Sunday, December 30, 2012

Old Stuff

One of the things I've been doing in preparation for our move back to the Bay Area is cleaning out old files, junking magazines and journals I'll never read again (some of which go back to 1986, ferhevensake), and refiling stuff that I want to keep.  I have, for instance, the Naming Ceremony for friend W's daughter, thank you cards from nephew H (although the best one of those is the one he sent when he was about three, informing me that he liked his gift because it was new), and a bunch of the drafts of Proposition R, the rent control/affordable housing initiative in 1979.  Many of the drafts, which are really long, are undated, so I have no idea of the development.  I'm tossing them all, unless someone wants them.

I also found, in one of the campaign analyses, a really good idea--and not just because it was apparently mine.  (I honestly have no memory of it, but it was more than 30 years ago!)  What I proposed was taking all of the Community Development Block Grant money allocated to SF's Redevelopment Agency and reallocating it to affordable housing projects. The person/people who wrote the report noted that this was a really good idea, and redevelopment-hating crosses political lines--as in, everyone hates them.  I was so proud of my young self.  Hmm, maybe we could make a dent in our affordable housing deficit by taking all the redevelopment money for the purpose.  (Joke, folks.  Don't expect Jerry Brown to do any such thing.  The problem of affordable housing is always somewhere Jerry isn't.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

For Those of You




who missed it, the world is still here.  J took this picture on the morning of the Solstice looking out our kitchen window.  You can see the faint secondary to the right.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

No Child Left Behind

California's Department of Education is whining because the federal Education Department has refused to grant a waiver of the No Child Left Behind requirements for school improvement here.  And that's as it should be.

Whatever the problems with the No Child Left Behind requirements, California has failed to improve the performance of low-income children, particularly African-American and Latino youth.  One of the explanations raised for this is that the families of low-income students often rent their housing and are forced to move frequently.  This disrupts not only their education, but that of their classmates, both because their education is disrupted as they move from school to school, and because integrating students into new classes takes time.

Yeah, and there's a way to deal with that problem.  It's called secure housing for low-income families.  It's building affordable housing.  It's providing rent control and "just cause" eviction, so that families aren't precarious every month.  So long as our state and local governments fail to address these issues, they should be punished for their failure.  They aren't doing what needs to be done to insure that all children have equal access to education, which is a constitutional right in California.

The Department of Education should stop whining, and demand that the state provide the resources for all children to learn.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown

I'm proud to be a member of a group that is overwhelmingly in favor of gun control.  The vast majority of Jewish Americans don't think that having an assault weapon at home is a good idea.  Not all of them though. There are some who argue things like, "what about the Warsaw ghetto uprising," which only shows up their lack of knowledge of history.  The Warsaw Ghetto didn't rise up because Jews there had weaponry when other Jewish communities didn't, but because the religious community joined with the secular left, and then managed to obtain what weaponry they needed.  It was a political rebellion, not a military one.

But I'm ashamed of my government.  It's not the right time to talk about gun control and mental health.  Not after some kid with mental health issues kills 18 younger kids at an elementary school?  Really?  Then when is the time?  Oh, that's right, never.

I'm proud to be an entirely unarmed American--no assault rifle, no handgun, not even a baseball bat.  That way, my husband won't get shot because I mistake him for an intruder in the middle of the night, and no kid suffering from mental illness will kill 18 children because he managed to steal my non-existent gun.

Two additional notes:

First it's not a good thing to have armed teachers.  Yeah, keep your loaded gun in your desk drawer in a room full of curious eight-year-olds. Uh-huh.  Yeah, have a shootout with a guy with an assault rifle in a room full of kids.  Where do we get people who can't figure out why that's a bad idea?  I find it irritating that people don't understand what a marginal tax rate is, but really, this doesn't require any numeracy at all.

Second, now we know why teachers get tenure and retirement packages. They're an unarmed line of defense for our kids.  In a crisis they keep their heads.  They shoo the kids into a closet and lock the door.  They face the assailant.  They're the ones who decide to lock the classroom door and get the kids to a safe corner, or to make a run to safety.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Military Fun

And here we thought those people just ran around with short haircuts, launching drone attacks on weddings, trying to communicate with people without speaking their language, and so on.  But no, they're having fun with one another, and then emailing about it.  Who knew?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Judge Judy, the Exemplar Neoliberal

One of the unfortunate things about arthritic knees is daytime television.  Not the good stuff like old episodes of Perry Mason or book interviews on C-SPAN, but crap like Judge Judy.  For those of you who've been living in a cave for the last 15 years or so, Judge Judy is one of the many TV judges who arbitrate small claims' actions from around the country.  It looks like real court with a real judge, but it's not.

While Judith Sheindlin makes $45 million a year playing Judge Judy, the rest of the participants don't fare so well.  The litigants get about $500 for their appearance, as well as plane fare, hotel and maybe a meal or two.  That's a pittance for allowing yourself to be humiliated on TV, but if you look at the condition of the litigants, you can see why it happens.  Many of them work in one of the low-paid occupations so prevalent in our society.  Others are unemployed or disabled and surviving on next to nothing.  So a little TV humiliation for $500 looks pretty good.

In addition, the show pays the judgment.  What this means is that you can sue family or friends knowing that your family member or friend won't have to pay up.  So you may be doing a good deed--repaying a loan, fixing a car etc.--that wouldn't be paid if you didn't allow yourself to be be trashed.  In some cases I suspect that the judgment will be redistributed, so that both parties will benefit.  Makes you feel better about the litigants already, doesn't it?

You don't get regular collection cases, or those where tenants in foreclosed properties are suing for their deposits, or the like.  Those cases most often go to real Small Claims, as they should.  Tenants, in particular, should avoid Judge Judy.  The warranty of habitability is entirely foreign to her, and I've yet to see her say something like, "you were charging $800 a month for this hovel!"

But it doesn't make you feel good about Judge Judy.  That's because, instead of understanding why people would tolerate her abuse and behaving in a somewhat more respectful manner, recognizing that the abundance of poor people in our society enable her to make her $45 million a year, she heaps on the abuse.  Don't have a job?  Well, get one.  Don't have a good enough job?  Well, that's your poor choice.  Lent your scuzzy boyfriend or girlfriend money?  Tough luck, since you weren't married.  Bought a car for a couple thousand that needed a new transmission?  Another poor choice, even if you were desperate for a car to get to work.

Some cases are interesting tours of life among the poorest 30%.  I've never seen so many hovels rented for so much money, and Judy, as I noted above, doesn't have much respect for the warranty of habitability.  If you live there, you pay rent, no matter what the condition of the premises.  I also discovered why a car that costs, say, $4K, is not a good idea.  The transmission is about to go, and will within three weeks of the purchase.  (But that's the value you're allowed under TANF rules.)  Judge Judy isn't fond of the disabled either, particularly those with mental illness.

And numeracy is not her strong suit, but an amazing number of our fellows seem to have the same problem.  In one case she wanted a young mother to send her infant to childcare, get a job, and go to school.  Uh, this young woman would pay more for childcare than she would make in wages.  Not a viable plan.

