Posts Tagged ‘California’

I Would Give You a Ride, But My Car is Just a Pile of Flaming Ashes

January 27, 2010

Even better than flame decals: Burning cars is looking to be a hot trend in 2010.

Yet  another indicator of our collapsing empire jumped out at me from the headlines today. Back in the roaring 90’s when there were stories about burning SUVs, the culprits were inevitably “eco-terrorists” like Jeff “Free” Luers – the young Oregonian who was initially sentenced to 22 years for burning 3 gas guzzlers on a car lot. Nowadays,  “desperate motorists behind on their car payments have turned to torching their Tahoes and burning their Blazers in hopes a payout from their insurer will reap a quick payoff.”

According to the Modesto Bee, suspected vehicle arson fraud jumped 31% from 2007 to 2008. Damn! They better slow down or there aren’t going to be any cars left for the rest of us to torch when the real shit goes down.

But seriously. I’m starting to think that there are more TV shows about criminal forensic investigation units than there are actual forensic investigation units. Doug Maner, who handles auto insurance fraud for Stanislaus County’s district attorney office, was quoted in the article as saying that the real arson numbers are probably higher, but they don’t have enough staff to look into all the fires.

In San Francisco, the Fire Department’s arson unit has been so de-funded and mismanaged that Elmer Carr, the captain from 1995 until 2005, recently called it “a joke.” (Maybe he’s just embarrassed that they haven’t been able to sniff out the infamous porta-potty arsonist, who has burned up about two dozen outhouses in the city recently.)

Either way, people burning their cars for insurance money is really nothing new. When people start burning their big screen, HD TVs because they can’t make the payments… that’s when you’ll know things are really about to get ugly.

Oh, just let it burn. I couldn’t even afford rims.

Like a Disco Inferno, But Without the Disco

July 16, 2009
Put away that hose, you fool! Can't you see these people are poor?

Put away that hose, you fool! Can't you see these people are poor?

The big fire story in today’s news was the release of the shocking video of Michael Jackson’s head going up in flames, but here’s another fire-related tidbit that may have flown under your radar. Fire departments in California might stop helping each other put out fires, because they’re too broke.

Via San Diego Union-Tribune:

“…with the debt-saddled state issuing IOUs instead of providing cash reimbursements, a growing number of fire chiefs are warning that the day may come when they have to check their bank balances first before dispatching crews far from home to assist Cal Fire.”

Ok, so firefighters are always trying to scare us when they’re having budget problems by warning us that our houses are going to burn down if they don’t get more money… but shit is finally getting so bad that it might actually be true this time. To make matters worse, the federal firefighting budget was slashed so deeply during the Bush years that the US Forest Service firefighters—who are often the first on hand to battle California’s infamous wildfires before they rage out of control—are working with increasingly smaller crews despite the greater risk of catastrophic blazes resulting from another little problem called “climate change.”

Good thing our pals in the insurance industry have got our backs. Chubb Group, for example, recently “began offering fire protection to its clients in 13 Western states as long as their homes have a replacement value of at least $1 million.” Hell, yeah—once again, privatization to the rescue!

If you would rather support a “local business” rather than one of those faceless corporate giants, just give Golden Valley Fire Suppression a call, and for only $30,000, they’ll make sure your house stays nice and cool while your poorer neighbors watch their shitboxes go up in flames (Serves them right for relying on “the government” to protect them – suckers!)

But for real, you know fire departments are tapped out when they can’t even afford clothes for their hard-working firefighters anymore. These poor fellows don’t even have the money for shirts!

Change? Got any spare change?

Change? Got any spare change?

What’s Going Down?

April 30, 2009

A bank is paying demolition crews to tear down brand new McMansions in Victorville, California, a far-flung San Bernardino suburb about 80 miles outside Los Angeles.  According to Vision Victory Channel, which has posted a series of YouTube clips with footage of the demolitions, the developer couldn’t sell the properties and defaulted on the loans. Once the bank foreclosed, it started getting slapped with fines for code violations, since it now owned these properties.

The bank must have done an analysis and determined that the houses were more of a liability than an asset, so it made sense for their bottom line to simply tear down the houses and avoid the fines. Instead of trying to unload the development on another builder who could at least bring the houses up to code, the bank realized they would take less of a hit if they tore everything down.

You can’t extrapolate the state of the nation’s housing market just by what’s happening in a desert suburb of Southern California, but it would seem to be a troublesome indicator of how confident banks are about property values bouncing back any time soon.

…And speaking of confidence, remember a few months back when Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner laid out a pretty vague roadmap for how they were going to handle the economic crisis? A big part of that plan involved performing “stress tests” on major banks to figure out which ones are solvent and likely to avoid bankruptcy if the economy doesn’t somehow recover in the next two years.

Well, according to a new article from Reuters, the stress-testers are now trying really hard to figure out how to break the bad news to the rest of us. Here’s a preview:

“U.S. officials have still not yet decided how to disclose the results of the bank “stress tests,” but a lack of detail in the release could disappoint markets, a top bank regulator said on Wednesday.

John Bowman, acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, said officials are working around the clock to figure out how to provide transparency about the results without causing a large disruption in the markets.”

Unfortunately, there’s no good solution for how to release the stress test results. If they open up the books, we’ll all see how screwed the banks are and the market will drop faster than Elliot Spitzer’s pants at The Emperor’s Club. If they try to muddy the waters by releasing the results un-transparently, the market will see right through the charade and have a similar reaction.

Since Geithner first announced this plan, the number of economists skeptical that it would sufficiently address the systemic rot in the banking and finance industries has grown and grown. These economists’ consensus is that the U.S. government will have to make much more painful decisions to rescue the banks from the ocean of toxic assets that they seem to be drowning in. If the results come out next week, as the article indicates, Monday might be the first day of real reckoning on that front…

The videos below illustrate a shocking waste of resources. They represent a paradox that capitalism somehow makes logical. But they also might capture something else: a preview of the very near future.