Saturday, December 31, 2011

Coal: HamsterTalk Blogs from March 27 thru December 31, 2011

Here are 27 previous Blogs with a 'Coal' label written from March 27, 2011 through December 30, 2011 on HamsterTalk

1. Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear... Sunday, March 27, 2011

2. Coal Terminal: Mayor's Listening Session Wednesday, June 1, 2011

3. Good Mornin' America, How Are Ya? Wednesday, June 8, 2011

4. Climatology: Natural Science or Political Science? Saturday, July 9, 2011

5. Making Tracks To Where? Friday, July 15, 2011

6. Coal Terminal: A Pit & Pendulum Exercise? Thursday, July 21, 2011

7. Coal Terminal: Trains & Infrastructure Saturday, July 30, 2011

8. Coal Terminal: Bulk Carriers & Kayaks Sunday, July 31, 2011

9. Coal Terminal: Update on Developments Monday, August 1, 2011

10. Coal Terminal: Another Update Tuesday, August 2, 2011

11. Coal Terminal: Playing Defense Wednesday, August 3, 2011

12. Coal Terminal:Whatcom Watch Remembers Cherry Point Agreement Thursday, August 4, 2011

13. Coal: A Global Perspective Thursday, September 1, 2011

14. Coal: Floyd McKay's Latest Crosscut Article Wednesday, September 28, 2011

15. Coal: Green versus Gold? Wednesday, October 19, 2011

16. Coal: The Role of Politics Wednesday, October 19, 2011

17. Coal: National Geographic Article Friday, October 21, 2011

18. Coal: NPR Weighs In With Two Articles Thursday, October 27, 2011

19. Big Coal meets Cherry Point's tiny herring Friday, October 28, 2011

20. Coal: Where Does Bellingham Really Stand? Sunday, October 30, 2011

21. Coal: Location, Location, Location - For Whom? Monday, October 31, 2011

22. Coal: What Does Lake Whatcom, Waterfront Redevelopement & The Olympic Pipe Line Have to Do With It? Thursday, November 3, 2011

23. Coal: Possible Good News? Thursday, November 10, 2011

24. Energy: Update On Coal, Oil & Other Fossil Fuel Projects Wednesday, November 16, 2011

25. Impacts: Coal Versus Oil Sands Thursday, November 17, 2011

26. Trains: 'Here's Mud In Your Eye'Thursday, December 15, 2011

27. Coal: Why Can't We Citizens Have A Strong Voice? Friday, December 30, 2011

I Don't Give A Fig For This Newton

"My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world." - George Bernard Shaw

What is glibly advertised, gooey, prefers being wrapped - and baked - in dough, and could be confused with a toxic lizard?
Answer: A fig sandwich? No, wait, a Newt Gingrich!

The current traveling circus trying to disguise itself as the Republican Presidential Primary exhibits a number of truly freaky and sometimes scary characters, with 'Newt' being the latest flash-in-the-pan gladiator to be thrown into the big cat arena.
Good luck with that, Newt!

Think he'll survive?
Of course he will; but maybe not the way he'd prefer.
That would be just fine with me, too.

It is curious as hell that this Newt fellow is such a narcissist to even imagine he could win the support of American voters, unless most of them really do insist upon calling our Federal Guvmint a TV reality show.

Why, the prospect of Newt actually becoming '45' is more frightening than a loaded '45 that's being pointed at me!
So, let's get serious and settle down, let Romney -or whoever- run and lose; then get back to something like we have today, OK?

How does Newt do it, anyway?
He looks and acts like an over-grown Spanky (from Our Gang) and has enough baggage to make any airline profitable.

For 30 years he's hung around Washington, DC like a court jester, intent on collecting as much fame and fortune as that strange city will allow.

He could probably get a job with the Capitol Steps as a comedy act, if he were legitimately funny.
Maybe a character like a Government-Issue (GI) Grinch? (Count the letters in his name)

Or, better yet, the Big Fig! (check out the U-Tube)

I don't really dislike Newt, its what he's done to degrade my concept of an elected official that troubles me.
But, freedom -and free enterprise- being what it is, what Newt's does is certainly allowed, even though it may negatively impact what most of the world may think of us.
True to form, I have collected the URLs of a few articles written with NEWT as subject,
This one, from the NYTimes captures the essence of what many think about this fellow. It also includes the '8 Things Newt Likes'. Check it out.

