Thursday, December 30, 2010

Politics, Popularity & Priorities

"The purse of the people is the real seat of sensibility.  Let it be drawn upon largely, and they will then listen to truths which could not excite them through any other organ." - Thomas Jefferson

There are {2} easy and {2} difficult things about politics as we know it;

Easy: cutting taxes & offering services, amenities & programs desired by citizens

Difficult: raising taxes & cutting services, amenities & programs desired by citizens

Can you identify any inherent conflicts with this situation?

[My blog of Saturday, November 22, 2008 also touches on this dilemma]

As Walter Cronkhite used to say; 'and that's the way it is'

Think what you will about politics, government and our ability to effectively deal with public problems in general, the system we have is what we -individually and collectively- make it to be.

Having a victim's mentality about politics helps nothing but perpetrating a perceived bad situation and discouraging good people from performing public service.
So, while complaints are OK, excessive complaints only exacerbate the problem.

Despite the obstacles, we do have a good number of dedicated public servants with the competence and courage to conceive, advocate and make the difficult decisions most likely to sustainably endure and benefit citizens.

Unfortunately, things often have to get bad enough that politicians have no choice but to really deal with the situation that has evolved.
Such seems to be happening now, and simultaneously at multiple levels of government.

A recent example is this opinion piece by Washington Governor, Christine Gregoire, in Crosscut.

You can read it and decide for yourself, but I think the Governor has very few options, given both legal restraints and inescapable realities.

Of course, this is also true of the situations which our local and federal governments are facing.
The main difference is the feds have much broader and more diverse responsibilities, plus no mandate to balance the budget.
Plus, the Fed can also legally print money.

Some may remember the well-intended, but tepid exercise the City of Bellingham underwent a few years ago.
It was called 'Priorities of Government' [POG]. and while most elected officials gave it lip service as 'an interesting concept', not many really wanted to seriously touch it to implement its clear implications.
Believe me, I know - I was there!

Anyway, it's too bad that an absolute crisis seems absolutely needed for governments to seriously confront such intractable questions as defining what is necessary, fair and sustainable as public policy.
Unfortunately -or otherwise- that is the situation we find ourself now.

"A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the object of the government; secondly, a knowledge of the means, by which those objects can be best attained." - James Madison, The Federalist Papers Federalist No. 62 - 1788

The Trouble With Liberty?

"Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" - Patrick Henry 1775 **[see note below]

"Certainty is the most vivid condition of ignorance and the most necessary condition for knowledge." - Kedar Joshi


Before this year is history, this link is worth a read.
For those mainly interested in the gist, a few excerpts are quoted below:

• Libertarians, of both left and right, haven’t been this close to power since 1776. But do we want to live in their world?

• For all the talk about casting off government shackles, libertarianism is still considered the crazy uncle of American politics: loud and cocky and occasionally profound but always a bit unhinged.

• Ayn Rand is the gateway drug to Libertarianism, though many toke into adulthood.

• Libertarianism is a long, clunky word for a simple, elegant idea: that government should do as little as possible.

• Libertarian minarchy is an elegant idea in the abstract. But the moment you get specific, the foundation starts to crumble.

• There’s always tension between freedom and fairness. We want less government regulation, but not when it means firms can hire cheap child labor. We want a free market, but not so bankers can deceive investors. Libertarianism, in promoting freedom above all else, pretends the tension doesn’t exist.

• “There’s something about libertarians where working as a team is inconsistent with the whole concept of being a libertarian,”

• Lindsey compares libertarians who preach purity to the “Underpants Gnomes” in South Park, a popular analogy in wonk circles: “Step one, articulate Utopia. Step three is Utopia. Step two is a big question mark.”

• Consider the social side of Libertopia. It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. “Man’s first duty is to himself,” says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. “His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.” Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise. If you don’t get your way, blow things up. And there’s the problem. If everyone refused to compromise his vision, there would be no cooperation. There would be no collective responsibility. The result wouldn’t be a city on a hill. It would be a port town in Somalia. In a world of scarce resources, everyone pursuing their own self-interest would yield not Atlas Shrugged but Lord of the Flies. And even if you did somehow achieve Libertopia, you’d be surrounded by assholes.

• Libertarianism and power are like matter and anti-matter. They cancel each other out.


"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd". - Voltaire

"To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness." - Ursula K. Le Guin

••[Ear-witnesses to Henry's hypnotic orations remarked that while they always seemed to be convincing in the moment, they had a difficult time remembering exactly what he had said immediately afterwards: according to Thomas Jefferson, "Although it was difficult, when [Henry] had spoken, to tell what he had said, yet, while speaking, it always seemed directly to the point. When he had spoken in opposition to my opinion, had produced a great effect, and I myself had been highly delighted and moved, I have asked myself, when he ceased, 'What the devil has he said?' and could never answer the inquiry."
[ from wikipedia at this URL.

Monday, November 1, 2010

For Whom Will The Polls Toll?

'Do you ever get the feeling that the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?' -- Robert Orben

'Journalists should denounce government by public opinion polls.'
- Dan Rather

'A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.'
- Dan Quayle


One of the better polls has made its last prediction before tomorrow's elections:

HOUSE: +55 R

The accuracy of this forecast will be known soon enough, as will the plethora of other forgettable speculations.

While I applaud the remarkable advances in technology and techniques for creating, conducting and interpreting polls, the idea has now been thoroughly co-opted for crass propaganda purposes.

Imagine that!

