Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy New Year 2015



BBQ place near where I live has a nice tree surrounded with their normal patio lights.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Fed walking tightrope between inflation and recession doesn't seem to work anymore

I recently came across an interesting article entitled, The Fed Sets Another Trap. If I'm understanding this article, it seems like it's author Stephen Roach is calling for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates back to more historically normal levels and reduce some of the money that's now in circulation. Interest rates are unusually low; an unhealthy situation in the long run.

Parting from this article, I have my own thoughts.

Raising interest rates poses the danger of slowing the economic recovery. On the other hand, low rates and extra money may be contributing to localized inflationary bubbles, not just in the future, but right now. Things like the price of urban real estate are spiraling up. Look at housing prices in San Francisco and other cities, for instance.

Walking a tightrope between inflation and recession is a job that the Federal Reserve has been ask to do since it's inception, but that job is becoming increasingly difficult. Should they do stimulus because unemployment and under employment is high, or should they put on the breaks because the cost of certain things are going up?

The cost of many goods and services are remaining stable, or in some cases going down. This is partially due to great efficiencies in the technology of production. These efficiencies are putting deflationary pressure on prices and the wages in the sectors of the economy that provide those goods and services. Other sectors of the economy see prices on the rise.

Just asking whether the Fed should tighten or loosen the money supply is not enough. We need to do something about the growing disparities in our economy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Passing through Christmas, Michigan. Summer of 1991 bike trip



See photos of my 1991 trip.

My mom didn't allow toy guns in my childhood home

My mom used to ban toy guns in our house while I was growing up. For a little while during my childhood, I thought she was a bit prudish as other neighborhood kids seemed to have lots of fun playing shoot em up. I would have to go to the neighbors to play with gun toys. What seemed prudish, back then seems quite sensible now, looking back. Toy guns can look too real, from a distance. That's one of the many problems with toy gun play. What seemed a bit prudish, or out of step with the norm back then makes more sense now. My mom had good insight.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Walmart reliance on Medicaid, the wave of the future?

Companies like Walmart get a lot of flack because they rely on things like Medicaid to provide employee health benefits. If we had single payer healthcare, that would be the norm. The public, rather than private employers, would provide healthcare. It seems like that could be the wave of the future as employer provided healthcare deteriorates and the public sector picks up the tab.

The standard conservative and liberal camps, with their talking points, tend to confuse this issue. Liberals, who usually support single payer, still complain about all the private employers who's workers rely on Medicaid expansion and the Obama Care exchanges instead of employer provided health plans. Well, isn't that what single payer healthcare does?

Conservatives, who rail against government healthcare, don't do very much to provide private health insurance to employees. Companies, all the way from mom and pop businesses to mega wealthy corporations like Walmart, remain scanty on their employee benefits. If companies don't subsidize employee health insurance, government health plans, like the Medicaid expansion, fill the void. Problem is conservatives grumble about government providing healthcare. Remember, many of the more conservative states have refused to implement the Medicaid expansion.

Somebody needs to do it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Why blaming the one percent may not be that effective

Since Occupy Wall Street fame, the figure of 1% top income percentile has become a popular meme. Why 1% instead of 2 or even 10%?

1 is a small number so 1% is not that many voters. It's politically expedient to say you are for the 99%. After all, 99% is a mandate that will always win elections, supposedly, tho it often doesn't seem to work that way.

The one percent meme is another manifestation of our search for a painless solution to the problems of society. Government is one tool to solve problems, but taxes which fund the government tend to be unpopular. Therefore, the easiest political solution is to try and impose unpopular things, like taxes, on as few people as possible. If only the 1% has to pay a new tax, then the 99% of voters don't have to pay, so the tax should be able to pass. Right?

For some reason, that doesn't seem to be the case. Do the 1% have so much power that they influence media and voters to literally buy elections?

That's part of the problem, for sure.

Another part of the problem is the percentage of people in the lower 99%, and especially the lower say 50% of income distribution who actually vote. I hear that 2014 election saw the lowest percent of eligible voters to vote since 1942.

