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30 October 2010

Carnival Midway from The Jerk Welcome to this special Saturday, October 30, 2010 edition of On the Moneyed Midways, where we present the best posts we found in the best of the past week's money and business-related blog carnivals!

Longtime OMM readers know that "special" really means "late." Other than that, there's absolutely no difference from this edition of OMM with any other. We've reviewed and identified the top posts from each of the blog carnivals we cover, just like we do every week, which we've presented below for your essential weekend reading.

We will however just get right to it! The best posts we found in the week that was are directly ahead....

On the Moneyed Midways for October 30, 2010
Carnival Post Blog Comments
Best of Money Getting Dirty to Destroy Your Debt - One Toilet at a Time! Redeeming Riches Jason racked up $10,000 in credit card debt while in college. It took two years of he and his wife doing everything from cleaning office buildings after hours, selling anything they could on eBay, and even starting a side business to finally zero out the balance!
Carnival of Debt Reduction If I Had the Money, Would I Replace My Car? Budgeting in the Fun Stuff Crystal hates her Chevy Aveo. But, as much as she doesn't like it, it's paid off so even if she gets a new job paying $20,000 more than her current pay, she'll likely pass on getting a new one.
Carnival of HR How Do You Get Good Employees to Stay? Hot HR Topics Kevin Brozovich wonders if his two sisters who just changed jobs might have stayed at their old ones if their bosses had just asked them what it would take to get them to stay before they gave their notice.
Carnival of Personal Finance Is Your "Go to Hell" Fund Fully Funded? RabbitFunds Adam had a colleague who realized he had no chance at advancement in his company. So he created a "go to hell" fund so he could afford to be able to walk away from that job without having a new job lined up. The Best Post of the Week, Anywhere!
Festival of Frugality Exploring a Financial Fast Canadian Finance Alan Schram wonders if a financial "fast," where one avoids spending as much money as possible for a short period of time, makes sense as a savings plan.
Carnival of Money Stories My Evolving Credit Card Arbitrage Strategies My Dollar Plan Madison DuPaix discusses how she's adapting her credit card arbitrage money-making methods, where she invests credit card balance transfers in high yield savings accounts to earn interest income on the balance, to the new situation that's come into play with the passage of the Credit CARD Act of 2009.

OMM's Running Index for 2010

Presented in reverse chronological order....

Older Editions


29 October 2010

Garth Sundem's Brain Candy If you're a parent, you know the answer to this question really matters, because what's at stake is just how long you'll be out trick-or-treating for candy with your kids on Halloween.

Your children might think bigger is better. But then, you have to consider things like how much candy can they carry, and for how long can they carry it before you get stuck holding the bucket yourself after they start whining about it.

If their Halloween bucket is too small however, you'll hear nothing but whining, especially if you keep needing to go back to your house to drop off candy before turning right back around and going back out again to make that whining sound stop!

Clearly there must be some kind of mathematical way you can find the ideally-sized Halloween bucket for your child, right?

Right! Garth Sundem has created that math, which we've adapted for your use in our tool below - just enter the indicated data that might affect your Halloween bucket size choice and we'll do the math for you!

Trick or Treating Data
Input Data Values
Total Time You Plan to Spend Trick or Treating (in hours)
Trick or Treater's Age (If over 20, or below 0, shame on you!)
Hours Spent on Costume (If Store Bought, Take Price and Divide by 20)
Population Density of Your Targeted Neighborhood
Estimated Median Age in the Neighborhood (the lower the age, the more houses you'll likely be visiting)
Your Child's "Lust for Candy" Factor (Select a value from 1-10, with 10 being "has strategized since last Halloween")

What Size Halloween Bucket Should You Get?
Your Child's Optimum Halloween Candy Collection Container

Happy Halloween!

Previously on Political Calculations

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28 October 2010

Crystal Ball Earth It's time once again for our quarterly accounting for how all the predictions we've made since January 2008 have turned out, where we employ the most brutal, unforgiving metric ever-devised for performance: the plus-minus statistic from hockey and basketball!

Using this system, we gain a point if we're right, lose a point when we're wrong, and score a zero for when the outcome of a prediction either cannot yet be determined or, in the case where we make multiple predictions, where our contrary results cancel each other out.

