Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy Anniversary, J

J has tolerated me for 33 years.  How does he do it?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Happy Birthday, C

Yesterday was niece C's birthday.  It was a shock to realize that she's 18 this year.  I still think of her as being about 8.  She's old enough to go out on dates, drink alcohol illegally, and other things that aunts shouldn't know about.

Happy Birthday, C.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Yet Another Boomer Turns 65

J, who has been a Medicare recipient (your Medicare starts on the first of the month you turn 65) since the beginning of November, is now an Official Senior Citizen, eligible for the Senior Discount almost everywhere and discounted dinners from 4-7 PM at places like Denny's.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Will Everyone Go Shopping This Year?

This is always the question on Thanksgiving.  Otherwise we'd be inundated with stories of "turkey disasters."  I always hope that people will get sick of being played by retailers trying to entice them into stores with alleged "doorbusters", but the shopping frenzy has gotten worse, not better.  Now stores open on Thanksgiving.  Hey, skip the turkey and all the sides, grab a McBurger and head off to the mall.  (I admit that I am sitting on the sofa, listening to Alice's Restaurant, and smelling turkey in the oven.)  We will not be heading out to the shops after dinner, and not just because my knees are not working today. We're going to watch This is Spinal Tap after dinner because I so love the Stonehenge scene.

And it's not because I hate shopping.  Economists would put me into the profligate category, pursing their lips and shaking their heads gently, using me as an example of what happens when you shop too much and don't build your assets.  But it's because I take capitalism and shopping seriously.  Karl Marx pointed out nigh on 150 years ago that capitalism released the productive forces and, in addition to the dark Satanic mills and fracking, capitalism has enabled us to purchase all sorts of wondrous things, things we'd never be able to do as well at home, no matter what people say about the superiority of the handmade.  The handmade is better if you have access to very good materials and are a skilled craftsperson.  Think Tiffany.  When Tiffany is good, it's very good, although I've seen plenty of awful stuff from Tiffany's, and I've often thought on watching Antiques Roadshow that, if I owned some of the stuff, it would head right out the door to the auction block.

In some cases the handmade is very good, but I'm not willing to pay that much for it. Think couture.  Just don't care enough, and am not interested in wearing hand-stitched pearls on my clothes anyway.  That doesn't mean that I buy my clothes at Target or WalMart.  Even Macy's these days is somewhat lacking.  I'm a neo-hippie with linen overtones, and that stuff doesn't come cheap.  Birkenstock's are more than $100 a pair. Those prices are nothing like couture though.

But before I start posting pictures of my favorite articles of clothing, let's move back to the main point, which is that instead of being offered good products at reasonable prices, Thanksgiving shopping offers us impulse purchases, junk and stuff that you will either give to Goodwill or, in an appalling lack of human solidarity, "re-gift".  Worse, as I noted a couple of years ago, it's as though retailers are trying to see how much they can get away with, and ruining Thanksgiving is at the top of the list.  

Addendum: Lambert, who works with Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism, reports that customers are perceived as cattle, to be run through the stores to the checkout counter like cows to the slaughter.  It's an ugly image, but if you see the pictures of the masses as the stores open, somehow appropriate.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Obamacare Cliff

This morning our local newspaper reported on the decision by Covered California (our local, and apparently functioning, health insurance exchange) not to allow extension of the insurance plans that don't comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.  And of course they provided us with a family that would lose its cheaper insurance, and have to pay nearly double for ACA-compliant insurance.  And we are supposed to feel sympathy for her.

Well, I do, up to a point.  First, she is "out of subsidy," which means that she has an income at least close to $100,000 a year.  That's far above the median for Sacramento County.  In fact, she's probably in the top five percent, income-wise.  Now her ACA-compliant plan will cost her $1,200 a month which, by my calculator-aided computation, is $14,400 a year. That's a lot of money.

It's a lot more than she used to pay, $7,740.  But that sum depended on two factors.  First, the insurance company never had to cover anyone who was old or got sick.  In fact, it might not even cover her family if one of the insured got sick.  Insurers regularly went through applications when someone got sick, looking for any forgotten visit to the doctor, over the counter medication, anything that would enable the insurer to claim a pre-existing condition and/or "lying" on the application, and cancel the insurance.  Second, the cost of caring for the sick was covered by the government.  Our health insurance system was often described as "cherry-picking" and it was very good for those who got picked. Not so much for everyone else.

Now even with an income in the top five percent, she's paying almost fifteen percent of her income for insurance, more if she goes to the doctor.  What that should highlight, but doesn't, is that the cost of health care in the US is far more than our income can support. We just don't make enough money to pay for insurance that expensive.  That's why we have subsidies for most of the population.  If you're within subsidy, you won't pay more than 9.5% of your income for insurance, and the smaller your income, the less you pay.

But for those who fall off the cliff, the cost is very steep, and it's worse for people who are just above the 400% of poverty than for people who are richer, particularly if they are also older.  Just off the cliff, people can pay a quarter of their income for insurance, again before they've been to the doctor.  That means that, as your income increases, the percentage of income you pay decreases.

Now for the immediate problem, there's a simple solution.  Get rid of the cliff.  Just change the law to provide that no one who has an ACA policy pays more than, say, 10.5% of income for a silver plan.  It's true that there would be a few people with very high incomes who would be subsidized, but the vast majority of rich people already have very good insurance.  I don't think we'd find Jamie Dimon searching the exchange for insurance. But given the make-up of Congress these days, that's not likely to happen.

And the two other obvious problems aren't likely to come up for discussion.  The first is that the poverty line is, for the parts of the country where people live, a convenient work of fiction.  The poverty line for a single person is $11,500.  Our rent is more than that, and we don't live in an expensive part of California.  The poverty line for a two-person household is $15,500.  To give you a sense of how silly these figures are, we need only compute how much rent someone should be paying on that income, assuming that 30% of income makes sense.  (It doesn't, but that's another issue.)  Again, using my trusty calculator, I find that 30% of $11,500 is $287.50 a month.  You can't rent a room for that anywhere in California.  Our two-person household could spend $387.50 a month for rent, still not enough for a single room in a shared household or residential hotel.  So people who make 400% of poverty aren't really making that much money, if we also look at the cost of living.

The second problem is that our insurance costs far more than providing health care in other advanced capitalist countries.  Health care costs are higher here than in France, where new mothers receive visits from a nurse who can help with any new baby problems.  (Contrary, however, to popular misconception, the visiting nurses do not do the laundry or whip up a three-course French lunch.)  The US system is so expensive that it would be cheaper to send our elders to France, and then pay the government of France to insure them.  Dean Baker at CEPR seriously proposed this, although he used Britain as his example.  (I'd be willing to accept less subsidy for the better food.)

Only a tiny number of Democrats and no Republicans suggested that we might rein in the cost of care--paying doctors, hospitals and drug companies less, keeping our payments more in line with those of other countries.  In other countries the government determines the reasonable cost of various products and services, and that's that.  Here we had a discussion of "death panels" and government bureaucrats keeping people from obtaining needed care.

