Wednesday, January 26, 2022

One big reason for inflation that is often over looked is the rising cost of housing. That pushes up wages and thus other prices.

I see quite a few posts about economics by Robert Reich, secretary of labor for president Clinton a while back. He has a fairly standard left leaning take on things. Recently he has taken on inflation. Blaming most of it on corporate monopolies.

Seems like he has, along with many others, overlooked the role that rising home values and costs play in pushing inflation. 16% jump in home prices, nationwide, last year. I don't think he's even mentioned that. Overall inflation is just 7% versus 16% for homes.

Housing costs must be pushing up other inflation as wages and other prices need to go up so people can afford a place to live. One wonders why there is such a blind spot about that.

Maybe because home price increases benefits a lot of people as well. Homes are owned by people whereas corporations are non person entities; easier to pin blame on.

Easy money and low interest rates has lead to inflation in asset values of many kinds, including homes and stocks. In the case of stocks, this largely benefits corporate executives who own large shares of stock.

Asset inflation does relate to the problem of corporations as well. Yes, there are a lot of rich corporate executives.

I guess if one wants to target the problem, one should talk about asset inflation. If you own assets you get richer, in inflationary times, than if you don't.

As for the corporation, some of them are still operating on a thin margin so it isn't necessarily the corporation that's the problem. It's a problem if the executives make too much and / or get too wealthy just from owning assets. Stocks, housing or whatever.

Reich seem to think the problem is monopoly corporations, but usually bigger corporations have lower prices. Economy of scale. Think Walmart and Amazon. His argument doesn't seem convincing.

Yes, monopoly power is a problem. I guess Amazon and Walmart aren't monopolies as they compete with each other. I don't know of very many monopolies. Corporations are big, however, but not often total monopolies. Bigger corporations do often bring the lowest prices if they aren't monopolies.

For low price, maybe size isn't the problem. Economy of scale. On the other hand, size is a problem when it comes to other things besides just price; like the value we place on local business versus multinational / impersonal corporations.

Sometimes it's worth paying more for a higher quality community.

Seems like mainstream left thinking doesn't quite get the true picture, at least in my opinion. Neither does right wing thinking. Much of the problem is run away asset values, but people also benefit from that so it's harder to criticize.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Abandoned WSU steam plant they were hoping to renovate. Turns out it's still in use. Left hand must have not known what the right hand was doing?

Exiting plans had started to move forward for renovating Washington State University's old heating plant. Turn it into meeting spaces, offices and eateries. A joint project between WSU and the Port of Whitman County. Some grants were applied for and approved. Some money was spent.

Turns out the plant is still in use! WSU pulled the plug on the project when they determined that the plant wasn't abandoned after all, I guess. Continued below.
WSU steam plant in the Twilight Zone.

It's strange. Somehow communication wasn't happening. My hypothesis is that somewhere in administration, they hadn't checked with the physical plant staff that runs the WSU heating system. Who knows. How could this plan have gone on for nearly 2 years before someone said, wait a minute?

It is kind of disappointing. Just following the news from my home town, I was looking forward to the renovation. Folks from one of the partners, Port of Whitman County, are disappointed also and there is some news of legal action.

An old steam plant, in Spokane, was turned into a great venue for dining, offices and so forth. I visited during a bicycle trip around 2012. Back then, it was called Steam Plant Square and Steam Plant Grill. In it's earlier incarnation it heated parts of downtown Spokane.
Steam plant renovation in Spokane as of my visit 2011.

In Pullman, there must have been kind of a communications screw up, I guess. Did people higher up in administrations forget to talk to lower down staff who are actually running the heating system? That seems to be a common screw up in big organizations. Lack of communication? Talk is often thought of as cheap, as in the phrase "talk is cheap," but talking can be very useful.

Turns out there is an interesting history that predates this situation.

Around early the 2000s, WSU was considering building a new heating plant in conjunction with a power company called Duke Energy. The new plant would generate electricity and provide steam to WSU as part of a cogeneration plant, if I remember correctly.

I thought the plan was with Avista, the local utility, but someone looked it up and remembered better than me. It was Duke Energy, I guess. Anyway.
The old plant, built in the 1920s, would have been renovated into a new WSU Art Gallery. It's in a good location on the edge of campus facing downtown Pullman.

