Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It is All Blackmail

I am particularly fond of this image in juxtaposition with the frog below. Frogs you know are vanishing at a concerning rate. And those remaining on our troubled planet are showing deformities in large percentages to the population. Some scientists are calling frogs our canaries in the mine.

And yet GW and his oil buddies want us to suspend all environmental controls on oil refineries and exploration. When he was governor of the state of Texas he made it the most polluted of the 50 and from the day he took office as president of the United States he has wanted to row back all EPA controls.

I have a friend that works in the Environmental Protection Agency and he says GW has virtually gutted the agency. The super fund that was suppose to clean up the worst of the abandoned mines that are leaking contaminated water with heavy metals into the earth was totally suspended. In my neck of the woods alone there is two or three of these major offenders to clean water that cause humped back fish and sick people. Catch and release in western streams has taken on a totally different purpose. No longer let the big wild fish breed but don't eat contaminated fish.

We gave oil companies major tax incentives for exploration and upgrading of their facilities to meet clean air and water standards. Have they used that or any of the huge profits they are currently raking in to build modern refineries that meet EPA standards? Have they searched for alternative fuels? Have they figured out ways to get the oil out of shale? (Incidentally there was a huge oil shale project in Grand Junction, Colorado which was abandoned because it was too costly. At the time they said if oil reached $50 a barrel it would be doable. Are they doing it at twice that?)

No to all those questions. They just sit and rake in the profits while their elected official (we certainly never elected him) berates congress for not passing his bills that would allow the oil companies to ruin not merely our National Parks, but our air and our water just because they do not want to spend some of that money to do it responsibly.

I lived in El Paso, Texas when I was a kid. It had refineries. They dumped sulfuric gas into the air
at an enormous rate. It changed the color of the land around it which seemed to grow nothing. And ultimately my family had to move because of the illnesses it caused with my brother and myself. When mother became pregnant with my sister she put her foot down. She did not care where we moved. Just away from there.

The EPA standards developed for oil refineries and coal generation plants and factories in general is so we can continue to breathe. So we still have frogs in ponds and fish we can catch in a mountain stream and eat. And if GW truly agrees that global warming is an issue then why is he fighting to put more carbon emissions into our atmosphere or cut the number of green, growing and living things down.

The oil companies have not built a refinery in 30 years because they were waiting for someone like GW to make it unnecessary for them to care about their neighborhood and the planet earth.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Balance and Hope

The powers that be say they do not use the "R" word because it will generate a recession. And once they admit we are in a Recession than there will be the "D" word to worry us: Depression. So our avenue of escape from this financial mess is to think positive and spend, spend, spend.

I want to remain hopeful and I want to remain in some sort of financial balance. At the moment those two concepts seem to be in direct opposition to each other. I feel a bit like a frog perched on a lily pad in a turbulent pond.

A year ago April 7th I began a home improvement project of adding 336 sf to my house. It is a studio/gallery which will hopefully at some time in the near future generate income without having to travel to as many art fairs. The state is even supporting this endeavor obliquely by beginning a art studio tour loop for tourism through this part of the state. So I am rather stuck in having to continue to do some spending over and above food and gas. I am sure my local economy loves it, because I cannot afford to run to the big city every time I need to purchase tile, or grout, or lumber for the deck, paving stones for the walkway, etc. I admit to doing this all a lot slower than the original schedule, however. I guess that supports those words of "economic slow down" Bush likes to use.

I guess this is all why Obama's message of hope resonates with me so much. I don't care if it is irrational but I need hope. We all need some hope. There are too many dashers of hope out there: McCain because he thinks we ought to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, Bush because he refuses to admit we are in the deep shit here, Hillary that wants to continue to play the same old dirty trick politics I have come to hate and darken my dream of hope.

How about we all go to a hilltop and meditate on achieving balance in our lives? And actually I do find some of what is happening economically hopeful. I am shopping local far more and finding that I enjoy that even when it costs me a bit more. If I have problems with the mix of paint or a broken tile they are far more likely to make it right for me than Lowe's. And I can feel good about helping my local economy.

I had picked this image of a frog on a lily pad this morning. It reminded me of how tricky it must be to balance on a small pad in the middle of a pond especially if their is turbulence. But it also reminded me that global economy or no it is the health of my little pond that matters. Shop local but shop I suppose is the message. And match your outgo to your income. Balance. And Hope. Let us not forget hope. It gets us through the worst of times.

