Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Anniversary, J

Thirty-one years ago today J enabled us to save $500 on our taxes (a lot of money to us at the time) and put me on his health insurance. But that meant that he's had to put up with me. I definitely got the better end of the deal.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Peon Right Again

As those you who read me know, I don't give myself a pat on the back unless it's well-warranted. Today is such a day. Last month I noted that while Black Friday might have brought our fellows out in the middle of the night to shop, the overall season would be a bust. My reason for believing this was that, having examined the merchandise on offer, I found it overpriced junk (although I believe I called it "crap"). Well, my fellows have seen the light, and have returned many of their Black Friday purchases. Further they have abandoned the halls of commerce and, I hope, have decided to spend their money on the food and other delights of the season.

Peon Is In A Really Bad Mood

It's not just because she had to endure an Unpleasant Medical Procedure, or because her knees are really bad, or because a Chevy King Cab crashed into her new Mazda, causing nearly $5K in damage. Peon is in a bad mood because she received an email yesterday from yet another tenant who was screwed by a Too Big To Fail American bank.

The tenant made a "cash for keys" agreement with the TBTF American bank, and then borrowed the money to move, moved out his possessions, cleaned the place, and took the keys to the realtor handling the property. The realtor then informed our hapless tenant that no money would be forthcoming, that the bank, having made the agreement, was going to evict the tenant instead.

This is appalling personal conduct, but corporations are not people, and they can be as appalling as they want to be. Local Occupy movements should be picketing their local TBTF banks, American or otherwise, every time this happens. And where are out City Councils, State Legislatures, and state Attorneys General? Hiding in the rest room.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mom's Birthday

Today would have been my mother's 82nd birthday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Good Graph

It's good because it points out the hooey that is the norm in economic reporting these days. The Ruling Conventional Wisdom thwacks the unemployed (as if being unemployed isn't enough of a hit) by claiming that they don't have the skills necessary to get jobs in the New New Economy. They're too old, too uneducated etc. But that's not true. If that were true, wages would be rising in the occupational groups where skilled workers were hard to find. But wages are falling among almost all groups. And wages are falling more among some better educated groups than among high school graduates. What this non-economist thinks is that wages for all but the highest educated workers are flattening--falling to levels close to that of high school graduates--and will remain there for some considerable time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One of the Evildoers Got It

but a six-month suspension and a charge of $4,000 in costs doesn't really repay all the tenants that David Endres and his law firm evicted illegally. Endres is notorious, and has been for years. Tenants Together first went after him in 2009, and after a long, hard slog, the State Bar gave him a slap on the wrist. And they didn't get him for illegally evicting tenants but for running an eviction mill, where non-lawyers signed his name to eviction lawsuits. Okayyyy... Hey, that's a lot more important than the rights of tenants, honesty, fair dealing, integrity and the like.

It should be noted that the powers-what-be would have picked up on the robo-signing scandal a lot sooner if they had paid attention to what was happening to tenants in foreclosed properties. Robo-signing was the norm, not the exception.

Channel 10 (in Sacramento) also reported the story.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BofA Getting Tough

on beleaguered homeowners. And this means they're going after the tenants in foreclosed properties. The Tenants and Foreclosure blog has, for quite a long time, gotten between 3,000 and 5,000 hits a month. Last month, though, my blog received nearly 8,500 hits. I tried to figure out why. I checked the referrals to see if I'd been picked up by an aggregator. That happens every so often, and I'll get 800 hits in a single day. It's cool, but it doesn't last long. But I wasn't--my hits are still google search referrals. Well, now I know that it's not because of the quality of my writing, my gentle wit, or obvious intelligence. But, oh well.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On September 11

I was going to try to write something in commemoration, but Paul Krugman did it better than I ever could. As J said, "almost poetry."

But the worst, worst, most appalling media event immediately after the bombing was the first 60 Minutes after the bombing. In one segment a woman whose husband was almost assuredly killed was, with her extended family, walking the streets of New York, posting flyers, checking with hospitals, accosting strangers, hoping against hope that somehow her husband had survived. It was sad, and I was weepy. The very next segment was one encouraging us to go shopping. Yeah, shopping.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm So Vain

that it's embarrassing. But you can see me here. J created the poster, and did the lettering freehand. I wouldn't be able to do that well with stencils.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Playing on the Internet

It's hot here today, so Peon has been playing on the computer. And here are some tidbits she found. First, the only thing worse than a tenant living next door is a boarded-up building with dead grass.

Then there's the interview with the idiot legislator, Matt Hudson, in Florida, the one who sponsored the legislation that made tenants responsible for the landlord's HOA dues, by allowing the HOA to demand payment from the tenant. Theoretically, and I mean very theoretically, the tenant would be protected from a landlord who tried to evict a tenant for paying the HOA and deducting the sum from the rent. Amazingly, the dude was unable to figure out that tenants might have problems with the landlord. Gee, who could have imagined that the landlord might show up, demanding the rent, and threatening tenants with eviction if they didn't pay? I could, and I did. Indeed, I imagined it the first time I read about the law. But then, Floridians elected a Bush. What should we expect?

And then there's the Florida report on tenants and foreclosure there that suggests doing, well, very little to protect tenants in foreclosed properties. One interesting note is that, of the 15 states that proposed tenants' rights legislation protecting tenants in foreclosed properties, only 3 states passed anything.

Well, maybe our status will improve when it's us or boarded-up buildings with dead grass.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fall Classes

I've checked the Fall Schedule for television classes and have two options--physical geography and geology (an oceanography class). One, both? I took cultural geography in college, so physical geography will be a new thing. I'm not buying the textbooks for either one, as the prices are excessive. When I was in college, the prices were high, but now four classes could cost $6-700 in books. Worse, it appears that textbook writers are issuing new editions every couple of years even though, I suspect, that only four sentences are changed. Yeesh!

Worse, the new e-books can't be returned once they've been activated. That means that a student has to decide whether or not to continue in a class before opening the book. And they cost almost as much as the physical product. Yeesh again!

J took the picture at Wright's Lake. Because of the late snow, there were still lots of wildflowers when we were there on Monday.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tenants and Foreclosure--An Update

I check my Sitemeter every day, sometimes twice a day, sometimes four times a day. That way, I have my ego fed. Oh, and I find out what the current problems are. What I've noticed this month is (a) that there are a lot more hits--more than 100 more a day, and (b) that people are less interested in cash for keys and more interested in procedure. I was curious about this, as foreclosure filings in general have gone down. But I think I have the answer.

Homeowners, it appears, are becoming more strategic in abandoning their underwater properties. This is, for homeowners, a good thing. If the property is worth $100K less than your mortgage, you're never going to be able to sell without bringing cash money to the table. Not in your wildest dreams. Walking away makes good economic sense.

But here's where something that makes good economic sense becomes bad behavior, tacky, and something that, in a rationally-ordered society, would be fraud. Our soon-to-be erstwhile homeowners decide to rent out the property and let the tenants deal with the foreclosure. In the early days of the foreclosure crisis, this was common. But the homeowners waited until the Notice of Default had been filed, and tenants learned, sometimes from sad experience, to check with the local government office where Notices of Default are filed, and passed on properties going through the foreclosure process.

Having learned from past history--a good thing for humanity in general--they are now renting out the property before the Notice of Default is filed with the local government. This means that tenants have no way of checking on the status of the property. Aside from being nervous about landlords who are renting houses they've just vacated, there's little tenants can do to protect themselves, absent government action. No, not drawing and quartering. But some way to allow tenants to sue their former landlords who rent the place out after they've quit paying the mortgage for fraud.

