Beating the heat

We just finished a week or so of 90+ temperatures with high humidity in Boston without air conditioning.  We survived quite well.  It wasn’t until day 6 or 7 that I really began to suffer – that the was day there was no afternoon sea breeze.  Exhaust fans on each floor pull air through the house and smaller fans are placed in the rooms we use the most.  We are lucky to have good four-way ventilation.  Cool showers and cooking in the mornings = or not at all – also help.  (We went out once to out favorite pub so find that their air conditioning was not 100%, but it was just fine.)  I am one of those rare people that don’t like living in refrigerated air.  So I was very interested in the Boston Globe article in the Sunday Ideas Section titled “How to Live Without Air Conditioning”  In it, Leon Neyfakh  points out the life style changes that we could make so that we at least reduce our energy consumption.

Since the technology was invented in 1902, and the first window unit was brought to market in 1939, air conditioners have become ubiquitous in the United States. Today, almost 90 percent of American households have one—as do the vast majority of restaurants, stores, museums, and office buildings. During weeks like the one we’ve just had, these places are sanctuaries: To walk into one after being outside is to be reminded how sweet life can be.

But all that magic chilling comes at a cost—something most people are aware of on a personal level, because their electricity bills are so high during the summer, but not so much on a global scale, which is really where the problem lies. In China and India, air conditioning sales have reportedly been growing by 20 percent per year; around the world, air conditioning energy demand is projected to increase vastly over the next decades. According to Stan Cox, author of the 2010 book “Losing Our Cool,” air conditioning in the United States already has a global-warming impact equivalent to every US household driving an extra 10,000 miles per year.

English: Series of air conditioners at UNC-CH.

English: Series of air conditioners at UNC-CH. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think about that.  And we continue to build office buildings taller and more dependent on artificial cooling.  Yes, maybe some are energy efficient and green building, but they still consume vast amounts of energy.

When experts look at A/C use in America, they immediately see a spot of illogic: We use vast amounts of energy just to let businesspeople do something they’d probably rather not do anyway. “We are probably overcooling our office buildings by 4 to 6 [degrees] F just so that office workers, particularly the males, can wear their business suits,” wrote Richard de Dear, who is head of architectural design science at the University of Sydney and a researcher on thermal comfort. “The current clothing behaviour is costing us a fortune in energy and greenhouse emissions!”

In Japan every summer, in an environmental initiative called “Cool Biz” that started in 2005, government officials encourage building managers to let temperatures climb to 82 degrees and advise employees to loosen their sartorial standards. In 2011, the government even put on a fashion show, with models catwalking in untucked polos, capri pants, and Kariyushis, a Japanese take on the Hawaiian shirt.

Here in America, it probably wouldn’t require such a hard sell. Many female workers already dress for summer weather, and would likely be delighted not to have to huddle in sweaters against the A/C. Among men, polos are already considered appropriate on casual Fridays, and it’s not hard to imagine that most would happily embrace a breezier style for the rest of the week. Instead of long pants, they could don formal shorts—a concept that has long been embraced in Bermuda, where executives can be seen attending meetings with exposed knees.

And people can do similar things at home.

Even a mid-sized building could save considerable amounts every year by operating at shorts temperature. But if modifying what we put on our bodies could help us give up extreme climate control, rethinking buildings themselves—and how we ventilate them—would go even further. Already, some of us live in homes that can be effectively cooled by opening windows in the basement and on the top floor every morning, thus taking advantage of the so-called stack effect to pull cool air up through the house and allow hot air to vent into the street. People can also try “evaporative cooling,” a modest, low-tech form of air conditioning, by hanging wet towels in the window or setting them in front of a basic electric fan.

Some of  Neyfakh’s life style suggestions like changing to a work schedule with early morning hours, a mid afternoon siesta, and late work hours are a tougher sell:  Too many people commute long distances.  But people who telecommute could try raising the temperature at home a few degrees so that they at least don’t have fried brains and the inertia that comes with it.  Also try adjusting blinds to follow the sun and plant trees.