It's so much fun to realize that we're going to waste so much money and cause so much misery because our politicians suck, some because they don't believe that knowledge should play any role in decision-making, and others because they don't have the backbones of slugs.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

More Stupid

I'm always amazed at the dumbness of men.  I mean, what woman would suggest that you could have services for children (housing, health care, education etc.) without having the same for the kids' mothers?  But a university professor actually said this to me once.  I didn't bother to respond.  And how would this happen?  The kids would get the nice, subsidized apartment, but Mom would head off to the homeless shelter, I guess after fixing dinner, helping with homework and tucking the kids into bed.  Is it possible for nearly 50% of the population to be this clueless?

Yes, it is.  And we find another example of this in the current debate over Obamacare. Men seem not to understand their role in making babies.  Now this is a family-friendly blog, so I will not go into great detail about the role of men in conception, but will simply note that their role is critical.  Babies would not be made without them.  And that their medical care plans would include the cost of maternity care is not some "subsidy" to women, but a recognition that not only men, but all of us, have an interest in birthing healthy babies, just as we all have an interest in good roads, sewage systems, and educational institutions.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On the Election

Much has been made of the Tea Party defeat in Virginia.  But the most important point is that McAuliffe barely won against a wacko who wanted to eliminate all abortion rights, ban contraception and treat immigrants as pests to be controlled.  What is most important is that McAuliffe represents all that is wrong with the Democrats, and Democrats like this can barely defeat the Tea Party.  That's not a good sign.

As for Chris Christie, we can turn to the New Jersey experience with Jon Corzine.  He probably gave Democratic governors there a bad rap for the next 15 years or so.  Of course, Christie is also less nutty than many Republican candidates.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Introducing Graham

Dash asked for a co-cat, so we went to the County Shelter and adopted Graham.  J worked up his Halloween costume, which is merely virtual.  He doesn't have to wear it when he greets the trick-r-treaters.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Carter and the New Poor

It always amazes me when people discover that their policies had what they think were unintended consequences.  Let's say that you're the President, and that you have a Fed chief who wants to cut inflation by, say, reducing wages.  Let's say that you're intrigued by neoliberal ideas, that it might be a good idea to get rid of jobs better done in countries with lower wages, while keeping the jobs that require more "brain-power" and can't (or so you thought) be performed by darker-skinned people.  And you're successful! You do it!  Wages fall, eventually by about 50%.  Jobs disappear.  And the real industry, the one we control, takes over.  FIRE.  And gets bigger and bigger and bigger.  Then it re-writes the rules and, less than ten years later, crashes the economy.

And then you wonder how people ended up so precarious.  Yeesh!  They haven't taught critical thinking skills in this country for a long, long time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

For Emma

Emma died on Sunday afternoon.  She had been very sick for a week, probably with cancer.  She spend that week alternately hiding and engaging in her favorite activities--lying in her sunbeam, having breakfast with Daddy, lunch with Daddy, playing at the computer with Daddy.  She slept in her chair (yes, Emma had her own chair), played with Daddy's shoes and chewed on wheat.  She made her "rounds", going out the bedroom door to the patio and coming round through the living room door.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Her little brother, Dashiell, came into the living room on Sunday evening and plopped down on the spot where she died.  We are all sad.


Emma on a walk around her patio.  Just as I shot the picture, she turned to look at something.


In the winter the sun shines across the bed, providing the perfect spot for a kitty to turn solar energy into inactivity.


Emma on her patio, enjoying more sun.


The second-best sunbeam spot was on the rug, where she could remain in cushioned comfort, while still getting the full sunbeam effect.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Messing with Obamacare

Once upon a time, I did HR for the small nonprofit I worked for.  We had part-time employees.  In a few cases those employees were covered by our health insurance.  We paid a pro-rated share of their insurance.  It was very simple.  It required easy arithmetic calculations.  I could do them without help.  To solve the part-time employee problem, one that should never have existed in the first place, remove the minimum hours' requirement and require that employers pay the pro-rated share of employee premiums. Minimum of fuss.  No employers cutting employees to 29 hours.  Problem solved.

Monday, August 12, 2013

We're All Subprime Now

One effect of the recent financial crisis is the deterioration in the treatment of debtors. I'm not talking about people who are seriously in arrears, in danger of foreclosure or the like, but ordinary people with ordinary agreements for service in exchange for payment of a fee.  It's as though we're all about to become scofflaws who won't pay our bills.  Not only are many people paying 18% on their credit cards, no matter what their credit rating, but we're reminded on our monthly bills (phone, cable, utilities) that if we don't pay on time, we'll owe some usurious fee for being late.  We got caught in this when one of our checks went missing--I paid the fee, as it wasn't worth it to me to fight it.  But it still irritated me.  (And worse than that, if the check does eventually turn up, they don't return it to me.  They process it and give me a credit on my next bill without, of course, paying an equivalent fee for the use of my money.)

But I'm lucky.  I don't buy a lot of services--we can't afford them.  And having been a tenant for all of my adult life, I know that I can't skip a rent payment, even over the holidays.  (I didn't know this, but homeowners frequently skip the December or January house payment, making it up later in the year.  It shows up in the mortgage delinquency statistics.)  But now homeowners, who used to be cut some slack, are being reminded that their mortgage payment is like any other service, and they're being treated accordingly. Just read, for instance, some of the stories here.  Bank of America, wanting to get rid of some of its more precarious mortgages, sold them to Green Tree.  This did two things.  It enabled the bank to raise some cash, so its quarterly report would look better, and it turned over mortgage collections to a servicer, an entity not bound by the restrictions on bad behavior that the government "imposed" on the major banks.  In many cases, BofA still owns the mortages, so they get all of the benefits and none of the oversight.

To sweeten the pot for Green Tree, they also sold some performing mortgages, and those people are absolutely furious.  Green Tree loses their mortgage payments, doesn't provide proper accounting, tries to increase their escrow payments for no apparent reason, fails to record their insurance policies and then charges them ridiculous sums to provide them insurance, and on and on.  Some people have taken up using certified mail to send in their mortgage payments, convinced that Green Tree is holding them until they are late.  (And this may be true.  Providian was the bad boy of credit cards, and was caught doing this repeatedly.  Providian was sold to WaMu, and then to JP Morgan Chase.)  People are having to file bankruptcy to get a court hearing, so that they can show that they shouldn't be in foreclosure.

It had never occurred to me that this would be an effect of the rise of the FIRE industries, but it makes sense.  When your income is dependent on servicing accounts, there may not be enough people who can't pay the bill, or who forget, or whose check gets lost in the mail.  It's not the decline of standards, or the absence of shame, or any of those other moral failings that right-wing pundits are always writing about.  It's simple economics. Providing services doesn't make enough money, so your phone company, utility company, credit card company and so on, have to make money from various fees and fines, and to doctor the books to be able to collect same.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wasting Time on the Internet

But this one is educational too.  And you can claim that this one is too!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

More Entertainment from Fox News

Go forth and watch this.  Turning a good read into a best seller.  And along the way, explaining what scholars do.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Medicare Card Fraud

J will turn 65 in a few months and, in a rite of passage sort of like high school graduation, he received his Medicare card.  (He has also been receiving Medicare supplement advertising by mail, and now follow-up phone calls.  We expect to receive the ads for durable medical equipment soon, as well.)  But back to the card.  There,  front and slightly-below-center, is his full Social Security number.  The number we're admonished never to give to anyone.  That one.  The one that identity thieves spend lots of time trying to get.  The one that enables them to get credit cards in your name and make purchases you would make if you could afford them.

