Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cat Videos

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Housing Reports

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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gonna Be Romney

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

This Time

Obama's tie wasn't so good.

Monday, October 22, 2012

For Your Entertainment and Delight

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

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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Only

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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Taibbi on Biden

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

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reading on the Internet

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why I'm Voting to Keep the Claw

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan v. Biden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sheila Bair and Big Bird

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

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

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Peon Is Grinding Her Teeth

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

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

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

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