Help! We’re getting colder and colder!

Writing from the Internet cafe at Flour Garden …

We’re into our fourth day without power, and without our HVAC, except when we’re running our backup generator. We have no secondary source of heat, such as a woodburning stove.

By our second day we were able to shovel enough snow from the driveway to get out for awhile. If it weren’t for our pets, we’d probably have headed for the valley and warm lodging days ago.

I went out to the garage this morning — which we often use in the winter as a spare “refrigerator” — and for the first time ever I felt no subjective difference in temperature there from the temperature inside the house! The upside of this, I suppose, is that now we can just use our house as a spare refrigerator.

The thermometer on the bookcase in our livingroom read 48 degrees when we got up at 7 AM today.

I heard on KVMR this morning that there are about 500 people remaining without power in Nevada City, and about 50 in Grass Valley (where we live). This means that we have the honor of being members of the last group here to get power restored, and as of this writing we have no idea when that may be. PG&E promises more “information” by midnight tonight.

A number of old-timers in this area have mentioned that there were big snowstorms in the 1970s, but not nearly as many outages as we have now. Isn’t PG&E doing enough tree work before winter to prevent many of these outages?

This is our third winter in Grass Valley since we moved into the house we built here twenty years ago. We learn something new about survival each winter. This winter our big lesson is … we need a secondary source of heat! Yesterday we went over to Sierra Timberline and started shopping for a fireplace insert.

Listening to chatter here at Flour Garden, I realize that we are surrounded by refugees from Nevada City and Grass Valley (some from our neighborhood), all waiting to hear from PG&E that their power is restored.

Looking toward our neighbor's vineyard

Could Income Inequality Become a Permanent Feature of the US?

Jeff Pelline reprinted (from Mother Jones) some interesting charts on income inequality over on his blog this morning. I was in the process of commenting there and had typed several paragraphs when I hit the wrong key and lost my whole effort. So, I’ve reworked my comments here:

Most of us, on the rare occasions when we think about it at all, consider income inequality to be a regrettable but probably unavoidable feature of an economic system which is fundamentally just and sound.

But there’s growing understanding among mainstream economists of the direct and terrible connection between inequality and economic meltdowns, the regular recurring boom and bust cycles like the one we are still trying to recover from now.

The mechanism is easy to understand: money (what should be demand) accumulates instead in the coffers of the rich (the hoarding class) and does not “trickle down.” If it did trickle down to the non-rich/non-hoarding classes, who have no choice but to spend it (on rent, mortgage, gas, food, etc, etc), it would then become demand, the engine for a healthy economy.

When inequality becomes extreme, the demand engine stalls. This is what happened on the eve of the Great Depression, and again on the eve of our current Great Recession.

Since the late 1970s — and particularly since the early 1980s when Reagan accelerated the war on the middle class and the war on unions by firing the air traffic controllers — worker real wages (adjusted for inflation) have stayed flat, and have not maintained their historic parity with growing productivity.

To make up for the decreasing demand from the now more impoverished middle class, some other demand mechanism had to be found. The other mechanism was easy credit, fueled by low interest rates engineered by Greenspan and his cronies at the Federal Reserve.

Americans began to use the still considerable equity in their homes as sources of borrowing. It appeared to be a “virtuous cycle” of growing values and growing debt. Americans used their homes like ATMs.

When the bubble burst — as all bubbles inevitably burst — in the late 1920s, the economy limped along for some years until jobs policies put in place by FDR (the “traitor to his class“) and his administration began to ameliorate the suffering somewhat. A setback occurred in 1939 when FDR, bowing to pressure from conservatives, attempted to balance the budget by reducing spending (sound familiar?). The real recovery finally took place as a result of the ultimate jobs program, World War II.

The point, though, is that, thanks to FDR, the political will existed at the federal level to address the root problem in some fashion.

I’m afraid that we face a much more dire situation today, with the potential for an Even Greater Depression.