But what I love about Judge Judy is that it's the elite vs. the rest of us writ small.  You don't have to read long tomes on economic inequality, the high cost of almost anything. Just watch a few episodes of Judge Judy and you'll have it down.

An interesting note:  In my area the majority of the advertisers funding Judge Judy are the for-profit schools that prey on low-income people, and rely on federal loans taken out by those low-income students to pay for mediocre education, leading to low-paying jobs and a lot of debt.  I hope that the people watching Judge Judy aren't encouraged to improve themselves by taking on loans for these schools, which exist only because of government funding.

And another note:  While Judge Judy may impose her petty moralism on others, she's much more, shall we say, flexible with respect to her own behavior.  Her producer is involved in a messy divorce and, as part of the messiness, the producer sold the former judge a set of dishes and flatware--a very expensive set of dishes and flatware--at a discount.  A big discount.  Well, the producer's wife sued Judge Judy to get the property restored to the community.

Did Judge Judy do what any normal person would have done, which is to restore the property to the community, get her money back and swear never to get involved in this kind of mess again?  No.  She sought to justify her behavior by claiming that the wife should be looking for a job instead of suing her.  This, unfortunately, leads me to believe that Judge Judy knew what her producer was doing and was sanctioning his conduct.  Oh, how I wish I could lecture her from the "bench".

Monday, November 12, 2012

North Carolina

My niece lives in North Carolina, and I've teased her (gently) about the unfortunate results there.  But I can inform her, via Rachel Maddow, that women in North Carolina voted for Obama.  So she is redeemed.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I So Love Fox News

I can't stop watching it.  I'm becoming an addict.  In another few days I'll need a 12-Step-Program, or deprogramming, or something.  It's so much fun to see people whining about the states where Obama won, you know, the ones with population.  And it's not because people in those states didn't blame Obama for the crisis that had been a long time coming, but because they get government benefits.  They're the "takers" of Romneyland--people on unemployment, Social Security, food stamps etc.  You know, the people who lost their jobs because of the innovations in the financial services industry, or got old, or had to go to work at WalMart.

Stop me before I load another video.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Peon Irritated

Those of you who also watch Fox News probably can't figure out why I would be irritated at this point.  After all, we raised taxes, elected some Democrats, turned back an anti-union initiative, saved Obamacare, and generally had a high old time.  But we may get Erskine Bowles (sign the petition against him here), have to listen to people making racist comments and informing us that California is "doomed."  California is not doomed, unless you think doom is paying for the services you want, requiring rich people to pay a fair share, and you don't want to turn the political system over to the Brothers Koch.  Yeesh!

But Peon is irritated.  And it all goes back to housing foreclosures.  Yes, Peon has written on the subject before.  But now there's a new insult to the renting class, and it's that we, like our now-forsaken homeowner comrades, are going to bring down the financial system.  Yes, us, the lazy and shiftless, who didn't even get it together to buy a house with an exploding mortgage.  After all, if you could fog a mirror, you could buy a house, and we didn't.  We irresponsibly spent our incomes on hooch and high-living, giving not a fig for our obligation to help out the banks by taking on one of their innovative mortgage products.

But now it's our turn.  We're sitting here, perfectly positioned, ready to help crash the economy, evil half-smiles on our disreputable faces.  How will we do this, you ask?  You don't have any money (although that doesn't distinguish us at this point from most of the rest of our fellows), you pay by the month, and defaulting is a fast and risky process.

But we can.  And here's how.  The housing bubble left a lot of properties littering the landscape.  Some of them are empty, many need a fair amount of work, and because of rapid price increases in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, many of them are not in the best locations.  Some of them are in neighborhoods that are slightly scary.  ("No," J said to me, after seeing one of them.  "You walk with a cane, slowly.  No.")

But somehow, some way, all these properties have to be, uh, disposed of.  Some of them were so bad, especially after the former owners vacated and the houses sat around for a couple of years, that cities are just tearing them down.  But that still leaves a lot of houses.  Dean Baker, who called the housing bubble in 2002, and warned particularly of the effect it would have on low- and moderate-income buyers, proposed that the former homeowners remain in their foreclosed homes as renters, thus sparing them homelessness, and us the "life after people" landscape.  Alas, there was little interest in something that required so little bureaucracy, didn't punish people for alleged misdeeds, and let the banks and investors take responsibility for their stupidity.  Worse than that, the investing class didn't see that they'd make much money off the process.

But they've turned that one around.  And now, various investor groups have gotten into the foreclosures-into-profits market in a big way.  They've purchased, singly or in groups of 100 or more, thousands of houses across the country, and converted them into rentals.  Yep, you can rent the house you used to own.  (Yes, we have heard that one before.  See the paragraph above.)  Or a different one.

But some people object to this, for good and bad reasons.  Realtors see bulk sales cutting into their profits, as they don't get to market each of these turkeys and collect a commission.  Affordable housing advocates, however, saw many of these properties as permanent affordable housing.  The prices were so low that the houses could be rehabbed and rented at below-market rates.  But the Obama Administration was more interested in bailing out the financial elite than providing affordable housing, and didn't even consider the idea.

Far more objectionable than even the realtors though, is the assertion on the part of some observers that these investments are a really bad idea because tenants are pretty dicey people and depending on us to pay the rent and not trash the place makes for a really dangerous investment.  Yves Smith and David Dayen have both made arguments that are a variation on this theme, as have some of the right-wing bubble bloggers.  Smith and Dayen couch them more nicely.  It's not that we're a bunch of high-living lowlifes, but that there's no data on costs, vacancy rates, tenant management, and the like.

That may be true, but it's irrelevant.  The investor groups are buying these houses in bulk, and they're getting huge discounts for taking them--at least 40% in most cases.  You'd have to screw up royally not to make money on them.  Hell, if I had the cash, and any interest in landlording, I could make money off them.  Anyone who can do simple arithmetic can figure out that buying a house for $50-60K and renting it out for $1,500 a month is going to make real money.  See, for example, this.

But isn't there a real risk in this?  How many tenants want to pay that much for housing?  What if the tenant moves?  Well, there's not much risk at all.  First, rental vacancies are falling in many communities.  And a lot of people, both former homeowners and victims of the fallout from the bubble, are credit-challenged, which means that landlords can charge more money (sort of like a payday loan for housing) than the market should bear.  And our fellows will just be happy that they have a roof over their heads, and aren't likely to go anywhere.  Finally, it's very easy to get rid of a non-paying tenant, so the investor groups will likely not have more than a month of vacancy.  The vast majority of tenants pay their rent on time, don't trash the place, and are often better-behaved toward their fellows than their homeowner neighbors.

That doesn't mean there isn't risk, but it's mostly of the investors making.  First, when you rent a place for a lot of money, just because you can, tenants become more precarious.  A moderate-income tenant paying half her gross income for rent can be tripped up by a relatively minor car repair, health emergency, or trip to the mall.  Second, if you've sold the rental income stream into securitization, if enough people couldn't pay rent, it could cause problems.  But you take that risk when you charge higher rents than people can pay.  No sympathy.

