Friday, March 16, 2018

My thoughts after listening to interesting interview with Robert Reich on KQED Forum

Interesting interview on KQED Forum with a former U.S. secretary of labor under the Obama Administration. He talks about the decline in the feeling of common good. Rise in cynicism I guess. He basically blames greed, corporations and mostly right wing politics, but while I was listening, I thought about some problems on the left as well.

Here's the blurb from KQED web site.

As economic inequality has surged over the past half century, trust in government, corporations and democracy in general has dwindled among Americans. In "The Common Good" Robert Reich argues that to save democratic institutions, America must restore its morality and rise above spreading individualism. He joins us to discuss how this transformation can happen amid such political divisiveness.

Some of my thoughts about labor unions and so forth below.

Rising cynicism from things that are often thought of as from the left as well. Maybe the right is worse, in my opinion, but the left has its share also.

Here's an example. Idealism of the Great Society led to construction of large housing projects for low income people. Urban renewal. Much of this became crime infested places that, in some cases, had to be torn down. Today's planners realize that those big housing projects, which concentrated lots of poor people into big buildings in one part of town, were a bad idea. It's better to mix variety of income levels into smaller, more human scale structures.

Reigh talked about the value of unions. They have their good points, but problems as well. Seems like back in the 1970s some union workers made very good salaries but the unions didn't care that much about the people who were outside their union. It was hard to get into those good paying jobs. Apprenticeships were hard to get and so forth. The unions shot themselves in the foot politically as outsiders outnumbered union members. Now practically no one is in a union, but the few who are left do seem to care more about the general welfare of workers. Modern unions do care about minimum wage, universal healthcare and so forth beyond just looking out for their own members.

Another problem with unions was the rigid contracts and work schedules. Today's workers and economics call for more flexibility of work hours.

Gentrification is pretty rampant in left leaning cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and even Bellingham where the rising cost of housing is a problem. Also there's the problem of nimby-ism as well as the issue of hippies turned to yuppies.

I can go on, but those are just some thoughts that entered my mind listening to the podcast during my custodial shift.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

My take on the gold standard, debt jubilee and so forth

For discussion, a friend of mine posted a link on my Facebook wall wondering what my take would be on these topics. His comment and then my response below.

Robert, I'd be curious to know what you'd say about this. I think it is quite a lucid piece. It's interesting to see a right wing critique of wealth inequality. There are two things I wonder about: would staying on the gold standard really have helped ordinary people enjoy the fruits of their productivity? And is there a way we could do a jubilee that wouldn't wipe out the savings of people who really need them?

It strikes me that maybe he's creating a myth of a perfect America under the gold standard. But maybe the gold standard could have helped ordinary people enjoy the fruits of their labor. Can you see any way it would?

Here's my response.

Pretty interesting, but I think he is exaggerating the negative. It sells his book. I read most of the article (till into the book sales pitch) on my sleek tablet computer using WIFI at a laundromat. He was talking about how American workers have not benefited from America's wealth. I don't buy that idea in total as we are benefiting from so much new technology. The products we use today, such as tablet computers is one example. The internet brings great wealth. Even our public spaces, the parks, bike paths, schools, museums, public broadcasting is rich, in a way, than my childhood. I hear the average supermarket had around 4,000 items during my childhood. Now it's around 40,000 items (specific numbers may not be exact, but the idea holds). In many ways the world today, here in USA, is abundant and makes the world of my childhood look spartan.

The problem is that it seems like most of this wealth is not really accounted for very well. Much of the wealth we get from the internet is free. It's a benefit to the consumer, but how does one pay the worker when the product is free or at very low cost? More mundane things that have been thought of as necessities for years have gotten much more expensive. Important things like housing, healthcare and a college education. Part of that problem does relate to the practice of printing money. As the author of this article does point out the sloshing around of new money inflates the price of assets and hasn't done as much for wages.

Printed money is part of the reason why houses that went for $25,000 during my childhood now go for over 1 million dollars in Seattle at least. While assets like houses have inflated like crazy, the cost of a Xerox copy remains around the same as it was during my college years. This makes it hard to keep up with asset costs if one is working making things like Xerox copies or other products and services.

I'll have to admit I am not an economics expert, or like a friend of mine has says about himself, "I know enough about economics to make me dangerous." That being said, I think remaining on the gold standard would prevent the printing of money, but it would cause many other problems. It's kind of a pick your poison trade off. I think the gold standard is too confining for a growing economy and what we have now allows for more flexibility.