But it gets worse.  J is supposed to carry the card with him at all times.  It's his proof of insurance when we're traveling.  Can't you see the identity thieves right now?  Gauging the age of the potential victim?  Grabbing the purse or wallet and, having discarded the library card and Justice League of America membership, looking with delight at the Medicare Card.  Oh the joy!

I thought about calling my Congressperson.  Or my Senators.  But then I read up on the Internet and found that they and everyone else already knew about it.  It's become a frequent discussion in the blogosphere,  as bloggers approach their 65th birthday and receive their cards.  In fact, legislation has been proposed that would fix the problem, giving Medicare recipients a number that isn't their Social Security number.  But this obvious, common sense legislation has failed.  Yeah, failed, because Medicare doesn't want to spend the money.  (Medicare says it would cost $800 million, but the GAO claims that figure is hooey.)

There's good reason to do it now though.  As more and more people become eligible for Medicare, it will become more expensive the fix the problem.  And it will have to be fixed.  Seniors don't have anything to do.  They vote.  They write letters to their legislators.  And at lunch down at the Senior Center, they'll discuss the latest theft over their pudding.  It won't be pretty.

Meanwhile, to protect themselves, Medicare recipients should do the following:  xerox the front and back of the card.  Cut out the copies to wallet size.  Then cut out (not ink out, as someone could hold the card up to the light and read the numbers) the last four numbers of your card.  Tape or staple the two sides together, put the original card in a safe place, and carry the copy.

As I trekked across the Internet, I also found that this will protect you from some Medicare frauds.  Various fraudsters will steal your number and charge Medicare for treatments, equipment and the like that you don't want and never ordered.  And it may take a long time to catch these people, during which time they are getting paid for your non-treatment.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thank you, J

J, the attendant/husband/computer repair guy, spent several hours yesterday replacing the touchpad on my laptop.  He also cleaned the keyboard and the screen, reminding me that I am a "pig" who eats at the keyboard (onion bagels are the worst, as the onion pieces flake off into the keyboard and get stuck).  My only problem now is that I have to get used to having the scroll working--it died several years ago.

Monday, July 8, 2013

On the Joint Center's Housing Report

If you're interested in the whole report, you can read it here.  But I've only a couple of comments, since it's pretty common knowledge that low-income tenants pay a disproportionate share of their income for housing.  First, the report notes the importance of affordable housing for lower-income households, not just because decent and affordable housing is a good thing, but because it enables households to spend more money on other things, like food.  I remember reading some time back that a Boston doctor had noted that kids who lived in public housing were less likely to be malnourished than equally low-income kids in private housing.  The report also notes that low-income households that have to travel long distances for work lose much of that benefit in transportation costs.  So communities should be required to provide housing near work centers for their low-income workers.  And this leaves aside the whole issue of carbon-spewing.

Second, it's always fun to watch rich folk fighting one another.  And in the battle between the banks (no, we're not hanging onto housing until prices improve) and the National Association of Realtors (the banks are holding onto housing we want to sell), the Joint Center has come down on the side of the NAR, noting that the number of held-off-market housing units has continued to increase, even as the number of foreclosures has fallen.  But then real estate professionals are major funders of the Joint Center.  That doesn't mean they aren't right, but it's like the ratings agencies getting paid by the people issuing the securities.  Oh, yeah.

And Happy Birthday to my brother.  He's 56.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

It Was Really Hot

Sacramento is just now recovering from a week of 105+ degree weather.  Yeah, every day for a week.  I cried.  I whined.  I refused to go outside.  The air-conditioning went on at 10:30 AM. and stayed on all day and into the evening.  It was awful.  It reminded me of one reason I want to go home to the Bay Area.

Another reason is the weird social climbing that goes on here.  No one who lives here should be doing any social climbing.  I mean, this is where you live when you (a) work for the State or (b) can't afford to live somewhere nicer.  But our city mothers and fathers are okay with a dinner on the Tower Bridge that costs $175 a ticket.  This in a community where 20% of the households get the energy discount for low-income people from our local power purveyor.

I've never been into the "yuppie" aspects of locally-grown healthy food.  I remind people that, as the late Eric Hobsbawm pointed out, it was not the automobile that changed the world, but the Model-T.  Worse than that, this construction keeps people from realizing that a lot of fruits and vegies are very cheap at the Farmer's Market.  Cheaper than at the grocery store, fresher, and often grown without pesticides.  But if everyone figured this out, then it wouldn't be a positional good and they couldn't charge $175 for a dinner.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Downton Abbey

I have little liking for Julian Fellowes, the author of the Downton Abbey series.  He's utterly reactionary.  But I do love the Castle and the Clothes. Yes, I do recognize that no women have lives where we sit around in silk all day, chatting and drinking tea, but the dresses are beautiful.  Such disappointment, then, to find that the Highclere Castle website sells the same schlock you could find in Old Sacramento.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How Could They Not Know

that as the System Administrator, Edward Snowden had complete access to the system?  Uh, that's how it works.  And as J, who knows more about these things that I do, notes, there's a trade-off between efficiency and security, and the NSA has opted for efficiency. Yeesh!

Oh, and I think that getting metadumps of phone records is both an invasion of privacy and a waste of time.

Monday, June 10, 2013

We'll Take Friends Where We Find Them

Not that long ago, your blogger received email denouncing her as the Handmaiden of the Devil or the Spawn of Satan for informing tenants in foreclosed properties of their rights.  She reveled in these denunciations, believing that it meant she was doing something right.

But now she has friends in unexpected places.  First the $%@# Rahm Emanuel indicated support for legislation in Chicago that would require foreclosing lenders to either provide tenants with a lease limiting rent increases to two percent or, if the lender chose to evict the tenants, pay each household $10,600 in relocation costs.  (This would cover some of the costs involved in finding a new home and moving, something economists don't even recognize, believing that the rental housing market is "frictionless".)

Another new buddy is Angela Merkel.  Yeah, the woman from Germany who is destroying the economies of a bunch of European countries to protect German banks from having to be accountable for their bad loans. Her.  And what is she advocating?  Rent control.  Yeah, limits on the amount landlords can increase rents when tenants move.  Yeah, vacancy control.

Just as long as they don't invite me to dinner...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

108 in the Shade

Yesterday morning I went out to sit on my patio.  It was 8:30 A.M.  It was above 80 degrees.  I came inside at about 10 to discover (from my weather gadget on my computer) that it was 89 degrees.  We closed the doors.  We turned on the A/C.  We stayed indoors.  The cats stayed indoors.  J went out to obtain necessaries.  He returned.  He did not go out again.

A little reminder spurring me to find a house in the coastal regions.

