Saturday, February 28, 2009

On A Personal Note - The Economy

New Mexico is by no means a well off state. But one of contrasts. There are areas of poverty side by side with areas of wealth. The wealth seems to be in areas adopted by Californians and trust-fund-babies and retirees living off their 401K's and investments.

My area is originally a resort community where people chose to retire early having made good money in real estate or investments. We also have a huge amount of second homes that make you wonder what it is their first home looks like. They call these $500,000 to $4 million houses "cabins. "

This week I had two opportunities to see how the other side lives as it were. One day I helped clean vacation homes for a property maintenance firm. And the next I had a social fete where I got to mingle with the better half of the economic scale.

I live in paradise but on the cheap. Not as cheap as the photo above but somewhere in the middle. I see little adobe shacks as picturesque and those "cabins" as excessive. But it is the people living in the "cabins" that support the economy here with the services they pay for and the taxes they pay and the things they buy when they come here to escape the Houston heat or to play in the snow. And the people that live in the shacks that are employed and receive paychecks because of the cabin owners. Everyone is hurting it would seem on one level or another.

We could all gripe about the utility bills this last month. Why our electrical cooperative decides to raise rates during the month when we are using the most electricity I haven't a clue. I am shocked by my bill but then I am only heating 1500 square feet to 62 degrees. There is a house I know in Red River that has a full-sized indoor ice hockey rink! I want the money he sends monthly to our rural electrical co-op.

But in one sense I do get benefit from that money he "wastes" keeping ice frozen in an over-heated 50,000 square foot house. People are employed at the electrical co-op because of that money. And my electrical service is maintained by the proceeds off that income. The cabins and their owners are the support to a large extent of the lifestyle we enjoy in this valley. If they don't get enough of those bonuses that helped build these cabins they don't pay their taxes or build additions or another home. And all of us are living in those shacks.

And some of my artist friends are able to enjoy their second career because of the money they had in the stock market because of their first career out in the real world. With smaller dividend checks and every spiraling down stock values they too are cutting back. I am not the only one worried about having the money to buy more canvas and more frames.

And meanwhile the suppliers of art materials have raised prices. That was a big subject for conversation at the gallery reception last night. I am even considering making my own frames.
You just keep on keeping on doing what you can do to keep things moving for that day it all begins to recover.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's State of the Nation

The press is all over this initial address of President Obama before both houses of Congress. I will not try to analyse what he said or just how he said it. Better minds than mine will be doing that today. But one initial assessment I think is significant is that President Obama struck a serious but optimistic tone last night.

"While our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken, though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover."

"And the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," he said to loud applause in the packed chamber.

Words to remember as we go ahead. But what really got to me was the warmth. You could feel the love in the room! Pans of the assembled members of congress showed smiles and nods. President Obama was interrupted by applause more than 60 times as he addressed Congress, where Democrats control both chambers. And then there was Senator McCain! Well, I always thought he was a sourpuss. After eight years of trying to watch GW Bush's addresses to congress (a real sacrifice on my part because I am a stickler for good English from the podium) I was not to have my spirit dampened by a couple rows of Republicans that gave only polite applause at times. Though even they joined the rest of the assembly in standing ovations on key points.

I even dusted off my long unused Facebook account so I could watch it on a live feed from CNN there. Was a bit shocked there were some spiteful people in that crowd on the Internet but it did not mar the images that streamed across my computer screen. Or the words.

Hope is back. Great oratory is back. Inspiration is back. Education for more than passing some dumb efficiency test is back ("Dropping out of school is not just quitting on you. It is quitting on our country). Bringing jobs back to American is back (Tax credits for taking jobs overseas will be repealed). Rebuilding or crumbling infrastructure is back.

No bid contracts for companies in Iraq is out. Red State/Blue State is out. And being devisive for the sake of just being devisive better be out because there is work to do.

Pride in being an American is back for me.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tent Cities in the US?

