The uninvited guest – why isn’t this news?
Alternative fuels may boost pollution – alternative to who?
Empty Houses Home to Crime As Loans Fail – more economic crisis…
The uninvited guest
Chinese sub pops up in middle of U.S. Navy exercise, leaving military chiefs red-faced
10th November 2007
By MATTHEW HICKLEY
When the U.S. Navy deploys a battle fleet on exercises, it takes the security of its aircraft carriers very seriously indeed.
At least a dozen warships provide a physical guard while the technical wizardry of the world’s only military superpower offers an invisible shield to detect and deter any intruders.
That is the theory. Or, rather, was the theory.
American military chiefs have been left dumbstruck by an undetected Chinese submarine popping up at the heart of a recent Pacific exercise and close to the vast U.S.S. Kitty Hawk – a 1,000ft supercarrier with 4,500 personnel on board.
By the time it surfaced the 160ft Song Class diesel-electric attack submarine is understood to have sailed within viable range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier.
According to senior Nato officials the incident caused consternation in the U.S. Navy.
The Americans had no idea China’s fast-growing submarine fleet had reached such a level of sophistication, or that it posed such a threat.
One Nato figure said the effect was “as big a shock as the Russians launching Sputnik” – a reference to the Soviet Union’s first orbiting satellite in 1957 which marked the start of the space age.
The incident, which took place in the ocean between southern Japan and Taiwan, is a major embarrassment for the Pentagon.
The lone Chinese vessel slipped past at least a dozen other American warships which were supposed to protect the carrier from hostile aircraft or submarines.
And the rest of the costly defensive screen, which usually includes at least two U.S. submarines, was also apparently unable to detect it.
According to the Nato source, the encounter has forced a serious re-think of American and Nato naval strategy as commanders reconsider the level of threat from potentially hostile Chinese submarines.
It also led to tense diplomatic exchanges, with shaken American diplomats demanding to know why the submarine was “shadowing” the U.S. fleet while Beijing pleaded ignorance and dismissed the affair as coincidence.
Analysts believe Beijing was sending a message to America and the West demonstrating its rapidly-growing military capability to threaten foreign powers which try to interfere in its “backyard”.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s submarine fleet includes at least two nuclear-missile launching vessels.
Its 13 Song Class submarines are extremely quiet and difficult to detect when running on electric motors.
Commodore Stephen Saunders, editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, and a former Royal Navy anti-submarine specialist, said the U.S. had paid relatively little attention to this form of warfare since the end of the Cold War.
He said: “It was certainly a wake-up call for the Americans.
“It would tie in with what we see the Chinese trying to do, which appears to be to deter the Americans from interfering or operating in their backyard, particularly in relation to Taiwan.”
In January China carried a successful missile test, shooting down a satellite in orbit for the first time.
Alternative fuels may boost pollution
Nov 13, 2007
Some alternative vehicle fuels such as liquid coal can cause more harmful greenhouse gas emissions than polluters such as petrol or diesel, scientists warned in a US study released Tuesday.
“Liquid coal, for example, can produce 80 percent more global warming pollution than gasoline,” said the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit environmental group, in a statement introducing its study.
Liquid coal is viewed as a potential replacement to the oil on which countries rely heavily to fuel vehicles.
“Corn ethanol, conversely, could be either more polluting or less than gasoline depending on how the corn is grown and the ethanol is produced,” the report said.
The analysis was based on replacing a fifth of all gasoline consumed in the United States with alternative fuels by 2030.
If most of these alternatives consist of liquid coal, the change could pump pollution into the atmosphere equivalent to 34 million more cars on the road. Favoring cleaner “advanced biofuels,” on the other hand, could cut harmful gases by a similar amount.
The cleanest alternative, the report said, is cellulosic ethanol, made from grass or wood chips — it could cut emissions by more than 85 percent.
“We need to wean ourselves off oil, but we should replace it with the cleanest alternatives possible,” said the author of the study, Patricia Monahan, in the report. “Let’s not trade one bad habit for another.”
Empty Houses Home to Crime As Loans Fail
Neighborhoods Suffer As Crime Follows Foreclosures Into Vacant Houses
November 13, 2007
By J.W. Elphinstone
Eighty-five bungalows dot the cul-de-sac that joins West Ontario Avenue and East Ontario Avenue in Atlanta. Twenty-two are vacant, victims of mortgage fraud and foreclosure. Now house fires, prostitution, vandals and burglaries terrorize the residents left in this historic neighborhood called Westview Village.
“It’s created a safety hazard. And if we have to sell our house tomorrow, we’re out of luck,” said resident Scott Smith. “Real estate agents say to me ‘We’re not redlining you, but I tell my clients to think twice about buying here.'”
As defaults surge on mortgages made to borrowers with spotty credit and adjustable-rate loans, more people are noticing that their neighbors are caught up in the meltdown. Their misfortunes are haunting those left living on the same streets. The effects aren’t confined to just low-income or redeveloping communities; they are seeping into middle-class neighborhoods and brand new developments.