I may be suffering from biases created by NPR Radio. There is a lot of educational talk about the gold standard in the show called Planet Money. I heard one of the shows with my radio while biking around Lake Samish a few months back. Doing a Google search, I found several of those podcasts. Planet Money has done a whole series on the virtues (maybe) and drawback of the gold standard.

Going back to the gold standard would probably create as many problems as it solves, or maybe even more problems, I would guess. Instead, I think we just need to manage things better. Figure out how to better channel money to workers and less to assets. Taxes on the wealthy and more generous domestic spending can help; in the opinion of us liberals at least.

Part of the problem is when the Federal Reserve prints money, they try to aim at a balance of stimulating the economy without causing run away inflation. Problem is that they are looking at inflation across the whole economy and don't seem to be seeing that there are pockets of high inflation; like house values in many cities, while overall inflation remains low. People are hurting because certain things, like house values, go up while wages stagnate. When the things that are inflationary are necessities, it's a problem.

Better safety nets would help, but also the Fed may be pushing the gas peddle of creating money too much because they aren't looking at the things that are inflating. Maybe they should back off the accelerator to try and tame house value and other asset bubbles. The problem is that backing off the accelerator means lower economic activity and lower employment. That is why unfair distribution of wealth is a big part of the problem. We should have a better way to survive a slow economy. Better than tossing people out into the street.

In an ideal world, maybe they would back off the accelerator and let economy slow down. I am a fan of lower workweeks and striving for quality of life; rather than just material wealth. This could also help the environment. We, as a society, need to learn how to thrive with less consumption. Still have improving quality of life, however. It's how we organize society, wealth distribution and so forth that matters the most.

Today we have many things, like tablet computers, which have vastly improved quality of life, but they are not counted as wealth in the same way that a place to live is. Lots of quality of life things aren't even counted at all by economists. The time parents spend with kids, for instance. Too much of society takes money too seriously.

Debt Jubilee.

Speaking of taking money seriously, the concept of a debt jubilee is interesting. Things like this may have to happen and it would be hard to have a large jubilee without ruining people's savings on the other side of the equation.

In a way, there are small jubilees happening whenever there is a bankruptcy. By coincidence, last night during my custodial shift, I listened to a podcast about the post bankruptcy era for the city of Vallejo, California. 10 years ago, that city government declared bankruptcy which is kind of like pushing the reset button. It may have to happen in a lot of cases. Now Vallejo is getting back on its feet and thriving in many ways. Little bankruptcies can be absorbed in the financial system without too much disruption for most people's savings, but something big, like the US government going bankrupt, would cause the loss of a lot of savings. It can happen, I would guess.

I have some retirement savings in the YMCA plan. It would be sad to loose lots of that, but if everyone else was also loosing, we would all be in the same boat. Could mean cost of living drops also.

I don't know what the author recommends as I haven't bought the book, but my own idea is to cherish the life I live now and the life I have lived in the past. My bike trips across USA, for instance. I'm banking some on the future, but realize that the future is unpredictable. I've had a pretty good life anyway. I hope I have a good retirement, but part of my strategy is to enjoy the life I have today. Much of my good life has already been lived. Already in the bank of life experience, so to speak.

My friend comments again.

Thanks, Robert. Good reflections!

That helps me to understand how monetary policy can distort the economy in some ways.

I read an economist some years ago who said we should discourage home ownership. He said speculation in real estate is always behind all economic crashes, in some way at least. Real estate should be highly taxed.

But when I mentioned his theory to a lady at church, she said "somebody has to own the houses." Why not ordinary people?

My response.

I hear that in Germany there is much tighter controls on windfall profits from selling real estate at least. More controls if real estate has inflated significantly. Condominiums near central Berlin are a lot more affordable than in London, UK where those controls are not in effect.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Can life in British Columbia still thrive if Alberta cuts back on the oil tap?

Under the radar, here in USA, but I often listen to Canadian radio. This is big north of the border. Will oil rich Alberta turn off the supply to consumers in British Columbia? The threat is pushing up gas prices around Vancouver. It's about the expansion of Trans Mountain Pipeline. The pipeline brings oil from Alberta to Vancouver area. There are plans to expand it, but those plans have run into fierce opposition in BC. Alberta's Lieutenant Governor is miffed. There's talk of cutting back the existing flow of oil if expansion is not allowed. This brings up my basic philosophy about dealing with oil consumption as a consumer. It's one thing to try and stop a pipeline, but if the threat of cutting back on oil supply causes one to quake in their boots, it's time to think about the role the consumer plays in this whole question.