Others, from Politico, The Nation (serial hypocrite?), BusinessWeek (is he really a G Washington crossing the Delaware?) and CBS News (shades of John Boehner!) also shed light on this character from different angles.

Then. of course the mandatory Wikipedia piece on Newts.

And, the salient witches chant from MacBeth to close the loop:

2nd Witch: (not a witch?)
"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

That's it from me on this sorry subject.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Coal: Why Can't We Citizens Have A Strong Voice?

This article appeared in today’s paper and was forwarded to me:

Dec, 30, 2011

Activists plan initiative to outlaw coal trains in Bellingham


BELLINGHAM - Ever since the plans for SSA Marine's coal shipping terminal at Cherry Point became public, city officials have been saying that they would have no direct control over the coal trains that would pass through the city if Gateway Pacific Terminal is built.

A new citizens' group plans to change all that, but they seem to face overwhelming legal odds.

Rick Dubrow, owner of A1 Builders, is one of the key organizers of a new political action committee called No Coal! On Jan. 26, Dubrow said the group will make public its draft of a proposed new city ordinance that would prohibit any transport of coal through Bellingham by rail or any other means.

In conventional legal terms, that doesn't seem to make much sense. The federal government regulates the interstate rail system, and BNSF Railway Co. has a legal right of way through the city. BNSF spokeswoman Suann Lundsberg said federal law requires the railroad to ship coal and other legal cargoes that shippers want to move via rail.

But Dubrow and Stoney Bird, a former corporate attorney working with the Bellingham group, say they are setting out to establish some new legal groundwork that would put the rights of communities and ecosystems on equal or greater footing with the rights of railroads and other corporations.

They are taking their cue from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which was involved in a successful 2010 effort to get the Pittsburgh, Pa., City Council to ban fracking for natural gas within the city limits.

On its website, that group's activists argue that existing environmental regulations do little more than slow the pace of ongoing environmental destruction. They envision a legal system that would recognize something they call the Rights of Nature.

In Pittsburgh, the council adopted a proposed anti-fracking ordinance without a citizen vote. Dubrow said he and his group would be open to that approach in Bellingham, as long as the council would be willing to pass their proposed ordinance as is.

"We don't want to give them (council members) the freedom to edit it,' Dubrow said. "We hesitate to allow editing because of the complexity of the legal aspects of the ordinance."

The group is also prepared to launch a petition drive to get the measure on the ballot if it comes to that, Dubrow said.

If such a petition drive were successful, BNSF or SSA Marine could challenge the initiative in court before a public vote is held. In the recent anti-traffic-camera initiative case in Bellingham, American Traffic Solutions went to court to get the initiative off the ballot. The courts eventually allowed the initiative to stay on the ballot, but judges ruled that it was not legally enforceable. Camera opponents are appealing.

In 2000, citizens collected enough signatures to get a referendum challenging a cut in Georgia-Pacific Corp.'s industrial water rates onto the ballot. But then-Mayor Mark Asmundson and the City Council refused to act on the matter, on grounds that prior court cases had clearly established that water rates were not subject to a public vote. Backers of the referendum expressed outrage but did not take the city to court, and no vote was held.

In 2001, a pro-business group tried to use a city referendum to challenge hefty new city storm water fees, but Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Steve Mura accepted city attorneys' argument that city utility rates were not subject to public vote. Mura's ruling kept the matter off the ballot.

Craig Cole, an SSA Marine spokesman, had little to say about the No Coal! ordinance plan. In an email, he indicated that railroad operations are beyond the scope of city authority.

"Such matters are governed by federal and state constitutions and laws," Cole said.

Reach JOHN STARK at or call 715-2274.


Personally, I'm glad this is happening, legalities notwithstanding.

Our community needs to step up and make itself heard on this controversial issue; indeed if we don't, who will?

My perspective is that of someone who has confronted matters like this one from the side of a concerned citizen, as well as an elected official whose term of office encompassed the cases cited -namely the water rate referendum and the storm water complaints.

In both instances, I heard the arguments pro & con, then decided what decision ought to have been made.