Update: There's more. A correspondent informs me that, in some cases, homeowners believe that renting the house out will give them some negotiating power with the lender. Instead of a defaulting homeowner, the lender will have to deal with a tenant who has at least 90 days to vacate the property. Uh, 90 days isn't that much time. The lenders don't care. Doing this won't help homeowners save their properties, but it will screw up the lives of their tenants. Still bad form.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thursday Morning Notes

Yesterday Peon read the newspaper and discovered that her Congressperson, Doris Matsui, had voted against the debt ceiling bill. She was surprised.

Doris Matsui has never been progressive. Not even liberal a lot of the time. She spent a lot of time defending Bush's war in Iraq, even though her constituents held "peace-ins" at her office. When she wasn't war-mongering, she was helping developers to build more houses in the flood plain. Matsui has never said a word about tenant evictions from foreclosed properties, even though thousands of her tenant constituents have suffered this. So when Peon saw the "no" vote next to her name, she was inspired to find out why. And it turns out that she opposed it for good reasons--specifically the cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Peon admits that she didn't have to work too hard to find it. It's here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Growing the Economy

Peon and J are growing the economy. Not because we want to, but because we have no choice. Our 13-year-old Honda Civic is ill, and with 140K miles on it, we're not going to spend the $3,000 to fix it. But this means that we had to buy a new car. And with the new car comes a new car payment. And more insurance. Luckily we got 0% interest and a payment below $200 a month, but I'd rather not grow the economy, frankly.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Barack Hoover Obama

I don't have anything to say about the debt ceiling deal that hasn't been said by others. The only hope is that the cuts will have an impact so negative, and so quickly, that the powers-what-be will be forced to abandon it. But that's only a tiny, tiny bit of hope somewhere around my ankle.

Oh, today is Dash's birthday. He's five.

Update 8/2: Paul Krugman links to a Bloomberg piece on the negative impact that debt reduction will have on the economy. Duh. This always happens the day after the vote. When Congress passed NAFTA, the Times/Post cabal wrote reams on labor lobbying on the issue. The day after Congress passed it, there were articles on the far larger expenditures made by corporate interests to pass a NAFTA that benefited them.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


As a young woman, Peon "distinguished" herself by reading books on obscure countries--Angola, Mozambique, Uganda, Namibia, and other countries most Americans couldn't find on a map. One of the countries she read up on was Libya. She believed that if our government was going to bomb a country, she should know something about it. (This resulted, in 1991, in the reading of a 700-page tome on Iraq, but that's another war.)

Anyway, her reading on the subject of Libya led her to the conclusion that it was unlikely that Col. Khadafy would be deposed anytime soon. While Peon hasn't updated her knowledge for, oh, about 20 years, it appears that things haven't changed there. Indeed Peon was distressed to discover that one of the rebel groups, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, is a retread from the battles of the 1980s. It has a lot of problems. It was formed as a front for the CIA. It devoted itself to knocking off various Libyan diplomats in assorted European capitals. It was incompetent. Indeed, so incompetent that the CIA shut it down in the early 1990s.

The group distinguished itself in two ways. First, it attempted an invasion of Libya. Now that shouldn't be too difficult. Look at the length of the Libyan border. But they got caught before they'd made it 10 feet inside Libya. Then they iced the cake, so to speak, by shooting, and seriously wounding, the 11-year-old son of Libya's then second-in-command, Abdul Salam Jalloud. On purpose, because they couldn't mount a campaign against an adult. Even the CIA couldn't countenance that, and shut the organization down. Now they're BAACK.

it should also be noted that the US hasn't updated it's other practices in the meantime. In 1986 the US bombed Khadafy's home, killing his 16-month-old daughter. This time NATO killed another of his children, as well as three of his grandchildren. Obama really does admire Reagan.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, M

I totally forgot your birthday, even though J had put it on the calendar. Please forgive me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's a Bunch of Hooey

I have often ranted on the subject of the credit reporting agencies' suggestion that you keep credit accounts that you don't use open, so as not to get your credit dinged. Not only do I not think it's a good idea to have loose credit lines hanging around, I find it offensive that we have to do something that, in a rationally-ordered world, would be just plain stupid.

Well, it turns out that we've been had. J and I are buying a new car and our credit has been checked. If closing down the accounts had any impact, it was marginal. Don't worry about it; shut down those unused accounts. I suspect that the reporting agencies charge by the account, so they want us all to do stupid stuff to enrich them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy Bastille Day!

Historians have noted that, by the time the Bastille was destroyed, there were only a few prisoners left. But the storming of the Bastille is more important than simply trashing a nearly empty building. The Bastille symbolized the arbitrary power of the king, in the same way that the Star Chamber symbolized the arbitrary power of the English monarchy. And if you don't think that the United States has similar symbols, I would refer you to the Third Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits the billeting of soldiers in our homes except in time of war.

Why on Earth, you ask, would the Founding Fathers waste a whole Amendment on that? Let us turn back to the period prior to the Revolution. Soldiers were regularly quartered in people's homes. They came, they took over, they stayed more than the three days when fish and house guests begin to stink. Most often, they were pretty well-behaved, but every so often you'd get a group that raided the liquor, got drunk, used the furniture as firewood, killed the cow and cooked it up for supper, and then tried to do the daughter of the house. This, understandably, made people mad. More importantly, it symbolized the arbitrary power of the British government. See, the French didn't like that, the English didn't like it, and neither did we.

Just as a note, neither did the Cubans. When the Cuban Revolution was a scant few days old, the population of Havana went out and systematically knocked down every parking meter in the city. Why? Well, not a single centavo from any of those parking meters had ever made it into the government coffers. Not one. Not ever. A symbolic act, just like, uh, the Third Amendment.

And J reminded me that a holiday requires music.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Too Lazy to Look Up the Right Phone Number

Not me. Wells Fargo Bank. We had a message on our machine on Monday evening. Call Wells Fargo. Oops, I thought. Someone has gotten hold of my debit card and made a large withdrawal. I telephoned the number, whereupon I was informed that this was a debt collection call. Huh? We don't owe anyone any money. I waited on the line and was informed that they were trying to collect on our home equity line of credit. Uh, I don't own a home. No home, therefore no line of credit. It appears that the bank is so dumb that they attached our phone number to someone else's line of credit. And we've had our phone number for 10 years. The debt collector informed me that it might take a couple of days to get the number out of their system. A couple of days? What? How difficult is it to delete the phone number? I'm somewhat technically incompetent, but I can delete old phone numbers with a couple of key strokes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

We've Been Eating Our Peas for Years

When is Wall Street and the economic elite going to have to eat their peas?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Followers Have Disappeared

I have no idea what happened. I know that J wouldn't dare stop following me. The poor guy has no choice but to read whatever I write. He has promised to sign up as a follower again.

Update: My followers have magically reappeared, and I have a new one. I have no idea who he is, but he's welcome to read my musings on the scrubbing of the kitchen floor. Next: rewhitening the grout on the bathroom floor!

I have identified my new follower. He is welcome to read me and comment APPROPRIATELY.

On Hotel Housekeepers and Fitted Sheets

Rotator cuff injuries are nasty. I got my first one lifting a just-watered pot to a shelf over my head. I felt the pull, but didn't know what it meant. Several weeks of pain, disability and drugs--that's what it meant. Who gets rotator cuff injuries? Baseball pitchers, tennis players and women who garden. Yeah, I'm a member of one of the groups most likely to be injured.