I know, it's kind of easy for me to talk cause I ride a bicycle. Yes, I consume products from oil as well. Still, I think we need to figure out how to make society less oil dependent. Stopping a new pipeline may have consequences to the way our current economy is structured, on both sides of the border. It's up to consumers and voters to really make the changes we need in society.

Speaking of both sides of the border, there is a branch of Trans Mountain that comes to Whatcom County. It's part of the supply chain for some of our largest local employers; the two oil refineries just north of Bellingham.

Good discussion on my Facebook wall after this post.

John: All this macho posturing in support of massive corporate profits. Never mind that the oil sands are creating a landscape that may never recover, that thousands of folks are poisoned by the runoff from those open sores on the land, or that this is the dirtiest oil on the planet. We see clearly the power of corporations to manipulate governments to do their bidding, and the people be damned.

Nathan: It's a bit worse than that. A lot of the oil the new pipeline would move is already being moved by train. As scary as pipelines can be, oil by train is terrifying. No municipality in North America has a plan in place for dealing with an oil train getting wrecked beyond "run like hell and let it finish burning." Canada already had an entire small town obliterated by one wrecking. So as long as consumers demand the product, it will keep being moved, just in a far more dangerous manner. Stopping the pipeline is not stopping the oil, it's stopping a major safety upgrade. Consumption needs to be targeted, not pipelines.

John: True, but there is the transgression of First Nations lands...and that needs to stop.

Nathan: I agree we need to treat them, their heritage, and their lands better. But that oil is already going through or near their land. Shutting down the pipelines is increasing the danger to their lands unless consumption is reduced to stop the need for oil trains. Robert riding his bike does far more to protect native lands than all the protestors burning oil to drive out and protest what are essentially safety upgrades.

John: While I might agree, it doesn't change the fact that those oil sands should never have been exploited for environmental reasons and anything that can possibly reduce their acceptability may not be a wasted effort. Reducing consumption is definitely a possibility, but not until alternative energy sources are found. Not everyone can ride a bike everywhere and while Robert is truly an admirable individual with a gentle wisdom about him, his solution is unique to him and cannot be pushed as a universal one. The war against environmental destruction must proceed on many levels.

Nathan: Then there needs to be efforts to stop what allows those tar sands to be developed, and the pipeline is not one of them. The trains, or the oil fields themselves need to be targeted. Shut down the pipeline and you still have made no impact to production, and the only impact you have made to distribution is to force a far more dangerous method of transport. The current tactic is like protesting car culture by trying to ban seatbelts.

Below, my response to the thread.

Robert: With oil trains and trucks rumbling through native lands in many cases and the exploitation of tar sands, it is important to reduce oil consumption. Approach this from many angles such as voting in favor of things like carbon taxes. City planning plays a big role as we should strive to reduce the commute time to work and errands. Making density more affordable is a key as, these days, I think there are a lot of people who would love to benefit from urban living in neighborhoods like Vancouver's West End, but can't afford it. If places farther out could be built like the inner city; transit, walking and biking would be more viable. Short of drastic changes in our culture, the biggest driver of change may have to be technology. Something like solar power creating hydrogen fuel.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hardened schools like missile silos or prisons. A bad idea for education.

Someone at NRA says schools should become the most hardened target in America to prevent school shootings. There are a lot of real hard targets in USA; like nuclear missile silos and prisons. Do we really want our schools to be that? On the other hand, vocational counselors often call for our schools and universities to be more open to people and input from various fields of work. Schools should become less like ivory towers so they can be permeated by the expertise from the larger community. Bring in experts from industry and other walks of life to help build that bridge to the world beyond school. That's not being hardened. We need to find better roads to school safety. Less compartmental thinking.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Why it's hard to cut federal spending. It's the lifeline for a lot of people.

Congressman Paul Ryan being grilled by a Fox News commentator about the huge deficit. Spending is still high. Of course the military got a big increase. He considers the recent disaster relief bill to be "temporary spending." I would say there's always disasters every year, however. He would like to reduce spending by cutting things like Medicaid. I would say that people are dependent on those things, like the 49% of pregnancies that are on Medicaid, so I read. Maybe they should just distribute the morning after pill since it's cheaper than bringing a child into this world.

I don't think they can cut the spending. Things like Medicaid and Medicare are the life blood to a lot of people. Life blood to a lot of constituents. There's always some disaster that they can't just turn their backs on; possibly more disasters, going forward, due to climate change.

Domestic spending is the price we pay for public safety and a civil society. They will need to stop kidding themselves and plan for it. Less tax cuts for the rich.

