Thursday, December 30, 2010

Yeah, the Boomers Did It

In preparation for cutting Social Security and Medicare, we're going to have a spate of articles like this, blaming the Boomers for not saving enough for retirement, for being self-absorbed, for spending with abandon, for [whatever sin of omission or commission is being used to bash us and justify cutting benefits].

But if we look, for example, at the article above, it's a simple matter to figure out what's wrong with the argument. First, the featured Boomer used to make $100K a year--that's twice the median income for the United States, so this poor sacrificial lamb isn't representative at all. Anyone who has bothered to do the simple arithmetic (you know--counting, addition, subtraction) has figured out that the Boomers didn't spend oodles of money on consumer electronics, fancy clothes or vacations. The largest increases in spending were for housing and health care, and one need only prepare a simple budget for a household making the median income to find that, once you've acquired the basics, there wasn't a whole lot left over for other stuff, whether a boat or retirement. If you don't believe me, look at this. (What amazed me is that there's a government agency that collects this information.)

More important though, are the factors entirely beyond the control of most Boomers. Yeah, we really wanted to give up pensions for 401ks. Why have professional money managers take care of your retirement when you can receive the "services" of self-serving, and often incompetent, financial advisors? We all collectively decided that we didn't want pensions. Uh huh. And then, having put our money into the stock market, we caused it to crash. Uh huh. And then, we all decided to crash the housing market after we'd been told, for like 30 years, that our houses would fund our retirements. Oh, please!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Anniversary





J has now officially put up with me for 30 years. He deserves a medal.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

J's Task


J has been going through our old photos, discarding the embarrassingly large number of duds. I then approve his selections, and the rest go to the garbage. He's finished the first 10 years--only 20 more to go! He also found the original newspapers reporting the Oakland Fire and the Loma Prieta earthquake.

And a pipe burst this morning. We're the only house in Sacramento without potable water.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Dinner

The Great J humors me far more often than he should. When I announced that I wanted to do a turkey for Christmas, he suggested that a whole turkey was a lot for two people and that, perhaps, we should just do turkey parts instead. I insisted, and J dutifully ordered a free-range bird from our local supermarket. He will remind you that it was hugely expensive. And the bird was also huge, some 12.5 pounds.

I made the turkey and the stuffing (using the recipe my mother had probably acquired from a bag of bread crumbs in 1956). J did everything else--the gravy (best turkey gravy I have ever had), mashed potatoes (the secret is sour cream), fancy brussel sprouts (steamed with lemon butter is better), cranberry sauce (really good, the secret being tangerine juice), and the fennel and smoked salmon salad.

Did I mention that we have enough food for several weeks?

Presents were purchased for the cats. The crinkly paper balls were not a hit, and the mouse on elastic was a hit for about 5 minutes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lousy Democrats

Our local paper had an article today on the Democrats who have decided to join the Republicans in blaming the teachers' unions for the state of the schools. What's the point of that? Well, in California, the Democrats drank the KoolAid and promoted the very system that has wrecked education here. Huh? Well, every legitimate study of student performance has found that there is one factor, above all others, that determines student performance--parental income. More than quality of the school district, more than the parents' education, parental income determines how well the kid does in school. (Interestingly, this means that expensive private schools are selling to stupid, but rich, parents. Or more likely parents who don't want their kids going to school with the rest of us. Children of rich parents who go to public schools do just as well as the children of equally rich parents who go to private schools.) So the best thing we could do for the children in California schools is to reverse the neoliberalism that has promoted income inequality and depression of wages for the vast majority as a social and economic virtue.

More than that, the Democrats would have to deal with the problems faced by lower-income parents--particularly housing. In Los Angeles a third of the students change schools every year because their parents can't keep their housing. But it would cost a lot more to solve that problem rather than bash the teachers.

Worse than that, the proposals promoted by Rhee and her corporate sponsors are likely to make the problem worse rather than better. Teachers who might have chosen to work with lower-income students and distressed communities will, if the lose tenure rights, move to jobs in richer communities, where the incomes of the parents insure higher test scores.

Ngram: Neoconservative and neoliberal are both unknown until the late 1970s. Neo conservative peaks around 1990, while neoliberal is still (unfortunately) on the ascent.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Solstice











The solstice was yesterday at 3:37 PM.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dabbling in Ngrams

I've been playing with these. Use of "millenium" is highest right around 1980, but references diminish as the millenium approached. And "countenance", one of my favorite verbs, is at its high point in the 1830s. It then begins a long slow slide to the present. But "renege" is the opposite; it begins its climb in the 1930s and, except for a small decline in the mid-1990s, keeps on moving up. And both God and the devil are sinking like stones.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inspired

I ran a across the link to this on Patrick Killelea's website. I thought it was an inspired solution to the foreclosure problem. What was more interesting though was the author's comment that "[p]erhaps to the surprise of much of the industry, abuse of the PTFA [the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act] has been limited to one-off events, eviction attorneys told me as recently as last week." The real estate industry, which includes eviction attorneys certainly, always claims that tenants shouldn't have the most basic rights because granting tenants these rights might, somehow, enable tenants to engage in nefarious acts in our rental units. That there is no evidence for this is irrelevant--in the propoganda of the "industry" tenants would take any opportunity to run wild in the streets.

Indeed one of Jerry Brown's initiatives as Mayor of Oakland was to "clear out" rental units being used as drug emporiums. Brown became very quiet on the subject when it turned out that most of the drug selling was being done by homeowners, not tenants.

Awesome

Something I liked in the morning newspaper. I was first subjected to the inappropriate use of the word "awesome" some years ago when I performed a thoroughly inconsequential service for one of my then coworkers. He said, "Awesome. Thanks." I thought, there was nothing awesome about it. I made a phone call. I asked someone to email a form. The person at the other end of the conversation agreed to do that. I had become inured to the use of "hella" as an adverb, e.g. "hella good concert". I had also become used to chats that began with "hey"--so much so that I sometimes used it, although the first time I did so, the recipient of the "hey" didn't believe I was the person chatting him.

Over the years I have been described as "awesome" both for my personal character and for mundane services I have provided. I have gotten used to it. I no longer say, "I don't think so" even though I'm quite sure that I've never done a single thing that could be described as "awesome"--not one. It's just comforting to know that someone else finds this misuse as irritating as I do.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A New Shopping Irritation

When did it become impossible to get sheets individually instead of in sets? I use two different sizes because using a one-size-larger top sheet limits the accusations of covers thieving. But it seems almost impossible to find anything that isn't in a set.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let's Stop Speaking English

If you dislike income inequality as I do, look at this. It's clear that there's a strong correlation between increasing income inequality and being an English-speaking nation. Let's all switch to French.

Update: It's a joke, comrades.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spring Courses


I've finished Astronomy. The course ended last week. I shall miss it. Unfortunately the next in the series isn't a TV course and, even were I willing to sign up and go in person, I have to collect J from work just as class begins. I missed a few of the TV lectures, as there's something about a 3:00 start that's really easy to miss. My courses for the Spring term are Introduction to Art (on Monday evening) and Art Survey: Renaissance to 19th Century (Monday and Wednesday, noon to 1:20).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Morning

And I couldn't believe this. You'd think that the banks would wait a suitable period before coming after our meager incomes again. Unfortunately it does confirm my view that the financial elite is trying to restart the neoliberal economy. Disgusting--and pathetic.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cooking

Last night I cooked. Yes, cooked. Assembled ingredients, chopped ingredients into little pieces (I hear that it's called mincing), scrubbed ingredients, melted butter, and cooked them all up into a rather large amount of mussels with a butter sauce. Oh, and I peeled a tomato. J did suggest that we didn't need three pounds of mussels, but I insisted. We didn't need three pounds of mussels--two would have done fine.