The water and storm water rates were clearly necessary to make the respective utilities sustainable, and also clearly the City Council's responsibility to decide. But, we did listen to citizen complaints and also appreciated the dialogue that was generated, because that was important to understand before a final decision was made.

The water rate 'issue' wasn't just about the GP process water rates, either; it was about two things -setting a less complicated formula for determining the GP rate [which was actually higher than the old one, not less] and responding to pressure from a public initiative to increase treated water rates in order to help protect Lake Whatcom, our drinking water RESERVOIR.

Neither the referendum or the initiative passed, but the latter raised public awareness enough for the Council to decide later to raise water rates by $5 per month [versus the $12 per month advocated by the initiative].

The storm water rate increase was necessary by State & Federal mandate, once the City decided to adopt new rules to cover not only flood and erosion damage, but treat pollution as well. Additionally, had the new storm water rates NOT been adopted, the impacts to the existing street funds was substantial, since the costs of storm water management were being simply deducted from those limited funds.


As far as Federal or State jurisdiction over local matters is concerned, the City of Bellingham, by taking the strong stand it did, was able to influence significant changes to safety regulations for Pipe Lines, both intra-state and inter-state, despite the claims of the Olympic Pipe Line Company, whose liquid petroleum products pipeline ruptured in its Right Of Way [through City property], and spilled toxic fuel into Whatcom Creek that resulted in the terrible explosion that killed three young people and caused much damage to property, the environment and social confidence.

So, don't tell me citizen outrage doesn't work!

It does work, but it shouldn't take a major catastrophe to prove it.

That is what much of the concern over coal trains & terminal is about; preventing terrible things from happening BEFORE THEY DO.

That is called simply the Precaution Principle, and it was early expressed by none other than our Founder, Ben Franklin, who put it this way; 'a stitch in time saves nine'.


I believe a strong expression of concerns -the more explicit the better- must be voiced by citizens so it can be heard and acted upon by our local elected leaders, namely the Mayor and City Council.

The earlier this happens, the better.

And the oftener it happens is also better.

The last thing we want to do as citizens with legitimate concerns is to keep quiet about them, leaving such 'external' decisions to a vague 'other' that prefers the comfort of status quo!

So, yes, I will support any well-conceived initiative that comes forth on this 'inconvenient' subject, and I will encourage our new Council and Mayor to do nothing less, notwithstanding any 'legal; arguments to the contrary.

If folks want to sue us or the City, let them sue!

This nasty subject needs to be dragged out into the arena for resolution in the sunshine, not in some dark place remote from us and our families.

And, if the judges should rule against it [us], we will then need to redouble our efforts to change these present 'legalities'.

If I am more than willing to suffer some 'inconvenience' over this matter; how about you?

So, answering the question in the title; 'we can if we will'!


This article on a related matter seems to chill the atmosphere regarding whether Federal or State rights & regulations prevail.

And, I'm sure that was the intent in seeking the judgement in question; to put 'corporate citizens' in charge of what can be done in the State of California.

California has huge and diverse problems, many of its own making, but fortunately it has also taken strong and progressive leadership in protecting its air, water and earth from continued poor stewardship from those who create these harms in the name of 'business'.

Thank goodness for California's lead in changing fuel economy and quality standards that have succeeded in changing the way corporations, institutions and people conduct their business! Without it's lead, do you think the Federal government would have done much on its own?

Air pollution got so bad in the LA Basin that it was affecting everyone's business -including their health- so much that something had to be done!

Now, years later, LA air is better; but it took strong action years ago to effect that change.


One last thought before this ends; if corporations have rights, do these include doing whatever they want, as much as they want, whenever they want and wherever they want?

What limits apply?

Do these claimed 'rights' extend beyond their own rights-of-way and property to the property, space and environment of those other citizens - people?

How about public property; like transportation systems and networks, waterways, airways and the like?

Where exactly do corporate rights end?

Aren't corporations supposed to provide public good? If so, how much? How much harm?

I'm only asking because something doesn't feel right about the arguments I'm hearing from the Coal proponents.

No, not right at all!

If I'm wondering, maybe others are experiencing the feeling, too.

