Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Would We Say To Our Grandparents?

I suppose it's fun to watch the Republicans and the Blue Dog Democrats nattering on about the price we have to pay for the stupidity of the bankers, although they don't quite frame it that way. But how can they possibly argue that we should worry about the deficit at this point? Yes, it's going to cost huge amounts of money to bail us out of this mess. Yes, our grandchildren may be paying it off. But what would we be suffering if our grandparents had listened to this kind of tripe? Would we be thanking our grandparents for balancing the budget? Would we be thanking them for suffering a two-decade long depression because they didn't spend more than the balanced budget would allow? I don't think so--we'd be more likely to ask them what on earth they were thinking!

And I've put up a hellebore from last February for those of you suffering from the flowerless months.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seriously Worried

I'm becoming seriously worried about tenant evictions in foreclosures. Yesterday my Tenants and Foreclosure blog had 160 hits. That's a lot--my previous high was 61. It appears that what we had at the end of last year was just a Holiday Lull, and that the Foreclosures-R-Us services are back in action. Must finish the revisions quickly!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bloom Day

I didn't know until I read it on Amy Stewart's blog that gardeners are supposed to post pictures of whatever is blooming in the garden on the 15th of each month. I'm going to start doing that next month, but so wished I had done it for January. I have a fuschia which has been blooming since last spring. It only had a couple of flowers this month but, given the cold, it shouldn't even be alive. (I'm pleased to report that all of my fuschias seem to have surivived the winter and were treated to a feeding last week.)

Happily, February is a good time in California gardens, as many years winter and spring happen at the same time. So you have the azaleas, the hellebores (I've now got my first hellebore flower of the season), the violas, cistus, geraniums, flowering maples, and mallow all at the same time. It's likely that the cold weather will delay some blooms, particularly the later bloomers like mallow and the mimulus. But I should have a good crop for Bloom Day next month.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Problems in the Garden

We've had an odd year. It was warm well into November and then, suddenly, turned quite cold with tule fog or frost almost every day. Then last week the weather, again suddenly, warmed. But it was still cold at night, so temperatures were rising from the mid-30s to the mid-60s every day. This has confused the plants mightily. Deciduous trees held their leaves. Summer bloomers continued to flower, albeit weakly, until Thanksgiving.

So this year the dormant period for my Japanese maples was about two weeks. In fact, a couple of them are already budding, even though they haven't shed all of last year's leaves. Japanese maples don't like having their roots disturbed, so I only re-pot them during their dormant period. So this year I have to move fast.

But the frequent frost was the biggest problem. I think I've mentioned the dead begonias, but I lost, or may have lost, ten or twelve plants, plus a few that are in "rehab" in the hope that the warmer weather will revive them. The worst, though, would be to have another week or so of warm weather and then more frost. By then the plants would have put out new growth, only to have their new tips turned to black sludge.

In addition to continuing my clean-up of the still-falling oak leaves, we now have the mess left by the cedar waxwings who attend our privet tree for its berries. Now no sensible person plants a privet tree. The Sunset Western Garden Book says of it:

Before planting this tree, carefully consider its disadvantages. Eventual fruit crop is immense; never plant where fruit will fall on cars, walks or other paved areas (it stains). Fallen seeds (and those dropped by birds) sprout profusely in ground covers and will need pulling.

But the tree is planted in a perfect location. It protects our back patio from the sun during the hottest part of summer days. So we learn to love pulling privet sprouts and keep our chairs well away from the "fruit drop." It's worst in January when the birds take up residence in the trees and pelt us with the fruit.

I've been thinking about new planting and have been made seriously depressed by the increases in plant prices. I've warned my local nursery that I'll be doing a lot more shopping at Home Depot, as the nursery now charges $18 for gallon plants. (Last year they were $13.) I can't imagine that there's any justification for price increases like this, and suspect that the nursery bean counters figure that only serious plant fanatics will be buying in the current economic crisis, so we'll be willing to forgo regular meals for Camellia sasanqua Chasonette at $18. Well, it's possible that we would, but our spouses won't.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

John Burton, Chair of the California Democratic Party

My first thought: omigod, he's old as the hills. Burton has the mechanics of electioneering down and prodigious fundraising skills, but couldn't they find someone who isn't eligible for Medicare? Or has the Democratic Party become like the old Soviet Politburo, where geriatric internists attended the members at their meetings?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Quick Note

In which I toot my own horn and direct you to some reading.