There are some parts of life, it must be said, for which air conditioning is not just a luxury but a necessity. The Internet depends on servers that require climate control in order to not go up in flames. Modern skyscrapers depend on it, as well. If we gave up air conditioning, New England would largely be fine, at least for now, but entire swaths of the country would become uninhabitable: Summers in the Sun Belt cities and in parts of the South would be so harsh that millions of people would simply move away. We also would be unwilling to take away A/C from those most sensitive to extreme heat—namely, the sick, the very young, and the elderly.

That doesn’t mean that trying to reduce our society’s addiction to A/C is a fool’s errand. The fact is, our bodies are built to adjust to heat—it’s just that we haven’t had to lately, because we’ve become so accustomed to refrigerating ourselves when the weather gets hot. A study in which researchers surveyed 21,000 people, spread out across 160 buildings on four continents, found that “people in warmer climates were more comfortable in warmer indoor temperatures than their counterparts in cooler climate zones,” according to Richard de Dear, one of the coauthors.

The findings indicate that people actually prefer being in places where the temperature fluctuates, as long as they have some control over it. “If you have the ability to open or close a window, turn a fan on or off, change the blinds, modify your clothing—it just becomes a natural part of your day-to-day living, and you don’t build these expectations that conditions should be the same all day and all year round, which I would call ‘thermal monotony,’” said Gail Brager, an architecture professor at UC Berkeley who also worked on the study. “We not only accept—we actually prefer—a wider range of conditions that float with the natural rhythms of the outdoor climate.”

No doubt this is hard to believe, as you sit there in your air-conditioned home, happily soaking up the artificial breeze emanating from the murmuring machine in your window. But is there not something fearful about refrigerating ourselves with such vigilance? We’re not cartons of milk, after all; we will not spoil, even if we do sweat a little. In fact, by taking full advantage of the technology inside our own bodies—technology that makes it possible for us to adapt to a whole spectrum of temperatures—we might discover we’ve been missing out on a way of life that actually feels quite natural.

Everyone doesn’t have to go air conditionless as we do, but there is nothing wrong, and much to gain by not making all of our buildings so cold.  Maybe we can at least agree on a temperature like 80 or, like the Japanese, 82 and save some energy.

More nails in the Republican coffin?

For a number of years now, I have watched part of the Republican party that has as its main, if not sole, purpose, to dismantle government.  They called the Democrats bluff with the sequester which so far has appeared to have little effect.  Who cares if a military base can’t afford fireworks or if the Blue Angels can’t afford to do a fly over?  In the big scheme of things, those are pretty unimportant.  But now more and more federal workers are being furloughed.  For example, local HUD (Housing and Urban Development) offices are closing for five Fridays in July and August.  That is 5 Fridays that staff will not be paid.  This is money that won’t be spent on a vacation or for car repairs or for food and clothing – all things that add to the economy.  (Here is an interesting website that tracks furloughs.)  And while a number of agencies have figured out ways to avoid furloughs, many workers will still be affected – still more if Congress can’t manage to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins in October.  The loss of incomes will slowly begin to mount.

But it isn’t just the failure to produce a budget.  A recent New York Times editorial summed up the issue quite neatly.  They called it a refusal to govern.

On two crucial issues this week, the extremists who dominate the Republican majority in the House of Representatives made it clear how little interest they have in the future prosperity of their country, or its reputation for fairness and decency.

The two issues are immigration reform and the removal of the food stamp program for the House agriculture bill.

These actions show how far the House has retreated from the national mainstream into a cave of indifference and ignorance. House members don’t want to know that millions of Americans remain hungry (in an economy held back by their own austerity ideology), and they don’t want to deal with the desperation of immigrant families who want nothing more than a chance to work and feed themselves without fear of deportation.