Oh, last night J and I watched the latest version of Anna Karenina.  Don't.  Really.  Like Mick LaSalle, the reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, I found myself rooting for the train, as in "oh god, let this be over, where is the train?"  J, in fact, quit watching midway through and started reading to me from the latest Rolling Stone.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

College Costs

My father used to rattle on about how difficult things were in his youth, that young people had so much more, were expected to do so little...  My mother said that sometimes he sounded like Ronald Reagan, but that the difference was that Ronald Reagan actually believed it, while my father knew better.

One of the things that the boomers natter on about is that students wouldn't accumulate debt if they did what the boomers did (well, some of them) and work their way through college.  What they prove here is that they can't add.  Not only have the costs of college increased, but the wages the students can earn are very much lower.  And here's the evidence, from the University of Wisconsin.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Disabled Access

Now that my arthritis has become "moderately severe" (I don't want to know what just plain severe is like), J often hauls out the wheelchair that Kaiser kindly provides for us to take me places that involve lots of walking.  The last such occasion was the Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento.

Now Old Sacramento has gotten it before over their lack of access.  The cutesy wooden sidewalks were built sufficiently below grade that there were steps required to every store in the area.  Sacramento has a dubious distinction: it spent many years fighting the ADA requirement that they make sidewalks accessible to the mobility-challenged--putting in curb cuts and fixing broken sidewalks, in particular.  The city, of course, lost the suit and now has to spend considerable funds performing the work it should have done 20 years ago.

But back to Old Sacramento.  Old Sacramento is a tourist trap, insofar as Sacramento has anything worthy of that name.  It has one good expensive restaurant (The Firehouse) and one good cheap restaurant (Indo), but absolutely nothing else to recommend it.  The stores sell boring schlock that they couldn't even unload elsewhere in Sacramento.  So it's not a place we frequent often.

So J packed me and my wheelchair into the car, drove us downtown, parked five or six blocks from Old Sac, put me into the wheelchair and took me off to the festival.  Please note that there was no formal disabled parking near the entrance.  In fact, the parking lots at Old Sac were full.  Then we went to the Festival trailer to obtain our wristbands where, had I been traveling alone, I would have faced--STEPS.  I discovered later that there were other places to get wristbands but they required a trip of several blocks along

COBBLESTONES.  Yep.  Ever traveled over cobblestones in a wheelchair?  Don't.  It hurts.  A lot.  And the cutesy wooden sidewalks aren't much better.  Bounce.  Bounce.  Jangle. Jangle.  Even my attendant/husband noticed the bouncing as particularly uncomfortable.  By the end of the day my whole body ached from all that bouncing.

Someone should sue, but why bother?  It's only Old Sac, after all.

Monday, May 27, 2013

My First Clear Scam

Peon and J are searching for housing in the Bay Area.  The good ones are taken within hours, so we don't have a chance on those.  So far, Peon has seen a few that seemed odd--as in, someone is attempting to part me from several thousand dollars of my money without providing me housing--but today I got my first "classic" scam.

Now some people may think I am naive and, in some ways, I am.  But even I can see all of the red flags here:

the "owner" lives and works in New York
the "owner" invites me to look at the neighborhood, the outside of the house and the yard
the "owner" wants our personal information (but oddly, not our Social Security numbers)
the "owner" expects that, should I like the house, I will send him $2000 and expect the keys by return mail

I am suspicious at this point, but then the "owner" proves that he is a moron, that our schools suck at teaching critical thinking skills.  One of the things I always do in looking at a potential rental is check the property out on Trulia and Zillow.  I do this because I want to make sure that the property is not about to go into foreclosure, and that it isn't for sale.  I don't want to move twice in a few months.  In fact, I've found two or three houses that were likely about to be abandoned to the bank.  We passed on them, but I did find that the soon-to-be-former owners were charging fairly high rents, taking as much money as possible on the way out.

Anyway, there the property was, on Trulia, at a slightly different address.  But I'm good at research, and was able to find the correct location.  It was for rent, but for $450 more a month in rent, and with a local landlord.  I both reported the listing to Craigslist and called the landlord to suggest that he put a notice at the property warning prospective tenants of the scam.  Then I sent a return email to the scammer.  I was not a nice lady.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Grrr

Peon is always distressed when people make silly arguments.  Silly arguments are not good for us.  It's not good for the quality of debate.  It makes people dumb.  It requires that those of us who think an argument is silly to note it, wasting time that might better be spent playing computer games and reading trashy mysteries.

The latest silly argument is being made by landlord groups opposing State Senator Mark Leno's security deposit legislation.  It would simply require that landlords maintain security deposits in separate bank accounts, pay interest on those deposits, and suffer mandatory punitive damages if they wrongfully withhold deposits.  Not exactly burdensome when tenants are forking over a couple grand.

We will admit that landlords are a beleaguered lot these days.  It's difficult to argue against protection of security deposits when so many of your fellows suffered foreclosure on their properties and skipped off with their tenants' security deposits.  it looks bad, and people don't feel much sympathy for you.  But they've tried.

And what do they claim?  Well, it would be so difficult to keep track of the interest.  Yeah, the $1.00 or so that would be paid on most deposits?  Hell, just email your tenants and tell them to take the sum off their rent.  And that they would have to send 1099s to their tenants.  Probably not at all, but certainly not for a dollar.  The IRS doesn't care about anything less than $10.  Anyone who has a savings account knows this.

If you don't have better arguments than that, hang it up.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Moore and Shawnee

If you want to donate to the Oklahoma relief effort, you can do it here.  Or if you want to buy stuff for the Occupy effort, you can go to their Amazon site and purchase needed supplies.  I gave money, but that's because the relief effort can use the money most effectively.  (During Occupy Sandy, New York's group asked for goods early on, as they had no way to move stuff for several days.  That's not true in Oklahoma City.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Facebook

I dumped my Facebook account.  Now I have it back again.  I'm not sure why, except that I want to see L's (daughter of fried A) pictures of Hawaii, and that's where she's posting them.  I'll probably be the only person on Facebook with two friends.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Hedge Funds Again

Whenever a hedge fund is involved in something, I start looking around for the government bailout that is soon to follow.  While I've been critical of a lot of the hand-wringing over the investments in single-family rental housing (oh, the awful tenants, how will they maintain the properties etc.), a couple of things are making me just a little nervous.  The first is that Colony Capital is setting up for an IPO, which could mean they are seeking to diversify their investor base. A couple of other groups are planning the same thing. Not necessarily a bad thing as an investment strategy, but it could be an indication that the initial investors want out...

Of course, this doesn't benefit tenants at all.

