Friday, July 31, 2009

Lake Whatcom: How Does Your Garden Grow?

"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over."
- attributed to Mark Twain

“It is no use saying, 'We are doing our best.' You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
- Winston Churchill


Like most gardens, Mistress Mary's grew with the help of nutrients and sunshine.
But, weeds also grow with this kind of help.
And, the broadest definition of 'weed', is a plant that is unwanted or unwelcome in a place.
So it is with Lake Whatcom.

Algae are plant-like organisms with an affinity for water, especially water that has the main plant nutrients -Phosphorus, Nitrogen and Potassium- and sufficient sunlight to sustain photosynthesis.
More nutrients and sunlight usually means more rapid growth.
Bingo! Guess what's happening in our water supply reservoir?

Many residents and water rate-payers probably received an urgent automated phone message from our Mayor very recently, which advised of mandatory water use restrictions.
That's not the type of call we like, but it has become necessary, as it has several times in the past and will likely happen in the future.
One only hopes that it doesn't happen often, but don't bet against it.
Here's another report on this from today's Crosscut:

Not long ago some people noticed that the City's website had posted two announcements that seemed mutually incompatible.
One warned of increased algae levels and the possibility of future restrictions, like we now have.
The other reported that the City had received yet another award of excellence for its quality of drinking water.
In fact, Bellingham was one of only 16 cities in the US that had earned this particular honor for 10 years in a row!
That is truly commendable, whether algae is a potential threat or not!

That algae IS a serious threat -as our recent restriction proves- makes the City's achievement award even more commendable
Not to minimize the threat, mind you, but to emphasize the extra effort and expense necessary on an ongoing basis to even 'tread water' in our increasingly undersized and obsolescent water treatment plant.
The algae clogging the filters is a sure sign of nothing but increasing trouble that won't be easy or cheap to rectify.
Because inadequate treatment is unacceptable, the City must take steps to remedy this situation, and every water rate-payer will have be bear their fair share of the expense, both capital and operating.
But, that is not all.
We will eventually learn to accept drinking water with poorer taste, odor and residual impurities, too.

The City does have choices in the steps it can take.
One of the better choices is to maintain a pure raw water supply; in other words a fairly pristine Lake Whatcom.
The USEPA & WA State Dept of Ecology define this as the first line of defense, or barrier against pollution.
But, with ever increasing development growth and lake use, that option has steadily diminished, as it still is.

Other options are very likely to be much more expensive and less effective.
Like water treatment for example.
We humans know how to make pure water out of seawater, and even recycled human waste, as the Astronauts have proven!
Want to pay for that?
Hey, did you think there was a big water spigot up there in space?

Another option is simple conservation, which won't prevent the water quality and quantity problem from happening, but will delay it substantially.
A related option is to require water meters, as the City has recently gotten serious about. [see earlier blog on Water/Sewer]
Meters would encourage conservation, but mainly would assess water costs much more fairly, based on actual usage.
You don't see everyone paying the same amount for gasoline, do you?
That depends on how many gallons you use each month!
Why not water?

Maybe rather than complaining about the 'mixed message' that some have interpreted the City's website to make, we should see the conflict between short term expectations and long term adverse trends.
The City has managed to make the best out of what hand is has been dealt by past practices, many of which are outside its direct control.
Ten years ago, when I first got involved with local politics and trying to preserve Lake Whatcom, the City of Bellingham comprised about 2% of this 30,000-plus acre watershed, with the unincorporated areas of Whatcom County accounting for 96% and Skagit County the rest.
Get that picture?

Since then, various measures have been adopted, tried or financed by various jurisdictions, the sum total of which can only be termed as INEFFECTIVE.
This is the kind of game where one does not get credit for effort, actions or talk, but RESULTS.
And the kind of results that are necessary are not being seen.

Please understand that I am not defending or attacking the City or any other jurisdiction.
I am merely reporting the facts, warts and all.

Many of the actions taken or now being considered are commendable, including the City' pushing its water treatment plant to ever higher capacities and limits.
In a real sense, the water situation can be directly compared to a human health scenario, where fortunate people are healthy and free of conditions or diseases that put them at undue risk.
Others are not so fortunate, but you may never know it until too late.
Take folks with diabetes; think that puts them at higher risk by making them susceptible to all manner of threats?
You better, because it does -whether you suspect that or not!

In a similar way, the City has coped with its growing algae problem, until it is no longer treated as something that isn't discussed widely, like an embarrassing relative.
That time is obviously coming to an end.
As it ought to if we are to take the steps that have been wiser all along, but are just now becoming too big to ignore with impunity.

Previous blogs have also touched on the gross lack of water planning in Whatcom County [WRIA], and the State of Washington in general -where the Doe continues to hand out well permits for water that does not exist!
What is wrong with this picture?

As has been said, 'denial is not just a river in Egypt'.
And, speaking of Egypt, the vast majority of its 83 million people either live in the Nile Valley or Delta, or very close to the Suez Canal -about 5% of its total land area.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On 'Town & Gown' Issues

The recent flaps involving the New Haven Firemen and the Cambridge Police made me wonder if what happened in those two prestigious university towns wasn't somewhat predictable, due to attitudes developed over time.

Of course, Bellingham and Western Washington University also have some 'issues' that seem to be resilient enough to defy any easy or lasting resolution.
Without being exhaustive, these issues pertain to neighbors, landlords, transportation, taxes & fees for service, competition for jobs, different attitudes toward responsibilities and codes of conduct, enforcement problems, and the like.

Those interested may appreciate this Wikipedia website for a short history and summary of this unique type of relationship.
A quick read may surprise you, because of the number and type of problems that some Bellinghamsters may feel are unique to our town.