Blaming everything on the 1% is a way to absolve oneself of personal responsibility. If social change is to happen, we all have to do our part be it voting or what we support with our dollars in the marketplace. The wealth and power of the 1% still relies on the mass market of shoppers and voters.

What about the top 2%, 10% or even 20% income percentile? America's income gap keeps getting wider between all income classes. Upper middle class has gotten way out ahead of lower middle class and the poor. Why can't so many working people afford medical care, for instance? Are doctor and professional incomes way above what most working people can afford? There's nothing wrong with paying doctors more than average workers due to the education and skills required to be a doctor, but one must ask what's economically sustainable. As planning for affordable healthcare is considered, we have to take into account what is sustainable. What can the premiums, for insurance and/or the taxes for government based healthcare sustain?

Unaffordable housing is another issue that the income gap brings up. How can folks making minimum wage afford to live in a city like San Francisco? Is it the 1% who has bought up all the residences making buying and renting unaffordable for the bottom 50% in that city? San Francisco, supposedly a bastion of liberal politics yet about the most unaffordable city in America.

I'd say it's more than just the top 1% that creates the housing problem. How about the top 10%, or maybe even the top 20%? There are many high paid tech workers, and so forth, who can afford expensive housing. They have crowded lower income classes out of the housing market. Here, the problem is upper middle class. If there isn't enough housing, the upper middle class gets first dibs. That is except for subsidized housing and folks grandfathered into rent control.

So it looks like it's a broader problem than just the 1%. It's society as a whole; to some extent. Everyone has some responsibility. That doesn't let the 1% off the hook, but the problems can't be solved unless more folks take responsibility. Landlords, consumers and voters. We all can make the difference.

I've heard it said that if we just raise taxes on the 1%, there wouldn't be enough money to make that much of a dent in the federal budget. The 1% have lots of money, but there are not very many of them. What about raising taxes on the top 20%? That's a bigger chunk of money. That's what our graduated income tax did before the so called Reagan Revolution.

Maybe some liberals, not to mention conservatives, wouldn't like the idea of taxing the 20% because there is a lot of rhetoric, these days, about the need to strengthen the middle class. Quite a few folks talk about the need to support a large consuming class. As economist Paul Krugman says, mass consumer spending creates more jobs and jump starts the economy more than the wealth of the 1%. Still, I think the upper middle class could do more to bring a fairer society. Seems like the upper middle class is becoming wealthy while the lower middle class is becoming poor. The real middle, in the middle class, is getting a lot thinner. Income distribution is a problem within the middle class leading to affordability problems in things like education, healthcare and housing.

Even lower income people bear responsibility. How we treat one another and our voting patterns do make differences.

Another thing to think about is the natural environment. Middle class consumer spending isn't always a wonderful thing. One has to think about the the carbon footprint, for instance. Mass consumption of gasoline, cars, houses and products has to take the environment into account. Going more green is best in all these things.

Another consideration is not just how much money someone has, but what are they doing with their money. Is someone in the 1% donating millions to good causes, or buying Congress? Is someone in the top percentile building a business and developing new technologies or just buying luxury homes and bidding up the price of everything from real estate to paintings?

There is more to the equation of a better society than just deferring all responsibility to the 1%. Sure, the 1% should pay higher taxes, but it takes the rest of us voters to at least show up at the polls if we want that to happen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Collage art I did in 1980s about contradicting demands of the voters

Sent to a Mail Art show about politicians in the 1980s. Discusses contradictory demands of voters. Scroll down to see dialog beneath each picture made of cutouts from magazines. Mantra is, we voted them in when they promised these things, then we voted them out when they gave us what we wanted; as in "be careful what you ask for as you might get it."















Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is America's welcome mat getting tired and overburdened?

There have been quite a few posts in social media about the Statue of Liberty not turning it's back on the world, but turning its back on New Jersey.

In my files of old art collages is a copy of this piece I sent to a Mail Art show in the 1980s. Theme of the show was "Liberate Liberty." One was encouraged to interpret that however they wished. I doctored an image from National Geographic Magazine to make this piece. Taken from the Jersey shore, I think from some article on population growth and the environment.

