Friday, October 24, 2014

Bay Area Housing: Is the Heat Off?

Oh, you just bought last year? At least you won't need a humidifier...
The news gets even worse for Bay Area homeowners. Zillow expects year-ahead home-value appreciation in the Bay Area to grow just 2.9 percent, not even meeting the company's national projection of 3 percent. 
Third-quarter inventory of Bay Area homes on the market jumped 20.2 percent from a year ago. Zillow tried to look at the upside of that development. 
"Home buyers who have been priced out of hot markets will welcome the cooling off," Zillow said. "Home values are still rising in most markets, but the rate of appreciation has slowed considerably, making the housing market less competitive for buyers." 
Homeowners are likely to feel the chill as more people decide to sell before the slowdown turns into price cuts. It's too late, Zillow says, noting that 37 percent of listings on its site nationally had at least one price cut in the past month. 
A slowdown in the growth of home values could prompt some people, who are waiting to put their homes on the market until prices move higher, to decide it's time to sell. But buyers may decide it's better to wait to see whether they can get a better price later. 
Zillow sought to put a positive spin on the slowdown in appreciation, saying the pullback quells fears the housing market was entering another bubble.

More @ SF Business Times

Oktoberfest Row, Modernizing Neighbors Expose Malaysian Malaise

Consider this: Jokowi is Indonesia's fifth president since dictator Suharto was ousted in 1998, and the second to be elected directly by the nation's 250 million people. In contrast, the political establishment that's controlled Malaysia for six decades is still trying to silence opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Since 1998, Anwar has faced many questionable trials and prison sentences on charges ranging from corruption to sodomy. The latest verdict is due this week -- just days after Jokowi publicly buried the hatchet with his political opponents, who pledged to work with him to move Indonesia forward. 
Malaysians are understandably angry about surging living costs. Meanwhile, earlier this month, local politicians from Najib’s United Malays National Organisation raised a stink about provocative postersfor Oktoberfest, which some Muslim groups tried to ban. There’s even a debate among some UMNO members about whether Muslims should be allowed to touch dogs
Even though Malaysia's government is technically secular, religion is increasingly being wielded as a political weapon. This week, a delegation of opposition lawmakers visiting Canberra urged Australia to speak out against creeping Islamization in Malaysia. "In an environment where the state subtly and indirectly endorses criticisms and intimidation against a minority, it is easier for the messages of radical groups like ISIS to take hold," delegation leader Rafizi Ramlitold reporters.

More @ Bloomberg 

San Francisco's Soccer War Moves From Street to Ballot Box

The main Prop. H backers are preservationists of one sort or another, who all insist on keeping the park in its unadulterated, grassy state. Though the fields in question are poorly maintained and pockmarked with gopher holes, Prop. H supporters prefer that to the city's planned renovation, which would include bleachers, a children's playground, 60-foot light towers, and what members of the Sierra Club have taken to calling "toxic turf" — the rubber-crumb substance that blankets soccer pitches throughout the city. 
Last week, the grass-huggers found an unexpected ally in the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, which redoubled its fight against park privatization after video surfaced of Dropbox and Airbnb employees displacing pickup soccer players in the Mission. The now-ubiquitous "Mission Playground Is Not for Sale" video generated so much vitriol that San Francisco's Recreation & Park Department scrapped its permitting system for Mission Playground; the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, in turn, took a public stance against the rehab effort at Beach Chalet.

More @ SFWeekly

Prop. H supporters -- which include the Sierra Club, Coalition to Protect Golden Gate Park and Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods -- argue that artificial turf makes "noxious fumes" and that runoff is environmentally damaging. They also complained about "light pollution" from keeping the fields illuminated until 10 p.m. 
"The jury is still out on synthetic turf and whether or not it is safe to play in," said Sue Vaughan, chairwoman of the Sierra Club's San Francisco chapter. 
The Recreation and Park Department's Master Plan states that the western edge of the park should remain natural, Vaughan said, and that it's fair to say the plan creators had no idea the Beach Chalet soccer fields would be targeted for synthetic turf and night lights. 
But those behind Prop. I, which was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, said thousands more children would be able to access the athletic fields with the improvements, especially with extra space becoming available without needing to book in advance. 
"A month before construction, Proposition H was put on the ballot to stop the project and undo all those years of public process and continue to deny San Francisco's kids the opportunity to play on these fields," said Patrick Hannan, campaign manager for Yes on I.

