Monday, June 03, 2013

Flipping and Flopping - The Fishy Tale of Today's Real Estate Market

Google "flipping"  and you'll see it's the trendy thing to do. Snatch up that real estate the day it hits the market. Offer more than the asking price.  And then turn around and rent it to those suckers now left out in the cold, you know the ones who were hoping to get that fixer-upper for themselves, to - shock - fix it up and live in it.

Flipping is back.  But with a twist.  Don't just fix it up and sell it; rent for more than that poor schmo would have had to pay in mortgage over the years. The beauty of this arrangement is you get to have your house and rent it too.  Make a fortune now AND later.  

And you lucky renter! Did you miss the opportunity to buy that fixer-upper you could afford, because some big investment company snatched it from under your nose with an offer the seller just could not refuse? No problem. Wait a few minutes and you can rent that very same home you'll never own for only twice the cost of what your mortgage would have been. And someone else can fix it up and pay the lawn service too.

It's a win-win for you, so long as you weren't planning to save for a rainy day, or don't mind moving when the marklet lurches upward in a big way.  Just you don' mind never being a homeowner.

Keep your eyes open and one day maybe, when the next bubble bursts, you too can grab up the next foreclosed home and turn into a flipper yourself.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Is Big Brother Coming to a Neighborhood Near You?

So, everyone's in a state over Big Brother planning our futures, telling us where and how much to develop.  While this could be an alarming scenario and put the brakes on local control, the hyperbole with which both sides have reacted is the most alarming aspect.

Let's acknowledge there are a few crazies on both sides looking to manipulate and exploit the process for their own gain and sucking up the press coverage.  Tea-Partiers and race baiters have no place in this dialogue. Also, let's see how fear is used to keep intelligent civilized dialogue from happening.

Do we need affordable housing in Marin County and other Bay Area locations? Yes, we do, but what that looks like, who controls it and where it is located are the issues.

Some see the phrase "local control" as buzzwords for NIMBYism. Some go so far as to call others racists, climate change deniers and spend an inordinate amount of time demonizing their neighbors.

Yeah, this is a great way to open a dialogue, boys.

And some on the other side see conspiracies and U.N. backed plans to impose a one world government, something I thought went out with the Eisenhower Administration.

Sadly, tin hats are worn by people on both sides to this equation.

Our 40 plus year old environmental laws are in danger of being gutted so new housing and jobs can be created with little review. Who benefits?

Democrat Darryl Steinberg, the President Pro Tem of the Senate offers what he sees as a compromise bill, to "streamline" CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) for projects in PDAs (Planned Development Areas.)   While not so Draconian as some of the bills the Republicans are offering, this bill would remove consideration of aesthetic qualities (among others) from the discussion. No one is happy about this bill, but the hope is, it fends off some more drastic Republican proposals.

But you might ask why? Why should poor people be made to live in warehouse style boxes? Aren't the aesthetics and the quality of life important to them, as well as those who don't want to look at big box housing any more than big box retail.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) driving these new development numbers through its Plan Bay Area is using the rationale that we are under a mandate from the legislature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that the best way to do that is infill housing.

All well and good so far as it goes. But what is infill? Near transit, near downtown?  All good too.  But who is asking some basic questions, like why do we think just because we build near transit, people will give up their cars? I suggest they won't do any such thing.  More people, more cars, more congestion on the already crowded freeways.

And where are the supposed jobs going to materialize from that these new residents will be working in near their homes? Are we looking at more Superstores? Walmarts? Fast food places? 

Why not bring up the standard of living for all, with true living wages, with stronger unions, and yes, stronger environmental regulations, that keep so-called infill housing out of flood plains and away from Bayland areas, when we all know the sea levels are rising?

Why not allow and encourage co-housing projects, for seniors as well as families; housing and land trusts to take the profit out of the housing market. Yes, a radical notion: Housing for people, not for profit.

While speculators and foreign investors are gobbling up land, foreclosed upon homes and apartment buildings, rent rises at an alarming rate.  What ever happened to rent control? And how about reclaiming some of those McMansions before the Chinese grab them all or Corporate America buys them for their CEOs, and repurpose them for housing people already here and in need?

Mixed use development in already developed areas like shopping centers and downtowns do not have to be developer-driven boxes for warehousing people, and maximizing profits.  Cities, Counties and maybe event the State has to be involved.  Non-profits, shared ownership, and stabilized rents can go far to easing the housing crunch.

