Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cyprus banks, safe havens and tradgedy of the commons

What good is money without a vibrant economy? Money can just be numbers in a computer. Even gold isn't edible.

So many of the world's wealthy don't seem to care about their communities. They hoard money, looking for tax shelters and so forth. They hoard their money in places like the infamous banks of Cyprus that are now teetering on bankruptcy. Wealthy Russian and other investors have dumped money into those banks, from what I understand.

Vast fortunes can be numbers in a bank account, but there has to be an economy of goods and services for the wealth to be realized. So many of the rich don't do much to contribute to the wealth of society. They often look for ways to dodge taxes. They pay low wages to their employees and try to figure out how to put as little into the overall health of society as they can. Then they expect their money to remain safe in the society that they so often neglect.

At least when one buys stock in a corporation, one assumes that wealth is dependent on the health of the corporation. If the corporation isn't healthy, the stock can loose value. That's understood.

Seems like these days, a lot of investment isn't in stock. The investment is in so called "safe haven" investments, like bank deposits or government securities. These are things that are supposed to retain their value in spite of ups and downs in the economy. Safe haven investments are often heavily placed in government debt which, in the age of Grover Norquist, is problematic. If governments aren't allowed to collect the taxes they need to pay off their debts, the money can come into question.

Maintaining the perceived wealth of the world, whether it's in bank accounts, stocks, real estate or whatever, requires there to be a healthy and vibrant economy. This requires investments in both private and public infrastructure and other things such as education. The wealthy class can't just "park" their money. They need to be part of the solution also.

Some of my thoughts after hearing news about the banking crisis in Cyprus. Also this interesting round table type discussion on the Diane Rehm Show carried over NPR Radio.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Boehner backing away from 24/7 debt crisis mode

GOP Speaker of the House Boehner came clean on yesterday’s edition of ABC’s "This Week" and admitted that "we do not have an immediate debt crisis." Landmark remark. My take on this is that the debt is like global warming. A serious long term problem, but not a crisis, tho people would feel that one must phrase it in crisis language to get anything done in Washington. Humans tend to respond to crisis while procrastinating the rest of the time. Then again, making everything a crisis isn't effective either as we either become gridlocked with anxiety or callus to the 24/7 background noise of "crisis;" like in "crying wolf." We have problems, like the debt, but even Boehner must realize that panic isn't usually productive.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fun dancing at Bellingham Food Coop party. More fun than a corporation


They rent the majestic Bellingham Cruise Terminal (where Alaska Ferry berths) for their annual meeting, banquit and dancing. I missed most of the meeting and banquit, but got there in time for the dancing. Music from a live band named Pole Cat. Party was a gift to the community. Co-op members, but also free to the public.

Cruise terminal is quite a dramatic structure for Bellingham. Co-op dressed it up with banners for salmon safe, urban farming and other healthy concepts.


I got there in time for the last of the meeting. Financial reports and so forth. Like a corporation's annual report, but more fun than a corporation. Also, the share holders are the members with strong representation from the public. Community based.


Through the porthole like structure of the terminal building, watching as Coop Board member candidates gave presentations.


Fun dancing to the music of Polecat.


Across the atrium from the dancers.


Cruise Terminal clock.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Purple Church Gotta Dance has moved

Old gotta dance space. New space at corner of Ellis, Garden and Champion in an actually Purple Church building with a square tower.


At my age, I might normally be complaining about my ankles when I jump and pound my feet to the floor, but my feet and ankles are fine, so far (knock on wood, but knock on wood without plaster). All of our dancing was knocking plaster out of the ceiling in the apartment downstairs at the old Purple Church location. That is one reason for the move. Dances seem to be getting a bit bigger and now there's more space.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

County Council approves Reconveyance


County Council approves Reconveyance for quite a bit of land around Lake Whatcom. It goes from state timber lands to county park and watershed preservation. Hurray.

Article in Herald.


I added my own photo for this blog entry.

Also, I'll add some things I heard on The Joe Teehan show. These lands used to be managed by County, but management was given over to state, back (I think) in 1930s. Now county is assuming management again. State used land for DNR (Department Of Natural Resources) timber management which helped fund Mount Baker School District, but an anonymous donor has stepped forward to cover much of that revenue stream if reconveyance was approved.

Also, there can still be some timber from the new parklands, very carefully managed. Several years ago, I read an article about careful logging that still takes place in Seattle watershed forests. Part of forest management.