'There is no well-defined boundary between honesty and dishonesty.  The frontiers of one blend with the outside limits of the other, and he who attempts to tread this dangerous ground may be sometimes in one domain and sometimes in the other.'  -- O. Henry, Rolling Stones, 1912

'The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.'  ~Thomas Jefferson


If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.'  ~Author unknown, commonly attributed to Mark Twain or Thomas Jefferson


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Elite Or Effete?

A democracy is a government in the hands of men of low birth, no property, and vulgar employments. - Aristotle (384 - 322 BC)

The single most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it's so rare. - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

A little disrespect is not a bad thing. Skepticism is essential to chasten what Walt Whitman called "the never-ending audacity of elected persons." But, carried too far, ridicule of the people we choose to govern us may undermine self government itself.
- Arthur Schlesinger (1917 -)

Conservative pundit Peggy Noonan recently published an article entitled Why so many of us resent the 'elites'.
It is worth a read regardless of your political persuasion.

Per Mr Google, the word 'elite' is taken originally from the Latin, eligere, "to elect".
In sociology as in general usage, the elite is a hypothetical group of relatively small size, that is dominant within a large society, having a privileged status perceived as being envied by others of a lower line of order.

The elite at the top of the social strata almost invariably puts it in a position of leadership, whether it be expected or volunteered, and often subjects the holders of elite status to pressure to maintain that leadership position as part of status.

In elite theory as developed by political scientists like Michael Parenti, all sufficiently large social groups will have some kind of elite group within them that actively participates in the group's political dynamics.

Meritocracy is a facet of society that tries to promote merit as a route to the elite.

Does it seem to you that folks who so casually dismiss 'elites' in government service are being just a tad disingenuous?
For example, which of the following would you prefer to NOT be elite?:

military personnel
public servants/elected officials/regulators
financial advisers
sports figures/entertainers

Maybe you would prefer people better defined as 'effete'?

Here, Mr Google suggests this particular word means 'having lost character, vitality, or strength', or
'marked by weakness or decadence', or 'soft or delicate from or as if from a pampered existence'

Examples: 'effete members of the aristocracy', or 'the soft, effete society that marked the final years of the Roman empire'

Origin of EFFETE is from the Latin 'effetus', from ex- + fetus fruitful
First Known Use: 1660

Synonyms: decadent, decayed, degenerate, overripe, washed-up

Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Adams, dated October 28, 1813 contained this phrase:

There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?

Sounds like old TJ much preferred an aristocracy of the 'natural' kind, doesn't it?

Christine O'Donnell - who claims she's NOT a witch -has recently bragged about NOT going to Yale.
What is that about?

This article attempts to explain the strange 'Start Poor. Work Hard. Do Well. Be Hated Anyway' dynamic that we are hearing as campaign rhetoric these days:
Why do Americans resent upward mobility?

If there's one epithet the right-wing seems to never tire of, it's "elitism."
If you'd like hearing what the likes of Sarah Palin and John McCain have to say about this, check out this URL:
Elitist Nonsense

Elitism, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

"It is impossible to tell for certain the difference between genuine stupidity and a parody of stupidity."
- The General Case of Poe's Law

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Caveat Lector & Voter!

(Let the reader/voter beware!)

"The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself!" - FDR

"The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold." - Aristotle

Stephen Colbert's tongue-in-cheek rally to 'keep fear alive' is scary, but not because it will happen at Halloween time.

Its because we are being 'treated with too many tricks' and getting literally worn down by it.

This article explains it better than I can.
A few excerpts:

Stephen Colbert, relax: Mother Nature is on your side, already working hard to keep fear alive.

Your brain is continually looking for bad news. As soon as it finds some, it fixates on it with tunnel vision, fast-tracks it into memory storage, and then reactivates it at the least hint of anything even vaguely similar. But good news gets a kind of neural shrug: "uh, whatever."

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.

All this makes human beings super-sensitive to apparent threats. Basically, in evolution, there are two kinds of mistakes: (1) You think there is a tiger in the bushes but there isn't one, and (2) You think the coast is clear, no tiger in the bushes, but there really is one about to pounce.

These mistakes have very different consequences. The first one will make you anxious, but the second one will kill you. That's why Mother Nature wants you to make the first mistake a thousand times over in order to avoid making the second mistake even once.

This hard-wired tendency toward fear affects individuals, groups (from couples to multinational corporations), and nations. It makes them overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities, and underestimate resources.


As if this natural trait of fear weren't enough to strongly influence us, here's another article about a particular pervasive, insidious practice that further distorts our ability to process information correctly - the avoidance of basic truth.
Again, a few excerpts to illustrate the point:

These three different but overlapping concepts — accuracy, honesty and intellectual honesty — are honored by our political culture in reverse order of their actual importance.

• Intellectual dishonesty, meanwhile, is so built into the Washington [DC] culture that you have to force yourself to notice it.
It even has a more familiar and less pejorative name: “spin.”
Spin is not just another word for lies.
A better definition might be “indifference to the truth.”
The really great spin artists, like Karl Rove and James Carville, are celebrated as masters of their craft.
Journalists crowd around them, longing to get spun.

• Far from being a “low bar,” absolute intellectual honesty is something I’ve never actually seen in anyone inside Washington or out, politician or journalist or diplomat. I aspire to it, as do many.


A third article brings the first two into the digital age, specifically involving the Internet.
Excerpts follow:

• The Web has given partisans license to find only the “facts” that fit their prejudices.