Maybe society can live cheaper, but Republicans don't talk about what really needs to be discussed, like the morning after pill. If medicine is too expensive, get more people to ride bicycles and eat better diets. Go to the doctor less. The private sector doesn't provide health insurance for a large percentage of our population which means its up to the government to provide for the needs of a lot of people.

Tax cuts for the rich? For the most part I would guess that is not helping the economy. It mostly goes to the idle rich. A few entrepreneurs, like Elon Musk, do invest in things that can help; like Elon's idea to help Puerto Rico turn the lights back on after the disaster by going around traditional power distribution and using more decentralized solar power. Hey, Republicans, I guess we have to do things differently. The old American way of doing business is at a dead end.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Even arming just some of the teachers is a costly solution

A discussion between our Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and President Trump is making news. I would guess that some conservatives are turned off by Inslee's seemingly preachy comment at the end where he tells Trump to spend less time tweeting and more time listening. That sound byte hits the headlines coast to coast.

Deeper down, Inslee made some important points about problems with the strategy of arming teachers. Cost is a big factor. Who's going to pay for the training? Inslee said, "I have listened to law enforcement who have said they don’t want to have to train teachers as law-enforcement agencies, which takes about six months.”

Yes, the cost of security, military and prison services tend to be among the most expensive functions of government.

I agree with Inslee. I think other strategies for curbing gun violence, in society, are better.

I'm kind of a news junkie so I hear lots of obscure things in the news and then add them to the discussion. Speaking the cost of armed personnel, it looks like the town of Colfax, here in Washington State, is having trouble affording it's police department. If municipalities are facing this problem for their regular police, imagine this extra burden on the budget of school districts.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

There should be a moderate alternative to the NRA

I've often wondered if a moderate organization of gun owners could ever gain traction at the national level. Could an alternative to the radically obstructionist NRA form? It would be an organization that supported the needs of gun owners for education, safety and so forth. Unlike the NRA, it would either advocate more moderate political stands on gun ownership, like supporting moderate curbs to the Second Amendment, or it wouldn't be as involved in politics. If such an organization were to gain a big foothold on the national level, it would most likely split the NRA as I think many more moderate gun owners would prefer the milder group. Maybe there is such a group, but it doesn't seem to get much publicity. Gun owners could still have an association with it's certification and educational benefits. They could even get the things, like discounts at hotels and so forth, that come with membership in large groups.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Schools should be part of the community not hardened targets

A terrible idea. NRA's Wayne LaPierre Says ‘Schools Must Be The Most Hardened Targets’. Make schools like nuclear missile silos or even more hardened than prisons.

In many communities, schools are community centers. Rather than being isolated from the community, they are integral parts of society. Lots of functions happen at schools and also, of course, universities. Instead of turning these places into hardened targets, we need to learn how to make society as a whole safer.

A school building at the heart of community. Memories of an event in 2010.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Carbon tax is a good idea, but politically it is even hard to raise enough gas tax to maintain the roads

A carbon tax is a good way to reduce global warming. A few places are starting to get carbon taxes including some provinces in Canada.

Governor Inslee would like to see a carbon tax in Washington State which the legislature is discussing. It's a hard sell, politically. For gasoline, it would be like a gas tax. I got to thinking that it's politically hard to even raise the gas tax enough to keep the roads and bridges in good repair.

Sometimes I gain insight from what Republican lawmakers say. A Republican state lawmaker, interviewed on Pullman Radio, said that she didn't feel the gas tax would go over well if people didn't even see road improvements from it. Kind of like a tax for what?

Most carbon tax proposals would pay out not necessarily in road improvements, but other areas such as cuts in other taxes like the high Washington State sales tax. Another idea would be Governor Inslee's plan to use some of that money to fill the gap created by the State Supreme Court ruling for funding education.

A tax is a hard sell, even if it goes to very visible and tangible road improvements. Ideally, maybe it would go to "transportation improvements," rather than just roads. Public transit, bike paths and so forth. Such a tax did pass, a few years back, here in Bellingham. Bellingham prop. 1 transportation improvement tax which went to bring back Sunday bus service and do other improvements with some emphasis on bicycles. That did pass within the fairly liberal city limits of Bellingham in 2010.

We do need infrastructure and how is that to be paid for? More deficit spending? How about taxes so it can be pay as you go? How about combining the justification for a carbon tax with that for infrastructure? Raise the gas tax and call it a carbon tax. Get better roads and bridges. Use some of the money for bike paths and public transit. Some car drivers will complain about even that diversion of funds, but better transit does mean less traffic thus helping the cars also.

I guess a true carbon tax would also include other forms of fossil fuel besides gasoline; like, for instance, natural gas used in electricity production. Well, we need infrastructure improvements to the power grid also. How do we pay for that? A carbon tax.

