Monday, October 31, 2011

7 billion people, but population growth rate is slowing

Yes the world is getting more crowded, but the growth rate is starting to slow down. Hope the rate slows down fast enough so the earth doesn't turn into a sardine can. This article is fairly optimistic that growth rates are slowing. Feminism and other changes in societies around the world are working.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween is a stay local celebration

Happy Halloween. A holiday that people tend to celebrate locally, rather than Christmas and Thanksgiving where people travel long distances to be with families. Celebrate in your own community.

Some creative signs from Occupy Wall Street protest in Bellingham

* Compiled from some of my earlier blog posts

Good message about rebooting our country's operating system, held at Magnolia and Cornwall October 14.

So many issues interrelate. People often ask what Occupy Wall Street is about. I'm not even sure I'm a hundred percent "sold out" fan of Occupy Wall Street, but there is a whole "raft" of interrelated issues being discussed.

I see it as just another part of our cultural "paradigm shift."

Seeking an economy that's better than what we have now. An economy that's more sustainable, in terms of the planet and our own well being. An economy that's more fair, in terms of distribution of income in society.

The income distribution graph, in USA, has gotten out of balance over the past few decades.
Continued below.

Also Occupy Bellingham (the only one I've experienced) is kind of fun. Interesting people. A chance to see friends I haven't run into for a long time.

It's community building that is face to face.


The process of culture that's an alternative to other uses of time. Other uses such as shopping, watching TV, fighting traffic and yes, I do spend some of my time at work. I still have a job. I'm not just watching folks on the street playing bongo drums all the time.

Sometimes folks play bongo drums in front of the building my job is in, but that's another story. It's living in Bellingham, our "blue state" (for the most part) city.

Someone on NPR interviewed an employee who works inside a Wall Street firm in New York City. They ask what people's reaction, inside Wall Street, was to the protests on the outside.

Basically, that person said he thought folks were angry at the wrong thing. Rather than Wall Street, they should be angry at the Federal Reserve for printing too much money and devaluing the dollar, he said.

Federal Reserve has been trying to keep the economy going in face of high unemployment. Also to keep the government debt financed so Uncle Sam "appears" solvent, at least.

One can't really blame them for that.

Seems like the blame can just go round and round which is why I see this as a cultural issue.

It's a "paradigm shift" kind of thing.

In that blog post, I suggested other strategies to deal with unemployment, like job sharing and better distribution of the wealth. Maybe that's considered "spreading the misery," but really, we might do better, as a culture, if we used a bit less. If we had a bit less waste.

A somewhat more austere culture could continue to move forward, since new technology is always coming into the picture anyway. We could still progress toward more of a sense of prosperity.

Prosperity can be defined in different ways.

Much of our new technology points us in the direction of "smaller can be better." A big stereo system from the 1960s isn't necessarily better than an Ipod of 2011, just because it's larger. Smaller is sometimes just as good, if not better.

We need paradigm shifts toward an economy that's better than we've got now. Better, but not necessarily larger or more consuming. An economy that offers a fairer deal to more than just it's top people.

Much of it is about our overall sense of well being.

We may not all define our well being in the same way, but there can be some new consensus about what our priorities are.

Some signs from Occupy Wall Street protest in Bellingham, October 14 2011.

Below is compilation from some of my posts about the Occupy Movement. I am consolidating blog entries.

One would think folks with savings accounts would march on banks to protest low interest rates

Protest in front of Bank Of America, Bellingham branch October 14 2011.

One would think savers should be marching on the banks demanding better return on savings; rather than just worrying about a $5 per month debit card fee. Maybe the fee is just a tipping point. People are mad at banks.

When I was a kid, banks often paid 5 1/4 interest on savings. Now, interest rates are rock bottom. Bad for savings, but cheap for borrowing; too cheap.

Of course it isn't really the fault of individual banks, it's the world banking system, and things like the Federal Reserve that set overall interest rates.

Part of the reason for the current financial crisis has been interest rates that are too low. When borrowing becomes too cheap, bubbles, such as the housing bubble, get inflated beyond what the normal economy can sustain. There's a disconnect if jobs don't pay much more then $10 per hour while single family homes sell for well over a quarter million.