I don't cook. Ever. I am not a good cook and J is a very good cook, so I set the table and, mostly, do the dishes. I do have a few dishes though, and one of them is mussels. When we lived in the Bay Area, I regularly acquired clams (when we were flush) and mussels (when we weren't) from, first, the fish market at 19th and Mission, where the clams and mussels were still in water, and then from the fish market in Oakland's Montclair district. In those days mussels were about half the price of clams, so it was a good, cheap feed. Now mussels and clams are the same price, so it's a matter of whim.

I have a really easy recipe, so here goes:

Two pounds of mussels or clams
1/8 to 1/4 lb of butter
medium onion
4-6 cloves of garlic
fresh parsley
medium tomato
white wine
good bread

Mussels or clams should be rushed home from the store, placed in a kettle of water covering them, and put in the fridge until prep time. (When we lived in San Francisco, the fishmonger would put the clams or mussels in a plastic bag filled with water. I would then transport them home on BART.)

Scrub the mussels or clams with a brush. Almost all are farmed now, so they're much cleaner than in the past, but you don't want grit in the sauce. Place them in clean water and set aside.

Place the tomato in a saucepan filled with water and heat to loosen the skin.

Mince the onions and garlic and set aside.

Do the same with the parsley.

Skin the tomato, cut out the core and cut into chunks.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Have husband set the table, make the salad and slice the bread.

Do all of this before cooking, as the cooking is over in about 20 minutes.

Melt butter in a large pot. Add onions and garlic, and cook slowly until the onions are soft and just starting to brown. Do not burn. Add the tomato and cook to soften until it's mush and dissolves into the butter mixture. Add the parsley and continue heating. Dump the mussels or clams into the pot and cook until all are opened, about 10 minutes. Shake the pan every 2-3 minutes.

Remove the mollusks from the broth with a slotted spoon, place in the serving bowl and put the bowl in the oven.

Boil the cooking liquid to reduce and thicken. The butter is important here, as it is what makes the sauce thick and suitable for bread-dunking. Pour the sauce into cups suitable for dunking and move the mussels from the oven to the table.

Update: The wine should be added just before the mollusks, about 1/2-3/4 of a cup. And J suggests that, if you want a less salty broth, change the water in which you're keeping said mollusks several times. The liquid they release on cooking will be less salty.

And the mussels (the best we've found in Sacramento) were from Oto's on Freeport Blvd.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Peon on a Rant II

Alas the ruling class cannot limit their behavioral experiments on the rest of us to enticing us to line up at the Halls of Commerce three days before Black Friday for a chance to rampage through the stores seeking one or another "doorbuster." They now want to perform experiments on the most precarious among us who seek assistance to stave off eviction. The focus of this "study" is to determine whether or not the recipients of aid from a housing program would be more or less likely to end up homeless if denied the aid. So petitioners are chosen by lot to be denied aid and given a list of other resources where they might receive assistance.

What's interesting is that the whole idea is silly. Whether or not they receive aid at one point has no impact on any future crisis they might face. People who are precarious with respect to housing (and that's a fair percentage of the population) are precarious all the time. If they receive aid this month or this year, ending that aid just restores them to the previous precarious position. If they stave off eviction this time, the next financial crisis--an unexpected bill of, say, $25--leaves them just as precarious the next time. It doesn't solve the fundamental problem, which is that some 30% of the US population shouldn't be in the private housing market at all. And sending the near-destitute who are facing eviction off for job counseling doesn't solve the immediate problem, and won't solve their longer-term problems until they've completed the course work for a Master's.

A couple of commenters noted that it stank of Tuskeegee, and others suggested that we should divide rich taxpayers into two groups, one of which kept its Bush tax cut and the other not, to see which group created more jobs.

HUD is advocating these kinds of studies. And I voted for this?

Peon on a Rant I

Peon was trying to be more positive during the holiday season. She really does want to concentrate on good food, pretty decorations (and inflatables on the front lawn are not pretty) and better driver behavior. She really does. But then she got up and read the newspaper.

How could Obama sign off on a tax plan that gives bunches more money to already rich people? The vast majority of taxpayers would see no increase in taxes if the Bush taxes were allowed to lapse. Yes, the vast majority.

But first, one of the changes whacks low income workers. Workers making a bit less than the national median household income would be better off (read: get more money) from the Making Work Pay tax credit that was part of the stimulus last year. That's the $400 per worker that was part of your refund. Giving lower wage workers a payroll tax reduction instead means that they'll (a) get less money and (b) won't get it as a lump sum. (Yes, getting it as a lump sum is good for lower income workers. We then can plan for its use--and lower income workers have plenty of possibilities when faced with a $400 windfall.)

But it gets even worse. For most taxpayers the tax cut was always minimal. For many taxpayers there wasn't a tax cut at all. For couples with a taxable income between $17,000 and $57,650, the marginal tax rate under the Bush system is 15%. If the tax cuts expire, the tax rate for these taxpayers is, yup, 15%. Taxpayers making above $57,560 would pay higher taxes, but that's because flattening the tax bands pushes them into the same band as those making $140K, with a marginal tax rate of 28%.

The people who really clean up, though, are taxpayers with high incomes. Their highest marginal rate is 35%. Yeah, people who make half a million a year have a marginal rate only 10% higher than people with an income of $70K. Bring back the 90% marginal rate! But what this really points out is that it makes more sense to maintain the tiny tax cut for lower-income taxpayers, while allowing them to expire for the rich.

I wonder how many people who can't do the math think that they got a windfall from the Bush tax cuts, and would find, if they did the arithmetic, that their tax cut was about $24. And if this is what the Democrats have on offer, why did I bother to vote?

Peon is so mad about this that she intends to bank every sou of the payroll tax cut.

And if you're not already sufficiently angry/depressed, read this.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Watch the Video

of Cornell West here. West is a bit conservative for my taste, but he has a wonderful speaking style, and puts at least one of the fundamental questions of our economic development quite succinctly. Having decimated our industrial base, what are we going to do now to improve the lot of the poorest 2/3 of the citizenry? Pay more for existing jobs? Develop new industries? And how much are we going to have to spend to do this? West notes that we spent nearly a trillion dollars to bail out the financiers, but not nearly so much on the rest of us.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wikileaks

Like most of the world, I've been doing a little Wikileaks dabbling. Most of the leaked documents won't tell anyone who pays reasonable attention to the world anything she doesn't already know. Karzai's government is corrupt, for instance. Noo. Really. Who could've known? Russia is a criminal enterprise. Been paying attention for the last 20 years? You'd think after all this time that we'd have figured out that "unfettered" capitalism is likely to become, yes, a criminal enterprise.

But one cable interested me just because it confirmed something I'd suspected for awhile. That is that Rene Preval, the Haitian president, has become entirely uninvolved in the problems of his country, and entirely ineffective, simply because he doesn't want to follow President Aristide to house arrest in South Africa. Well, we now have the cable confirming just that (see bullet 15). Sometimes I am sooo smart.