But there's another victim group. Hotel housekeepers. And rotator cuff injuries most often happen when the housekeeper is making the bed. I know. How can that be? It's simple. Think about your mattress. Unless you're still doing a futon, and most people above the age of 35 aren't, your mattress is a bulky affair. It's not like old mattresses, which were thinner and, while heavy, not nearly so bulky. Now think about using a flat sheet on said mattress. You don't use a flat bottom sheet? Neither do I. Neither does anyone else I know. And why not? Because it's a lot easier to maneuver a fitted sheet onto the bulky mattress frame, that's why. And while you may not know it, it also helps to prevent shoulder injuries because you only have to lift the mattress at the corners.

But California hoteliers have launched a campaign against fitted sheets. They don't think that the shoulders of their housekeepers are worth protecting. To save the money required to switch to fitted sheets, they're willing to cause women permanent, debilitating injuries. Many of the injured will never be able to work again; hell, some of them won't be able to dress themselves again. (To see what I mean, try dressing yourself without lifting one of your arms.)

One reason for the hoteliers' intransigence is that they don't have to pay the cost of the injuries. Injured workers are dumped into the workers' compensation, and state and federal disability systems, so that the rest of us can pay these costs. Even those hotels with union staffs don't have to pay health care costs for workers who have lost their jobs as a result of injury. Maybe the state government should say, "okay, we won't do this, but you will pay every penny that the disabled women collect from the public coffers for the rest of their lives."

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Affordable Housing

I've noted before that, when it comes to providing affordable housing, the issue is always somewhere that Governor Jerry Brown isn't. But that doesn't mean he isn't in support of housing subsidies--just not for other people.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Kid in College

This morning's Bee reported on yet another gifted kid whose parents are taking him to college classes. He's 7. What are his parents thinking? He may be really, really smart, but he's still 7, and he should be doing the stuff that 7-year-old kids do. And the parents should know that kids who are sent off to college at 7 or 10 or 12 don't do well in later life. They aren't allowed to develop the social and emotional skills appropriate to their age.

I speak with a bit of experience. My parents were encouraged to put me in a special program that skipped a bunch of kids together. So I went to 7th grade at 11. Hey, parents want to hear that their kid is one of the smartest kids around. But luckily, they learned their lesson and when the school approached my parents about doing the same thing to my brother, they passed.

I've always told the teachers I know that, should they come across a parent who wants to skip their kid, I'd do my best to talk them out of it. And I suspect that's true of everyone who ever skipped a year of school.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'm With Steinberg on This One

I've been critical of my local State Senator, Darrell Steinberg, but I'm with him on this one. In fact, were I Steinberg, I'd be mad as a hornet and going round the Capitol building putting devil horns on the pictures of the Governor.

What happened was this: Jerry Brown came into office claiming that he would fix California's budget problems. To do this, he would both chop out a bunch of spending for low-income Californians, particularly children and seniors, and raise taxes. Unfortunately it takes only a majority vote of the Legislature to cut services, but it takes a 2/3 majority to raise taxes. The Governor opened negotiations with the Republicans to get the four Republican votes (two in the Assembly and two in the Senate). But these votes were hard to come by. In fact, they never showed up. Nothing, nada. They negotiated, yes, but every time they came close to agreement, the Republicans came up with more demands. Pension "reform", gutting environmental regulations, and so on. Barely more than 1/3 of the Legislature, they wanted all of the Republican Party platform.

When it became clear (along about March for most people) that the Governor wasn't going to get his four Republicans, it also became clear that the Democrats were going to have to do the budget on their own. It's not a pretty budget--it cuts services, kicks the can down the road, moves money around--but it was a budget. The Governor vetoed it, claiming that it wasn't realistic. Well, it may not have been the best budget, certainly not one I liked, but it was more realistic than the Governor's.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Google Guitar

If you haven't been playing with this, you haven't had any fun today.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Few Quick Things

I'm off to do laundry, clean the living room, run the dishwasher, and plant my impatiens, but wanted, first, to give a big "thank-you" to my local Assemblymenber, Roger Dickinson, for his bravery in voting for AB 934, which would restore the rights of tenants to sue for wrongful eviction. This is particularly important in foreclosure cases, where the banks behave very badly toward tenants, and tenants, thanks to our local press, know almost nothing about their rights in foreclosed properties. It should be noted that only 13 Democrats were sufficiently brave to vote for the legislation. The rest were hiding in the bathroom. I guess campaign contributions from the banks were more important to Sandre Swanson and Nancy Skinner than protecting tenants from wrongful eviction.

Next, I ran across this article this morning. (Ht Patrick) What I loved about it was this:

"His commentary reflects a left-of-centre perspective--which, oddly enough, has made him [Dean Baker of CEPR] one of the best prognosticators of the stock and real estate markets over the past decade and a half."

Uh, leftists (and I include Baker as one of us, although he is not responsible for my politics at all) have been making good predictions for a long time. In the early 1980s both Alexander Cockburn and Barbara Ehrenreich railed against policies that would increase economic inequality. No one listened, but it turned out that income inequality is a big part of our problem, and it's going to be much more difficult to fix it now. And I have, on so many occasions that I am now a "broken record" on the subject, described support for neoliberalism as smug, self-serving, sanctimonious twaddle. The left is almost always right; it just takes 30 years to prove it.

And then there's this.

Update: As you can see, I did clean the living room.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Cat Blogging 7

The cats are confused by the weather. No, not tornadoes. California tornadoes are really glorified funnel clouds. We've had a few of them this year and, from the reaction of local television weather reporters, you'd think they were right up there with the tornado in Joplin. One of our bigger ones tore the roof off a chicken coop. No chickens were harmed.

But for the second year in a row, we've had spring for four months. Yes, cooler temperatures, a goodly amount of rain. Instead of silently enjoying our good fortune, our local weather reporters have spent inordinate amounts of time on the subject. Pictures of people in raincoats, person-on-the-street interviews, minute-by-minute doppler updates, the works. The first year we lived in Sacramento it was 102 in May. We had no air conditioning in our car. I cried.

We did have one 91 degree day. All the azaleas, which had been blooming for a month, lost their flowers. But it has been cool enough that the basil is failing. Basil is a tropical, and doesn't like temperatures below 50 degrees, and we've had quite a lot of nights in the 40s this spring.

Unfortunately though, the most important fact about the weather is that we may have hit the "point of no return" in carbon emissions, and have permanently trashed our little planet Earth. Emissions in 2010 exceeded those of 2008 and, no matter what we do now, it may be too late to limit the worldwide rise in temperatures to a level that won't bring about a runaway greenhouse effect. We're stuck with those who don't believe that climate change is a problem and those who want to use market mechanisms to deal with it. So it's likely that nothing will happen, and certainly nothing that will actually limit the damage. We're toast, so to speak.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Brown v. Plata

This is the case that stunned California. It allows the federal court to require that the state reduce prison overcrowding by, obviously, reducing the prison population. I suspect that everyone (Republicans, Democrats, me) expected that the Supremes would overturn the lower court decision. After all, prisoners aren't a favored population group and given the willingness of the Court to run roughshod over the rest of us, no one expected that decision. California's prison overcrowding (and the consequent denial of medical treatment) was so egregious that even a very moderate court wasn't willing to countenance it.