Ultimately, the plus-minus score counts the number of times our predictions were right more than they were wrong. If we're no better at predicting the future than a coin toss, our plus-minus score will gravitate toward zero. If we're better at predicting the future than that, our score will rise over time. And if we're really bad at prognostication, our score will surely fall.

Three months ago, our plus-minus score was +22. Here's how we stand today:

  • Number of Predictions Made Since January 2008: 101
  • Number of Correct Predictions: 65
  • Number of Incorrect Predictions: 30
  • Number of Outcomes Not Yet Determined: 11

Overall, for the predictions where we've been able to establish the outcomes to date, our plus-minus score has risen to +35. Measured as a percentage, our prediction accuracy rate is 68.4%.

The table below updates the status of all the predictions that we've successfully determined the outcomes during the last three months, as well as those for which we have no determination has yet been made. The blow-by-blow commentary is just a bonus that you'll hopefully find to be entertaining!

Political Calculations' Plus-Minus Score Update, 29 October 2010
Date Prediction Outcome +/- Score
15 January 2008 An unexpected surge of site traffic in the week before the 2010 elections led us to this long-forgotten prediction from January 2008, where we presented a tool that projected that the U.S. National Average Wage Index in 2007 would be $39,273, but we anticipated that it would be much closer to $40,000. According to Social Security, the average income in the U.S. in 2007 was $40,405. Side Note: Our tool's forecast for 2008's average income was $40,523 (actual was $41,334, an error of 2%) and for 2009, we forecast $41,794 (actual was $40,935, also an error of 2%). We anticipate that the average income in 2010 will be more than 2% lower than our tool's forecast of $43,085. +1
13 August 2009 We make fun of 47 economists for predicting that the U.S. recession would end in the third quarter, based on the "Cash for Clunkers" program. We point out that the dividend futures data for the S&P 500 has been saying the recession would be over in 2009Q3 for months, long before C4C even became legislation! Too soon to tell. This prediction looks pretty likely, but we'll have to wait for the NBER to get around to declaring the date of the end of the recession. Update: Looking more and more likely. Update 2: They finally got around to it, saying the bottom of the recession occurred in June 2009, so all of 2009Q3 was recession free! +1
10 December 2009 We said: "If the Obama administration holds to the recent practice of U.S. politicians of keeping near the lower margin, the expected national debt burden for 2011 of 2.9 indicates that the top marginal income tax rate will increase to roughly 44-45%." Alan Viard did the tax rate math analysis of the Obama administration's legislative accomplishments, finding that "virtually all of top earners’ ordinary income will be taxed at 44.6 percent, starting in 2013." +1
21 December 2009 Using incomplete data for the month of December 2009, economy would dip in the second quarter of 2010, with a slow recovery afterward. We anticipate that meaningful growth in the number of jobs would likely begin with the third and fourth quarters of 2010. We anticipate that the NBER will declare the recession they found to have begun in December 2007 to have ended in the third quarter of 2009, but we make a case for 2010Q2 as a more realistic alternate. Too soon to tell. It will be a while before we get a full confirmation for these predictions. On the potential plus side for us, different branches of the Federal Reserve have used their own models for predicting what the NBER will do to find that July 2009 is the month they will most likely declare to be the ending date for the recession. Update: We were a bit off in calling July 2009 as the end of the recession, since the NBER marked June 2009 as the bottom, but we nailed 2010Q2 as being exceptionally slow, making this batch of predictions a split decision so far. We're still waiting to see if meaningful growth in the number of jobs happens through the fourth quarter, but so far, we're on track with that last part of the prediction as the number of people counted as having jobs has risen since July 2010. +0
14 July 2010 We make two predictions for the 2010 major league baseball season: The Arizona Diamondbacks will lose around 100 games and the New York Yankees will end the season with about 105 wins. We'll call these predictions correct if we're within 2 games of those numbers of wins or losses in the final regular season standings. What can we say? We do some predictions just for fun! Update: But clearly, we shouldn't! As it happened, the D-Backs lost 97 games, just one less than what it would have taken to score a point for that prediction. Meanwhile, we finally understand the reason why those second-half of the season underperforming, pin-striped weenies are called "Damn Yankees!" -2