And, maybe -just maybe- others will be willing to extend their wonderment into something more tangible; like action?

Citizens inherently do have strong voices; they just have to use them!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Going, Going, Almost Gone...Postal

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" - famous Pony Express motto
I was a little troubled by the recent announcement(s) of more major curtailments of the US Postal Service [USPS], formerly known as the US Post Office - an idea originated by Benjamin Franklin.
TIME Magazine in particular has printed detailed reports - here & here - of the problems being faced by the current USPS.

But, like many ideas, this one has unfortunately suffered from an accretion of baggage that is no longer deliverable.

One of the first divisions of the US Government, the Post Office was often used for political patronage purposes, rewarding supporters of a series of Presidents with desirable paid positions.

Remind you of anything? Like maybe certain trouble over time?
For about a year, I worked for the US Post Office in my home town; back in the early 1960's, to help pay my way through college.
But, it wasn't easy getting that relatively desirable job, mainly because the practice of local patronage by the Postmaster to relatives, friends and cronies.
I ended up taking a competitive Civil Service exam and scored high enough that I was selected, although for a duty that had relentlessly brutal hours and no 'seniority'; a concept I learned about very quickly!

It seems the desirable jobs with regular hours were reserved for those having more time in service, and these folks weren't about to relinquish any of their special rights and privileges!
Can't say that I blame them for that, either, although some were quite slow in performing their jobs and carried an 'attitude' approximating lazy arrogance.

Remember that point, because it will return.

My job paid $2.16 an hour, which wasn't bad when the going wage for unskilled labor was about $1 per hour. I was glad to get that job and busted my butt doing it well and efficiently; although some longer time employees actually seemed to resent my industry!
Guess they had their own reasons for that, but it didn't make much sense to me at the time.

My 'routine' -if it could be called that- went something like this: up @ 3:30 AM to pick up parcel post sacks at the train station and deliver them to the Parcel Post Annex; At P.O. at about 7:00 AM to sort incoming mail into carrier routes, clerk stations and mail boxes, then to collect the 8:00 AM mail, cancel it and sort it into outgoing pigeon holes; At P.O. @ 12 Noon to collect outgoing mail, cancel it and sort it into outgoing pigeon holes; At P.O. @ 5:00 PM to collect outgoing mail, cancel it and sort it into outgoing pigeon holes; then, same cycle 6 days per week.
During the time I worked a new Post Office building went into service, so after learning the old layout, I then was the first to learn the new one.

While the pay was good, my social life was pretty minimal due to the erratic work schedule, plus I missed a lot of meals at home with my family; but -hey- it was good for me anyway.

Now, years later, my situation has changed, as has my perception of a personal -selfish- need for the Post Office.

I am no longer employed by a business that regularly depends upon mail service;
I pay most of my bills via online banking and/or credit cards;
I've grown accustomed to e-mail and the almost instantaneous delivery it provides;
I abhor junk mail and throw it away without reading it;
I sometimes use delivery options that suit me, even if they are often much more expensive;
I dislike going to a -often poorly located- Post Office and standing in line for the most trivial of reasons;
I dislike keeping track of postage costs, stamps, envelopes and labels;
I dislike vehicles blocking my mail box and preventing deliveries;
I worry about mail theft and fraud, damaged or lost mail and packages left at the door.

If you haven't guessed, I am increasingly concerned that the USPS, as presently constituted, is a prototype of an inherently unsustainable institution - one that has intentionally - or unintentionally - developed practices that are not particularly satisfying for many of the purposes for which it was created and subsequently modified.

It is unfortunate that a similar fate accompanies other institutions as well that are often also associated with 'government'.

How we love to criticize and complain about our government(s) at any level!
But, is it untrue that government does play a big role in the creation and administration of agencies like the Post Office that were created out of national need and popular demand?
After all, we, the public are the ones that create that demand and communicate our needs to our elected government officials.
Then, we sometimes change our minds.

Government is often put at a severe disadvantage in correcting such situations that are either basically flawed or have otherwise outgrown their useful charter over time.

Other governmental created organizations like the military have similar problems, like excessive costs and bureaucracy, that require corrective action from time to time.
But, 'national security' seems to have a stronger hand in attracting ever-increasing Pentagon budgets, and more importantly, scaring people into supporting often questionable 'wars'.