More @ SF Examiner

得陇望蜀: China's Fishing Fleet Take the Ell Where her Navy Cannot

得陇望蜀 (De Long Wang Shu): an archaic Chinese idiom referencing the campaigns of the Han Dynasty. The modern equivalent would be De Cun Jin Chi (得寸进尺): "Given an Inch, They'll Take a Foot."
From January to September, the Japan Coast Guard told Chinese fishing boats operating within Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands to leave on 208 occasions, a 2.4-fold jump from last year and 26 times larger than the figure for 2011. 
So far, Chinese fishing boats have put up little resistance when warned by the coast guard to leave, but a Japanese security official says the situation could lead to a maritime collision like the one that occurred in autumn 2010, exacerbating bilateral tensions. 
Several theories about this surge in fishing activity are circulating within the Japanese government. 
One says it is simply a natural consequence of the expansion of China's fishing operations in general. But according to a Japanese fisheries industry source, the number of Chinese fishing boats operating in southern region of the East China Sea, where the Senkaku Islands are located, has held steady at around 1,000 in recent years. 
This indicates there is no natural reason for the surge in the number of Chinese ships operating around the islands and provides support to another theory: Chinese authorities are simply looking the other way.

More @ Nikkei Asian Review

Empathy for North Korea?

Whether Kim’s different conduct extends to foreign and security policy is a harder case to prove. It was pointed out that most of the North Koreans sanctioned by the United States after the 2012 missile launch which scuttled the two countries’ ‘Leap Day’ deal were gone: ‘Kim Jong-un purged them for us.’ Their support for obstructionist foreign policies was surely not the reason they were removed, however. 
As noted by more than one scholar, North Korea does appear to be trying to diversify its foreign relations so as to be less dependent on China. But so far this is only working with Russia, with whom trade is still marginal. Last month, North Korea failed to provide an expected initial report to Japan on the abduction issue. The 21 October release of a detained American tourist is welcome news but does not erase the ill will left by his incarceration in the first place (on grounds of having left a bible in a bar).

More @ IISS Survival Editors' Blog

In Oakland, Tuman, other mayoral candidates marshall outsider coalition

In a joint announcement, Joe Tuman, Bryan Parker and Courtney Ruby say they will hold a news conference on Thursday to “discuss why voters should choose a candidate from outside City Hall.” Currently the front-runners are councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and Libby Shaaf and Mayor Jean Quan. 
“We’re not saddled with the baggage that they carry,” Tuman said in an interview. “The cynicism about the the way government works is not directed at us.” 
Tuman, Parker and Ruby hope that by forming a coalition, one of them can be vaulted into office under ranked-choice voting. A poll of 515 likely voters released Wednesday by KPIX found that Kaplan was leading the pack with 19 percent of first-place votes, while Schaaf had 17 percent. Both Quan and Tuman had 15 percent and Parker had 10 percent. The poll’s margin of error was 4.4 percent. 
Tuman is a politics professor at SF State, Parker is a business executive and Ruby is the city’s elected auditor. Despite the fact Ruby has an office of the fourth floor of City Hall she has claimed since the start of her campaign that her watchdog role makes her an outsider in city politics. 
Tuman pointed to a recent poll by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce that found the just 19 percent of voters said Quan was doing an excellent-to-good job running the city and 17 percent of voters said they thought the City Council was doing an excellent or good job.
More at SFGate

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Joe Tuman: "How'm I doin'?"

On a recent afternoon, I rode with Tuman and two campaign volunteers in his VW Touareg to a canvassing expedition in Millsmont near Mills College. 
I asked Tuman to sit in the back seat beside me so I could record him. He wasn't happy about having a volunteer drive. He said the 10-year-old car had ticks and was hard to drive. When we arrived at 57th and MacArthur Boulevard, a relieved Tuman hopped out. He propped up his trunk with a large umbrella that resembled something out of a bad acid trip.