30 July 2010 When they announced the advance GDP figure for 2010Q2, the BEA also revised GDP data going back to January 2007. Since our GDP forecasting technique uses some of that data, we updated it to incorporate that data, now predicting that real GDP for 2010Q2 will finalize at 13,281.6 billion in constant 2005 U.S. dollars! The advance data figure was within 0.5% of the target based on the BEA's revised data, so things are looking very good. But then, we already scored it as a hit. That we got much closer than the 1.2% we calculated based on the pre-revised data forecast just makes it taste sweeter!.... We'll update this entry when the GDP data for 2010Q2 is finalized in September 2010. Update: The final estimate of GDP in 2010-Q3 was $13,194.9, just 0.7% away from a perfect bulls-eye! +1
30 July 2010 When we updated our forecast for where the finalized GDP for 2010Q2, we snuck in a prediction for 2010Q3 in our chart. Although we expect our greatest accuracy when we used the newest, finalized GDP data for the preceding quarter, we're testing out how well projecting the next quarter's GDP based on the advance release data works out! We'll see if we're anywhere close in October 2010, and won't know for sure until December 2010. We'll also offer a more routine prediction when the 2010Q2 data is finalized in September 2010. Update: The clock is still ticking with the advance release GDP data coming out on Friday, 29 October 2010. +0
25 August 2010 Can we predict what average health insurance premiums will turn out to have been in 2010? If single coverage falls between $5,098 and $5,265 and family coverage falls between $14,166 and $14,452, then yes, we can! We won't know until next year when the Kaiser Family Foundation releases its 2010 Annual Survey of Employer Health Benefits. +0
1 September 2010 We anticipate that the average of the S&P 500's daily closing prices throughout the month of September 2010 will fall between 1017 and 1071. The market changed directions on us as the noise that began in April 2010 finally began dissipating. It might look like the S&P's closing the month with an average of 1122.08 is bad news for us, but it's actually great news because we can finally go back to using our direct method for forecasting stock prices! -1
2 September 2010 Maybe our most daring prediction ever. We revisit those ever "unexpected" weekly jobless claims numbers and offer a running prediction - one that continues week after week - anticipating that these new unemployment insurance claims filings will run betwen 415,000 and 515,000 indefinitely. (Note: These weekly figures have been both higher and lower than this range during the last four years.) Eight weeks at this writing. Eight hits. Although we might tweak our forecast in the days ahead, in our view, it will likely take an actual act of Congress to break the stagnant trend in jobs that we've identified. +8
28 September 2010 We create a tool that predicts that the average cost of tuition and required fees at a four-year institution of higher learning (aka "college") will rise to $14,541 in 2009, $15,394 in 2010, $15,869 in 2011, $15,538 in 2012 and $16,212 in 2013. We modify these predictions for 2009, 2010 and 2011, taking the "under" for each of these years. We would anticipate being within 2% of the values for 2012 and 2013. These predictions will take some time to play out. The confirmation will be provided by the annual Digest of Education Statistics produced by the U.S. Education Department. +0
5 October 2010 Using the finalized GDP data for the second quarter of 2010, we project GDP for the third quarter of 2010 will be within 2% of $13,284.3 billion chained 2005 U.S. dollars, giving nearly 70% odds that real GDP will actually be between $13,115 and $13,424. This is our "official" prediction for where real GDP will be in 2010-Q3, which we'll "officially" find out on 22 December 2010. Our first indication of how close we are will come as early as Friday, 29 October 2010 when the advance estimate of GDP is released by the BEA. +0
8 October 2010 Applying our tool that relates the rate of economic growth to the rate of unemployment in the U.S., we project that real GDP will be about $13,272.3 billion for 2010-Q3. Assuming that figure is correct (or nearly so), we use that result with our "official" method to project that the GDP growth rate for 2010-Q4 will fall from about 2.4% in the third quarter to 2.0%. To be determined. It's pretty interesting to have an entirely different method of projecting future GDP give such close results to our "official" approach, where we've consistently been within 2% of our target value. +0
25 October 2010 A week before the month to which it will apply even arrives, we forecast that the average of daily closing stock prices in November 2010 will be in a range between 1182 and 1218. With October 2010 very much on track to hit our target range for that month, this change would mark an upward move in stock prices. We went back over the data for the S&P 500 since January 1871 and found that on a month-to-month basis, "up" has happened some 56.1% of the time. Of course, that figure also means there's a 43.9% chance stocks will fall, so there's plenty of opportunity to be wrong. Right now, we're at the cusp for what direction the market will have moved a month from now, so here's hoping for a not-so-noisy month!... +0

Previously on Political Calculations

The following links will take you to our previous prediction outcome reports, which we've presented below in the order they've appeared here approximately every three months beginning with April 2009. You can get the most recent status updates by clicking the "track record" tag at the bottom of the post.