Here are a few excerpts as examples for those not wishing to review the entire link:
The idea of a school of higher learning as a distinct and autonomous institution within an urban setting dates back to Academy founded by Plato c. 387 BC.
The initial relationship between the medieval universities and the host town was adversarial for various reasons, and over time the universities’ growing autonomy and independence from local control led to increasing tensions with host towns. Also, the steady encroachment of universities upon neighboring areas created a point of contention between town and gown (continuing to the present).
The medieval universities formed as guilds of masters (teachers) and/or students on the model established by the crafts guilds. Once the scholars were able to receive a charter, they would begin negotiations with municipal authorities to secure fair rents for lecture halls and other concessions. Because they had no investment in a physical campus, they could threaten to migrate to another town if their demands weren’t met.
Many university students were foreigners with exotic manners and dress who spoke and wrote Latin, the lingua franca of medieval higher education. Students often couldn't speak the local dialect, and most uneducated townspeople spoke no Latin. The language barrier and the cultural differences did nothing to improve relations between scholars and townspeople. The tenor of town-gown relations became a matter of arrogance on the one hand and resentment on the other.
Following the upheavals of the High Middle Ages, relations between the European universities and the host towns evolved toward a pattern of mutual support. Cities, on some occasions took over payment of salaries and provided loans, while regulating the book trade, lodgings, and the various other services students required. Eventually, cities began to take pride in their universities rather than look upon them as adversaries.
Over the centuries, the relationship between town and gown has remained ambivalent. There have been points where a university in crisis has been rescued by the urban dynamics surrounding it, while at other times urban developments have threatened to undermine the stability of the university. Conversely, there have been occasions where the university provided a focus and coherence for the cultural life of the city; though at other times, it has withdrawn into itself and undermined urban culture.[2]
If there is one constant in town-gown relations over the centuries, if can be summed up with the maxim, “Students will be students.” College students, past and present, have a good deal of free time notwithstanding their obligations to study. How they use this time is often perceived as troubling or disruptive by non-students
Residential colleges became a fixture in European universities, while American colleges (often located in small towns) sequestered students in dormitories under close supervision.
The doctrine of in loco parentis had developed both as a legal concept and as a custom in the United States. The Latin phrase meaning "in the place of the parents," held schools to a high standard of care for the welfare of students. However, this legal concept was eroded by the Bradshaw decision[4] and by subsequent court rulings. The pendulum would swing back toward the medieval model where students could enjoy significant autonomy in their choice of residence and habits.[5]
The trend of American students living off campus had emerged during the post-World War II era. The Servicemen's Readjustment Act legislation, popularly known as the "G.I. Bill", provided large numbers of returning veterans with the financial aid to pursue college degrees. Many veterans were older than traditional-aged students, or had families to support; this further spurred the growth of off campus housing. It was estimated that by century’s end as many as 85% of American college students lived off campus (Carnegie Commission). This residential trend — and other factors — would mitigate the division between town and gown (but not necessarily the tensions).
However, the recent integration of campus and community has not been without problems. For one thing, an urban university can generate major traffic and exacerbate parking problems in adjacent neighborhoods. The quality of neighborhoods near a university may deteriorate.
Local residents and members of the university community may clash over other political, economic, and demographic issues
Municipalities and universities continue to negotiate police jurisdiction on and near campuses.
Raucous off-campus parties and the excessive noise and public drunkenness associated with them can also create town-gown animosity.
To a large extent, “town versus gown” disputes have moved from the streets into the courts and city hall. In the US, a rash of disputes between public universities and host cities have developed in regard to the cost and benefits of the town-gown connection. Universities boast that their existence is the backbone of the town economy, while the towns counter with claims that the institution is “robbing” them of tax revenue. But as universities expand their campuses, more land property is removed from local tax rolls. Attempts are being pursued to redefine the basic financial terms and conditions upon which the relationship is based.
Despite the rise in legal battles, universities and host towns have an incentive to cooperate, as the schools require city services and need city approval for long-range plans while the university towns need remuneration for public services provided. The “engaged university” is a recent term describing community partnerships and joint planning with city officials.
Town-gown parameters may become increasingly difficult to define in the near future. Geography is less salient as a factor in urban higher education in the Information Age.
The 12th century witnessed the birth of the first predecessors of the modern university; many educational futurists argue that the division between town and gown is rapidly fading, and that the 21st century is the cusp of another revolutionary educational paradigm. According to these forecasts, the 21st century college student may well be someone sitting at his or her personal computer miles from a college campus.
Raucous off-campus parties and the excessive noise and public drunkenness associated with them can also create town-gown animosity. -- The end result was the university's adoption of a new "Code of Conduct" to govern student behavior.
I can remember my college days in Charlottesville, VA - also a relatively small town compared to the school size- had some of these issues too.

And, it's easy to see why, when different rules and lifestyles apply to different populations of people living in close proximity.
Then, there's the difference in commitment between temporary residents who come here for a few years for education purposes, and permanent residents who have a vested interest in seeing their town being a stable home.

Given the range and inherent complexity of 'town & gown' issues, plus the notable trend toward off-campus living and remote Internet learning, it seems reasonable to expect that student codes of conduct and inter-local agreements between towns and colleges are the best-fit remedies available.

Having been both a student in a distant town and resident of multiple communities with colleges, I have seen both sides of the issues and problems that are possible.
Because I had previously arrived at a similar conclusion some time ago, the new information cited above seems to re-confirm it.
That is not to diminish any real difficulties that residents may have, but to point a reasonable direction toward resolutions likely to work without further exacerbating 'town & gown' or other relationships, or imposing unnecessary additional public costs.

My two cents worth.

WWU recognizes the types of problems that off-campus living can create, as this link demonstrates:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Famous Pig

“The difference between 'involvement' and 'commitment' is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: the chicken was 'involved' - the pig was 'committed'.”
- Martina Navratilova

“Always remember, a cat looks down on man, a dog looks up to man, but a pig will look man right in the eye and see his equal.” - Winston Churchill

“Well-being and happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim. I am even inclined to compare such moral aims to the ambitions of a pig.”
- Albert Einstein

“You should never try and teach a pig to read for two reasons. First, it's impossible; and secondly, it annoys the hell out of the pig!” - Will Rogers

Edible - good to eat and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.
- Ambrose Bierce

I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it. - George Bernard Shaw


The Famous Pig

Some time ago a farmer in Iowa owned a pig that became famous for its unusual and repeated acts of heroism.
Time after time, this pig made headlines, which the farmer duly recorded in a scrapbook for future reference.

Acts with which the pig is credited include the following examples, which is by no means a complete list:

• waking the farmer and his family at night when the barn caught fire and threatened not only the livestock, but the farmhouse as well.

• scaring off burglars while the farmer was away with repeated loud squealing.

• herding back to the corral calves and lambs that escaped and were wandering off.

• finding a lost toddler in the corn field.

• winning the top 4-H award for best pig.

• alerting the authorities through the farmer , of a hot-air balloon that had crashed nearby.

• guiding the kids home from the school bus stop through the snow.

• rooting through the mud to find the farmer's wife's lost wedding ring.

• and on and on, sometimes even repeating some of these acts multiple times.

You get the idea, this was not only a famous pig, but a VERY special one indeed!

One day, a renowned reporter arrived to research the various reports of the pig's heroism and write a human interest feature article for a leading magazine.

The farmer and his family welcomed the reporter with their usual hospitality and regaled him with endless stories and first-hand accounts of their pig's good deeds, and gave him copies of those scrapbook entries that he felt were particularly newsworthy.

Finally, the reporter had had enough information and asked to see the famous pig.

The farmer took him to the pig pen, where a number of pigs, large and small, were rooting and resting in the mud and dirt.

At first glance, the reporter thought none of the pigs looked particularly heroic, or even pig-handsome for that matter, and he really couldn't tell which was the famous pig, until the farmer called 'Famous' to come over.

Immediately, a good-sized,- but otherwise nondescript- pig got up and obediently made its way toward the reporter.
But something seemed amiss, because the famous pig walked with a slight limp.

Then, the reporter noticed that this pig had only three legs; a hind leg was missing.

Now, since that seemed to be the angle the reporter was looking for, he commented to the farmer that it really was unusual for this pig, known for all its acts of heroism, to only have three legs!

To which the farmer the farmer replied that Famous used to have four legs, but a pig that good you don't want to eat all at one time.

Sorry you read this far?
Maybe the heat made me do it.
But, hey, give me a better one and I might use it.

These are bagpipes. I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equalled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.
- Alfred Hitchcock

“'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,' said Piglet at last, 'what's the first thing you say to yourself?' 'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?' 'I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?' said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said.” - 
A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Gorilla

For many years, I read Reader's Digest and was particularly enamored of it's feature called 'Laughter Is The Best Medicine'.
To this day, I still enjoy a good joke, although they may not be as fit for family reading as they used to be.
You can decide on this one.

The Gorilla

A big zoo in Texas was proud of acquiring a prime specimen of Mountain Gorilla.
In addition to being physically impressive, this gorilla had a very pleasing personality and a real affinity for people, a characteristic that the zoo hoped to capitalize upon to help increase attendance and defray the investment and maintenance costs of its new star attraction.

So, it was a mixture of concern and disappointment that the zoo management felt when it learned the new gorilla had begun to act strangely with animated antics that seemed likely to endanger its own well-being.
The gorilla was making loud repetitive sounds, leaping around, climbing the cage walls and then flinging itself violently to the ground.
Also, its eating habits had fallen dramatically and it didn't seem to welcome zoo visitors.

The Head Zoo-Keeper called an emergency meeting to discuss what could be done, especially considering the Zoo's financial limitations.
No one seemed to have a good idea of exactly what to do, but the Assistant Zoo-Keeper did suggest asking his promising new part-time helper, Tex, for his advice.

