Archive for October, 2008


Layover Links: Final Election Week (!!) in Review

I’m headed to Memphis for the weekend for work.  The conference is at an airport hotel, but I’m hoping to get downtown on Saturday night. I traveled to Memphis for work a lot back in 2001-3, and loved it.  I’d like to see the place again – check out the downtown development that was underway 5 years ago.

Speaking of development, urban change, etc. etc., I finally tried to estimate if I was one of the 7.5M homeowners “underwater,” meaning my mortgage costs more than the value of my home.  The data suggests that I am; according to Mass. RE research firm The Warren Group, average condos prices in my boston neighborhood have fallen 5% in the last three years.  My income as a grad student-consultant fluctuates wildly, so I have not yet done the math to see if I might qualify to renegotiate my payments should I need to, should any of the various homeowner assistance programs out there darken my door.

At least I’m not post-disaster dependent on FEMA.  “Insensitive” and “foot-dragging”?  Bush’s FEMA? NO!  Surely you jest!!

In other news, like 20% or so of Americans, I watched the Obama mega-mercial the other night.  Quality and boring were my impressions (as someone so saturated in political coverage, I can’t believe that people still don’t know his major promises.  I’m getting to the point that I feel like I could recite them.)  Also, I was struck by the calm, soothing nature of the whole thing, designed to make those folks out there who need some getting used to the idea of a black President.  Though the log cabin Oval Office to me looked like the place where a professor hides out to finally finish her overdue book.  I said that night at dinner to an ardent Obama voter and volunteer who was worried about whether the commercial was “presumptuous” that as a former Clinton supporter, by now I absolutely trust the Obama’s campaign strategy.  Clearly they know what they are doing, whether or not we like it, agree with it, or respect it.  YMMV.

Certainly, preferences for Obama vary widely.  Most national polls put his lead at ~6%.  Turns out he squeaked out a victory among kids, winning Nickelodeon’s kids vote by 2%.  Why the right and left blogs are not deconstructing this outcome six ways to Sunday surprises me.  I know it’s only 2.2M kids (!!), but still…though what do we know about families who watch Nickelodeon?  Why hasn’t FiveThirtyEight crunched these numbers for us??  I demand answers!!

The world, on the other hand, supports Obama in a LANDSLIDE.  Landslide.  Like a gazillion to 300 or something.  Not even Iraq is “strong McCain” anymore.   Other McCain leaning nations?  Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They’re splitting the Sudanese vote so far.

US kids split; world consumed by Obama-mania.  What does this tell us about Obama’s governing mandate?  Digby warns against centrist leadership, pointing out Obama’s bipartisan bookends.

Maybe these folks have some advice for Obama.  Congrats to brownfemipower!  I also have done some work with one of the people named here, so I’m feeling totally cool by association.

Happy Halloween everyone!  I’m not a fan of the holiday, so I’m happy to be traveling.  Enjoy & stay safe!


Will we finally listen to Sheila Bair?

Driving around for 20 minutes last night looking for parking in my neighborhood turned out to be a real treat.  The Diane Rehm show began on my ride home, featuring a discussion of the US residential real estate market by two economist-wonks, a leading non-profit advocate for CRA investment in low-income communities, and a representative from the Mortgage Bankers Association. I highly recommend downloading the podcast for anyone who wants to better understand the nuances of the mortgage crisis, including the geographical and ownership differences behind the foreclosures rates, as well as possible government responses.

What I learned from these four men was that investors comprise about 10 to 15% of foreclosed owners, though they are concentrated in areas that underwent a glut in new construction: CA, NV, and FL were cited multiple times.  I knew generally that there are differences between these regions and the high foreclosure rates in middle- to low-income metro-urban neighborhoods, often in single or multi-family homes most likely to be owned by families and people of color and the elderly (obviously not mutually exclusive groups).  Christopher Foote, a policy advisor from the Boston Fed talked about our problem here of handling foreclosures in a built environment of triple-decker multi-family properties: a single condo owner may suddenly face foreclosure on the other units in the three story buildings that dominate our urban landscape.  Or, tenants in all three units may suddenly face the risk of eviction as the landlord is foreclosed.   Throughout 2008 anti-eviction activism has been on the rise here in Boston.