Video taste of a People's Mike in Bellingham

Segment a bit over 2 minutes.

I see Occupy Wall Street as just another step in the evolution of society

Occupy Wall Street is not necessarily pivotal in the evolution/revolution of our society. It's just another part of the long term paradigm shift toward what can hopefully be a more equitable economy. Also a more sustainable economy.

Important steps, however.

It's good to see so many folks taking interest in the political process and the well being of the community as a whole. Not just personal profits and shortsighted self interests.

Maybe some key congressional races in 2012 will be another step.

It says People's Bank, but the people are protesting

Another rally of Occupy Bellingham protesters. November 4Th at corner of Magnolia and Cornwall. Rallies have been weekly for the past few weeks.

Friday, October 28, 2011

When safe haven investing enables unsafe borrowing

During the end of the Clinton Administration, people were seriously thinking that the national debt could be totally paid off in the near future. One of my friends on Facebook recently posted a link to this article.

We are a long ways from that reality now.

Besides this dramatic change of fortune, the article brings up another concept; the use of national debt as an investment tool. Some economists, in the government, were starting to worry toward the end of the Clinton years that if there was no national debt, the government wouldn't be selling many bonds so there would be less of the "super secure" bonds for investors to buy. Money managers might have to park their funds in more risky investments, such as stocks, if the government didn't need to sell so many bonds.

Don't we wish we had that problem now?

It may not be seen as a serious problem compared to the out of control government debt of today, but less treasury bonds on the market for purchase would mean that investors would need a different strategy. The "safe haven" US Treasuries would not be as prolific as they are today.

Looks like the national debt has at least two purposes.

One purpose, of course, is to help fund the government when it is spending more money than taxes bring in. That's the purpose which most people think about.

Another purpose of national debt is to provide a safe haven for investors to park their money in US Treasury bonds.

This second purpose may play a part in enabling the national debt, to some extent.

Basically, it's all that money out there needing to be invested in safe bonds. That huge pool of money is part of the reason why interest rates have been low in recent years.

There's money coming from many sources. For instance, there's money coming from countries like China who run large trade surpluses, thus accumulating lots of cash to invest.

Another source of money is institutional investing such as retirement funds. This would also includes the Social Security Trust Fund which has created a vast source of revenue for purchasing of federal bonds.

Another source is the wealthy elite around the world. Rich folks with lots of money that they wish to hold onto.

All this capital, which is looking for safe parking, may be one of the byproducts of income disparity. As the rich get richer, they have more and more money to store. In recent times, this money has tended to favor safe haven type investments; like US Treasuries, rather than more risky investments such as stocks. It's often called the flight to safety.

Ironically, all this money has contributed to low interest rates and easy government borrowing. It can be said that this money has helped to "enable" government deficits.

If this money was not so readily available, governments, and the political climate that drives them, would have to behave differently. For instance, if it wasn't so easy to borrow money, the politics of conservative tax cutting folks might not be so popular. It's likely that tax cuts would have been less popular if they lead directly to cuts in popular government programs such as Medicare or veterans benefits.

Instead, we have been able to have tax cuts without serious consequences in terms of cuts to things like Medicare. Now, some of these cuts are being proposed to try and balance the budget and this is creating a political reaction. Notice popular reactions like Occupy Wall Street.

For years, the pool of money that is available for borrowing has enabled tax cuts at the same time as spending for things like two foreign wars and the Medicare drug benefit (Medicare Part D). If it wasn't so easy to borrow the money, we would have either raised taxes to pay for these things, or figured out how to live without these things.

It is easier to have never had these things in the first place than it is to take them away after we have already become dependent on them. It seems like it is harder to kill a program that people have become reliant on than it is to have never started the program in the first place.

Borrowing has enabled us to "have our cake and eat it too." Low taxes and the programs such as Medicare that people have become dependent on.

Part of this problem is related to the income disparity around the world. So much wealth among the rich that needs to be parked, thus enabling governments to spend above what they tax.

Ironically, safe haven investing is now leading to possible default. Governments that are so far in debt that paying off this debt is impractical. Just look at Greece right now. USA and other nations may not be far behind.

This huge pool of money that's looking for "safety" has also helped to enable bad banking practices in the private sector. Too much money floating around can lead to inflationary bubbles in the economy, such as the housing bubble.