• Nowhere, perhaps, is the gap between the romance and the reality of the Internet more evident than in our politics. In the idealized narrative of digital democracy, greater connectivity has bequeathed more governmental transparency, more grass-roots participation and even a more efficient rendering of political justice.

• The explosion of accessible media and information on the Web, with its potential to give civic discourse a factual baseline and hold politicians accountable, has also given partisans license to find only the “facts” that fit their prejudices.

• ....“the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will” was supposed to be upended, so it would be “easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns.” Instead, he concluded, we ended up with the reverse: social media increase the efficiency of the existing order rather than empowering dissidents.

• .....cyberspace is a “wild social ether where nobody knows who anybody is.”

• ....look at the political environment in our election year of 2010. The Internet in general and social networking in particular have done little, if anything, to hobble those pursuing power with such traditional means as big lies and big money.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable this year is the number of candidates who have tried to create fictitious avatars like the Facebook impostors in “Catfish.”
These candidates and others often fashion their campaigns to avoid real reporters (and sometimes real voters).
Some benefit from YouTube commercials paid for by impossible-to-trace anonymous donors.
In this wild political ether where nobody knows who anybody is, the Internet provides cover, not transparency.

• What you might call our “Catfish” Congressional candidates are a perfect match for the phantom donors. The power of the Google search hardly deters those politicians intent on fictionalizing their identities.

• ....In each of these cases it was old-fashioned analog reporters, most of them working for newspapers, who finally penetrated the falsehoods.

• When Christine O’Donnell ran an ad last week with the improbable opening line “I’m not a witch,” we once again had to marvel at the Delaware primary triumph of a mystery candidate with a falsified résumé, no job, and apparently no campaign operation beyond out-of-state donors and out-of-state fans like Palin “writing” Twitter endorsements.
O’Donnell’s Facebook page is by far the most palpable presence of an aspiring senator who shuns public events and the press in Delaware. In a brave new political world where candidates need only exist in virtual reality, it’s no wonder that Donald Trump believes he’s qualified for public office because of his relative gravitas as a heavy on a television “reality” show.


Does any of the above sound or seem familiar? Any local candidates avoiding public forums? Any support groups using 'spin'?

With our elections coming soon, I hope voters will be very careful about what they read, what they decide to believe, and the sometimes hidden connection with what -or whom- they are voting for.

Voting is our Constitutionally guaranteed right and a valuable direct link to our democracy, so let's not waste it.

Otherwise, we should consider changing Halloween to Election Day, because it's more scary!

"We tell lies when we are afraid... afraid of what we don't know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us.  But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger."  - Tad Williams

"Losing my anonymity in this world I think is something that I find terrifying." - Alex O'Loughlin

"Liars when they speak the truth are not believed."
 - Aristotle

"The glory which is built upon a lie soon becomes a most unpleasant incumbrance. How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!"
 - Mark Twain, in Eruption

"The freedom to connect to the world anywhere at anytime brings with it the threat of unscrupulous predators and criminals who mask their activities with the anonymity the Internet provides to its users." - Mike Fitzpatrick


Monday, August 30, 2010

Individual Rights & 'Right Things To Do' Aren't The Same.

As a nation, we are historically big on individual 'rights' because our Constitution specifies their importance.
In fact, the first ten Amendments are actually called the 'Bill of Rights'.
Of course, each subsequent, duly adopted Amendment either impacts and/or modifies our 'rights' as well.

Our Founders excelled at identifying and broadly describing those basic principles that we value most.
But, sometimes the devil is in the details, which means specific, fair and consistent interpretations must be made -and vetted- from time to time by appropriate Federal officials, whether Judicial, Legislative or Executive.

Sometimes, these 'rights' may seem to conflict with each other, which requires other legal judgements be made.
Too, there are bound to be differences of opinion, some of which never seem to be completely settled to everyone's satisfaction.
That is the nature of what we term unalienable 'rights', even though much good faith effort has gone into their adoption over time.

What we do when disputes and disagreements arise is usually handled through our system of laws, which may also be susceptible to change and interpretation.
However, the one principle that is essential is to have the rule of law, as determined by a representative democratic process.
Without that, we are toast as the nation we profess and aspire to be.

So far, we can count on at least two levels of interpretation that are inherently built into our basic government system.
If these are conscientiously adhered to, or enforced as necessary, our system can work pretty well, despite the complications of timely decisions and increasing complexity.
The key is voluntary understanding, trust and compliance by citizens, which is difficult to obtain and easy to lose.

Then, there is a third level of interpretation for which every citizen has the responsibility; the choice and inclination to 'do the right thing'.
Now, that's a pretty nebulous concept, isn't it? And, essentially unenforcible, too.
Not a big surprise for the standard of freedom our Constitution sets, either.

Moral values and codes of conduct are matters of individual choice and judgement, as long as they comply with our laws.
That can be both a blessing and a curse, as we can readily observe every day in countless ways.
Motives for actions that are mean-spirited, dishonest or self-serving may not be strictly illegal, but they certainly do not support the lofty principles our Constitution promises.

Too often, we seem to allow this variable third level of interpretation to color our appreciation for the first two essential levels.
The 'media', as we now experience it, is certainly complicit in spreading -at light speed- opinions that are often questionable at best.
And, we know the media is in a constant, frenzied competition for 'market share' or ratings.

It's pretty well known that passions are more easily aroused and influenced than the intellect, which likely is attributable to our earliest survival instincts.
That is why a large part of the 'media' frequently uses emotional issues and techniques to attract its audience.
Have you noticed?