I did think about one issue--whether tenants might be likely to improve their legal standing--and then decided that it wouldn't matter much.  State Legislatures and City Councils aren't much given to tenants' rights, and aren't likely to change their positions because large investor groups are, or aren't, part of the landlord mix.  If they failed to maintain minimum standards, there might be some increased code enforcement.  But standards in most communities are so low that we'd have to see substantial problems before anything happened.

Owning rental property is very profitable, no matter what the landlord interests tell you about their burdens.  Otherwise landlords wouldn't do it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sandy Relief

If you want to donate to Sandy relief, you can do it here.  Occupy has been very active in providing assistance, and it looks like they need money more than anything else at this point.  They have an account for purchasing stuff from Amazon, but they've got most of the hard goods they need, and in some cases, people went overboard, giving them far more than they asked for.

Update:  OccupySandy made the news last night.  You can watch the piece here and then donate at the site above.  You can also go to the Amazon registry and see what others have donated.  Who had the good sense to realize that people needed clean underwear?  Very cool.

Fox News

I don't usually recommend Fox News, but it's so much fun.  Trying to fix the facts to fit their ideology.  Desperately.  Desperately.  A couple of interesting notes.  First, the states with the highest unemployment largely went for Obama.  Second the states with the most people who don't pay federal income taxes (Romney's "takers") largely went to Romney.  That's because they're states with lots of people who don't earn enough to pay federal taxes (about $27K for a family of four).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Another Reason to Dislike WalMart

WalMart moved its store down the street a mile from the Florin Town Center, but continues to pay the lease on the old store to prevent competition from moving in.  This, of course, leaves a large empty space with a large, empty parking lot, uglying up the neighborhood.  Is it really worth it to shop there?

In California

I'm not usually proud of California.  We have politicians who are bought by the real estate industry.  I mean, really bought.  And the finance capitalists, you know, the people who brought us the meltdown.  And we require a 2/3 majority to increase taxes and then complain that our politicians are ineffectual.  But in one respect, we do well.  We do not try to suppress the vote.  In fact, we make it very easy for people to cast a vote.  You don't have to stand in line for six hours, you can vote before or after work (our polling stations are open from 7 A.M. to 8 P.M.), you can vote by mail, you can vote early at the local Registrar of Voters office.  Many people don't, but that's not because we're making it difficult for people to do it.

J looked at the picture of the line in Ohio in this morning's Bee and said, "I'm not sure I'd be willing to stand in a line that long to vote."  And that's what the Republicans in Ohio are hoping.

Romney's going to win.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

He's Baaack

David Endres got a slap on the wrist from the State Bar.  Well, after all, he was just evicting tenants in violation of the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA) which, in many states, provides what few rights tenants in foreclosed properties have.  To wit, today's example from the stunningly unprogressive state of North Carolina.  Here we find an elderly tenant who has lived in a now foreclosed duplex for the past 30 years, and has a lease running to March 2014.  He received a 10-days' notice to vacate, which is legal under North Carolina law, but which violates the PTFALuckily the tenant has legal help and has stopped the eviction for now, although the foreclosing lender can still appeal.

The new firm is TFLG LLC in Davis.  Perhaps we should start a nationwide campaign to report him to every State Bar in the land.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cat Videos

Here's a way to waste some time.  Watch these and then this and then a Hallowe'en Special.  Then back to doing something useful with you!  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Housing Reports

I've come across two reports that those of you who are interested in affordable housing issues should read.  The first, Housing Landscape 2012, looks at the changes in housing affordability from 2008-2012.  The map on page 3 is particularly interesting.  The cost of housing in California is the highest in the country, something all Californians already know.  But there have been major increases in housing costs in the states most likely to vote for Mitt Romney, that vast part of the country from below the Mason-Dixon line through the formerly industrial Midwest.  In part, these increases result from lower incomes, but landlords have also been able to use the housing bubble aftermath to increase rents on desperate households.  In addition, many of those states have few to no tenant protections, even for those tenants who are evicted as a result of their landlords' foreclosure (although even those tenants are covered under the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act).  Tenants in those states may feel particularly hard-pressed.

The second report, Losing Ground, analyzes the cost of housing and transportation ("place" costs) for major metropolitan areas and finds that these costs have increased for moderate-income households and they now take up more than 50% of total income for those households.  I have two small quibbles.  The first is that it doesn't look at costs for people who live outside the Metropolitan Area and have to transport themselves to the area for work.  This is particularly common in California, where many people drive long distances from one Metropolitan Area to another.  The second is that it doesn't include in analysis of the cost for tenants of the burden of housing insecurity.  The report found that moderate-income owners have a greater cost burden than tenants in the same area.  But what they don't include is the cost of forced relocation, particularly in areas with little to no tenant protections.  Moderate-income households, already running a monthly deficit, can be forced to raise several thousand dollars to move within a month or two at any time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gonna Be Romney

First, it's gonna be Romney.  Yep, Obama took a good-sized majority and squandered it.  He crawled into bed with the people who caused the financial meltdown, did nothing for suffering homeowners (and didn't even mention tenants), failed to support unions and union organizing efforts, deported more undocumented immigrants than Bush the Younger, etc. etc.  He doesn't deserve to win, but then we don't deserve Romney either.  Or the sheer, unadulterated stupidity and/or ignorance of those who vote for him.  Romney said it best when describing the voters he needed to get:

"What I have to convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents that are thoughtful, that look upon voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not." [Emphasis added, of course.]

Yep, he needs the people who are unlikely ever to meet him, but whose litmus test is whether they would want to have a beer with the guy.  (Yes, I know, Romney doesn't drink, but that's irrelevant.)  And yes, Romney's even closer to the bankster people, but the voters choosing Romney aren't people with well-developed political beliefs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

For Your Entertainment and Delight

This was passed along to me, and I loved it.  I don't even like Ben Stein, but it was hysterical to watch him attempt to introduce advanced concepts like addition and subtraction to Fox News.  Calculators for all!

And then there's this oldie-but-goodie.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Only

comment on the last Presidential Debate is that Obama wore a much better tie this time.

And while it was pretty nasty, American politics has always been a bit crude round the edges.  I'm reading a book on the Panic of 1837, and politicians who didn't like John Tyler hanged him in effigy.  But they didn't stop there.  The next morning they cut down the effigy.  It was then drawn and quartered.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Taibbi on Biden

I read Matt Taibbi all the time.  He's funny, he's nasty, and often he's right.  Here's his take on the Biden/Ryan debate--Ryan deserved to be laughed at and ridiculed.  Anyone who has done the math knows that his tax plan doesn't reduce the deficit.  In fact, it increases the deficit.  A lot.  And eventually the Republicans will leave the Democrats with a huge hole that will have to be plugged the way Clinton did it--cutting services for the poor.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reading on the Internet

One of the irritations of the Internet is that articles get reproduced over and over again, without reference to the underlying information.  This is happening right now with a piece on the ways in which the Clinton Administration promoted the housing bubble.  As is common on the right, they blame Fannie and Freddie, the Community Reinvestment Act and feckless community groups.  But if you go to the original piece, it doesn't say that at all.   In fact, it's quite good.