And do you really have to worry about your property values sinking because poor people move in nearby? Or is that a groundless fear?  Fear has been used to fuel the gun debate, and now the housing debate. Fear of gangs, of lowered property values and always, always of the "other."  Let's out the fear mongers; let's stop calling our neighbors names.  Let's look at what's best for our communities, our residents, our environment.  

For a more measured approach to sustainable planning in Marin, see Community Marin, a years' long project to protecting Marin's environment and community character while providing for needed affordable housing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ruminations on the Boston Massacre - What's in YOUR pressure cooker?

Back from Cal. State Democratic Convention.  Yes, there were good speeches from women and men, Nancy Pelsosi, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom.  Good resolutions passed, anti-drones, anti-fracking, protect our environmental laws.  We continue to make Progress. John Burton is his feisty irreverent right-on self. He said, "Hell no, don't mess with Social Security."

Our own Betty Yee is bucking the machine and running for State Controller. All this is inside baseball, when explosions rock the marathon in my adopted home town. Terrorists, lone nuts, disgruntled ex-runners or amputee vets.

Yes, they suffer from some "mental illness" - all of them, every one. Don't hide it. Any one who kills has madness at the core. I don't believe in evil.

There are degrees of madness, from charmingly eccentric to off the charts violent.  Mostly they are scared, our society makes them so.  Paranoia is everywhere, black helicopters? Conspiracies? Rag headed terrorists? Shoe Bombers.  Every time, who suffers? The law abiding, whose anger is in check. For the moment.

We mourn our losses.  We move forward. We do not give up our civil liberties.   We just don't.  A revolt of the masses in airplane lines is brewing. Leave on your shoes. Bring bottles of more than 5 ounces. Small knives, toe nail clippers, hedge clippers.  Keep your belts buckled. Refuse to accept radiation.  If you must, ask for the grope option.

Be not afraid. They will get you in the end, we just don't know when the end will come or who "they" will be. Women, stand up and be counted. Like the future of the planet depends on you. It does!

In the meantime, what's in YOUR pressure cooker?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Media not good for Women Candidates - We Need to Change This!

Not so shocking, but disturbing news that the media, all media, is bad for women candidates, even so called "good press."  You've heard the expression "there's no such thing as bad press."

Not so for the woman candidate, according to this account from Think Progress, via Down Ticket Dems. Read on and comment:

Posted: 14 Apr 2013 02:38 PM PDT
Annie-Rose Strasser
As Media Coverage Of A Female Candidate’s Appearance Go Up, Her Chances Of Winning Go Down 
When President Obama elicited outrage for saying that Attorney General Kamala Harris was “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country,” his defenders jumped to say that people offended by the comment should “lighten up,” or focus on more serious threats to women’s rights.
But just days after that comment, a brand new study shows there’s definitive evidence to back up what the detractors were saying all along: It might seem small, but pointing out the physical attributes of a woman in the political arena can have a big effect.

The study, released Monday by the Name It, Change Itproject, reveals that mentions of a woman’s appearance when she is running for political office — whether those mentions are flattering, unflattering, or neutral — has a negative impact on her electability. That includes “the horserace, her favorability, her likelihood to be seen as possessing positive traits, and how likely voters are to vote for her.”

The survey was conducted by asking 1,500 likely voters to read about two candidates, one male (Dan Jones) and one female (Jane Smith). Some groups received descriptions of the candidates that did not mention physical attributes. Others received one of three types of descriptions for the woman:
Neutral description: Smith dressed in a brown blouse, black skirt, and modest pumps with a short heel…
Positive description: In person, Smith is fit and atractive and looks even younger than her age. At the press conference, smartly turned out in a ruffled jacket, pencil skirt, and fashionable high heels….
Negative description: Smith unfortunately sported a heavy layer of foundation and powder that had settled into her forehead lines, creating an unflattering look for an otherwise pretty woman, along with her famous fake, tacky nails.

When respondents hear the negative description of the female candidate’s appearance, she gets only 42 percent of the voters. When they hear the “flattering” description, she gets 43 percent (and there are fewer undecided votes overall, so her opponent gets an even bigger lead). With no physical description, Jane Smith gets 50 percent of the votes.

The same is true for all of her personal attributes; no matter the description, it affects her negatively:
But the real point of the survey — and the most salient fact that came from it — is that pushing back on the comodification of a female candidate’s beauty can be just as impactful as the criticism itself. Some respondents heard a defense from Jane Smith, saying, “My appearance is not news and does not deserve to be covered. Rarely do they cover men in this fashion and by doing so they depict women as less serious and having less to offer voters.” Others heard a similar defense from Name It, Change It. In both cases, when they heard that, their votes flipped back. Indeed, Jane Smith gained her first lead of the entire campaign.