I was walking with my neighbor this morning down our little country lane with our dogs. Past my house there is only one other house that is occupied.

One house is in foreclosure and the two duplexes that are always rented are empty. Nobody has been to visit two of the three vacation homes. And I am about to kick out my tenant in the attached apartment to my house because she is two months behind on the rent.

So where are all the people that used to occupy these homes? My neighbor said that tent cities were springing up in all the warmer locations in our country. I was shocked. Surely tent cities are something that happen in third world countries or when there is a natural disaster like Katrina or migrant workers. But a quick Google on the subject after the walk assured me I was wrong and my neighbor right. Richmond, Virgina; San Francisco and Los Angeles and San Diego, California among a few. Even in Ohio people are setting up tents on any available spot of land. It is cold in Ohio.

This all raises the question as to whether Obama's housing bill goes far enough. In addition to preventing people being thrown from their homes we obviously need some rent support. After two bad tenants in a row in the last six months I am reluctant to rent again to anyone. It is one thing to not have the income and another to have it cost me money. The current delinquent tenant owes $586.00 on electricity.

And that bill is for two months. I frankly was shocked at my own electricity bill and I have never heated my house up beyond 62 F unless I was burning wood in my wood stove. Tomorrow I am going the the utility company and see if we can work out a payment schedule. Per kilowatt electricity went up again this year. So in addition to rent support maybe the President needs to have a long, hard talk with the utility companies.

I do have two acres of land so maybe instead of renting out the apartment I should rent tent space once the snow melts. It would seem rather funny with nine empty homes for rent that people would be in tents in my backyard. But it is not just that individuals cannot come with with deposits and first and last months rent but that they cannot pay the utilities once they move in.

This does sound like the great depression or the dust bowl days?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I am going to deviate from national issues to one which is a big concern in the State of New Mexico: Construction. With the current economy there is none really. But it was beginning to slide off before the economy tanked.

You will not believe the number of people in my area, once the fastest growing part of the state, who have said they will never, never, never hire a contractor again. I am one of those. And my ex-husband and I had an electrical contracting firm. So shouldn't I be pro construction?

I was until I began my small studio addition. I thought I had the right contractor (no not the one in the photo) but I was wrong. But I am going to leave that right there. Suffice it to say we are currently involved in litigation.

The state of New Mexico has a mechanic's lien system. No proof is required on the part of the contractor to place a lien on your property. At one time this right to lien was so abused that contractors placed the lien on the property where they were going to do work at the minute the contract was signed. Amendments were made and now technically they cannot lien your property until 30 days after last day of work and before 120 days have passed. No proof of their claim in necessary at the time of filing though the law says they were suppose to make a legitimate effort to collect before filing.

The lien right or wrong stays on your property an muddies the title for two years whether or not the contractor moves for judgment. If you sell or want to re-finance with the lien on you owe him whatever absurd amount he filed the lien for. Your alternative is to move for judgment against him to have the lien removed. I was told by one attorney that this could cost me $36,000 or more and he wanted $5000 up front. So if the lien was for less I should just pay it. Never mind it was totally unsubstantiated.

More over while the property holder can request arbitration the contractor is not bond to participate. There are lawyers getting rich on this. And a friend tells me contractors that do just enough work to file a lien large enough to get in district court which requires lawyers and then wait till the property owner is scared enough to pay the blackmail demand.

So if contractors are out of work in this current economy I don't think it is all the fault of the economy. But we are going to bail them out with huge shovel ready projects. Sucks doesn't it?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hard to Swallow

Doesn't that sandwich look yummy. Now imagine it is poison. And that you will die a slow and agonizing death if you eat it.

Today Taxas finally ordered the recall of all products ever shipped from a now-closed Peanut Corp. of America plant in Plainview amid a nationwide salmonella outbreak.

My question is what took them so long? This company has been "retesting" peanuts that tested originally as having salmonella and clearing them for export to Canada where they were refused because they smelled rotten. But that was not the first incident nor was it the last. People had to start dying before anyone paid attention.