My question was, is Liberty's welcome mat getting tired and overburdened?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Charles Manson has name recognition going for him in our celebrity fixated culture

A young woman wants to marry Charles Manson, even though he is in prison. Adolph Hitler sells a painting, even though he is dead. The power of being a celebrity. Famous and infamous. Too many people coast on name recognition and audiences still rely on it more than they should. Remember the lesser known brands, or at least take time to look beyond celebrity status. This applies to politicians as well. Name recognition should not rule the day.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Mail Art piece from Berlin Wall



25 years ago, the Berlin Wall fell and sometime around then, I got this art piece in the mail from Germany. Dust from, I assume, the wall enclosed in plastic at the center of the photo. Back then, I was participating in a grassroots network of pen pal artists who sent creativity to one another, sort of like the sharing that ordinary people are doing today on Facebook. Back then, there was no Facebook and the art traveled through the mail. It is called Mail Art. Some people still do Mail Art.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

A lot of government red tape comes from local rather than national government

Folks who vote for Republican leaders at the national level are barking up the wrong tree if they are doing this to reduce regulation on small business. Much of the regulation of small business comes from local government such as city, county and state. Local rather than national government. Small business is often saddled with various local zoning regulations, fire, health and safety codes, certification for certain professions, building permits and business licenses. Then there's also the many environmental rules for wetlands, farmland preservation, water restrictions and so forth.

There are federal regulations as well, but many of the ones that come to my mind relate to Wall Street. There's federal agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as federal banking rules. Some of these rules may have been too lax leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. Do we want to deregulate Wall Street more, but still saddle small business with local regulations that are overlooked by national politics?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Washington State I-1351 could harm state social services, parks and other needs

I think I'll vote no on 1351, the class size initiative.

I don't always follow party line thinking. Democrats may be horrified, but I think I will vote against Washington State Initiative 1351 mandating smaller class size. Problem is, there is still no extra funding source, in that legislation, to provide this money. I'm worried that it might force the state to slash other things, such as social services, state parks and even college education (which isn't K-12) to come up with the money. Smaller class sizes, especially in the early grades, are desirable, but I am afraid they will not be able to find the money and may be forced to cut other things that the state needs.

Raising more revenue, for the state would be a good thing, but this initiative doesn't address that. One of the problems is that Washington State has a very regressive state tax system. Much of the state revenue comes from sales taxes which tend to hit low income people harder even though food is tax exempt, at least.

Still, much as people grumble about income taxes, the graduated income tax that many other states have does a better job at taxing the rich, so to speak. Also there are a lot of financial transactions and so forth that are tax exempt. Tax reform is needed to make our state tax system less regressive while possibly raising more revenue. In the meantime, I worry about the non K-12 things that the state does, such as mental health services, parks and so forth that might get squeezed out in the budget battles.

Some folks support initiatives, like this, which could force the issue so the state might raise more revenue and deal with tax reform. I am afraid that's kind of a game of chicken. If anti tax people don't blink when K-12 pushes its way, the other needs in the state loose. In the long run, these other state services are also good for kids and education. For instance teachers need things like parks and museums as places to take class field trips to. Also, of course, without adequate social services, many of the children are less prepared to learn.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

My 2014 bike tour photos are now on line. Trip in Western Washington and Oregon



Start of 1 mile walking trail to Big Four Ice Caves east of Everett, WA.

See Trip Album here.

Also see.

Vancouver, BC. Gay Pride 2014.

And Blog Entries.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Bridge for Bellingham bike trail hoisted into place



They are finally fixing the bridge for the bike trail across Whatcom Creek just north of downtown. A year, or two ago, a fire damaged the trestle. A new bridge is being put in place and I happened to be riding by at just the right moment.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Beautiful big old trees like this as I continue my bike trip



Now in the Eugene, Oregon area. Spending some time in the McKenzie Valley.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Quantitative de eseasing?

If quantitative easing means putting more money into circulation, what is the opposite? Quantitative De easing or how about diseasing? Taking money out of circulation. On my bike trip from Bellingham to Eugene, I stopped in this bar in south west Washington where customers take money out of circulation, write on it and paste it to the ceiling. It's art. Hundreds of dollars worth. Also good food served there. Must be a common practice. Dollar behind the bar, only this is lots of money.