That plan was scrapped when, apparently, it didn't pencil out.
Instead, WSU opted for a less exciting compromise. They needed to expand their steam operations so a new plant was built on the east end of campus along a road called "Grime's Way." The road named after someone, I guess. Back when I was growing up in Pullman, that road was named "Farm Way."
The new plant was built and (I think) an addition was built to the old plant. Some boilers at the east end of campus and other boilers near the old plant at the west side of campus.

The new art gallery was built in another location. It's by the WSU Art Building. They tore down and relocated the old campus police / fire station.

During my years growing up in Pullman, the WSU steam plant burned coal at least in the winter. I toured it, back then and they said it could burn coal, natural gas or oil if need be. Different boilers, burners and so forth.
Older picture of the plant taken during my college years when I was home for the summer. Coal pile seen to the right.

I also heard that they could generate, maybe 20% of the campus electricity from a steam turbine in the front room of of the plant that overlooks the notorious "Power House Hill;" a hill I felt accomplished if I could ride my bike to the top. I'd have to be in the lowest gear.
Image taken 2003 after coal operation had ended.

Coal operation was discontinued in the early 2000s when the current steam heating configuration was built. I think it's all powered by natural gas.

They must still have quite a bit of operating equipment in the old plant. Pumps, steam tunnel entrances, feed water treatment, electrical, maintenance; whatever.

I'm thinking, maybe they could do something on a smaller scale with the front room of that plant; where the steam turbine used to be. I wouldn't know, it's just a guess. Maybe some of the money already approved in the grant can still be used in cleanup or something. It isn't that much money yet. The rennovation idea would ahve cost in the millions.
Image I took around 1973, my senior year in high school. Original look before a somewhat ugly (utilitarian) addition was added.
2003 image with the yellow addition. Someone said it holds old baghouse type pollution control equipment to reduce dust from coal burning? I think that addition came in the 1980s.
One more image from west side of plant, 2003.
Meanwhile, here in Bellingham, Western Washington University has an interesting steam plant with display windows.
Down on Bellingham's waterfront there is a power plant with a fairly boring wall, but they did paint a mural on that wall more recently.
Near Bellingham's waterfront power plant was an old pulp mill, Georgia Pacific West. Most of it has been torn down and that area is slowly turning into a redevelopment district. A partnership between Port of Bellingham and the city. Some of that planning has been rocky as well. It's been a long time in coming.

They are trying to retain some artificts from the old mill for the sake of art. An old granery building has been restored, some condos are under construction, there is a jump track for bikes at least until they find something else to do with that space. It's quite popular. Also there's an outdoor beer garden and some other things.
Old digester tanks, from the pulp mill, can now be lit up in various colors.

My article on WWU steam plant in Bellingham. Published in The Betty Pages.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Most worry about 5G has been barking up the wrong tree. It's aviation safety, not the human body that folks should have worried about.

For years, I've heard people worry about 5G phone signals effect on the human body.

Seems like just about all real scientists were not worried about that, but now it seems like scientists ARE worried about conflict with airline flight control signals. Why haven't I heard about this worry until just the last few weeks?

Seems like there was so much static in the air from the other worries that the airline issue went unnoticed.

Like crying wolf, sometimes the real worries get buried under a clutter of concerns as so many worries seems to be just barking up the wrong tree.

US airline officials warn of ‘catastrophic’ crisis in aviation with new 5G service.

Bans on natural gas could be missing the real climate change problems

Something I've been thinking. Since much of our electricity, these days, comes from natural gas, I've been thinking it might not reduce fossil fuel consumption to have a ban.

Turns out, according to this article, gas burned in a home furnace can be 90% efficient, but when burned in a powerplant and then sent by transmission lines to electric heating in a home, only 45% efficient? I think really? Apparently power plants aren't that efficient. Lots of the waste heat goes up the cooling towers.

One of the problems is that modern homes tend to be bigger so more energy is used anyway, whether electricity or gas. That's closer to the real problem. If electricity, the grid is still too reliant on fossil fuels and (in this area, the US Pacific Northwest) hydro power. Hydro power is low carbon footprint, but does have an impact. Just ask the salmon.

Heat pumps can help, versus resistance electric heating, but they can be expensive.