It might seem lighthearted, or fair game, to comment on Hillary Clinton’s headbands, or Sheila Jackson Lee’s colorful suits. But those comments are not without repercussion. Overt, unequal, and pointed criticisms of women’s appearances are hurting them politically. And it might help explain that horrible ambition gap that’s keeping our elected government so heavily male.

Annie-Rose Strasser is Deputy Managing Editor for ThinkProgress. Before joining American Progress, she worked for the community organizing non-profit Center for Community Change as a new media specialist. Previously, Annie-Rose served as a press assistant for Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Annie-Rose holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the George Washington University.
Think Progress is a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The Center for American Progress Action Fund is a nonpartisan organization.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday night

Here we are at the Convention on the first night. Lise, me, Clay, Richard and Brodie.  Chair's Reception on the Terrace. Then on to the Take Back Red California Dinner. Now, leaving Lise to grab a brandy in the bar.

Off to the Democratic State Converntion.

Will blog as I go. Leaving as soon as Lise gets here.  2 PM. Impatient to be off.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Same Sex Marriage equals Same Indusry Marriage - for Coporations

Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stunning endorsement of same sex marriage in all fifty states. "Yes, this is a matter of equal protection under the law," A beaming Justice Scalia stated at a packed press conference.  In light of previous case rulings and public sentiment, we realize that it is only fair to allow all people the same right to marry, even people of their same sex."

"And" he continued, his smile growing larger, "since our own precedent is to treat corporations as people under the 14th Amendment, this means that corporations and are now also free to marry, merge to you lay people, with others of their same kind, without being troubled by an alphabet soup of Government agencies, like the SEC, the FCC, and so on."

A surprised hush fell over the crowd. Justice Thomas in an uncharacteristic moment of speech, said in a loud voice, "No more anti-trust laws, boys. That's what the man said."

Scalia explained, "So if ATT wants to marry another telecommunications company, like Verizon, the boys on the Hill don't need to worry their pretty little heads about it.  If Bank of America wants to marry Wells Fargo, they can with no interference from the government.  Live and let live. Corporations are people too my friend"

The four "liberal" members of the Court sat back glumly, while Justice Anthony Kennedy was seen off the tide, scratching head and scrolling through Craigslist on his ipad.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Sue Bank of America - Pay big Bucks

 Corporate "Personhood" Run Amok

 In a twisted saga of how the crazy concept of corporate personhood has been perverted beyond even this jaded commentator's imagination, today's San Francisco Chronicle has the story of a women attorney who was grossly mistreated by the Bank of America, arrested and held chained to a jailhouse wall, without her diabetes medicine, sued the Bank and the Police (our own San Francisco's finest) and ended up not only having her case thrown out of Federal court, but ordered to pay the Bank $50,000 in bloated attorney's fees for stifling the Banks' right to free speech, under California's anti-SLAPP statute (which protects the free speech right of people from a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, a type of lawsuit usually brought by a corporation or business for the purpose of chilling free speech in the public arena) according to the Federal judge who first heard the case and 9th Circuit Court of Appeal, in its unpublished ruling.)

Sharon Henry went to deposit her partner's check in the Bank; the Bank, suspicious of the amount of $27,000, looked up the name of the partner, which coincidentally there were two of, and found out she did not have sufficient funds to cover the check.  Never mind that the Bank's own policy is to call the number on the check for verification. They snatched Henry, a San Mateo deputy District Attorney no less, and had her arrested. San Francisco police then chained her to a wall for two hours, without her medication and refused to let her call her partner.

Two hours later, the Bank realized its "mistake" and she was let go.  She sued the Bank for negligence and the police for negligence and false arrest and accused them of arresting her because she was African American. 

Equal Justice Under the Law?

So a gay African American civil servant is mistreated by all parties who fail to follow proper procedure, both in verifying the account and in holding her in medieval conditions (who gets chained to walls these days? Or do they, remind me not to get arrested in San Francisco) and she has to pay the Bank because of a perverted use of the anti-SLAPP statute, extending protection to banks from liability for any statements its employees make while investigating the crime. Her lawsuit was called "frivolous" by the Court.

While I do not have all the facts (why was she in Federal court, for one thing? A civil rights allegation?), it seems to me these are actions not statements that she suffered. And why do Banks have free speech rights in the first place? 