A bit of background. California's prisons have been overcrowded for a long time. Democrats would argue that it's because Republicans gained a great deal of political favor with the electorate by being "tough on crime." And that's true. But it's also true that the Democrats didn't fight very hard. In fact, they didn't fight at all. So our state's political leadership reformed prison sentencing by lengthening them to Jim Crow state standards, changed the law to make it difficult for the mentally ill to avoid said long prison sentences, and generally insured that lots more people who were a lot sicker would go to prison for long periods of time. The voters joined in, most notably with the "three strikes" ballot initiative, which has on occasion, sent people to prison for 25 years to life for stealing a pizza.

By 1990 the prison situation was becoming intolerable. Prisons were seriously overcrowded, prisoners with physical health problems weren't getting needed treatment, and the increasing number of prisoners who had serious mental health problems was stretching the system beyond breaking. The federal court spent a long time trying to deal with the issues, but finally concluded that the prisons were too crowded to afford adequate medical care to inmates and that the solution was to reduce the number of prisoners. Other options were, of course, to build more prisons and hire more medical staff, but the prison system already consumes a disproportionate share of California's budget, and there are relatively few medical professionals who want to practice in prisons at all, particularly in prisons in remote areas.

It's unlikely that simply reducing the prison population will solve the problem, of course. If the lowest-level offenders are released (which I think is the idea), the remaining prisoners, particularly those with mental health problems, may still not get the help they need. Caring for people who are psychotic in a prison setting isn't likely to improve their condition. And as the number of older prisoners grows, the prison geriatric wards will become progressively more crowded. Just as medical care will cost more as the population ages, medical care in prison will cost more as prisoners age.

What happens to the prisoners who are released? Some of them will be sent off to county jails to finish up their sentences. This means that some county prisoners will have to be released to make room for them, leaving aside the whole issue of how the state will pay for this. And the counties do expect to get paid. Until 2014, when medically-indigent adults go back on Medi-Cal, county hospitals will become responsible for the care of the released prisoners. County hospitals, which have been on the edge of bankruptcy since the Clinton-Gingrich budget agreement in the '90s, will bear the brunt of this, as the emergency room will become the treatment center of choice.

And it would have been more sensible to do this when the state economy was booming. At least then, ex-prisoners had a chance at a job. Today California's unemployment rate is 12% and people with long, stable employment histories (and no felony convictions) can't get jobs. So many of the former prisoners can't help but end up back in prison--they have no jobs, no stable housing...We're just setting ourselves up for the next installment.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Peon Does It Again

Once again, Peon is proved right. Christmas sales did not indicate that the economy was going to pick up, but that people had decided, by whatever mean necessary, that their kids were going to have Christmas. Even if it meant they didn't spend a sou on things that weren't absolutely necessary for the next six months. If you follow the link and scroll down to my comment, you'll find that I noted that people had blown their budgets for the next six months.

What irritates Peon is that the practitioners of the Ruling Conventional Wisdom didn't see this. It wasn't that hard. Did we suddenly get a bunch of good-paying jobs? Did employers start passing out bonuses to everyone? Well, not unless you're one of the big boys at the banks. And while I wish I could say that it is clear that those paid large sums of money to add and subtract with competence had blown it, I'm not sure it's true. It's that they live in a world populated by their own kind, and don't see the condition of the vast majority. I see it only because I live it, and I'm not afraid to say so. In fact, I relish saying so, and do so as often as possible.

On Foreclosed Homeowners and Eviction

Peon doesn't generally comment on the practical issues for homeowners facing foreclosure. There are lots of public resources for homeowners, and very few for tenants, which is why I concentrate my energy there. (That's not to say that the resources provide the best information or advice, as many homeowners are better off defaulting than emptying their savings accounts for a loan "modification" that's doomed to failure. But I digress.)

The issue in question came up when a tenant suffered the following: in renting an apartment, the tenant-screening service found that he had been evicted from a previous home. As he'd never been evicted, he investigated further and found that his father (who shares the same name) had suffered eviction after the father's home had been foreclosed. Well and good, except that the father had abandoned the house before the foreclosure sale. There was no reason to evict the owners, as they were no longer living there.

After a Trustee Sale, the lender can, if the former owner has not already moved, serve a three-days notice to quit. Only after the three days has expired can the lender file an unlawful detainer (a court eviction). So if the former owner had already moved, how did the lender do this?

Well, it's likely that this is what happened: the lender's representative, finding no one at home, left a three-days notice at the house. Then after the three days had elapsed, the lender hot-footed it to the local courthouse and filed an unlawful detainer. When the former owner didn't file an answer, the lender obtained a default judgment against the former owner. The case then appeared in the court records and the tenant screening service picked it up.

But, you say, how could the former owner suffer this if he had never received any notice, not the three-days notice, not the lawsuit? Well, both the notice and the lawsuit are supposed to be served in accordance with the rules laid out in the Code of Civil Procedure. The lender can serve the notice to vacate and the unlawful detainer in one of three ways:

1. Handing the papers to you.

2. Handing the papers to a "person of suitable age and discretion" at the property and then mailing a copy of the papers to you.

3. Posting a copy at the property and mailing a copy to you. (Serving the unlawful detainer this way requires the permission of the court.)

As you can see with this, "nail and mail" (number 3) is ineffective notice if the tenant no longer lives at the property. Mail forwarding is remarkably iffy (I've personally received forwarded mail weeks after it was sent), so it would be very possible for an evictee to receive no notice of the court action, or no notice before the court had entered a default judgment for the lender.

Welcome to the second-class citizenship of tenancy in California. What should happen is that, before the lender can get permission for "nail and mail" service, the lender should have to show that it's reasonable to assume that the tenant still lives at the property. But judges are, shall we say, much disposed to sympathy for those who crashed our economy and very likely to treat it as a routine matter. And here we get beyond my skill level. It's possible that the lender's representative lied and said that personal service (#1) or substitute service (#2) was effected. A lawyer might be able to help you vacate the default, but the only guarantee in landlord-tenant law is that the landlord has both the law and the sentiment of the court on his side.

You might ask: why would the lender do that when the property is clearly unoccupied? The answer is simple--and not so simple. First the lender may be concerned that you haven't vacated the property, and doesn't want to be sued for a lockout (changing the locks on an occupied property). Second, some servicer contracts provide extra payment if the lender has to file a court eviction and what better way for the servicer to make some easy income than to evict a tenant who isn't there?

The best course of action is prevention. If you are a homeowner and your home is being foreclosed, notify the lender IN WRITING when you move. If possible, deliver the keys to the lender's representative. Keep copies of any missives you send or receive and get the card of the person who receives the keys. Then make sure that the lender knows your post-foreclosure address. Protect yourself, because you can't expect either the Legislature or the court to take the action to prevent these lender abuses.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Day After the Rapture

Now that we know we're not entering the post-Rapture period--no crashed vehicles at the side of the road, for instance--I suppose I should get back to work. Today's work will largely involve the yard, as we will receive our first visit from The Claw since February, and the last one until September. I'll post a picture of the pile when we've finished.

But a couple of notes on my way out. First Dan Walters has this for our edification and delight. The problem is that his proposal takes any downturn in California's fortunes and makes it a lot worse. If it's true that "[w]ith a high tax burden, a dense regulatory structure, a decaying transportation system, still-high housing costs, an uncertain water supply, a failing education system, a chronically imbalanced state budget, and a growing underclass, California is not attractive to the massive investment it needs to employ 2 million jobless workers."