Another big use of fossil fuel is heating and manufacturing. I guess agriculture as well. Okay, we need to fund environmental cleanup. Where does the toxic waste "super fund" cleanup money come from? In Washington I think some of that comes from a tax on our oil refineries.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Republicans tend to be against both gun legislation and mental health funding

Looks like a few of the mostly Republican lawmakers are kind of on the defensive about the problem of mass shootings. They are starting to realize that just offering prayers and saying there's nothing they can do might not be enough. Also seems like quite a few high school students are organizing and rallying. Reforms are being pushed in two areas. Better regulation of weapons and also better funding for mental health. People argue as to whether it's about mental health or gun regulation. Looks like it's both. Yes, mental health needs more, dare I say it, domestic spending.

Friday, February 16, 2018

My photo included in Earth Magazine of environmental science

Photo I took at the 100th Meridian in South Dakota has been included in an article in the February edition of Earth Magazine. Article is about the 100th Meridian being thought of as a line of demarcation between the humid east and the dryer inland west of the United States. Interesting history from reading that article. Now days, it looks like the dryer regions are expanding to the east so possibly the 98th Meridian is more the dividing line due to climate change.

Photo was taken during my 1991 bicycle trip across USA. My first cross USA bicycle trip. I have a large collection of photos that are posted on Flickr. They are donated to Creative Commons License. Various publications will occasionally use photos and possibly ideas from me. This spreads my legacy farther than just my own web site or Facebook page. My major, in college, was geography so this is kind of fitting.

Below graphic from linking to that article from my Facebook Wall.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Should compost able plastic cups go into plastic recycling? The answer is NO.

Working as a custodian, here's something I wondered about so I did a Google search. Here's one of the articles I found.

Apparently, it is better to put them in the regular trash if there isn't a green compost bin. Recycled plastic goes into making new plastic, or building materials such as Trex decking. The compost able cups are made from a different material that contaminates the plastic recycling process. Best to put composting cups into the compost able bin with food scraps, but if such a bin is not available, I guess the regular trash. Lots of people wouldn't know this.

Learning to be good at the game of creating a more usable waste stream. Intentional living. Here is a set of bins at Bellingham Food Coop with examples of what should go where. Still, the compost plastic is not mentioned. Here, it would go into the compost bin along with the fork and spoon which, in this case, are made from a special kind of cornstarch that can be composted. Most plastic utensils are not for compost. Many recycling stations don't have a compost bin. They only have recycling or trash. In that case, I would guess the compost plastic is better in the trash.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Call Me By Your Name film sticks it to up tightness in society

Many friends of mine have been talking about this film. Tho I seldom go to the movies, I wanted to see this. Very good and thought provoking.

Spoiler alert. It's the story of a love affair between an American professor, visiting Italy, and the 17 year old son of the host family that the professor was staying with.

In some ways, it seems like this film is giving the finger to up tightness in our culture as the thought of falling in love with a teenager is frowned upon. However Call Me By Your Name is well on the road to receiving Oscars and is much acclaimed. It was my first time seeing a film at Bellingham's giant Barkley Cinema multiplex.

In the end, the professor heads back to America. It's a bit sad as the 17 year old son will miss him. A memorable part, to me, is the attitude of acceptance that the father, in that Italian family, showed during a father to son talk. He said, to the son, that the love experience the son had just been through was very special. Something many people would never experience. To be cherished.

I contrasted that attitude to someone feeling the son had been manipulated or molested. Different than someone calling the police.

There was lots of nice scenery in the film, not just the actors, but the landscape of the Italian village. A different value and pace of life than sterile productivity, I guess.

Some people comment as to whether there will be a sequel so the story can continue, or take a new turn. Who knows, but my imagination makes one up.

At the end of this film, the professor calls to report that he is getting married to a woman back home in USA. The son misses the professor, but the family congratulates him. In my sequel, they come together again and form a threesome including the professor, the Italian boy and the professor's new wife. I can see that freaking some people out, but it could be a nice continuation.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

In the competitive market of romance, even someone with the stature of an Elon Musk might not have all the right stuff

Human romance can be tricky. Even such a successful and highly regarded person, such as Elon Musk, has trouble finding the right mate. In this long and detailed interview in Rolling Stone (that I admit I haven't read all the way to the end) are some telling things about Musk's personal life.

From article, in one part, Musk discusses the breakup for a few more minutes, then asks, earnestly, deadpan, "Is there anybody you think I should date? It's so hard for me to even meet people." He swallows and clarifies, stammering softly, "I'm looking for a long-term relationship. I'm not looking for a one-night stand. I'm looking for a serious companion or soulmate, that kind of thing."