The problem for Preval is that anyone who wanted to solve the problems of Haiti would have to do things that the Western powers wouldn't like--expropriating land, forcing higher wages, demanding that the French pay back all the money that Haiti paid France (under an agreement with Charles X) to compensate French owners for their slaves--with interest--and the like. And the last person who made proposals like that ended up...

If you want to keep up on Haitian issues on a regular basis, read this. I check in about once a week; it's too depressing to read it more often.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Restaurant Reviews

As part of the great J's birthday week, we have been going out some, and ate out twice this week. First we went to see the new Crocker, which is much bigger and better laid-out than the old Crocker. In fact, it's quite beautiful. Unfortunately it has the same old art. Would someone please move the Sabines to storage? Please, please. The changing exhibition was the art that will be contributed over the next century. Some of it is good, but it's too bad we can't just say no to some of the pieces. Of particular note, though, is the third floor front sculpture gallery, which has a beautiful view of the trees through the sculptures. Very cool.

The cafe, though. Hmm. J, who had the misfortune of a cracked tooth during his birthday week, had a bowl of clam chowder. It was better than Progresso, but just barely. He gave Progresso a 3 and the cafe chowder a 4. I had the Chicken Breast Salad. It was okay, but nothing spectacular and should have been for $11. There are far better, and cheaper, places nearby for lunch. Skip the cafe.

Then we went to The Grange for the official birthday dinner. Deciding against the fixed-price menu, we ordered off the regular menu. The house-cured sardines with mussels and clams was excellent. Highly recommended. Really good. We then had house-made pasta with mushrooms, splitting the large order. It was, well, okay, but nothing spectacular. J suggested that it needed salt. I wasn't sure of that, but it did need something. We split the braised short ribs. Very good, over excellent mashed potatoes. But the highlight was still the sardines. We were comped dessert, as the waiter thought the service had been too slow. I thought it was fine.

We also had really expensive wine, one of which--a mix of Chardonnay and Voignier--was excellent, and was perfect with the sardines. The red, though, was not much better than the table red we drink at home. The white blend was Blend 23 from B Cellars. And they were both expensive!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tenants Together--Improving Rental Property Around the State

The five of you who read this blog already know about the Landlord Hall of Shame. Some of the nominees are newbies, while others could have been nominees 30 years ago. But who could have known that a nomination could send maintenance crews heading off to make repairs--in some cases repairs that should have been made years ago? Well, that's what happened in Fresno. It helped, of course, that the nomination made the Top Story at one local TV station, complete with video of some of the conditions in which the tenants are forced to live. The very next day the offending landlord sent maintenance crews to begin remedial work.

One note though. Sacramento doesn't have enough nominees. If you live here and your conditions are like this, turn your landlord or property management firm in. Nominate them!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Birthday J

J is now old enough to collect his Social Security. But I'm going to make him keep working. This picture is one of my favorites, as it shows his look of affectionate exasperation, or exasperated affection, the most frequent look I get from him.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

But He Didn't Just Cook the Dinner





He also struggled home with the long (78") bench I insisted on having for the living room in our little Honda Civic (no mishaps on the journey), and spent an hour or so putting it together for me and putting it into position.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Our menu was:

crab in large pasta shells with sauce
sauteed mushrooms and shallots
salad with smoked salmon, dill and sour cream
dessert from Ettore's

I set the table.

Yesterday, in preparation for Black Friday shopping, an article in our local paper quoted a marketing professor at UC Davis, who stated that people get up at ungodly hours of the morning to shop on the day after Thanksgiving because it makes them feel that they are in control. "You feel empowered when you shop." The getting up at 2 in the morning, schlepping off to stand in line with hundreds of other people, and scrambling for some "doorbuster" does not, unfortunately, make me feel empowered. I instead imagine some retailer who majored in marketing chuckling to himself as he suggests to his fellows that "maybe we could get them to line up on Thanksgiving morning. Let's see how dumb they are." There's nothing that should make people feel less in control than herding off to the shops in the middle of the night. We're being played, and we shouldn't tolerate it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's Probably Not True

but my Tenants and Foreclosure blog hasn't had much action this week--about half of usual. Does this mean that the lenders and landlords are leaving tenants alone to celebrate Thanksgiving unmolested? Probably not, but there's always hope.

(Last year I got an email from a tenant in distress on New Year's Eve! I wished I believed in karma.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Holidays

I like holidays. I'm not one of those bah humbug people who wants to abolish Christmas, even though I have no religion at all. I am not worried about the pound or two that I will gain eating yummy food. In fact, I believe that the weight gain means that I had a good time during the season. I will never eat a snack before going to a holiday party so that I won't eat so much at the buffet. What's the point of that? That doesn't mean that you get to position yourself in front of the cookies, making sure that no one else gets any of them. But, c'mon folks, it's not the pound or two that you gain over the holidays that makes you fat. Really.

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. I love the smell of the roasting turkey, the stuffing cooked in the bird (cooked on the side is never as good), the mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole (something J refuses to cook or eat), the gravy, the shrimp in aspic that my mother made almost every year. There was the American brilliant glass relish tray with carrots and celery, and the American brilliant glass bowl with the cranberry jelly. Until I was 30 I had three helpings of everything--it was a standing joke that everyone had to sit around waiting for me to finish. And I didn't mind skipping dessert, as I only moderately like pumpkin pie and can't stand mincemeat. Imagine J's surprise this year when I said that I'd rather have crab for Thanksgiving. I'll do the turkey for Christmas. I guess it's because I now use the relish tray to hold my jewelry.

But as for Christmas...I wish we could just have the food, the decorations and the music, as well as gifts for children, and skip the rest of the purposeless gift-giving. I hate it when someone I barely know buys me something that costs $10. I'm an adult now and, if there's something out there that I want that costs $10, I've probably already bought it. So what the giver has really done is picked up something I probably don't want, wrapped it up and presented it to me in expectation that I will reciprocate. Both of the gifts are likely to be saved for the appalling custom of "regifting" or set out for charity collection. Why not just go out for a meal together, or exchange cards--anything but purchasing the useless junk that multiplies exponentially at this time of year. And it's not the thought that counts--what's clear is that someone picked it up at the drug store or the grocery store because she felt that she had to give something, anything.

And it's not because I'm cheap. I'd rather spend more than $10 having lunch or dinner with someone than exchange this stuff. And given that most people have limited resources these days, I'd rather, in fact, that people spend the money on their kids. Take the $50 or $100 that you're spending on these junk gifts and buy your kids something they really want. Please.

Update: I asked for Nightmare Before Christmas for my Christmas viewing this year. J thinks I've gone bonkers--"I wouldn't think you'd want a strange movie."

Update 2: An economist has actually written a book on the subject of Christmas gift-giving. He advocates giving gift cards to the recipient's favorite store, thus allowing the recipient to purchase what she wants. One problem with this: I've noticed from my online shopping that much of the good stuff is already gone and that people who want to redeem the cards right after Christmas will face slim pickings. This means that the cards will end up in a drawer and be forgotten. So if you give gift cards, send a reminder in March or April so that the recipient spends it when new merchandise comes in.

New Tenants Together Report

Tenants Together, the statewide renters organization in California, has issued a new report on the eviction policies of banks after foreclosing on tenant-occupied properties. As the five of you who read this blog are all-too-well-aware, this is one of my big issues. The report is very short, with only one comma splice that I've found so far, but I was particularly entertained by fact that banks admit to violating the law--in writing yet. I mean, what part of "it's the law" don't they understand?