Friday, April 25, 2008

It is a Recession, Stupid

Not an economic slowdown.

I find all this debate about whether the United States is in a recession a bit irritating. Mind you I am not an economist but I do watch my economy. And it has changed drastically in the last year.

I am on social security which I supplement with income from my art. A year ago the rather hot art market started to really cool down. By fall it was totally frozen and many of my art friends started suffering some serious financial problems. Several entered bankruptcy. Fairs that were once highly competitive to be accepted into were calling an asking why they had not received my application. I personally was cutting down the number of fairs I did and selecting those I did participate in based on how close they were to home. There are no fuel efficient vehicles you can load all your booth fixtures and art into. Mine is better than most with 20 miles per gallon.

A year ago I also let my spa membership go. Not a frill since I deal with several potentially handicapping issues that linger from a bad accident. I used to do twice a week religiously. I changed to a punch card and now go the 23 miles only when my friend can go too so we can cooperate on the gas. And while in town we also do all our shopping and errand running. But most of our grocery shopping is now done locally in the tiny neighboring town of Angel Fire. This means I may pay higher prices on food but do not “waste” the gas.

Oh, and gas is $3.76 a gallon here. Way over the national average. No subway, no trains, no bus. So I travel a lot less. I don’t go to Lowe’s or Home Depot for building supplies for the studio I am finishing. I bargain with the local hardware store. I don’t have things delivered but fit them into that van used for art shows. Electrical rates are up and so are the bills even though I have gone to all those energy efficient bulbs that give less light. Seldom more than one on at a time in my house at night.

I have also gotten rid of my satellite television which means I have no connection to mass media outside the Internet which I need for business. I used to have the Qwest land line package with all the bells and whistles and it ran me $69 per month. I have reduced that to the lowest and most basic package which is $18 but 2/3'rds of that is taxes and FCC fees. All long distance calls are done on the cell phone (also a business expense). See why artists get in trouble? If you hope to make an art sale there are things you must pay for like website, merchant account, supplies, fair fees, travel expenses, fax and cell, internet. But if there is nobody buying art because they are in the same fix I am it is all outgo and no income.

So I have cut basic services to a bare-bone minimum. I do not drive anywhere I do not absolutely have to go and then try to buddy up with my neighbor. I am shopping for clothing at the thrift shop. And this week I planted my garden for the first time in two years. I plan to live like a rabbit on the lettuce it provides for four months.

If a recession is where consumers do not buy things then yes we are in a recession. We have been for a months. The only other things I can pare down are those necessary small business expenses. Oh, and that economic stimulus check we are to get in May. I believe it has to go straight to the Chapter 13 trustee, so it is not stimulating me to go out and buy anything.

Next stop the poor house as my father used to say. He lived through the depression. I remember those stories. They seem all too real at the moment.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My non-political political analysis

The political pundits and talking heads are out in full force giving us their analysis of that the barely two-digit win by Hillary in Pennsylvania means. And blogland is full of finely tuned views too. This is not one of those. This is an artist's view of that this means, so it is very subjective.

One, clearly American Flag lapel pins do not matter (see previous blog), because Hillary has never worn one to my knowledge. Nor does dress for success. Throw that book out because I think she has horrid taste in pant suits. And a woman is suppose to wear a skirt for a job interview.

Two, there was a wide variance between the pre-primary polls which showed the gap being only 5% and the actual vote with 10%. (note: this was way down from the 30% Hillary started with.) But this difference seems to show that once we pull that curtain there are a huge group of white Democrats that are closet racists.

Three, the Hillary camp is probably going to use this little racial blip to say she is the one to go head to head with McCain. But don't buy that, because if the very White Male Democrat is closet racist he is probably also closet sexist (ask his wife and it probably is not that closeted). So when it is Hillary against McCain the white man with the military record will win every time. Just ask the KKK.

Four, and for me this is the really bad news, the old time dirty politics wins. That means the style of campaigns brought to you by Carl Rowe will be up and running in 2008. The Clintons are past masters. So this is the end of substance as we know it. It has been nice to debate some real issues for a change but the last debate proved in conjunction with the outcome of this primary that we are back to such clarifying terms as Flip Flopper.

