laptop, according to Laura Shin’s recent book about the history of Ethereum, The Cryptopians. Over time, it became apparent that the group had very different plans for the nascent technology. Buterin wanted a decentralized open platform on which anyone could build anything. Others wanted to use the technology to create a business. One idea was to build the crypto equivalent to Google, in which Ethereum would use customer data to sell targeted ads. The men also squabbled over power and titles. One co-founder, Charles Hoskinson, appointed himself CEO—a designation that was of no interest to Buterin, who joked his title would be C-3PO, after the droid from Star Wars. The ensuing conflicts left Buterin with culture shock. In the space of a few months, he had gone from a cloistered life of writing code and technical articles to a that of a decisionmaker grappling with bloated egos and power struggles. His vision for Ethereum hung in the balance. “The biggest divide was definitely that a lot of these people cared about making money. For me, that was totally not my goal,” says Buterin, whose net worth is at least $800 million, according to public records on the blockchain whose accuracy was confirmed by a spokesperson. “There were even times at the beginning where I was negotiating down the percentages of the Ether distribution that both myself and the other top-level founders would get, in order to be more egalitarian. That did make them upset.” TIME Buterin says the other founders tried to take advantage of his naiveté to push through their own ideas about how Ethereum should run. “People used my fear of regulators against me,” he recalls, “saying that we should have a for-profit entity because it’s so much simpler legally than making a nonprofit.” As tensions rose, the group implored Buterin to make a decision. In June 2014, he asked Hoskinson and Amir Chetrit, two co-founders who were pushing Ethereum to become a business, to leave the group. He then set in motion the creation of the Ethereum Foundation (EF), a nonprofit established to safeguard Ethereum’s infrastructure and fund research and development projects. One by one, all the other founders peeled off over the next few years to pursue their own projects, either in tandem with Ethereum or as direct competitors. Some of them remain critical of Buterin’s approach. “In the dichotomy between centralization and anarchy, Ethereum seems to be going toward anarchy,” says Hoskinson, who now leads his own blockchain, Cardano. “We think there’s a middle ground to create some sort of blockchain-based governance system.” With the founders splintered, Buterin emerged as Ethereum’s philosophical leader. He had a seat on the EF board and the clout to shape industry trends and move markets with his public pronouncements. He even became known as “V God” in China. But he didn’t exactly step into the power vacuum. “He’s not good at bossing people around,” says Aya Miyaguchi, the executive director of the EF. “From a social-navigation perspective, he was immature. He’s probably still conflict-averse,” says Danny Ryan, a lead researcher at the EF. Buterin calls his struggle to inhabit the role of an organizational leader “my curse for the first few years at Ethereum.” It’s not hard to see why. Buterin still does not present stereotypical leadership qualities when you meet him. He sniffles and stutters through his sentences, walks stiffly, and struggles to hold eye contact. He puts almost no effort into his clothing, mostly wearing Uniqlo tees or garments gifted to him by friends. His disheveled appearance has made him an easy target on social media: he recently shared insults from online hecklers who said he looked like a “Bond villain” or an “alien crackhead.” Yet almost everyone who has a full conversation with Buterin comes away starry-eyed. Buterin is wryly funny and almost wholly devoid of pretension or ego. He’s an unabashed geek whose eyes spark when he alights upon one of his favorite concepts, whether it be quadratic voting or the governance system futarchy. Just as Ethereum is designed to be an everything machine, Buterin is an everything thinker, fluent in disciplines ranging from sociological theory to advanced calculus to land-tax history. (He’s currently using Duolingo to learn his fifth and sixth languages.) He doesn’t talk down to people, and he eschews a security detail. “An emotional part of me says that once you start going down that way, professionalizing is just another word for losing your soul,” he says. Benjamin Rasmussen for TIMEButerin, seen through a monitor at ETHDenver Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit and a major crypto investor, says being around Buterin gives him “a similar vibe to when I first got to know Sir Tim Berners-Lee,” the inventor of the World Wide Web. “He’s very thoughtful and unassuming,” Ohanian says, “and he’s giving the world some of the most powerful Legos it’s ever seen.” For years, Buterin has been grappling with how much power to exercise in Ethereum’s decentralized ecosystem. The first major test came in 2016, when a newly created Ethereum-based fundraising body called the DAO was hacked for $60 million, which amounted at the time to more than 4% of all Ether in circulation. The hack tested the crypto community’s values: if they truly believed no central authority should override the code governing smart contracts, then thousands of investors would simply have to eat the loss—which could, in turn, encourage more hackers. On the other hand, if Buterin chose to reverse the hack using a maneuver called a hard fork, he would be wielding