DeutscheBank, fore instance, doesn't believe the law applies to them at all. Uh, you do business in the United States, so you have to comply with state and local laws. It's not an issue, but a fact. Neither Wells Fargo nor Citibank believe that they have to return security deposits to tenants. Oh, yes, you do--it's the law. Bank of America and One West didn't even bother to reply.

Perhaps our State Legislature should take action, spelling out in very simple language what the banks are required to do under existing law (they could make the laws a little better, but that's another issue), and require that the Notice of Default be mailed to all properties, along with an explanation of the bank's obligations once the property has been foreclosed. Dreaming, I know, but it could happen.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Adventures of My Cats

Peon has been way too negative lately, so today we will look at the adventures of the cats with the change of seasons. Dash still wants to go out to the patio at first light, but we've told him that the outside temperature must be 50 degrees before he's allowed out. However, on chilly days he comes right back inside and asks that the heat be turned on so that he can park himself over the heater vent. He'll stretch out there for some time, turning himself over as one side gets too warm.

Emma prefers the solar solution to cold and waits for the morning sunbeam to cross the bed. She snuggles against my pillow and enjoys the full-body beam. Then she removes herself to the floor for more solar warming. A good time is being had by all.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Morning

J and I are going out to take fall color pictures this morning. We're supposed to have heavy winds today, and I'd like to get some pictures of the leaves while they are still on the trees.

And Peon is not surprised that the "bipartisan" commission is advocating reductions in Social Security benefits. Peon has been saying for a long time that the elite will now seek to take the last remaining bit of money the vast majority has. They've taken our wages, run us into ruinous debt, taken our houses--there isn't anything else left. Paul Krugman's blog links to the Social Security study showing that life expectancy for the top half of the earnings distribution has increased a lot more than life expectancy for the bottom half. Surprise, surprise. What this means for the rest of us is that, if the full retirement age is raised to 69, many lower income workers won't live to collect a dime. That's how they reduce the deficit--people pay in with the full knowledge that they may never collect.

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Love David Brooks

only because he provides me with such an easy hit. In his op-ed (brought to my attention by Dean Baker in his Beat the Press blog, which you should all be skimming, at least, every day) last week, he was rattling on about what President Obama needed to do to win back disaffected voters. And he seriously makes the argument that people are not concerned about mundane things like jobs and incomes, but about values. And then, of course, he raises the fiction that Americans are addicted to debt and spending, unlike our forefathers and foremothers who, with grim rectitude, spent their evenings checking their balance sheets. But Americans have seen the light, and decided that Republicans are better able to keep us all on the path to debt-reduction.

But he doesn't stop there. It's not just debt-reduction. More values come into play, causing deep distress among the populace. So we find that Obama should:

"demonstrate that even though he comes from an unusual background, he is a fervent believer in the old-fashioned bourgeois virtues: order, self-discipline, punctuality and personal responsibility.
"

Gee, aside from the creepy semi-fascism of the list, I just haven't noticed a lot of concern on the part of the populace that the President is late for appointments. And I'd like to think that the populace is smart enough to figure out that whether or not we're on time would have little impact on the financial meltdown we suffered.

And I don't think Brooks is terribly concerned about the personal responsibility of, for instance, bankers. Otherwise they'd all be heading off to serve long prison terms.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Well, Duh

This shouldn't surprise anyone. Tenants have been dealing with judges who "interpret" the laws that are supposed to protect them in favor of the banks for years.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two Good Pieces on the New Governor

One is on his charter schools, the other on his development policies. And I got up this morning to discover this (on the Tenants and Foreclosure blog) in my email:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this amazing pool of information. It is easy to read and informative at the same time. I appreciate it immensely!

I shall be obnoxious for the rest of the day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Commerce on the Internet

I received an email today from someone who wanted to pay for a link on my Tenants and Foreclosure blog. Perhaps I am naive, but I thought that when a blog linked to another blog, the link provided further information, a link to the text being discussed or, at least, a pretty picture. J informs me that this is a common practice. I was upset that anyone reading me would think that I would be willing to do such a thing.

Today would have been my mother's 81st birthday.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Election

I'm not going to try for a thorough analysis of the recent election. First it would be too depressing. Second others have already done much better and more thorough analysis than I could ever do.

My brother lives in Denver. I Skyped him yesterday to ask why it was that Colorado was a little speck of blue in the otherwise Red Sea of the Midwest and Mountain States. He Skyped back that the Republicans there had nominated Tea Partiers for both Governor and Senator, thus giving the election to the Democrats. "Thank God for Sarah Palin," he Skyped.

But it must be noted that Harry Reid was only able to win against the second-wackiest Tea Partier in the country (the wackiest being Christine "I'm Not a Witch" O'Donnell). I must admit that I actually think O'Donnell's attack on onanism is more entertaining, but that's not suitable for family television. And Democrats like Russ Feingold were beaten by what we can only describe objectively as lesser minds--in the case of Feingold's opposition, a much lesser mind.

In California we elected Jerry Brown for a third term as Governor, and re-elected the moderately-liberal but remarkably ineffective Barbara Boxer as Senator. I voted for Brown, but only because when I voted there was still a chance that Whitman could win. But having lived through both his first stint as Governor (1974-82) and in Oakland when he was Mayor of that city, I'm unimpressed. In Oakland he simply rode the housing bubble up and got out before it collapsed, never noting--and apparently never seeing--that the bubble might ruin the lives of those who bought at bubble-inflated prices. Further the bubble forced thousands of low- and moderate-income Oaklanders to move to far-flung communities and commute back to their jobs. (That's why sustainability ratings should always include a ding for the people who can't afford to live in the community where they work and have to commute.)

Brown also refused to support Measure EE, the "just cause" eviction law passed by the voters there. That's because he raised tons of campaign money--and still does--from developers who want to ugly up the state with cheaply-built, but expensive, housing. And it's probably because he also believes that tenants should be non-persons who can be evicted for any reason or no reason at all. That tenants should have the right to dignity is beyond his ken.

When he was Governor the first time, he refused to advocate for statewide "renter rebate" legislation, which would have forced landlords to share their Proposition 13 tax savings with their tenants. As a young person, with few gray hairs and no wrinkles, I figured out how our little group of demonstrators could get into his office in San Francisco's State Building undetected. We brought our demonstration to his office, where he informed us that the renter's rebate was a "local issue"--uh, Proposition 13 was a statewide initiative, and that we had "Mau-Maued" him. Now I must admit that I'd never before, and haven't since, been compared to Dedan Kimathai and Stanley Mathenge, and was a little flattered. The other lesson I took from that is that the problems of affordable housing and tenants' rights are always somewhere he isn't. If he's a local official, it's a state or federal problem. If he's a state official, it's a local problem--or a federal one. Well, I guess he's consistent.

And Californians once again proved that they weren't willing to be grown-ups and pay for the services they want. They added more fees to the list of taxes and fees that require a 2/3 vote for passage, making it more difficult for the state to raise money--and giving a minority control of taxation. In particular Proposition 26 would make it more difficult to force polluters to pay the cost of the damage they do. Did no one note that Chevron was a major funder--Chevron, folks, Chevron! And Proposition 24 went down too, but that's because the campaign against it suggested--no, lied and said--that small business would face higher taxes and California would lose jobs. It was actually a somewhat complicated bill to tax corporations more effectively, and would have had virtually no impact on jobs. But it was complicated enough that most people couldn't understand it.