Hey, and it is not just peanut butter but any product you have on your shelf that has peanuts in it should be tossed. Products like candy bars, and power bars, and peanut flavored dog treats. Throw them out. And while we are at it let's just throw the CEO's of this company into jail for reckless endangerment or manslaughter.

Beginning with Enron and its electricity scams, and pet food companies with poisonous fake protein, on to investment bankers, and toy makers with lead based painted toys from China, and now peanut companies it is rotten to the core at the top. Everyone is concerned with their million dollar bonuses and not public safety. It is the bottom line and not integrity that seems to count these days.

My list of products I will never again buy grows. That should ultimately save me money in these tough economic times.

PS: I never liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but I was rather fond of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Going to miss them.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Not Nice to Fool With Mother Nature

I think I will leave pure politics here for a moment and focus on some of the other news. I have had enough of the Republicans, who caused this economic mess, refusing to participate in a plan to clean it up.

I am not very tolerant of stupid people.

I think it is absolutely horrid that arson is suspected in some of the Australian fire storm. In fact, one fire fighter yesterday was quoted on a news video as saying that as soon as they would get one brush fire out or contained it was re-started by arson. I know that arson has played a part in more than one New Mexico forest fire and several California wildfires. I think this is such a sad statement on human nature. Over 130 people are dead in Australia with dozens missing. The injuries and property loss is horrific.The law in Downunder has declared the charred remains a crime scene. There should be a death penalty for people that cause these things. I was thinking of bringing back burning at the stake.

Did you know when they burned witches that their friends brought wood so they would burn faster and be released from their torment quicker and with less pain. A big fire can totally suck out the air you are breathing so you suffocate. I wonder if anyone in Australia would bring wood if they caught the arsonists?

Speaking of stupid people (only a few or this blog could go on forever) many of those trapped on the Lake Erie ice flows actually bridged gaps in the water caused by cracks so they and their Budweiser could cross. The cost of rescuing these idiots has really taxed already strained resources of the states, and at least one governor was considering fining those rescued for costs. And why not? Maybe Budweiser will be willing to make a commercial using these idiots to pay for their defense against charges.

Oh, to prove you don't have to be drunk to be stupid, let me mention here the engineers that conceived of and built the Three Gorges Dam in China. All dams are generally on fault lines because that is where rivers like to run. But this one was built in a very geologically unstable area. The dam itself is the largest ever conceived. And the weight of the dam and now the water is believed to be the cause of that huge earthquake China suffered.

Let us not be too smug though because here in the United States we take joy from building nuclear energy plants on top of fault lines like over the San Andres fault in California outside San Francisco.

I think the lesson in all the above is, "It is not nice to fool with Mother Nature."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Most of the People only Some of the Time

My father was fond of saying that you can please a few people all the time, and some people some of the time and none of the people all of the time. This week has certainly brought home that to President Obama and the American People.

I have been following as best I can the criticisms of the Economic Stimulus package as it makes its way through the shark infested pools that are the United States Senate. Clearly everyone has a different idea as to what stimulus is and how to create it.

An economist friend of mine once said you could put three economists in a room and come up with no fewer than five opinions on anyone economic issue. I really see that now.

I am not an economist by any means but I am a broke American trying to hold on in stormy seas and the best solution I heard to this whole mess was to not put it all in one package but divide it into three or four parts. Still I can see that with the direness of the consequences in the world economy that the desire to do it all at once seemed imperative.

With the Senate moving toward a workable compromise our new President may get what he has asked for. He seems more than willing to work with everyone but I was pleased when he told the Republicans, "you caused this mess why can't you help fix it" or words to that effect. I doubt we will know really what works and what does not for a decade. We have not been here before. When the Great Depression happened the world was more separate; not so globally linked. I am sure that historians and economists will be debating this for the better part of the century. Let's hope that we at least learn something this time.

