Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More of "how much is too much"

....said the guy who had a bunch of tower cranes for lease.

Every time the economy flushes down the toilet we all bitch and moan, "When will this recession end?  BooHoo!  We need better times, NOW!"  I said it myself more than once a few years ago.  Now here I sit in 2016 in North Dallas (& suburbs) and I have to admit, too much of a good thing has a downside, too.

I've seen these boom-and-bust cycles many times in my life, but I have to tell you I've NEVER seen things this overheated before.  Here's what I was able to photograph within just a short drive around my immediate area (within a mile of where I live):

Yes, this a good thing, and so are the 4,000 new permanent jobs that come with it.  But this 2,000,000 square foot / seven-building campus is only the tip of the iceberg.  Along with this come dozens of Toyota suppliers who need their buildings, too.

It seems like everywhere there was an open green space six months ago now has one of these mid-rise buildings going up on it.  There are at least a dozen of these.  Lots of jobs for sure....the Chamber of Commerce guy is no doubt smiling ear-to-ear!

But not all are Toyota related.  One of those new glass-and-concrete monuments, maybe this one, is the new Liberty Mutual Insurance Company campus.  Another four thousand new jobs, which means....


....more apartments, and condos, and new homes are needed to house all these new worker ants.  Except there is very little land in the immediate area that can accommodate the development.  Oops!  And what land there is is going for more than even Warren Buffett could scrape together!  *slight exaggeration*

Drive once around the block and when you come back you'll find even more multi-family units going up.

This is the artist conception of the Legacy West project now underway.

And don't forget about Dallas Cowboys HMFIC Jerry Jones and his new practice stadium and office tower(s), or as we locals call it, "the Pimple on the Plains."

Jerry-Land II as seen from my balcony.  Immediately north of this is another giant hotel / condo / apartment / boutique shops / entertainment development.

And if you'll drive just a few miles further east you'll find....

....the new State Farm Insurance four-tower campus and loads of nearby new apartments to house their 6,000 paper pushers. They're adding new lanes to two major North Dallas highways right now, and I can almost guarantee by the time those new lanes open, they'll be announcing yet another desperately needed new road-widening project.

As it is right now, sitting through two or three traffic-signal cycles is common, and all those new jobs / people are just now starting to show up.  Just wait!  DOH!

OK, OK, enough bragging, I get it.  But here's my point:  All this is too much, too fast.  I can call today to order 300 yards of concrete for next Tuesday and the concrete companies just laugh at me.  "Listen up pal.  I've got six commercial jobs already scheduled for next Tuesday, at ten-THOUSAND yards each.  *Holy smokes...that's a lot of Jimmy Hoffa final resting places* Take a number.  And that bid you got last week....hahaha....fugetaboutit!" 

It's about the same with lumber and steel and practically every other building material, too.  One of the big residential housing surveys (Case-Shiller?) recently said Dallas housing prices were 15% overvalued.  They said renting here today is a much better choice than buying.  Remember, it's "buy low, sell high", not the other way around.

And now to add insult to injury, yesterday the news reported that local property tax other words, people's tax bills....are up 13% in just the past year.  Ouch!  (Actually they're limited to a maximum 10% tax hike per year, but they'll get the rest of their windfall next year I'm sure.)  Is this a new property price bubble building?  Call me paranoid, but after what I saw in 2008-2009, housing bubbles scare me!

If I had had a spare couple of million dollars three years ago (in other words, if I had won the lottery three years ago), I could have bought up land and tower cranes and concrete pumper trucks, etc, and parlayed that three-mil into.....umm....carry the four....A LOT!  

Careful what you wish for.  Gluttony bites!


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How much is too much?

Yesterday my friend Joe Hagy, aka "Cranky Old Man", posted about all the things he didn't have as a kid growing up in the 1950's....things like color TV, Netflix, cell phones, FM radio, air conditioning, a car with power windows and lane departure warning, etc, mainly because those things hadn't been invented yet.  I grew up without those things, too, and we were still happy as could be.  Today we have two of everything, and lament the fact that we don't have three of everything like our neighbors, the Jones's.  'Merica!