'Nuf said. Oh, except that I actually got quoted in another blog. I couldn't believe it, but it's here. See the second paragraph from the end. I don't necessarily agree with the author, but being quoted by someone I don't know is so cool.

Update 11/6/10: My brother has become convinced that joining the Tea Party is the way to keep Republicans out of power. In furtherance of this goal, he has apparently signed me up for membership in the local Tea Party. I hope that he was only joking, but should my Tea Party t-shirt and "Mama Grizzlies for Palin" bumper sticker arrive in the mail, I fully intend to burn them both. I wonder if anyone has an anti-Palin bumper sticker in defense of wolves. (One of the grossest things you'll ever see is the "hunting" of wolves in Alaska, which is done by chasing the innocent beasts in helicopters and then shooting the exhausted creature.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Peon on TV

Peon was, very briefly, on the KCRA 11:00 PM news last night. I can't find a link to the video, but here's the article on the Tenants Together website, and here it is from KCRA. I'm discussing the Landlord Hall of Shame. KCRA lights interviewees really well. I asked the camera person if I could take the system home to light me in my living room.

And a wonderful book for people who are interested in things like why forks have four tines -- At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Applying for Jobs

One of my few skills is the ability to quickly and accurately decide whether applicants for jobs are worth interviewing. I have a simple A, B and C classification system. If you don't have any of the applicable skills, you're a C. If you have some skills, or in some way indicate that we can train you, you're a B. If you have a lot of skills and have done the research to write competently about what the organization does and how much you support the goals of the organization, you're on the interview list.

And unlike some companies and organizations, I actually read all of the cover letters and resumes. Using buzzwords won't get you an interview, and neither will telling me that you're a bundle of energy. (My teeth hurt at the very thought.) But there are a bunch of other things that will get you put in the C pile. First, proofread your cover letter and resume. That means reading the damn thing, and correcting any misspelled words, improperly placed punctuation, and sentence fragments and run-ons. If the first sentence of your cover letter is a fragment, it had better be a really good one. And the comma splice is not used in American English, so unless your resume says you went to Leeds, a comma splice should appear nowhere in your letter.

Don't make me decipher your resume. Tell me where you worked, when you worked there, and what you did. The "skills-based resume" is hard to follow, and I'm going to figure out any gaps in employment anyway. Don't try to confuse me.

Read the instructions carefully, and follow them exactly. This is particularly important if "attention to detail" is one of the job requirements. If we want email only, don't send us hard copy. I, for instance, work remotely, and a hard-copy submission is hard for us to deal with. Don't ever send anything in a format that's difficult or impossible to open. You're a C if I can't open your documents. If I want a PDF, send a PDF. If I want a Word document, send me a Word document. If you can't send in the required format, I should know why.

Finally, no matter what the resume "professionals" tell you, do not telephone us if we ask that you not telephone. It brings you to our attention, but not in a good way. And I have never had anyone telephone who hadn't already been relegated to the Cs.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finally Some Sense on Laos

Most people outside the Sacramento region don't know much about the trial of less than a score of Hmong Americans and a couple of would-be anti-Communist crusaders who may or may not have plotted to work with a scraggly band of Hmong in Laos to mount a campaign to overthrow the Laotian government. It's been a big deal here, as Sacramento has a large Hmong community and some of those on trial are prominent in that community here.

The "plot", if we can dignify the comedy of errors described in court documents as something sufficiently organized to be a plot, was difficult to understand from the beginning. It's not uncommon for refugees from other countries to decide that they're going to raise an army and liberate the home country. Anti-Castro Cubans do this on a regular basis. But the government doesn't generally try to entrap them and put them on trial. The FBI goes to the ringleaders, takes the weaponry away and tells them to cool it. End of story.

With the Hmong "plot" though, the government sent an undercover agent to try to sell them all sorts of weaponry and provide mercenaries to enable the group to take over the Laotian government. Uh-huh. And while the plotters were pathetic, it doesn't appear that they did much more than talk until the undercover agent showed up, and since they weren't likely to get the Stinger missiles anyway, the government could easily have used the Cuban Plan to send the plotters back to their regular lives. But nooo. The Bush Administration decided to arrest and prosecute the plotters as terrorists. Oh, please.

However, in building opposition to the prosecution, the Hmong American community raised the "resistance" of somewhere between 200 and 1,000 Hmong who are still -- 40 years after the United States recognized the government of Laos -- living in the jungles there, subsisting on whatever they can find, and launching occasional raids on hapless Laotian villages to augment their diets. In the process they sometimes kill the villagers, which endears them to neither the government nor the villagers.

Enter some local politicians, notably Dave Jones, who will hopefully become California's Insurance Commissioner after next month's election. Now the issue is not whether the US should prosecute every silly little "plot" worked up by the anti-blank refugees, but morphs into a campaign to protect the Hmong remaining in Laotian jungles. At the time I suggested that we should work with the Laotian government to deal with the situation -- get the remaining Hmong out of the jungle and resettle them in Laos or in the United States. I didn't think that Assemblymember Jones was being particularly helpful, and that it might make the Laotian government even angrier with us than they already are.

And they have good reason to be angry. In addition to prosecuting a war against the Pathet Lao that was wrong and immoral, we mined a large portion of the country and have refused to give them more than token assistance in clearing the mines from the Plain of Jars. And what aid we do give them we treat as a big, big favor. But good things can come from the worst stupidities, and people with more influence than I also saw that we could bring the remaining Hmong "resistance" out of the jungle and resettle them. An attempt was made to open negotiations last year, but the Hmong sent Vang Pao, who had commanded the anti-Communist Hmong during the war, as the negotiator. So not a good idea.

But how hard would it be to find a negotiator who had the trust and respect of both sides to settle this problem? I suspect that the US really doesn't care that much, and doesn't want the political fallout from having to take in more refugees from Southeast Asia. To which I can only say that we should be willing to take responsibility for what we did in Laos, be accountable, and accept the consequences. Just like mothers on welfare.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Been Shoppin'

Poor J. After spending a good hour on the Internet finding my datebook for 2011, I decided that I didn't want to spend $6.50 in shipping charges for an $11.00 calendar. Since I didn't find it at the local Staples, I dragged J downtown to Office Max. There it was. Office Max charges $1 more than the online price, but I saved a bundle. I was so proud of myself.

And yes, I use an old-fashioned datebook. I don't have a fancy phone with a built-in calendar program. If I have an appointment to record, I whip out my datebook and a pen and just write it in. It takes a lot less time than dealing with an electronic system, and it never goes down.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Tudors

I became addicted to The Tudors, the Showtime series based loosely on the bad behavior of Henry VIII toward a bunch of women. Like a lot of Showtime's offerings, there's plenty of nudity and sex (although they seem to use the same body doubles over and over), but it's the pretty sets and the jewelry that attracted me--the earrings particularly. (It's well known among my friends that, since I didn't get my ears pierced until I was nearly 40, I regularly check every earring counter in a 20-mile radius for likely purchases. Well, I used to. In the first five years after I got my ears pierced, I acquired a lifetime supply of earrings. So I don't buy too many--only five or six pairs a year.)