In another part, The New York Times has called Musk "arguably the most successful and important entrepreneur in the world."

I found this Rolling Stone article from another shorter piece that came up in Yahoo News from Business Insider.

Personally, I sometimes think society's vision of success is a prerequisite to the competitive world of romance, but this is not necessarily so. Success in one area doesn't necessarily imply it in another.

Being a workaholic can distract from human connection, of course.

Also, on a personal note, I must admit that I don't feel lonely most of the time. I'm not in a relationship and I seem to like living by myself. For me, connection to other people is still important tho. Connection to the broader community. This includes my erotic feelings as well which is another whole story. Similar issues apply whether one is talking about straight relationships or gay relationships.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The federal debt may not be that much of a problem

Looks like Congress may finally be able to pass a budget deal that lasts more than a few minutes (I mean weeks). This time, pushing the snooze button on "debt ceiling alarm clock" might have more sticking power. That alarm was a bit annoying and actually made things worse; like tossing sand in the gears. This deal might give everyone some candy at least. Tax cuts, more spending for the military, Medicare and so forth. It's easier to get agreement when one can provide, rather than take stuff away from people; especially when many of the needs are real. We can just add to the long term deficit which, so far, seems to only cause minor consequences. I guess Federal Reserve can print money to cover, if need be. Inflation is a consequence, but overall inflation has been low for a long time. In certain metro areas, housing inflation has been strong and that can spread to other parts of economy as wages go up, though.

People worry about future generations being buried in debt, but future generations will do just fine. If inflation is a problem, they can just move the decimal point over in their money. The dime can become the new penny. Maybe even the dollar will become the new penny. Future generations can start from there and will not likely know the difference.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Low interest rates enabled some bad policy during Bush JR term as well

Hannity blaming everything on Obama. The cheap money of super low interest rates are a problem, but this was happening for the Bush Administration also.

Federal Reserve policy, about the money supply, is pretty much independent of the president. Low interest rates have persisted, mostly to try and push up employment. Maybe shorter workweek and somewhat more modest expectations are better? It's America's addiction to money. Wealth is good, but so is balance. Cheap money has pushed up house values and the cost of living. It's enabled government spending making it easier for whoever is president. This isn't necessarily all bad, but can be problematic. Now, the prospect of wider spread inflation is knocking at the door.

Stock market takes a hit. Blue region economies don't need red region strategy of stimulus. Parts of economy may already be overheated.

Stock market drop, February 5 2018. Trump and Republicans loose a talking point.

There's lots of different opinions as to why the market is dropping. I've got my take also.

People say the market is nervous about the threat of inflation. Inflation could mean interest rates would need to go up to curb inflation and that is often depressing news for stocks.

Yes, inflation is becoming more widespread, but us in "blue state," or more accurately "blue cities" America have known about inflation for a long time. Housing costs have been soaring in many of our metro areas. This creates pressure to raise wages; such as here in Washington State where minimum wage is now up to $11.50 per hour. After all, workers do need to be able to afford to live. What a concept. This does, however spread inflation farther. The cost of a burger and fries will go up as the employees, who serve it, get paid more. Maybe their wages will start to catch up with the cost of housing, healthcare and even college. It's like "what goes around, comes around." The blue cities have been dealing with inflation and prosperity for years.

Red State America is where most of the politicians come from and, for the most part, they don't even care or listen to what's happening in blue state America. The economy tends to be more stagnate in red regions so they still think we need to stimulate the economy. They push tax cuts.

Well, now we're dumping money into the private sector with tax cuts, but for the most part the economy is already booming. It's booming in the blue metros at least. Unemployment is down. Is this the time to be doing stimulus? Maybe not. Too much stimulus is inflationary.

Now investors have two big worries. Growing federal debt and an overheated inflationary economy. Interest rate hikes may be needed to keep a lid on things.

Liberals talk about stimulus also, but they usually talk about government spending on infrastructure for stimulus. When the economy gets rolling, then even writers, like Paul Krugman, do talk about cutting back on the stimulus.

I hate to oversimplify by saying liberals think this and red state people think that so bear with me. I know it's more complex, but this is a Facebook post (I first posted this on Facebook). How many bites do I have left?