Six years ago we sold our 3500+ square foot home and moved into a two bed / two bath apartment.  It was supposed to only be for a year until I could find a suitable lot and build us a home more appropriate for two people.  It turned out I / we liked the maintenance-free apartment lifestyle.  It didn't take long, however, for that second bedroom to turn into our catch-all / junk room, so after another "stuff purging" we downsized again into a smaller but nicer one bedroom.

Now here we are about to downsize again.  This time it was prompted by the fact that the $10 BILLION dollars worth of new construction going up within a mile radius of us, and the 8,000 new permanent jobs that will come with it, are making our little utopia a congested nightmare.  Plus, management seems to think that our community is now worth its weight in gold.  It isn't.

Last week we went through every box, every cabinet and drawer, every closet and nook and cranny, and simplified once more.  What we've found is that if you downsize in steps, it's much easier to accept.

We've gone in six years from one huge rolltop desk to two smaller desks, and shortly to just one.  Much of our furniture, none of which held any sentimental value, was given away to family and friends, sold on Craig's List, or put into storage for later use, except "later" never came.

We decided we didn't need that extra blender, or the food processor, pressure cooker, or the toaster oven that we only used twice to melt cheese on open faced roast beef sandwiches.  Ditto for the two extra coffee makers that were made obsolete (according to my wife) by the new model that George Clooney was hawking on TV, the extra set of cookware and dishes and drawer full of dull knives, and all those old towels that two people will never, ever need. 

Most of our books long ago gave way to Kindles, and a Bose radio brings us magnificent sounds that belie its tiny size.  I also finally gave up hope that all those pairs of jeans I saved that "shrank" in the dryer will ever somehow stretch back enough to fit my 2016 waistline.  And as much as I've cut back, K has cut back even more.  :)

This time we're giving up about 200 square feet, but because it's arranged much better, and without any long hallways, I think it will actually live larger.  Plus we'll now have an on-site dog park, a "pet grooming station", and a gym with actual instructors.  (And you know how much I love exercise....I could sit and watch it for hours!)

So how many more downsizes are there in us?  Where will this all end?  Maybe....  

Umm, probably not.  Looks like a lot of maintenance.   How about....

....the Ultimate Woodie?  No?  OK, I have it....


Monday, May 9, 2016

The Donald....idiot or savant?

Donald Trump will be on the Presidential ballot this November, fact.  Many people love him, while many loathe him. Many people think he's brilliant, while many others think he's an idiot.  I'm one of those who likes many of the topics he brings up, but don't understand how he gets away with saying what he does without telling us HOW he's going to do it. 

After considerable thought, though, I've come down on the side of those who think he's brilliant.  Think about it....due to his show biz background he knows exactly how to get the attention and support of the "30 second sound bite" generation.  It's straight from Marketing 101:  "Sell the sizzle, not the steak."   

Or to use another foodie metaphor, people today don't want to know how to bake a cake, all they want is to lick the icing off it.

But credit where credit is due, he and Bernie Sanders are right about one thing: "the system" is broken.  House Speaker Ryan said he is not ready to support Trump until/unless The Donald comes around to supporting the traditional (orthodox conservative) Republican Party agenda.  Trump says he doesn't need Ryan's support as "the people", based on the ballots they've cast, are who he answers to.  

Ummm...yeah. I suppose that's the way it works, or at least the way it's supposed to work.  Ryan seems to represent the tail trying to wag the dog.

I recently saw former Speaker Newt Gingrich on the tube talking about one of Trump's vanquished competitors (Graham?  Rubio?...can't remember) who has publicly stated he would not support Trump's candidacy.  Newt said shame on him, he owed it to the party to fall in line.

So the candidate and the card-carrying party members are just supposed to do whatever "the party" says?

This reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live skit....

    Customer:  "I'll have a hamburger, fries, and a Coke, please."

    Burger flipper:  "NO!  Cheeburger, chip, Pepsi."   

I'm very the people owe something to the party, or is the party, either party, just a support mechanism for the people's will?  


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I think I nailed it....

....and I'm not exactly happy about it.