This pessimistic view assumes that California will have at least a decade or two of stagnation. I'm inclined to agree with that, but not because it's the view of William Watkins, an economic forecaster at California Lutheran University. It's because Immanuel Wallerstein noted, on the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, that we would have to suffer 50 years of neoliberal economics. My optimistic will hated the very idea, but my pessimistic intellect, said, "Yeah, probably." And we're only in year 31. We can expect that the financial powers what be will spend the next 19 years desperately trying to make neoliberalism work, perhaps with a couple more bubbles, if they can find anything to exploit. It's possible that they'll glom onto Social Security, the only resource most Americans have left. The problem with that, of course, is that the boomers are many, and we still do have elections in the US. And of course, because it's the only resource most Americans have left.

So what course of action does Walters propose? Well, let's take a bad situation and make it very much worse. We'll cut government! "Reducing safety net services to the poor, slashing pensions for public employees and prison spending, and increasing college fees and other non-tax revenue would become a stark necessity, not merely a topic for detached political debate." Huh? Have the problems noted above? Then do a bunch of stuff that will make them all a great deal worse. Really trash the place! J noted that it was kind of like the "heightening the contradictions" of some left groups in the 1970s. Make things worse and bring on the Revolution. Uh huh.

Getting down off the soapbox, I'll note a good paper by CEPR's John Schmitt on the respective unemployment policies of Denmark and Germany, and their usefulness in theUnited States. The basic argument is that in a demand crash, Germany's work sharing policies are far more effective than worker training for jobs that don't exist. I skimmed the paper which has formulas (a big no-no if you want me to read it), but you can get the main points here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Rapture

Should you wish to follow the Rapture from New York, you can do so here. As a nonbeliever, I expect that I will still be here tomorrow. What I am curious about, though, is the believers who paid to have their pets cared for after the rapture. They do realize that those left are the sinners and nonbelievers--those who are unworthy of heaven. What makes them think that those who've agreed to care for the pets left behind won't just pocket the money and leave the pets to fend for themselves?

Update at 6:08 PM: No Rapture after all. It appears that everyone is still here.

Schwarzenegger-Free Zone

There's a good article in Capitol Weekly on the unexpected $2 billion in income tax revenue that California's budget planners didn't expect. It appears that, as I noted in April, the rich are doing very well, so well in fact, that they paid $2 billion in taxes that the budget people didn't expect. What's interesting about the whole issue if the frame, of course. The anti-tax Republicans, of course, argue that this means we don't have a revenue problem, but a spending problem. Uh, we received $2 billion, not the $15 billion or so that the budget is out of balance, and most especially, the sum we would need to restore the services cut to the elderly, poor, disabled and the sick.

Then there's the other frame. This is the one that says California is too dependent on wealthy Californians and, implicitly, that we should start taxing poorer Californians more. (When Daniel Weintraub was at the Bee, he was a leading supporter of this argument.) Well, I might suggest that a neoliberal economy is necessarily dependent on taxing rich people, as no one else has any money. And that that is the point of the neoliberal economy--that's how it's supposed to work. One need only look at Third World countries, where the government squeezes the majority of the population, while the rich evade taxes entirely, to see what the "let's tax everyone 'equally'" system leads. It's really a system that squeezes blood from turnips.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Oil Speculation

Sure enough, once somebody actually studied the subject, it turned out that speculation in oil futures is a big part of the market and is pushing up prices. Are we surprised?

And Kevin Hall has been reporting on this for quite some time.

Friday, May 13, 2011


I'm going to be doing a bit of reading. I've limited my reading lately to house magazines and trashy mysteries. Not very edifying unless you wish to confirm that people are still on the stainless steel appliance and granite counters kick. (I've said before that granite counters will soon date a remodel just as avocado refrigerators did in the 1970s.) But I'll be reading up on pensions ( Robin Blackburn's Age Shock: How Finance Is Failing Us, and his now old (2004) Banking On Death: Or Investing In Life: The History and Future of Pensions). I probably should have read these a long time ago, but never got 'round to it.

And I recommend Doug Henwood's series on education in the Left Business Observer. In the olden days when Metropolitan Home was still being published, I remember receiving that and LBO on the same day, and putting aside Metropolitan Home to read LBO first. It states the obvious, that poor kids do less well in school than rich kids, and that the way to address the problem is to get kids out of poverty. But it has cool charts and graphs and stuff.

And I've become addicted to the old Perry Mason series (starring Raymond Burr), which is now available on video. The black and whites are much better than the color episodes--I don't know why--but it shows an LA that no longer exists. Also fun are the episodes in rural areas, areas now overrun by house farms. You can get them at the library.

And Matt Taibbi has the latest installment of the Goldman tales in Rolling Stone, proving that capitalism is a great system for making money.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Clean Kitchen Floor

I used my new exercise ball to help me scrub the kitchen floor. It worked, after a fashion. It's not as easy as being on my hands and knees. I scrub what I can reach from the exercise ball, stand, move the ball, sit, scrub some more. I can't roll around on the ball, or I'll roll right off it onto the floor. But it works much better than mopping from a standing position. (That just doesn't get the floor clean.) I thought about posting a picture of the clean kitchen floor, but decided I was obsessing just a bit too much...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Some Assertions Never Die

No matter how much evidence there is against them. There's the really old one advocating means testing for Social Security which was shown to be more expensive than just paying the rich old folks their money--unless you started defining "rich" old folks as people making $35K a year. Now there's the one about "structural" unemployment--that the reason people can't find jobs is that they don't have the skills for the "new" knowledge-based economy. All those middle-aged people can't find jobs not because there are not jobs, not because they face age discrimination, no, of course not. It's because they don't have the skills for the jobs that are available. The article was reprinted in The Sacramento Bee from the Los Angeles Times.

I thought this assertion had been thoroughly trashed here and if you're too lazy (as I was) to read the entire paper, summarized here. But in fact, the whole argument is trashed in the third to last paragraph of the article, proving that reporters don't actually think about what they're writing: "[r]etail employment led the way in April, adding 57,000 jobs. Health care and leisure businesses (read: hotels and restaurants) also beefed up payrolls." Yeah, knowledge-based economy, for sure.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Peon's Not Sure It's Real

As the five (5) of you who read this blog know, I've written a blog for California tenants who have the misfortune to live in buildings where the landlord is facing foreclosure. I wrote what became the blog at the end of 2007, when there weren't many of us thinking about this issue. More people have thought about it since then, but it's still a hard slog, particularly here in Sacramento, where our city mothers and fathers have studiously avoided any knowledge of the problem, and haven't been falling over themselves to come up with any help for tenants. Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness, but then I realize that J has to listen to me, whether he wants to or not.

But then something happens. And I think, people are paying attention after all. Someone out there noticed. And it was someone with some power, someone who could do something. Now it's likely that tenant groups, neighborhood organizations and public health officials have been screaming for no little time, but the City Attorney in Los Angeles has finally gone after one of the Bad Boy Banks for illegal eviction of tenants in its foreclosed properties and then allowing the properties to deteriorate so badly that they became public health hazards.

