Saturday, June 30, 2012

Why are liberals so romantic about small business?

There is a protest today in Los Angeles against the construction of a new Wal-mart in Chinatown.  The store would be part of a mixed use development near a transit station on a lot that has sat vacant for some time.

I am no fan of Wal-mart.  Among other things, I wish that those who attempt to bring a class action suit against Wal-mart pay discrimination had prevailed in the Supreme Court case of Wal-mart vs Dukes.   Nevertheless, it also concerns me that Los Angeles has had essentially no job growth in two decades, and that urban redevelopment is very difficult to do here.  According to the leading scholar on the economics of Wal-mart, Emek Besker, Wal-mart creates more jobs than it destroys (BTW, I don't think Emek is a particular fan of Wal-mart either).  It also allows households to buy goods at low prices. On balance, I think the construction of the Wal-mart in Chinatown will be good for that particular neighborhood and the city.

One of the arguments advanced against Wal-mart is that it hurts small business.  I particularly hear this from fellow liberals, who love to extol the virtue of small business.  Yet, according to Kelly Edminston at the KC Fed, job quality is much worse at small business than large firms. The average wage at a small firm (< 100 workers)was $15.69 an hour in 2004; for large firms (>500 workers) it was $27.05. Moreover, small businesses paid 1/4 of their labor force less than $8 per hour; for large businesses it was 3 percent of their labor force.

Meanwhile, no one lobbies harder against the minimum wage than small business trade associations. The National Federation of Independent Business was also the lead plaintiff against the Affordable Care Act.  So to those liberals who extol small business: what's the deal?

Friday, June 29, 2012

How life has gotten better

I am in the middle of editing a paper that is due to a funder on Monday. 

I am also thinking about how miserable it was back when cutting and pasting literally meant cutting and pasting.

End of the Bed Bench

For forever, I've had my eye on the Colette bench from Crate & Barrel for the foot of our bed.  I love the sleek design, linen fabric, and nailhead trim, and the dimensions were perfect. 

But I couldn't bring myself to pay that much for it- $599 plus tax and shipping charges.  

So, I kept looking for less expensive alternatives.  I found some below and of course, pinned them to my Pinterest board.  

I finally chose a bench after seeing a reasonably priced one on Overstock, at just $250 including shipping!  It's the Renate Coffee Table Ottoman

It got good reviews for the fabric and I think the dimensions are right (18 inches high x 28 inches wide x 48 inches deep) since I didn't want one that was too short for our king-sized bed.  I'm thinking of painting the legs, but we'll see after it arrives, which should be Monday! I love fast shipping!

I'll be sure to show you what it looks like in person as soon as it arrives!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hostess/Housewarming Gift

Our super sweet friends were kind enough to host us at their home in Austin for a weekend visit.  I didn't plan far enough in advance to bring them a gift during our stay, but I was sure to send a little thank you when we got back home.

These perfectly packaged bar soaps were $5 at World Market and I know our friends (well, especially the wife) would love them.

Each soap is individually wrapped in a beautiful floral paper and they smell so good.  

Although I do believe our friends will enjoy this gift, I understand that it really is the thought, energy, and intent behind the gift that means so much.  The time to write a handwritten word of thanks is extra special in our face-paced and what can be, impersonal, world of emails and text messages.

I realized later that I could have been crafty and frugal and wrapped a less expensive bar of soap and labeled it myself, like I saw on Creature Comforts blog.

via Creature Comforts Blog 

Isn't that cute?! (By the way, Creature Comforts is a new-to-me-blog that I got happily lost in for well over an hour after popping over last night.  I think you might like it too.)

Do you have a great hostess or housewarming gift you've given or received?  I'd like to collect a few things and have them ready to go so I don't show up empty-handed next time!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cupcake Pin Cushions

When I decided to take up sewing, I thought first of my Grandma, the handiest, thriftiest woman I know.   She said I should get a basic Singer sewing machine, so off to the store I went and came home with my first machine.  I've still never made anything other than pillows and curtains, but my Grandma encourages me.  Look at the adorable cupcake pin cushion she sent me- so sweet!  Using it reminds me of her and I love that feeling.

She also sent me this handy pin cushion/scrap pail.  The pin cushion is filled with sand so it keeps the pail from falling off the sewing table.  I adore the fabric- precious little flowers on a lively green background.  

My Grandma and I don't live close, so these tangible gifts help me feel near to her.  And she reads my blog daily- looking mainly looking for pictures of James:)

If you'd like to try making your own pin cushion, for yourself or a friend, you can check out the tomato pin cushion tutorial via Martha Stewart.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Typically on summer nights our dinners tend to be a little lighter, and lately we've been enjoying a simple BLT sandwich.  It's absolutely delicious and so easy to prepare.  And cleanup is a breeze since you're not really cooking, rather, assembling.