I've learned we should not have let GW Bush have his TARP funds. They have been misspent with no limitations and in some cases drastic over-payment resulting in no stimulus to the economy. I am sure we will be debating that for several decades too. GW was obviously trying to please just a few people all the time - like already rich CEO's and business owners.

I have my fingers crossed that this will work. That pleasing most of the people some of the time is all we need to do to get the ball rolling again. I do know it is democracy as it is suppose to work. GW, I think history will find, ran a dictatorship.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Funding for the Arts?

I was reading recently in a blog that the Economic Stimulus Plan being touted by Obama and which has passed the house includes funding for the arts. The Republican opposition considers it pork and is fighting it even as long standing performing arts organizations are facing bankruptcy and failure due to lack of donations during this economic crisis.

Is funding for the arts merely wasteful pork? As an artist myself I am inclined to say no so I did some research on the economics of the issue. There are some six million jobs in the arts which would be effected by this bailout. My guess is the number of artists in dance, music, and visual arts that are actually suffering because of this depression in the economy is a tremendous deal amount larger.

Arts also from the information I read seems to generate about $167 million annually in revenue. I am not enough of an economist to figure out how they derive that figure and if it is fact merely ticket sales to the Boston Ballet and the Philadelphia Symphony, etc. It would be hard to track the sales of individual painters and sculptors or even small studios and galleries. And are classes for our children in ceramics and dance included in that figure? They are not included in the bailout funds. It does not pretend to be that comprehensive in its scope.

After all this research I decided not to give the world economic perspective on the closing of the Kennedy Performance Center in Washington, D.C. I was too upset remembering great evenings there and at the Arena Stage in D.C. to be rational.

And then there is my community. We started as a ski resort. Then expanded to a golf course. Because of our wonderful location in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico we get bikers, hikers, campers, sightseers and an ever growing amount of art tourists. They come here to enjoy Music from Angel Fire, a chamber music festival in August; Angel Fire Mountain Theater performances and ArtsFest Fine Art Fair in July presented by the Moreno Valley Arts Council; and shopping the studios and galleries of local artists. This May we are launching a studio tour funded in part by the New Mexico Arts Council and the state tourism bureau.

Art Tourism provides a lot to the gross receipts tax base upon which our community depends for the maintenance of roads, civic improvements, and schools. Hotels and condos and restaurants all benefit from the classic music lovers that come here to listen to New York and world renowned musicians performing during Music from Angel Fire which has been going on for over 25 years. And while those performers are here they give free concerts in the schools which have been deprived of music and art education courses for years.

Art Tourism is non-polluting. Does not rut the mountain roads like mountain bikes or ATV's. Is not dependent upon snowfall.

Arts are not pork. Arts enrich our lives. And they are an integral part of the economy of many a town like mine.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What don't they get?

I just was catching up on some of the news of the last week and discovered that all those bailed out financial/investment corporations are still giving excessive bonuses to their executives that have failed in keeping the companies solvent. And Citibank, that credit card company you love to hate, is going to buy a new $42 million corporate jet.

How many people did they kick out of their homes for this? And how many Citibank Credit Card holders are now paying 26% interest and $35 late fees? Or better yet, how much of my taxpayer money is funding this joy ride?

This new toy of the CEO's carries only 12 passengers and a crew. Twelve! And just where do they travel on this gold plated luxury ride? Isn't this the day of the Internet? Conference calls? Live video streaming that allows you to hold a meeting with nobody leaving their conference rooms?

And shouldn't Citibank and all these "on the brink of failing" companies be cutting back on expenses and frills and bonuses like us middle class (rapidly becoming lower class) members?

I am sorry you managed your companies so very poorly but in true capitalism you should be allowed to fail. I say take the remaining TARP funds and open a government bank to provide loans to people getting foreclosed on or in bankruptcy themselves. No more for banks and investment companies. Zero. Zip. Nada.

They just don't get it. Literally!

Write your congressmen and President Obama Today.