Nothing is going to change. Hope is dead. Time to start meeting in back rooms and cellars and plan the revolution. Democracy was a nice experiment but it did not work. It can be purchased.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

This all comes down to a lapel pin?

I watched the Hillary and Obama debate last night and personally think Obama won because he politely tried to get the debate focused back on the issues. It seemed to be all about US flag lapel pins. And why Obama does not wear one.

Was I the only one to notice that Hillary did not have one on her jacket lapel. Nor was she wearing one of the acceptable "I am an American" colors. Bush can always be predicted to wear a blue suit, white shirt and red tie when he is trying to sell us on staying in Iraq.

Hillary was wearing green which does not score really high on the dress for success scales and no American Flag lapel pin. So this morning I got up and Googled Lapel Pins. And was surprised to find that there are any host of US leaders that have been caught without one.

President Reagan seems to be one of the first. But his presidency predated 9/11 and I am not sure if there were different rules for then. I was working for the Village Court during this pivotal point in our US history and I know that suddenly you were at risk of being hung as a traitor or at the least fired if you did not adorn every outfit and every ball cap with at least one depiction of Old Glory. As an ex-hippy that was constantly put down for sewing American Flag decals on jackets and pockets of jeans I found myself rather divided by this sudden emergence patriotic display. Were these often not righteous depictions of a symbol of the United States really disgracing it? There is never room for enough stars or stripes. And do we get into a snobbery of my lapel pin is real gold with enamel not paint debate.

They are all Made in China. So how very American is that?

But while surfing along through Google I was surprised to find the above photo of Senator John McCain without his requisite lapel pin. Probably there are a whole group of political photographers frantically searching their digital image files this morning to see if they can find GW without one. Does he wear one while chainsawing dead wood on his ranch?

He is a Texan and it has been my experience that all Texans wear the Texas state Lone Star on everything. And it is the major decoration for all cabins owned by Texans here in New Mexico. Do you wear the Lone Star Lapel pin above or below the US Flag lapel pin?

Ask me if I care? Frankly if the issues facing us Americans do not get some serious attention in the very near future then I will cease to be proud of this country. I already have to apologize for our president (lapel pin or no) to all foreign friends and visitors. So let's stop playing this picky, picky game of make wrong and try to address the real issues that concern us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bitter? Who isn't?

Hillary has been condemning Barack's comment about voters being bitter. Yes, we are. And the numbers seem to prove it. In a recent CNN poll 81% of Americans said our government is on the wrong track. This is the highest level of disconnect with politics and Washington in almost two decades!

And a full 78% say things have gotten worse in the last five years. But what is the most frustrating is that nobody in Washington seems to be listening. While all the economic and political pundits are searching for words to survive this "slow down" in our economy two thirds of Americans polled thing it is a recession and think it has been going on for a while already. The world bank recently revealed a study which showed that food prices around the world have risen 83% in the last three years and that now some 33 countries are facing a crisis with food prices. But GW Bush, the leader of a free and democratic world by his own titling, doesn't even know that gas will soon be at $4.00 a gallon or better here in the states while Iraq sits on huge stockpiles of oil that it won't even use to rebuild its own country.

OK, I get the Pottery Barn rule. We broke it so we pay for it. But GW went into this ill-advised and illegal war saying that Iraq's oil would fund it. We have now spent enough in that tiny country to totally fix Social Security or secure Medicare into the next half of this century or fund a universal health care system or repair and replace our aging infrastructure or research and develop alternate energy resources . . . the list goes on and grows by the minute . . . or's get replaced by and's.

Yes, we are bitter. What happened to Democracy begins at home? Not to mention charity? A recent report on a local TV channel said that the US government has promised our National Guard to replace all the equipment shipped to Iraq by 2013. That's five years! This equipment and our National Guard is used to fight wild fires on the grasslands and forest fires in the mountains. This year they had to go and rescue a community buried in record snows without an operating snowplow. They spent two days preparing to rescue people without food because the antiquated equipment GW did not want for Iraq needed tires, and mechanical fixes to make the trip.

