August 15th, 2010

NASA_bighead

This is not the time

I didn't really want to buy a condo, but it sounded like a great investment idea. The friend who was pushing for me to do it (she had bought a condo 20+ years ago, when prices were low and interest rates were high) insisted I look into it. She recommended her real estate agent, whom she said would woo me with the tax write-off numbers.

The real estate agent did the opposite. He showed me prices which were astronomical, way out of line with the recession and housing slump. And he gave me a write-up of the buyer costs for those properties without any mention of tax tricks. In a polite way he said he wouldn't help me any further until I had secured a loan, and referred me to his mortgage broker partner. I called the mortgage broker, who said there was no way I could get a loan. Being a contractor who had been laid off for 5 months 10 months ago, even after 2 years of solid full time permanent employment, would be the excuse the banks would give.

Both he and the real estate agent blamed the bailout.

The banks have tons of cash. They can earn high interest rates in the overnight loan market and other investments, but at the current low interest rates it costs more for them to make a loan than it does to just hold onto the cash. And thanks to Obama & Co. giving the money directly to the banks instead of helping individuals get out from underwater on their loans, people are walking away from their houses - either through foreclosures or preemptively - and renting the kinds of apartments I would have liked to move to. A quick apartment hunt yesterday  showed that although I could easily afford a nicer apartment, there are none to be had. At least not for the $$ I am willing to spend.

The political situation in Thailand is worse than ever, so my plans of moving there are on hold too. It used to be, a friend who lives there emailed, that when you met a stranger he would ask a lot of, by American standards, privacy-violating questions: "How old are you? How much do you make? Are you married? Do you have children? Where are you going? Where did you just come from? Do you have a fiancé?". But now, the first question is "Are you a red shirt or a yellow shirt?" and if your answer is wrong the stranger will stop talking to you and will pretend you're not even there.

I like my job, and I especially like the income from it. And though my Kaiser subscription rate will go way up when my COBRA runs out in November, I can afford it. I think. I like my apartment, except for it not having a washer/dryer. But that only affects me once or twice a month.

So last night I put the condo downpayment money into a tax-free bond fund at Vanguard, the brokerage which went out of its way to help me liquidate my father's assets there. They sent a condolence letter, assigned a personal liaison who knew all about living trusts and was pro-active and genuinely understanding throughout the whole process. I'm happy to reward them for that.

But I kept enough in the bank to pay for an overseas vacation. I'm thinking February, start of the hot season, end of the high season in SE Asia. Or maybe Rio - I've never been to South America.
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NASA_bighead

Yellow Shirts/Red Shirts

didjiman asked me in a comment to a recent post to explain what Thai red and yellow shirts are. It can get very complicated, but here are the basics:

In 2001, a man named Thaksin (pronounced with a hard T as in Thai) was named prime minister by his majority party in parliament. He is from Chiang Mai, in the northern part of the country and had strong support from the north and northeast because he changed Thai financial policies to spread more of the wealth to the rural areas he came from which previously had been going mostly to Bangkok. His followers are the Red Shirts.

In 2006 Thaksin was tossed out in a bloodless coup, and fled the country rather than defend charges of corruption - he had sold his cell phone business to a company which was (a) outside of Thailand and (b) owned by his wife.

Two years later the military junta held democratic elections, and through massive voter fraud Thaksin's party won in a landslide and named him PM again. When he tried to return to Bangkok, 20,000 protesters occupied the airport, shutting it down for weeks. Those are the Yellow Shirts. Among the charges against him is  lèse majesté and yellow was chosen because it is the King's color. The protest disbanded when the national court convicted Thasin's party of fraud, threw them all out of Parliament, and banned them all from politics for 5 years. The protesters not only left peacefully, they cleaned up the airport better than before they had been there. I was in Thailand at the time, and the protest forced me to fly home from Singapore instead of Bangkok as scheduled.

This March, with funding from Thaksin, who apparently is in exile in Dubai, red shirts from the north and northeast took over key intersections in Bangkok, as well as setting up a stage and major protest camp at Bangkok's equivalent of Hyde Park. They also blockaded Parliament. Many were heavily armed. In May a police swat team broke up the main blockade and camp area and arrested the leaders, but red shirts in other parts of the city and a couple of up-country sites went on a rampage. They burned down the central shopping mall, vandalized other businesses and burned down one or two community centers up-country. 88 people were killed.

And that's it in a nutshell. You don't even want to open the nut to see what's inside. :-)