The advocate on last night’s show was John Taylor, President & CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.  John and I attended a DC meeting on Gulf Coast recovery in 2007.  I respect his work (and am partial to the fact that he grew up in the same neighborhood as my mom).  John can be contentious in discussions, willing to push back on conventional wisdom – in my experience with him he chided the non-profit/government community for not also aggressively pursuing private investment in the Gulf.  He was the first to remind listeners that the major fault lay with the financial deregulation and industry speculation that falsely inflated housing prices and encouraged buyers to take on too much risk, for instance by lenders coming to dominate the appraisals market, thus infusing the process with incentive to push up housing values.  Chr*st.

Almost one quarter of homeowners are estimated to owe more on their mortgage than the property is now worth.  As always, it’s tricky to discuss systematic responses to financial crises when the regional and demographic differences are so striking.  Last night, John was the first to raise and praise FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair’s name in government attempts to respond fairly and intelligently to the housing crisis.  Dean Baker from the Center for Economic & Policy Research added that she should be on the upcoming Administration’s Treasury Secretary shortlist.  I’d heard Bair’s name a handful of times in the last month or so, though frankly she’s been dwarfed by coverage of Paulson and his fitful “solutions.”  But could that be changing?  It should.

Bair was calling for more stringent regulation of the sub-prime market back in 2001.  Bair has already demonstrated some success with her takeover of IndyMac in writing down mortgages to more affordable terms without necessarily reducing the mortgage’s value.  Underway in the Bush Administration right now is a discussion between implementing this plan at a national scale versus expanding HUD programs to work with troubled borrowers.  (Oh sure, now Bush wants to use HUD.  Forgive me if I’m skeptical that this idea in his hands holds any promise.)

As Baker points out, the FDIC is “during ordinary times…a relative backwater,” so given Bair’s job function and position, it’s no surprise she was not part of the in-crowd of decision makers (via) in the run-up to and in the current crisis.  But she has

“shown a willingness to both confront the big Wall Street banks and to stand up for homeowners. When the FDIC took over IndyMac, one of the mass market subprime lenders, Bair ordered a moratorium on foreclosures on the mortgages held by the bank. She announced that the FDIC would arrange write-downs that allowed homeowners to stay in their home wherever possible. Bair has since been vocal in her criticisms of other banks for being unwilling to take the same steps.”

When liberal wonks and advocates on a DC public radio talk show heap praise like this, I am inclined to listen and think.  How about you?


Immigrants Pay More to the Government Than They Get Back

According to a new report from the University of Nebraska:

…immigrants, both legal and undocumented, don’t just have an impact on the state — they have a multibillion dollar impact on the state’s economy, and it’s in the form of giving rather than receiving.

What they found was that if immigrants disappeared and weren’t replaced in three of Nebraska’s key industries, the state would lose 78,000 jobs, including those filled by U.S.-born workers. (my emphases-Red) Also, the state’s immigrant population contributed about $154 million in the form of property, income, sales and gasoline tax revenue in 2006. It boils down to a $1,554 in per capita contributions. The native-born residents, by contrast, have a per capita contribution of $1, 944. A difference of $390.

In fact, the researchers discovered that the immigrant group pays in about 7 percent more than what it uses in terms of government support.

My uncle is a disabled, low-income Vet who works for an employer that has replaced most of his white, native born workforce with undocumented Brazilians.  My uncle’s animosity extends not just to his employer but to his Brazilian colleagues as well. Seems there’s little chance of worker solidarity in our current climate of fear and recrimination, exploitation and abuse, low-wage competition, an absolute lack of upward mobility prospects for (not just) low-income Americans, and inhumane, blunt and totally ineffective federal immigration policies.

The report calls for the Bush Administration to re-think its ICE-Raids=Immigration Policy approach given the contributions of immigrants to local economies.  Sens. Obama & McCain – please add this to your in-box of required reading.


Low Productivity Links

It’s 11 am and I’m still getting my day started over here… I’m throwing up a couple of links that have derailed me from paying my bills, returning phone calls, grading papers and returning to my disst. proposal.  The good news?  I’m sitting in my home office for the first time in over a week (ok, I was on the road for half of that interlude).

First, this is why I will always LOVE and CHERISH paper…though not as much, I’m learning, as my partner and now roommate.  Seriously, his book collection and general personal archives put my Virgo record-keeping to shame.  (Though of course, I have file cabinets and he has bins.)  A fellow Virgo and I were in an upscale stationery store over the weekend and just cooing over everything in there.

The “Catholic vote” becomes the “Jewish vote,” i.e., safely Democratic with just a thin smattering of GOP culture warriors thrown in for fun.  Either way, I’m still among my people, which makes me happy.

