Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's Spring!

The dicentra has put out a frond--more than one in fact.

More Spring

Camellia japonica White Doves.

And Still More Spring

A hellebore (variety forgotten).

Spring Again

Viola Dancing Geisha, a fancy-leafed variety.

And One More Spring

Pelargonium (variety forgotten).

Monday, February 23, 2009


Unfortunately, not likely. Senator Richard Lugar has released a report suggesting that the Obama Administration rethink the Cuban embargo. After all, the conventional wisdom for ending the embargo goes, it hasn't had the desired effect, and perhaps it's time to change our approach. Now I'd like to see the embargo ended, but the US didn't maintain it in spite of its efficacy, but because of it. The function of the embargo was not to force the Cuban government to moderate its behavior. If that had been its function, we'd have ended it along about 1965. The function of the embargo is to punish the Cuban people for supporting a government our government doesn't like.

It's time to end the embargo because putting the screws to poor people is just bad form. The experience of the early 1990s proved that the Cuban people had made their choice and weren't likely to knuckle under. I mean, people were down to one meal a day. Little old ladies were crocheting gaskets for the buses. X-ray film was rationed. Army officers were being laid off. So we can cause them misery, but we ain't never gonna win and we just look like a nasty bully who is angry because the skinny guy kicked sand in our face.

And it's too bad that Bill Clinton wasn't brave enough to see that and end the embargo in 1993.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Early Spring Planting

I dragged J to a plant sale today, where I began planning my garden for this year. Well, actually I bought some plants and will have to figure out where to put them, so I guess that qualifies as Planning. Spring is late this year, so lots of plants are still dormant or semi-dormant, but I did get a couple of blooming bulbs, which I'll have to remember not to kill when they go dormant in the summer. I also found a cool dianthus with red foliage and a couple more geraniums (cranesbill). As all geraniums went dormant this year, even those that sometimes bloom a little in warmer winters, I don't know what color the flowers will be yet.

I'm also planning the revision of the back garden again. I killed most of it and replanted it last year and, although I'm reasonably happy with one side, the other side is going to be ripped out. I'm eliminating the Mexican marigold--it's gangly--and moving the cistus that's behind it forward to make room for a tree mallow. I have a tree mallow on the other side, one that grew much taller than I expected, and the back garden looks seriously unbalanced.

I've torn out two flowering maples (abutilon) next to the path to the gate and am planning to plant Ceanothus. I want something that covers up the air-conditioning unit, but doesn't require that I hack my way through the thing to get to the gate.

The roses are putting out new growth, a little later than usual--like everything else. My Cecil Brunner was in full bloom by the middle of March last year, but has only started putting out new growth this year. My front yard Chinese rose has already put out it's first bud, but it's one of those roses that will bloom all summer and into the fall if I remember to feed it.

On Hauling Out the Tenants

On Friday evening J and I watch Washington Week, The McLaughlin Group and Bill Moyers. My favorite, by far, is McLaughlin Group. Pat Buchanan is a regular, as is Clarence Page. They've recently acquired Monica Crowley, one of the right's radio commentators. (I know, I'd never heard of her either, but the right has so many talk shows that it would be impossible to keep up with them even if I wanted to. Which I don't.) Pat Buchanan is, well, Pat Buchanan. On the rare occasion that he takes the right position, it's for the wrong reason. Monica Crowley is dependable--she's always got the Right's talking point down, no matter that whatever the position is, it's been discredited for months. Last night's was the Community Reinvestment Act as the facilitator for subprime mortgages. Eleanor Clift, the resident moderate, manages to hold her own--even when she has to yell to get a word in edgewise. This isn't serious politics--it's just fun.

Now where was I. Well, as part of the discussion last night on the Obama Housing Plan, Monica Crowley hauled out the poor, beleaguered tenants as victims of the Plan, which seeks to keep precarious homeowners in their homes by subsidizing their lenders. Now I don't like the Obama plan, for a lot of reasons, but I strenuously object to being hauled out by every rightist wingnut in opposition to subsidies for homeowners. What am I supposed to feel--virtuous because I was to lazy to get around to buying a house with an option-ARM? I may or may not be a virtuous person, but it has nothing to do with financial acumen, I can assure you.

And if I, as a tenant, proposed policies that would benefit me, rather than allegedly make me feel more virtuous than thou, these wingnuts would run scurrying from the room. I mean, what about replacing the mortgage interest deduction with a larger standard deduction. That would benefit lower-income homeowners as well much more than the mortgage interest deduction, which benefits people with really big mortgages. (In fact, a recent study found that households with incomes less than $40,000 didn't benefit enough from the deduction for it to be worth buying a house.) But I can't see anyone but flat-taxers proposing that, and the flat-taxers aren't doing that for tenants in particular, as low- and moderate-income families would pay more in taxes under flat-tax systems.