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27 October 2010

Coin Toss Suppose you were in the business of predicting the outcome of a coin toss, where with each flip of the coin, you have a 50% chance of being correct. What are the odds that out of 20 coin tosses, you would correctly call heads or tails exactly 18 times during all those tosses?

Binomial Probability Data
Input Data Values
Total Number of Opportunities [Must be 170 or lower to avoid maxing out the calculator!]
Number of Times the Outcome Goes a Particular Way
Percentage Odds of Outcome Occurring for Each Opportunity [%]

The Odds of That
Calculated Results Values
Percentage Odds of the Outcome Occurring the Entered Number of Times
Odds of the Event Occurring [1 in ...]
Our newest tool is designed to answer the question of just how likely or unlikely it would be for such a thing to happen. Just enter the indicated data in the tool below and we'll work out the probability of such a thing happening by pure chance for a given number of opportunities!

We find that the percentage odds of correctly calling the outcome of 20 coin tosses exactly 18 times by chance is 0.0181%, or rather, the odds are that this exact situation will occur by chance just once in 5518.8 opportunities.

Now for some food for thought. Since January 1871, the percentage probability that the average monthly price of stocks in the S&P 500 will be higher than in the previous month is 56.1%. What is the likelihood that an individual could correctly anticipate that stock prices would either be higher or lower than the average price level recorded in the previous month on 17 out of 19 occasions by chance?

[Answer: It's very unlikely that chance alone explains that happening, but it's also not as improbable as you might think.... ]

Elsewhere on the Web

We found two really cool tools for doing this kind of math elsewhere on the web:

Richard Lowry presents the detailed calculations and an online calculator for finding binomial probabilities that gets around our tool's limitation of 170 opportunities!

Texas A&M offers a Java application for doing this kind of math that includes graphical output, so you can see where various outcomes might fall on a normal bell curve distribution!

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26 October 2010

Halloween Pumpkin Filled with Candy, Source: FDA With Halloween nearly upon us, where millions of children in the U.S. are about to participate in the annual candy collection and consumption exercise known as trick-or-treating, we wondered how an increasingly intrusive government might interject itself into the event for the sake of keeping too many kids from having too much fun.

Because that would be wrong, you see, on so many different levels. Children might, if not prevented by government action, consume too much candy. If they were, why, it would excessively burden the health care system because they would get too fat during their school years. They wouldn't be able to learn at school because they couldn't focus because of all that sugar in their system. Why, they might even become criminals or make YouTube videos like this documenting the effects of excessive candy consumption!

Clearly, the government must act to protect the children! And in Washington state, they've acted by imposing taxes on candy! Thank goodness for the collective wisdom of Washington state's elected officials, who went to the trouble to legally define the kinds of candies most likely to place the state's children at risk of being at risk!

But to show that we care about children at least as much as the government does, we're happy to present a simple guide to what you need to know about promoting the well being of children who might arrive at your door while trick-or-treating this year while also avoiding having to pay taxes on all the candy the government has determined to be bad for children. In the guide below, which we're providing to you at no cost as a public service, the item on the left should be considered to be unhealthy since it's subject to Washington's tax on candy, while the item on the right should be considered to be a healthy alternative, because it isn't subject to Washington's tax on candy.

Because if you can't trust the government's legislators and regulators to get this kind of thing right, who can you trust?...