Tex was a strapping young man who had an unusual understanding and affinity for animals.
Having been raised on a working ranch, Tex's actual experience with animals was pretty extensive.
So, it was natural for him to elect to study Animal Husbandry when he was offered a scholarship to Texas A&M University.
Now, after only one year at A&M, Tex was really excited about being offered an internship at the zoo.

It didn't take long for young Tex to assess the situation with the prize gorilla, whereupon he duly reported his findings and recommendations to the Zoo management.
He had concluded that the gorilla was a female, in heat, and that the best way to alleviate the bizarre behavior was to simply mate her.

The Head Zoo-Keeper was relieved to learn what the problem was, but distressed at the potential cost, and mentioned that finances might limit any remedy to no more than about $300.
With this new constraint, Tex asked for some more time to think on it.

Later, Tex knocked on the Head Zoo-Keeper's door, then entered, removing his 10-gallon hat.
Looking a little sheepish, Tex explained he had a proposal, but it was contingent on three conditions;

Number 1 - I ain't gonna kiss her!

Number 2 - The Zoo needs to fit the gorilla with padded gloves, 'cause I don't want my back all scratched up'.

Number 3 - I ain't gonna pay more than $100!


I hope this hasn't offended anyone too much, but it is one of those jokes I remember so vividly -not so much because of the 'punch line', but the way the joke was told with such relish!

My friend Horace is a Texan, a jovial guy who attended the University of Texas in Austin, and who really loved to tell 'Aggie' jokes.
He told this one at lunch time, back in 1983 or 84, with 3 other people present, and it took him longer than I could imagine, because he himself enjoyed the telling so much!
Horace would actually stop every so often and just chuckle aloud at what was to come next.
And, being rather portly in build, when Horace laughed, you knew it.

Long before the joke ended, he had us all laughing along with him, a progressive kind of anticipation that just kept building on itself.
One might call this kind of laughter -especially with Horace- a 'belly laugh', but actually it was more than that.
It was a side-splitter, and you actually began to feel pain in your gut by not being able to control the involuntary mirth.

There were times when I wondered if the restaurant might throw us out, so many people were attracted to our jollity.
But, they didn't and we eventually left, weak kneed and red-eyed and lighter in the pocket, due to the larger than usual tip.

Joke experiences like this don't come along very often, which is unfortunate.
But, when they do, you tend to remember them vividly.

I was reminded of this experience last night a friend's birthday celebration, where the price of admission was to bring a joke.
I didn't tell this one then, but next time, I might.

My doctor says that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency in moral fiber, and that I am therefore excused from saving Universes.  ~Douglas Adams [Author - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy]

Protect me from knowing what I don't need to know. 
Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don't know. 
Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about. 
Amen.  ~Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

Lord, lord, lord.  Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer.  ~Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless


Murphy's law is an adage that broadly states: "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."

And on the eighth day God said, "Okay, Murphy, you're in charge!" ~Author Unknown

Murphy was an optimist. ~O'Toole's Commentary

Monday, July 27, 2009

HamsterTalk's 2nd Birthday

What may be done at any time will be done at no time. - Scottish Proverb

Dost thou love life? Then waste not time; for time is the stuff that life is made of. - BENJAMIN FRANKLIN:

Time flies.
Today's posting -number 315- marks the end of this blog's second year in existence.
Little did I know enough topics would create the interest I needed to persist this long.
But, it has been fun - most of the time, anyway.
So, I'll plan to continue it for a while longer.

Because most of my subject matter applies to City issues, I believe its important to maintain some level of commentary.
And, anything approaching in-depth coverage elsewhere has either declined, or has been lacking for a long time.

I am glad that BTV10 is now covering many more City meetings and events than it ever has before, including substantial live coverage that allows folks to watch the action either in real time, or with delays -including streaming video on the City's website- for convenience.

Without overestimating it, I think having that capability is important for this community, whether it is used extensively or not.
[There remains evidence that facts are still substantially ignored!]

It would be nice if more Whatcom County and Port of Bellingham meetings were also televised.
The expense of taping these events is pretty minimal, and BTV10 will publicly air them on a known schedule.
I know some folks still aren't comfortable with making public meetings more public, but that's an excuse, not a reason.

It was a little strange that this idea hasn't come up in the County and Port candidate forums and debates, but maybe its not really as popular an idea as I may think.
At some point it would be interesting to know about how many people regularly use these audio and video records of official meetings.
Of course, this probably varies widely by issue.

Time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived. - CAPTAIN JEAN-LUC PICARD [Star Trek]

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Water Meters: It's About Time

Children of a culture born in a water-rich environment, 
we have never really learned how important water is 
to us.  We understand it, but we do not respect it.- William Ashworth, Nor Any Drop to Drink, 1982

"We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one."
 - Jacques Cousteau -
Today's Herald carried this article, which signals the City has finally bought into the idea that it needs water meters.
This decision has been a long time coming, and it will take time to accomplish, but it is the right thing to do.

Inherently, meters allow users to regulate their own water use and not have to subsidize those who use more than necessary.
That is fairer than the system we have allowed to happen, plus it puts conservation opportunities in clearer monetary perspective.

Bellingham and Everett were the only cities in the State of Washington which remained in denial that water meters were needed.
Because of that stance, both cities are now well behind in providing meters to users, particularly those long-time users living in established neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, some of those more modest residences could have benefitted greatly from voluntary water conservation over the years.
New construction has been more fortunate because meter boxes have been required for some, meaning retrofitting meters is relatively simple.
And, new technology allows reading of meters to be be nearly automatic.

Yet, there remain some negative attitudes about meters.
Some perceive an advantage to not having meters, because others would subsidize their over use of water.
Others see meters as an unnecessary expense.
A few see the conversion as yet another 'guvmint' intrusion on private citizens.
While there is some truth in all of these positions, the overall best interests of Bellingham citizens are served by installing water meters.

One point needs to be emphasized; our water system is wholly financed by rates, system development charges [impact fees] and fees from water users.
That now also includes the costs of meters to be installed.
As a so-called 'Enterprise Fund' our Water System Utility is designed to be self-sustaining, just like the Sewer and Stormwater Funds.
Periodic adjustments to rates are needed depending upon the need for system-wide improvements, like storage tanks, mains and distribution piping, water treatment expansion, meters and the like.

With 20-20 hindsight, the City might have avoided the need for this expensive upgrade, but we are where we are and must deal with it the best we can.
Everyone will agree that the idea of fairness in cost and individual decisions regarding water use & conservation are desirable.
And, undue financial burdens on individuals are being avoided, with metering being phased in over time.

Thankfully, this is the direction Bellingham is now headed, toward fairness, conservation and sustainability.

When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.
 - Benjamin Franklin

In the Western United States, 
water flows uphill to money.
 - Glen Sanders

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lake Whatcom: Is TMDL a Waste of Time?

I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.
- Niccolo Machiavelli

Some years ago the City engaged Drs. Hans & Ann-Marie Bleiker to conduct training sessions on how to achieve 'Systematic Development of Informed Consent' on major projects important to our community.
The method was time-intensive, but often much more effective than the usual fumbling efforts.
But, predictably, use of the Bleiker method was largely ignored, with few exceptions.

Too bad, but that's often the way that thoughtful and well-intended ideas go.
Witness, for example, protecting our drinking water source, cleaning up and re-building our waterfront, completing the County-wide Water Resource Inventory work [WRIA-1], and agreeing on a plan to efficiently expand and modernize the Bellingham Public Library.

The method's purpose is NOT necessarily to build consensus, but to build consent to understanding and accepting good solutions.
And, there is a big difference between the concepts of citizen participation and stakeholder involvement.