This problem wouldn't be so bad if the economy was growing. If we were growing into a new frontier, for instance, money could be invested to create new wealth. Debts could be paid off from the ever increasing wealth.

For growth and creating new wealth, we currently face the problem of not having a frontier. The US has already tamed its western states. Environmental restraints make growth more difficult all around our limited Planet Earth.

To some extent, new technology can help to bring growth which is not necessarily dependent on a spacial frontier. Back in the 1990s, it can be said that we were able to grow the economy into cyberspace. New technology of the Internet was one of the things that blessed the Clinton administration with a growing economy.

These days, even the growth into cyberspace does not seem to be enough. Growth is stagnant at best. This can mean the formation of inflationary bubbles from capital, rather than real growth.

So we have had a lot of inflationary bubbles in the private sector and also a rush to park extra money in various instruments of government debt.

Public sector investment can grow the economy as well. For instance, investing in infrastructure can lead to economic growth. Investing in things like an educated workforce, better transportation or research and development comes to mind.

The problem is, much of current government investment is not in infrastructure. Instead it is in things like entitlements. Entitlement spending is things like people's retirement benefits. This type of spending is less likely to return increased wealth on the investment so future prospects for paying back the money are less likely.

Basically, there's been too much money available to borrow. More money than the recent growth of the economy can account for.

Higher taxes on the wealthy may be one step to help us get out of this situation. Seems like the wealthy have not wanted to pay enough taxes, but they, and the financial practices that so many of them support, have been more than willing to lend money to governments. Instead of paying taxes, they invest in government debt.

Maybe the wealthy, as well as the rest of us, should have paid more taxes to begin with. Paid more taxes rather than loaning out our money to governments and other entities that are likely to tax us anyway, as we "take a haircut" when they default.

Hard default is kind of a radical prediction. It's more likely that there will be some sort of "soft default," like when central banks and governments have to print money to meet debt obligations. This isn't quite the same as a true default, but it does lead to devaluation of currencies. It's the process of economies paying off their debts by basically inflating their way out of debt.

Economic growth could avoid the need for even a soft default, but the prospects of the kind of growth that would be needed to pay off this mountain of debt are daunting.

New technology and innovation; we need you to help us create growth. We will most likely also need to swallow hard and realize that much of this debt will not be paid back.

It's a case of "pay me now or pay me later." Wealthy folks, as well as the rest of society, have not wanted to pay high taxes, especially in USA, but people have been willing to park that money in government debt. Some of that parked money may turn out to be a tax in disguise.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Walking can be a pleasure in Autumn and other times of the year

Where a trail crosses between Barkley Village and Alabama Hill neighborhoods.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Democracy might come easier in Libya than in Egypt, but hopefully can come to both

Glad the old Libyan dictatorship has been overthrown. Libya has less population than Egypt so it may be easier to get the economy going again. Less people to feed plus there is a fairly easy source of revenue once the oil flows again. Hopefully this can also help Egypt since there have been a lot of Egyptian workers in the Libyan oil industry that sent money home to Egypt. Oil revenue can help in the near future, at least.

In the long run, it would be nice if the world were less dependent on the oil industry, but that's "down the road," so to speak. The road needs to turn into something more like a transit line and bike path.

Oil industry can be a corrupting force since so many oil exporting countries have been dictatorial societies, but this doesn't always have to be the case. Canada is a shining example of an open and multicultural society which exports a lot of oil. In fact Canada is the biggest oil exporting nation to the USA.

I wish both Libya and Egypt good fortune as they hopefully progress toward more democratic societies.

The world is changing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New house construction

Rare to see new house construction, but not that rare. With all the news about housing in the toilet, there's always been quite a trickle still around Bellingham. This one by Lake Samish. I'm surprised there's still any build able lakefront lots there.

Or, maybe they tore a house down to build this newer one?

There's construction here and there. Seems like usually folks building their retirement home. Probably not enough to employ all the idled contractors, realtors and other job seekers around.

That's the problem. Anemic recovery and if the recovery does pick up steam, here is the question. Is there enough land, not to mention ideal "lakefront" land, to allow for a robust recovery without people grumbling again about turning the lake into a toilet?