I think this is the first time that I've discovered that someone else read what I wrote and was interested enough to write more on it. I shall be insufferable for a month.

You expected more? I don't think so.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Neoliberalism

In which I prove that I am not an economist.

It looks like the Obama Administration is intent on saving neoliberal capitalism. I guess I'm far behind, but I still wonder what went wrong in the last go-round. You will recall that, in the mid-1970s, the political and economic classes determined that it would be best if the majority of American workers had their wages, and consequently their living standards, reduced. The corporate and financial interests would insure continued markets for their products by creating an international middle class, so that somewhere around 20% of the world's population would do most of the consuming, while the poorest 80% would be placed in competition with one another to provide the lowest wages for production.

In addition, as manufacturing left the industrialized countries, the jobs lost would be replaced by jobs in the service sector--everything from the health industry to the hospitality industry to finance, insurance and real estate. What they didn't tell us, of course, was that most of the jobs in these industries don't pay very well, and that most of those industries don't make a lot of money. A dollar invested in a manufacturing enterprise makes a lot more than a dollar invested in a hotel. So off the corporations went in search of the cheapest labor.

Meanwhile, Americans have coped by sending women (specifically wives and mothers) into the labor force to make up some of the wages lost in the first paragraph above. Well and good. But then something seems to have gone frightfully wrong, and I'm not sure what it is. Was it that the ability to produce goods very cheaply led corporations to produce so much of them that the international middle class couldn't consume it all? Was it that the international middle class didn't materialize? Was it that the international middle class already had its own products and didn't want the stuff produced by US corporations with cheap labor?

It appears that by the mid-1980s the whole system was dependent on American debt--the willingness of Americans to go into hock to buy these products. The bubbles--stock, credit, housing--only served to keep the whole thing afloat, until the accumulated weight of all that debt finally sank the system. Given that the Republocrats coming into office this January are intent on saving this system, you'd think that they would seek some understanding of what went wrong, and how to prevent another blow-up 30 years down the road.

At this point they seem to have gotten it into their heads that if they can just get us to spend again, all will be well. But neoliberalism doesn't call for us to be spending--we're supposed to be impoverished. Someone else is supposed to be doing the spending--not us. This seems to me to be the hard question, and I don't know why anyone isn't asking it. I guess I really did just prove that I wasn't an economist.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


It was warmer today, above 50 degrees in the afternoon. So I opened the doors, allowing the kitties to play on their patio, and headed out to sweep up more leaves. Most years, there's a storm in December that knocks most of the leaves off the deciduous trees. We didn't have that storm this year, and with warmish weather well into November, the leaves are dropping very sloooowly. So I've had to sweep up leaves, and pluck them from the plant pots, several times this year. And just as I finished up, the wind came up and more oak leaves headed groundward.

Those of you who live in colder climes (I know that some of you were thinking, 50 degrees, that's shorts weather in the winter) don't realize that we can plant almost year round. If it's not too wet, and as long as we're not having a rare snow in the Valley, we can plant all but tender plants anytime. So, on our way to friend P's 50th birthday party, J permitted me to stop at Berkeley Hort. I purchased only a few plants, as I have to wait to see what survived the winter before purchasing a lot of new plants. But I did find some erigeron for the front border, as well as this really cool geranium. Also bought a Vernonica (Waterperry), but as I'm on my fourth one, it may be that I should quit trying to grow it. And Berkeley Hort has a little mixed six-pack of lettuces--six different lettuces, so that J can pluck a bunch of different greens for our salads. The lettuce is only allowed outside during the day, as it's too cold for them at night. Lettuce here is a spring and fall crop--summer is too hot and the lettuce bolts--so I'm always trying to push the season along.

Some of the plants have suffered in the cold this year. The begonias are toast, and that's my fault for not bringing them inside. I'm leaving some of the plants alone, hoping that they will revive as the weather warms. I've finally learned that coreopsis often goes dormant during the winter; I used to toss them in December. One of them is already putting out new growth! But I have these fancy violas that are not doing well--and I liked them so much that I bought four of them. There's hope, though, for at least a couple of months.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Please, NBC, Don't

Drudge reports this afternoon that Ann Coulter is to be banned from NBC--all NBC. Nooo. In the present period we need all the humor we can get, and Ann Coulter is an amusement. Who else would entertain us by asserting that Americans most need to defend our rights to jet skis, steaks on the grill, hot showers and night skiing? Screw all that stuff about liberty and equality and justice--it's all about the night skiing.