If you're looking for historical accuracy, The Tudors is not your thing. Thomas Tallis, who is mostly associated with Elizabeth I's court, appears early enough to have an affair with William Compton, who died in 1528. In order to avoid the confusion of too many Marys to track, Margaret Tudor marries and then kills the King of Portugal. The long sea voyage home enables her to spend a lot of time in bed with Charles Brandon. But the historical Margaret Tudor married James IV of Scotland, while the historical Mary Tudor married Louis XII of France.

But the worst thing about the series isn't the radiator that appears in one scene, the asphalt driveway, or the coach with springs that wouldn't be invented for 300 years. It's that Jonathan Rhys Meyers just doesn't make a convincing Henry VIII. Instead of a monstrous monarch with a huge ego and a cruel streak to match, we get a petulant school boy who won't do his homework. I keep expecting Mary Doyle Kennedy (of The Commitments), who plays Catherine of Aragon, to tell him to shut up, sit down and eat his vegetables. It's not entirely his fault; Keith Michell's Henry VIII (in the BBC series 35 years ago) set the standard, and it would be hard for anyone to measure up.

Sam Neill does a wonderful Wolsey, and an actor I'd never heard of, James Frain, plays Thomas Cromwell. Frain, who remains fully clothed through nigh on three seasons, has the simpering smarminess that one would expect of a Tudor courtier, with just a touch of evil. I thought that he'd make a wonderful vampire, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that Showtime had tapped him for a new role--yup, a vampire. I obviously missed my calling as a casting director.

And because I am the person I am, I took up reading. I'm half through the fifth book of the CJ Sansom Matthew Shardlake series. And I'm reading Ives on Anne Boleyn and Hutchinson on Cromwell.

If you rent The Tudors, you can skip the last disc of Season 4. It's a letdown.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Paradox of Choice

I'm searching for a cane. Well, actually I've searched for, found and ordered a cane. I started searching three days ago. I went to Amazon.com and found 3,068 choices. Yes, 3,068! Luckily, some of the products were canes I didn't want--too expensive, ugly, or having a handle in the form of a skull (in plastic). Others were actually decorative walking sticks, not suitable for someone who might need a cane. So I spent a portion of three days on a $25 purchase, and ended up buying one of the first 15 canes I saw.

But aside from folding aluminum and a few adjustable canes, the fixed-height canes were all 36-37". Fine--if you're a 6' man. But if you're a woman, that cane is likely to be way too long. I'm 5'6", which is relatively tall for a woman, and J is going to have to cut the cane down about 3" so that it's the appropriate height. Even the canes marketed to women were too long.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Foreclosure Documents Mess

I wonder why people are surprised, yes surprised, that the banks and other mortgage holders can't come up with reasonable facsimiles of actual mortgage documents in order to foreclose on hapless homeowners. So they have to make them up. And they don't even do a good job. This kind of thing has been happening to tenants in foreclosed properties for years. Tenants have been evicted with no notice at all--that's why the Cook County Sheriff stopped evicting tenants there--with notice addressed to a resident owner, with notices designed to confuse and obfuscate, of course leaving aside the illegal lockouts, threats and other bad behaviors of realtors and other bank representatives. State Legislatures could have done something about it, but they didn't think tenants were worthy of legally sufficient documents and civilized behavior. Judges who hear unlawful detainer (eviction) actions could have done something about it, but they mostly ignored the problem, as the documents presented to them were, sort of, okay. State Bars could have done something about the lawyers participating in the illegal eviction of tenants but, since the lawyers weren't taking money from the rich, they didn't think it was worth the trouble.

My favorite response to the documents' problem, though, is that of Wells Fargo. When they sell a property out of foreclosure, they require that the new owners sign a document that makes the new owner responsible for any title problems that later turn up. This means that Wells Fargo can foreclose on a property, sell it, and not have the repercussions of any suspect documents come back to haunt them. This means that they have to sell to buyers who don't read, or can't understand, what's put before them. Hmmm, didn't they do this a few years ago?

Update 11/4/10: And now the press has finally noted that tenants have faced eviction without proper notice or service for a long time. See this
. Unfortunately the article doesn't note that attorneys working for the Foreclosures-R-Us services have an obligation to ensure that tenants have received proper notice, and that California courts have largely allowed banks to get away with unlawful evictions by not requiring that lenders show that they have properly identified the residents of foreclosed properties.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

TV School

I've been attending Astronomy 320 on a fairly regular basis. It's really neat, with cool computer graphics to illustrate sun spots, orbits and the like. Oh, except that Channel 16 frequently cuts off the last couple of minutes of lecture. It's not so bad for me, but what if a real student then misses something important--like an assignment. Usually they go to some filler for the ten minutes between my class and the next one, so it's not for some important message.

And generally I don't mind editorial comments, but one irritated me to near distraction. I frankly don't believe that millions of people got up one morning and decided to lie on their mortgage applications. Just so unlikely. Millions of people went to mortgage brokers and banks, and were then encouraged to lie on their mortgage applications, because the banks and mortgage brokers made huge fees--and the largest fees were for the worst mortgages. It's part of the "we all contributed to the crisis" mantra. Hooey.

And now we find
out that the largest number of foreclosures are in lower-income neighborhoods. What a surprise! Uh, poorer people have fewer options and less money, and have to take what's offered to them. Only a few things distinguish me from those of my fellows who took the bait:

1. I'm white, which gives me more options in the rental market.

2. I don't have any children. Studies have shown for a long time that 40-60% of the rental market is closed to families with children. And a landlord is unlikely to get caught discriminating unless (a) he's dumb enough to say that the doesn't want children in the property or (b) he tries to evict a family once they have a child. (In fact, the major case on fair housing for children involved just such a family. The landlord decided to evict when the child was five; by the time the case was decided, he was in high school.)

3. We have good credit. (See 2 above.)

4. We come from the Bay Area, where most people rent and no one thinks anything of it. You're welcomed at the City Council, expected to participate in most neighborhood clean-up days, asked to sign petitions, and can get assistance from politicians and city workers when needed. Here, and in many places outside Coastal California, tenants seem to be the equivalent of child molesters.

So it's not surprising that poorer, nonwhite families with children would decide to leap into the abyss. And it isn't because they're deadbeats or stupid or whatever--it's because they took the best of bad options. And that means that to prevent future debacles we have to look at the real causes of the crisis, and provide real solutions.

This, That and the Other

We've had a remarkably cool summer this year, only a few days over 100 degrees and a lot of days below 90 degrees. The yard should be doing better than it is, but my knees have been a problem all summer, and I've done very little beyond the minimum.

The State of California finally passed a budget, sticking it to poor children and their mothers, the disabled and state workers. The Legislature wasn't willing to tax ATT and Comcast, even though the cable providers got a windfall when the government ordered the switch to digital transmission. Those who had chosen not to get cable or satellite service discovered that their reception was, well, non-existent, and they had to get cable service to receive the standard broadcast signals.

The Governor was particularly incensed that state workers received defined-benefit pensions and sought to increase employee contributions and reduce benefits. In this he succeeded partially, but only by depending on the inability of most people to do third-grade arithmetic. For instance, the "savings" will allegedly be $100 billion in the coming decades. The problem is that said savings will only begin about 25 years from now, and will be reaped over six, seven or eight decades. At that point $100 billion doesn't seem like nearly so much money.