The Clinton Administration (and Housing and Urban Development, in particular) did play a part, in that they wanted to promote homeownership as an anti-poverty program.  In doing so they encouraged Fannie and Freddie to count some of the rather more predatory loans as part of their low- and moderate-income homeownership tallies.

But, and it's a big but, the loans were being made by feckless banks, mortgage brokers and so on.  Fannie and Freddie were just buying them, and they at least had some standards that kept them away from the worst of the worst.  Second, many community groups screamed and yelled, claiming--rightly, as it turned out--that these loans were predatory and were going to land low- and moderate-income homeowners in a heap of pain.  In particular, prepayment penalties locked homebuyers into these bad loans, so even if the house rose in value, they couldn't refinance out of them.

And the redlining that the Community Reinvestment Act was supposed to stop had long since been superseded by the realization that poor people were a profit center.  Instead of refusing to lend to poorer people, they became more than willing to lend, for a price, a high price.  An exorbitant price.  A price that used to be impossible when we had laws against usury.  It's as though the world around the Community Reinvestment Act hadn't changed since 1978.  But then, for some of these writers, the world hasn't changed since 1783.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I'm Voting to Keep the Claw

Measure T on the Sacramento ballot will ask Sacramentans to give up their right to "the Claw", the on-the-street garden waste pickup that voters here decided to keep, by ballot initiative, in the '70s.  Sacramentans would still have on-the-street pickup during the heavy leaf months--November, December and January.

Now there are some good reasons to get rid of the Claw.  The piles of leaves take up parking, which isn't a problem in my suburban neighborhood, but is in Midtown and parts of East Sacramento.  If it's windy, the leaves blow all over the street, which wouldn't happen if they were confined to a green waste bin.  And some of our neighbors, particularly those with dogs and fast food wrappers, believe that the leaf piles are middens, and decorate the leaves with dog poo and empty cups.

Those who want to keep the Claw have some good arguments too.  The first is that some yards have so many trees that they couldn't get all the leaves into the green bin, or into several green bins.  And some yards are so small that a green bin would take up most of the sitting area.  Worse, some of the small yards are graced with several trees.  And because we have a looong fall, our leaves fall from the end of August through February. I hope every year for a good October storm, so that the oak leaves will all come down at once, rather than the dribbling fall from August until January.

But here's the real problem.  Having the Claw prevents conflict between neighbors.  Now a lot of neighbors are perfectly normal and decent people.  When the wind blows leaves from our across-the-street neighbor's tree into our yard, we sweep them up and put them into our green bin.  And at least some of our neighbors do the same.  But then there are the pill people.  And we have the misfortune to live next door to one.  He believes that the leaves from our oak tree are ours to get rid of.  And while the immediate problem was dealt with, I can see conflict growing and developing all over the city, as people try to dump leaves on the yard, driveway, sidewalk of the alleged tree guardian.

Given that there's nothing worse than neighbor conflict, I'm voting for the Claw to help prevent it.  It's easier than trying to make the pill people behave.

Ryan v. Biden

Yeah, I watched it.  I'm not sure why.  I've already decided to hold my nose and vote for Obama, and watching Paul Ryan talk about the $5 trillion dollar tax cut--again--isn't going to change my mind.  I'm not going to see much of it and, if previous tax cuts provide any example, what I get with one hand will be taken away by the other.  I remember doing the computations when Reagan "cut" taxes in the early 1980s.  But then, in 1983, they raised the Social Security tax, and whatever "cut" we got disappeared into Social Security.

And I really want them to define what they mean by "middle class".  I've always thought of myself as "working class" and, unless I win the Lotto, I'm not ever likely to be middle class. But I want them to define it, if only so I can reassure myself that I'm not one of them.  The various definitions I've seen are a bit too inclusive.  Someone actually defined it as people making between $20K and $200K a year.  That's just about everyone in the country, and I can assure you that there is a big difference between $20K and $200K a year.  Another definition is 80-120% of the median income.  Wellll, in most of the high-cost communities in the country (where most people live), the median income provides a paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

Then there are the people--Democrats in the United States and the Labour Party in Britain--who attempt a cultural definition.  It's not how much money you make, but your cultural outlook.  The problem with that is that all good things are ascribed to the middle class, while those of us who aren't are simply not all those good things.  For instance, Jared Bernstein (whose blog I read almost every day) claims that the middle class is defined as:

…a combination of values, expectations, and aspirations, as well as income levels. Middle class families and those aspiring to be part of the middle class want economic stability, a home and a secure retirement. They want to protect their children’s health and send them to college. They also want to own cars and take family vacations. However, aspirations alone are not enough; middle class families know that to achieve these goals they must work hard and save.

Right.  Sure.  The rest of us want to live on the edge, with no home, and no hope of retirement.  We don't care about of children's health, don't want to send them to college, don't want to take a vacation or own a car.  We don't work hard, even though we have the most physically demanding jobs in our economy, and we often wreck our bodies doing them long before we're old enough to retire.  (One need only look at the incidence of frozen shoulder among hotel cleaners to see a good example of that.)  And we'd love to have savings, but we don't make enough to pay rent and save at the same time.  (In California half of all tenants pay more than 30% of their income for rent, and nearly a quarter pay more than 50% of their income for rent.)

But not so fast.  The rest of us may not have any of those things, but we can be middle class if we "aspire" to them.  For most of the working class, aspiring to rent a decent house (leaving owning aside altogether), take good care of our children, drive a decent car and so on, would be an exercise in futility.  Not only that, we'll never be middle class, and trying to mimic the middle class on our much smaller incomes is both humiliating and limiting, in that we become an object of fun among the middle class, and limit our options for a more decent life.  Rather like the Mozambican assimilado, who had to abandon any and all traditional cultural practices, becoming more Portuguese than the Portuguese, the aspirant to the middle class must mimic all of the middle class forms without the fundamental requirement--being middle class.  (Eduardo Mondlane, one of the founders of FRELIMO, wrote eloquently of the experience of the assimilado in The Struggle for Mozambique, a book that is now much more valuable than I could ever have imagined.)

To explain what I mean by limiting, let's look at the "high/low" features of many house magazines.  (Yes, those are one of my addictions.)  First you see the designer version of the room--the high.  Then you see the version you can create with stuff from IKEA or Home Depot--the low.  However, when I look at the cost of the low version, my perverse intelligence informs me that, for the same amount of money, I could create something far better than the low version of the designer room.  Why would I do a pale copy of the "middle class" room when I could create something better, and for less money?  That's what is lost for working class people, that we could do something better if we didn't aspire to be middle class.

To be continued. 



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Email

You'd think that once J retired, we'd never send one another email again.  After all, our computers are about 30 feet apart.  But we still email one another at least a few times a week--mostly sending links.  Mostly, though, I just yell.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sheila Bair and Big Bird

I hope the Obama campaign doesn't get rid of the Big Bird ad--it's cute.  And why does the right want to take down PBS anyway?  Big Bird is a miniscule portion of the federal budget, but then many of our fellows have problems with addition and subtraction.  Hmm.  We really need Big Bird.