Yes, we are bitter. And quite frankly I think that is the only sane way to be right about now. We have not only spent all the money that could fix this country but we have spent all the future money that could fix this country. Russia went bankrupt fighting the war in Afghanistan. We are so deeply in debt to China on the war in Iraq we have to make nice to a communist country that plans to change the weather for the Olympics. Don't they care that it might have climatic repercussions down jet stream? No. They don't care about Tibet, or our poisoned pets, or the lead paint in toys either. But GW will go to the opening ceremonies and honor them because we owe them money for a war we should never have gotten into.

I think Obama was spot on. We are bitter and we want something done about it. Until then we have our guns, and some their religion. And we just don't want anything given away to anyone else until we get our fair share. Obama's one mistake is he limited his comment to the blue collar workers. Doesn't matter what your collar color is we are all bitter.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The politics of gas prices

The mountain west is an area of vast open spaces with sparsely located population centers. Some towns are merely a gas station, a church, a bar and a tack shop (a business that sells things for horses and cattle and those that work on and with them). It is easier to get a bale of hay in parts of New Mexico than ink for your computer printer.

Before the Internet you took a trip to the nearest big city once a month or two of supplies. And it was in those cities that the big box stores opened up. They killed a lot of the Mom and Pop businesses in smaller towns in the area. The result was a capitalistic system that was supported by big vehicles and cheap gas and long distance driving.

I live in a resort town where it is easier to buy skis or mountain bike than a pair of jeans and tennis shoes. You cannot buy a shirt that does not have the name of the resort printed or embroidered on it. The local grocery store caters to the Texas tourist trade and not the organic diet locals. Our business depends on people traveling by car to get here. There is no other way. No trains, only a small private jet airport, no buses. And while the tourists travel here we have to travel to Santa Fe or Albuquerque to shop for things not available in our area. Or shop the Internet. And even with that delivery prices are going up.

I am looking for tile for my studio. I have a lumber yard in my town but not a flooring supply store. I traveled two hours to Lowe's to look for tile. The delivery charge to my town will be $135 or 30 cents extra per tile. I cannot haul it it my van because it is one ton of tile in a 1/2 ton base vehicle. I could do it in two trips. Twice the gas. If I had one of those little energy efficient hybrids we would be looking at six trips or more.

I have the feeling that some of those little stores Lowe's and Wal-Mart, and Sam's put out of business will spring back up eventually. But in the mean time we two choices: pay the higher prices for gas or delivery or choose to not buy those items you cannot haul in your car. A lot of us are going with the latter option because we cannot afford the first.

I don't think it would bother me as much that gas prices are causing me to totally alter my choices in life if the gas companies were not making such huge profits and paying their CEO's such huge salaries. Or if the President had a clue about what gas prices were and the impact upon our society and the businesses, especially the small businesses.

If we stopped giving gas companies tax breaks and used that money to build some railroads and make more of our communities accessible by some means other than car and made it easier to get goods into those towns we all might feel a bit less bitter. Everyone is angry at Obama for saying we are bitter. But we are bitter. We see the rich get richer and have absolutely no concept of how pinched the middle and lower classes feel by the economic woes led I think by gas and fuel prices. My life style has changed drastically due to that. I want someone to recognize it. I am angry as hell that the rich fat cats in Washington don't seem to even be aware of what we are going through. McCain said we should all just tighten our belts a little and eat out less often.

This weekend I ate out with a friend for the first time in a couple of months. I used to eat out at least once a week. My friend filled up her gas tank for the first time in a month because she has been staying home to save gas. Yes, we are bitter. And I am frankly thrilled someone running for office realized it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Just Unplug

As of April 15th I will have disconnected from my satellite server. I have blogged about my feelings on this before but without a definite resolution until just recently.

I am one of the disadvantaged rural people that cannot get the television channels like ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS with just a standard antenna. And while a lot has been touted about how great digital broadcasting will be nobody has said that it will make areas without television reception more able to receive local channels without paying a satellite or cable service for this privilege enjoyed by most citizens of this country. I cannot even get a daily local paper where I live but I can get Internet with a satellite which I also pay for.

It bothers me that I have to pay to find out what is happening in the world around me. But it brothers me even more that I do not get choices of what I pay for. The satellite and cable providers (pimps) claim they package channels to save me money but I argue with this. They want me to pay for 250 channels (235 of which I will not watch) to be able to get the 15 I will. And while single senior women are a large and growing segment of our society there is no package that does not include Disney, ESPN and an ample sprinkling of religious channels of faiths I resent supporting. I have e-mailed AARP on this issue and they are supposedly in talks with the satellite services (fear dealers) to develop a package aimed at us. Frankly, I believe as long as they can sell us 250 channels so we can get CNN, TNT and local news they will not change.