I'm really glad every citizen -including me- has the right to determine what issues are important and what to do about them.
But, sometimes, our knee-jerk reactions are definitely not the product of fair-minded, rational thought.
Here are a few examples for readers to consider from their own perspectives:

The proposed development near the WTC in New York

Does an owner -any owner- have the right to finance and develop private property?

Does the impacted neighborhood, city, state or nation have the right to object to an owner developing its property, to the extent this is not the right thing to do?

Glenn Beck's Rally in Washington, DC

Did Beck have the rightto do this?

Was this the right thing to do?

Sarah Palin's resignation as Governor of Alaska

Did she have the right to do it?

Was this the right thing to do?

The myriad politically motivated organizations, campaigns, clever slogans, books, articles, statements and blogs that are meant to disseminate misinformation, half-truths, smears and outright lies

Do people have the right to create, finance and perpetuate such things?

Are these the right things to do?

Each of the three levels of interpretation identified here can add a layer of mature certainty, but if we are not careful they can also add confusion and unhelpful division.
I sincerely hope our Constitutional principles endure and serve to enhance America, and that we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.
But that outcome is not certain, particularly if we do not honestly and consistently demand the best choices and decisions for ourselves and our nation as a whole.

Freedom and individual rights are not free and never have been.
If we truly treasure these concepts we must practice them ourselves.
An environment that nurtures civil rights requires constant renewal if it is to be sustained.

Friday, August 20, 2010

History: A Zero Sum Game?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-George Santayana

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
-William Faulkner -Requiem for a Nun


What do we really learn from history?
How is knowledge preserved and transferred to later generations?
I'm confident we can and do learn something from the past, but is it sufficient to focus us away from repeating mistakes?

Examining remains from past civilizations -think Incas, Egyptians, Romans, Mesopotamians, China, etc- reveals evidence of truly remarkable knowledge, some of which we are only beginning to comprehend ourselves - centuries later.

What happened in the intervals between that necessitates us having to re-learn what was already known?
Was it as simple as the dearth of records, extinction of languages, warfare, famine, disease or decay over time?

Or was it something else?
Like maybe the apparent need for every generation or age to independently discover basic truths -and myths- for themselves?

Then, there is the continuing struggle between diverse beliefs and what is generally known as rational science and reasoning.
But, hey, it's a free country!

Sometimes it seems our Founding Fathers were much smarter than we are today.
Heck, those folks had to fight an extended war against long odds to gain the freedom to draft a Constitution that is based on the concept of freedom!

Nowadays, we have trouble even reading the plain words of what the Founders agreed to, much less understand some of the sound principles they strongly recommended.

Of course, our Founders weren't perfect, but they were motivated to not only learn from history but to endeavor for our country not to repeat some -not all- of its mistakes.
You know, like the Bill of Rights [Amendments 1-10], avoiding foreign wars, civilian control of the military, the rule of law, open government, the ability to reasonably modify our constitution as time & circumstances may require, periodic elections by the majority of voting citizens, etc.

Just a few little things like that.

So, how did we get involved with deadly and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Actually, the latter may be easier to explain because that where Osama bin Laden was physically based at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
Of course that was 9 years ago, in 2001, at which we had good chances to actually capture OBL.
But, somehow, we got distracted.

Instead, we attacked oil-rich Iraq based on faulty 'information'.
Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, as despicable as Saddam Hussein may have been.
Now, its great we're withdrawing our 'combat troops', after suffering thousands of casualties at enormous cost - which was not even accounted for!

I sincerely hope Iraq will be worth its cost, but only time will tell.

Do you think we followed our Founders' advice in either case?
Did we take any advantage of their wisdom, or did we substitute our own seat-of-the-pants expediency?

While reflecting on comparisons between our avowed principles and the practice thereof, what about the fuss about an Islamic group's proposal to build near the former World Trade Center destroyed on 9/11 with the tragic loss of many lives?

Do we get to blame an entire religion for the actions of a small group of misguided extremists?
And, if we do, aren't we the victims of similar flawed, blame-game thinking?

That the legal 'right' to build anything at -or near- that site does exist for almost any qualified entity which meets the land use and financial requirements, should not be a matter of debate, notwithstanding the understandable emotional sensitivities involved.

Citizens do have the right to their own opinion, particularly in the case of nationally symbolic places, even if they don't happen to live nearby.
And, there certainly aren't that many instances in which everyone is supportive of an idea, so it is always prudent to weigh such decisions carefully.

Despite the fact that after due process, official New York City planning agencies believe the actual building proposal in question is a potentially good idea, there has been a chorus of loud and emotional appeals against it.
Nothing new or unusual about that is there?

We often experience such debates, and thank goodness we do.
Many times that debate does result in a better result.
But there times in which emotional arguments are deliberately used to drown out rational ideas.
Just look at several local NIMBY issues as examples.

The point is, if we are going to be true to our Constitution and its clear principles, we need to put that first and not allow ourselves to be unduly swayed by anger and fear tactics, like we have at times in the past.
Just think about what has happened with the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII for example.
Or, our continuing over reaction to issues involving discrimination based on race, politics, creed, gender, sexual orientation, age and the like.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could take a time-out for reflection on what principles our Founders intended for us, and hoped we would follow as a unified nation, instead of buying into the static offered by our so-called media?
We know we are capable of thinking for ourselves, don't we?
I hope so. If not, may God help us.

One last thought:
What one act can you think of that might do more to prevent future terrorist attacks on New York City?