But apparently there are some funds that have run out of foreclosures and other distressed properties and gone into buying new houses.  New houses have a "new" premium--everything is unused, pristine and all that stuff.  But the house loses its "newness" the minute someone moves in, so the resale will be for a not-so-new house.  That makes me nervous--these people have so much money that they can now make bad decisions.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Obnoxious Self-Promotion

I wrote the Letter of the Week in the Sacramento News and Review.  Now don't you wish you'd skipped this entry?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Oh, Pity the Poor Banks

It's so sad.  Our megabanks are suffering.  I mean, we let them get away with all sorts of stuff--making bad loans, selling them to investors, shorting the investments as they sold them to investors, getting the government to bail them out, other stuff we all know about.  But now cometh the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, which makes said megabanks behave themselves--minimally.  It doesn't send the Board of Directors and major players off to prison.  It doesn't make them pay a fine.  All it does is require that they not conduct themselves like gangsters, that their dealings with distressed homeowners be clear and transparent, that they not do things to sneak through foreclosures on the unsuspecting.

Alas, we find that the Bank of America can't even do that.  A scant five months after the legislation came into effect, we have a case in which the agent for the bank double-tracked a homeowner--allegedly negotiating while filing a Notice of Default and attempting to proceed to foreclosure.  You'd think this was one of the simple rules: you will negotiate in good faith and not encourage people to sell their first-borns to keep their homes, all the while proceeding with the foreclosure.  Not only it it bad form and a specific violation of the law, but it's also easy for a distressed homeowner to show that she has asked for a modification.  There's paper evidence all over the homeowner's dining room table.

But it costs so much money!  The bank has to pay its own attorneys, the attorneys for the distressed homeowner etc. etc.  Awww.  Maybe BofA should have realized that a lot of lawsuits aren't worth the trouble.  That's what the rest of us do.  Too much hassle.  Not enough return.  Surely BofA has an economist somewhere on staff who could see that the recovery through foreclosure didn't justify defending this lawsuit.  Or they could have just obeyed the law in the first place.

Yves Smith has a really good piece on the same subject.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Couple of Notes on Foreclosure

First, there have been a bunch of stories noting that foreclosures have increased since March.  That happens every year.  With a couple of notable exceptions during the depth of the crisis, foreclosures are always higher in the second and third quarters, lower in the first and fourth.  So you want to look at the year-over-year, and foreclosures are falling.  They should be, given the number of people who have already lost their homes. A lot of properties that homeowners might have struggled to keep on through the ARM rate adjustment in 2012 were, in fact, owned by landlords who bailed when prices collapsed.

Second, most of what I hear from tenants makes me angry.  But every so often I get a story that's more than just ordinarily appalling.  You know, stories where the bank just changes the locks on the tenants or turns off the water or whatever.  Nasty, piggy behavior.  Even as the crisis lessens, though, there are still some of those.  To wit: a California homeowner rented out rooms in his home.  One was rented in 2012, and two in 2013. The foreclosure sale was this week.  "Wait," you say, "the landlord must have known when he rented out at least two of the rooms that the building was about to be foreclosed."  Yes, indeed.  "But, surely," you say, "the owner told the tenants what was happening.  Or they saw mail lying around the house."  You've gotta be kidding.  The landlord is squeezing as much blood as possible on the way out the door.

In this case, it gets worse.  The landlord has been offered a "cash for keys" agreement if the property is vacated within 15 days, and the landlord wants the tenants to move so that he can collect the money. Yeah.  Unfortunately there's an exemption in California's foreclosure protections, just for tenants who live in the same unit as the owner.  It may be that the Legislature really believes that no owner would keep such information from people sleeping in the next room.  It may also be that tenants who rent rooms are low-income and not worthy of the protection afforded even other tenants.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Nook Grief

I love my Nook.  But it recently (yesterday) caused me grief equaled only by the grief involved in setting up the wireless connection when I first got it.  J finally solved the problem then, and he did it again.  But what is most irritating is that Barnes and Noble has known about the problem forever and didn't bother to fix it.

The problem was that the latest Nook update won't work with Adobe unless you have an ID and a password.  In the olden days--before yesterday--I got my library books through Adobe and then transferred them to my Nook.  Simple.  Easy.  Even I could do it.  But then I left my wireless on too long and the Nook updated.  (I don't use the wireless unless I'm buying from B&N, as the wireless uses a lot of battery power.)  Then it wouldn't let me get library books.  I had error messages.  There were no books.

I wept.  I screamed.  I tore my hair.  I called to J.  "Fix it," I said, "or I'll never be able to get another book from the library and I'll have to buy them."  J set to work.  He took my computer, he took my Nook, and then magic happened and I was restored to ebook borrowing.  Unlike many people, I did not have to restore my entire library, or re-set everything on the Nook.

But I'm still irritated that Nook didn't solve this problem months ago.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's Not Supply and Demand



One of the fun things about writing on tenant issues is that you get to keep re-using stuff that you knew 20 or 30 years ago.  You never have to study up because nothing changes.  The landlord/real estate/economist interests make the same arguments year after year, no one ever challenges them, and so they never have to say they were wrong.  Ever.

This piece is stolen from an article by Ted Gullicksen, published in the Tenant Times in 1992--yeah, more than 20 years ago.  I found it in the process of throwing away old papers that I don't want to keep. 

But one of the things we should have learned about rental housing is that supply and demand doesn't determine its cost.  It just doesn't.  And that's simply because there ain't no free market in rental housing.  Let's look at the conditions for a free market (from Edgar Olsen, Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia):

1.  Buyers and sellers are numerous. Well, buyers (tenants) are numerous, but sellers not so much.  There are far more tenants than landlords. Simple counting.  And tenants need to rent housing more than landlords need to find tenants.  A tenant needs a place to live every month, while a landlord can leave an unit vacant for months.

2.  Neither buyers nor sellers collude.  Well, Adam Smith pointed out a long time ago that employers didn't need to directly collude to push down wages.  Sellers of rental housing don't need to collude--they just get on Craigslist and see what the going rates are.  If landlords see those rates going up, they can increase their asking rent pretty easily.

(In fact, I once had the experience of a prospective landlord announcing that he had discovered that he could get more rent for the place we were looking at and was therefore raising the asking rent.  That's an automatic "no" from us, but other people may not have a choice.)

3.  Entry/exit from the market by consumers is easy.  Weeks of time, thousands of dollars, need I say more?

4.  Producers and consumers possess thorough knowledge of comparative prices and qualities.  Luckily I have a husband who checks the place out thoroughly--using this meter thing to make sure the house is wired correctly, checking the cabinets for evidence of vermin, turning on the water and flushing the toilet to check the water pressure etc.  But there are a lot of things tenants won't know until they move in.  Is there sufficient power to run more than one appliance at a time?  Are there mold or water leaks that have been painted over?  In addition, tenants can't go to see every unit for rent at any given time to compare them.

(In addition, the law makes it very difficult to get out of a lease once the tenant has signed it, if the tenant finds that conditions were not as advertised.  A tenant who breaks a lease and moves faces serious legal risks.  Interestingly, a landlord who doesn't allow a tenant to move in after signing a lease faces some risk, but far greater hassle is borne by the tenant.)

5.  No artificial restrictions are placed on demand or supply.  Doesn't require comment.  And I'm not talking about the kind of zoning restrictions that prevent apartments from being constructed near fertilizer plants.  Many communities don't want rental housing, and have the clout to prevent it.  That, folks, is an artificial restriction.