And while Sheila Bair has her disagreements with many of her fellow regulators,
she.really.really.doesn't.like.Timothy.Geithner.  It's too bad, though, that she didn't have a better editor, as it is possible to explain complex economic topics without being nearly so wordy.  And she's wrong on Social Security, but that's pretty common among almost all Republicans and most Democrats.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Peon Is Grinding Her Teeth

Once upon a time, when Peon was a little younger, she wrote a long blog for tenants in foreclosed properties.  She would occasionally receive emails and comments that were abusive and unpleasant from landlords and realtors.  She deleted them, believing that someone who called her a "communist bitch" did not deserve a reasoned response.  The Emails From The Stupid trickled off after awhile, but Peon must admit that a little corner of her life had been enriched by having people who couldn't construct simple English sentences denounce her.

But this morning she discovered that these people have just gone elsewhere.  They've moved to a place where they will find more congenial co-dependents.  After all, would you really want to commune with those who suggest that your behavior is reprehensible, that your sense of entitlement makes a mockery of the "personal responsibility" you expect of others and that, in a rationally ordered world, you would be sued for a large sum of money to make whole the people you have harmed?  Of course not.  You would want to hang with those who feel your pain, and understand that you, as the landlord,  should make all the money you can until the day the bank takes YOUR property.  And if you stomp some of the ant-people in the process, well, that's why we have ant-people.

Now wrecking up tenants' lives is not new.  Our local newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, once suggested that homeowners in trouble rent the place out prior to the foreclosure to eke out every penny they could from their property before the bank took it.  That they'd be making a hash of the lives of people who just needed a place to live didn't enter into their deliberations.


But I did find one good idea in the Place of Congenial Co-Dependents.  Tenants should consider writing into their leases a provision that the landlord states that he is not in default on any mortgage taken on the property or using the property as collateral, and that if this turns out not to be true, the tenant may sue for twice the move-in costs, including first month's rent, the amount of all deposits, reasonable moving costs, and so on.  When a landlord realizes that sum often exceeds $5K, he may think twice about renting his soon-to-be-foreclosed property.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yippee

We saw Endeavour twice--once when it was flying toward Mather and then again when it came along I-5 for its run over the Capitol.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gee

the map of poverty in the US by state is remarkably similar to the map of population not paying federal taxes.  And as quite a number of people have noted, the states with the most non-payers are those most likely to vote for Romney.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

Yet Another Scam

Will they never end?  No.  So here is a new scam, intended to part you from your meager income.  I haven't been the victim of this one, but found it on Credit Slips, and thought I should pass it along.  This one works because, somehow, the scammer already has your credit card number--scary, in itself.  What they're looking for is the three-digit security code on the back, you know, the one that changes every time you get a new card and sends you scrambling for your wallet when you want to make an Internet purchase that asks for it.  When you give them the number, you've given them the information they need to charge your card.  And they do.

I'm sure that I don't need to tell my readers that you don't pass out personal information of any kind over the phone unless you initiate the call.  Not ever.  And if this scam comes to the West, cancel your card immediately and get a new number.  Then file a police report with the local Gendarmerie.  If the police get enough reports in your community, they'll issue an alert that will get much more attention that I do.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Bit More on Foreclosures

I generally don't like AARP.  They operate more like an insurance company than anything else, and their commitment seems to be mostly to the richer old, who can take the tours and buy the products they offer.  As a very young woman, I decided that I'd never give them a sou when they accepted the increase in the retirement age for Social Security recipients.  But that was consistent with their attitude, as poor elderly aren't really their constituency.


But I will recommend this.  What surprised me was the extent of distress for population sectors that should be relatively stable.  But then I thought about it, and realized that the current distress in the over-50 crowd is the result of the stresses we've faced since we were young.  For instance, in 1989, 37% of the 55-64 age band households had mortgage debt.  In 2010, 53% were still carrying mortgage debt.  Thinking back, that's because most of us didn't buy houses in our 20s, but in our 30s, because housing prices had increased, especially after the early 1970s, while wages had decreased.  Our generation was always more stretched than our parents.


But that doesn't explain everything, as households in the 65-74 age band also have more mortgage debt.  This group may well have purchased in the period before the great inflation, which would mean that they'd be paying off at least some mortgage debt in very cheap dollars.  But if they bought second and third houses, at least some of that benefit was lost.


More thinking later.

A Few Notes on Foreclosure

But first, today's is J's second to last day of work.  After tomorrow, it's all over, and he can devote himself to taking care of me and the cats.  I will have instant HTML help when I need it.  I will eat fancy dinners.  I will be taken out more often.  Joy!  Joy!


But moving right along to foreclosures.  The numbers in California are falling.  One should hope so, given how many houses that have already been foreclosed.  However, my Sitemeter is up a bit on the Tenants & Foreclosure blog.  Now, it's too early to note a trend, and it's nothing like the substantial increase in traffic after the robo-signing scandal last year.  (My hits doubled in a month.)  In addition, the "cash-for-keys" page is the most popular, both as entry and exit page.  This always indicates homeowners, as they aren't interested in tenants' rights or "just cause" eviction.  What I suspect is happening is that the lenders seek to beat the new homeowner protections that will take effect in January, and are pushing through as many foreclosures as possible.  The number to watch is not the Notice of Default (the first step), but the Notice of Trustee Sale (the beginning of the end), as lenders will move to oust homeowners who've been "dual-tracked" and have emptied out their savings accounts, retirement accounts and the like, and are out of cash.  This may give tenants a bit of a reprieve, as investor-owned properties aren't covered under the new legislation.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy Birthday, A

Friend A helped me pick my eReader.  I haven't done anything as useful for her.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Poor Parks and Rec

California's Department of Parks and Recreation has been caught with a surplus.  A $54 million surplus.  Enough money to run the state park system here for more than two years.  They got caught when state auditors were looking into inappropriate-to-illegal vacation buyouts for management employees there.  But what's interesting is why Parks and Rec kept the money secret.  All you need to know is that more than half the money comes from registering all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).  These are the noisemakers that some small percentage of the population likes to take out to ecologically fragile areas and ride around on--over sand dunes, through deserts, and the like.  Many of the tree-huggers at Park and Rec would probably like to ban the things entirely, but they are forced to accommodate all Californians, even those who aren't going to see a bit of wildlife, as their pollution devices scare away everything for miles.


But they money rolled in.  And if they reported it, the all-terrain community would want either a fee reduction or more places for their form of recreation.  And you can imagine park rangers cringing at that one.  So some dozen years ago, someone decided that they'd just "forget" that they had the money.  So they didn't tell anyone.  And didn't tell anyone.  They conveniently didn't tell the State Controller or the Department of Finance, as those agencies probably aren't staffed by people who think ATVs are the Spawn of Satan.  After awhile, State Parks and Rec may have forgotten they had the money.  But now everyone knows about the $54 million.  And I wonder how long until the ATV community decides they want to ride around on the beach at Big Sur.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy Birthday, Max

I will send your card today.  Promise.