See also: Quantitative Easing Versus Moores Law.


Friday, August 15, 2014

At Deception Pass Bridge on my bike trip


Took the short walk on the trail under the south end of the bridge.



I got to talking various routes with these folks who were cycling from south part of Whidbey Island to Bellingham. When I mentioned my web site, they gave me high fives as they remembered my site as one of the sites with biking information about the area. They were glad to meet it's author. I'm pictured second from left with three of the people from that group.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

South leg of my 2014 bike trip begins. Heading down into Oregon.


Storefront in Mount Vernon, WA. I went through Mount Vernon on my way to Anacortes. Next headed down Whidbey Island as far as the Port Townsed Ferry.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Bombing them with water instead of butter

I remember at the start of the second Iraq war the phrase was going around to bomb them with butter and aid, rather than lethal weapons. Well, now that's happening with water and food supplies for that minority group that the ISIL has trapped in a mountain range hoping that they die of thirst. The minority groups need help and the US is offering that. At least there is some humanitarian concern out there.

Story below is a bit outdated. More recently in the news the White House has started to try and do something. Story describes the dire situation at least. Hard to know what the best strategy is to combat the hatred in this world. Story.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A "choice anxiety" situation I would not envy for Hillery Clinton

Deciding whether to run for President, or not, would be a hard decision for Hillary Clinton to make. On the one hand, a chance at being the first women US president in history. On the other hand, would her health hold up to the long and arduous campaign trail, not to mention the presidency? I'm glad I'm not in her shoes. Talk about "choice anxiety!" decisions like that can keep one up, tossing and turning, all night.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Long before Obama, Congress was impossible on immigration reform

Boehner claims that immigration reform can't happen in Congress because "the American people and their elected officials don't trust Obama to enforce the law as written." "Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue."

I, Robert, think that Obama's use of executive order is kind of a non issue. Instead, I think a lot of T-Party style Republicans have been rattled for years, including during the Bush years, by illegal immigration. This has created a "build the wall rather than reform immigration" mindset in much of Congress. There's enough "build the wall" mindset in Congress to block reform regardless of what Obama does.

It's true that some of that political mindset comes from the fact that over many years, more people have wanted to come to USA to live and work than are legally allowed by the number set in our quota for legal immigration. This was a big issue during the Bush years, ironically more than during the Obama years. Changing demographics and other factors have slowed the flow of illegal immigration during Obama's watch. Former President Bush was also hoping for immigration reform, but even he ran into congressional inaction against his proposal for a guest worker program.

Seems like everyone talks around the true issues. It has to due with certain times in our history when more people want to come to USA than our legal quotas for immigration allow. We should be asking, is the quota for legal immigration too low and not reflecting the reality of farm jobs and so forth in this country? On the other hand, maybe this country is starting to get too crowded. Maybe we are just experiencing being part of a planet that's still having population growth.

Article in Yahoo News that inspired this comment.

Monday, June 23, 2014

It's a little late, but now they are saying Bush Senior worried about sectarian division in Iraq as a reason not to go all the way, so to speak

Now they tell us.

I hear that George Bush Senior didn't go into Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein, during Iraq war 1, because he know that destroying the Iraqi government would just lead to the type of sectarian fighting which we're seeing today.

Why wasn't this talked about before Bush Junior started the second Iraq war? Back then, people thought Bush Senior didn't go into Baghdad because it wasn't called for in the UN mandate. That mandate only called for pushing Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Back then, a lot of people thought, "if we could only unseat Saddam Hussein, the Iraqis could build a democracy." People thought that only the limited nature of the UN mandate prevented us from, supposedly, creating a democracy in Iraq during the first war so Bush Junior thought "just no UN mandate, what a flimsy reason, let's go ahead and do it."

Well now, hindsight is better than foresight. People are saying Bush Senior thought all along that the ethnic situation in Iraq was unsolvable. If we had known that all along, maybe the second Iraq war could have been prevented.