Could it be allowing the proposed building to be constructed and used as a symbol of national unity and a testament to our resolve to reaffirm our Founders' principles?

Think about it.

Please, let's don't waste the lessons from our own history!

A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future. ~Author Unknown

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What A Difference 238 Years Make

Back before we became the the unique and miraculous US of A, many folks came here willingly, glad to have the freedom and opportunity to better themselves. But there were also those who came here against their will and were less fortunate in their pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I suppose that has always been the way it is with us humans.

Thing is, most folks start out mainly caring about the basics; clean water, food, shelter, clothing.
It's after that greed, lawlessness and conflict start to tempt folks, and distract them away from more helpful aspirations that benefit everyone. Absent inspirational leadership, a fair and just legal system, it gets easier to create individual fiefdoms, engage in crime and get lazy, complacent and fractious.

That sort of thing has happened before and is happening again. As favored descendants of our Founders, it falls to us to vigilantly take note of what is happening to drive our nation apart, and take those steps necessary to correct it. That is the one essential element of continuous quality improvement, and its our job to do it. And no one else's.

In doing so we have to be relentless and truthful. There is always room for disagreement and new ideas, despite what some ideologues may want you to think. Why, just yesterday, a senior member of Congress made the pronouncement that our Constitution was not a 'living document! If it's not living, is it dead? I don't think so, and neither did our Founders! That's why it wasn't carved in stone and has substantially changed and been amended over these years.

Such outrageous statements are being encouraged by unscrupulous people, limitless funding and a mass media that is for sale, None of those are good things in a democracy that was established 'for the people, of the people and by the people'!
If readers are getting as fed up as I am, let's let our leaders hear about it. And also, the 'media' and maybe a few other folks who are trying to hoodwink citizens into that fake blame game so-called the "T Party'. It seeks a cheap way to tap into peoples frustrations angers and fears, while rallying money for extreme political interests who seek to substitute their own sorry brand of representation on our already beleaguered government. That is no bargain and should be rejected out of hand.

No, this latest T-Party bears little real resemblance to the one that occurred on the night of December 16th, 1773 in Boston Harbor. That one merely destroyed a luxury English cargo of the leaves, leaf buds and internodes of the plant Camillia sinensis upon which it was intended to collect tax from colonists.
Two points to note: Action was against a foreign government of which America was still a colony.
The Declaration of Independence had not yet occurred, although it was 'a-brewing"!

Here we are 238 years later, choosing to revisit such events as a thin pretense to rally against our own government?
Back then, wasn't that called treason!

A piece of news heard yesterday triggered this post; it seems the T-Party folks were considering another 'convention' this August in Las Vegas. But someone figured out its pretty hot then and there. Yeeah!
So maybe now they're considering an 'Iced T Party? Maybe cooler heads will prevail...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BP's Deja Vu Squared

Ever tried to relax by watching a movie, only to find it was a terrible copy of one that you'd seen before?

Ever had to handle a problem caused by someone else?

Ever had to subsidize costs incurred by a corporation's greed and negligence?

Ever been annoyed at the reticence of our elected government to properly regulate and monitor potentially dangerous industries?

Ever been seriously aggrieved at the unnecessary harming of defence-less wildlife, plants and ecosystems?

Ever been mad as hell about the ruinous loss of lives, jobs, commerce and livelihoods?

Ever been stuck with an unwanted, pernicious legacy that keeps on giving?

Ever been fed up with people who mindlessly repeat the mantra 'drill baby, drill'?

Ever wished we were further along in our collective 12-step course to wean ourselves from our fossil fuel addiction?

Ever worried that one day we -or- our children won't be able to enjoy a visit to the beach?

I suspect many people may have experienced one or more of these feelings before now.

And, if not, they are more likely to now, after BP's latest catastrophe.

As shocked and aggravated as we may be, there is no simple solution to either fixing the current egregious problem, nor preventing a reoccurrence sometime in the future.

Instead, we ought to use the public concern and anger and redirect it in intelligent ways.

That way -as with the Olympic Pipe Line explosion- we can at least use the energy as positive momentum to improve.

Watching the news for the past 36 days or so, has helped document both the initial horror and the growing criticism of the lack of effective action by either BP or the US government.

Many are even comparing the BP blow-out and subsequent enormous crude oil spill to Hurricane Katrina.
Although the aftermath of both events were terribly destructive, the fact remains that one was naturally occurring and the other caused by compounded human error.

Although more comprehensive contingency planning may have partially prevented or mitigated the effects of both events, is it likely to expect that level of preparedness - particularly considering their enormity?

In the case of Katrina, there was plenty of blame to go around, notwithstanding we have little or no control over major weather events.
Of course, siting and building the City of New Orleans on ground that is well below sea level was never smart.
And, not having an adequate evacuation plan in place did not help, regardless of whether this oversight is the responsibility the City, the State of Louisiana, the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA or some combination of the above.

In the case of BP's catastrophe, the lack of adequate government readiness, at any level, is also evident.
But, the significant difference in this case is the role played by BP, the [ultimate] owner, operator and chief beneficiary of the oil production that has now become such a big problem.

Doesn't it seem reasonable for BP to accept full responsibility for this problem?
What exactly would that entail?
Can we even approximate these total costS?
Is it realistic to expect even a major corporation like BP to compensate for what must amount to billions per year for an unknown number of years?

What role should the government play?
How much should the government pay?
Would this amount to another government bailout?
Would Congress authorize another such expense?
Would a bipartisan approach be possible?
What would be the solution offered by those who would rather shrink 'guvmint' and allow a 'free enterprise' approach?
Just some food for thought.