We have a new resident in our yard, Miss Hissy. J discovered her (we have declared her sex, not knowing how to do so with snakes) while clipping ivy and initially thought we might have a rattlesnake in the yard. I called the local 311 service to find out what we should do and was told to leave the snake alone. It would move along on its own. J then did research and discovered that Miss Hissy was, in fact, a gopher snake--entirely harmless to humans.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My TV Learning

All three of you who follow my blog know that I've become addicted to the TV courses put on by our local community college district. I've done courses in anthropology and economics. This time I'm watching an astronomy course from Sacramento City College. Nothing is more fun than learning stuff while reclining on the sofa.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Never Underestimate

the willingness of California's Democrats to toss tenants under the bus. No, that's not quite fair. They mostly just pay no attention to the ways in which their proposals affect the tenant population. The Democrats in the State Legislature have released their latest budget proposal, and some of it is good. It reduces the state sales tax, which will help lower-income Californians, who spend a disproportionate share of their income paying that tax. It increases the vehicle license fee, which should never have been reduced in the first place.

But then it does something else, and that something else is very bad for tenants. It raises the state income tax, and makes the assumption that taxpayers will recoup much of that increase by deducting state taxes on their federal income tax. But most tenants here don't itemize, as most of those who itemize do so to take the mortgage interest deduction. So we'll just pay higher taxes.

It gets worse though. Because housing prices in California are much higher than those in the rest of the country, tenants here already pay high federal income taxes. An income of $50K in many parts of the country would enable you to buy a nice house; here it enables you to rent an apartment with a roommate. So the small sum we'd save on the sales tax would be more than offset by the higher state income taxes. Grrr!

Update 8/5/10: As I expected, not 48 hours after the Democratic proposal was first unveiled, the Republicans have hauled out the poor, seniors and, yes, tenants, as potential victims of the Democratic proposal. Following in the footsteps of such Republican luminaries as Dick Armey and Steve Forbes (remember Angry Renter.com?), they've suddenly discovered that tenants pay more of their income in taxes because we don't itemize our federal taxes. Whoa! Can statewide "just cause" eviction legislation be just around the corner?

But it should be noted that those paying at the highest marginal rate are exempted from the tax increase, even though most of those taxpayers do itemize on their federal returns. If the Dems really want support for this, they need to show how those who don't itemize will benefit from the shift. The California Budget Project has a good post showing who itemizes and who doesn't.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Christmas in July

There's something really offensive about encouraging people to make unnecessary purchases in the midst of the Great Recession. In California 12.4% of our fellows don't have jobs. Many more face wage and/or hour reductions, furloughs, and other attacks on their income. While retailers are in the business of parting people from their money, they seem to be unaware that their sales in the early years of the New Millennium were dependent on credit--and the credit has dried up. People are just not in need of Christmas presents in July, and may not be in need of them in December. In fact, those who have money may think it's a bit unseemly to be buying when so many of our friends and neighbors are having a hard time.

Friday, July 2, 2010

State Workers and the Governor

The Governor is trying to force state workers in California to sign egregious contracts by threatening to pay minimum wage. As the spousal unit of a state worker, I'm none too happy about this, but rather than vent uselessly, I will instead provide some practical advice for those who may suffer from this.

1. There's a difference between rent and mortgage payments. Homeowners can skip their mortgage payments for a couple of months with little danger that they will lose their homes, although it may have a nasty effect on their credit ratings. Lenders don't typically file a Notice of Default until a homeowner has missed three mortgage payments, so the mortgage probably isn't critical for a month. (I know this only because I've written about tenants and foreclosure for a couple of years now.)

It's a whole different matter when you rent, as the landlord can begin eviction proceedings within a few days after a missed payment. It's possible that your landlord (particularly if s/he is local) will be understanding and accept partial payment or wait until there's a state budget and you're reimbursed for the withheld wages). If your landlord does agree to this, get the agreement in writing, as you want any understanding to be clear and unambiguous.

If your landlord won't agree to this and you don't have sufficient savings to cover the rent, or can't borrow from friends, relatives or your credit card, you have to make a nasty judgment call. You can either give notice now and move in with relatives or friends for the duration, or wait, hoping that a budget will be signed before the end of the month.

What you cannot do is fail to pay rent and then have your landlord take you to court. Your landlord would likely be successful in an unlawful detainer action, and those are reported to the landlord screening services. A successful eviction action would make it very difficult for you to rent for a very long time. If you receive a three-days' notice to pay rent or quit, you MUST move before the three days expires. Period.

Update: I've already been asked what happens if you rent with roommates. It's the same thing that happens in any roommate situation in most leases and rental agreements. The co-tenants are all responsible for all of the rent. That means that if one tenant doesn't pay rent, the other tenants are responsible for the entire amount of the rent. (This is why many young people move back to their parents' homes, rather than renting with roommates. The risk is just too great.) If the other tenants can't cover the rent, the landlord can, after the three-days' notice to pay rent or quit has expired, evict all of the tenants living in the unit. If you find yourself in this situation and can't raise the money for rent next month on your own, you should let your roommates know as soon as possible.

2. Your car payment is somewhere between your mortgage and rent, in that the lender may not come to repossess your car immediately, but isn't going to wait more than a couple of months before taking back the car.

3. You can make the minimum payment on your credit card(s). You may not like the interest charges, but the important thing is not to go into default.

4. You may have no choice but to skip your gas, electricity, cable and cell payments for the duration. With your public utilities, particularly SMUD, you should let them know that you can't make a payment. They will likely be more understanding than Comcast and Verizon and, in fact, are probably planning right now for just this situation. In addition, public utilities are required to give substantial notice before suspending service, which will give the Legislature more time to pass a budget.

5. You have short grace period on your car insurance. Insurers must give you 20 days after the due date to pay your car insurance before canceling your insurance. However, losing insurance means that you can't drive your car and will probably have to pay a reinstatement fee to restore your coverage.

6. It's difficult to determine what childcare providers will do. Sacramento providers may, on the one hand, be more understanding. But they may also care for several children whose parents aren't being paid and may not have the cushion to wait for payment. State workers may have to take their children to work with them.

7. If you have a 457 deferred compensation plan, you MAY be able to borrow from it. (It depends on the terms of the plan, and the costs may be high.)

8. Keep track of every penny that you have to pay because of this. If the Governor's actions are found to be retaliatory, you may be eligible for compensation for your costs. If you have to give up your rental, keep track of the costs of moving and storage. And track the costs of finding a new place, including any deposits, fees, time taken off work, and so on. Note any late fees, interest charges, penalties and such that you have to pay for delayed payments. Check your credit rating and note any changes resulting from the crisis.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rooting for a Republican

The only Republican I'm rooting for is Orly Taitz. I want her to be invited to all the debates.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Aaaargh!

Why is it that Project Sentinel can't provide accurate information in the Rent Watch column published in the real estate sections of newspapers around the State? Really, don't they have a lawyer they can call for information? Are they too cheap to pay for research? My only hope is that most people don't read the column and won't be confused.

In this letter a tenant is evicted after foreclosure from a house owned by the tenant's father. The father does not live at the property, but at another property that also was foreclosed. The realtor handling the eviction gave the tenant a 3-days' notice to quit. Project Sentinel did note that the tenant's lease probably would not survive the foreclosure, as the tenant was a close relative of the owner. So the tenant's two year lease would not survive foreclosure, nor would the lender be required to give the 90-days' notice required under the federal law.

BUT that does not mean that the tenant must move within 3 days or face an unlawful detainer action. Simply not true. Only the owner of the property can be evicted on a 3-days' notice to quit. If the tenant son is not an owner, he should receive the 60-days' notice required under California law. The only exception to the 60-days' notice requirement is that the owner of the property cannot live with the tenant. (This can cause problems for tenants who share housing with the owner of the property, but that does not apply in this case.)