Or consider their reaction to rent control and just cause eviction. Or to the construction of government-sponsored rental housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households. I doubt that these would be very popular among the wingnuts. So if they want to sponsor widespread homelessness, that's fine, but they shouldn't be hauling us out in defense of their position.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

California Has A Budget!

National attention may now turn to Obama's housing plan--more on that tomorrow--and The Stimulus. California's budget process is dysfunctional for one reason, the requirement that it be passed by a 2/3 majority. This means that the Democrats, who come very close to the 2/3, have to pick off a couple of Republicans to pass any budget that raises taxes. And California had to raise taxes (sorry, Krugman, the budget has to be balanced, at least to the limits of what we can borrow), as the dire economy has left the state with a $40 billion deficit. In fact, it may be even larger, as the continuing economic deterioration cuts tax income further.

But because the Democrats here are actually fairly wimpy (and a lot more centrist than the press admits), they didn't demand that the Republicans, if they really believed that the budget could be balanced without tax increases, present their budget proposal. The Republicans had all sorts of demands, including tax breaks, that they asserted would improve the business climate. The Democrats have acquiesced to these demands in the past, with no noticeable improvement in the business climate, so one would think that someone, somewhere, would ask for some evidence that they've worked in the past before allowing more business tax cuts. Alas, facts don't count for much when you need three votes.

What's interesting, of course, is that no one points out that the kinds of cuts agreed by the Democrats, since there wasn't much pork in the budget, are devastating the the poor, the sick, the elderly, the disabled. Those on SSI haven't received a cost of living increase for years, and aren't going to receive one at least until 2010. SSI barely pays enough to make the rent here, so I hope no one is surprised when homelessness among the disabled increases. California already pays doctors who take Medi-Cal (California's Medicaid program) less than any other state in the country, so the Legislature cut dental and optometric care for adult Medi-Cal recipients. Schools (which are largely funded at the state level since the California Supreme Court ruled that funding by local property taxes provided unequal education to lower-income communities) will take a major hit, as well.

California's biggest problem, aside from the 2/3 requirement for tax increases, is that it's the poster child for neoliberalism, with a relatively small percentage of high wage earners, and a sea of restaurant workers, nursing home aides, retail clerks and other workers with jobs that don't pay enough for people to meet their basic needs without government assistance. So the government has huge calls on its income, without the resources to meet the need. It's irritating that people who rattle on about the need for personal responsibility and accountability aren't willing to take responsibility for the economic system that they have promoted, and pay the costs of that system.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

February Blooms

I should have cheated and gone out yesterday to take my February bloom pictures. But I didn't, and today was fiercely windy. I've lot a pot, part of a pelargonium and a chunk of one of the flowering maples. And the yard's a mess, of course.

So I ventured out and obtained some really pathetic pictures. That's why I'm going to record what's in bloom and limit the pictorial representations. In bloom: Camellia japonica Nuccio's Gem and White Dove, although the White Dove has just started blooming. Unfortunately the rain has turned the petals of both brown. The azaleas are just starting to bloom; they're a bit late this year. The cyclamen has been blooming since November and still hasn't quit. The hellebores have just started blooming, but they come into full bloom at the end of the month and bloom until mid-April. The bacopa (both lavendar and white) is blooming, as are the violas I planted last month. And the various flowering maples have a few blooms each, but haven't put much energy into blooming yet.

The fancy-leafed violas I bought in September, and which I thought had met their demise this winter, seem to be springing back from the roots, as are the geraniums. While we had odd periods of near-summer this winter, we've also had many frosty nights, and plants that are usually only semi-deciduous (just look like they're dying all winter) lost all their leaves and went into hibernation. But they seem to be slowly coming back to life.

However, spring is not quite here yet. The dicentra that, for the last few years, has put out it's first leaf at the end of January, is juuuust about to put out a leaf--but not quite. And the campanula have a few buds, but not flowers as yet. The same for the various cistus.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Furlough Friday

J and I took a trip downtown today to see the effect of the Governor's first Furlough Friday on the city. It wasn't good. The streets were empty, the restaurants were empty. Some of them had even closed for the day. J's pictures are here. By the time the furlough period ends (July 2010), it's likely that a lot of state workers will want to keep the reduced work schedule.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lenin Was Wrong

Lenin once famously observed that the capitalist would sell you the rope with which to hang him. Lenin was wrong. The capitalist will hang himself with the rope he paid way too much money for.