Monthly Archives: July 2009

Stimulate That!

         Rememeber the stimulus legislation? The one that was supposed to get a bunch of “shovel-ready” state projects that would provide needed employment, and all that other good stuff?

        Guess what? Today’s USA Today reports that things aren’t working quite as advertised. Surprise, surprise!

         “The [GAO] report says that as of mid-June, states had received about $29 billion out of the estimated $49 billion in stimulus funding they are scheduled to get before the federal budget year ends Sep. 30. More than 90% of the money given to the states so far is for Medicaid and a fund meant to prop up states’ budgets for schools and other basic services such as public safety.” Matt Kelley, Report: States Aren’t Using Stimulus Funds as Intended, USA Today, Jul. 8, 2009, at p. 4A

         Not exactly what one thinks when hearing the phrase “shovel-ready.” But maybe those folks meant the other kind of shovel. You know, the kind you shovel BS with. D’you suppose?

Follow up. The New York Times reports that as of now most of the stimulus money is going to rural areas. — “of 5,274 transportatioin projects approved so far — the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend theor stimulus money — the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of tranportation stimulus money.” Also, far from creating new projects (what politicians like to call “investment”) “[t]he Times analysis shows that a little more than half the stimulus money will be spent on ‘pavement improvement’ projects, mostly repaving rutted and potholed roads.” This sounds more like maintenance than capital improvements. See Michael Cooper and Griff Palmer, Cities Lose Out on Road Funds Frim FederalStimulus, N.T. Times, July 9, 2009.

You Can’t Make this Up

         The Day, the New London, Connecticut newspaper reports that the Fort Trumbull site of the wretched Kelo case, that was razed to the ground after the Supreme Court allowed the taking of the pre-existing lower middle class neighborhood for redevelopment that never got off the ground, is being taken over by “wildflowers, milkweeds and tall grasses,” which in turn attract birds. Those are now moving in, to the delight of local bird watchers. See Judy Benson, Fort Trumbull Neighborhood Is for the Birds, July 7, 2009. 

        If this isn’t lunacy, we don’t know what is. Some $80 million in public funds wasted, a viable neighborhood destroyed, all for nothing — or, no pun intended, for the birds.

        All we need now is for some endangered bird species to find its way into the area and take up residence there, which, of course, would make it unbuildable. Crazy? Well, yes. But a fitting denouement to what has been crazy throughout.

Happy Fourth of July!

          We hope you are enjoying your Fourth of July weekend. But as you partake of the traditional backyard barbeque, and take in the local fireworks show, we hope you find time for a moment of reflection on the privilege that is yours by having the good fortune to live in this great country that for all its warts and pimples remains the greatest place on earth. You doubt us? Then reflect on the fact that people from all over the world are doing their best, often risking death in the process, to come here and become Americans, not the other way around. We could say more, but that says it all.

           And as for our friends and erstwhile friends abroad, who these days tend to bitch and kvetch about America, we offer this thought. Twice in the twentieth century, Americans, those unsophisticated, rough-around-the-edges Americans tightened their belts and shouldered their arms to cross the ocean and save your sorry asses (if you’re British, make that arses) from the Huns, the Nazis and the Bolsheviks — Europeans, one and all — and in recent years have enabled you to maintain your fine standard of living without having to bear the economic cost and personal burdens of defending yourselves from the new barbarians who would air their “grievances” by blowing up innocent civilians. So as you tuck into another pain au chocolat in your favorite sidewalk café, do remember how you came to enjoy such a good life and reflect on who made it possible. You might even go over to your nearest McDonald’s, chow down on an American hamburger, and reflect on the fact that your real friends are those American “cowboys” who still shed their blood to defend you. 

          A Happy Fourth of July to all of you!

Should Your Neighbors Get to Vote Whether Your Property Should Be Taken for Economic Redevelopment?

         Alan Ackerman’s National Eminent Domain blog ( ) is the messenger and his message of July 4, 2009 is that there is a proposal being floated in North Carolina, that would permit the voters to decide whether a proposed taking for economic development is for a public use. We know Mr. Ackerman, and he is a serious and well-informed gent who wouldn’t make up a thing like that. Still, this sounds more like one of P.J. O’Rourke’s parodies than a serious legislative proposal.

         Can you imagine a proposal that any other constitutional issue requiring the interpretation of a Bill of Rights provision be subject to a popular vote? Sheesh! If someone were to propose that your neighbors should get to vote on whether there is probable cause to search your house, the ACLU would have a purple conniption fit and the sky would darken with lawsuits descending on the nearest courthouse to interdict such an outrage.  Yet, when it comes to eminent domain, anything goes. Reminds us of our cherished belief that we formulated over a period of decades, that there is some evil magic about eminent domain that causes otherwise sensible people to say silly things.

        Mr. Ackerman’s blog does not identify the North Carolina worthies who came up with this brain storm, but it might be interesting to know who they are and what were they thinking — assuming they were thinking at all.

Dams. Again.

          Today’s New York Times carries an editorial entitled Ten Years, 430 Dams, Jul. 4, 2009, at p. A18, calling for more dismantling of dams for the sake of improving salmon runs. From it we learn that in the past ten years some 430 dams have been removed, something of which the Times heartily approves, and wants to see more of.  Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is in on the gag, and is working with  the Penobscot River Restoration Trust and — get this — PPL, a power company, to remove two dams in Maine. Why a power company would want to remove dams which are producing saleable, clean and sustainable hydroelectric power, would seem to be a mystery, until you remember our post of last November ( ) describing how power companies can be coerced by the government into doing that.