Y U M M Y!

For these sandwiches I used a fresh tomato slices, thick cut bacon and butter lettuce.  French bread lightly toasted with a spread of mayo brings it all together.

I could eat these everyday! What's your go-to summer dinner lately?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Downtown Los Angeles' population is growing at a rapid clip, but.... is still is a small fraction of the city, let alone the metropolitan area.  According to the census, zip codes 90012, 90013, 90014, 90015, 90017, 90021 and 90071 grew between 2000 and 2010 from 82,000 to 97,000, a gain of 18 percent.  This compares with a gain of less than three percent for the city.

Nevertheless, the residential share of downtown remains only 2.6 percent.

Laurence Ball provides an explanation for why Ben Bernanke is pursuing (non)policies that disappoint Ryan Avent

Ryan Avent writes:

Fed members claim to care equally about the employment and inflation sides of their mandate, yet the unemployment rate has been at least 2 percentage points above the FOMC's estimated natural unemployment rate for nearly 4 straight years while inflation has scarcely wandered more than a half percentage point away from target since late 2009. Fed members claim that the 2% target is not a ceiling, but inflation has been below 2% much more often than it has been above it over the past 4 years, inflation is projected to be at most 2% in 2013 and 2014, and inflation is projected to be substantiallybelow 2% in 2012. In other words, the Fed is actively pursuing a policy of disinflation despite the fact that annual inflation is roughly at target while unemployment is well above its structural rate. That is, the Fed has gone from merely failing at its job toaggressively failing at its job.
Second, it is difficult to pin blame for this on anyone other than Chairman Ben Bernanke. The June policy vote ran 11-1, suggesting that Mr Bernanke is not getting the most expansionary policy for which he can find a majority. One is forced to conclude that this is the policy, and by extension the recovery, that Mr Bernanke wants.
All of this is particularly discouraging given that Bernanke's own magnificent scholarly work calls for the Fed to be more aggressive at the zero-bound, if necessary.  Lawrence Ball perhaps has some insights into what is going on:

"There is no doubt that Ben Bernanke's views on zero-bound policy have changed over time.  Once, he called for targets for long-term interest rates a "policy I personally prefer"; later, he "agreed 100%" with opposition to that policy.  Bernanke once advocated a 3-4% inflation target for Japan; as Fed chair, he says "that's not a direction we're interested in pursuing."...he no longer argues that a central bank can easily overcome the zero-bound problem "if the will to do so exists." 
At one level, the primary reason for these changes is also clear: Bernanke was influenced by the work of the Fed staff... 
...The puzzle about this history is why Bernanke so quickly and completely dropped his previous views and adopted those of Fed Staff.  We cannot be sure, but social psychology suggests two possible factors: groupthink and Bernanke's shy personality."
I am a big fan of Bernanke's scholarly work, and as a result was thrilled when he was appointed Fed Chair.  My understanding, however, is that he hasn't a whiff of arrogance about him, a characteristic that makes him a wonderful scholar and, from all I can tell, a wonderful human being.  But Chairman Bernanke really is the smartest guy in the room, and it would be nice if he remembered that. If the views he (along with Mark Gertler) developed over many years informed monetary policy, we would all be better off.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

4th of July LINK Party!

The temperatures are rising, the days are getting longer and lazier, and the beach beckons for a splash in the water.  Summer is officially here and July 4th is just a week and a half away.  Got any plans?  We're hosting a little backyard BBQ, complete with red, white, and blue decor, hamburgers and hotdogs, beer and margaritas, and inflatable swimming pools to keep the kids cool.

I've been collecting supplies along the way like mini flags, patriotic cupcake liners and those adorable little dollar pails sold at Target.  I have no idea how it's going to all come together, but I'm really looking forward to it!

via A Field Journal

I thought it would be fun to host an impromptu LINK PARTY to celebrate the occasion.  Link up anything 4th of July related- it can be a delicious recipe, a crafty creation, or a home decor item.  Anything to celebrate the red, white, and blue is invited!

The party will go live on Sunday evening at 8:00 p.m. central time, July 1st.  I'll keep the party open until Saturday July 7, in case you want to post how you celebrated July 4th this year.  I can't wait to see what you've got to share!

Feel free to grab a button for the link party below.