"Bad" Candy (which is taxed) "Healthy" Alternative (not taxed!)
Sun Maid Raisins
Vanilla Yogurt
Sun Maid Raisins Vanilla Yogurt Sun Maid Raisins Cranberries & Raisins Sun Maid Raisins
Cranberries & Raisins
Blue Diamond Almonds
Honey Roasted
Blue Diamond Almonds Honey Roasted Blue Diamond Almonds Roasted Salted Blue Diamond Almonds
Roasted Salted
Clif Bar
Clif Bar Raspberry Clif Bar Blueberry Crisp Clif Bar
Blueberry Crisp
Welch's Fruit Snack
Welch's Fruit Snack Twizzlers Strawberry Twizzlers Strawberry
PowerBar Chocolate
PowerBar Chocolate Whoppers Whoppers
Snickers Kit Kat Bar Kit Kat Bar
Reese's Peanut
Butter Cups
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Twix Bar Twix Bar
Lindt Chocolate Bar
Orange Filled
Lindt Chocolate Bar Orange Filled Lindt Chocolate Bar Milk Wafer Lindt Chocolate Bar
Milk Wafer
Jelly Belly
Jelly Belly Kiwi Jelly Belly Licorice Jelly Belly
Baby Ruth
Baby Ruth Nestle Crunch Nestle Crunch
Sour Patch
Sour Patch Peach Sour Patch Apple Sour Patch
Butterfinger Butterfinger Crisp Butterfinger Crisp

Remember, the government is the only entity that really knows what's best for kids. After all, if you can't tell that a green, kiwi-flavored Jelly Belly is bad for kids and that a black, licorice-flavored Jelly Belly is a healthy alternative, it's up to the government to use its taxing power to keep children safe.

And finally, remember that these kinds of well-thought out taxes are just one step away from more drastic steps that would progressively seek to outlaw trick or treating altogether. Because if people's activities and choices aren't sufficiently controlled and regulated by the government, they might find themselves at risk of being at risk!

HT: Sound Politics and Yes on 1107, which provided the guide we presented above!

Previously on Political Calculations

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25 October 2010

In the absence of new, noise-driven events, we can expect that the average of stock prices in the United States as measured by the S&P 500 will rise to a level between 1182 and 1218 in the very near future, with 1200 marking the midpoint of our forecast range.

Accelerations of S&P 500 Average Monthly Index Value and Trailing Year Dividends per Share (and Futures)*, as of 25 October 2010 We base our forecast for stock prices in the short term upon our basic model that correlates the rate of change in the growth rate of dividends expected to be paid in the future with changes in the rate of growth of stock prices. At present, we observe that the large scale noise-driven event that ran from April 2010 into September 2010 appears to have concluded as investors are now focusing anywhere from 10-14 months forward in time, toward either the third or fourth quarter of 2011 in setting today's stock prices.

Our uncertainty regarding which distant future quarter investors have focused upon is due to their very similar projections for changes in the expected future growth rate of dividends - we could use either quarter's data in our math to produce very similar results.

S&P 500 Average Monthly Index Value, 
October 2008 to October 2010, with Forecast for November 2010 Looking over our prediction track record for stock prices, we find nine direct hits out of the nineteen month-ahead predictions we've offered since April 2009, with four near misses where stock prices came within 1% of falling within our forecast range. We note the near misses since our forecasting method remains a work in progress, where we have adapted our methods throughout the period in which we've offered our predictions publicly.

Those methods include the indirect method we developed (shown in the chart as the orange-shaded region) to account for the period from April 2010 through September 2010, when we lacked dividend futures data looking forward far enough ahead in time to anticipate where stock prices would go using our direct method (shown in the chart as the blue-shaded regions).

We also note that if we made coin toss-type predictions with stock prices, simply predicting whether the stock market would be up or down based upon where our next-month forecast range falls with respect to the month in which we made the prediction, we would have been correct in 17 out of 19 times over the last year and a half.

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22 October 2010

Carnival Midway from The Jerk Welcome to the Friday, October 22, 2010 edition of On the Moneyed Midways, where each week, we present the best posts we found contributed to the best of the past week's money and business-related blog carnivals for your entertainment.

Since the topic of what it takes to make an unsuccessful blog carnival came up in last week's edition of OMM, we thought we'd take a moment to weigh in on what makes a successful blog carnival. First and foremost, the host of the blog carnival must put actual effort into preparing the edition they're hosting, first by reading all the contributed posts then narrowing down the contributions to present only those that are on-topic for the carnival.

Next, once having selected the posts that will be included in the edition, the host should provide a compelling reason for a reader to want to click through the links to the selected posts.

Finally, and we should say optionally since it often doesn't work, the carnival host might opt to organize the blog carnival presentation along a theme.