The 'Bleiker LIfe-Preserver' summarizes the four essential steps in the method:

(1) There is a serious problem, or opportunity – one that has to be addressed.

(2) Yours is the right entity to be addressing this problem; in fact it would be irresponsible of you, given the mission you have, if you did not address it.

(3) The way you are approaching the problem, the way you are addressing it is reasonable, sensible and responsible.

(4) You do listen. You do care. If you are proposing something that’s going to cause pain, it is not because you don’t care.


On page 27 [Worksheet 4-1] of this website is a simple generic checklist for evaluating the complexity of any TMDL process [Total Maximum Daily Load]:

It might be interesting to check this out just for comparison to what has happened to our previous Lake Whatcom protection efforts.
One question that must be answered truthfully and convincingly is whether this work really is a 'top priority'.
If it is, then a time frame, budget and staff must be assigned at levels that are reasonable to achieve the goals identified.

There are always many priorities, and often they cannot be all be accomplished at once.
Have you noticed?

If Lake Whatcom is to be one of our top priorities, it needs to be treated as one!
Talk is cheap.

It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. - Niccolo Machiavelli

Friday, July 24, 2009

Port: Populist Instrument or Bete Noir?

'Bete Noir: (from the French, meaning "dark beast") is used to refer to an object or abstract idea that is particularly disliked or avoided'

A current Crosscut article on the Port of Everett inspired this blog, because of some local similarities and ironies.

This brief excerpt demonstrates the point:

Emotions circle back to the story's bete noire, the Everett Port Commission. Port districts were conceived as populist instruments to break up concentrated capital. Give the waterfront to the people not the fat cats, the argument went. Legislators passed the Port District Act in 1911 and Everett organized its port in 1918. Over the decades, however, most port districts have embraced a credo that holds sacred economic and real estate development. Historic preservation is not a statutory priority.

"Ports have a very slim mission," Commissioner Connie Niva said. "It's not quality of life but to serve as an economic engine." The Collins Building, she noted, "sits on the site where we're building a boat yard," and is not connected to Everett Maritime, the North Marina development company that filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on May 20. Niva emphasized the port's record of environmental stewardship. "We're the cleanest and the greenest," she said.

Does it sound like Commissioner Niva might also have difficulty in understanding the concept of TBL? [Triple Bottom Line]
If so, she's certainly not by herself!
When you think about it, its not easy to accommodate a significant broadening of scope in any undertaking with a succinct mission statement and a limited budget.
Of course, it is not impossible but usually does require time - plus a change in attitude from those in charge.
That is the core problem with the Port of Bellingham.

And POB's situation may be considerably different from Everett's in several ways, including the sheer size & scope of the Waterfront Redevelopment anticipated, the relatively lesser size/budget of POB, and its partnership with the City of Bellingham -which has its own limits on funding, plus a much broader mission which does specifically and inherently include quality of life and environmental issues.
It would be simpler if the City were not so 'encumbered', but it is, as it should be.
And, because of its partnership with the City, the Port of Bellingham is also likewise 'encumbered'.

The understanding of that reality is important for whoever will assume new leadership roles at the Port.
On that score, new candidates have a clear advantage, particularly those who have also been active in our community for years.
By that criteria, John Blethen, the District 1 candidate, is clearly the best choice.
Blethen has been an amazing asset to our community for decades, as an enthusiastic volunteer and successful businessman.
His volunteerism reflects his caring for Bellingham and has gone well beyond that expected of any citizen, or two, or three.
It also reflects how in tune he is with the values of the people who have lived here, live here now, and will live here tomorrow.
That is exactly the kind of energy and long-term caring that the Port Commission needs so badly.

Mike McAuley, the District 2 candidate, has similar promise, although his tenure and volunteerism can't match Blethen's [no one does], he has a similar vision and commitment to do the right thing by this community.
McAuley's energy, progressive ideas and integrity make him well qualified to help turn the Port's attitude and management style into a better fit for what Bellingham needs in the long term.

Both Scott Walker, District 1, and Doug Smith, District 2, have done some good work at the Port, in fact both shared responsibility for initiating the Waterfront Redevelopment Project that has become the centerpiece of effort and attention here.
But, this is a long-term effort, a relay and not a sprint, which requires teamwork over many years.

After 18 and 16 years, respectively, these incumbents have already run their legs of the race, and it is time for them to pass the baton to fresher teammates.
They have elected not to do this willingly, but to leave that decision to will of the voters, which is OK, but also reinforces the impression that they are stuck on old ideas and the advantage of incumbency.

But, I hope citizens will understand that this election is really about the citizens themselves, and their offspring and the very future of Bellingham as a place that not only provides economic development (jobs) but also the other two legs of that 3-legged stool that defines TBL [Triple Bottom Line]; quality of life and environment.

Those last two legs are important enough to be clearly stated, not just implied.
Especially in a true partnership with a vital City whose sole motivation in partnering was to maintain -and enhance- that vitality!
That is, if we are to consider our Port as more of a populist instrument than a bete noir....

More on Healthcare: Knowledge as Truth

All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.
- Adlai E. Stevenson

A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle. - KAHLIL GIBRAN


The healthcare debate continues as it should until the best possible combination of attributes have been incorporated into a bill that can be approved by both legislative bodies, and is worthy of signing by the President.

But, now that so much information, some of it conflicting and some of it misinformation, is out there wouldn't it be nice to able to easily verify its accuracy?

Here's an authoritative website that seems pretty unbiased regarding the current healthcare rhetoric which I found useful.

There are also two new NYT editorials on healthcare, by David Brooks and Paul Krugman, which most folks will find interesting.

Have you noticed how the ad campaigns -pro and con- have picked up in intensity?
Maybe the '' website can help sort out who's spinning what, and at least zero in on the range of reasonable estimates that are used.

The concept of what constitutes knowledge, and its proper application to real situations has been a constant theme of this blog, because it has been main interest of mine all of my life.

With that in mind, this Wikipedia website goes into some detail in describing knowledge.

This phrase has been closest to mine: 'The definition of knowledge is a matter of on-going debate among philosophers in the field of epistemology. The classical definition, described but not ultimately endorsed by Plato[1], has it that in order for there to be knowledge at least three criteria must be fulfilled; that in order to count as knowledge, a statement must be justified, true, and believed.'

Of course, there are other definitions, qualifications and interpretations of what knowledge means, especially those which prefer to emphasize beliefs, as opposed to provable facts.
That debate will never end, nor should it, but true knowledge ought to be communicable, capable of appealing to reason and provable to others.

As one of our Founding Fathers put it:
"A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives." - James Madison

Society, community, family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability, and to prevent, or at least to slow down, change. But the organization of the post-capitalist society of organizations is a destabilizer. Because its function is to put knowledge to work -- on tools, processes, and products; on work; on knowledge itself -- it must be organized for constant change. - PETER F. DRUCKER

If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. - MARK TWAIN

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blue Dogs & 'No Hogs'

Were I a member of the US Congress, I 'd probably be known as something of a 'Blue Dog' Democrat, but loosely so because of my independent streak that resists being controlled by anything other than my own analysis and carefully weighted conclusions.
But, that would not affect my determination to achieve progress on issues of major importance, like meaningful national healthcare reform.

It is sad that so many of the current minority party allow themselves to be controlled by narrow partisan edicts that are more designed for political games than for necessary action on national policy that matters.
And, its hard to understand the value system that allows that habit to persist.
Maybe these folks are so secure in their heavily gerrymandered districts that they have little worry about re-election.
Or, maybe they see their jobs more narrowly than is in the nation's best interests?
I don't know, but I do care.