I know, there was also the weapons of mass destruction myth and so forth, but at least the "let's bring them democracy and free them from that dictator" myth could have been avoided. I even almost bought that myth, myself, admittedly.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When people in Iraq keep fighting each other, we are probably best to stay out

I hear in the news that the insurgents taking over in northern Iraq are even worse than Al Qaeda. Even kicked out of Al Qaeda for being too brutal. How can anything be worse than Al Qaeda? Wasn't Al Qaeda about as bad as one can get? I guess Iraq doesn't work as one country. Trying to hold it together is just a waste of money, not to mention lives. Iraq is Kurdish in the north, Sunni in north central and Shiite in the south. The most stable part is the Kurdish area. I think Iran is trying to hold Iraq together, or at least keep the Shiite leaders in power. If we (USA) do the same, we are strange bedfellows to Iran. History makes strange bedfellows. I doubt there is much we can do. Iraq is bound to disintegrate for now, except for the Kurdish section. That part seems most stable of all.

On the other hand, remember Somalia being a mess? I now hear that it's starting to get better. They're just starting to get tired of killing each other, and/or the most violent have killed one another off.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What does World Naked Bike Ride have to do with global warming? Is it a shaky philosophical stretch? My own reasons to ride.

Why bike nude, or even semi nude? There are about as many answers to this question as people who participate in the WNBR rides in various cities around the world. It's certainly an attention getter. In this world of "information overload" nude and colorful cyclists aren't as easy to ignore as a stack of manifestos.

Many will say that it's a protest against the use of fossils and global warming, but others would ask, "what does nudity have to do with global warming?" Some will say it's about body freedom and casting off the barriers, such as clothing, that often divide us.

The concept of vulnerability comes up also. Demonstrating the vulnerability of soft human bodies among the hard steel environment of cars; like the phrase "visualize bicycles." In a way, that seems like kind of a negative message. Might scare people away from bicycling in the world of steel automobiles, but there is another aspect to stepping outside the cover. Coming out of the shell can also mean exposing oneself to other people as well as positive experiences.

Going places on bike, foot, or even public transit can open one up to meeting more people. Chance conversations from stopping beside friends along a trail versus being inside the box of an automobile fighting freeway traffic. Fellow cyclists and walkers can be opportunities for interaction, versus morons blocking traffic. Last time I biked around Lake Padden, here in Bellingham, (I had my cloths on) I stopped and visited with 5 people I knew along the trail. That's partially from living in a fairly small area where I know a large percent of the population, but also it's from getting outside the box and being seen. Boxes can be suburban homes, cars or whatever. The bike is a friendly way to go.

Still, people wonder why WNBR riders go so far as to expose their genitals? Again, there are as many answers as there are people who do the rides. Not everyone goes that far. Many of the riders are actually clothed. Some, like me, wear scanty clothing (though I was more nude for the dance). Also the body paint is a big part of the rides. It's kind of like a town parade. While not everyone is painted, some of the body art is incredible. Brings lots of smiles to passersby. In 2014, Bellingham ride took place during the monthly Art Walk Friday.

Some of the riders who expose their genitals try and say that it's not related to eroticism, but I might ask, who are we trying to kid? Eroticism is a part of life and it could be the biggest draw for crowds watching the rides as well as viewing the many photos that go on line afterwards. I say, might as well use the erotic draw for something positive. Eroticism is used to sell cars, televisions and then the weight loss programs needed by folks who sit all day. Why not use this psychological energy to promote bicycling and other active lifestyles? I once heard an ad for a sleek sports car that said, "the shape you want to be in." How about promoting bicycling lifestyles in this way. Think of all the money people spend on diets.

Once we encourage more folks to bike, for personal reasons such as health and fitness, or meeting interesting folks, there is less fossil fuel burned when people are biking rather than driving. There's a connection.

Of course one need not be a supermodel to be part of the rides. It's for everyone of all shapes and sizes and its non competitive.

I think there is a big connection between dancing and bicycling and I'm glad the Bellingham WNBR ride ended with a great dance, this year (2014). If one can bike, one can dance and if one dances, especially through the dreary winter months, one is ready for biking come better weather. Both dancing and biking are good ways to keep the cobwebs from forming in our minds and bodies and also to get out and mingle with some fun folks.

My Flickr gallery from the local rides.