My response to this is to just say NO. NO television. NO satellite television service. I will get my news from Internet Websites. Weather that way too. I will watch DVD's for entertainment (without commercials trying to sell me something). I will read. And I will think. And one of the things I have been thinking about is where has the FCC been in all this? When did broadcast television cease to be a way to keep our population informed and start being a way of blackmailing them into compliance.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Free Trade?????

Is it free trade? I really do not think so if we are locked into an agreement like NAFTA which we cannot alter. Or if that trade means we have to compromise our ideals, morals or laws.

Free trade with China has certainly cost us pet owners a lot. And mothers with children having to spend more time shopping for toys that are made here or guaranteed lead free.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. What about the thousands and thousands of jobs that are being outsourced to foreign countries? We are called protectionists if we even raise doubts about this ideal of a free world economy. It does sound like a neat thing. I would love to be able to get high quality Italian shoes on an equal footing as it were. But then Italy falls close to my expectations on its treatment of women and minorities. It cares about its seashores. It is not trying to whip Sweden into compliance. And most items I have purchased with the Made in Italy label have been of good quality.

I don't have those same feelings about hardly anything coming from China. And I can endorse the Made in Mexico label only on those things I know Mexico does well. Frankly, that is not electronics even if under the auspices of a United States firm. It still pays to be a bit careful about buying ceramics from their country because of their use of lead based glazes. But if I am faced with the choice of two products and one is made in China and another in Mexico I will opt for Mexico every time. I am close to not buying something I want if I can only get it made in China.

But those issues are not all there is to this Free Trade issue. It seems that the other countries are not playing fair. They are making items in prisons or giving money to companies so they can undercut the prices of products made here. And Free Trade seems to be only for major companies. As an artist my work purchased by someone in another country still faces major duties and tariffs. That does not sound free and open to me.

Both Democratic candidates are promising another look at the North American Free Trade Agreement but Bush is already advocating a free trade agreement with Columbia. It will cost us jobs and allow free trade only one direction. We need to look long and hard at these agreements in the future. If they hurt our citizens or endorse a way of life we cannot morally support then we should just say no.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Election Reform - a modest proposal

With ll the mudslinging going on out there in the Democratic primary process I just had to step back and ask myself if there was a better way. There must be. It has been more than 200 years since our founding fathers set the basic rule down for our republic. But despite the constant call for change by even the candidates themselves the American people seem to not want change. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

Well, I frankly think it is broke. At the very least you have to ask yourself what could be achieved if we took all the manhours, money, energy and creative thinking being spent to get one person elected above another and directed it toward just one problem like global warming or the economic crisis.

What if instead of going all out to gather delegates we gave each person running for the highest office of our land the task of making some measurable improvement on just one national problem. The various pressing problems could be written on a slip of paper and tossed in a hat. Each presidential hopeful would pick just one piece of paper. They would then take their staffs, all the money donated by the people, and set out to tackle the problem.

The news media instead of rehashing over and over what one candidate said about he other and how many ways the popular vote, the pledged delegates, and super delegates could report on the progress of the staffs of the candidates in defining the problem, blue-skying a few outside the box solutions, and steps taken to move forward.

The candidates would have to constantly assess the success of their staff and make staff changes to facilitate progress toward the solution. Even seek out and hire experts in the field. Isn't this what we ask of our presidents? We have currently a president unwilling to make any staff changes or modify his failed plan in anyway or listen to any voice other than his own. We want a new president that will behave differently. One that will not be concerned with his legacy but with whether or not he left this country a better place to live in. Not Iraq. Our country. Not that he has done better with Iraq.

By reforming our election process in this way we would not only be able to pick the candidate able to lead and not just run for office. We would also accomplish something toward the improvement of the major problems we face in the future. The election process would actually benefit something other than just the advertising firms and media commercial markets.

I don't want another president with "all the answers." I want one willing to admit he does not have all the answers and willing to listen to experts who just might have the answers.
I want a president who is good at something other than running for office.