And, I'm concerned with any mentality that rationalizes it is not part of a problem, and therefore doesn't need to be a part of the solution.
But, I guess these folks have always been around; you know them best as 'crown sympathizers', draft-dodgers, tax evaders, non-voters, and all manner of other self-satisfied lazy louts with attitudes.

Maybe that dynamic -in reverse- is what causes many other elected officials to waffle, wait and sometimes become co-opted into positions they may or may not wish to support.
There are times when all these dynamics come into play with a vengeance, like now -on healthcare reform, but that itself can be healthy, because better ideas are generated, compromises conceived, and a sense of urgency generated.

Some have expressed concern with deadlines, and hate being 'rushed'. [as in Limbaugh?]
But, without deadlines, is it reasonable to expect any predictability or progress?
How about things like our reaction 9/11?
Or approving annual budgets?
Or making Supreme Court appointments?

Sometimes what people call being 'rushed', simply means they don't want to do it.
Have you noticed?

The broad outlines of what seems desirable for healthcare reform have been pretty clearly known and stated for months.
Some are harder to articulate, determine sustainable financing or make compatible with other programs, but that is the main exercise that is underway -at least among those with legitimate interest in change.
Those who are proud to be 'No Hogs', prefer to block any meaningful change or progress, and leave that burden to 'others', as has been done for 61 years.

So, the 'Blue Dogs' must act as the sounding board for what reform will likely occur, and I'm good with that, because I do believe meaningful compromise is achievable.
But, the Blue Dogs need to not take such a hard line that the impression is left that failure is imminent.
The 'sausage-making' of legislation is always ugly and subject to compromise, meaning no one gets everything they want.

A few ideas that deserve serious consideration are these -maybe more:

• establishment of an independent body of healthcare professionals with the power to review any national program annually and recommend adjustments.

• achieving equity between States in Medicare reimbursement rates.

• continuously examining equitable and sustainable funding methods for national healthcare, so that the goal of NOT creating more federal deficits over time is achieved.

There is even something for the 'No Hogs' to think about:

If there is such a need for change in the existing system that an amazing array of stakeholders agree, and that enormous cost savings -maybe 2/3 of the estimated additional cost- how can this be so simply dismissed?

Think about it.
Continuing the 'status quo' just insures that substantial healthcare costs will be continued to be just wasted!
One would think it's more normal for so-called 'conservatives' to want to cut excesses and use funds more efficiently.
What has happened to that?
And, what has happened to intellectual honesty?

I do believe the Blue Dogs will find a way to responsibly compromise and find ways to pay for the anticipated additional costs of healthcare reform and make the measure 'deficit neutral', which I believe is possible.
Maybe that will take a leap of faith in the form of a commitment for periodic supplemental funding votes.
Some of those options may entail eventual elimination of healthcare cost exemptions from income tax.
Other ideas are also possible, but will require time to identify, quantify and implement.

The so-called 'August deadline' may or may not be met, without extending the legislative calendar.
All that means anyway, is that bills can be reasonably prepared for debate and passage later this Fall.
For an issue so important, it would seem some unusual measures are justified.

President Obama's Press Conference last night pretty much outlined the parameters that would be acceptable for him to sign any bill resulting from Congressional action.
And, his decision to let Congress discuss the various options before imposing any preferred bill of his own is the right way to go.
But, now time is passing quickly and the deadlines required must be respected and if possible, enforced.

If Congress misses its August break, tough luck!
If no unanimous result is possible, then a more narrow and more partisan passage is OK.
Additional delay is not justified, nor is it helpful to the hoped for eventual result.
If members of Congress are uncomfortable with making such a difficult decision, too bad!
They need to get off the fence, or out of the kitchen.

Now is the time for Healthcare reform to happen.
It is too important an issue to 'kick down the road' again, as it largely has been since Harry Truman advocated it in 1948.
We can do better than that, and this is the time!

My neighbor and I are both retired and over 70.
Both of us did not look forward to joining Medicare.
Both of us has been very wrong in our unfounded fears!
Medicare has been the easiest and most efficient healthcare program either of us has ever had.

The only reasons I decided to buy expensive secondary healthcare insurance were (a) fear of Medicare Parts A & B, and (b) fear of Medicare Part (d) -'the donut hole'.
I no longer have any doubts about Medicare Parts A & B.
I do have concerns about Medicare Part D, because the prescription coverage is full of holes and unknown costs.
Perhaps these will be addressed in a new Medicare plan, and if they are, my wife and I will be able to save about $7800 per year in SECONDARY INSURANCE costs.
[not Supplemental Insurance of the sort promoted by so-called Medicare Part C Plans]
Think that's not a substantial savings?

But, I'm not just thinking of me, I'm thinking of the millions of Americans who will benefit from a the availability of a national healthcare plan option.
There is nothing wrong with the way the US Government administers Medicare, and much that is right, including efficiency and low costs.
It may be the best deal around for those of us who are retired or 65.
And, remember, its only been around since 1965, when another Democratic American President with courage, foresight and political clout dared to buck entrenched special interests and get it implemented.

Now, 44 years later, maybe its time for President #44 to expand it into a true national program!

A few related links:

NYT:Timothy Egan

NYT:David Brooks & Gail Collins

NYT:Health Care Sausagee


NYT:History of Health Care Reform

Ever wonder how many Republicans have the names Sally, Straw or Rush?

The term 'Aunt Sally' is in limited use as a political idiom, indicating a false adversary or Straw Man, set up for the sole purpose of attracting negative attention and wasting an opponent's energy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Under Promising & Over Delivering

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?
Four; calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.


Management gurus advise against the the habit of 'over-promising and under-delivering'.
But, actually following this wise counsel seems extraordinarily difficult, doesn't it?
Just the opposite would be preferable, plus the surprises would tend to be more positive!

Because people routinely promise things they have no intention -or possibility- of achieving, there are always folks who want to believe that their wishful hopes will be realized, even if there does happen to be a measure of empty rhetoric involved.

Imagine any public official or candidate for public office who isn't tempted to promise or promote things he/she knows are desired by the voting public.
That is certainly an integral part of getting elected and reelected, because it does reflect the priorities and the 'will' of the community, at least at that moment.

But, what about those who prefer to influence public opinion who are not publicly elected or appointed?
Aren't most of us in that category one way or the other?
By seeking to influence public opinion, we are all well within our rights and responsibilities; in fact we'd be abrogating our role as citizens if we did not exercise that role.

What troubles me the most is when certain individuals or groups abuse public sensibilities by repeatedly offering outlandish, deceptive or unsustainable ideas or proposals.
More specifically, the proliferation of so-called public 'initiatives' sponsored by people like Tim Eyman have long ago crossed the line of reasonableness.

Yet, the abuse continues, while our State Legislature seems continuously at a loss about how to deal with this process, caught as it is between making potentially useful measures available for periodic public voting and effectively dealing with clever 'issues' that are created mainly for their mischief making value.

An interesting article in Crosscut written by Floyd Mackay sheds light on the the latest Eyman initiative, I-1033, and parallel initiatives over time in Washington, Oregon and California.

I don't have an answer to how public initiatives can be better handled, but several ideas have been discussed that have potential for improvement.
In the meantime, the best course to follow seems pretty simple, if a way to insure it can be found -and that is a big 'if';
be scrupulously truthful and balanced manner in presenting proposals for public approval.

Another way would be to reverse the norm, and practice this blog's title.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. --attributed to ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“The Ship the Nazis Had to Get”

Some time ago I did a little research on my father's WW II military service.
It turns out he was a '90-day wonder' who volunteered for the Naval Reserve on November 1, 1942 and was eventually assigned to the Merchant Marine vessel SS Seatrain Texas, which was designed to carry tanks and locomotives to North Africa and Europe for the Allies.