We just need to use less in buildings, cars and so forth. We also need to speed up the greening of our energy sources.

My article in The Betty Pages about proposals to ban natural gas heating. I think, maybe a carbon tax would work better, but we do need to find ways to reduce fossil fuel dependency.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Seems like home value inflation is overlooked, but it can lead to other inflation as wages try to catch up with the cost of living.

Lots of talk about inflation, today, which could be bad political news for Biden and the Democrats.

Yes, inflation is here and in home values and housing costs, it's been reality for a long time. Wages are trying to catch up and that can push up other prices.

Then there's the cost of gas. It's a fossil fuel so it may need to get more expensive for the planet. Still, there is a lot of grumbling about that, adding to misfortune for the Democrats.

It's not Biden's fault, but they aren't explaining things very well.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Even in a world of zero population growth, some areas would still grow; areas where people want to live.

Some folks worry about declining population. Populations are shrinking in some countries, like Russia. It's still growing worldwide, but growth is slowing.

Less population would be desirable. There would be some adjustments to make in our current economic system that relies on growth of consumption.

Even in a world of no growth, some areas would still grow; areas where people want to live. There are many parts of the world that people are desperately trying to get out of.

Here in Bellingham, there is quite a bit of vibrancy related to people wanting to live here. New grade schools being built. I see cranes for a big grade school upgrade out my window. Sunnyland School.

Immigration to USA is said to have slowed significantly in the last year. This ought to calm the wall building fears of Republicans, but I'm not holding my breath.

Even with immigration slowed, I would guess that for every immigrant, who comes to USA either legally or illegally, there are many more who's dream it is to come to America.

Many more who dream of coming to Canada, certain European nations and Australia as well.

I doubt very many people wish to go to Putin's Russia.

There was recent news about someone who snuck into North Korea. Probably someone out of their mind.

Much of Bellingham's continued population growth comes from migration from other parts of USA, rather than immigration to USA which, at least temporarily, is said to be slowing down.

If the world weren't overwhelmed with population, various regions and nations could compete on the grounds of being good places to live. They would compete for attracting new residents and vibrancy.

It could mean that the good places to live would be in the ascendency. Good news for democracies and places that respect human rights.

Long lines at polling places in some states decreases right to vote, but Washington State has done much better.

Biden is pushing for laws to preserve voter access today. I'm not following this issue closely, but got to thinking that we are pretty fortunate, here in Washington State. We have mail in voting rather than cumbersome polling places one has to stand in line at for voting.

Some states still have the old polling systems. For years, I keep hearing news about long waits at the polls in other states. Waits so long that voting becomes difficult and many working people have to choose between casting their vote or making a living.

Even when we did have the polling places, here in Washington, I don't remember long waits. We seem to have a better voting system than a lot of other states even back when we had polling places.

Other states need to fix those problems in their state or I agree, the Federal Government will need to step in to preserve access to the ballot.

Then there is the whole problem of gerrymandering. Another big topic.

Monday, January 10, 2022

With home values and prices going up so fast across America, of course there's inflation. These costs create the need to push up wages and other prices.

According to an article, I just read, about a poll, it says Americans are more worried about inflation coming back than about threats to democracy. Poll indicates that Democratic Party' s strategy of campaigning on worries about democracy might not, as the old phrase goes, "play in Peoria;" as in will it play in places like Peoria, Illinois.

Yes, I say we do have inflation with home values going up around 20% here in Bellingham; 16% nationwide in the last year. That's got to spread to other inflation in wages, as people need to pay more for rents, first time homebuying and so forth. Then other prices go up as businesses charge more to pay the higher wages.

I guess people need to understand inflation better. It is happening, but it isn't necessarily the end of the world if wages can keep up with other prices.

Problem is, most people's wages usually don't keep up. Maybe they keep up with some prices, but certain things, like housing and medical insurance, can be outliers.

Inflation is not necessarily Biden's fault, but it needs to be better explained, I guess.

Lots of people benefit when assets, such as houses and stocks, go up so one hardly ever hear politicians, or the media, talk about this as a root of the dastardly "inflation" that so many people say they don't like.

The Fed creating so much money and low interest rates helps to drive this situation. Still, we have to print money to fund government, the military, police, civil society, disaster relief, Medicare, coronavirus relief and so forth.