         So next time you hear lamentations about how global warming is being caused by carbon dioxide emissions, and how we must reduce them in order for the planet to survive,  remember that these lamentations are coming from the kind of people who are also demanding destruction of hydroelectric dams that produce the cleanest and most sustainable power available. It’s sort of like the government subsidizing the production of sugar, and then urging one and all to reduce its consumption because consuming it will make you fat and cause your teeth to rot.

         The bottom line of it all is that those dams were originally built for a reason: water supplies, irrigation, flood control and electrical power generation. So if you tear them down you will necessarily be affecting these things negatively and that, like everything else in life, will exact a cost that society may or may not be willing to pay.  And to make that decision rationally, one has to understand both the benefits and the burdens that flow from tearing down those dams. But if you read the New York Times, you won’t find much information about the cost of this caper.  All you will find is that the fish would like it, and that some Indian tribes that understandably enjoy their traditional fishing rights would like it too. That may be a good enough reason, though we doubt it. But it’s not a valid reason unless we understand the cost of eliminating those dams.  And that is being kept from us. Whatever happened to the familiar journalistic slogan that the public has a right to know?

Which “Times” Do You Believe?

            A judicial panel, reviewing charges of impropriety based on assertions of a disgruntled litigant hostile to Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, has rendered its decision as to the judge’s conduct. At issue were some off color items on the judge’s private computer, that were not intended to be accessible by outsiders but which the accuser somehow accessed and publicized. Judge Kozinski immeditely blocked access to that site. The judicial committee dismissed the complaint, though it observed that Judge Kozinski exhibited poor judgment.

         Here is how the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times headlined that  decision.

         The New York times headlined the story thus: California Judge Is Cleared of Wrongdoing, NY Times, July 3, 2009, at p. A16, reported as an In Brief news item.

         But if you read the Los Angeles Times, the headline (front-page, natch) says: Alex Kozinski admonished for raunchy Internet file, L.A. Times, July 3, 2009, at p. A1.

         So as the New Yorker magazine used to put it: Which Times do you believe?

A Taking Issue in the GM Bankruptcy?

As the General Motors Chapter 11 bankruptcy wends its way through the court, an interesting issue (actually two issues) may have arisen. One of the groups opposing the GM-government plan for which court approval is being sought, namely the GM bond holders, has raised an interesting point. Both those bond holders and the Automobile Workers Union are GM’s unsecured creditors, and therefore under the customary bankruptcy rules should be treated alike. But the way GM and the government structured the proposed bankruptcy plan, the bondholders who are owed $27 billion, are going to receive stock of GM, plus warrants said to be worth somewhere between $7.4 and $9.8 billion (as opposed to a $27 billion bonded debt). As such, this could be one of the moments in which you decide to get in touch with someone like these bankruptcy lawyers in Harrisburg PA to explain the situation as best as possible, as if you are at risk of going bankrupt, you need to know what your next options are. On the other hand, the plan calls for a sale of the “good” parts of GM (holding its valuable assets) to a new company owned by the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as the UAW which will get a 17.5% stake in it. So the bond holders are rightly angry at the disparity of treatment: they get promises of pie in the sky (an assumption that the stock being offered to them will be worth something), whereas the UAW which is an unsecured creditor the same as they, will get a share in the old GM’s valuable assets.

So here is a question for you to reflect on: is this arrangement a government taking of the bond holders’ interest?

The second item has to do with tort law. Once GM is discharged in bankruptcy, that means that any of its obligations incurred before then are no longer subject to judicial redress. But what if the cars manufactured and sold before the discharge contain defects and/or cause injuries? The buyers of those will not be able to sue GM or any successor entities, will they? So what happens to their causes of action? If you are bankrupt and would like some help with personal finance and you are interested in a Registered Education Savings Plan, then you may be interested in companies such as Wealth Simple.

Which gives rise to an interesting non-legal question: would you want to buy a GM car as to which you can’t get legal redress if it prove to be defective? We will have to wait on that one and see how it turns out. In the meantime, if you want the whole story read David McLaughlin, GM Recovery Plan Rests With Judge, Wall St. Jour., July 3, 2009, at p. B2.

Why Is the Mainstream Press Ignoring this Story?

          We have blogged recently about a proposal that evidently originated in Flint, Michigan, but has also spread to Detroit — namely, that it may be a good idea to bulldoze parts of failed rustbelt cities and let them revert to their original condition. Click on and   You may think this is a good or bad idea, but the fact that it is being seriously discussed would seem to us to make it pretty significant. But guess what? Not much of a peep about it in the mainstream press, except for Michael Dudley, Should We Plan Cities to be Temporary, Christian Science Monitor, June 19, 2009.

         The few stories on this subject that we have seen (including an item on the Drudge Report) trace back to an article in a British newspaper, the Telegraph, with occasional references to a Brookings Institution report. Hmm. Wonder why? Why is this story with its huge implications being ignored by the American press? True enough, this may be an unrealistic scheme, but the fact that it is being seriously discussed should be of some significance to urban and land-use law mavens. Yes? No? What do you think?

Another Lowball Hits the Dirt

          The Temple Daily Telegraph reports that a Texas jury rejected the Texas DOT’s offer of $500,000 for a 27.7-acre parcel being taken for a highway rest stop along the I-35 near Salano, and after taking only two hours to reach a decision, awarded the owners $5.88 million. See Paul A. Romer, Rest Stop Dispute Finally Comes to End, Temple Daily Telegraph,  July 1, 2009. Click on