And unstated in the story is whether some of this "mistaken" activity occurred because Henry is gay, as well as African American.

In America? 2013? I'm shocked. Shocked I tell you.

Sadly, not.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Back to the Future with Debra Saunders

Debra Saunders would probably be happy living in the deep south.  Pre-Civil War.  She may picture herself as a Southern Belle in wide hoop skirts sipping mint juleps on the verandah while darkies peel her grapes.  At least that’s the impression this reader got after reading her Chronicle column this morning.  No, she is not spouting right wing rhetoric, nor pining for the good old days. She’s simply saying she wants the voters in each state to decide what marriage laws will apply. If State A says ok for same sex couples to marry, she’s all for it, but if State B says no way, she’s for that too. 

She prefaces this whole “let the voters decide” spiel with her avowed support for gay marriage.  She has lots of gay friends, she hastens to assure us and she would never be happy if California passed a law allowing them to marry. (So long as those who object don’t have to perform the ceremonies.)
That kind of reasoning would have kept slavery in half our country. It would have denied black people and women the right to vote.  It would have prevented interracial couples from marrying. And it would have allowed states to deny basic reproductive freedom to women.  Oh, yeah, she uses Roe v. Wade as an example, pointing out that the Supreme Court could go back on precedent in the choice cases and re-interpret the Constitution to take away a women’s right.

But so could the states’ voters make similar changes if it was left up to them. With voter suppression statutes being proposed in many states, and not just the Southern ones, it is only the courts that keep the legislatures and the voters in check. If a measure that is enacted through popular vote is unconstitutional, it cannot stand.

If we believe in basic equality, then all people should be free to marry whom they choose and where they choose, not be forced to move if their state denies a right that another state allows. This is a fundamental freedom. In this she parts company from even her conservative gay friends, who have filed a “Friend of the Court “ brief supporting gay marriage in the Proposition 8 case now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Instead, she echoes another conservative, Bush Assistant US Attorney General known for his authorship of the “torture memo”, now a law professor, who states: “It would be a mistake for the Supreme Court to use this case to basically cut off the political process and impose its own view on a moral and political question that is very divisive.”

Wrong. It would be a mistake to leave such an issue, one of basic human rights, up to the whim of voters. That’s why we have a Constitution and a Supreme Court.  Do they always get it right? No, especially with the Bush era court we are now stuck with. But they will, eventually.  Just as the Court did away with the policy of separate but equal in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education; and a year later reversed its 1905 Decision in Lochner v. New York decision that allowed gouging of employees under a convoluted interpretation of contract law, stating in Williamson v. Lee Optical of OklahomaThe day is gone when this Court uses the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws, regulatory of business and industrial conditions, because they may be unwise, improvident, or out of harmony with a particular school of thought."

Put away the picture hat, Debra, and join us in the 21st century, crossing our fingers that this Court does the right thing!

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Save our Postal Service!

The question on everyone’s minds these days is how much the termination of Saturday mail delivery will affect campaigning.  In this time of increasing vote by mail ballots being sent in days before the election, it could be disastrous.  People who have relied on Saturday mail pick up at their mailboxes will no longer be able to do that. Most state require that vote by mail ballots be received by the end of the voting on Election Day.  Even now, mailing on Saturday doesn’t guarantee delivery. 

Mailing on the Monday before the election won’t get there at all in most instances.  People who vote by mail in those states where election day poll voting is still in effect should  be counseled to walk their ballot into the polls, rather than trusting it to the mails in those crucial last few days.

For us direct mail consultants who want their last minute messages, rebuttals to a late hit piece or a reminder to vote to hit their targets’ mail boxes on the Saturday before the election, that is no longer an option.  We must aim for the Friday, or even the Thursday before the election and hope the voters take the time from their busy after work schedules to glance at the mail.

Already slowdowns in delivery time have mailhouse managers advising their clients to mail early to avoid a catastrophic day-after-the-election delivery.  With more automation in bulk mail centers, lay-offs and general loss of morale among postal works, we have seen mail go missing in the last weeks of the election, prompting loading dock visits, frantic phone calls, and even pleas for help to Congressional aides.

The Post Office deserves our support. As a self funded, self supporting arm of the government, it is a roaring success story, or has been until recently.  The recent disarray stems from a 2006 edict that the Postal Service, alone among Federal agencies, pre-fund its retirement program for 75 years into the future.  What was a self-sustaining, even profitable arm of the government has become a financially and morally bankrupts poor relation. This affects more than political campaigns of course, as any rural dweller dependent on the mail for delivery of its mail, packages and even life-saving medicine, can attest to.