And while Yves Smith doesn't think much of going after Deutsche Bank, the decision to, shall we say, do them first, brought a smile to my face. I noted that Deutsche Bank was particularly badly behaved from the beginning and, having failed to reform even a tiny bit during the crisis, informed Tenants Together last year that they weren't bound by no stinkin' laws. I promise to smile only a little as the case unfolds, but will do a small jig 'round the living room when the tenants who suffered illegal eviction and/or had to live in degraded conditions get the monetary settlements coming to them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I Was So Ready for It To Be Over

The Sacramento Kings (the local basketball team) will be staying in Sacramento for another year. No, please. Not another year of trying to fund a new arena. Not another year of debating whether or not public funds should go to this. (Uh, no public funds for the arena until the grass in my neighborhood park is cut regularly.) No discussions of the jobs created, or not created, by the arena, the hotel rooms occupied by players from good teams, the money spent by the citizenry going to or fro' the games. No discussions of the civic pride in having one of the worst teams in the NBA and their dreadful owners. And please, no discussion of the other uses for the arena--monster truck pulls and concerts. (I LIKE music, so I wouldn't want to go to a concert in a stadium.) Please, please.

But this is such a big issue here that there's been more ink and digital bytes than on the killing of Osama bin Laden. I'm not kidding. The lead story on one local television station was Osama bin Laden, but it was quickly followed by far more time on the Kings. But I guess one of my regular readers was right--this issue is never going to go away.

And I got my exercise ball today. After a bad experience with a local sports' store, I opted to buy from the Kaiser Permanente affiliate. The ball came with all the parts, and it took me about five minutes to fill it. Excellent choice.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You Will Call Your Legislator Immediately

For California tenants. Dean Preston of Tenants Together has written on the importance of AB 934 for tenants who are illegally evicted. Read his article and then contact your legislators (both your State Senator and your Assemblymember), urging them to support this legislation. I suspect that, in many California districts, members of the Legislature don't know that they have tenant constituents. It's time to let them know.

Update: The bill was defeated in the Assembly. Only 13 Democrats voted for it. I will note that one of them was my Assemblymember, Roger Dickinson.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Governator

The trailer for our former governor's new animated superhero show is, well, boring. It might be more interesting if, instead of fighting robots, he were, oh I don't know, cutting pensions for state workers.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Shopping Again

Peon has been shopping on the Internet again. But this time it's for something useful. My arthritic knees are such now that I no longer get down on my knees. Well, I might be able to get down, but I wouldn't be able to get up. This makes some things very difficult, like scrubbing the kitchen floor and finding objects that have rolled under the bed.

So I've been searching the arthritis forums and have found useful information. (Forums can actually be useful, so long as they aren't trying to convince you to treat your cancer with an herbal tea.) People suffering from the chosen affliction gather together to exchange ideas. And since most arthritis sufferers are women, housecleaning is a big issue. No longer can we whip through the entire house; we have to rest between rooms. A couple of the ideas were really good. First, a long grabber is a good idea for reaching things you've dropped and can't pick up if you live alone. But if you don't live alone, just leave it there and get someone else to get it for you. Why didn't I think of that? I can't count the number of times I've laid flat across the bed, head over the side, and hands brushing back and forth to recover something that's rolled under the bed. What an idiot!

The other good idea is an exercise ball. Not for exercising, but for sitting on. For instance, you need to scrub the kitchen floor. You assemble your materials. Then you sit down on your exercise ball, scrub as much as you can, and then move the exercise ball to the next spot. You don't have to worry about getting it wet, and it's not heavy. You can also use this for dusting baseboards and polishing furniture. Another option is a car mechanic's stool. Those sit about 14" high, have casters, and come with a shelf, so that you could roll around the room. But they're bigger and heavier than an exercise ball, and the deluxe model costs $160.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Yesterday J washed and waxed the car. Today we cleaned out the inside. J did the vacuuming, as he didn't want me wrecking my shoulders hauling the vacuum cleaner around. I then washed all the plastic with Mr. Clean and Armoraled it. The car is 13 years old, so it's never going to be perfect again, but it's in much better shape. J says it smells like a new car. But at least it's not the VOCs outgassing--which is what "new car" smell is.

Spring is springing all over the place. Plants are blooming. The oak tree is leafing out, as are the Japanese maples. One of them, the Bloodgood, sits outside the bedroom slider. At about 8:15 in the morning, the sun shines through the leaves--giving off a red-orange light. Unfortunately I can't get a good picture of it.

J goes to our local farmer's market every Sunday. Along with expensive meat and seasonal vegies, he always brings flowers. This week he brought three bunches--spider mums, alstroemeria, and freesias. It wasn't all that extravagent--he got all three bunches for $10. So I really am worth $10 in flowers!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Peon's Ego Fed

Peon was dawdling on the Internet and discovered that she was mentioned (in a footnote) in an academic article on tenants and foreclosure. She was so excessively proud of herself. The article, written by Nicole Gon Ochi, was published in the Winter 2010 issue of the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy. Unfortunately it's only available on Lexis/Nexis. And yes, Peon did pay for a copy. And Peon is mentioned as a source for more information on tenants and foreclosure on a lawyer blog.

Peon will be insufferable for a month. But it raises an interesting issue. The Internet is a great way to provide information easily and cheaply. In the olden days I would have had to draft a pamphlet, print it, and then try to distribute it to those who needed the information. With the Internet I can write it up, and distribute it instantly to anyone with an Internet connection. I can revise it at will. But this also means that any idiot with an Internet connection can do the same thing. I long since gave up trying to stamp out all the incorrect information floating around. It would have been a full-time job.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Second Class Citizens

We note with a certain teeth-grinding that the California Housing Finance Agency's program for homeowners in distress provides up to $5K to help defaulting homeowners relocate, but not a sou to help tenants in foreclosed properties obtain new homes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Got My License Today

Government haters (the people who think that the whole thing should just be shut down and everything contracted out) are always ragging on the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). I always wonder why, since I don't really have much contact with them. And neither does anyone else I know. We pay our car registration at the local AAA office. We used to mail it in. It required almost no work on our part. We send in the money. We get the registration and the sticker. Mindless.

Same for driver's licenses, except that you have to go in every 10 years for a new picture and vision test. It's not a big deal. You show up. They fingerprint you. They give you a basic vision test. (I wear glasses, and elected not to try to avoid the "must wear corrective lenses" restriction, as my vision is very, very blurry without glasses.) The personnel were businesslike and efficient. One even laughed when I didn't report an increased weight, claiming that the reported weight was a "goal." (Actually, I'm only about four pounds over, so it worked!) Then I went for my picture. Done. This time, I sent in money. They sent a license.
When I got my license, I discovered that they have really improved picture-taking. It's not the best picture of me, but it's not so bad that clerks do a double-take when checking my identification.

This time I sent in money. They sent me a temporary extension of my present license. The new licenses, which are intended to meet the Real ID requirements for air travel, as well as subvert license forgers, have faced, shall we say, production difficulties. L-1, the company that makes them (as well as 92% of the licenses in the US and US passports) has been doing sloppy work and California's DMV has forced them to re-do a fair number of them. Each license is examined to make sure that the license is up to snuff before being mailed out. That's a good thing for two reasons. The first is that we're paying for them and we have the right to the product we contracted for. The second is that, if you're stopped by the police or trying to use a check in a shop, having a defective license might get you hauled down to the police station where it could take some time to determine that you'd actually procured you license in the legal manner. Meanwhile, you're in a holding cell with "Spike."

And the new licenses are very cool. The signature and birthdate (in two places) are raised. There's a second grey-scale picture, in addition to the pretty decent color picture. There's a state seal overlapping the color picture, a bunch of state bears, a perforated state bear, and other images of California, some of which you have to look very carefully to find. (There ought to be a contest to see how many specific items people can identify.)