So Whatcom County has a new park which will help preserve Lake Whatcom water and will be low maintenance cost. Good move.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Biggest obstacle to taxing the rich is usually the voters

Biggest obstacle to taxing the rich seems to be the voters. For example, here in Washington State, the voters sent a resounding 63.9 % yes to an initiative that would require 2/3rds vote in legislature for any tax increase. I-1185. Anti tax sentiment was still strong at the ballot box even though that same election was considered a liberal victory for legalized pot and gay marriage. The two thirds requirement has since been tossed out as unconstitutional by the Washington State Supreme Court, but seems like it's hard to get new taxes, on the rich or anyone else past the voters. California voters did pass a state tax increase in 2012, but such vote is still rare. If we really want to tax the rich, we have a lot of educating to do at the grass roots level. Convincing voters to vote for tax measures that can tax the rich.

Ballotpedia article on I-1185.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Accessibility of stocks ignored leaving low income people out in the cold

In spite of all the bad news, US household wealth regains pre recession peak. Still, when I read between the lines, it's a bad deal for low income people. Home ownership and the stock market are the primary means for saving wealth.

Problem is, if one is too poor to afford home ownership (too low income to qualify for the mortgage or haven't inherited the money) one isn't saving hardly at all. Bank accounts have been the way lower income people have saved in the past, but interest rates are extremely low these days. In many parts of the country, the bottom rung for home ownership is quite high.

Ironically, lower income people can save small amounts in the stock market, but most don't. According to this article, it tends to be the very wealthy that buy stocks even though I would add that one can put small amounts of money into a stock market mutual fund for less than what it would take to make house payments.

Us Household Wealth Regains Pre Recession Peak.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Local win in the limelight


Casting long shadows. Pullman High School basketball team wins Washington State double A boys championship for first time in Pullman history. I don't normally follow sports, but being a Pullman High School alum perks some interest. Go Greyhounds.

Also, it's interesting to note that even small town, local high school sports can now be watched on television. Well, maybe not television, but on the net. wiaanetwork.playonsports.com. One can now watch more than just the big time things that could afford major television in the past. Even games as small as Colfax versus Rosalia can be seen on that web site. I watched a bit of the game which was played at the Yakima Sun Dome. Pullman beat Anacortes and took the state title.

Picture is a screen capture I got from the start of the game when the teams were being introduced. When the lights were dimmed for the starting lineup, Anacortes was in the spotlight, but Pullman was only back lit. Made for an interesting shadow effect, however.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

State Rep. Ed Orrcutt's comment about bicycle pollution makes a funny distraction

A lot of heat and media comments are being generated by an assertion from Washington State Representative Ed Orcutt (R) of Kalama, that bicyclists cause pollution by just breathing out carbon dioxide. Washington State Rep. Ed Orcutt, Who Is Pushing Bike Fee, Walks Back Claims That Cyclists Cause Pollution. Headline in the Huffington Post.

Kind of a funny distraction. Carbon dioxide, from breathing, is basically a non issue compared to burning of fossil fuels, but it makes funny news copy.

The more real issue is about a proposal to put a sales tax on bike sales to help pay for roads that bikes ride on. I think it's a Democrat that first proposed the idea as part of a Washington State transportation bill, but a Republican has induced some hot air over the matter. The proposal calls for a $25 sales tax on bikes priced $500 and above. I'm a bicyclist, but I still see some logic in this as a way to partially pay for bike infrastructure.

It may be a poorly designed tax, however. If this tax were imposed, there would be a lot of bikes selling for $499, to avoid the $500 tax cutoff. Maybe they should just have a $5 tax per hundred dollar price on bikes. Then the cheaper bikes, sold at places like Walmart, would be taxed as well as the more expensive bikes that tend to be sold at the locally owned bicycle shops. Level the playing field between discount box stores and local bike shops.

Still, I'm not totally against some revenue from bikes to help establish our legitimacy on roads in the public perception. Even with this tax, bike facilities are highly subsidized by other taxes and that is good. Since bicycling is healthy, promoting bicycling, by subsidizing bike paths, could help the entire population save on healthcare costs. So, yes, for the most part I favor giving bicycles a free ride, but I'm not against at least a small tax of some sort.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Contemplating innovation and Thomas Edison

After a recent Diane Rehm show about a book called "The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America," I decided to dig out a picture I painted in a high school art class.


Menlo Park, NJ. where Edison's labs were. It probably didn't look like this, but that was my impression.

The art assignment was "brown and yellow tone in tempera paint." I threw in blue for an out of the box twist and the art teacher loved it.

The blue was for arc lamps that worked on the spark gap principle. It was an 1800s style of electric streetlights. I added it to the warm yellow glow from inside the buildings from Edison's incandescent lamps.

Around the time of painting this, I was reading the book "Men and Volts, the story of General Electric."

The grade school I went to was Edison School. Edison School in Pullman, WA. where Thomas Edison was quite the role model. My childhood dream was to be an inventor when I grew up. Well, maybe writing unusual blog entries is good enough.