6.  The service or product is homogeneous.  Every rental unit has a monopoly on its location.  No two units are identical, as anyone who has looked at two identical units in the same complex and chosen one over the other knows.  It's not like buying a TV or a new dress.

7.  The individual sale or transaction is small in relation to the overall number of transactions.  Gullicksen notes that the market does work in this respect!

So why, if this is so obvious, do people from Paul Krugman on right think that rent control is bad because it impinges on the free market?  Uh, political power, economic power, and laziness, not necessarily in that order.

You can look at the rental vacancy rate and median rent graphs here.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me



Yes, I'm 58.  My husband thinks I am a "youngster".  And a belated Happy Birthday--her 21st--to L, daughter of friend A.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Oh, Please, Just Decide Already

Sacramentans are being treated to the continuing saga of the Kings. They've been treated to this for years, so much so that it's likely that my reaction is shared by the vast majority of my fellows.

But the NBA has a problem.  A big one.  In the great scheme of things, Seattle should be the obvious choice.  Ben Stein says so, and I'm inclined to agree with him.  Stein noted that Seattle was a much better choice, as that city is a "powerhouse," while Sacramento is simply a very nice town. (One might argue with that, but it's not important to my point.) So why is the NBA dragging this out?

It's simple.  Seattle's arena deal requires that the owners put in a lot more money, and that Seattle not only put in less, but make money off the deal. Seattle has been burned before, and the voters responded with I-91, which requires that any sports' complex deal guarantee a profit for the taxpayers.  Sacramento's deal gives away the store.  Not only won't the city make money, the city may be on the hook for the bonds if the income projections don't pan out.

So on the one hand, Seattle is a much more desirable choice.  But the Sacramento precedent is one that the NBA owners want to set--cities that want teams, or want to keep teams, should be willing to pay handsomely for the privilege.  And if they aren't, even a "powerhouse" city won't get a team.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Is It Walmart, or Is It Everywhere?

It's one of those moments when your not sure that it's for real, or if it's something mistakenly reprinted from The Onion.  But Walmart is thinking of experimenting with a system that would ask customers to deliver online orders to their neighbors for a slight discount on their purchases.  Yeah, the problems with this idea should be obvious--liability, theft, and so on.

But as part of the discussion of this stupidity, someone raised the point that WalMart generally doesn't pay suppliers for products until they're sold. If they aren't sold, the supplier takes the loss.  But it's not just Walmart that does that.  It is well-known that a national purveyor of plant material does the same thing.  That's why any plant that's been there for more than a couple of days is near death.  (J once described the place as Plant Auschwitz.)  My objection to this is that, while it may be very "efficient" for the corporate owners--they don't have to hire anyone who knows about plants, or have people take the time to dump water on them--it's environmental evil.  All of the resources devoted to planting and nurturing the tree, shrub, petunia, or whatever is wasted.  And then people wonder why little planet Earth is slowly dying...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blackstone in Sacramento

The basketball "whales" aren't the only whales who've come to town.  Our local paper reports that Blackstone, the investment group, has purchased more than a thousand houses in the region.  Most of them were foreclosures, either purchased at auction or in bulk sales from lenders, and Blackstone intends to fix them up and rent them out.  While the article isn't bad overall (this is high praise from this critic of the Bee), we get the usual "omigod they're going to let tenants live here" mantra, as well as the "will the landlord keep the place up" junk.  Sacramento, a city which is 48% tenants, likes to believe that it's really made up of respectable homeowners who spend their time on home improvement and civic involvement, while the lowlife tenants put their junked cars up on blocks, never clean the bathroom, and deal drugs out of the garage while running a bordello out of the living room.

Blackstone, much like several other hedge funds and the like, saw an opportunity to buy foreclosed houses on the cheap, fix them up, and rent them to former homeowners.  This enables them to charge relatively high rents, as the former homeowners have credit problems that preclude them from renting elsewhere.  They buy in bulk, standardize their improvements, and manage the properties much like apartment complexes.  This isn't necessarily a bad management model, as small landlords often hire as needed or, heaven forfend, try to make repairs themselves.  (I remember once having a prospective landlord tell me that it had taken five attempts to fix the shower in a unit he wanted us to rent.  We didn't move there.)  Having regular staff to take care of maintenance and repair problems is a good thing.

So,the most curious construction was the complaint of unnamed "tenant advocates" who were concerned that Blackstone might not be able to fix a broken kitchen faucet.  Now the faucets are new, so they aren't likely to break anytime soon, unless you believe that the first thing a tenant does on moving in is to head for the kitchen faucet with a hammer.  (I should note here that my husband has replaced two kitchen faucets, one of them in our present rental.  It wasn't that it was broken.  It produced two water temperatures, tepid and scalding, and I wasn't willing to live with that.  He proceeded to the hardware store, purchased a new faucet and the needed supplies, and replaced it for me.  He noted that all you have to do is follow the instructions.)

But getting back to the main point, that isn't what the named tenant advocates said.  In fact, one of them, Dean Preston, said that "he wasn't surprised that a multibillion-dollar investment fund could hire competent property managers and fix toilets."  Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, and Melody  Simpson, of watchthisproperty.com, were more concerned about the expected return on investment--some 15%--and what would happen to the tenants when Blackstone decided to liquidate their investment (sell the houses).  Now a 15% ROI might be possible, not because of their superior management, but because they have a captive group of tenants who have few options, and will pay any price for housing.  I couldn't find any information on their income/credit requirements, but one of the other groups will allow tenants to pay 41% of their gross income for rent.  For most people that would leave them precarious every month.

Finally, it always irritates me when reporters don't do simple research to check the assertions of their interviewees.  Blackstone, unlike some of the investor groups, regularly files unlawful detainer actions against the former homeowners, although they asserted that they were filing eviction actions against tenants.  I found at least ten for 2012, and at least 12 more for 2013.  (Yes, I know it's only April, and I can only search for UDs through the beginning of February.)  I know this because I did a simple search of the Sacramento County records, and found Notice of Default and Notice of Trustee Sale for many of those evicted.  It's likely that many of the former homeowners had already moved, so Blackstone's action was simple cruelty, as it makes it much harder for the evicted to find new housing.


Monday, March 25, 2013

The Warm Glow of Being Right

In recent days we've been treated to a commemoration of sorts, the 10th Anniversary of the illegal, immoral and disgusting war against the people of Iraq.  A couple of years later, when the American people had turned against the war, I argued that we shouldn't get a free pass for our "mistake."  We decided to go to war for oil, and the fact that we made a hash of it is irrelevant.  We killed people in large numbers.  We wrecked stuff that wasn't ours.  We stole things that didn't belong to us.  And except for those Americans who were killed or maimed fighting the war, we never had to pay any consequences.

So right though I was, there's really no warm glow.

Friday, February 22, 2013

With Friends Like

Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, homeowners in distress don't need any enemies.  One does have to credit the ingenuity of the TBTF banks, however.  It's as though they hired a bunch of former radicals, who spent their younger years thwarting various government agencies and private businesses, to figure out how to go after the people they once worked to help.

