Thursday, January 31, 2013

Light Bulbs

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cost-Burdened Tenant Households

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

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

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Plants I Want

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

More Stupid Stuff

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 25, 2013

On Haiti

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

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Still Poorer Sacramento Gives Up All Semblance of Dignity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

Eric Cantor Doesn't Like Poems Lauding Immigrants

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

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Onion?

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

Saturday, January 19, 2013


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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Does anyone care

less about Lance Armstrong than I do?

Still Poorer Sacramento

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Poor Sacramento

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

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Michelle Rhee Strikes (Out) Again

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

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

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

Friday, January 4, 2013

On Rent Control

It had to happen again.  It happens fairly regularly.  A review of the literature, showing that rent control is a really bad idea.  Yeah, most of the literature is produced and/or paid for by the real estate industry, but who cares?  And you'd think their would be at least some discussion of the necessary preconditions for a functioning free market.  I'm not going to spend much time of them, but the first and most obvious is that you have a necessitous buyer (tenant) and a non-necessitous seller (landlord).  A tenant has to have a place to live all the time, while a landlord can wait a month, two, three, for a desirable tenant.  In fact, a landlord can "live off the tax code" for a year without renting his property.  And we can work down from there...

But if rent control is not the solution, then what is?  Well, construction of affordable housing.  Okay, how much do we need?  A lot.  Twenty percent of the population shouldn't be in the private market at all, as they can't afford the operating costs on housing.  Compute how many units that is, and then provide the money to construct them.  Once you've gotten to, say, 80%, then come and talk to me about the evils of rent control.  I've been hearing about the need for affordable housing for 35 years now, and will note that the people who oppose rent control and advocate for someday producing more affordable housing are the same people who (a) want to limit government spending and (b) haven't done a bit of the math to figure out how much it would cost.  It's a variation of "you'll get pie in the sky when you die."

Rent control is a much better bet.