Edison School was an innovative design in it's day when it was built in the late 1940s. By the time I came along in the mid 1960s, it's problems with rotting timbers was already evident. The school district was discussing tearing it down. I felt sorry for the old school.

Some pictures I took of poor old Edison, in Pullman, during a bike tour around the state in summer of 1989. By then, it was abandoned.



They finally got around to tearing it down in the 1990s after it stood empty for many years. Apartment buildings now stand where Edison was as Pullman doesn't need as many grade schools as it did back then. There seems to always be need for apartments, however.

There is another Edison School close to where I live today. It's in the town of Edison, WA. just down the road from my home in Bellingham, WA. I've biked around Edison, Washington many a time; more recently.

Long past those early days, I've heard quite a bit about Edison's rival Nikola Tesla. While Edison stuck dogmatically to using direct current. Tesla was working with the magical properties of alternating current. It must have seemed like magic, back in his day as one of the properties of alternating current is it's ability to "induce" electricity to flow in a coil that's not even physically connected to another coil where electricity is flowing. It's as if the energy just magically jumps across empty space between two unconnected coils. The work of an electromagnetic field. Well, that little piece of magic is taken for granted today and it's what allows transformers to work. It's also what's behind the "magic" of radio.

In a world that was used to water flowing in pipes, the idea of inducing a current from one unconnected wire to another must have seemed revolutionary. Edison resisted, thinking that alternating current wouldn't be safe. Also, Edison was building his empire on direct current. It was his business model.

Eventually, alternating current won out. It won out for many reasons including it's ability to make transformers work. Transformers step the voltage up or down depending on need. This allows the high voltage transmission of power over long distances. High voltage power is then "stepped down" with transformers to lower voltage power which can be safely used in buildings. DC current isn't as easy to step up or down, voltage wise, so it forces people to choose one voltage. It forces a compromise that's either too low to be sent long distances or too high to be safe in the home. Transformers solved that problem and eventually Tesla's style of electricity won out, for the most part.

These days, there is somewhat of a cult following of Tesla. People think he may have had some magic that today's capitalists want to hide. Sending free power through the air in lieu of power lines, or something.

I'm not sure how practical it would be to send large amounts of power through the air for long distances. Radio works over long distances with tiny amounts of power. Transformers work over short distances with large amounts of power. It is possible to send power via microwave and there are proposals to build solar power satellites in space which would send power back to Earth in a beam of microwaves.

So far, the solar satellite idea hasn't been implemented, but it may have it's downsides. Imagine how much fear people would have about high powered microwaves zapping through the air from various installations. People are even paranoid about cell phone towers.

So the magic of Tesla and, for that matter Edison, is already around us today. Things that may have seemed magical in the past, like electrical induction, are common place today. I'm sure more innovations are being thought up now, tho, as always, new innovations often meet resistance from the status quo.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Sequester cuts are not worse than regular, permanent cuts proposed to avoid sequester

People are mad at politicians for the sequester cuts, but one alternative is also cuts; the more permanent budget cuts that Republicans (and some Democrats) call for. Cuts are cuts.

Maybe the sequester isn't that bad compared to the other cuts that Obama could agree on to avoid the sequester; permanent cuts that mostly Republicans want, but Congress hasn't really come up with a cohesive budget; except for maybe the famous Ryan Budget. The sequester may not be worse than a regular budget with permanent cuts. Sequester is across the board and a bit hard to swallow due to it's rigid "across the board" nature, but cuts are hard to swallow in any form they take.

The sequester tries to balance cuts between military and domestic things like Medicare, but Republicans would rather cuts be focused more on Medicare so they can spare the military from cuts. However we cut it, it's going to hurt if we have to cut the budget.

At least the Republicans are getting more of the blame than the President, at the moment, but all politicians are getting an earful.

So many Americans say, "cut, but don't cut what I depend on."

Speaking of earful and cuts, politics can seem crazy at times. I remember hearing about artist Van Gogh cutting off an ear. Are we shooting our economic recovery in the foot?

Sequester is probably about as good as this Congress can do if they want to cut the budget, but many people question the desirability of cutting the budget at this time.

Is it hurting yet? Remember the old phrase, "if your neighbor is out of work, it's a recession, but if you are out of work, it's a depression." Cuts are never pretty as someone always needs the money whether it's medicare patients, veterans, the military, disaster relief or whatever. No matter how they piece it together, there isn't any good way to put a smiley face on it. Cuts are cuts, so I guess if we must have cuts, the sequester is that, like it or not.

Big cuts spur calls congress irate constituents.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Sunset among the utility lines. Artistic in its own way.



A recent sunset among the streetlights and wires near where I live.