On both issues, in fact, many House Republicans are proudly asserting that they will stand in the way of any attempts to conduct a conference with the Senate. That might, after all, lead to a compromise.

And it isn’t just in the House.

Few things sum up the attitude of the current crop of Republicans in Washington than their loathing of conference committees. On issue after issue, they have passed radical bills and then refused to negotiate. On Thursday, for example, Senate Republicans refused for the 16th time to allow the Democratic Senate budget to be negotiated with its dangerously stingy counterpart in the House.

On immigration, House members fear a conference with the Senate would add back the pathway to citizenship that they consider a giveaway to undesirable non-English speakers. The eventual House border bills “should not be handed to a conference committee so that they can be reconciled with the Senate bill,” wrote Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Instead, he and others say, the Senate should be forced to take up whatever the House produces.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may believe that ending the filibuster with a majority vote will spell the end of the Senate and cause Harry Reid to be remembered “as the worst leader of the Senate ever”, but in my opinion, the continuous use of the filibuster has already come close to destroying the Senate.  Everything should not require 60 votes.

The New York Times editorial ends with this

A refusal to even to sit at a bargaining table is another way of refusing to govern. The nation’s founders created two chambers for a reason, but Republicans, in their blind fury to harm the least fortunate, are forgetting even those fundamental national values.

From left, Representatives Tim Murphy, Mark Sanford, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sean P. Duffy, all Republicans, after the House approved an agriculture bill.

From left, Representatives Tim Murphy, Mark Sanford, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sean P. Duffy, all Republicans, after the House approved an agriculture bill.

This is why the most recent Quinnipiac poll shows that while 53% felt the President was doing too little to compromise with Congress, a whopping 68% felt the Republicans leaders in Congress were doing to little to compromise with the President.  And everyone thinks Congress is dysfunctional blaming both parties.

There is something called the greater good and I think many in Congress, particularly Republicans, have forgotten that ideal.

Photograph: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

Putting the minimum wage in persective

Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe explains why we need an increase in the minimum wage.

Wasserman 6-5

This needs to be a national increase.  Yes, I know.  When businesses have to pay more, they won’t hire.  But there is another side to their objection.  If they pay people more, then there will be more spending and more business and they can hire.  Plus there will be more payroll taxes paid on the larger salaries.  And more state and local taxes.  Conservatives would be happy because some folks wouldn’t need food stamps as a lot of working people do now.  Seems like a winner.

I know that some economists argue that increases always lead to higher unemployment, but a large number of small businesses already pay wages higher than the legal minimum.

Put simply, small businesses are our economy. Given that it’s still recovering, the economy needs all the help it can get to make it over the proverbial hump and flourish. Small businesses will play a key part in that journey.

Given their importance, politicians should stand up and take notice when small business owners say they strongly support a policy that has and will continue to elicit political fights of the knockdown drag-out variety, such as increasing the minimum wage. The minimum wage is a business issue that impacts a wide swath of small firms, and according to scientific opinion polling Small Business Majority released this week, two-thirds of them support increasing it and adjusting it annually to keep up with the cost of inflation.

Some have claimed that raising the minimum wage would put small firms out of business because they won’t be able to afford to pay their workers more. Our polling found a whopping 85 percent of small businesses across the country already pay their workers more than the minimum wage, though.

“You need to pay workers enough to survive. It’s in your best interest as a company because if you don’t there is nothing tying them to you.” That’s Clifton Broumand, the president of Man and Machine, a specialty computer product business in Landover, Md., who pays his workers more than the minimum wage and supports increasing it. “I want my employees to have the chance to grow and improve here. I want them to want to stay so we don’t have a lot of turnover. And I pay over minimum wage because it’s the right thing to do.”

The President proposed an increase to $9 in his State of the Union Address:  Let’s just do it.

Impasse?! We should look at the Progressive Caucus Budget

President Obama met with the Republicans in the House yesterday.  I think Politico had the best take on the meeting.