Although my father was not yet aboard the Seatrain Texas at the time of its most famous voyage, some may find that story fascinating, so it is linked below.

This link captures the story of the 'Daring Voyage of SS Seatrain Texas, Code Name: Treasure Ship.'

Seatrain was not a pretty ship, but it was very functional and blessed with good fortune.
And, as it turned out, its delivery of the first US Sherman tanks to fight 'the Desert Fox', Rommel at the 2nd Battle of El Alamein, was the deciding factor in turning 'Operation Torch' into an Allied victory in North Africa that prevented the Axis from capturing Egypt, the Suez Canal and the Mideast oil fields..

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gloom, Despair & Agony on Me...

Ever had a day that seemed darker and drearier than usual?
Not necessarily totally black, mind you, but maybe the color of slate or wet granite gray.
And, I'm not talking about the weather either.

I'm talking about those -fortunately few- times that mental and emotional attitudes dip to an undesirable level.
That usually doesn't last long for me, but even short episodes aren't fun.

Here's some of the things that conspired to bother me this time:

• incessant media coverage of the mostly trivial events that qualify as repetitive 'worthy news'
• too much avoidance of not-fun things I need to do.
• boredom due to too few 'fun' things done lately.
• cumulative physical fatigue that really doesn't hurt, but does limit previously normal activity.
• impatience with elected representatives and their tiresome posturing, delaying tactics, and constant electioneering.
• probably a few others that aren't worth the effort to remember.

That's about it.
Fortunately, all of these things are fading quickly into their proper perspective, even as we speak.
That's a mercy!

One of the value judgements that I habitually favor -whether I actually do it or not - is that work always comes first.
[How's that for a potential, permanent downer?]
In other words, 'no fun until the work is done'.
And, of course the 'work' is never done, so there's just no time for fun!
I can tell you there are people pretty close to me who are very tired of hearing that kind of stuff, even in jest!

The title is taken from a silly song from the old TV show 'Hee-Haw';

Gloom, despair and agony on me.
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair and agony on me.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Healthcare: Simple or Complicated?

The concept of universal health is amazingly simple.
So, why is it that our national discussion is getting so complicated?
Do you think money -big money- has anything to do with it?
It seems there are powerful interests who really don't want to see the status quo changed at all, unless it benefits them.

But, self-serving resistance to change isn't exactly new, is it?
The real question is 'who is to be served'?
And, health care-wise, the priority needs to be all Americans.
Period. End of story.

It is a national embarrassment and tragedy that the USA hasn't got an effective health care program.
In my mind, only three things are absolutely critical;

• everyone is covered
• a public health plan option is required
• a reasonable method of determining 'levels of service' and financing is needed

None of these are simple, but since when are complications not expected?
And, many folks think some other things are also critically important, too.

Cutting through all the excuses for non-action, delay and watering down, a recent letter to the editor got it right:
It addressed our elected members of Congress, cited the fact that they all had excellent US government health plans, and requested the same for all citizens.
If that's too rich, then let's have a talk.
That seems pretty simple approach too, doesn't it?

Soon, all the proposals, concerns and discussion will begin to get more serious.
That usually happens once Congress agrees to something that may be voted upon.
That is also the time when all the arrayed opposition comes together with a concerted attack designed to instill doubt, plead too expensive, engender fear, and spread deliberate misinformation.

Can't wait for that spectacle, can you?
One can only hope that our elected officials have the courage to do what they have needed to do for so long.

Here are two links to recent articles on this subject:

A Bill Moyers interview about 'the Select Few'.

A NY Times collection of three pro & con arguments.

A final thought:
I have been blessed with two things for most of my life; good health and good jobs that provided me and my family with excellent health care coverage.
There are many people who have not been nearly so fortunate.

When I last retired and became reliant on Medicare as my my primary health care provider, it was with a combination of uniformed doubt and trepidation.
The doubt was based upon my own ignorance.
The fear was based upon what I thought was to be the frustration of dealing with a large government bureaucracy with complicated rules, procedures and complicated paperwork.
You know, like the IRS.

I was wrong.
Medicare has proven to be the least complicated health care system I have dealt with!
And, that is despite the fact that my health care needs have been greater during the past year than at any time of my life.
So, I have become a believer in Medicare and in the government's ability to manage such a program with efficiency, simplicity and fairness.
I'm sure there will be other things for me to learn, but so far, the use of my expensive secondary health insurance has been negligible.
So, don't worry you private health insurance providers; I'll still pay your premiums, but won't likely submit nearly as many claims.
That alone ought to help keep the existing private health care system profitable!

And, I know there are many others who feel the same way I used to about Medicare, as well as about the government's ability to sustainably finance such a system for everyone.
I believe those fears are legitimate, but will also prove false -providing our elected representatives decide to stand up to the pressures of the lobbyists for the status quo.

There are few things more important than our health, and no method is more effective than preventative care, which any universal health care program should emphasize and reward.
I am confident that America will 'do the right thing' as Winston Churchill once said - after it has tried every other course of action!
I hope I'm wrong about that last part.

But, the concept is simple and we deserve it, both as a nation and as individuals.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Neighborhoods

A recent article in Crosscut seems to pretty accurately capture much of our local discussions on neighborhoods and preserving their viability as places where people want to live.

Because Seattle is often cited as an example of livable neighborhoods, these observations will likely resonate with those wishing to emulate practices which encourage and improve neighborhood quality.

One argument seems to stand out; older neighborhoods, especially those established in the 1950's or before, often are cited as the best examples.
That fits with the idea of 'neighborhood character' which is an often heard phrase that can mean different things to different folks.

Newer and developing neighborhoods don't appear to attract as much positive interest, although I do think it is critically important to continue encouraging those practices which lead towards neighborhood cohesion, desirability and the things that combine to produce the kind of neighborhood character that attracts and holds residents.

Not lost in the opinions expressed is the idea that 'walkability' can just be created by installing sidewalks, trails and bike lanes.
There also need to be local destinations and businesses where people want to go -or need to visit- often.

You know, those 'urban center' type places that get talked about in planning exercises.
Much easier to keep what already exists than to create new ones that people are willing to accept it seems.

Unless, of course, we can encourage enough mixed use development of the sort that make auto travel less necessary.

Anyway, see what you think.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Climate: Global Warming, Local Anomaly or Normal?


Now in my fourth year as owner of a photovoltaic array, I've noticed this year is the brightest to date.
And, not by just a little bit.

As of June 30, 2009 had generated 56% of my annual estimate, versus the second highest year [2006] mid-year total of 51.3%.
Since a bright, sunny day equates to about 0.5% of my annual estimate, that means 2009 is now over 9 bright sunny days ahead of 2006.

Both 2007 and 2008 were less bright, and equated to about 9 sunny days behind 2006, and 18 sunny days behind this year.

A comparison of year-end totals might be more telling, but it's too early to know what 2009 will produce.
But, looking at 2006 versus 2007 and 2008 is also instructive.
The year 2006 was about 14% ahead of both years.

What does all this mean?
Probably not much, except that it may be just as likely for 2009 to represent evidence of global warming, as for the years 2007 and 2008 to represent global cooling.

Better yet, normal variations between years are just that - normal.
But, that's just an educated guess, knowing how fickle the weather patterns can be around these parts.

I am glad that more PV solar arrays are being put into service every year.

Not long ago, I received an e-mail from friends in our old San Francisco neighborhood which advised that an organization known as OBOG [One Block Off the Grid] was soliciting interest in having PV arrays installed in the Bay area.
It seems if an aggregate of 100 mega-watts can be committed to, then special pricing and permitting can be obtained, thus saving substantial investment costs.
That is a creative solution which I hope succeeds.