A thought for Amazon

If you buy a real book, you get the Kindle version for a nominal cost beyond the real book. This would encourage people to continue to buy real books, while at the same time allowing people not to lug them around while travelling. Given that the marginal cost of an e-book is near zero, this should be a profitable strategy. The margin on the real book remains, and a small margin is added for the e-book.  The bundling should encourage more sales.  The losses are from those who currently buy both versions, but I am guessing such buyers are small in number.

No charge, Jeff Bezos. And you're welcome. [Update: my friend Frank Yellin tells me this idea is often expressed in Kindle forums.]

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The frustration of following "affordable housing" policy in California

The United States is sufficiently rich that all people should have decent housing they can afford.  Decent means sanitary, safe, and, if not spacious, not overcrowded either.  This housing should be available such that when households pay for it, they have money left over for other things, like food and education.

In Los Angeles, this is not the case.  Absent housing assistance, a renter at the 25th percentile of the income distribution must pay more than 45 percent of income in order to rent a unit at the 25th percentile of the rent distribution.

The vast majority of those eligible for housing assistance do not get it, because housing is not an entitlement, and budgets for housing assistance are, in the overall scheme of things, small.

Yet we can do far better in Los Angeles than we do.  For starters, even though we are the second largest and second densest metropolitan area in the United States, the impediments to building dense housing here are enormous.  I just judged a case competition for our RMPIRE executive program here at USC, and was impressed at the creativity of a team that wanted to use a particular lot's floor area ratio allowance of 6 to build densely packed units on a site no more than one mile from downtown Los Angeles.  The residential use would require a zoning change, however, and many judges felt that getting such zoning approved would be next to impossible.  It depresses me to say so, but I happen to agree with them.

But there is another problem as well.  While I have little doubt that allowing denser housing would lower rents in LA, it still wouldn't solve the problem--there would still be a "gap" between the present value of rents lower income households could afford to pay and the cost of building units.  This gap would need to be filled by government financing.

And so we come to the next problem--when we build "affordable housing" here, we do so in a remarkably inefficient fashion.  Government financing rarely comes from a single source, but rather comes in layers of financing from various local, state, and federal agencies.  Each slice of financing involves fees that go to consultants who arrange for the financing.  All of this adds to the amount of time and expense that are required to get financing, which ultimately pushes up the cost of bringing a project to market.  At the same time, communities require "affordable" units to have design amenities and, worse, covered parking.  This can drive the cost of production of an affordable unit to $400,000 and more.

Meanwhile, the median sales price of a house in Los Angeles County is $287,000.  See the problem here?  To provide "affordable housing," it would actually be cheaper to purchase the median priced home (hardly a bad house) than it would be to build something new.  But of course, there are many people who gain when $400,000 is spent to bring an affordable unit to market--just not taxpayers or low income users of houses.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

my lil sweetie

Part of the fun of having kids is getting to watch how yours interact and play with your friends'.  Our 2 year old son, James, is pretty lucky to be one of the only little boys in a neighborhood full of adorable little girls.  Our good friends have the sweetest daughter and we often grab a quick bite together or sometimes catch each other walking around the neighborhood in the evenings.

The other day, we ate dinner at a local restaurant that has a huge outdoor deck where the kids could play nearby.  Aren't they just the cutest?!

And I die when James goes to hold her hand!  He loves to give hugs and kisses too, that lil heartbreaker.  

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lew Ranieri on why the REO rental business is tougher than you think

When renters turnover, the cost of getting the house ready for the next tenant can be 10 times higher than getting an apartment ready.

Vicky Been on why underwater borrowers don't default

She has been doing a study that shows that people do not know how underwater they are. Cognitive bias can be helpful sometimes.

The problem with a widespread principal reduction program

Chris Mayer points out that 90 percent of underwater borrowers are current on their mortgages. A broad principal write-down program would surely change this.

$100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway WINNER!

Thank you all so much for the blog birthday l o v e !  And thank you for checking out my Joss & Main Curator Collection.  It was really exciting to partner with them and I appreciate your interest and support:)  Now . . . I've been dying to see who won the $100 Visa gift card.

And the winner is  . . . 

Carol Ann, I have emailed you requesting your mailing address, so please email me back:)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Homemade Cookies in a Gift Jar

Gifts created with our own two hands are often the best kind of gifts to give and receive- especially the food kind!  I'm reminded of one of my best girlfriends, who happens to be a great cook, bringing us  a very tasty homemade lasagna after James was born.  It was such a beautiful gift, so very needed and appreciated at the time, and I could feel the thought and heart she put into making it.  And it didn't hurt that it was delicious!