After years of pining for more face time with the president, House Republicans  found out Wednesday that Barack Obama looks and sounds the same behind closed  doors as he does on TV.

President Obama meets with Congress. AP Photograph

President Obama meets with Congress. AP Photograph

I think they are finally learning what many of us have known for a while:  what you see is what you get with Barack Obama.  Michelle has been trying to tell everyone this for years.  So he has his line and the Republicans led by Paul Ryan have theirs.  But where does that leave the rest of  us?  How to deal in a meaningful way with the sequester and the budget?  I see two paths:  One, those affected by the cuts start putting on the pressure and two, we begin looking at alternatives to either the Republican or White House budget proposals.

On the first, the lobbying has begun.  The New York Times reports

Construction companies are lobbying the government to spare their projects from across-the-board cuts. Drug companies are pleading with the White House to use all the fees they pay to speed the approval of new medicines.

And supporters of Israel have begun a campaign to make sure the Jewish state receives the full amount of military assistance promised by the United States.

A frenzy of lobbying has been touched off by President Obama’s order to slice spending this year by $85 billion, divided equally between military and civilian programs. The cuts have created new alliances and strange bedfellows.

Hunter R. Rawlings III, a historian of ancient Greece who is the president of the Association of American Universities, joined Wesley G. Bush, the chief executive of Northrop Grumman, the maker of surveillance drones and B-2 bombers, in a news conference in which they denounced the automatic cuts known as sequestration.

Health care and education groups, advocates for poor people, and state and local officials who fought in the past for bigger budgets are now trying to minimize the pain.

How much money do you think will be spent on lobbying?  I don’t even want to begin to add it up.  What a waste of money.  But I guess some people will still have jobs.

For an alternate budget we can look at the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposal.    The Economic Policy Institute assisted in putting the budget together and scoring it.  Dean Baker from the Center for Economic and Policy Research calls it “A Serious Budget That the Serious People Won’t Take Seriously”.  The Progressive Caucus has been proposing budgets for a number of years now and takes the position that if their proposals had been adopted, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.

So what exactly are they proposing?

Direct hire programs that create a School Improvement Corps, a Park Improvement Corps, and a Student Jobs Corps, among others.

Targeted tax incentives that spur clean energy, manufacturing, and cutting-edge technological investments in the private sector.

Widespread domestic investments including an infrastructure bank, a $556 billion surface transportation bill, and approximately $2.1 trillion in widespread domestic investment.

Ends tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans on schedule at year’s end

Extends tax relief for middle class households and the vast majority of Americans

Creates new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires

Eliminates the tax code’s preferential treatment of capital gains and dividends

Abolishes corporate welfare for oil, gas, and coal companies

Eliminates loopholes that allow businesses to dodge their true tax liability

Calls for the adoption of the “Buffett Rule”

Creates a publicly funded federal election system that gets corporate money out of politics for good.

Provides a Making Work Pay tax credit for families struggling with high gas and food cost 2013-2015

Extends Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Credit

Invests in programs to stave off further foreclosures to keep families in their homes

Invests in our children’s education by increasing Education, Training, and Social Services

It would also end the war in Afghanistan and do selective, not blanket cuts to the military budget.  It basically spends money to put people back to work and stabilize the economy.  This assumes that people who work pay taxes and put money back into the economy.  It also achieves deficit reduction.  All through government spending.  As Dean Baker poinst out

For those upset that the budget debate is getting ever further removed from the real world problems of an economy that is suffering from a deficit of 9 million jobs, there is good news. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has produced a budget that is intended to make the unemployment situation better rather than worse.

The story of course is that we are still in a situation where we need the government as a source of demand in the economy. This is independent of how much we like the government or the private sector. The private sector does not expand and create jobs just because governments want it to, as is being discovered now by leaders in the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Spain and everywhere else where deficit reduction is now in vogue. In the current economic situation, loss of demand from the government is a loss of demand to the economy. That is why recent steps to reduce the deficit, such as the ending of the payroll tax cut (which put money in consumers’ pockets) and the sequester, will lead to slower growth and higher unemployment.