Here's a few ideas to consider:

• First priority is to stop the leak

• Next, recover as much oil from the Gulf as possible BEFORE it reaches coastlines

• Get the Administration more actively involved, especially if BP's plans repeatedly fail.
Here, it is important NOT to set a precedent of government intervention that others might expect in the future

• Get Congress working on regulations that are more stringent, including much higher liability limits, higher safety standards, better MMS oversight, requirements for relief wells and blow-out prevention devices to be installed and checked BEFORE oil production is allowed.

• Consider additional taxes on crude production to fund an emergency reserve to be used for similar offshore disasters

There are likely other approaches worthy of consideration.
Whatever is decided, this type of incident should be subject to certain, more severe punishment in the future.

Like the tragic Olympic Pipe Line catastrophe, we have the opportunity to greatly improve regulations, operation procedures and contingency planning for the future.
While crude oil will be essential for years to come, it is important to begin to more closely align its price with the true, total cost of its production and use.

Sometimes, it takes a disaster like this to get our attention, so that lasting lessons can be learned.
Just maybe, it will focus us more clearly on the growing need for energy conservation and wider development of alternate energy sources and strategies.

Let's hope so.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cycles & Recycles

Here we are almost to another Earth Day on the way to Cinco de Mayo.
Left behind since the last post are April Fool's Day, IRS Day and the day Congress passed Healthcare Reform.
Before that, the Ides of March and St Patrick's Day and March Madness, amid 6 relaxing weeks in San Francisco and between here and there.

Life has been mostly good from my personal perspective, partly because I was able to largely tune out the steady din of petty -and not so petty - arguments involving politics, of which the local variety is but a relative blip on the screen.
But, our local blip has much in common with the other blips that combine to fill the screen.

The endless debate about priorities, for example.
And the continued attempts to substitute personal agendas for sound public policy.
Or, the rancor, ignorance, disingenuous rhetoric and appearance of back-room deals.
Not to mention the continuous recycling of issues and debates that never seem to be settled.

One reason I started this blog was to document some earlier discussions and perspectives on local issues.
Those 350 or so blogs are still around to read for those interested.
Just search by label, date or key words to get a crude sorting.
Or, simply allow these words to continue their repose in silent cyberspace.

Before long, I will again explore other geography and peaceful pursuits, but before I do, a few comments on the latest political cycle:

Whatcom County

* This year's Council edition is -not surprisingly- a disappointment. First, Ward Nelson's 11-month 'appointment' seemed a deliberate ploy to pack the Council with enough 'yes men' to allow new Chair 'Scheming Sam' Crawford his way in negating prior Council decisions he didn't like, plus throw a few rewards to his puppeteers.
Newbies Knutzen and Kershner are, well, acting like newbies with attitudes, and voting the way 'Scheming Sam' wants them to.
We'll need to elect Nelson's replacement later this year, and hope it is someone with a more progressive bent.
Then, keeping a close eye on 'Scheming Sam's' shenanigans, which have the appearance of being cooked up with cronies outside of Council meetings, will be a full-time job for watchers.


* This year's single gender Council faces unrelenting fiscal realities, which can have some useful opportunities to cut accreted frills and rethink how services can be provided more efficiently and sustainably. Not fun, but necessary every few years.
Some City issues are also being recycled, like the misguided 'Big Box' ban, adoption of the South-side Parks Plan [read 'Chuckanut Ridge'], the ongoing UGA & Annexation debate, TMDL Action Plan for the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, generating real progress in Waterfront Redevelopment, Landlord 'accountability', etc. Just a few items of perpetually unfinished business...

Washington State

Despite desperate economic hard times and draconian budget cuts, the State appears to be better off than most other states, and positioned for a more sustainable recovery.
Re-emergence of the State Income Tax question, long known as the 3rd rail of politics, is a sign that the time for rational discourse is approaching, albeit in a phased fashion.
A few years ago, a Commission chaired by Bill Gates, Senior, concluded that a State Income Tax would provide a fairer, more stable source of revenue, particularly if coupled with limits and reductions on other taxes.
Those conclusions have not changed, although the motivations for such a debate occurring soon have.
This Governor and the current Legislature have proven themselves under intense fire and budget pressures, so perhaps that experience can be built upon for the future.

US Congress

Hope springs eternal for the so-called Republican Party, which has acted so outrageously obstructionist since Obama was convincingly elected President on a platform of 'Big Tent' unity.
Now, they are hoping to benefit in the coming elections by voters discontent with the economy, plus the contentiousness over Healthcare Reform, etc, which they -themselves- actively promoted!
Maybe they will gain seats, but will it be worth it to a country that deserves true leadership instead of continuous acrimony, misinformation campaigns and political games of 'gotcha'?
At least the Obama supporters demonstrated their resolve in achieving tangible progress on health reform that most will come to support once they understand what will be gained!
That could be enough to encourage the so-called 'R's' to change their despicable -and failed- strategy. But don't count on it! It might be easier to just change their name, to something like the Limbaughians, or something containing the letters F-O-X.

Planet Earth

So far, our international relations in the world have noticeably improved under President Obama.
But, time will tell whether balanced diplomacy can succeed under the conditions existing today.
Having help as the world's policeman is essential, and not an option.
But, extricating ourselves from our current wars and conflicts is not an option either.

Barring a series of set-backs, Iraq now seems on its way toward a more stable and reliable government.
But, US and UN assistance will likely be necessary for some years.