Even though the economy is starting to boom and unemployment tends to be low, there is still trouble leading people to keep wanting stimulus. Stimulus like tax cuts or more government spending. It's sort of like we are an addict needing yet another "money fix." Reason for this problem is that even during prosperous times, many people can barely make ends meet. The income gap is leaving lots of folks behind in the dust of prosperity. In blue states, we tend to realize that inequality is a big problem. We need more than just prosperity, we need a more sustainable and fairer economy. In some cases maybe even more taxes for things like affordable housing and healthcare. A more balanced deal.

Friday, February 02, 2018

My first time at Lincoln Theater in Mount Vernon

Outside the Lincoln Theater in Mount Vernon. Autumn 2015 during one of my bike trips in the area.

First time I was inside Lincoln was November 2017 for the Betty Desire Coming Home Show when friends brought me to the show by car. One of our group got this image. I'm third person from the left. Memories from a few months back.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

But few people really understand what clean coal would be

In Trump's first state of the union speech he mentioned "clean coal." I got to thinking that very few people know what clean coal is. Practically no one, on the big national stage including Trump himself, explains clean coal. There is such a concept, but whether clean coal is economically viable, or not, is a very good question. Clean coal may still not compete with solar energy. In other words, solar might be lots better.

Clean coal basically means sequestering the carbon dioxide back in the ground, rather than having it go into the atmosphere. It means still using coal, but capturing the carbon dioxide from the flu gases and figuring out how to stash it away without it going into the atmosphere to cause global warming. An expensive prospect, but I think there's people in the energy industry, doing research on this.

Of course, there are still lots of people who don't believe global warming is happening anyway so that taints Republican ideas for sure.

If clean coal were to work, we could still use our vast coal deposits for energy, rather than having them turn into what's often called "stranded assets." Stranded assets are deposits that the energy companies own that they can't use. It's something lots of big companies would like to do as they have lots of coal and oil deposits on the books.

Still, it's more expensive than just letting the carbon pollute our atmosphere. It may even be more expensive than just developing solar power.

People are easily confused because true clean coal would do the difficult job of sequestering the carbon, but there's other types of coal power that are often called clean coal. Those types of power just scrub the dirty particulate matter out of the flu gas; the dust, and stuff that cause health hazard. That's fairly easy to do and is often called clean coal, but it doesn't take out the carbon dioxide, which is the greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide isn't poisonous to us and it's invisible. We can't smell it, but it causes global warming. Just taking out the particulate pollution is not really clean in terms of global warming.

Trump's speach pulls at heartstrings, but are the policies good?

Listened, on radio to Trump's state of the union message. He and his handlers, do know how to tug at the heart strings. Common for that type of speech. The way North Koreans treated that student who they detained and who later died was despicable. His parents in the chamber. Can bring tears to my eyes.

I'm sure there's plenty to criticize about the policies. I'll await various pundits discussing on tomorrow's NPR shows such as The1A and On Point.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Brain drain worry. Keeping up with peer institutions make college less affordable.

My earlier post is about memories of an era when college was more affordable.

Many people are wondering what happened. Why is college so much more expensive these days? Lots of theories, I guess.

I think a big part of the problem is another manifestation of growing income disparity. So many jobs that are low wage compared to the higher paid professional jobs. I remember a period, in the 1980s and 1990s, when there was quite a bit of worry that faculty pay at universities was falling behind pay in other states and other types of business. There were attempts to boost pay scales for the sake of talent retention. This added to the cost of running the school and, at the same time, the states were basically lowering the percentage they paid for the cost of running state colleges. Tuition had to carry a higher percentage.

Even though, I guess, total numbers are higher now, percentages are different. When I was in school, I think a full 70% of cost for running the college came from the state. Now it's more like only 40%. More total money from the state, than before, but lower percentage which makes a big difference.

Also it seems like the split within universities is more pronounced with college presidents and top administrators making a lot more while entry level and adjunct faculty barely get by.

Mounting costs for certain things, like healthcare and housing, add to this problem making living expenses for students more expensive while rising healthcare costs eat into state budgets; part of the reason why today's percentages are different in state budgets. The growing income gaps are not serving us well.

Below is a chart I found in a PDF file from WWU. It shows decline in percent of budget from state quite well. This isn't taking into account the figures for money from grants, Western Foundation and so forth. If that was figured in I don't know. Maybe less than 40%? It does look like the percentage from the state is making a comeback in most recent years.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Can we still afford the curriculum of general university requirements?

I think if I were in my 20s today, I wouldn't go to college. My confidence in the marketability of my skills isn't that high so I wouldn't want to incur a huge debt. Some other people have a clearer vision toward a lucrative career, but without that, the debt may not be worth it.