Would this happen with the adoption of the progressive budget?  I don’t know, but I know that what is going on now isn’t working either.  And what is worse, people are tuning out and shrugging their shoulders assuming nothing can be done.

Gail Collins has this fantasy.

White smoke poured from the Capitol today and crowds of onlookers broke into shouts of jubilation, crying: “We have a budget!”

Inside, where the nation’s legislators had been walled off in seclusion, the newly chosen tax-and-spending plan was garbed in the traditional brass staples for its first public appearance. Insiders said it planned to take the name of Budget for Fiscal Year 2014.

I guess that is alternative number three.  Maybe we should try sequestering Congress.

Still more on sequestration

This morning The Fix by Chris Cillizza included this interesting post by Aaron Blake.  Blake posted four great graphics explaining the impact of the sequester.  I am going to copy 2 of them here, but you should look at the entire post.

Blake explains

First up is Pew’s illustration of the year-by-year spending cuts that are included in the sequester. As you can see, the cuts start out relatively small — less than $75 billion in 2013 — but they grow to more than twice that size by 2021, for a total of more than $1 trillion.

The biggest growth in cuts over that time occurs in the interest payments, but everything except for mandatory spending cuts grow steadily over time.

And then there is this depressing news.  Sequester will not have that big of a positive impact.

There has to be a better way.  Maybe spend some money to put people back to work and let them pay taxes thus increasing revenue?  And we do have to fix the tax code so Facebook executives actually pay taxes.  And maybe we can cut programs and defense more selectively.  This won’t be as dramatic, and it might be slower, but it will hurt fewer people.

Meanwhile, members of Congress of both parties are doing their best to keep funding for their own districts.  Politico quotes Senator Lindsey Graham, an opponent of the sequester

I’m almost relishing the moment all these tough-talking guys say: ‘Can you  help me with my base?’” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the most vocal  critics of the sequester, told POLITICO.

“When it’s somebody else’s base and district, it’s good government. When it’s  in your state or your backyard, it’s devastating,” he added.

Of course Graham’s solution is to do away with the Affordable Care Act or Obama care.  Is the momentum swinging toward a rational budget and solution?  Probably not.

What’s up with sequestration? Or we should have issued war bonds.

When I looked up sequestration in Merriam Webster, the closest meaning I could find to what is going on with the federal budget is

2
a: a legal writ authorizing a sheriff or commissioner to take into custody the property of a defendant who is in contempt until the orders of a court are complied with
b: a deposit whereby a neutral depositary agrees to hold property in litigation and to restore it to the party to whom it is adjudged to belong
So our tax dollars are being put aside until we pay down the debt or is it cut the deficit?  Back in 2004, the Treasury Department explained the difference this way.

What is the difference between the public debt and the deficit?

The deficit is the difference between the money Government takes in, called receipts, and what the Government spends, called outlays, each year.  Receipts include the money the Government takes in from income, excise and social insurance taxes as well as fees and other income.  Outlays include all Federal spending including social security and Medicare benefits along with all other spending ranging from medical research to interest payments on the debt.  When there is a deficit, Treasury must borrow the money needed for the government to pay its bills.

We borrow the money by selling Treasury securities like T-bills, notes, Treasury Inflation-Protected securities and savings bonds to the public. Additionally, the Government Trust Funds are required by law to invest accumulated surpluses in Treasury securities. The Treasury securities issued to the public and to the Government Trust Funds (intragovernmental holdings) then become part of the total debt.

One way to think about the debt is as accumulated deficits.

So back when Bill Clinton balanced the budget, we did not run a deficit and did not accumulate more debt.