Leaving Sacramento I

I've noted several times that J is going to retire at the end of next week. And that we'll be returning to the Bay Area, our home of some 30 years. (J and I arrived in San Francisco within months of one another in 1972, although we didn't meet for some years after that.)  I suppose I've sent sufficient space on the horror that is the weather in Sacramento, and I need only note that it was 105 degrees last week.  The Valley climate is a crime against humanity, and it might be better for our electrical grid to move most people from the Valley to more acceptable climates within the state.


One of the things I'll have to do is relearn the proper weather vocabulary.  "It's only 92 degrees today" is not something you say in Oakland.  Ninety-two degrees is record heat territory there, and we engage in activities like lying on the sofa with a fan set to "high," all the while whining about the missing fog.  However, 40 degrees is really cold, involving mittens and down parkas.  I have often noted that temperatures in the central Bay Area range from 50 to 75 degrees all year round.  That's the range in which I want to live.  More important, though, is the description of weather events.  "Fog" is the marine layer that comes and goes each day--sometimes earlier, sometimes later, but always just waiting for you to decide to wear shorts.  In the Valley, "fog" is the ground fog that rises in the winter.  On the rare occasions when the marine layer makes it to Sacramento, it's called "overcast."  This distinguishes the marine layer from "clouds," which come with the possibility of rain.


The weather in the Bay Area makes it possible to engage in outdoor activities all year round.  You can go shopping, out to dinner, to an outdoor concert, without worrying about heatstroke.  True, you may need a jacket and a blanket at the concert, but you won't be stretched out on the grass, hoping that the shade will soon relocate to protect you from 102 degrees. In the Valley there are long stretches during the summer where you never see anyone out-of-doors.  They're hidden in their air-conditioned houses, praying for a 20 mph "Delta Breeze."  This is the leading edge of the marine layer, which brings cooler ocean air to the Valley at about 3 AM in the summer months.  (J gets up in the middle of the night, turns off the A/C, and opens all the windows to allow this to cool the house.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

So Much for Entrepeneurialism

Bloomberg reports on Bain Capital and how it makes money--loading up on debt, buying cheap and selling dear and, when the investments go south, stiffing creditors and workers.  Playing the tax code is not evidence of one's competence to run a country.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More Musings

I've been wondering why small business is so opposed to Obamacare.  In a rationally ordered world that makes no sense.  Anyone who has ever purchased health insurance for a small group has seen the limited number of options and the high cost of even basic plans.  I worked for a small nonprofit and I wept when I saw the health insurance bill.


Small businesses get huge subsidies if they provide insurance for their employees, so they can provide better plans at lower cost.  Then the reasons for this occurred to me.  First, some small businesses will figure out that they can put themselves at an advantage by providing employer-paid insurance, and there will be a potential "race to the top," as more and more businesses are forced to provide insurance to remain competitive.  And second, employees can remove themselves from a particular business without losing insurance, which gives them a great deal more power in negotiating wages and working conditions.  They can walk out and head off to the Exchange to buy a policy.


And yes, it is interesting that everyone now calls it Obamacare, whether they support or oppose the legislation.  Perhaps this is just another example of the expropriation of a negative by the forces in support of the policy.  Maurice Agulhon's Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 17989-1880 details the transformation of Marianne, once a reactionary symbol, into a Republican symbol over the course of the 19th century.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Musings

I will have J fix my HTML later.  [He fixed it!]

J has now moved from humming to singing, usually along with something on the radio or the stereo, but sometimes just something in his head.  By next week he should be doing "The Ode to Joy" or the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.  We count down the days to his retirement.  (I, on the other hand, will not ruin the event by attempting to sing.)  And J would be appalled that I am presently listening to several versions of "Hallelujah," and not the Handel one.  So far, Rufus Wainwright has the best one.


The weather was mostly abominable last week--97 degrees was considered "not too bad"--but the fog rolled into San Francisco Bay and we're supposed to have tolerable weather for the next couple of days.  I am going to feed my poor plants, as they've suffered neglect and are becoming pale and wan.

I could write on the general stupidity out there, but there's so much of it that I can't get a handle on all of it.  We have David Brooks writing a paean to the Protestant Elite, as opposed to the Modern Meritorious Elite. The PE had his favorite virtues and didn't crash the world economy.  Uh, but weren't the PE in charge when we had the Great Depression?

Then there's the continuing cretinism of Arthur Laffer, who ruined my Sunday by arguing in my local newspaper that California should have a flat tax of 6%.  He notes that Governor Jerry Brown argued for same when he ran for President in the early '90s.  But, as I recall, Brown also argued that tenants should get to deduct a portion of their rent from their taxable income which, as a number of economists noted at the time, would mean that the federal government's coffers would be severely depleted.  And thus they pointed out so clearly the extent to which government at all levels depends on excess taxation of tenants.  (And in California it's worse than in other states, as those with higher incomes are much more likely to rent.)

Moving right along to the Romney campaign, we have confirmation, not so much of stupidity, but of the cluelessness of his supporters.  To wit:

I don’t think the common person is getting it. Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them. My college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated; two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.


Oh, milady, we understand exactly how this system works.  And we understand the impact.  We're quite good at it, in fact.  In my younger years I was always interested in the election analysis published by the New York Times.  Over several election cycles I watched how people voted on the California propositions.  And with the exception of Proposition 22 (the Knight Initiative, banning gay marriage), I noted entirely consistent results:

  1. People voted from left to right.  As they got richer, they voted more conservatively.
  2. The most liberal were high school graduates and people with advanced degrees--around 70-30 on every issue.
  3. The most conservative voters were those who had some post-high school education, but not a B.A., followed by those with a B.A., followed by the groups in (2) above.


What comes from this is that income and education are linked, but not entirely so, and that people are probably voting on the basis of interest.  Many of those with advanced degrees work for the government, which sops up legions of the overeducated.

And Obama did get this right (and so did Paul Krugman): 

When some people question why I would challenge his Bain record, the point I’ve made there in the past is, if you’re a head of a large private equity firm or hedge fund, your job is to make money. It’s not to create jobs. It’s not even to create a successful business – it’s to make sure that you’re maximizing returns for your investor. Now that’s appropriate. That’s part of the American way. That’s part of the system. But that doesn’t necessarily make you qualified to think about the economy as a whole, because as president, my job is to think about the workers. My job is to think about communities, where jobs have been outsourced.


We only wish that he had been thinking about these things, instead of how to please the denizens of Wall Street.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kill All the Leafblowers

All weekend.  Now again today.  Someone is using a gas-guzzling, polluting leaf blower.  It's breezy today, so using a leafblower is an exercise in futility.  And in the already dusty valley, leafblowers spew dust through any open window.  In Oakland, I could count the cars on 580, but there wasn't as much dust as is raised by 15 minutes with a leafblower.