the same kind of central authority as the financial systems he sought to replace. Buterin took a middle ground. He consulted with other Ethereum leaders, wrote blog posts advocating for the hard fork, and watched as the community voted overwhelmingly in favor of that option via forums and petitions. When Ethereum developers created the fork, users and miners had the option to stick with the hacked version of the blockchain. But they overwhelmingly chose the forked version, and Ethereum quickly recovered in value. To Buterin, the DAO hack epitomized the promise of a decentralized approach to governance. “Leadership has to rely much more on soft power and less on hard power, so leaders have to actually take into account the feelings of the community and treat them with respect,” he says. “Leadership positions aren’t fixed, so if leaders stop performing, the world forgets about them. And the converse is that it’s very easy for new leaders to rise up.” Over the past few years, countless leaders have risen up in Ethereum, building all kinds of products, tokens, and subcultures. There was the ICO boom of 2017, in which venture capitalists raised billions of dollars for blockchain projects. There was DeFi summer in 2020, in which new trading mechanisms and derivative structures sent money whizzing around the world at hyperspeed. And there was last year’s explosion of NFTs: tradeable digital goods, like profile pictures, art collections, and sports cards, that skyrocketed in value. Skeptics have derided the utility of NFTs, in which billion-dollar economies have been built upon the perceived digital ownership of simple images that can easily be copied and pasted. But they have rapidly become one of the most utilized components of the Ethereum ecosystem. In January, the NFT trading platform OpenSea hit a record $5 billion in monthly sales. Benjamin Rasmussen for TIMEConference­goers line up to ask Buterin questions after his keynote Buterin didn’t predict the rise of NFTs, and has watched the phenomenon with a mixture of interest and anxiety. On one hand, they have helped to turbocharge the price of Ether, which has increased more than tenfold in value over the past two years. (Disclosure: I own less than $1,300 worth of Ether, which I purchased in 2021.) But their volume has overwhelmed the network, leading to a steep rise in congestion fees, in which, for instance, bidders trying to secure a rare NFT pay hundreds of dollars extra to make sure their transactions are expedited. Read More: NFT Art Collectors Are Playing a Risky Game—And Winning The fees have undermined some of Buterin’s favorite projects on the blockchain. Take Proof of Humanity, which awards a universal basic income—currently about $40 per month—to anyone who signs up. Depending on the week, the network’s congestion fees can make pulling money out of your wallet to pay for basic needs prohibitively expensive. “With fees being the way they are today,” Buterin says, “it really gets to the point where the financial derivatives and the gambley stuff start pricing out some of the cool stuff.” Inequities have crept into crypto in other ways, including a stark lack of gender and racial diversity. “It hasn’t been among the things I’ve put a lot of intellectual effort into,” Buterin admits of gender parity. “The ecosystem does need to improve there.” He’s scornful of the dominance of coin voting, a voting process for DAOs that Buterin feels is just a new version of plutocracy, one in which wealthy venture capitalists can make self-interested decisions with little resistance. “It’s become a de facto standard, which is a dystopia I’ve been seeing unfolding over the last few years,” he says. These problems have sparked a backlash both inside and outside the blockchain community. As crypto rockets toward the mainstream, its esoteric jargon, idiosyncratic culture, and financial excesses have been met with widespread disdain. Meanwhile, frustrated users are decamping to newer blockchains like Solana and BNB Chain, driven by the prospect of lower transaction fees, alternative building tools, or different philosophical values. Buterin understands why people are moving away from Ethereum. Unlike virtually any other leader in a trillion-dollar industry, he says he’s fine with it—especially given that Ethereum’s current problems stem from the fact that it has too many users. (Losing immense riches doesn’t faze him much, either: last year, he dumped $6 billion worth of Shiba Inu tokens that were gifted to him, explaining that he wanted to give some to charity, help maintain the meme coin’s value, and surrender his role as a “locus of power.”) In the meantime, he and the EF—which holds almost a billion dollars worth of Ether in reserve, a representative confirmed—are taking several approaches to improve the ecosystem. Last year, they handed out $27 million to Ethereum-based projects, up from $7.7 million in 2019, to recipients including smart-contract developers and an educational conference in Lagos. The EF research team is also working on two crucial technical updates. The first is known as the “merge,” which converts Ethereum from Proof of Work, a form of blockchain verification, to Proof of Stake, which the EF says will reduce Ethereum’s energy usage by more than 99% and make the network more secure. Buterin has been stumping for Proof of Stake since Ethereum’s founding, but repeated delays have turned implementation into a Waiting for Godot–style drama. At ETHDenver, the EF researcher Danny Ryan declared that the merge would happen within the next six months, unless “something insanely