While some on the right would argue that Clinton really didn’t reduce the deficit and he ruined the economy by raising taxes, I seem to remember that things were going pretty well for the average person during the Clinton years.

When George W. came into office he said he wanted to give us taxpayers back our surplus which probably would have been OK if he hadn’t then started 2 wars which we didn’t raise taxes of any kind to pay for.  No war bonds, no special tax assessment (used by state and local governments to pay for things), no general tax increase.  Thus the red ink on the chart above.  Then came what everyone is now calling the Great Recession.  Barack Obama really had no choice but to spend money to get the economy moving again.  We can argue about some of the spending – like saving some of the banks – but much of it work out pretty well, I think.

So now we have the sequester.  This was a deal made in 2011 to keep everything from coming to a halt.  I don’t think that anyone thought at the time that there wouldn’t be another budget deal to keep the cuts from going into effect, but so far no dice.  The New York Times ran an editorial on Sunday which is the best explanation of what the cuts would mean that I have seen.  For example:

NATIONAL SECURITY Two-week furloughs for most law-enforcement personnel will reduce Coast Guard operations, including drug interdictions and aid to navigation, by 25 percent. Cutbacks in Customs agents and airport security checkpoints will “substantially increase passenger wait times,” the Homeland Security Department said, creating delays of as much as an hour at busy airports. The Border Patrol will have to reduce work hours by the equivalent of 5,000 agents a year.

AIR TRAFFIC About 10 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration’s work force of 47,000 employees will be on furlough each day, including air traffic controllers, to meet a $600 million cut. The agency says it will be forced to reduce air traffic across the country, resulting in delays and disruptions, particularly at peak travel times.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE Every F.B.I. employee will be furloughed for nearly three weeks over the course of the year, the equivalent of 7,000 employees not working each day. The cut to the F.B.I. of $550 million will reduce the number of background checks on gun buyers that the bureau can perform, and reduce response times on cyberintrusion and counterterrorism investigations.

A three-week furlough of all food safety employees will produce a shortage of meat, poultry and eggs, pushing prices higher and harming restaurants and grocers. The Agriculture Department warns that public health could be affected by the inevitable black-market sales of uninspected food.

RECREATION National parks will have shorter hours, and some will have to close camping and hiking areas. Firefighting and law enforcement will be cut back.

DEFENSE PERSONNEL Enlisted personnel are exempt from sequester reductions this year, but furloughs lasting up to 22 days will be imposed for civilian employees, who do jobs like guarding military bases, handle budgets and teach the children of service members. More than 40 percent of those employees are veterans.

The military’s health insurance program, Tricare, could have a shortfall of up to $3 billion, which could lead to denial of elective medical care for retirees and dependents of active-duty service members.

And the list goes on.

The editorial concludes

Last week, Senate Democrats produced a much better plan to replace these cuts with a mix of new tax revenues and targeted reductions. About $55 billion would be raised by imposing a minimum tax on incomes of $1 million or more and ending some business deductions, while an equal amount of spending would be reduced from targeted cuts to defense and farm subsidies.

Republicans immediately rejected the idea; the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, called it “a political stunt.” Their proposal is to eliminate the defense cuts and double the ones on the domestic side, heedless of the suffering that even the existing reductions will inflict. Their refusal to consider new revenues means that on March 1, Americans will begin learning how austerity really feels.

Remember the definition of sequestration I began with?  It is a temporary thing.  The money is supposed to come back to us.  If the sequestration cuts really happen, I can bet you they won’t be temporary.  We are reaping the cost of wars most of us didn’t want and any rational solution will be held up by the same folks who did want to go to war.  We should have had war bonds.

THE VICTORY FUND COMMITTEE CAN HELP YOUR MONEY...