Consider: Obama is no FDR, and shows little inclination to emulate him. He continues to rely for economic advice on the same cast of characters from the financial sector who created the current meltdown.

Instead of a Pecora Commission and a massive shaming and rebuke of Wall Street, we have historic profits and bonuses in the financial sector, combined with a continuing war on unions and on the increasingly-impoverished and rapidly-disappearing middle class.

At a time when the culprits should be facing jail terms, they continue to rule the roost.

The only way out of the current crisis is to “bail out” the working class with policies at the federal level, in order to restart the economy’s demand engine.

We need to raise taxes on the rich, the primary method for preventing hoarding. This is not as simple-minded as it sounds. See “Weird Tax Myths.”

Unfortunately, though, the deficit hawk mentality prevails in Washington today.

The only sign of hope anywhere in our country is in the massive public reaction, starting in Wisconsin, to the latest assault on unions.

Either the union movement will recover some of its historic strength in the current conflict, or it may die once and for all.

If it dies, God help us all.

We’ll be living in a world of permanent income inequality.

Cui Bono? (Who Benefits from Gov. Walker’s New Bill?)

We’ve all been justifiably focused on the clamor in the streets and government buildings of Madison, and have thus missed something fascinating in the fine print of the bill that Governor Walker is so eager to have passed. Richard Eskow explains it in his excellent article, “The War Against The Republic: The Battle Of Madison” (from the Campaign for America’s Future website):

At the risk of sounding disagreeable, it’s hard to find an “honest difference of opinion” on ideology that explains a paragraph like this one in Gov. Walker’s new bill, spotted by my eagle-eyed pal Mike Konczal: “… the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant …”

This allows the governor to bypass regulators and legislators and sell the state’s power plants, built with millions in taxpayer money to anybody he likes. This paragraph goes on to say that ” any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project.” The governor can give these plants away if he wants, and nobody can stop him.

Cui bono? Who could possibly benefit from giving the governor the ability to sell the state’s “heating, cooling, and power plants” (there are 32 of them), or “contract with a private entity” to operate them, without a bid process or any regulatory oversight?

Let’s see now: Wisconsin has nearly one million natural gas customers, so it would presumably be a company that “provides consulting, engineering, design, procurement, fabrication and construction services for the natural gas and gas processing industries worldwide” and has “been the general contractor on some of the largest natural gas plants built in the U.S.” And since there are a number of coal-fired plants on the state’s list, our corporation would need to be a “leading supplier of coal and related products typically used in industrial applications or to generate electricity.”

Those quotes were taken from the website of Koch Industries, the company whose owners are bankrolling a little-known group that’s behind initiatives like Walker’s budget proposal.

Of course, the winning candidate doesn’t have to be Koch Industries. Kris Broughton at BigThink found anothe candidate. ThinkEnergy says it “eliminates the waste of energy and money in facilities through a blend of Supply-Side and Demand-Side energy management measures,” and they’ve placed a hiring ad that reads “Energy client is looking for experienced Plant Managers for multiple power plants located in Wisconsin.”

The real issue isn’t whether Koch Industries gets the deal to operate Wisconsin’s power plants. Somebody will – and the assets built by Wisconsin taxpayers (including the public employees now under assault) will undoubtedly be given to the private sector at very favorable rates. It will be one more step in the Great American Giveaway — the seizure of public resources by the private sector.

Joyce Sutphen: “The Aunts”

American Life in Poetry: Column 309


I love poems that celebrate families, and here’s a fine one by Joyce Sutphen of Minnesota, a poet who has written dozens of poems I’d like to publish in this column if there only were weeks enough for all of them.

The Aunts

I like it when they get together
and talk in voices that sound
like apple trees and grape vines,

and some of them wear hats
and go to Arizona in the winter,
and they all like to play cards.

They will always be the ones
who say “It is time to go now,”
even as we linger at the door,

or stand by the waiting cars, they
remember someone—an uncle we
never knew—and sigh, all

of them together, like wind
in the oak trees behind the farm
where they grew up—a place

I remember—especially
the hen house and the soft
clucking that filled the sunlit yard.