catastrophic” happens. The same day, Buterin encouraged companies worried about the environmental impact to delay using Ethereum until the merge is completed—even if it “gets delayed until 2025.” Benjamin Rasmussen for TIMEETHDenver attendee Brent Burdick checks his phone in an NFT gallery room In January, Moxie Marlinspike, co-founder of the messaging app Signal, wrote a widely read critique noting that despite its collectivist mantras, so-called web3 was already coalescing around centralized platforms. As he often does when faced with legitimate criticism, Buterin responded with a thoughtful, detailed post on Reddit. “The properly authenticated decentralized blockchain world is coming, and is much closer to being here than many people think,” he wrote. “I see no technical reason why the future needs to look like the status quo today.” Buterin is aware that crypto’s utopian promises sound stale to many, and calls the race to implement sharding in the face of competition a “ticking time bomb.” “If we don’t have sharding fast enough, then people might just start migrating to more centralized solutions,” he says. “And if after all that stuff happens and it still centralizes, then yes, there’s a much stronger argument that there’s a big problem.” As the technical kinks get worked out, Buterin has turned his attention toward larger sociopolitical issues he thinks the blockchain might solve. On his blog and on Twitter, you’ll find treatises on housing; on voting systems; on the best way to distribute public goods; on city building and longevity research. While Buterin spent much of the pandemic living in Singapore, he increasingly lives as a digital nomad, writing dispatches from the road. Those who know Buterin well have noticed a philosophical shift over the years. “He’s gone on a journey from being more sympathetic to anarcho-capitalist thinking to Georgist-type thinking,” says Glen Weyl, an economist who is one of his close collaborators, referring to a theory that holds the value of the commons should belong equally to all members of society. One of Buterin’s recent posts calls for the creation of a new type of NFT, based not on monetary value but on participation and identity. For instance, the allocation of votes in an organization might be determined by the commitment an individual has shown to the group, as opposed to the number of tokens they own. “NFTs can represent much more of who you are and not just what you can afford,” he writes. Read More: How Crypto Investors Are Handling Plunging Prices While Buterin’s blog is one of his main tools of public persuasion, his posts aren’t meant to be decrees, but rather intellectual explorations that invite debate. Buterin often dissects the flaws of obscure ideas he once wrote effusively about, like Harberger taxes. His blog is a model for how a leader can work through complex ideas with transparency and rigor, exposing the messy process of intellectual growth for all to see, and perhaps learn from. Some of Buterin’s more radical ideas can provoke alarm. In January, he caused a minor outrage on Twitter by advocating for synthetic wombs, which he argued could reduce the pay gap between men and women. He predicts there’s a decent chance someone born today will live to be 3,000, and takes the anti-diabetes medication Metformin in the hope of slowing his body’s aging, despite mixed studies on the drug’s efficacy. Subscribe to TIME’s newsletter Into the Metaverse for a weekly guide to the future of the Internet. You can find past issues of the newsletter here. As governmental bodies prepare to wade into crypto—in March, President Biden signed an Executive Order seeking a federal plan for regulating digital assets—Buterin has increasingly been sought out by politicians. At ETHDenver, he held a private conversation with Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat who supports cryptocurrencies. Buterin is anxious about crypto’s political valence in the U.S., where Republicans have generally been more eager to embrace it. “There’s definitely signs that are making it seem like crypto is on the verge of becoming a right-leaning thing,” Buterin says. “If it does happen, we’ll sacrifice a lot of the potential it has to offer.” To Buterin, the worst-case scenario for the future of crypto is that blockchain technology ends up concentrated in the hands of dictatorial governments. He is unhappy with El Salvador’s rollout of Bitcoin as legal tender, which has been riddled with identity theft and volatility. The prospect of governments using the technology to crack down on dissent is one reason Buterin is adamant about crypto remaining decentralized. He sees the technology as the most powerful equalizer to surveillance technology deployed by governments (like China’s) and powerful companies (like Meta) alike. If Mark Zuckerberg shouldn’t have the power to make epoch-changing decisions or control users’ data for profit, Buterin believes, then neither should he—even if that limits his ability to shape the future of his creation, sends some people to other blockchains, or allows others to use his platform in unsavory ways. “I would love to have an ecosystem that has lots of good crazy and bad crazy,” Buterin says. “Bad crazy is when there’s just huge amounts of money being drained and all it’s doing is subsidizing the hacker industry. Good crazy is when there’s tech work and research and development and public goods coming out of the other end. So there’s this battle. And we have to be intentional, and make sure more of the right things happen.” —With reporting by Nik Popli and Mariah Espada/Washington.....»»