My dad is a very generous and giving man, but not so big on receiving gifts.  My brother and I know he much prefers to be the gift giver, and would only want to spend time with us on Father's Day, so we decided on making dinner for him at his house.  My brother and his wife prepared the meal, and I brought dessert- homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Who doesn't love those?!  Made straight from the back of the Nestle's Tollhouse bag of chips.  That recipe never disappoints. 

I wanted my Dad to feel special, even though I was only bringing cookies, so I delivered them in a pretty gift jar.

I got my glass jar last minute at The Container Store, but I know you can find great deals on jars of all shapes and sizes at lots of other stores or online.  

I printed out a label with my heart's sentiment and included a pretty ribbon. I fell in love with this lace ribbon tape I found at Paper Source- isn't it sweet?!  I thought it added a nice touch to dress up the lid. 

I hope your weekend was fabulous!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The irony of Victor Davis Hanson

Hanson complains that universities suffer under the iron grip of "grandees."

So far as I know, the only sort of person who would use a word as pretentious as "grandees," would fancy himself a grandee.

Hanson also doesn't care for the fact that white guys can't do whatever they damn well please anymore.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

$100 GIVEAWAY (2 Year Blog Birthday!)

In celebration of two years of blogging (that's 607 blog posts!), I want to give back to my readers who make this blog worthwhile, in the form of a GIVEAWAY!  

I'll be giving away a $100 Visa Gift Card to one lucky reader!

My 2 year blog birthday serendipicously coincides with the launch of my curator collection on Joss & Main.  When I began this blog, I had no idea the people I would meet, the connections I would make or the opportunities I would have.  The offer to curate a collection for Joss & Main caught me completely by surprise, but I sure had fun browsing through their offerings and choosing goodies for the sale.  You'll be able to find things like the chandelier in my closet or the pendant lights in my kitchen.  There are also natural fiber and colorful rugs, gorgeous pillows, the coolest lamps and mirrors.  I can't wait for you to see!

In case you aren't familiar with Joss & Main, they are an online retailer that sells designer home decor items for up to 70% off.  You need to be a member to shop the site, but it's FREE to join, you just need an invitation.  I understand there is a wait list, but if you use my invitation, you can bypass the wait and sign up immediately. 


You've got several chances to win- just come back and leave a separate comment for each.

  • Visit Joss & Main and view my collection and tell me what your favorite item is (the sale starts on June 14, 2012).

  • Tweet, Blog, Pinterest, or Facebook about my collection on Joss & Main.   

The WINNER will be announced on Wednesday, June 20, 2012.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shellac French Manicure

So, you might remember back in January I decided to do away with my acrylic nails and let my own nails grow naturally.  Many of you suggested I try Shellac- and I did!  I love it and just learned that I can get a Shellac FRENCH manicure!!  I thought you had to go with one of the pre-selected colors only.  The good thing about the Shellac is that it's actually helped me keep some nail growth and the color does stay shiny for about two weeks!

The French paint you see in the picture below has been on for 4 days, so it's pretty recent.

Pretty huh?!  Have you tried it? What colors do you like best? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

What is Zachary Woolfe talking about?

In his review of the LA Phil's Don Giovanni, he writes, "silence greeted Mozart’s winking quotation of his own “Nozze di Figaro” during the final scene. It was an opera in-joke in search of an opera audience."

At the performance I attended, the audience giggled at the reference.  Perhaps New Yorkers can't imagine that the city that attracted Schoenberg, Mann and Faulkner can have a subtle sense of humor.

FDR on preventing a bank run

Joss & Main (My Curator Collection Going Live June 14)

Are you familiar with Joss & Main, the online site that sells fabulous name brand merchandise for your home and lifestyle at prices well below retail, we're talking 70% off?  Everyday, they offer new sales that last for a limited time.  For example, right now the following sales are happening:

I check out their sales every day and often find items I'd love to have.  In fact, I just ordered this cart last week!

You need to be a member to shop the site, but it's FREE to join, you just need an invite, which I've included for you HERE

I was recently given the very cool opportunity to curate a collection for one of their sales (seriously, pinch me!), which will go live on Thursday, June 14, 2012.  I was careful to chose items that I had in my own home or would love to have in the future.  I hope you'll check out the sale and order some new goodies for your home:)  Feel free to spread the word as the sale doesn't last long.

Joss & Main also has an online magazine, Plume, chock full of great decorating and design ideas.  I recently talked to one of the editors, Donna Garlough, about how I like to keep things organized in my home office.  You can read the article here.

See you at the Joss & Main sale on Thursday!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What is a "middle-class house" in California?

Alex Lazo had a nice story in this morning's LA Times about the absence of housing supply in Southern California. One person he interviewed was frustrated because he could not find anything he wanted at $525,000. As he pointed out, he is a "middle-class" guy.

