Saturday, November 17, 2012

Military Fun

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Judge Judy, the Exemplar Neoliberal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

North Carolina

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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I So Love Fox News

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

Stop me before I load another video.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Peon Irritated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sandy Relief

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

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

Fox News

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Another Reason to Dislike WalMart

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

In California

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

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

Romney's going to win.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

He's Baaack

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

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