"Don't laugh he said," laughing himself. "The part is broken and it would cost $1,500 to fix. This works just fine." 
It had begun to drizzle. Tuman said he liked canvassing in the rain. "It gives you an advantage," he said. "People feel sorry for you." 
One campaign volunteer handed him a stack of brochures. Tuman began signing them to leave in the doors of people who weren't home -- which was most people. Shirt-sleeves rolled up to the elbow, Tuman set out with long legged strides down 57th Avenue. As we walked, he compared this final stretch of the campaign to the 24th mile of a marathon. He has run more than a few and is probably in the best physical shape of all the candidates. 
A volunteer walked each side of the street knocking on doors. The women surveyed precinct lists calling out the name and age of occupants to Tuman.

He spotted a corner house with a Jean Quan sign planted on the lawn and approached it with gusto. He knocked at the iron security gate but one answered. Tuman left a brochure. 
He continued door to door until someone opened. Tuman would introduce himself, saying he had a good chance of being Oakland's next mayor. Then he'd ask, if elected, "what can I do for you?" 
Some people wanted the city to do something to stop the donut spinning menace of sideshows on MacArthur Boulevard. Others had concerns that had nothing to do with the mayor.

An 89-year-old woman answered in a purple housecoat. She apologized for the fact that she "looked a mess." Tuman and his volunteers, Robyn Hodges and Cynthia Remmers, stood in front of her porch, encouraging her to her tell her life story. She lived alone and was happy for the company. Tuman said he hoped she would consider voting for him.

After they had left, she came out of the house and walked with the aid of a cane in a visible hurry toward them. 
"I just filled out my ballot," she said. "I already voted for you." 
"I'm a hit with the seniors," Tuman later said.

More @ Oakland Tribune

Expansion, Modernization, & Reform: China's Military Development

From The Diplomat: Dr. Phillip Saunders, Director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at National Defense University, takes a closer look at China’s military modernization.

Lennar/Kenwood Treasure Island Project Survives Court Hurdle


A group called Citizens for a Sustainable Treasure Island, led by former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, filed a lawsuit claiming San Francisco’s environmental study was inadequate. The suit said the study lacked details of street layout and building design and failed to spell out plans to remove the many hazardous materials in the soil, groundwater and existing buildings. 
But a state appeals court upheld the study in July. The First District Court of Appeal said the city had examined and reported all available information about the project “while providing for flexibility needed to respond to changing conditions and unforeseen events.” 
The court also said the Navy is required to remove all toxic substances — including oil, pesticides, asbestos, lead paint and low-level radioactive material — from each parcel before transferring the land to developers. The environmental report details the locations of known hazards and the procedures the city and the developers would use for any further cleanups, the court said. 
Opponents appealed the ruling to the state’s high court, which unanimously denied review Wednesday.

More @ SFGate

Oz Asylum Seeker Policy a Political, Diplomatic Minefield

via Canberra Times
From Radio New Zealand's Dateline Pacific, Johnny Blades talks with Damien Kingsbury from Deakin University about the Manus agreement with Papua New Guinea:

JB: Do you think the Australian government should have, could have, thought it out differently? 
DK: Well, certainly. But look the Australian government's been very keen to develop this offshore processing programme for domestic political reasons. And in a sense: out of sight, out of mind is good enough. If you can dump asylum seekers in offshore detention centres, then that is enough for the government. That's all they really want to care about. We have a similar problem now with Cambodia, which hasn't quite developed yet to the extent that is has in PNG, but has every potential to do so. It is again, a case of a government trying to offload an issue that is Australia's. And I wouldn't say "a problem" because I'm not sure that asylum seekers who come by boat do constitute a genuine problem. I think rather it's a political issue, a political football that's been kicked around. And it's been kicked around in a way... in a field, if you like, that's perhaps not ready to have that particular game played out. 
JB: So is it still as politically explosive for the Australian public now that (Australian Immigration Minister) Scott Morrison indicates that policy has kind of worked to stem the tide of the boats coming in, but also now that it's also festering in terms of these legal uncertainties, the violence up at Manus and the other problems around it? 
DK: There's no question that this continues to be a politically divisive policy, and one that has the potential for very great political embarrassment. Scott Morrison's claims about the problem having been resolved are very much political rhetoric. Putting a cork in a bottle doesn't change the contents. The asylum seekers are still there. It's just that they're being stopped either from travelling or if they have travelled, they are now being processed in ways which have created or led to the types or problems that we're now seeing unfold.

More @ RNZ