NYC Weboy tells me to diversify my Google reader, so I’ve added some conservative links.  But I can barely bring myself to read them.  And now I see why.  Not exactly the wisdom of the moderate right masses, i.e., the rest of the nation outside my lefty bubble.

Finally, The Black Snob brings it re: the GOP fratricide (with a little ritual witch burning thrown in for good measure).  She’s the second female political blogger I’ve seen commend Palin for her “roguish” ways – that is, keeping her eye on the 2012 prize when McCain just wants her to “Turn to the left!”  “Now turn to the right!” and keep her damn mouth shut already.  G-d forbid she reach the Oval Office Promised Land next Tuesday, 4 years from now or ever, but I concur, I like her alleged revolt.  Who can blame her??

Happy Hump Day!  Remember, in grad school, every day is Wednesday!



Even though officially I’ve been blogging at The Hillary 1000 (and sporadically at NYC Weboy – I’m loving his latest, btw) since I put The RP on hiatus in March, I feel pretty out of practice here.  Rusty.  Stiff.  Not quite sure how to start.  (Christ, it’s just like writing the bl**ping dissertation, isn’t it.  G*d da*mnit.)

Anyhoo, expletives aside, I’m hovering uncertainly in cyberspace here.  Writing definitely requires on-going effort and practice, something I try not to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary.  I like to think I’m Picasso; turns out I may be Cezanne.

The major issue for me with writing is owning my work.  There’s definitely a gender aspect to this – research demonstrates women spend a lot more time dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s than men – who appear to throw out their big ideas and publicly run with the ones that stick.  In my own work, women expressed that this was part of the drill of working twice as hard to be considered half as good yada yada…it’s likely if you’re reading this, you know the drill.

For me, it’s certainly a fear of being interrogated or attacked for my opinions (which are radical at heart, and tend to show up more clearly in my writing than in my general speaking and daily presentation).  But it’s also my ambivalence about being willing to provoke and challenge people, ideas, conventional wisdom.  I know this strikes many who knew me and my brutally honest and critical tongue as disingenous; but if anything, that feedback has taught me there’s a lot I’m going to want to retract later on – and my willingness to speak openly declines as I grow comfortable in my surroundings.  Don’t want to upset anyone, you know.  Add in the lefty politics, passion, (declining) youth, and the relative anonymity of the blogosphere, and I see a real risk for putting sh*t out there that could come back to haunt me later.  That’s why I shelved the RP in March – too many long, emotional (if thoughtful) posts in which I was publicly trying to work out my positions on Obama and Clinton intermixed with issues of race, gender, class and political conflict.  Just as my readership was growing too – including among people who knew me in real life!  Eeek!  Argh.  Sigh.

I hate feeling exposed like that.  Yet, here I am, typing away once more.

At first, I tried to increase my on-line anonymity; I wouldn’t let a local blogger reference it in an interview with him, even though he was interviewing me specifically because of my writing on Boston.  Unsurprisingly, the interview never ran.  Now, as I’m working on my dissertation and (very occasionally) applying for funding, I find myself wanting to cite blog posts – more often those I wrote at Foresight or TPM Cafe, both of which provide links back to The RP.  What’s an opinionated, knowledgeable shrinking violet like me to do? (Shrinking violet?  Ok, now I’m reaching…)

So the political project with the resurrected RP is to own my work.  Taking the blog public, for better or worse.  Thinking first about whether or not I’d want something out there in the public sphere, and then writing consciously as if the world is reading.  Without losing my voice.  Hopefully strengthening it.  As I get comfortable with hearing it and then raising it – hell yeah!

(Should I stop with the folksy stuff?  Too Palin?  Sorry, I’m always looking for role models.  Heh.)

I come from a family that doesn’t discuss politics.  We’re not exactly apolitical – we represent the trade unions; the insurance and banking industry; the Ivory Tower, high tech and the professions; healthcare execs and healthcare workers, and hockey moms all under one noisy roof.  We’ve got our issues, and they come out – particularly over drinks.  But generally, we stick to a few topics: sports, kids, celebrities and each other.  Turns out, I’m a radical political economist, professional activist-intellectual, and flaneur who loves her some People and working on her golf game.  Who knew?

I know, I know…you knew.  This whole time, and you didn’t even tell me!!


