Venezuela’s housing mission on track to complete a million new homes by year-end

Venezuela’s housing mission has now constructed nearly 860,000 homes, according to new figures released Thursday.

“This is popular power,” said President Nicolas Maduro during a visit to a newly built housing complex in the state of Miranda…The president said the government is firmly on track to reach its goal of building 1 million homes by the end of the year…

Over 80,000 new homes have been completed in the past month alone, after the government announced plans to accelerate construction…

One of the Venezuelan government’s most popular social initiatives, the housing mission was first launched to provide shelter for people who lost their homes in devastating floods that hit the country in 2010. However, since then the mission has expanded to provide low-cost housing to the wider population, with poor families receiving priority. Units are generally provided fully furnished. The houses are offered either for free or at a low cost, depending on the means of the prospective owners.

In 2011, then-President Hugo Chavez explained that the mission would address the “social debt” left behind by former governments that failed to provide quality housing to all Venezuelans.

The current Maduro administration has vowed to expand the mission, aiming to provide low-cost housing to 40 percent of Venezuelans by the end of the decade.

The Ayn Rand flavor of libertarian conservatives have to harbor a particular hatred for this kind of social contract. Especially if it results in votes for the folks implementing the program.

Darwin Award candidate

A suspected burglar who attempted to enter a home in California through the chimney has died after the homeowner lit a fire without realising the intruder was inside…

The man appeared to have climbed into the chimney on Friday night while the owner was away and then became stuck, according to the Fresno county sheriff’s office.

The owner of the home in Huron, a small town in Fresno county, lit a fire in his fireplace on Saturday afternoon but then heard a man yelling inside the chimney as the house filled with smoke…

The homeowner tried to extinguish the flames but firefighters who dismantled the chimney with drills and chisels during a rescue effort found the suspect dead inside, the sheriff’s office said.

The deceased man was identified by the coroner’s office as Cody Caldwell, aged 19. The cause of death was determined to be smoke inhalation and burns.

Should’ve checked the weather forecast before he set off chimney-burgling.

Clicks ahead of bricks

Online shoppers outnumbered their brick-and-mortar counterparts during U.S. retailers’ pivotal Black Friday weekend, underscoring the challenges facing American malls this holiday season.

More than 103 million people shopped online over the four-day weekend, which started Thursday on Thanksgiving, according to an annual survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation. That compares with fewer than 102 million who ventured into traditional stores, the trade group said.

The growth of e-commerce — including people using their smartphones to buy gifts — helped boost the total number of U.S. shoppers to more than 151 million over the weekend. That figure, which accounts for the overlap between online and offline buyers, topped the 136 million that the trade group had predicted. Other factors, including an earlier rollout of holiday promotions, also are changing consumers’ behavior…

The ritual of Black Friday — the post-Thanksgiving day that has long marked the beginning of the holiday season — also has changed. Frenzied consumers still line up in front of stores to take advantage of deals on toys and televisions, but crowds were smaller at many U.S. malls Friday. The event is also seen as an opportunity for window shopping, rather than spending…

Actual sales reporting at this point part-way through the weekend shows brick-and-mortar sales down 1.2 to 1.4% and online sales up about 18%. Looks like a tipping point to me.

Howard Davidowitz was on Bloomberg Surveillance with Tom Keene, Friday morning. Among other topic he feels that two-thirds of the 1200 major shopping malls in the United States should go bankrupt and disappear. Only 400 are worth keeping!

Plus — Davidowitz is a hoot.

Years of waste and fraud in Afghan – and ready to waste more

With Washington set to send billions of dollars in fresh aid to Afghanistan despite the military drawdown, the U.S. official in charge of auditing assistance programs says “it’s not too late” to address the fraud and mismanagement that has bedeviled the 14-year effort to rebuild the country.

The military intervention launched after the Sept. 11 attacks has cost the United States $1 trillion, including some $110 billion in aid aimed at rebuilding one of the poorest, most violent and most corrupt countries on earth. To this day Afghanistan relies on foreign aid as it battles an increasingly potent Taliban insurgency.

But John Sopko, who has spent more than three years probing U.S.-funded projects as the special investigator general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said the U.S. government is partly to blame for the misused funds.

“What I’m identifying are not just Afghan or Afghan-related problems, they are problems with the way the United States government operates,” he said.

He said the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development suffer from corruption as well as poor planning, oversight and accountability. He said they often fail to coordinate with one another or measure programs’ effectiveness…

Since it was created in 2008, SIGAR has identified more than $1 billion in potential savings to U.S. taxpayers and published hundreds of reports, including 50 audits of reconstruction projects.

“The money that’s been wasted has been wasted,” Sopko said. “But we have still got $10 billion that has been authorized, appropriated but not yet spent. And we’re probably going to put in $6 billion to $10 billion a year, for years to come — because if we don’t, the Afghan government will collapse.”…

Sopko said it’s time to “hit the reset button and take a look at what worked and what didn’t work.”

The biggest failure of the reconstruction effort, he said, was the outlay of nearly $8 billion since 2001 to eradicate poppies, the main ingredient in heroin and Afghanistan’s chief export. The crop is worth some $3 billion a year and is a key source of income for the Taliban…

SIGAR found last year that the U.S. had spent $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan since 2001. Opium production has dropped by 50 percent this year, not because of eradication efforts, but because of drought, pests and other environmental factors, Sopko said.

“Any metrics you give — price, purity, addiction rates, production — the only improvements we have seen have been caused by Mother Nature,” he said.

BTW, Lindsay Graham and John McCain, two of our most backwards Republican warhawks have just proposed that everything we did in Afghanistan and Iraq – should now be done in Syria. Starting with sending in 20,000 American soldiers.

These stupid little minds who bear a significant portion of responsibility for helping an ignoranus like George W. Bush get us into this mess – would perpetuate the same bureaucratic farce, the same incompetence that eight years of Obama hasn’t turned around – all in the name of protecting the United States.

The nation where self-proclaimed good Christians with guns have killed more people than any foreign terrorist cabal.