And yes, I know that license production is contracted out, which should please the anti-government forces, but they seem to have decided it has something, anything, to do with the DMV, and therefore the DMV is the bad guy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Emma's 9th Birthday

Emma noted that I'd failed to report on her birthday. It was on Friday. She spent the day doing her usual things--sleeping, watching squirrels, sleeping, eating, playing with her toy mouse, sleeping.

The yard is much improved. J spent a good portion of his long weekend pulling weeds. He got rid of most of the most prolific ones, and is now down to little sprouts. And he nearly filled our yard waste container.

Next week--cutting back the erigeron.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Misery Index

Visits to Peon's Tenants and Foreclosure blog have increased markedly this month. In addition to the "document crisis" at the end of last year, some lenders refrain from evicting people during the holidays. But now they're back to business...

Update: I neglected to note that J had done the technology required to show this screen. I didn't even know I could do this.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Weather

It's been an unusual year. We had more rain in November and December than we've gotten recently. Then January was completely dry. We had our "false Spring" during February, where I could work in the garden without shoes. (Gardening without shoes is something I take seriously. I gardened without shoes much of the year in Oakland and I view having to wear shoes in the garden as one of the things that makes Sacramento appalling.) Then it started raining. And it kept raining. More rain. And still more rain.

Because so much of the soil here is adobe, that means that you can't work the soil. You can't even walk on the soil, as compacting the soil may kill the plants. So I think of the things I need to do and wait for the ground to dry out a bit.

It's supposed to be warm and dry this week. The weeds need pulling.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Peon Is So Smart

Peon noted in an earlier post that the owners of our local NBA team, the Kings, are contemplating a move to Anaheim (in Orange County) because they're in financial trouble and are essentially selling a piece of the team. Well, the details of the agreement between the Maloofs (the Kings' owners) and Anaheim have leaked and, shock of all shocks, I'm right. In the deal the Maloofs get an infusion of $50 million, a good portion of which will go to the NBA for the right to move the team. This leaves about $20 million which, I suspect, is already "spoken for" by other creditors.

This is important for Sacramento because the Kings owe the city some $77 million for the Arco Arena bonds. And we ain't never gonna see a penny from Joe and Gavin. But there's this little part of me that thinks it's a good idea for Sacramento's pundits to see what happens when richer people default on their obligations to poorer folks. Might make them feel differently about pension obligations.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Like Liberals

Some of them are really kind and decent people. But they're clueless about our present predicament. The late Peter Gowan nailed it when he wrote at the end of The Global Gamble,

"Postwar social progress was, it seems, a tactical, aberrant form of European capitalism made necessary by the challenge of Communism. We know now the second half of the sentence whose first half, so strongly believed in 1989, stated: 'Western-style welfare capitalism is better than Eastern Communism...' The second half went unnoticed ten years ago: It reads: '...but Western-style welfare capitalism only existed because of communism.'"

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cat Blogging

Once upon a time I considered setting up a blog for the cats. I didn't do it. I decided that it would mean that I had totally succumbed to the culture of Sacramento. I wonder if we'd find that 90% of the people whose cats tweet live in Rocklin and Elk Grove.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Begonia Still Alive!

Not only has it put out two new leaves, it's also developing a new branch. I can't figure out what I'm doing right.

Both J and I have been suffering from what is about to be named "the cold that will not go away." J has it much worse than I do, but is better than he was last week.

Megan McArdle, who writes mostly silliness for The Atlantic, has a piece on the evils of teachers' unions, part of the Republican move to eliminate unions for public sector workers. (I'm absolutely sure that some right-wing racist made similar arguments against the union that the garbage collectors Martin Luther King sought to organize in Memphis in 1968. And we won't even discuss the rights of government workers to organize unions in the Warsaw Pact member nations.)

Interestingly, one of the issues she leaves out altogether is that of tenure as a protection for the free speech rights of teachers. For instance, if your state uses the appalling textbooks that meet the new Texas "standards" for history and social science, you may decide that teaching the life and work of Thomas Jefferson is more important than teaching the beliefs of Phyllis Schlafley. This will get you points among those of us who majored in history and believe that students should head off to college with actual knowledge of historical figures and interpretations of American history that aren't laughable and/or frightening. You don't want some TA at Harvard asking, "who here is from [list of states that use the Texas textbooks]? You'll have to do some extra reading to get up to speed for this course." It's long been true that many university professors believe that American history survey courses are properly titled Iconoclasm I and II, and that was BEFORE the Texas standards were adopted.

So our teacher in Podunk has to make a decision. Does she teach "facts" she knows to be either silly or false? Does she explain that even though the textbook doesn't discuss Thomas Jefferson, she will, and questions about him will be on the test? Without tenure, how does she stand up to parents, the principal or the local school board? She may not keep her job even with tenure, but without it, she's sunk. It's likely that lots of high school history teachers just keep their heads down and go with the flow. But tenure exists to protect those who don't.

The discipline where tenure protection may be most important though is, of all places, biology. When I was in high school, ever so many years ago, evolution was a given. We learned about how life came to be on little planet Earth, how different species evolved, and how, after a really long time, homo sapiens evolved from our ape ancestors. This teaching, standard in the science courses of most of the world, is now controversial, and many biology teachers choose to keep themselves out of trouble by fudging the issue.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Who Knew Regulation Could Save You From Economic Stupidity?

One of Peon's projects is a look at two condominium conversion proposals and how regulation saved one complex from conversion, while another complex was converted--to the distress of all who bought there. I've found a couple of things already. First a lot of converted apartments are not sold to owner-occupiers, but to small investors, so it is not an opportunity for affordable homeownership. Second prices really plummeted, in most cases by at least 50%. Not about 50%. Not almost 50%. At least 50%. Third people who should have bailed in 2007 held on for an amazingly long time, as they watched units sell for less than half what they paid. It made me sad to see people's lives wrecked, and angry that our county government is so irresponsible that they let this happen to people.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A New Leaf

Not one, but two, on my begonia. It's not dead yet!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why Do I Read This Junk?

No, not the latest ravings of Charlie Sheen. David Brooks.

On the subject of modesty, no less. But it's not really about modesty. It's really about Social Security and Medicare. Having beaten the "we shouldn't expect to suck at the government teat" to death, he then moves from the anecdotal to perception studies (always a bit dicey, so far as I can see) to show that Americans think way too much of themselves. I'd suggest though that he go to the typical American high school, where he'd find that the students are just as self-conscious, just as self-critical, just as socially and intellectually insecure, as they were when I was in high school. (My father once said that there should be a sign on the door of every high school in the land reading "You look fine. Stop worrying about it." I told him it wouldn't do any good.)

But having read through the junk we get to what Brooks really wants to talk about.

"Citizenship, after all, is built on an awareness that we are not all that special but are, instead, enmeshed in a common enterprise. Our lives are given meaning by the service we supply to the nation. I wonder if Americans are unwilling to support the sacrifices that will be required to avert financial catastrophe in part because they are less conscious of themselves as components of a nation."

Oh, puleese. What Brooks and his ilk really want is to have Boomers give up Social Security and Medicare so that taxes on the Peter Petersons of the world don't increase. For some reason the rich aren't required to be "components of a nation" or "engage in the common enterprise." They've already done enough by crashing the financial system. And they're doing even more now by taking government money at 0% and lending it back to the government at 3.5%.