And the noise.  The burbs are supposed to be quiet.  They aren't, and it's all because of those stupid leafblowers.  What's wrong with a rake, ferhevensake?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tears and Consternation

Well, J is retiring next month (July 27th!) and is wandering about the kitchen humming to himself.  And I have been thinking about nothing but the sorry state of my knees and moving back home.  I've already procured cell phones with the 510 area code.  And I'm thinking about the shopping I'll be able to do--Bryn Walker, Crate and Barrel outlet, a decent Cost Plus, and Berkeley Bowl.  Then, then, tears.  Crying, tearing my hair.  Berkeley Bowl's management broke the union there.  Last year.  I'm grudgingly willing to shop at stores that have never had a union (Nugget, for instance), but if you break your union, I don't shop there.  No negotiation.  No discussion.  I learned that lesson from my father.  He and I were heading into a restaurant parking lot, when he saw a picket line.  He turned the car around and left, saying, "Never cross a picket line.  Not even Teamsters."


And I don't even care that the workers decertified the union.  It's so easy for management to make life so miserable for employees that they'll vote against their own interests that I think that any decert election that isn't overwhelming (100-2) has probably involved management misbehavior.


But I was so looking forward to Berkeley Bowl.  You don't go there for the toilet paper.  That's 20% more than at Safeway.  You go for the produce.  And the meat.  And the fish.  And if you have the willpower of a gnat, the way I do, you stop at the deli counter and double your spending there.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transit of Venus

Gee, the transit of Venus takes a long time.  And it's a small dot crossing the sun.  It would be hard to see with a pinhole viewer, so I'm watching the live feed from the Mt. Wilson Observatory.  


J took a bunch of pictures during the solar eclipse.  He also made a viewer for us.  We were able to see a small sun--a very small sun.  But the best pictures were of the shadows with crescent cut outs.  It wasn't as good as the annular eclipse in 1994, which was at mid-day.  The shadow cut outs were more distinct, as the sun was directly overhead.  And when the sky went twilight, it was eery.


To the left is a picture of leaf shadows on the outside wall of our house.  It was taken near the height of the eclipse, so the crescents are fairly large.  [We've just been reminded on NASA TV that the Transit hasn't happened since 1882, and won't happen again until 2117, which is why we we have to pay attention.  We're also learning about telescopes, history, and anything else they can think of to keep us from going off and playing Free Cell.]

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Spring and Other Things

Posting has been irregular lately.  I don't know whether this blog is just fading out of existence or I'm in a funk period and I'll be whipping out blog posts by the dozens in a few weeks.


The garden is actually looking pretty good given my neglect this year.  J went out and took a few pictures in the back yard.  I've asked him to do some of the front yard too, as he takes much better pictures than I do.  Not today, though, as it's very windy here today (gusts to 30 mph), and wind does not make for good pictures.

J will be retiring on or about July 24.  Then he'll run out his remaining vacation time until the end of the year. This means that (a) J will be around a lot more and will be able to make himself even more useful, and (b) we get to end what has been a 12-year stint in Sacramento, and return to Civilization. Return to shops with goods worth buying, neighborhood restaurants worth eating at, too many cultural activities for us to afford and, of course, a new right knee, so that I can enjoy all of these things.



I cried the first year we lived here.  It was 102 degrees in May.  Our car did not have air-conditioning.  (J believed that old hippies didn't get air-conditioning.  Now we're old hippies with A/C, as it's known here.)  There was nothing to do, nowhere to go.  Over the years we discovered that there weren't many places to go, and not much to do, but we got used to it.  J advanced his cooking skills, I (through judicious management) got two pickup truck-loads of plants into a six-by-ten patio space, and we discovered that modern houses have virtues.


The next few posts will look back at the bad and the awful.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Obama's Campaign Slogan

It's not much, but it's better than nothing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Promises, Promises

I had promised not to write a single word on economic issues for a month. I'm getting too much into the cost of things and not enough into the benefits. But this is worth reading. It explains why some of our fellows pay no federal income taxes. And for a large percentage, the answer is very simple. No money. You've all done taxes, so follow along. You put in the income from your W-2. Then you take the standard deduction and the exemptions. If those come to more than about $27K for a family of four, taking the deduction and exemptions reduces your taxable income to....zero. Wow, you don't owe any tax. Wow, you're also a family of four trying to support itself on $27K a year. Other exemptions that do have an impact are the extra exemption for elders, the deduction of a portion of Social Security benefits, and so on. In other words, it's not people wriggling out of taxes, but people who have no money.

It's too bad that we can't start thinking, good lord, a lot of families are trying to make it on almost no money.

And the cartoon is there just because it reminded me of the day I decided to search the internet for incorrect information on tenants in foreclosed properties, and seek to correct it. I realized that it would have been a fulltime job.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Peon Tries To Catch Up

Peon has no excuse. Peon has thought, I should put a link to this on my blog. Peon has thought, I should check the links on the Tenants and Foreclosure blog and fix the dead ones. Peon has thought, I should make the bed. But Peon has done none of these things. Peon will now attempt to catch up.

First, Peon skipped the bed. She'll do that later.

Peon has enjoyed the Republican primary. She cannot help herself. It's so much fun to watch someone trying to come up with more reactionary positions than the other guy. I'll see your position on abortion and raise you contraception. I mean, contraception was an issue decided when my mother was still in her childbearing years. And what is with these guys? Do they really want to take the chance of a pregnancy every time they have sex? Do they really imagine themselves as the patriarchs of old, with wives, concubines, and 27 children? Or do they just want to insure that the proletariat keeps having kids, so that the reserve army of the unemployed doesn't disappear? See this. Well, we'll give up the right to insurance-paid contraception when every man who has had sex not for purposes of procreation agrees to be castrated.

I love my Nook. I can get books from the library at 3 AM. I can buy books at 3 AM. And the purveyors would much prefer that I buy them. So the book publishers are refusing to sell eBooks to libraries. Or selling them for outrageous prices. Unfortunately they don't understand how people use eReaders, and they're making a bad mistake. I don't buy most books that I'm only going to read once. I get them from the library. First I don't want to spend the money. And second I don't want the book hanging 'round my house forever. I buy books that I really want to keep. The same will happen on my Nook. I will buy books that I really want to keep. And if I can't get the others for my Nook, I'll just wait in line to read the paper edition. That simple. I don't like being played. And I don't like book publishers trying to play my local library either. After all, I pay for that library. You can read more on this subject here.

And for those of you interested in California's budget and economy, there's a new blog out there. Golden State Outlook, produced by Dennis Meyers (who works for the Department of Finance), reports on California finance and also does some work on related economic issues. One of his posts, for instance, looks at the position of some right-wing observers who suggest that California is on its way to being Greece, and will be if we don't end pensions as we know them, dump our environmental protections, get rid of all the darker-hued persons, subsidize all rich, white guys, and get women back into the kitchen. Meyers also, unusual for economists, writes in coherent English. I first ran across him here, although I suspect that his class isn't as much fun as it was when I watched it. He's still teaching on television, but the Spring semester is Microeconomics, which bores me to tears.