THE VICTORY FUND COMMITTEE CAN HELP YOUR MONEY WIN THIS WAR THROUGH INVESTMENT IN U.S. TREASURY SECURITIES SUITED TO… – NARA – 515674 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dealing with the housing crisis: The Hong Lok example

The housing crisis in the United States is more than home sales, lending rules and interest rates.  Yes, these are important to the economy, but so is the inability of people to find safe, affordable rental housing in a place they feel comfortable.  One of the things that has happened with all the federal budget cut-backs is the reduction of federal funds to help develop affordable housing.

One of the last projects I helped get off the ground before I retired was the Hong Lok House development in Boston’s Chinatown and I was overjoyed to see it featured in today’s Boston Globe business section.

The $35 million project accomplishes the rare feat of expanding affordable housing in Chinatown at a time when luxury high-rises are popping up across the neighborhood, bringing an influx of wealthier renters.

Completion of the first phase next month will create 32 units for low-income elderly residents, who will move from the old Hong Lok building to a new one next door. The original building, which has fallen into disrepair, will be demolished to make way for another 42 units by spring 2014.

Perhaps more noteworthy than the project’s recent progress is the decadelong struggle to get it financed, which underscores the extreme difficulty of keeping housing in city neighborhoods affordable to a diverse population.

Behind the struggle is a dramatic drop in federal funding for new affordable housing.

Over the past decade, Boston’s allocation of community development block grant money has plummeted nearly 40 percent, to $15.3 million this year, and so-called Home funding has dropped 60 percent, to just $3.55 million, according to city records.

A separate US Housing and Urban Development program for low-income seniors has also been slashed about 50 percent.

That forces developers of affordable housing to rely more heavily on private lending and gifts from institutions.

Jamie Seagle, who would be the first to admit that he and I butted heads more than once, deserves the lion’s share of the credit for making this happen.  It was not only the funding that was an issue, but also building in an historic district with historic structures.   I think the agreement we were able to reach that preserved the historic facades and built units behind them were consistent with the character of the neighborhood worked for everyone.  Yes, it wasn’t easy:  many architects, federal agencies, state agencies, the neighborhood, and at least 3 City of Boston agencies had to agree.  But the fact that we could shows that the process can work.

“To create a site in Boston where you can maintain affordable housing is almost an impossibility today,” said James Seagle, president of Rogerson Communities, Hong Lok’s nonprofit developer. “What’s happening for people of lesser means is that the rents are going up, and the properties where they can obtain housing are steadily going away.”

He said the project involved a decade of legal and financial engineering that generated a three-foot sheaf of closing papers; in contrast, Rogerson’s first project 30 years ago, the 75-unit Farnsworth House in Jamaica Plain, took only 18 months and produced a slim 1½-inch binder for the closing papers.

When I retired last August our first banker’s storage box was full.

When thinking about President Obama’s Second Inaugual speech defending the role of government, one need to look no futher than project like Hong Lok which are happening all around the country.  These are public/private partnerships.

In the case of Hong Lok, developers tapped a complex patchwork of 23 funding sources, including a $17 million loan from Boston Private Bank & Trust Co., a $2 million gift from State Street Corp., and $1.4 million from the Charles H. Farnsworth Trust.

That was on top of millions of dollars provided by the state Department of Housing and Community Development and multiple city agencies.

“It used to be that you’d have three or four sources of funding; now it’s 10 or 12 and sometimes even more than that,” said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “Too many people are being forced to leave Chinatown, and this housing will create more possibilities for people who want to stay there.”

So as we head into budget negotiations, Congress and the President need to think about rental housing and how to fund it.  Yes, people like Jamie Seagle can make the current climate work and I don’t think anyone is advocating for the days when a huge percentage of any affordable housing project is federally funded, but more cuts will only hurt the people on Ruth Moy’s waiting list.

But that program alone is unable to keep up with the demand. When Hong Lok opens, for example, it will have a three- to five-year backlog of applications from people trying to get a unit. The complex will have an attractive mix of comforts, including a rooftop garden, a community center for seniors, and an expanded adult day health program.