What Brooks fails to point out is that the Boomers prefunded their own Social Security. That's what the trillion dollars in the trust fund is all about. And now the Peter Petersons of the world don't want to be taxed to pay that money back. Where's Peterson's modesty?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More Cat Bliss

At some times of year the sunbeam travels across the pillow in the morning, providing full sun while reclining on the bed.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tenants and the Tea Party

Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, reported on the suggestion by Judson Phillips, president of Tea Party Nation, that tenants should not be allowed to vote, as we don't have the same vested interest in our communities that homeowners do. Numerous studies funded by the real estate industry have shown that to be true, and also that homeowners have children who perform better in school, are more involved in their communities, and are just generally more attractive than tenants. (Okay, I made that last part up.) The only problem is that research conducted by uninterested parties has found that tenants are just as attractive as homeowners. No, really. Once you correct for one very obvious variable (security of tenure), most of the differences between tenants and homeowners disappear. Tenants who remain in a community for long periods are just as likely to show up for community clean-up day as homeowners. And they're somewhat more likely to participate in citywide community groups. They're somewhat less likely, though, to participate in NIMBY organizations, for what should be obvious reasons. The main point should be, however, that allegedly serious studies didn't correct for an important variable; I thought they taught that in Statistics I.

But because I'm, as someone once described me, "bent", it occurred to me that tenants might take the deal. Given what we get from our local, state and federal officials, tenants might be willing to give up voting in exchange for our tax monies. Remember--no taxation without representation. So if we don't have representation, we don't have to pay taxes. Hmmm.

And as for the Kings, I really don't care much whether they stay or go. Apparently the Maloofs really need a cash infusion, so they're essentially selling a piece of the team. But I do know one teacher who's going to lose one of his long-standing examples with the Kings' move.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Progress

I'd intended to stay away from economic issues for awhile, believing that I was getting away from the main purpose of this blog, which was to bore my friends and acquaintances with the vicissitudes of my daily life, sort of like Twitter updates on my lunch, but not so frequently. But there's been a bunch of stuff happening and I want to comment on it all--the Wisconsin crisis, the attack on pensions (which seems to have become a daily event at the Sacramento Bee), and even a few words on Libya, which is one of the more interesting crises of the Middle East, insofar as it's not just a distraction from what's happening in Yemen. In addition I'm completing a long-standing project on condominium conversions in Sacramento during the recent bubble. But I intend to do some serious writing on these subjects, and that takes more than 15 minutes.

J took this picture of the Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. I'm trying to convince J to take me back so that I can see the arboretum there. It wasn't open yet the last time we were there.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bell's Palsy

I'd never heard of it until the advice nurse at Kaiser mentioned it to J when he called on Monday. J had come down with an infection--chills, lethargy etc.--on Sunday. On Monday he couldn't brush his teeth properly. The right corner of his mouth was visibly lower than the left. He'd lost all his wrinkles, but only on the right side.

We were frightened. I was thinking, in my usual positive way, brain tumor, stroke. J called Kaiser in the morning. We had a phone consultation with the doctor in the afternoon. She decided that J should come for an in-person exam. We went. I stayed in the waiting room. It felt like hours. I imagined. It wasn't good. We'd spent some time on the Internet, the source of panic for all hypochondriacs, and decided that it probably was Bell's Palsy, but also noted that even doctors sometimes have trouble making a proper diagnosis. This is particularly true with stroke, where the symptoms come on suddenly, rather than a brain tumor, where the paralysis is usually, although not always, more gradual.

J finally emerged from the dark regions with the Bell's Palsy hand-out and two prescriptions. We headed off to the pharmacy, which reminded us that it was good to order regular prescriptions online and have them shipped by mail. We were relieved--and exhausted.

But to got me to thinking about health insurance, and what would happen to someone with the same symptoms who didn't have any. This isn't one of those things where you wait a few days to see if it goes away. A stroke requires immediate treatment to limit the damage, and Bell's Palsy sometimes doesn't completely resolve for several months. Our uninsured patient doesn't have many options, particularly on a holiday. (Yeah, these things always happen on holiday weekends, never on weekdays during normal business hours.) There's always the emergency room, but that's a really long wait and a large bill. Maybe our uninsured patient could receive care at an "urgent care" center, cheaper than the emergency room, but not without cost. And were I a doctor at an urgent care center, I'd probably be nervous about diagnosing Bell's Palsy and sending the patient home. It's most likely Bell's Palsy, as 75% of facial paralysis is, but it would be a potentially very expensive mistake if it turned out to be a stroke or, less likely, a tumor.

Could it be that the cost of J's care was actually cheaper than it would have been for an uninsured patient in the emergency room, as a simple diagnosis there is far more expensive than our trip to the doctor? Sure, it would have been cheaper to do nothing, and Bell's Palsy usually goes away without any treatment at all. But I wouldn't want to put anyone through the stress of not knowing and having to wait to see if anything worse happened.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cat Bliss

There's nothing a kitty loves more on a cold, wet day than crawling up on a lap, turning over on his back and receiving a tummy rub.

Monday, February 14, 2011

In the Zone

My plants from Annie's Annuals arrived on Thursday. Annie's Annuals has all sorts of yuppie plants, most of which are only suitable for the Bay Area, with its mild winters and cool summers. Sacramento winters are colder and our summers are miserably hot, but I try and try and try. I was mostly careful in my purchases--only the impatiens' days are numbered.

And so my arthritic knees and I went outside and, because the weather was exceptionally nice, proceeded to clean up the mess that my back garden had become. Plants that were too far gone, or unloved, were sent to the street for
claw pickup. Other plants were trimmed, tidied and moved about. J was pressed into service for moving heavy pots and cutting back the flowering maples. And then plants received their first feeding in awhile.

But I looked out this morning and decided that I'd overdone it, and that the yard needed some untidiness. Just wait a couple of months...

Friday, February 11, 2011

On Budgets

I'm trying to stay away from economic issues for awhile (too much econ makes you start thinking about art in terms of a "cost-benefit" analysis--creepy), but wanted to pass this along. Read and weep.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Tenants and Foreclosure

During the fourth quarter of 2010 my Tenants and Foreclosure blog was a little slow. My hits fell from an average of 120 a day to a bit under 100 a day. That's not a big reduction, particularly for a small, noncommercial, specialized blog, but I did wonder what was going on. Since most of my hits come from search engines, I checked my position on them. Still first through fourth.

And no, I don't do this to feed my ego. Well, yes I do, but also for research purposes. For instance, a year or so ago, I discovered that people who searched "tenants foreclosure California" would come across my blog on the first page of results, while people who searched "renters foreclosure California" had to go through four to eight pages to get to my blog. I added the word "renter" to help people get to me more easily.

I looked at my stats for the last year, and found that the first and third quarters were hot, the second and fourth not so much. Aside from a bit of fall-off over the holidays and summer vacation, I couldn't come up with any reason for this. It may be just chance. And in the fourth quarter a number of banks and loan servicers quit processing foreclosures to deal with their documentation problems. (Even in California, where judicial foreclosures are rare, documentation of ownership transfers is required for title insurance purposes.) Now that lenders have decided that their documents aren't really all that bad, we should unfortunately see tenants evicted from their homes when their landlords lose their buildings.

I'm always depressed when I look at the search terms, but nothing depresses me more than finding something like "rent control Sacramento" or "just cause eviction Sacramento", and realizing that a portion, perhaps a majority, of Sacramento tenants don't know that they have no protections other than those provided by state (and in foreclosure, federal) protections. Our local press covers the issue of tenants' rights so little that many tenants don't know that they don't have any.