But this one isn't all that new.  It's one of the strategies the banks have used for awhile in California to part people from their houses.  And the bank negotiators did a good job--they simply didn't note that they often held second mortgages that they could write off, then claiming that they had modified a mortgage.  I'd feel sorry for the government negotiators, but for the fact that I think they knew exactly what they were doing.

BTW, Neil Barofsky's book, Bailout, has a short and well-written analysis of HAMP, showing how it was designed to help the banks and screw homeowners in distress.  HUD was involved in designing that one too.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Not Damn Likely

Housing Wire has a piece this morning on the declining number of foreclosures in California, claiming that the lenders are going to switch from non-judicial foreclosure to judicial foreclosure because of the passage of the Homeowner's Bill of Rights.  Uh, huh.  In California.  Not damn likely.  No lender is going to want to spend five years in court to foreclose on a property worth $200K.  What's more likely is that lenders will do more short sales, even if they have to take a big haircut on the price, as judicial foreclosure only makes sense when the property owner has sufficient resources to be worth suing.  And judicial foreclosure would require that lenders have their paperwork in better order than the Homeowner Bill of Rights does.  Most defaulting homeowners don't have enough in resources to be worth the trouble, and would just go bankrupt to get out from under the judgment.  The lender then would pay a lot of money to get very little.

It's likely that (a) foreclosures are falling anyway, just because so many people have already lost their homes, and fewer homeowners are in danger of default, and (b) the lenders have to do a bit more work to foreclose, and have to do a different calculation to determine whether a short sale is a better option.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

E-Filing

I'm not going to e-file my taxes.  Our taxes are simple.  We don't need to pay someone, or a service, and using the fillable forms takes longer than just writing the stuff down.  You have to pay to get someone to do the math for you, and I have a calculator.  If they want people to e-file, they should have a free form that does the math for you.  Until they do, they get a paper form from me.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Something I Missed

I'm so embarrassed to have missed this article.  What it points up that is important is that the disproportionate effect of the foreclosure crisis in non-white communities wasn't the result of investments by minority owners, but by white real estate speculators decimating non-white communities.  The authors looked at foreclosures in white and African American neighborhoods in Louisville, Kentucky.  What they found was that, controlling for income and so on, foreclosures affecting homeowners were pretty evenly distributed.  But when they looked at African American communities, they found that the higher foreclosure rate was the result of white investors buying up rentals and then, of course, giving them up when the housing bubble popped.  After all, as I noted in my other blog, the investor wasn't giving up his home, but someone else's.

So this video isn't exactly right.  The video should show the "respectable" (read: white?) family buying an investment property in someone else's neighborhood, and then defaulting on the property when its price collapses.  Had this been clearer, economists and politicians might have looked at what could be done to protect those neighborhoods from the "life after people" landscape that some of them have suffered.  Local governments could have bought the properties, kept the tenants in place, and limited the damage.  Instead they left the communities to weather the storm alone, and chose not to understand who was really responsible.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Leaving California

One of the examples of the complete lack of numeracy on the part of the population is the assertion that high-income people will leave California to escape our tax code.  They'll move to Nevada or Texas or Florida.  There's no evidence of this, and quite a lot against it, but people argue this all the time.  And people believe it--because they can't count.  I mean, we're looking at people who have adjusted gross incomes of $1 million or more.  The tax increase passed by voters in November would raise their taxes one percent.

Now let's do the arithmetic.  What is one percent of a million dollars?  Let's do this the easy way.  Ten percent of a million dollars is $100,000, which you get by simply dropping one of the zeroes.  You're getting the idea, right?  One percent of that is (hint: drop off another zero), yup, $10,000.  That's a lot of money if you make the median income here, about $50,000.  In fact, that's twenty percent of your income.  But if you make $1 million, it's chump change.  You certainly aren't going to starve to death.  Or not be able to buy another yacht.

So if you want to move to Nevada or Texas or Florida over $10,000, well, have a good life.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Light Bulbs

Everyone has a few reactionary positions.  I had a friend in the 1970s who hated the 55 mph speed limit, maybe because he was always getting stopped for speeding.  

I hate CFLs.  We tried them, we really did.  For months.  Then I asked J to get me a regular 50-100-150, so that I could see when I was reading.  J tolerated his CFL a bit longer, but finally gave up and returned to the trusty incandescent.

It's not that I'm opposed to energy conservation.  We leave the heat set at 62 degrees in winter, and the air-conditioning set at 78 in summer.  My friend A brings her fleece slippers when she comes over in the winter.  But I'm absolutely incensed that I have to use light bulbs that don't do what they promise.  Allegedly the light is "equivalent" to that put out by incandescents.  No, it's not, unless "equivalent" is "good enough".  Adding insult, the light isn't the same color, although we got some CFLs a few years ago that were very close.  We were never able to find them again, I think because the producers figured that, since the government was going to phase out incandescents, they could palm any junk off on us, and didn't have to make the lights work well.

Not only do CFLs not put out enough light initially, but they deteriorate over time.  So bulbs that may last for years will put out inadequate light for most of those years.

It's enough to turn me into a free market nut.  Well, not quite.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cost-Burdened Tenant Households

What's interesting about this scorecard, is that in only two states (South Dakota and Wyoming) do cost-burdened tenants, tenants paying more than 30% of their income for housing, make up less than 40% of the tenant population.  And that's even worse than it appears, as very low-income tenants shouldn't be paying anything close to 30% of income for housing. Simple example: a tenant making $800 a month can't afford to spend even $100 on housing and still meet her other expenses (food, transportation etc.), while a tenant making $10,000 a month can spend more than 30% of her income on rent and utilities and easily meet her other expenses.

The importance of this is that households forced to spend a large percentage of income on housing are in danger of homelessness every month.  A car repair, medical crisis, or parking ticket, for that matter, can throw these households into default.  And since most tenants in the United States aren't protected by "just cause" eviction protections, a eviction notice from the landlord is likely to lead to a stint in a homeless shelter.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Plants I Want

J will not be happy to discover this, but I'm already making lists of plants I want--for my new garden in the East Bay.  I want to replace my corydalis, as I've had several of them die here.  It's quite sad, but they really don't like summer heat.  In Oakland they didn't even go dormant.  And I want a Sierra Madre lobelia, just because I like the flowers.  I don't have anywhere to put them at this point, but that's never stopped me before.

More Stupid Stuff

Matt Yglesias has a really dumb post on Slate.  Like many people on the right, he likes to pick on people for their spendthrift ways, noting that people today spend their money on cell phones, cable TV and other non-necessities, all the while complaining about the deterioration of their incomes.  Economists are central players in this one, bashing people for their profligacy, lack of economic rationality and the like.

The problem with this post is that it required exercise of only half a brain cell to figure out what was wrong with it.  I mean, c'mon, if you're getting paid a bunch of money to write, a simple blogger shouldn't be able to figure out what's wrong with it that easily.  I should have to do research, and think.  (I can't imagine that Yglesias wrote it just to make me feel good about my intellectual skills.)