As a case study, Michael of The Dough Roller hosted this week's Carnival of Personal Finance, in which he used the theme of music videos of the 1980s as a framework against which he presented this week's contributions. We've excerpted a small segment of the carnival below so you can see all three of these of these hosting aspects in action.

If you were a teen girl in the 80′s, I bet you knew who Simon Le Bon was. Probably ranking second on my greatest vocalists of all time list, Simon and Duran Duran is most well know for hits like “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf.” For me however, it’s all about “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone”. While Duran Duran was a sensation in the 80′s it’s actually this 1995 video I’ve shared with you because how often do you get to see a rock singer paired with the greatest opera singer of all time. The late and great Pavarotti is singing (in Italian) with Simon and the two of them take an Ordinary World and make it extraordinary. What I wouldn’t give to be in Italy watching these two perform. With youth and experience all in one, let’s dive into retirement, family and student finances.

All in all, this week's Carnival of Personal Finance was a good blog carnival. If there's a flaw, it's the emphasis the carnival host gave his carnival theme at the expense of the contributed posts. And to understand why that's a flaw, compare how he described the Duran Duran video with how he described the contributed posts to the carnival. Which would you rather click through to see based solely on the provided descriptions?

That concludes our case study for blog carnival hosts for this week. It's time to get on to the best money and business-related posts we found that were contributed to the best of the past week's money and business-related blog carnivals!...

On the Moneyed Midways for October 22, 2010
Carnival Post Blog Comments
Best of Money Firefighters Let House Burn and Pets Die Over $75 Faithful With a Few Were the firefighters who let a house burn because the owner hadn't paid an annual assessment of $75 right to do so? Or did they have a moral obligation to help? Khaleef Crumbley weighs the pros and cons of the ethical dilemma ripped from recent news headlines.
Carnival of Debt Reduction How-To Pay Off Debt With the Income You Have? Studenomics MD suggests putting off spending, cutting out just one expense and stop using your credit cards when money is tight and you're trying to pay down your debt.
Carnival of Personal Finance Introducing PF Comic #6 - Taking Extra Jobs written by Brad Chaffee Credit Card Finder It's a first for us at OMM, and actually kind of bizarre, as Orlando Sanchez illustrates Brad Chaffee's story of choosing to deliver pizzas instead of debt consolidation as a better way to pay down debt in comic book style.
Cavalcade of Risk A Compromise that Makes Sense for Child-Only Policies Colorado Health Insurance Insider With insurers no-longer offering new child-only health insurance policies due to the negative incentives created by the "Affordable Care Act" (aka "ObamaCare"), Louise suggests a compromise that would reduce the economic burden of people gaming the system under the law's guaranteed issue provisions by waiting until their child actually needs medical care: restrict open enrollment for these policies to just a short period of time each year. Absolutely essential reading for revealing one aspect of the real effects of the health care reform law's unintended consequences.
Festival of Frugality Outrageous Products That Aren't Worth the Price (Slap Chop Anyone?) Dinks Finance Kristina vents her issues with the cost of her boyfriend's NFL Sunday Ticket sports package, the "Aquarium Channel" being included with her own television package, the price of breakfast cereal and, of course, the infamous "Slap Chop".
Festival of Stocks Know Your Limitations GregSpeicher Greg Speicher considers a moment from Berkshire Hathaway's 1989 shareholder's meeting, in which Warren Buffett shared a letter he received from David Dodd's daughter discussing his view of the importance of "knowing your limitations," as it applies to investing decisions.
Carnival of Money Stories Time to Be the Hardnosed Landlord? Yes, I Am Cheap Sandy has a tenant with terminal cancer, whose rent is largely subsidized by the government, but who has never made their portion of the rent payments on time. Sandy has mostly looked the other way, including even waiving the late payment penalty specified in the tenant's lease, but wonders if it's finally time to become a "hard ass" because she's being played by the tenant. The Best Post of the Week, Anywhere!

OMM's Running Index for 2010

Presented in reverse chronological order....

Older Editions


About Political Calculations

Welcome to the blogosphere's toolchest! Here, unlike other blogs dedicated to analyzing current events, we create easy-to-use, simple tools to do the math related to them so you can get in on the action too! If you would like to learn more about these tools, or if you would like to contribute ideas to develop for this blog, please e-mail us at:

ironman at politicalcalculations

Thanks in advance!

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