It's going to happen, but if we can stay calm, it's manageable. One way to cool inflation is to raise taxes. One way to cool inflation is to send the economy into a recession. Cause asset values to plummet.

We can't "have it all" and I'd also say, "be careful what you ask for as you might get it."

So many Americans are in poor health anyway. The virus was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Omicron variant of the virus is surging, but symptoms seem to be less severe for most people; especially folks who are vaccinated.

Problem is, there is still a surge in hospitalizations with hospital staff near breaking point. I just got to thinking that part of the problem is just poor health in general. The post war baby boom is aging. The virus is the straw that broke the camel's back.

Yes, precautions and vaccinations are important, but this problem and shortage of healthcare staff may persist. Lifestyle choices, age and other factors matter also.

All through this pandemic, I've heard that heart disease is still the number one killer. Problem with the virus is that it can lead to premature death and it's a big new disease that's been added to the stack.

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Do we need this proposed law in Washington State since distrust of elections is less of a problem here than in some other states?

Washington Gov. Inslee said that he wants lawmakers to pass legislation making it a gross misdemeanor for elected officials and candidates to spread lies about election results.

One wonders if this is necessary here in Washington State as I think the problem of distrust of the election process is much worse in other states.

Here in Washington, our election processes seem to work well and there is less distrust of government functioning. Such a proposal, in Washington, could be seen as overkill and it could create unnecessary political blowback to Inslee.

The fate of such a bill is dubious given court challenges.

One wonders if it is worth the political capital Inslee might be spending to get this bill passed.

On the other hand, lies, distrust of elections and even violence is a serious problem, nationwide. I think it is more serious in states where politics tends to lean more Republican. Such a bill as this proposal would not likely get to first base in those states.

It does seem like disdain for government is strong; especially among Republicans. I think to the point of anarchy.

I make a connection between severe anti government sentiment and anarchy. Anarchy is, basically, no government.

Even small government, like the famous concept from Grover Norquist, of making government so small one can "drown it in a bathtub," is a dangerous sentiment.

Many of the people who complain the most about government do rely on government for public safety, the military, veteran's benefits, Medicare and so forth.

Too much government and beaurocracy can be a problem, but government is part of the balance along with the private sector.

It does seem strange when people, who wave the flag and call themselves patriots, also say that our (state, federal and local) governments are evil. Kind of a strange irony; especially when it comes from politicians who are in power in the government.

I see this as more of a problem in states that tend to lean Republican. It's hard to say what the best solution to this problem would be. Is passing a law the best solution? It's worth consideration, but the proposal does bring up a lot of questions.

Meanwhile, here in Washington State, it does seem like we have a good election process. Other states may have honest election processes also, but public trust of those processes is more in question.

Remember, I do think outright hatred of government can lead to anarchy. Yes, we did have the Chopp anti police zone that came from the far left in Seattle, Washington, but I tend to think that is part of the action and reaction between right and left extremes.

The Chopp Zone happened in Washington State, but it happened while Trump's extreme presidency was stirring up divisiveness; almost for the fun of it; Trump being a better comedian than president.

Divisiveness and derisive comments about other types of people can be good for media ratings, but calmer tempers and civil society is more to my liking.

For the most part, we do seem to have civil society, here in the state of Washington.

We have mail in balloting in Washington. I like it, but I know some folks don't trust it. Some other states still have polling places complete with the problems of long lines, I'll have to say. We also seem to have a tradition of moderate, responsible Republican Secretaries of State who hold the office overseeing our elections. Our recent Secretary of State, Republican Kim Wyman, was chosen by Democrat Joe Biden for a job related to election security at the national level. By partisanship still alive, I guess.

Years ago, we had Ralph Munro, also a Republican, who I had some personal correspondence with.

That office also over sees state archives and Munro noticed a self published (by photocopy machine) book I did on my 1989 bicycle tour around Washington State. It was on display at the local branch of our State Archives. He was here for a visit and picked up my book. I wasn't there at the time, but people, I know, who work there mentioned that to me. I wrote him, after hearing that and it started a personal correspondence. I sent him some of the books I did about later bicycle trips and he always wrote back appreciating my sharing.

He had a reputation for good relations with the public.