And, just think of all the jobs that are actually created by government in the military-industrial complex, the several military services themselves, ensuing foreign aid requirements and, of course, essential medical services!

But, back to the USPS problem and its several probable causes; what could these be?
• A steady accretion of union work rules, wage & benefit demands?

• Unforeseen advances in technology, particularly the Internet?

• Private competition from FedEx, UPS and other more expensive/profitable services that 'cherry-pick' priority & so-called 'rush' parcels? [Note, the sender determines 'priority']

• The proliferation of Post Offices in often remote and sparsely populated areas?

• The decision to handle huge volumes of largely unwanted 'junk' mail?

• The lack of Congressional 'backbone' to dare do anything that could be construed as unpopular?

• Incompetence in administration?

• Simple inertia?

• Aging and lack of motivation in the workforce?

• Institutional complacency due to having a near monopoly in mail delivery?

• All of the above in some proportion?

It does seem symptomatic of our times to require a major dislocation to achieve any significant change, doesn't it?
But, such changes are not as simple to undertake as they may seem, are they?

What would you do?

How would this help maintain a valuable service that has come to be taken for granted?

What impact would a major curtailment of USPS service entail, particularly to ordinary people without the means to afford paying its full costs, or traveling long distances for routine matters?
Would this be equitable, particularly to those in need?

Could some portion of the USPS be managed as part of a program of mandatory or voluntary National Service?

Could rank and file USPS employees be organized and administered similarly to the military, where seniority and advancement is largely earned by merit?

Who is likely to be the agent of change benefiting the USPS and its many subscribers?

Think about it, because change is definitely in the wind - and overdue.
And, it's not an option just to cancel the USPS, or to accept continuous increases in the costs of delivery.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Trains: 'Here's Mud In Your Eye'

The actual origins and meaning of the title quotation are debatable, but these three options seem to be favored; a reference to Jesus' healing of the blind man in the Bible; a common toast in a pub, perhaps reminding of the awful trench warfare in WW I; a reference to winning - as in a horse race on a muddy track ['mudders' were more surefooted in wet conditions].

Regardless of actual intent, nowadays the phrase is usually used lightly, to celebrate something, whether a win, enlightenment or simple pleasure.

Since we live in a relatively wet region we may be more used to mud than others.
And so it is with trains.
All kinds of trains; freight, passenger, heavy, light, fast & slow.

Trains and mud are the subjects of Floyd Mckay's Crosscut article that appeared today.
In it he addresses the frequent mudslides that occur every year along the coastline BNSF Railroad corridor between Seattle & Vancouver, BC; something that is a concern even during normal times of routine traffic.

The implications of greatly increased frequency, weight and length of 1.5 mile long unit trains hauling coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point are pretty clear if recent history is to be trusted.

Also, guess what rail service would be impacted the most?
If you guessed AMTRAK and passenger service in general, you'd be correct.

I can remember being fascinated with trains as a youth, and one Christmas received a toy Lionel electric train complete with cars, track, signals and switches.
How I loved playing with that train, but that antique has long since disappeared - much to my chagrin.

Sixty years ago trains seemed more of a reality than they do today, probably because we've gotten used to them and take them for granted.
But, maybe also because things moved slower then and we were more connected to where stuff came from how that stuff was somehow considered essential, not only to us, but the economy as a whole.

Now, things move much more frenetically, are pre-processed, packaged and made somewhere else - frequently not even in our country, thanks to the global trade that is today's reality.

I also remember going to the train station to actually travel somewhere on a train!
Or meet someone who came to visit, or pick up parcel post shipments for distribution at the Post Office, or just watch the trains come and go.
Yes, that was considered fun, then.
Now, its not so much, although the idea of taking a scenic, leisurely, long distance trip by train still carries great appeal.
That's probably the hitch; specifically the words leisurely and long.

I used to take trains into New York City to work most days during a 3-year period.
Was that fun? No, but is was convenient and quick, especially as compared to driving a car.
Once in NYC, I had a choice between mass transit systems that were equally convenient and quick; subway, bus, shuttles, etc.
Nothing about leisurely and long there, except in relative terms.