This underlines a problem with California. Even after the crash, large swaths of the state (not just Malibu) have expensive houses.

Let us think about what a middle-class household can afford. The median income for a family of four in California is about $70,000. Once upon a time (i.e., before around 2002), the "front-end" ratio for a mortgage borrower was supposed to be no more than 28 percent of gross income. The front-end ratio is the ratio of principal, interest, property taxes and insurance to gross income.  If one assumes that a borrower can get a 30-year mortgage at a 3.75% rate, pays 1.1% of property value in property taxes, and an insurance premium of 0.2% per year, AND assumes that the borrower has a 20 percent down payment, a household earning $70,000 per year can afford a $250,000 house.  So the value of a "middle-class" house is $250K.  This is a long way from $525,000.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pushing refinancing can really help

Recent news reports suggest current borrowers are still having some difficulties getting a HARP 2.0 refinancing.  This is too bad, because HARP 2.0 can potentially help a lot in getting many people out from under their troubles.

Consider someone who is 20 percent underwater on her house.  If she moves from a six percent loan to a 3.5 percent loan (today's rate on Zillow), and if house prices go up by only one percent per year (something that I think likely will happen in most markets, for reasons I stated a week or so ago) and if the borrower keeps her payment constant, she will be right-side-up in around four years.  If she remains in the six percent mortgage, however, she won't be right-side up for about nine years.

Note the HARP 2.0 is not rewarding "bad behavior."  It is program for people who are current on their payments but who are also upside down.  Many people can look at four years and see a tunnel's end--I am not sure that is true about nine years.

Of course, refinancing will not solve the Vegas-Phoenix-Inland Empire problem, where many borrowers are 30 percent underwater and more.  But for a whole lot of the country, HARP 2 could be a game changer.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Joan Ling at UCLA tells me transit ridership's share in LA is falling...

...and two car families are rising.  Zero car families are falling too.  This after about $12 billion of spending on rail transit.  Hmmmm.

Crazy for Kate Spade

Have y'all seen Kate Spade's line of technological accessories?  They are super cute! 

I indulged in the fun, diagonal striped iPad and iPhone cases.

I dig the surprise bright pop of pink inside.  

What's your screen saver?  Mine is always James, but I change out the pics. 

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Master Sitting Room Makeover

Don't ya just love to see spaces "before" and "after"?  Sometimes progress is really slow-going and very small changes happen along the way, almost imperceptible until you add it all up and suddenly you end up with a result you're really happy with.  Case in point, our sitting room.  Not that it's "done" but it sure has come a long way.  One of the bookshelves is still bare, but the other one is styled for the time being.  And the shelves under the windows have been given some life with books and plants.  Let's take a look!

BEFORE- pretty much a blank slate.  The framed photo over the television was a birthday gift to my husband of a New York bridge, but the dark black didn't fit in with the look I was going for.  Originally, I thought it fit that area perfectly, but later I kept thinking we really needed something round there to break up all the hard lines. 

DURING- The addition of the Martha Stewart mirror from Home Depot helped lighten up the space. 

NOW- The colorful books added personality and the Made By Girl LOVE print is much more appropriate here than it was in our half bath.  The plants are really thriving here.  I water them when they start to limp and it seems to be working.  

I keep James' little chair there because he uses it to read or watch t.v. 

I picked up some books at Half Price Books and chose them by color and subject matter.

Here's the view from the master bath.  Looking at this view has me wondering if we should add drapes here??  

And we've definitely changed up the tall bookshelves, beginning with painting the cabinets and lining the backside with fabric.  



I just used things we already had on hand to fill in the shelves.  I probably could still use a few more books . . . 

My girlfriend got this statue for us when James was born.  So sweet. 

The woven basket holds our remote controls and keeps them where we can find them, out of James' hands.  I think I found it at Crate & Barrel.  

I didn't have a good place for this large canvas print of James, so I decided to try it in the bookcase and I like it there.  He was just two months old in those photos.  

I tried to find a few interesting pieces to add to the shelves, including the woven vase from Michael's and a decorative ball from West Elm. 

And, again, more books from Half Price Books, except Bloom, by Kelle Hampton, which I devoured in two nights!

And I've decided to keep some magazines in here too since I frequently like to read a little before bed.  

Eventually, I think I'd like to change out the big leather chair, and I still need to style the other bookshelf, which currently remains empty.  And on my nagging "to do" list is lower the two photos over the leather chair.  BUT, isn't it nice to just enjoy what you've accomplished so far, helping turn a blank space into a room that you enjoy being in?  

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