Afghanistan is different, and has less prospects for stability'
It might be simpler and more effective for the US to purchase all the opium or poppy production [90% of world supply] and thereby deprive the Taliban or al Qaeda of the major source of their revenues.
This course of action would likely require use of these funds for essential infrastructure and health/education services for the benefit of the populace at large.

Keeping peace and prosperity will always be a big job, but someone's got to do it.
I hope it involves us, both domestically and internationally.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healthcare & March Madness

Some folks won't be celebrating the House's passage of the imperfect, yet necessary, healthcare reform legislation, but most will, including me.
Now, it's the Senate's turn to do the right thing and finally allow the President to sign it into law.

More important over time, is the commitment to periodically revisit this issue with the intent to improve healthcare coverage for all Americans, not just those with means to afford what we have now.
To now deny true progress on something as important as basic healthcare, after a century of debate, would be irresponsible despite ideological differences.

It's time -actually way past time- that the USA begins to get its healthcare act together.
I have confidence that these healthcare reforms will prove helpful to everyone over time, particularly with timely oversight and modification to fix glitches and improve coverage, costs and quality.

It's also time to be more caring, inclusive and realistic when it comes to the impacts of healthcare cost on every American.
That sure beats empty political rhetoric, anger and continued delaying tactics!
Wait and see, but remember this night, because it will quality as truly memorable for many years to come.

The other March Madness now in progress is the NCAA Basketball Tournament to determine our national champion.
So far, it has been more exciting than usual with many close games and upsets to winnow the field down to the "Sweet Sixteen'.

As with Healthcare Reform Legislation, the final results are unknown, even though some teams seem stronger than others.
Winning it all with require talent, strategy, hard and sustained effort, coolness in adversity, plus a bit of luck.

I've got my favorites, but whoever wins will likely deserve it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lake Whatcom: Fiddling with Phosphorus

As much as I support term limits -either voluntary or mandatory- there are a few drawbacks.
Like continuity of important policies and programs, for example.
Or, ensuring that education and lessons learned about basic public safety, health and welfare are passed along to new officials charged with making important, non-partisan decisions.

But, not all incumbents are bad, just as not all newbies are good - or prepared for the challenges of public office.
Learning curves can be steep, but that difficult trajectory is not necessarily always followed - at least voluntarily.
Making things worse, often experience and knowledge are actually disparaged as undesirable 'elitism'.
That's really too bad, since that is largely an assumption based on political cynicism, but mostly because it blindly substitutes ignorance and inexperience!

Kathy Kershner, a newly elected County Council member, seems to be having her first fish-bowl experience with a controversial public issue - the Lake Whatcom Reservoir.
This Herald article carried the story.

I sincerely hope this will prove to be a positive 'teachable moment' for Ms Kershner and not a reason to solidify the substitution of ideological beliefs for scientifically proven knowledge and established policy.

Kershner is certainly not the only person who has experienced difficulty in understanding the growing problems with our Reservoir.
But, at least she seems to be trying, which is more than you can say for some of her peers, some whom have been in office for years.
The least we can do is to help her learn the best way we can.
In that spirit, the following points are offered, including reference to the 65 blogs labeled 'LAKE' that I have posted since July 2007.

The Clean Water Act [CWA] was enacted in 1972 and amended several times since.
The Safe Drinking Water Act [SDWA] was enacted in 1974 and also amended several times since.
Both Acts are intended to prevent pollution of our valuable water resources.
Both were enacted after serious, harmful pollution had already occurred, and both have been only partially successful in meeting their respective goals.

These are very important points to note, particularly because prevention of water pollution is much more desirable and cost effective than waiting for a problem to occur and then trying to clean it up.

The hope is that we learn from past mistakes and apply those lessons to preventing or at least minimizing future problems with public water supply systems.
That's simply called working smart!

While the CWA and SDWA have different goals, they also are intended to compliment each other, not compete.
One way to understand their respective roles is to see how they are administered here in Washington State:

The Department of Ecology [DOE] administers the CWA.
Pertaining to Lake Whatcom, DOE is charged with keeping that water body 'fishable and swimmable'.
That is also an important factor in maintaining untreated raw water purity, since it represents the first line of defense in a highly recommended 'multiple barrier' system for public water supply sources.

The Department of Health [DOH] administers the SDWA.
Pertaining to Lake Whatcom, DOH is charged with making sure that treated water produced by Public Water Purveyors meets drinking water standards.

Since the 1996 SDWA Amendments, each Public Water Purveyor is required to develop and implement a SOURCE WATER PROTECTION PLAN [SWPP], with updates due to the DOH every 6 years.
Among other things, the SWPP describes existing and projected uses in the surrounding watershed and requires corrective action if reasonable protections are inadequate or threatened.
'Multiple barriers' are therefore strongly recommended to protect the raw water supply.

Hopefully, this brief explanation will help clear up some of the confusion about roles and responsibilities, as well as the interrelated nature of the CWA and SDWA standards and requirements.

Ultimately, it is up to local citizens and elected officials to take timely, wise and effective action to protect our valuable public water supply for future generations.
After all, it is the only one available to us with sufficient quantity and purity to enable optimal and cost effective use of our existing treatment, storage and distribution system.

For those interested in more information about Lake Whatcom, these postings may be of particular interest:

July 28
August 8, 9, 11, 12, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30
September 5, 11, 30
October 2, 8, 9, 12, 19
November 2
December 4

May 11, 24
August 8
November 27

January 19
June 11, 14
July 31

Friday, January 8, 2010

Lake Whatcom: Little Ducky Duddle's Fault?