His post notes that the percentage of income middle class families spend on a market basket of goods hasn't changed over the last few decades, and therefore, that middle class incomes are not stagnating.  Uh, those of us who live at, or slightly above, the median income already know what's wrong with that one.  And if we don't know what's wrong with it, we can find out here.  Households are much more precarious, simply because necessities like housing and health care, which economists never talk about when they are rattling on about our profligacy, are very much more expensive than they used to be.  I guess that's because they are, in anyone's estimation, necessities.

And the bashers never talk about the declining number of people who have employer-paid health insurance (which dumps people into the individual insurance market, a scary place), the demise of the employer-paid pension plan (which makes retirement a dicey proposition), and other benefits that don't show up in the income statistics.  I should really have to work harder...

Friday, January 25, 2013

On Haiti

CEPR has been following the post-earthquake "reconstruction" in Haiti for years, even when others had moved on to other places.  They've been active, for instance, in reporting the UN-sponsored introduction of cholera to the country, and the resulting (further) immiseration.  With the publication of the US State Department report to Congress (which doesn't even mention cholera), we find that the US has exported its housing priorities to that country as well.  While hundreds of thousands still live in tents, the report notes that a few more than 1,000 units have been planned for Haitians.  But the US has constructed 107 really nice homes (three to five bedrooms!) for US Embassy personnel, along with swimming pools and other sports facilities.  Gee, maybe Governor Brown is advising on the issue.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Still Poorer Sacramento Gives Up All Semblance of Dignity

The sale of the Sacramento Kings to the Hansen group is a done deal. Hansen has to pay $30 million to the Maloof group on February 1, sort of a deposit to insure everyone's good behavior.  It now appears that the Maloofs' flirtation with Virginia Beach may have been a strategy to get the Hansen group to up its offer.  But is Sacramento accepting its fate with grace and dignity?  Noooo.

First, the Mayor, who was once a point guard for the Phoenix Suns and thinks that Sacramento has "world class" city potential, has embarked on a quixotic quest to raise the money to meet the Hansen group' offer.  But it ain't gonna happen.  First, the Hansen offer is very good.  It bails out the Maloofs, and gives them a handsome nest egg for their next failed venture.  It also (and here's where the NBA comes in) moves the team to a better market and insures that Seattle doesn't lose any money on its contribution to the arena.

You see, the residents of Seattle aren't any happier than Californians at the thought of subsidizing a bunch of really, really rich guys and their toys.  So they passed Initiative 91, which prohibits city investment in any arena that doesn't guarantee a profit for the city.  So the Hansen group has agreed to insure that the surcharge revenue that will pay off the $200 million in bonds will be sufficient.  If it isn't, the Hansen group will make up the difference.

In Sacramento there are two problems with arena construction.  The first is that we'd have to raise at least $250 million, and doing that is questionable.  The original proposal was to sell off our parking revenue, but it turned out that we might only raise $160-180 million from that. Then it was discovered that selling off parking revenue was a really bad idea, in that the people to whom it was sold could have their way with parking fees.  The second is that our City Manager is already whining about Sacramento's debt, both from bonds and retiree health care.  It's not going to go over well when the City Council contemplates ending retiree medical benefits and takes on another $250 million for an arena.

We have learned that David Stern is not a decent sort.  He, having apparently urged the sale to the Hansen group, hasn't had the decency to tell Mayor Johnson that it's a done deal, over, finished.  And so Sacramento continues its humiliation by a score of cuts--the Mayor's pathetic maneuvers, Senator Darrell Steinberg's letter demanding to know how much the state is paying Microsoft (Steve Ballmer is a member of the Hansen group), and who knows what next.

We're moving back to the Bay Area, but I still hate to see the community where I spent my youth give up every shred of dignity to the NBA.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Eric Cantor Doesn't Like Poems Lauding Immigrants

You can see the picture here.  Richard Blanco was noting the contributions of immigrants at the time.  It could be, I guess, that he just doesn't like poetry at all.  And  J sent me this link to the video, so you can hear the words Blanco was speaking and Cantor's response.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Onion?

No, it's from the Wall Street Journal, where every family makes an income in six figures and the taxes are, you know, ruining their lives.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pontificating

Thomas Friedman is one of the most pretentious, self-important, irritating etc. pundits around.  But now you can do just what he does!  To do this, go to the column generator and produce your own Thomas Friedman column.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Does anyone care

less about Lance Armstrong than I do?

Still Poorer Sacramento

Mayor Johnson and other city leaders are desperately trying to find investors to buy the Sacramento Kings and keep them from relocating to Seattle.  They also want to float $250 million in bonds to build a new arena for the Kings and Monster Truck shows.  Meanwhile in Seattle, the City Council has agreed to float $200 million in bonds for an arena for the relocated Kings.

I have no objection to rich guys buying themselves sports teams, if that's what they want to do with their money.  I might suggest that we should be taxing them more if they have that much money to spend on their toys, but that's beside the point.  But they never stop there.  They always want the gummit to help them out by "investing" hundreds of millions in their projects.

Now in Sacramento that's particularly appalling, as our City Manager issued a report claiming that our present bond indebtedness is some $830 million.  We need to add another $255 million to that?  Worse than that, the City Council doesn't talk about reneging on the bond debt, but wants to cut out the retiree medical benefit, a subsidy of some $300 a month to retired city workers.

More than that, is this what the City Council should be doing?  If they want to be entrepreneurs, that's fine, but they should raise their own money for their projects, instead of taking away retiree health care benefits.  But they want to spend their time hanging out with the movers-and-shakers, all of whom seem to want a government subsidy.

In Seattle, a lawsuit has already been filed to stop that city from floating the bonds, as the repayment is to come from expected tax surcharges--revenue that may not be sufficient to pay off the bonds.  Maybe Sacramento should pass something similar?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Poor Sacramento

Mayor Johnson today said that he was going to try to find investors to buy the Sacramento Kings ahead of the Hansen group, which is planning to move the team to Seattle.  But the Mayor's investors would have to come up with close to a billion dollars, and that ain't likely.  First, the Hansen group is going to pay the Maloof group $500 million.  That will enable the Maloofs to pay off the team's debt and walk away with a profit.  In addition, the Hansen group is paying for a new basketball arena in Seattle--for nearly another $500 million.

Update:  I was wrong.  The Hansen group is only buying 65% of the team, so the Maloofs' take will be about $340 million.  This values the entire team at a bit more than $500.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Michelle Rhee Strikes (Out) Again

I'm looking forward to tonight's Frontline on Michelle Rhee's tenure as DC schools' chief.  In preparation for that, Rhee's group, Students First, has released a "report card", which ranks each state's school policies and the extent to which they conform to those of Students First.

There are two problems with this.  The first is that the report card is funded by two groups, the American Enterprise Institute and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  I'd never heard of Fordham, so I went to Wikipedia and found that the primary policy of that group is the elimination of teacher unions.  The group actually produces studies which purport to show that students perform better in schools where the teachers aren't unionized.  The problem with these studies is that they are described as "laughable" and "silly".

Now Doug Henwood has done the work to show us what's wrong with the report card.  The highest-ranking state, Louisiana, has some of the worst outcomes in the country.  You can look at his post here.