For a short explanation of these budget busting shenanigans, see

And to see what you can do to protest and maybe even halt these measures, see

Friday, March 01, 2013

Easy to be a bigot, harder to be a racist? - Inside the mind of Jutice Antonin Scalia

So Justice Scalia thinks the Congress voted to re-authorize the Voting Rights Act without dissension, only because not a one of the Congress people were willing to be considered "racist" if they voted no.

But he explained, it's perfectly ok and socially acceptable for them to vote their consciences, that is to vote no, on women's rights, LGBT rights, poor people's rights - I mean entitlements.

But voting against black people, they only do that, because they fear ostracism. Not because voter suppression still exists, not because black people are still disenfranchised. No, every thing is peachy keen now. Jim Crow is dead and all people are equal. Amen.

Here is Justice Scalia's reasoning: In the beginning, only a few Republicans voted for the original act, then a few more voted for the first re-authorization, and a few more after that, until today when they all voted for it. Why? Because they feared the delicate sensibilities of - Who? fill in the blank - would be offended, and gentlemen that they are, they would not want to offend anyone.

No sir. Even though they have no problem denying women their reproductive rights or to be free from violence; it bothers them not one wit to find gay people getting married an abomination and as for poor people - Are there no prisons, no workhouses?

OK, we get it.  Republicans are scardy-cats, on certain issues.  It's hard to play Supreme Court Roulette, because you never know whose head the pistol is pointed at. Never mind where the bullet is.

And that reminds us, voting against gun safety laws is also just jim dandy. Not wanting to look like a sissy in front of their peers is all the excuse the pro-gun Congress dudes need.  

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Prison-Industrial Complex Launches new Crime Initiative

Yes, that's right, a crime initiative.  The owners and operators of private prisons, having invested millions in their product, secure prisons and attendant paraphernalia - guards, weapons, greasy food, etc - are watching a downturn in their bottom line, as States are turning to alternatives to incarceration for lower level offenses.

"This is really messing with our service!" complained one prison CEO, Thad "Bad Dude" Higgenbothom of Selma Alabama. "We have prisons in thirty two states, and 12 of them so far are setting our prisoners free, or into half-way houses in local communities. If any more states adopt these policies of coddling criminals, we'll be up s*#t creek."

Higgenbothom outlined a two pronged approach the prison industry is putting into play to protect their assets.

"One, we ramp up our lobbying and PAC efforts. That's a no-brainer.  Rile up the populace and put pressure on the legislatures to resist soft on crime measures the liberals want; then we vote the molly-coddlers out of office. And two, we get pro-active. We send operatives out into the field, so to speak, and gin up the crime."

When pressed on exactly what he meant by that, an only slightly reluctant Higgenbothom explained that what he meant was his guys would go undercover and push drugs on low income communities, especially the "ones of color; they're suckers for the stuff," then they'd sit back and watch the crime rise.  

"After we get rid of the do-gooders and social workers, we make sure States put their money into our prisons not rehab and probation officers.  Things ought to turn around for us within a couple of years, once we get the program off the ground."

Answering questions coming fast and furious on the well-known cost savings of alternatives to incarceration compared with private prisons, Higgenbothom only said, "Balderdash!"

When one reporter followed Higgenbothom out to the parking lot and attempted to get a quote on recidivism, she was met with by security personnel in full body armor carrying AR 15s.

"They scared me," said the subdued woman into the channel 5 camera, as the Lincoln roared off in the background. "I'm giving up journalism and going to go into my father's grocery business. I hear he can get a good contract with the new prison being built on Highway 12."

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Obamacare Good for the Economy - Scarcity of New Docs Means More Insured People Thrown off "Physical Cliff"

Since the bottom line is all that counts, let's look at Obamacare from that perspective.  Now that Obamcare mandates insurance, more than 30 million currently uninsured or underinsured patients will be demanding care.  However, the US is not graduating enough doctors to meet the demand. See today's Chronicle.

So more people will pay insurance premiums, a good thing, but alas, they won't be able to use them, bad for the patients, good for the economy.  Unless of course, we import docs from China and India, which is likely, or we can always export the patients.

Which would you prefer?

You say get more people into Med School? Let's see what the Republicans think about increased grants and loans, with reasonable fees, for students. Sorry, cheaper to do the import/export thing and then we create jobs for import/exporters. Kern County is doing it now. Cheaper than Med school by a long shot.
Diagnosing and prescribing by video: Cheaper yet!