And now think about gas prices. When the economy picks up steam, they go up due to limited supply and demand.

That's why we need some major paradigm shifts. We need new ways to grow and improve the economy in sustainable ways.

People often say that they thought New York City couldn't grow any larger than it was in the late 1800s because there was an "absolute limit" to urban growth, due to the horse manure it generated.

We'll, we made it past that, but we had to be open to change.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Missed the boat that is sinking

At times I felt like I missed the boat since I don't make enough money at my fairly pleasant job to be a homeowner in this market. Not enough money for the monthly mortgage payments to be figured as 1/3 of my income, given responsible banking practices at least.

Too bad, but now, I feel like I missed the boat that is sinking. That's not so bad. Who wants to be on the boat that's sinking?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Crosswalk etiquette and inertia

When the crosswalk sign starts flashing don't walk, I hear on the radio that one is supposed to not start walking across the street. However the reality is different. Right after the light turns green and the walk sign says walk, there's often a cue of cars that were stopped at the red light. This cue can now go forward and there's a few cars in the cue that are making the free right turn across the crosswalk. Since they don't always stop when making that turn (even though they should) the crosswalk can be full of cars rounding the corner. There's often more traffic across the crosswalk when the walk sign says walk than there is after the walk sign starts flashing don't walk. When the walk sign is flashing don't walk and the cue of cars has passed, the intersection is often empty. That's when I often run across the street.

Bellingham is now installing some flashing crosswalks in areas where there are busy walks with no traffic light. Just push the button and the crosswalk starts flashing. At these crosswalks, I try to be polite and see what's happening with the traffic before I press the button. If cars are just about at the walk, I try to wait till they go past so they don't have to slam on the breaks. Remember, flashing crosswalks don't have a "green, yellow, red" traffic signal. I assume cars are expected to stop as soon as the walk starts flashing. There's no "yellow about to turn red" warning, like there is at intersections with regular stoplights. Keeping this in mind, I try and let the cars that are almost at the walk go on by before I press the button. Then I push the button so cars that are farther back (which are often speeding anyways) have a warning and start to slow down. By the time those cars get to the walk, I've often just finished crossing. Sometimes I jog across the street so as not to hold up traffic for very long at least.

One time I accidentally pushed the flashing crosswalk button right as a large truck was about to cross the walk. The truck stopped and I noticed smoke from the tires. Trucks have a lot of inertia so they are often harder to stop on short notice and also it takes more fuel to get going again.

I didn't see if the driver was upset or not, but later I had a discussion on Facebook with a friend of mine who is a former truck driver. I ask him if the driver would have been upset and his response was, good drivers realize "it comes with the territory." We do the best we can and there usually isn't much point in snarling about things. If more people took that attitude, the world would flow a lot easier.

Fancy Bellingham crosswalks that didn't work out well in the long run.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Occupy Wall Street is in Bellingham also

Even though there isn't a street named Wall Street in Bellingham, Occupy Wall Street is here.

There's a rally planned for corner of Magnolia and Cornwall, Old Federal Building corner, Friday October 7 at 4 to 7 pm.

Someone handed me a flyer that says "all peaceful people and families welcome."

Old Federal Building has been the site of Friday peace vigils for years, since the late 1960s and more recently the location of Food Not Bombs, a free community food table.

Looks like there's going to be quite a turnout in Bellingham as well as other cities all across the nation as people are getting more frustrated with things like long term unemployment, growing disparity between super wealthy and the rest of society, decline of the middle class, cost of the state of war that never seems to end and looming threats of more budget cuts, lack of safety net and other things that folks can add to this list.

On Facebook, I saw an insightful cartoon showing Wall Street executives deciding to "occupy Main Street." On Main Street they found closed businesses, foreclosed houses and high unemployment so they said, "Well, now we know why they have all that free time."

The cartoon brilliantly cuts both ways addressing criticism that "protesters have a lot of time since they don't have to go to work." When unemployment goes up, people are likely to have more time for things like protests and civil disobedience. Executives, be advised.

Above: In front of Bank Of America on Thursday at Holly and Cornwall.
Below: At Holly and State.

I cut it out of picture accidentally, but it's

Below from a slightly later post.

Newly awakened.