Smith, the vice president of Westview Community Organization Inc., keeps a map of the area, tracking each vacant property and notifying local officials when nefarious activity is suspected.
Georgia has the eighth largest foreclosure rate in the nation, one filing for every 142 households, according to a third-quarter report from foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac Inc. Nevada has the worst rate with one filing in every 61 households, while the nationwide rate is one filing for every 196 households.
“They’ve seen a lot of prostitution in the area, vagrants wandering in and out of the empty houses and drug activity,” said Officer Dakarta Richardson of the Atlanta Police Department. “Some people that I talked to are afraid to walk out of their homes at night.”
Some other people in the area have been affected by break-ins, and there have been house fires in several of the vacant homes in the past year, Richardson said.
The rise in crime in Westview is typical of a neighborhood struggling with numerous foreclosures, according to a recent study by Dan Immergluck of Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and Geoff Smith of Woodstock Institute in Chicago.
That study showed that when the foreclosure rate increases one percentage point, neighborhood violent crime rises 2.33 percent.
“The key here is the concentration of those foreclosures at a neighborhood level. When you have more than one foreclosure in a few block area, that’s when you start to think about the effects on property values and the effects on crime,” Immergluck said.
A report published Tuesday by the Center for Responsible Lending, a Durham, N.C.-based consumer advocate, estimates that 44.5 million U.S. households will see their property values decline a combined $223 billion as foreclosures surge in coming years, particularly in minority communities.
Historically the most affected areas were lower-income and were prone to subprime and predatory lending, irresponsible house flipping and mortgage fraud, Immergluck said.
However, “the problem now is on a different scale,” he said. “It’s affecting a lot more suburban, moderate-income places” as more people of different incomes default on riskier loans.
In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, Calif., full of subdivisions with half-million dollar homes, homeowners are fighting inner-city problems like gangs, drugs, theft and graffiti.
During the boom, the suburb just south of Sacramento sprouted 10,000 homes in four years, attracting investors from the San Francisco area. Now many houses stand empty, weeds overtaking lawns, signs lining the street: “Bank Repo,” “For Rent,” “No trespassing — bank owned property.” A typical home’s value has dropped from about $570,000 to the low $400,000s.
California ranks second in the nation with one foreclosure filing for every 88 households, RealtyTrac said.
The homeowners sometimes have no options but to accept any renters they can get, said Norm Schriever, a local real estate and loan agent.
“You get some bad renters in there and the weeds start growing and a few windows are broken and it starts descending into a feeling of chaos,” he said.
Thieves also have looted some empty homes, stripping them of electrical appliances or valuable copper wiring and pipes that can be sold as scrap, he said.
Banks aren’t watching foreclosed properties closely, said Modesto, Calif., Police Chief Roy Wasden.
“As it gets colder, (squatters) will start building fires in these structures and it’s quite dangerous,” he said.
Franklin Reserve resident Susan McDonald said two of the homes on her block were turned into indoor marijuana farms. Both caught fire last summer after the pot growers tapped into the city’s electric grid with faulty wiring.
But McDonald, who has lived in the community for three years and is president of the residents’ association, jokes that they make better neighbors than some.
“The pot growers, they mow their lawns, they take out their garbage,” said McDonald, an executive at a local bank. “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing the last few years.”
Crime reports in Franklin Reserve rose 45 percent in May, to 100 from 69 in the same month last year, but record-keeping changed when Elk Grove created its own police force in August 2006, said Officer Chris Trim, spokesman for the Elk Grove Police Department
To deter crime, the community policing unit is charged with working with code enforcement officers on problems such as unkempt homes and patrol officers swing past vacant homes as part of their normal duties. But there has been no increase in police budget, overtime or staff as a result of the empty homes.
Meanwhile, the neighbors are doing what they can. One Sunday last month, two dozen church members gathered their lawn mowers and weed trimmers and cleaned up 27 vacant homes.
“We had weeds that were almost eye-level high,” said Steve Steele, pastor of the Tree of Life Community Church. “If no one was home, we just kind of did it good Samaritan style.”
In Shaker Heights near Cleveland, neighbors of the planned community of $1 million Tudor homes can report a foreclosed or vacant house, and the address goes on a police watch list. Of 13,000 housing units in Shaker Heights, 330 are under surveillance by patrol cars and undercover officers, police Chief Walter Ugrinic said.
RealtyTrac reported that Ohio is fifth in the nation with one foreclosure filing for every 107 households.
The city repairs vacant homes if recalcitrant owners won’t, bills the owner and, if unpaid, a lien is filed. So far this year, the city has spent $800,000 to fix up 44 properties, up from $500,000 in 2006. Typical repairs include fixing roofs and painting, with an emphasis on problems visible from the street.
Additionally, before a house is sold, it must pass a housing inspection, which includes a repair-cost escrow requirement created in 2000.
This encourages owners of vacant or foreclosed properties to make repairs, said Kamla Lewis, director of neighborhood revitalization.
“Our goal is that when you drive through, you shouldn’t be able to tell right away which of the houses are vacant and foreclosed,” Lewis said.