Category: topSource: timeMar 18th, 2022

Homeowner Suing Michigan County Over Home Equity "Theft" Appeals To 6th Circuit

Homeowner Suing Michigan County Over Home Equity 'Theft' Appeals To 6th Circuit Authored by Matthew Vadum via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours), A widow is appealing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, a court ruling dismissing her claim that local governments in Michigan seized her family’s home over a tax debt and then refused to compensate her for the home equity in the property that she lost. Christina M. Martin, senior attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation (photo: Pacific Legal Foundation) The unfavorable ruling came despite the fact that the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that counties may not keep for themselves as a windfall funds left over from the sale of real property for unpaid taxes, an unconstitutional practice the property owner’s lawyers denounce, calling it “home equity theft.” The case is “about a city using a predatory tax law as an engine for its other government purposes, and to enrich private companies,” Christina M. Martin, a senior attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), told The Epoch Times in an interview. PLF is a Sacramento, California-based national public interest law firm that represents injured clients free of charge. “So the government says that since it didn’t make any money, it doesn’t have to pay these property owners anything,” Martin said. “But the bottom line is, the government took these homes that were worth far more than any of the homeowners owed the government. And the government should have to pay just compensation for that surplus that it took.” The brief in the appeal (pdf), Hall v. Meisner, court file 20-cv-12230, was filed March 7 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. The claim was dismissed in May 2021 by Judge Paul D. Borman, a Clinton appointee, on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. According to the brief, the county took the homes of eight appellants to satisfy tax debts in amounts far below the value of their homes, receiving “a huge windfall at the expense of the homeowners.” The only compensation they received “was forgiveness of the debts that were worth much less than their homes.” The case goes back several years when Tawanda and Prentiss Hall fell behind on their property taxes and set up a payment plan with their local government so they would not lose their Southfield, Michigan, home where they lived with their children. Tawanda Hall is one of the eight former property owners suing in federal court. But Oakland County terminated the Halls’ plan when their tax debt stood at $22,642, and foreclosed on their home. Instead of selling the house at public auction, paying off the debt, and returning the surplus—minus interest and penalties—to the homeowners, the county used the Halls’ money to “enrich” a private company, Southfield Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, LLC, which is managed by City of Southfield officials. “Through a series of legal transactions, the county took the Halls’ home (and the homes of seven other homeowners party to this case) and transferred it through the City of Southfield to the Revitalization Initiative, which sold it for more than $300,000. The Halls received none of the difference between the debt they owed and the sales price,” PLF said in a statement. This public-private arrangement was established in 2016 by a city resolution. Southfield relies on a state law allowing cities a “right of first refusal” to buy foreclosed homes from the county for the cost of tax debt. “The Southfield Non-Profit Housing Corporation reimburses the city for the amount of the tax debt, and turns the properties over to the for-profit Revitalization Initiative—for $1—to be fixed up and sold,” PLF said. Citing a Detroit News report, PLF stated that the “company generated as much as $10 million from 138 properties from 2016 to 2019 after covering more than $2 million in tax debts to acquire the properties from the city. The former owners of these properties lost everything and received nothing from the surplus value of the properties taken from them.” PLF stated that one court described the system as “troubling,” “shocking to the conscience,” and stated that it “rightfully breeds distrust among the electorate.” The saga took its toll on the Halls. “Six months after the family was forced to move, an exhausted and overworked Prentiss died from a brain injury sustained in an on-the-job fall—he was 52,” PLF said. According to PLF, the case is the latest in the firm’s ongoing work to take on home equity theft across the nation. The firm’s website states that when someone miscalculates a bill, “Typically, a late fee or a strongly worded warning follows. But do you know what happens if you miscalculate and underpay your property taxes—even by just a few dollars? In at least 12 states, the government will seize your property, sell it, and leave you with nothing.” PLF argues that a victory in this case would finish what the firm started in Rafaeli LLC v. Oakland County, when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled unanimously to end home equity theft through government foreclosure auctions. The Epoch Times reported on that ruling in July 2020. That court ruled that counties in Michigan may not keep for themselves as a windfall funds left over from the sale of real property for unpaid taxes. Court documents in that case indicated the plaintiff, who had bought the rental property in Southfield for $60,000, owed $8.41 in unpaid property taxes from 2011, which grew to $285.81 after interest, penalties, and fees. Oakland County foreclosed on the property for the delinquency, selling it at auction for $24,500, and keeping all the sale proceeds in excess of the taxes, interest, penalties, and fees. Oakland County, Michigan, Treasurer Robert Wittenberg commented by email on the new appeal. “Although the Oakland County Treasurer’s Office does not comment on pending litigation, we place a high priority on helping our residents and business owners to retain their properties while complying with Michigan law. Our commitment—to fulfill our statutory responsibilities, prevent tax foreclosure and the loss of property ownership rights in Oakland County—is unwavering.” The Epoch Times also reached out to the City of Southfield for comment on the new appeal but had not received a reply as of press time. Tyler Durden Thu, 03/17/2022 - 22:25.....»»