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Ruth Moy, executive director of the Greater Boston Chinese Golden Age Center, said when asked about the demand. “We have a very long waiting list of people who want to stay in this neighborhood. But how long can they wait for affordable housing?”

Three facades conceal a building that houses newly built Hong Lok housing units

Three facades conceal a building that houses newly built Hong Lok housing units

Photograph JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

The President, Big Business and the Republicans

You may have noticed that the President has met more than once with various business groups and corporate leaders about fiscal and economic issues.  In today’s New York Times, Jackie Calmes has an interesting analysis.

Corporate chiefs in recent months have pleaded publicly with Republicans to raise their taxes for the sake of deficit reduction, and to raise the nation’s debt limit without a fight lest another confrontation like that in 2011 wallop the economy. But the lobbying has been to no avail. This is not their parents’ Republican Party.

In a shift over a half-century, the party base has been transplanted from the industrial Northeast and urban centers to become rooted in the South and West, in towns and rural areas. In turn, Republicans are electing more populist, antitax and antigovernment conservatives who are less supportive — and even suspicious — of appeals from big business.

The article quotes Senator Cruz

“One of the biggest lies in politics is the lie that Republicans are the party of big business,” Ted Cruz, a new senator from Texas and a Tea Party favorite, told The Wall Street Journal during his 2012 campaign. “Big business does great with big government. Big business is very happy to climb in bed with big government. Republicans are and should be the party of small business and of entrepreneurs.”

Senator Cruz

This brings me to the question, once more, as to who is actually represented by people like Senator Cruz.  OK, I get the small town and rural but what I don’t get is what exactly does he and his wing of the party want to do for those they represent.  My husband would tell me that they don’t want to do anything except blow up government.  Maybe so, but how politically popular would it be to do away with money for roads and railroads that move the farm products that are produced?  (Heard of infrastructure, Senator?)  Or the rural subsidies that provide phone and internet services?  Or the various farm subsidies?  I admit, that I’m not clear on where they are on the corporate farm versus the family farm issue.

But big business isn’t interested in blowing up the government.

Big business is so fearful of economic peril if Congress does not allow the government to keep borrowing — to pay creditors, contractors, program beneficiaries and many others — that it is nearly united in skepticism of, or outright opposition to, House Republicans’ demand that Mr. Obama first agree to equal spending cuts in benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

That explains the administration’s outreach to corporate chiefs, like Monday’s conference call. Mr. Obama wants business’s support to buttress his vow that he will never again negotiate over so essential an action like he did in 2011, when the nation flirted with default and the economy suffered. Vexing Republicans, many business leaders are siding with him.

“I’m agreeing with the president — you should not be using the debt limit as a bargaining chip when it comes to how you run the country,” said David M. Cote, chief executive of Honeywell, and a Republican. “You don’t put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk.”

And the party reaction?

Some of the Republicans’ distancing from big business is a matter of political tactics — to alter their image as the party of wealth and corporate power. A writer for the conservative Weekly Standard said of the fiscal fight last month, “While big business cozies up to Obama once again, Republicans have an opportunity to enhance their reputation as the party of Main Street.”

But if we default on our debt by no raising the debt ceiling, what will happen to all those small Main Street businesses?  People with no social security, unemployment, and in the case of thousands of furloughed government workers at all levels will have no money to spend and those very businesses will be at risk.

Let’s face it.  No one “likes” government until they want or need government to do something for them then we all love government.  All those Republican’s in Congress, many from the South, who voted against Sandy relief will be crying in August and September when a storm hits the Gulf.

President Barack Obama talks with Michael G. M...

President Barack Obama talks with Michael G. Morris, right, of American Electric Power Company, and David Cote in the Cross Hall of the White House, before a dinner with CEOs, Feb. 24, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord of the Coin or another take on the trillion dollar coin.

Ruben Bolling’s take on the magic coin.

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And so, once again Joe Biden causes trouble.