Back when I did go to college, the costs were much lower. My parents were able to pay my way so I graduated with no debt. They were only slightly upper middle class. If I couldn't have my way paid today, I doubt I would go. Instead I would live my life, kind of like I am living it now, looking for quality of life things that are low cost. I'd be spending some time at the university anyway, attending free discussions. Also I would be taking advantage of educational things in the community and on the net. Listening to a lot of NPR podcasts as I do now.

My mom was a strong believer that college should be about more than just preparing for a job. It's the virtue of being an informed citizen. She believed in the balance of humanities and sciences. Her own major was physical education, but she never used it vocationally. She did lots of volunteer work and was married to my dad who was a science professor at WSU in Pullman. I feel fortunate to have been brought up in that family; a situation made possible by affordable education.

While I was going to college, I did have my own struggle with humanities requirements. I was never much of a reader. I'm definitely not a speed reader. Some of the general education requirements seemed irrelevant to me back then. Kind of distant and theoretical. I had my own humanities issues dealing with campus life, coming out as a gay person and so forth. My own life situations spoke so loud to me that I had trouble putting my life experiences aside enough to concentrate on the classics. I knew that there are insights one could get from that study, but it was hard for me to make that connection.

Fortunately, when I got to college here at WWU in Bellingham, they had just done a major revamp of their general university requirements; the GURs. They were starting to put aside a fairly rigid GUR curriculum and were adopting more of a smorgasbord system with a lot of choices to fill each GUR category. They offered choices in several categories of sciences, humanities, and ethnic studies. Ethnic studies was a new addition, I think. The definition of a well rounded education keeps evolving. We had a certain number of classes required from each category. Lots of choices. I tried to avoid classes that had a heavy reading load. The system worked pretty well and I made it through. That was back in the mid 1970s.

Back then, WWU was facing a very different situation than it is today. When I entered college, the student enrollment was going down. Imagine that today as these days they turn away students and face enrollment ceilings. Part of the reason for the shortage of students was their rigid system of humanities requirements which is a big reason why they were adopting the more open "choice" system. Demographics effected enrollment also as the Vietnam war was winding down and the push of people going to college for draft deferment was basically over. They had more faculty than the enrollment could justify so they were under some pressure, from the state, to boost enrollment and also lay off faculty and staff. They had a program called RIF meaning "reduction in force." People nicknamed that "ripoff in force." Eventually, as I got toward graduation, enrollment was going up again and the situation was stabilizing.

There's been lots of history since then, but I thought I would share my own college experience. I think I did get a good education with a variety of topics. A broad based education, but also a lot of choice within the parameters as I tried to take classes that interested me. I was glad to be able to take lots of electives. Took me 5 years to get a 4 year degree. I was able to go "the scenic route" so to speak.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Open house at Granary Building on Bellingham's waterfront

Screenshot photo from my Facebook post after the January 17 open house and planning discussions. It was good to see the inside of that building they have been working on. What I wrote and my photos are also in my Granary tag on Flickr.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Yes, I guess the Democrats are flilibustering, but there's a way around

Republicans are blaming Democrats for the government shutdown because Democrats are basically filibustering the debt ceiling bill until it includes relief from deportation for the Dreamer people. President Trump kind of started this problem by using executive action to try and deport Dreamer people until legislation can be passed to resolve the issue. I would guess that an easy way out of this impasse, now, is for Trump to delay, or totally scrap, the executive action on deportation. Maybe delay it by a year or even half a year? That should take the pressure off that issue so the government can reopen. Then Congress can continue to try and resolve that issue. He's probably afraid that Congress will be run by Democrats next year.

Friday, January 19, 2018

If federal government were drowned in a bathtub, the west coast blue states might form their own country?

Some conservatives say that they want to shrink government down to where it can be drowned in a bathtub. I got to thinking, if the Federal Government capitulates the the states can form their own countries. Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada are a big cluster of what are called "blue states." That would be a great country. Things like Social Security could be handled by our state, or "left coast" country.

Maybe the US is too big to govern; especially if any one political party totally dominates. I wouldn't want to see USA break apart, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all.

As for the red and blue political divide, that situation wouldn't be solved, tho, as there is a lot of red and blue in each region. Rural areas tend to be more red, urban areas, even in Texas, tend to be more blue.

The idea of red blue divide is pretty stark as I know folks who could be classified as red that are basically nice people even though I'd be mostly classified as blue. I tend to not wish to divide people too much. Still, just the size of the country is a factor. Aside from the red blue divide, it could be that smaller countries work better anyway.

Who would pay off the federal debt? Everyone would just walk away from it. Sounds tempting, but I know it wouldn't necessarily be that simple.