I've been saying for quite a while now that income inequality is the most important issue of our time.  I'm not looking at this on a micro level, liberal vs conservative, Democrat vs Republican.  This is more than "the 1% are greedy" or "the losers won't work".

Here's what we should IMO take away from this on a macro level this election season:  When enough people feel like they have hit bottom, that they have nothing left to lose, they will revolt.  They're now revolting, and it's real, if not (for now) violent.  I'm not saying the revolt is justified, or is right or wrong.  I'm just saying it's REAL.

Donald Trump is appealing to more than enough people to win the Republican nomination for President. He's talking about stopping American companies from laying off American workers and moving overseas, and about bringing good jobs back to America.  These are issues the down-and-out masses are concerned about.

Bernie Sanders is appealing to (almost) enough people to win the Democratic nomination for President.  I doubt Hillary Clinton, the old school legacy politician, is sleeping well at night.  Bernie is talking about our rigged economic system/tax system, our much-too-powerful financial interests, and, yes, income inequality.  These are issues the down-and-out masses are concerned about.

Can you imagine our bankers and our titans of uber-capitalism rooting for a Hillary victory this November?  Unlikely as it might seem, she might be their best hope.  

Today the revolt is polite.  Enough people are fed up with the status quo and are demanding a better deal.  They are making themselves the ballot box.  Unless the masses see their lives getting better soon, tomorrow's revolt might be more aggressive, dare I say even violent.

I nailed it.  I predicted this, but I'm honestly not happy about my insightful prognostication. I'm scared shitless, both for America and the larger world.


Monday, May 2, 2016

We want it all, but we just don't want to pay for it. It's called "denial".

Does the Tea Party....oops, I mean the "Freedom Party"....know how to say anything besides "cut taxes"?  That's their mantra....CUT TAXES!  I'm tired of hearing them say it because they obviously haven't thought things all the way through.  I'm all for cutting taxes if....IF....all of our essential services have been properly funded, but they HAVEN'T been. (Of course the term "essential services" is open to interpretation.)

Here's an example:  our crumbling roads and bridges.  Pres. Eisenhower proposed the Interstate Highway System back in the 1950's, and by the 1970's much of it was in place, and interstate commerce has since benefited greatly.  

Without a top-notch transportation infrastructure Walmart, Costco, Home Depot and all the other big retailers couldn't economically stock their shelves, and the Amazon phenomenon might not have been possible, either.  Yes, even high tech internet businesses ultimately rely on good 'ol asphalt and concrete roads to deliver their goods.  But by all accounts our roads and bridges are in dire need of maintenance and/or replacement, and the money isn't there to do either.


At one time our air our traffic control system and our airports were the envy of the world.  That's no longer true.  We still have a few world-class airports, but most are fairly decrepit, and our air traffic control system is *I should whisper this to avoid panic* on the precipice of being downright dangerous!


We don't fund our schools properly.  Local school boards are loath to propose tax increases....that's a sure-fire way to get voted out of office.  Instead they postpone maintenance and new school construction, preferring instead to just bring in cheap, energy inefficient portable buildings.  Teachers almost universally have to spend money from their own pockets to buy classroom supplies their districts won't provide, and local PTA's must have carnivals and bake sales to help their schools make ends meet.  That's shameful!


I'm a big proponent of police "body cams".  Our police are under attack, both literally and figuratively, and they're often accused of being heavy handed.  Sometimes they are, but sometimes they are just accused of being too rough when they are in fact justified.  Body cameras would go a long way to establishing the truth, but most police departments will tell you they can't afford to buy them.  Wouldn't this be a good use of taxpayer money?  The Tea Party might nod their collective heads "yes", but they never seem to be willing to cough up the cash.  

"CUT TAXES!" is all they know how to say.

Much of our needed additional funding can no doubt be paid for by eliminating "waste, fraud, and inefficiency", another popular phrase that all politicians talk about, but never seem to deliver on.  (That's another topic I will write about later.)

For now, please spare me the bullshit of preaching "tax cuts".  Let's talk about that when we have our house in order, and right now we aren't even close.