Beyond Obama

I love this video shout-out from Bertha Lewis, Chief Organizer of ACORN, thanking non-profits, labor and bloggers for supporting ACORN and fighting back against GOP voter suppression efforts:

I love it for the last message, directed at NY voters, whom she encourages to vote for Obama (if that’s their choice – Redstar) on the Working Families ticket.  Bertha:

Vote change like you mean it people!  Don’t get lost in the Democratic sauce…




Memeday Night Blogging

Red Queen tagged me; and what’s a blog without memes?  Without further ado:

Six Things About Me (I’m surprised I’ve never done this one before)

  1. I failed my first driving test.  I was speeding.  42 in a 30 mph zone.  Hell if I knew.  I was such a nervous, bad driver when I was learning that I so worried about passing and keeping up with the traffic around me, I never noticed that keeping up with traffic was not the thing to do on one’s driving test.  The state trooper who took me on my test (that’s how we roll in MA) asked me in a real obnoxious tone, “Can you tell me the speed limit at any point during the test?”  To which I timidly answered, “well, on that last road is was 30 mph.”  He replied, “Then why were you doing 42?”  No idea, man, no idea.  FAIL.  In the 16 years I’ve had my license, I’ve gotten 3 speeding tickets – two in the first year I had my license, one three years ago.
  2. I am a half inch shorter after a spine fusion surgery 8 years ago.  This bums me out, because that 1/2 inch put me within modest exaggeration distance from 5 ft 8.  Now I really am just 5 ft 7.
  3. I have been to Disney World 7 times: when I was 4 with my mom and cousin, when I was 9 with my mom, aunt & uncle and other cousins, when I was 14 with my dad and stepmom, twice when I was somewhere b/w 15 & 18 with my mom and stepdad, when I was 23 and alone in Orlando on business, and when I was 24 and interning with PricewaterHouse Coopers in business school.  I’m surprised as I recap this that most of these trips happened in late adolescence and early adulthood.  Odd.  And I’m not even a huge Disney fan, though I love Sleeping Beauty and Toy Story.
  4. My car really needs an oil change.  Badly.
  5. I estimate I spend about three to four hours per day in the political blogosphere.
  6. I sleep with a minimum of 3 pillows, often with a sleep mask, and occasionally with ear plugs.  That’s two pillows for the head and one for between the knees.  I am such a terrible sleeper that sometimes I feel like I’m barricading myself into the bed to block out life’s noise, light, etc.  It’s a bit exhausting, if you can imagine, pun intended.

8 Places to Live in the U.S. – that I’d be willing to live in, I think is the gist:

  1. NEW YORK CITY (Want.)
  2. Boston, MA (I suppose, I’m here now, I’m from here…ya know…)
  3. Louisville, KY – this is a place I visited this spring, and it’s my default random-US-city-I’d-move-to-for-my-partner’s-academic-job when I think about us relocating for that reason.
  4. DC – this is where the work really is, for me.  I was there last week and am as ambivalent towards it as ever.  Living in Boston, I don’t have much desire to relocate to another small, Northeastern (Boston-DC corridor) city (Philly is someone else’s Boston, for instance).  But DC’s got my professional #, that’s for sure.  Baltimore could be nice; the Open Society Institute has a program there.
  5. Los Angeles, CA.  I LOVE CA – I’d love to live there if it weren’t so damn far from my roots.  Plus, the car dependency leaves A LOT to be desired.  But the weather, the fresh food, the skim milk available EVERYWHERE, bring it on.  I know most white libs/progressives prefer the Bay Area, but I haven’t been to Oakland or Berkeley and I hate San Francisco.  It reminds me of Cambridge.  Liberal to the point of intolerance + high income inequality = spare me.
  6. Seattle, WA – I liked it when I visited it years ago.  So green and the seafood was so fresh.  The distance-to-the-East-Coast is again a problem.
  7. And I think I’ll throw in Chicago for good measure.  Why leave out the 3rd largest city in the U.S., not to mention the birthplace and foundation of U.S. sociology, when I’ve got NY and LA on this list?  A lot of my Irish-Catholic family and friends describe Chicago as a bigger Boston.  I think I could handle that given it’s greater size, diversity and density.  This stuff really matters to me.

Not exactly a surprising or particularly varied list.

Ok, if Red Queen hasn’t beat me to them, I’m tagging Pizza Diavola and Donna Darko.  And NYC Weboy of course – and that includes JinBaltimore!!  And Astraea and The Black Snob (though I don’t think she does the memes).