The Ducky Duddle Song

Little ducky duddle
went wading in a puddle,
wading in a puddle quite small.

Said he "it doesn't matter
how much I splash and splatter
'cause I'm just a little ducky after all."
The current Weekly's GRISTLE poses some interesting background and observations about our RESERVOIR.
I recommend reading it.

Those who have followed this issue for a while know what a conundrum it is.
Even after a string of after-the-fact beneficial actions by City & County governments as well as the WA Dept of Ecology and other agencies, the rate of steady degradation of our drinking water supply has slowed slightly, but not stopped, much less reversed as the DOE has directed.

Recounting the long litany of well-intended past actions would fill a few pages and more importantly lead some into believing we've already done a lot, which lessens the need to do more.
Nothing could be less true!

Suffice to say that some of the bigger steps, like down-zong, restrictions on clearing and grading, watershed acquisition & preservation, storm-water regulations and mitigation, lake-friendly gardening & landscaping are working to some extent, but not nearly enough to actually reverse the trend of lake water degradation.

Believe me, I know how tiring it can be working on this issue! And expensive. And controversial. And frustrating.
But that is the nature of this beast.
Think of a long-term marathon race, not a 40-yard sprint -as many seem to prefer.

With that concept in mind, the new year brings in some new elected officials, who may or may not be able to do much more than has been done to benefit our Reservoir.
Time will tell, as it has up to now.
And the results are not nearly good enough.

Waiting for the DOE TMDL Study to tell us what is needed to be done is easy, because we're really good at waiting!
Actually taking the actions required is the hard part.

And its not easy to conceive of many more 'quick fixes', like the ones already put into place.
Only steady, incremental steps can be visualized that will largely depend on the voluntary efforts of enlightened watershed residents, property owners, users and concerned citizens.
Of course, government regulations, funding and enforcement are necessary to effectively support these -and prior- efforts.

Ideas like infiltration of storm-water, creating a large park & open space from former DNR forest lands, and the like do have the potential for adding more protection from pollutants rapidly entering Lake Whatcom.
But, these approaches need to be tested and evaluated for their efficacy.

As tempting as it is to wish for a 'silver bullet' to solve our Reservoir degradation problem, that is not likely.
Only the 'block & tackle' work of constant vigilance, political courage and steady effort is likely to be effective over time.
The degradation of our drinking water Reservoir has been caused primarily by unfiltered stormwater run-off, resulting from multiple acts over time; literally 'death by a thousand pin-pricks'.

Or a thousand Ducky Duddles?
That's the point; we are all Ducky Duddles, and it DOES matter how much we splash and splatter!

Under these circumstances, a quick and painless solution is not likely to occur.
Daunting as that outlook may seem, it should encourage more focused action, not less.
I hope the new elected officials will rise to this task and accept their share of accountability for Lake Whatcom.
After all, it is the drinking water source for half of the people in Whatcom County.

Back to the Gristle's conclusion: Seth [Fleetwood], with feet on both sides of county and city water policy, chose not to step into that puddle.
Maybe that's not such a bad thing for Seth to not do, unlike Ducky Duddle?
After all, he's been there, done that and knows -first hand- the kind of irrational reaction that can be triggered by stepping into such a puddle with both feet.

Remember 'Boats Off', and the County Council's [and Seth's] unhappy experience with that?
It's intent was simply to restrict the use of older motorized watercraft that spewed 25% of their fuel directly into the water.
Doesn't that sound like a desirable thing to do?
Especially since the City's Water Treatment Plant isn't designed to remove harmful hydrocarbons?

So, it really makes no difference whether Seth volunteered for the City's Lake Whatcom Reservoir Watershed Committee -for several reasons:

(1) Unlike the County Council, the City Council Committees are 'weak' committees meant primarily to spread the early discussion workload, although these sessions are also inclusive of all other members, and all final decisions are made by the Council-As-A-Whole.

(2) Given the make-up of City Council, there is comparatively less resistance to considering, passing and funding programs to benefit Lake Whatcom. Seth does not need to be on this committee to stay informed or contribute ideas.
{My last 2 years I elected to not serve on this committee, because I thought others needed to become more involved.]

(3) Seth DID pick the Parks & Recreation Committee, whose activities he is familiar and comfortable with.
And, it's possible that Seth MAY use that position to help promote the County's proposed Reconveyance of 8400 acres of DNR forestlands to create a large park and open space in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

Some have already characterized this as a potential 'home run' for the Reservoir, and it could be, provided a careful, low impact plan is adopted -along with the long term funding to adequately manage it.
But, I remain a skeptic until I see those critical elements in place.

Seth has served us pretty well while a part of the County Council.
And, I suspect he will continue in that vein while on the City Council.
No one should doubt that Seth's new job will prove more comfortable to him, both in the scope of issues considered and better compatibility with his peers, not to mention a much more favorable atmosphere for being re-elected.

Of course, two years ago Seth did run for Mayor. Think he'll do that again?
Since his position is the only 2-year elected seat in the County, do you think he will support changing it to a 4-year seat?
His predecessor certainly fought that idea, but think of the possible ramifications for Seth.

By serving a 2-year term, Seth would have to pick which office he runs for in 2 years.
But, a 4-year term -on the same election cycle as Gene Knutson, Michael Lilliquist and Stan Snapp- would mean he could run for Mayor [or other office] without first relinquishing his Council seat.
Think about it.