Category: blogSource: zerohedgeMar 18th, 2022

I booked an Airbnb in Ukraine as a donation. My host told me about the fight for her land — and her future.

"We are fighting to live on our land," my Airbnb host told me. "I do not want to leave my homeland. Here are my parents; here my child must be born." Lviv, Ukraine.Getty Images Since the Russian invasion, more than 400,000 Airbnb nights have been booked in Ukraine. The bookings aren't for actual stays; they're for donations. I joined in and connected with a host in Lviv. "I do not want to leave my homeland," she told me. "Here are my parents; here my (future) child must be born."  On Friday night, I lay restless in bed listening to the muffled sounds of a nearby car alarm going off somewhere in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Halfway across the world, in a different time zone, a stranger named Anna hadn't slept in days. She could hear the faint sounds of air raid sirens outside her home in Lviv, the largest city in Western Ukraine. While my sleepless night was the result of the atrocities I'd witnessed on the news during the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier that evening, Anna was left to wonder what tomorrow might bring to her now war-ravaged country.Shortly after a February 24 television address where Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed modern Ukraine was a threat to Russia, effectively declaring war on the country, Lviv's stores began boarding up and closing. Citizens stood single-file patiently waiting for the ATM, hoping there would still be enough cash in it by the time it was their turn, and the city instituted a mandatory curfew in effect daily from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.  As I sat at my kitchen table the next morning, sipping a cup of tea and reading the latest news out of Ukraine, my phone vibrated with a calendar reminder for the two-bedroom apartment in Lviv I'd impulsively booked on Airbnb earlier that day.  My reservation was four hours away. Yet there I sat, unshowered, still in my pajamas and without any bags packed, moving in slow motion.I'd created an Airbnb account in 2013, and yet I'd never booked accommodations before this one — a room I never planned to use. When I began scrolling for accommodations in those peaceful morning hours before sunrise, I didn't concern myself with the typical things that first-world travelers often do. I wasn't interested in the views, how walkable the location might be, the proximity to places of interest, or, dare I say, the thread counts of the sheets. I didn't seek restaurant recommendations from my network or post questions in the myriad of online travel groups I belong to.My only requirement was that the accommodations were available immediately. When I found a place with availability, I booked it for two nights for a total of $180, knowing the funds would be directed to the host within 24 hours of check-in.When my reservation was confirmed, I messaged my host, Anna, to let her know I wouldn't be coming and to please accept my payment as a gesture of solidarity and support. Though extremely grateful, I'm sure she wasn't surprised. Ever since the concept went viral two weeks ago, people from around the world have booked Airbnb reservations in Ukraine in an effort to quickly and securely get money into the hands of people on the ground there. The movement even prompted Airbnb to waive its usual fees, and according to a March 11 tweet from Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, 434,000 nights had been booked on Airbnb in Ukraine. A total of $15 million had gone directly to hosts.(It's important to note, however, that not all Airbnbs in Ukraine are tied to small local hosts. During any major world event like this one, it's important to research where your donations are going. This Skift story has good tips on how to do that.)But beyond the financial transactions, reservation requests are now accompanied by sympathetic notes from people all over the world who often receive missives of gratitude from their virtual hosts along with a snapshot of what life is like for them right now.When I sent my own note, I got a response within an hour. "All my adult life, I have been hosting guests from different countries around the world," Anna wrote. "I show them Lviv, I tell them about Ukraine. Now, we are fighting for the right to live on our land."I do not want to leave my homeland. Here are my parents; here my (future) child must be born." Right now, Ukrainians are evacuating their cities in droves. Since Anna and her Airbnb partner Oksana have a number of reservation bookings from people like me who aren't actually using their accommodations, the duo has opened their apartments up to displaced Ukrainians in their city. I know this because Anna and I now communicate regularly. I wish there was more I could do, and I'm far from the only one.  That's reflected by the fact that an overwhelming number of people are renting these Airbnbs in an effort to help innocent people in the midst of such turmoil.This gesture has allowed me and thousands of others around the world to provide both financial and emotional support to people who desperately need it. For that reason alone, booking Anna's Airbnb was the best trip I never went on.Read the original article on Business Insider.....»»

Category: topSource: businessinsiderMar 15th, 2022