I used to propel myself around the Internet, stamping out incorrect information wherever I found it. But the various forums all required login and passwords, and I found that it wasn't worth my trouble to keeping hunting down error. But I hope that people find information from more reliable sources that the various forums--or Project Sentinel, for that matter.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Stupidity in the World

J and I were talking last night about the oil slick heading for the Gulf Coast. I suggested that BP should pay the cost of everything--the booms, the chemicals, the Coast Guard, the National Guard, the cleanup, the salaries of the fisherpersons until they can be fisherpersons again. All of it. Every penny. J informed me that the liability of BP is limited to $75 million, thanks to the members of the US Congress, and that BP had lobbied for the limit.

I wonder at what point a campaign contribution becomes a bribe?

Not only that, BP lobbied against requiring a blowout cap that is required, yes required, on all of the oil rigs in the North Sea. It would have cost $500K.

Oh, I so hope that Obama is serious about lifting the liability cap and that they go after BP for the total cost of their slick. And not only the immediate costs, but all the long-term damage and costs. They could be paying out for 30 or 40 years.

And while I don't ever want to do this, I must, painful though it is, give the Governator credit for changing his mind. He may not have been paying attention the the Santa Barbara spill, but did note what could happen if an offshore rig blew up. And decided that he didn't want to be remembered for an oil slick when one of the proposed rigs blew up.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Birthday Weekend

Friday was my birthday (55th) and the great J took the day off to begin the long weekend worth of tasks I had for him. Most of the tasks involved pulling weeds and moving plants, but he also installed a trellis for me and, without even being asked, cleaned up my potting bench. He rearranged all the pots, swept, organized and generally cleared out all the assorted junk and garbage. I have three plants to pot, but I'm afraid to use my potting bench, for fear it will get messy.

And then he solved a router problem, which had kept me from getting my KPFA (in Berkeley) and KVMR (in Nevada City, but drowned out by a commercial Christian station in Auburn). I can also get KALW and KCSM, which we haven't been able to get since we moved from Oakland almost 10 years ago. I am a happy woman.

But I think we should get some cheap dedicated computer, so that I can run the radio through the stereo speakers and work at the same time.

Oh, and he took me out for an expensive dinner, and grilled steak, and made muffins.

J is also very tolerant of my web surfing. I called to him, "Come here. Someone has our exact TV stand and TV. And it's in New York City." J asked, "Why are you looking at the furniture in apartments in New York?" It was actually research, the slide show that came along with an article on rising rents for NYC apartments. In general, the furniture was disappointing--not the sort of vintage street finds pictured in house magazines, but more the non-vintage stuff you find at IKEA and Target. One apartment featured chair pillows that read "Hugs" in large letters. I thought NYC had laws against that sort of thing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Few Things Financial

First we received a notice from the IRS last week. And the news: we had neglected to take the $800 Making Work Pay tax credit to which we were entitled. So they were notifying us that our tax refund would be substantially larger than we had expected. We accepted the money with as much grace as we could muster. (If you neglected to take this credit, don't worry. So many people didn't that they recompute your taxes for you and send a form letter notifying you of your good fortune.)

I hesitate to give financial advice. One need only look at the state of my investments (non-existent) and bank balance (small) to see that I am not one to whom one should turn for help in matters financial. But I'm going to take a stab at it here to assist some tenants who may find themselves in a situation those of us who do foreclosure counseling haven't seen much of.

In the early days of the foreclosure crisis lenders tried to bully tenants out of their homes and, in a lot of cases, still do. But it appears that, in some cases, lenders are trying to sell foreclosed properties to the tenants who live in them. I don't have a sufficient number to determine why a particular property, or a particular tenant, is selected for this.

It may be that the lender looks at the contract rent and thinks, hmmm, these people could pay a mortgage that would be less than the rent they're paying now. It may be that the lender looks at the tenant and thinks, wow, these people are really gullible. I can palm this turkey off on them. I don't know. Herewith are some guidelines for those who are in this situation.

1. Make sure that you pay for a thorough inspection of the property. You want to know how long the roof will last, whether or not there are problems with the foundation, whether there are any bug problems, the age and life expectancy of the heating/air-conditioning, the state of the wiring--all the stuff you don't have to worry about as a tenant, but will have to pay to fix or replace if you buy the house.

2. Pay for an appraisal. It's worth it. Remember that a lender trying to sell you the property is just as sleazy and disreputable as one trying to get you to vacate the property. You want to know if the lender is trying to eke more money from you than the property is worth, and the lender's appraiser is likely to come in with the price the lender wants. (Shocking, I know, but true.) The appraiser should measure the property, look at the rooms, amenities, appliances etc., and then compare the property to other recent sales in the neighborhood. The appraiser should also look at whether the housing market is rising, falling, or stable. If there are a lot of foreclosed properties or properties that are about to be foreclosed, that's probably a bad sign.

In addition, you want to look at rents in your community. Are they rising or falling? Are there a lot of rentals that have been sitting on the market for a long time? You don't want to buy if it turns out that rents are about to fall 15% and you just bought a house with a mortgage payment comparable to the rent you're paying now.

3. Do you really like the house and the neighborhood? If you have children, do you like not only the school they're attending now, but the schools they'll attend when they're older? How long are you planning to stay? If you're thinking of moving to a new city, or your children are almost grown and you want to downsize, or your job is unstable, this house is probably not for you.

4. Can you pay the mortgage easily? If the rent is the same as your mortgage, you don't want to lock yourself into payments that are at the edge of your ability to pay. In addition to the mortgage, you have to pay property taxes and insurance, as well as make necessary repairs. You can decide to move for cheaper rent much more easily than you can sell the house.

5. Run a mortgage calculator. The New York Times calculator is very good. Real estate industry calculators much less so. The calculator will tell you how long you have to stay in the house for buying to make sense. (Note that as you get close to the point where buying is sensible, the additional cost of buying is very small.)

6. And demand that any Notice to Vacate served be withdrawn in writing. Yes, get it in writing. Should your negotiations fall through, you want a full 90 days to vacate the property, not the short time that remains at the end of the negotiating process.

Update 10/30/10: With the foreclosure documents problem, it is essential that, before even considering a purchase, you THOROUGHLY check the history of the property. You must find out whether there are any loans outstanding on the property, liens of any kind, and whether you can get title insurance for the property. If any of these problems exist--if there's another loan on the property, the utility service has put a lien on the property, or the title insurer gives only limited title insurance--give the property a pass. Remember that the lender may be trying to get rid of a turkey--a house with problems--and you don't want to get stuck with it.

And another update 1/2/11: Please be specially careful if you're being offered a condominium or a house in a planned unit development (houses where there's a homeowner's association responsible for maintaining the common areas and community amenities). These are particularly dangerous, because you're buying into a whole community and not just a house. You need to know whether other units are in danger of foreclosure, as the remaining homeowners may have to pick up the cost of dues not paid on foreclosed units. Banks are loathe to finance communities with too many tenants, so a community with a lot of tenants could be a problem if you had to sell. (Banks may change their policies though, when it becomes clear that having a renter-occupied unit is better than having an empty unit.) You'll need to look at the finances of the association to insure that they have sufficient funds for ordinary maintenance and a reserve fund for major repairs (roofs and the like.)