There's more, but I'm off to get my hair cut.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gas Prices

No one wants to give more money to Chevron, but higher gas prices are a much greater burden for low-wage workers than for higher wage workers. High earners pay about 2% of income to fill up the Range Rover. Low-income workers pay a full tenth of their income on gasoline. And I'd not suggest that low-income workers could take the bus. In most communities public transit is set up to enable richer people to get to their jobs, while lower-wage workers are on their own, particularly if they don't work standard 9-5 shifts.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Issue That Will Not Die

No, it's not the homeless, or the meaning of life, or war and peace. It's the Arena, or as it's now known, the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Our present arena, once Arco, and now Power Balance (yeah, the owners of the Kings made a deal with the equivalent of snake oil sellers), just isn't good enough for the NBA's worst team, the Sacramento Kings. Last night our City Council voted 7-2 to lease out our parking structures and their attendant revenue to a private parking authority, sell off a bunch of land (yeah, when property values are in the toilet), and raid various funds, to come up with 2/3rds of the cost of this venture. The Kings will give up money they've borrowed and AEG (the manager of lots of arena-like venues in the US) will throw in about $60 million. The difference is that the City will get somewhere south of $1.2 million a year, while AEG will get substantially more than that for its investment. The City argues that there will be spillover effects that will increase tax revenues. I'll believe that when I see it. And one of the two votes against the plan agrees with me on this point.

But the biggest problem, and one that wasn't discussed at all at the City Council, is that the Arena is being plopped on land intended for another purpose, that is too tight for the facility, and is just ugly. Because the downtown elite developed an enthusiasm for trying to jump-start development in the former railyards north of downtown, the City is trying to shoehorn the Arena into a way-too-small space intended for the Amtrak/light rail/other public transit station. So not only do you have this monolith in a very tight space, but the transit hub ends up disjointed, unfocused, weird. I want it noted that I was the first to declare the whole project ugly so that, should the Arena actually be constructed, and people then say, "no one goes there, it's ugly," I will get to smile sweetly and say, "well, yeah, did you look at the 'artist's rendering'? That always looks better than the finished product, and not even an artist could put lipstick on this pig."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kindle or Nook? Continued

Well, I've had a Kindle Touch overnight (from friend A), and I like it--as an additional reading tool. I don't think I want to give up real books--the kind with paper and covers and stuff. And I don't think eReaders are particularly good for art books or landscaping tomes for the same reason I don't like them on computers--the picture quality is nothing like that of a printed book. And now, on to the Nook experiment.

Two things I like about the Nook, as opposed to the Kindle: the option of buttons, in addition to Touch, for page navigation, and real page numbers at the bottom of each page. Both Nook and Kindle sometimes skip pages, chapters etc. with Touch, and Kindle puts "location" on each page, rather than page numbers, so you can spend time figuring out where you were in the book.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kindle or Nook?

I know that I should be concentrating on important issues, like the Greek crisis, or the Syrian crisis, or at least watching the remaining Republican candidates try to outdo one another in claiming the wacko vote ("let's ban birth control"). But, alas, I'm thinking about an eReader, one of those little devices that enables me to download books at the click of a mouse.

I read a lot and, while I admit that much of what I read is trash, I have been known to read serious books. Long books. Heavy books. I'm so well known at my local library that, when I hadn't been in for a couple of weeks, the librarian asked, with concern, how I was. I have "one-click" ordering at Amazon. I wept when I discovered that the co-op bookstore in Vancouver had gone out of business. Got it?

I've been resistant to eReaders. Reading a book requires "book feel." The heft, the smell and feel of the paper, the turning of the pages, the shoulder injuries that come from hauling around 700 pages in my backpack. All of that. But my friend A brought over a Nook for me to examine. All of the good things about eReaders were immediately accessible--the biography of Malcolm X by Manning Marable, the touch screen to open the book, the two ways of turning the pages, the experiment with touch to get to the footnote, the experiment with the dictionary (just touch a word and the definition comes up), the problem with the dictionary (instead of the word I wanted, I managed to touch "had"), the smallness, the lightness.

And now the cheapness. The basic Nook or Kindle costs $99. It's cheap. And Nook lets you get books from the library, so it's not as expensive as it might be. But then there are the books. They seem so much cheaper than actual paper books, and they take up no room on the bookshelf. It would take almost no effort to buy bunches of books. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands. Books I would read, books I should read, books in which I might have a passing interest.

So now I'm looking at comparisons to see whether I want the Kindle or the Nook. Each has advantages--and disadvantages. But someone who does not do Facebook and has never tweeted is about to join the 21st century. More as the investigation proceeds.

Update: Friend A informs me that the Kindle also allows me to check out books from the library, and she's bringing a Kindle and a Nook Color for me to examine.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pillsbury Doughboy Wins!

I'm not surprised that Newt won in South Carolina. South Carolina is one of those states that daily affronts its African-American citizens by flying a Confederate flag at government buildings. What does surprise me is that so many South Carolina Republicans didn't know that lower taxes on capital gains is one of the main tenets of their party's economic policy, and that it meant that people like Mitt Romney wouldn't pay much in taxes. Indeed some Republicans (and not a few Democrats) have advocated eliminating taxes on capital gains entirely. Have they been spending so much time blogging about Obama's fake birth certificate that they missed that one?

Having done some research, J suggests that Newt more resembles the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. And yes, our email to one another is filled with conversations like this.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Owen Jones Video

I promise to review Chavs and a bunch of other stuff I've been reading, but I ran across this video today, and thought it was fun. Much better on a Saturday than serious writing.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jury Duty and Other Stuff

Yesterday I spent a mercifully short time on jury duty--three hours from arrival to dismissal. My group was called for 1:00, and most of us spent the whole time in the jury assembly room. California has adopted the "one day, one trial" rule, which means that if you aren't selected for voir dire on your first day, you're done. If you are selected, you can be forced to come back for a second day. That's happened to me almost every time I've been called. My fellows did not look happy; in fact, they were bored and unhappy at being forced to be there.

And it's not because they don't like doing their civic duty. It's because they are treated like cattle, and their time is so little respected that they're paid $15 a day plus one-way mileage for their time. I've always said that if the courts had to pay a more reasonable sum for jury service, the courts would rapidly figure out a system that didn't keep a couple hundred people waiting around for two days. Unfortunately the only way to convince the courts to change is to ignore the jury summons. That's what happened when people decided that they weren't willing to hang out in the jury pool for a week. So many people ignored the summons that the courts had to come up with a new system, and "one day, one trial" was born.

But one of the worst policies of the Sacramento courts is that they define hardship as being the "sole provider" for your household. This conveniently ignores the reality--that most households need the income of all working members to make it to the next paycheck, and only government employers are required to pay employees when they're on jury duty. (This actually benefits the Sacramento courts, as a large percentage of the potential pool is made up of government employees.) The court doesn't have to recognize that most of the population isn't middle class, and can't afford any time off work at $15--plus mileage one way--per day. The most efficient system would be to exempt those below a set income based on family size. For instance, a family of four with an income below the reasonable cost of living (about $50K in Sacramento County for a family with one working parent, and $70K for a family with two working parents) would be automatically exempt unless the employer paid for jury service. And yes, it would exempt a good portion of the population, as the County's median income is about $52K.