More locally, this announcement appeared of a plan to construct a major PV power generation facility near Cle Elum in Kittitas County.
Now, that would be a breakthrough of major proportions!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Budget Reporting: Whatcom County's Home Charter Mystique

'Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.' - Louis D. Brandeis

An earlier blog addressed this subject's issue.
Now, still lacking some basic answers, I hope questioning County Council candidates may help reveal what the County's budget reporting requirements are, what they ought to be according to the County Charter, and what the County Council intends to do about correcting any deficiencies.

Will it require a Charter amendment, or a simple Resolution to the Executive that requests more frequent budgetary progress reports?

As a City Council Member, I wanted to stay timely informed about City financial matters -good, bad or indifferent.
And, it's hard to imagine County Council members not feeling the same way!

Maybe there are ready answers to my question just waiting to be harvested.
But, maybe there aren't, which may make asking the question somewhat unwelcome?
This question needs to be asked, answered and fixed as appropriate.

On related matters, other questions ought to be asked of the candidates themselves, and not only about specific issues.
An earlier blog covered this aspect as well, plus the important general qualifications of competence and integrity.

Unlike 'issues of the moment', the basic decision-making process of candidates -plus the ever essential integrity and competence- are the criteria that voters can rely upon regardless of issue.

Hopefully, the forums, debates, campaign literature and answers to questions like these will help voters make the selections most likely to benefit Whatcom County and other jurisdictions.

One final thought.
David Brooks, the Conservative pundit, wrote this opinion column for the NYTimes.
It seems a very timely and appropriate subject, regardless of jurisdiction.

Read it and develop your own reaction.
Frankly, I enjoyed it.
"Writers are at their best as terrorists- Sometimes social terrorists, sometimes political, sometimes terrorists of the heart. If a writer is good, he will be all three at once. His weapons are words well used to disturb and to clarify thought, emotion and action." - John Ralston Saul

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Politics: Paleontology & Palintology

Politics is a profession; a serious, complicated and, in its true sense, a noble one. - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Pop, Fizzle, SSSSss.
Those sounds might remind one of inferior fireworks being launched on an exceedingly damp 4th of July.

Fitting isn't it, that Sarah! -the elected one- elected to announce her non-election close to independence day, isn't it?

Can't take the heat any more, and doesn't want to attract more unfavorable attention.
Who can blame her?

It's just no fun.
So, she quit her day job over 1.5 years early.
Leaving those who elected her governor wondering why they had done so.
But, maybe not, because Alaska prides itself on being such a different place.

One difference is the relative size of its government.
Ever heard this one; 'never have so few been governed by so many'?

For a resource-rich state with a population of less than 700,000, an inordinate reliance on federal subsidies, plus an annual state rebate of over $3200 to every citizen on oil & gas production, that big government label sticks like a spoonful of peanut butter to the roof of the mouth.
(Did you know that the U.S. Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867, for $7.2 million at two cents per acre?)

Alas, there won't be any Sarah! to kick around any more.
What a shame!
Or is it?
Maybe not.
But, only because the political games she agreed to play were taken so seriously -both ways.

The science of Paleontology studies extinct beasts from fossil evidence collected from thousands of years ago.
if Palintology were to become a formal study subject, its extinct beasts -mostly thin-skinned political animals- might have lived for thousands of minutes, maybe even hours, or days.
And, its possible a few may have been around for several months or years, despite a propensity to bug out early when the going gets tougher, or less fun.

It probably doesn't help a political animal's longevity to rely so completely on 'gut feelings' and instincts that no effort is made to actually learn something from history.
For any species to be so unbalanced does not bode well for its survival.

But, we need to wish Sarah! well, whatever path she now chooses.
Rest assured she will continue in the public eye, even if not in an official public capacity.
Her attraction to the spotlight won't allow otherwise.
But, this time it will be more on her own terms -at least that's what she must hope.

Between the likely -paid- speaking engagements, the inevitable book contracts, the appearances on selected media channels, and generally her ability to attract attention , she'll still be able to make a pretty fair living I suppose.

But, somehow things are not likely to ever be the same for this Sarah! person.
Quitting a high profile elected job is frowned upon by those who have worked up such a passion for her that they will inevitably feel let down or betrayed.

Survival of the fittest is probably the operative phrase, and everyone knows its easier to be a critic or booster than it is to actually serve in office and be seen as a leader.
So, the critics always survive longer because they take less risks, and rely on poor memories to connect them to past stupidities.
God help those Sarah! type people who are attracted to fame like moths to a flame!

But, hey, crashing and burning is an American tradition, isn't it?
And, what better time than the 4th of July to do that?

My blog of August 30, 2008 predicted that Sarah! would be mainly a distraction.
Little did I know how true that eventually would become!

I'm proud to say that two very talented women, both graduates of my alma mater, were instrumental in helping us understand who Sarah! was - and who she wasn't.
Thank you, Katie Couric and Tina Fey!

Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business. - Winston Churchill

Monday, July 6, 2009

Triple Bottom Line: What Does TBL Mean?

"An invasion of armies can be resisted...But not an idea whose time has come..." - Victor Hugo

In Real Estate, the concept of a 'Triple net lease' is fairly common:

'A triple net lease (Net-Net-Net or NNN) is a lease agreement on a property where the tenant or lessee agrees to pay all real estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance (the three 'Nets') on the property in addition to any normal fees that are expected under the agreement (rent, etc.).
In such a lease, the tenant or lessee is responsible for all costs associated with repairs or replacement of the structural building elements of the property.'

Why not extend this concept more widely?
For example, to our Waterfront?

Likewise, in economics, an externality or spillover of an economic transaction is an impact on a party that is not directly involved in the transaction.
In such a case, prices do not reflect the full costs or benefits in production or consumption of a product or service.

Why not also use this concept in trying to help estimate a full cost accounting approach to Waterfront Redevelopment?
Think that might mean a different mind-set for the Port of Bellingham?

This is where the TBL concept can be helpful, not just a idle talk and shallow promises, but as a purposeful strategy.
Here, I've paraphrased several points from Wikipedia:

The so-called triple bottom line ("TBL" or "3BL") refers to "people, planet, profit" and captures an expanded set of criteria for measuring success; not just counting economics, but also impacts on ecological and social values.

With the ratification of the United Nations and ICLEI* TBL standard for urban and community accounting in early 2007, this became the dominant approach to public sector full cost accounting.
In the private sector, a commitment to corporate social responsibility and ecological issues implies a commitment to some form of TBL reporting.

[• ICLEI was founded in 1990 as the 'International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives']

The concept of TBL demands that a company's responsibility be to stakeholders rather than shareholders, where "stakeholders" refers to anyone who is influenced, either directly or indirectly, by the actions of the firm.
According to the stakeholder theory, the business entity should be used as a vehicle for coordinating stakeholder interests, instead of just maximizing shareholder (owner) profit.

"People, planet and profit" succinctly describes the triple bottom lines and the goal of sustainability.

"People" (human capital) pertains to fair and beneficial business practices toward labour and the community and region in which a corporation conducts its business.

A triple bottom line enterprise seeks to benefit many constituencies, not exploit or endanger any group of them, but trying to actually quantify this different bottom line is relatively new, problematic and often subjective.

"Planet" (natural capital) refers to sustainable environmental practices.
A TBL endeavor reduces its ecological footprint by, among other things, carefully managing its consumption of energy and non-renewables and reducing manufacturing waste as well as rendering waste less toxic before disposing of it in a safe and legal manner. Literally, this implies a responsible "cradle to grave" approach.

"Profit" is the bottom line shared by all commerce within a sustainability framework, and the economic benefit enjoyed by the host society.