Cartoon: It Can Only Happen in Poor Countries With Authoritarian Tyrants

One-time reprint rights from (Image #DEM370)

McClintock “Get’s It Wrong” Nationally and Locally

Tom McClintock was at various venues in Grass Valley recently, revealing his poor grasp of local and national issues, as reported by someone close to me (full disclosure: my wife, in an op-ed in today’s The Union):

More than 26 million Americans are now out of work or are underemployed.

Four million homes have been lost to foreclosure. Another 4.5 million mortgages are “under water.”

Consumers are broke, and local businesses are faltering. American jobs continue to be shipped overseas. Meanwhile, Wall Street’s top banks and firms paid their employees $135 billion last year.

Yet, at a recent meeting in Grass Valley when the conversation turned to possible unscrupulous banking practices when dealing with foreclosures in Nevada County, Tom McClintock offered this nugget: “If you can’t afford to buy a house — say it with me — don’t buy a house.”

Really? How glib. As if the catastrophic rate of foreclosures can be laid at the feet of irresponsible borrowers. Mr. McClintock also blames government for “encouraging lenders, who in their right minds would never have made such loans, to make them anyway.”

He forgot to mention that, while encouraging banks to lend to qualified borrowers in low-income neighborhoods, government housing policy did not require banks to lend to people who were without the means to repay the loan; did not require banks to steer borrowers into higher interest subprime loans even when they were otherwise eligible for lower rates; did not require banks to deceive borrowers by verbally committing to terms that were contradicted in the fine print; and did not require lenders to forge borrower signatures on loan documents.

Read full op-ed here: “McClintock gets it wrong on foreclosures

Suggested reading for our local representative:

Struggle in Wisconsin is About the Survival of the Democratic Party

Here’s Rachel Maddow at her best, explaining why the struggle in Madison, Wisconsin has nothing to do with the budget, and everything to do with the GOP’s effort to permanently destroy the Democratic Party.

Before you decide that my previous sentence was hyperbole, watch this video:

Gabriela Montero: Gorgeous Improvisation

This isn’t just gorgeous, although it is gorgeous.

It’s also a work of genius.

An improvisation on Handel’s Sarabande, by Gabriela Montero.

Support Financial Speculation Tax

Editor’s note: I received this request today from the Institute for Policy Studies, to support the “Investing in Our Future Act of 2011,” a bill that would “put a levy on foreign currency transactions to curb short-term speculation while generating revenue for U.S. deficit reduction and for global public goods like climate change programs.”

“While millions of ordinary families are still suffering the effects of the global economic crisis, it’s fat bonus time again on Wall Street. The top 25 banks doled out a record $135.5 billion in pay last year.

Act now! Tell your member of Congress to support the Investing in our Future Act of 2011 to put an end to rampant financial speculation.

Around the world, momentum is growing for one way to help curb the casino economy. It’s a tiny tax on trades of stock, derivatives, currency and other financial instruments and it makes the high rollers most responsible for the financial crisis pay.

A financial speculation tax would increase the cost of high frequency trading enough to discourage the most dangerous behaviors. It would make Wall Street financiers – who crashed the global economy, yet continue to make huge profits – help pay for global public goods.

This week the Institute for Policy Studies is joining with labor, environmental, faith-based, and other citizens organizations to support a bill just introduced in Congress calling for one form of a financial speculation tax.

The Investing in Our Future Act of 2011, sponsored by Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), would put a levy on foreign currency transactions to generate revenue for initiatives such as U.S. deficit reduction, mitigating the effects of climate change, and improving global health.

You can add your voice by urging your member of Congress to co-sponsor this bill. Wall Street caused the financial crisis. They should pay for the recovery.