A Quote

From Monthly Review, May 2000:

"Home mortgages have now--through the expansion of equity loans and lines of credit, along with predatory lending--become inextricably intertwined with the crisis affecting consumer credit in general. Mortgage delinquencies are almost certain to rise in the near-term due to three factors: rising interest rates on adjustable-rate mortgages, the rapid growth of high-risk mortgages with downpayments of 10 percent or less, and an expansion of predatory or subprime lending within the home-secured lending market. According to Business Week (November 1, 1999), owner's equity as a percentage of residential real estate has dropped ten points since 1989, from 66 percent to 56 percent...A growing debt burned means increasing financial insecurity for most households. Real wage increases of a substantial nature are needed now, not so much to improve the standard of living of workers, but simply so that they can finance accumulated household debt that has risen perilously during the decades of stagnation and debt-financed recovery. See Monthly Review December 2008, at page 52.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The New Year

First thing, Jim Wasserman, the stenographer for the real estate industry at the Sacramento Bee has a piece on the bad predictions made by various real estate industry professionals, business professors, and other similarly situated folk. I suppose that it was intended to say, "see, no one knows what's going to happen, so we're not responsible for not knowing about this." Well, had the Bee been reporting, rather than practicing stenography, they'd have been seeking out other information (and there was plenty out there) and, for that matter, doing their own simple arithmetic calculations, which would have shown that housing prices in the Valley were far outstripping the ability of local residents to afford houses. And that rents would have to rise about 15% a year for 10 years to catch up to house prices. Wasn't gonna happen. I understand number fear. I'm not particularly good at numbers myself, but I can run a simple mortgage calculator and it showed me that, by September 2002, rents would have to increase 50% to make buying a house here a sensible proposition.

And our rent hasn't increased $100 since we moved to Sacramento in 2000.

J made crab crepes for our Winter Solstice dinner. It's a huge amount of work, involving extracting crab meat from the shells, boiling the shells for stock, making the sauce, making the crepes, and then the side dishes and salad. I read on the sofa.

But on New Year's Day, I swung into action, preparing my turkey with Mom stuffing. I think that my mother got the recipe off the back of a bread crumbs package in 1961, and she made it every year until she stopped doing Thanksgiving. The recipe involves copious amounts of butter, so it necessarily tastes good and clogs arteries.
J made the gravy, the side dishes and the salad. He also carved the turkey, at which point I discovered that a 10-pound turkey leaves a lot of leftovers. We'll be eating it until Wednesday--at every meal.

I also made the traditional dip--sour cream and Lipton's onion soup mix. J claims to hate the
stuff, but I insisted on it one year for a New Year's Eve party we gave for our neighbors and, much as we're all supposed to do California fusion, the onion dip bowl was licked clean by the end of the evening.

I'll be revising my Tenants and Foreclosure blog next week. As I hear from tenants reporting on the latest soon-to-be-foreclosed landlord scams, I update the blog. But that gets a bit messy over time, and so it's time to restructure. I guess it's because I'm from the days of typewriters, but I do my revisions in longhand and then revise the blog from the hard copy. I print out the whole blog and then cut and paste, making revisions as I go. Then I have to do a second revision, making sure that everything is in the proper order and makes sense. (I do volunteer editing for an education nonprofit staffed mostly by much younger people; I don't think they quite understand why I work this way.)

One thing I'll have to leave space for is the procedure for tenants who are in foreclosed properties owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I see some real problems--what to do about realtors who decide that tenants are an unnecessary nuisance and take action on their own to "encourage" tenants to move, what happens to tenants who have stopped paying the rent because the landlord has defaulted and disappeared, all sorts of weird little wrinkles that I suspect Fannie/Freddie haven't even thought of. How I hope for a toll-free number where tenants and their advocates can get clarification and assistance. How I suspect that I am dreaming.

And I'm still waiting for someone in the economic punditry to explain to me how the economic stimulus will get people spending again. The problem for the last 30 years or so has been that Americans have been spending well above our means--that people have taken on increasing levels of debt just to stay even. So unless the majority of the population gets really big wage increases, any monies received are likely to go into debt reduction or savings, not new spending. The stimulus doesn't address this fundamental problem.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Let us hope that 2009 is less bad than I expect. If nothing else, we get rid of the nitwit in the White House.