Not to be confused with the limited internal profit made by a company or organization, it is the lasting economic impact the organization has on its economic environment.
A true TBL approach can't be interpreted as traditional corporate accounting tempered with social and environmental impact reports

The following business-based arguments support the concept of TBL:

• Reaching untapped market potential: TBL companies can find financially profitable niches which were missed when money alone was the driving factor. Examples include:

• Adding ecotourism or geotourism to an already rich tourism market such as the Dominican Republic

• Developing profitable methods to assist existing NGOs with their missions such as fundraising, reaching clients, or creating networking opportunities with multiple NGOs

• Providing products or services which benefit underserved populations and/or the environment which are also financially profitable.

• Adapting to new business sectors: Since many business opportunities are developing in the realm of social entrepreneurialism, businesses hoping to reach this expanding market must design themselves to be financially profitable, socially beneficial and ecologically sustainable or fail to compete with those companies who do design themselves as such.

• Fiscal policy of governments usually claims to be concerned with identifying social and natural deficits on a less formal basis. However, in a democracy at least, such choices may be guided more by ideology than by economics.

With the emergence of an externally consistent green economics and agreement on definitions of potentially contentious terms such as full-cost accounting, natural capital and social capital, the prospect of formal metrics for ecological and social loss or risk has grown less remote through the 1990s.

While many people agree with the importance of good social conditions and preservation of the environment, there are also many who disagree with the triple bottom line as the way to enhance these conditions.
Imagine that!

Some main arguments against TBL are:

• Division of labour is characteristic of rich societies and a major contributor to their wealth, leading to the view that organisations contribute most to the welfare of society in all respects when they focus on what they do best. .

• Effectiveness: It is observed that concern for social and environmental matters is rare in poor societies (a hungry person would rather eat the whale than photograph it).
Thus by unencumbered attention to business alone, Adam Smith's 'Invisible Hand' will ensure that business contributes most effectively to the improvement of all areas of society, social and environmental as well as economic.

• Nationalism: Some countries adopt a nationalistic approach with the view that they must look after their own citizens first. This view is not confined to one sector of society, having support from elements of business, labour unions, and politicians.

• Libertarian: As it is possible for a socially responsible person to sincerely believe that the triple bottom line is harmful to society, the libertarian view is that it would be arrogant to force them to support a mechanism for the improvement of society that may, or may not, be the best available.

• Inertia: The difficulty of achieving global agreement on simultaneous policy may render such measures at best advisory - and thus not enforceable.

• Application: According to Fred Robin's The Challenge of TBL: A Responsibility to Whom? one of the major weaknesses of the TBL framework is its ability to be applied in a monetary-based economic system. Because there is no single way in monetary terms to measure the benefits to the society and environment as there is with profit, it does not allow for businesses to sum across all three bottom lines.

Legislation permitting corporations to adopt a triple bottom line is reportedly under consideration in some jurisdictions, including Minnesota and Oregon.
Some businesses have voluntarily adopted a triple bottom line as part of their articles of incorporation or bylaws, and some have advocated for state laws creating a "Sustainable Corporation" that would grant triple bottom line businesses benefits such as tax breaks.

A few years ago, a group of about 75 community leaders assembled for the purpose of hearing about the new proposed LEED Standards for Neighborhoods from its author, a Seattle architect.
The presentation was very well received, building as it did on the more limited LEED standards for single buildings, and extending the sustainability concept to entire areas.

After the presentation, each table of attendees was given the assignment of rating Bellingham's Waterfront Redevelopment Project's potential for achieving the proposed new LEED* standard.

[The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction.]

The results were nothing short of astonishing!
Every table saw that the Waterfront Redevelopment had the clear potential for meeting the highest LEED Standard - Platinum!

I don't know what happened to that finding, because it is hard to find it among the things the Port has said and done since then.
Briefly, the idea did reappear when the developer of Victoria, BC's 'Dockside Green' Project came to Bellingham to explain how that undertaking had been conceived.
Fortunately, it's first phases have now achieved the highest LEED standards yet seen anywhere - 63 out of a possible 70 points!
Again, nothing but dead silence from our Port about even trying to put similar goals into practice.

Except, I do recall some claims about the Waterfront becoming a model 'green' redevelopment that would attract national and international attention, become a learning center and generate new businesses.
Such hopeful talk now seems only a fading echo, with the stance our Port has taken with advancing its 'partnership' with the City.

Hey, I know doing a big TBL project ain't easy, especially one that will require major clean-up costs, and still be over 10 times the acreage and 2 to 4 times the developed square footage of Dockside Green [a mere 15 acres].
And, I know the current economic hard times don't help either.
But, externalizing excessive costs to the City, seeking exemptions from developers for impact fees, and trying to cut corners in applying the Waterfront Futures Group Recommendations are NOT the solution!

The Port needs to change its thinking on how to go about achieving its Waterfront Redevelopment using true TBL concepts.
Thank goodness we have an opportunity to elect 2 of 3 new Port Commissioners this year!
Hopefully, a new Commission majority can then search for and find a new Executive Director with the experience and vision to get the Waterfront job done in a true TBL fashion.

I'm voting for John Blethen and Mike McAuley to replace Scott Walker and Doug Smith as Port Commissioners.
I hope you will do likewise.

" While an upgrade that cuts energy use in half can save one dollar per square foot in annual energy costs, it can generate more than ten dollars per square foot in new profits every year if it boosts productivity even five per cent!" - Joseph Romm

" One reason we are in so much trouble is that our modern culture is paradoxically behind the times, still assessing the world the way it did in the nineteenth or even eighteenth centuries: as a place of inexhaustible resources, where man is at the pinnacle of creation, separate from and more important than anything around him." - David Suzuki


• The LEED rating system currently has 6 categories:

1 - Energy & the Atmosphere - 17 points maximum

2- Water Efficiency - 5 points maximum

3- Materials & Resources - 13 points maximum

4- Indoor Air Quality [most complex] - 15 points maximum

5- Sustainable Sites [adjacencies] - 14 points maximum

6. Innovation [ideas outside the box] - 5 points maximum

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Healthcare & Walmart

This topic ought to be a hot one, irrespective of anyone's view.
Would you believe Walmart's new stance on this issue?
Think they might see some major advantages that favor them which had not been apparent up to now?
I'd bet on that, because that's what free enterprise is all about.

But, the real question is, can companies like Walmart help make the changes that most of us seem to believe are necessary?
You can think of Walmart what you will, but they can -and do- have a major effect on buying habits when they go after something!

First, here's what outgoing Walmart CEO Lee Scott had to say about its plan to establish up to 400 health clinics during the next 2-3 years. [Click here]

And, second, here's someone's opinion on 20 ways these new Walmart clinics might impact the existing healthcare system: [Click here]

Next, here's a short summary of Walmart's reversal on supporting a national healthcare system: [Click here]

And, finally, here's a link to yet another opinion that we ought to let Walmart actually run our healthcare system -on the theory they would do a better job than either the government or the existing providers: [Click here]

Just when we think that we've figured out where folks stand on an issue, things do seem to change, don't they?
This will be an interesting subject to follow the next several months, and beyond.
Let's see what actually occurs, as something certainly will.

Whatever happens, we will not be likely to have the same healthcare system -or lack of it- that we have now.
Neither will we get the system that many strongly favor.
Likely, we'll get some collection of compromises that can gather sufficient support to pass Congress.

I hope the compromise ultimately adopted includes universal basic coverage for everyone, and a public system that people can choose if they want it.
There may be some other features that are desirable too, but those two are essential.
Also, there needs to be a system of periodic review, where changes can be made as the need arises.

It is well past the time that a country, like ours, ought to have a decent healthcare system.
Access to reasonable healthcare is something most people think of as a basic right.
Maybe we should consider adding that to the Bill of Rights?