With appreciation,

Janet Redman, Sarah Anderson, and the rest of IPS


Fact Sheet: Investing in Our Future Act

Taxing Financial Speculation, Raising Funds for Critical Needs

Taxing the Wall Street Casino


Reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine? Trust, but Verify

Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by Ralph Silberstein, President, and Mike Pasner, Vice-President, of Citizens Looking at the Impact of Mining in Grass Valley (CLAIM-GV ). In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m a member of CLAIM-GV and have assisted in efforts to research the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

February 6,, 2011 was the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and when Grass Valley evaluates the controversial proposal to reopen the historic Idaho-Maryland Mine the late president’s signature phrase holds a timely piece of advice: Trust, but Verify.

When President Reagan uttered those words he was referring to an arms control treaty with the Soviet Union. At first glance, a nuke treaty with the Evil Empire seems a world away from reopening a historic gold mine in rural Grass Valley, California.

But the proposal by Emgold – a Canada-based mining company that has never actually operated a gold mine – to resume mining at Idaho Maryland carries both big promises and huge risks for our community, and it deserves equally serious scrutiny.

First, some history: in 2006, Emgold proposed a scheme to reopen the mine and build a ceramics plant to manufacture tile from excavated rock. That proposal quickly ran into trouble. State regulators and mine experts found serious problems with Emgold’s Draft Environmental Impact Report and by 2009 the project appeared to have quietly died.

But like a bad penny, Emgold’s scheme has returned.

Emgold is expected to submit a revised proposal by April 8th, and ultimately the Grass Valley City Council will vote it up or down. Before approving the proposal, however, the Council must verify its many golden promises:

Jobs: Under its initial plan, Emgold promised to create four hundred jobs over the next 20 years – 200 in the mine and another 200 in the ceramics factory. Sounds pretty good, especially in these tough economic times, right? But hold on – not only are these jobs figures speculative, but the Grass Valley General Plan has slated the mine site for a business park with the potential for 800 new jobs – 400 more than the mine promises. A potential loss of 400 jobs is a bad deal for Grass Valley.

Impact on Existing and Future Businesses: Not only could the mine cost Grass Valley long-term jobs, but it’s common sense that a mine might dissuade other high-paying employers from locating in the area. High-tech manufacturers have cautioned Grass Valley that vibrations from mining and increased truck traffic could upset sensitive operations and force them to leave town. And visitors might decide to spend their tourism dollars elsewhere if, rather than a church bell, they wake to the sound of 20-ton trucks rumbling through town. Grass Valley is already burdened with the tragic closure of Weaver Auto. Imagine the repercussions from a failed mine operation in downtown Grass Valley.

Public Safety and Pollution: Emgold’s own project proposal envisions a huge burden on Grass Valley’s streets, totaling 220 20-ton truck trips per day, seven days a week (that’s one every 7 minutes!). Then there’s the need to drain and clean 72 miles of mine tunnels of toxics-laden water and the risk of dewatering local resident’s wells. The price tag for ensuring public safety and environmental health grows quickly.

Cleanup and Long-Term Costs: Emgold promises the mine will operate for 20 years, but this promise is based on both the speculative value of gold and assumed (but not proven) gold reserves left in the mine. If gold prices crash or the reserves are smaller than anticipated the mine could close and leave Grass Valley with an unusable industrial mine site and long-term cleanup costs. The uncomfortable fact is that there is a failed mine behind every ghost town in the American West. Grass Valley has recent experience with closed mines: the discovery that the Newmont Mining site was contaminating local waters, the city was forced to spend more than three years and $2 million in legal fees just to force the mine operators to clean up their mess.

Grass Valley cannot afford – and should not pay for – another costly mine cleanup.

Emgold has made a lot of promises to Grass Valley. But reopening the mine carries huge risks: loss of long-term jobs and businesses, increased traffic, air and water pollution, threats to public health and quality of life and a huge cleanup bill if those promises aren’t kept.

Before the Grass Valley City Council approves reopening the Idaho Maryland Mine it must prove to the community that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

The Gipper was right: when it comes to our long-term safety, security and prosperity we should Trust, but Verify.

Ralph Silberstein – President,
Mike Pasner -Vice-President,
Citizens Looking At the Impacts of Mining

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