On my trips to Europe, I found trains and mass transit systems to very convenient and efficient means of transportation. Europeans rely on these, not only to get around, but to help eliminate sprawl by helping to define reliable boundaries between urban areas and farmlands.
Also, the balance between freight and passengers seems more equitable. But, maybe that's because those societies have long since learned lessons we are still struggling with?

Back to AMTRAK for a moment.
That it is heavily subsidized is known and necessary if we are to preserve any semblance of balance between freight and human passengers.
That will likely become even more important as gas prices rise along with the costs of owning and operating private vehicles.
And, already the costs of air travel are approaching prohibitive levels for many people.
Think about it.
Then, think about how you are going to get around when things really get tough.
Think maybe that might happen in your lifetime?

Someday soon, we'll need to use trains and other shared transportation methods to physically get to where we want -and need- to be.
At that time, we'll appreciate maintaining at least what we have now.
The problem is, by the time that kind of problem happens, it's too late to mitigate it.
After all, infrastructure projects do require large amounts of public funding, plus years to construct.

But aside from those rather dire prospects, what about the continued role of AMTRAK to bring visitors to and from our area?
This region's natural beauty makes it a treasure that people want to see, experience and live in. All of those bring benefits to our local economy that are lasting unless we allow our natural assets and rail links to be degraded.

From the Crosscut article, WSDOT plans to expand our regional AMTRAK service to three round trips per day from the current two - which are already impacted by mudslides and BNSF's policies, which favor freight.
And, remember future plans by WSDOT foresee the need for further expansion of AMTRAK to 4 round-trips per day.

Now, we have more reason for concern about AMTRAK; greatly increased freight traffic to ship coal to China.
Does that really make sense?

The Fifteen Century Spanish traded silver from the Americas to China for porcelain and silk.
Precious metal [to be used for currency by the Ming Dynasty] for value-added goods to be used by wealthy Europeans.
Six hundred years later, wealthy Americans want more wealth by shipping an non-precious natural resource fossil mineral [coal] to China to enable that country to ship cheap, value-added goods here.
What has changed?
Wealthy people are still trading with wealthy people, but by-passing working people here in the US, and in favor of those in China.

If that uneven exchange weren't bad enough, the proposed constant stream of heavy coal trains risks not only decent AMTRAK service, but any reliable passenger service at all, all potentially due to the unhealthy mix of mud and greed.
So, whose eye gets this mud?
Why yours and mine will, if the huge coal export scheme somehow happens.
And, remember, at least in racing parlance, the winner kicks mud in the loser's eye.

But, maybe the other definitions will apply instead.
Maybe there will be a legitimate cause for celebration, and possibly even healing.
Those would be infinitely better outcomes, although the issue remains in serious doubt and uncertainty.

Some of that uncertainty might be reduced if our community makes its preference strongly known, in timely and specific terms so that the Environmental Impact Study [EIS] now planned will include these preferences in its scope.
The scope itself must reflect the concept of full cost accounting, where Triple Bottom Line [TPL] principles are inherent.
Just as a three-legged stool balances better if the legs are of equal length, this analysis must include economics, ecology and social equity.

That brings me to a final point; how we communicate this community's concerns and desired outcomes to those who will eventually make this decision.

The Chinese warrior Sun Tsu would recommend achieving victory without war, by communicating our strengths and goals so clearly that the enemy loses his will to fight.
We can help do this by asking -or demanding- our local officials and elected leaders actually
act on our behalf, early and often, regardless of what power or influence they may believe
they have in this matter.

To this end, this week's Gristle in the Cascadia Weekly has a few suggestions that likely reflect the community's will.

Earlier this year, the City Council unanimously passed a Resolution that expressed its views about the Coal Terminal EIS. I had forgotten about that, as have many others, I'm sure.
Somehow, since then, little more has been officially expressed despite the fact that significant new information has been regularly discovered and dispensed.

Some apparently feel that the elections prevented a more candid discussion due to a concern that the issue might be unduly politicized.
Huh? Guess what? It was anyway!

That's history now; too late to fret over lost opportunities to express the City's concerns.

But, its not too late -or early- to do something more now!

Now is the time to round up the new gang at City Hall and get them to reaffirm the City's position on the proposed Coal Terminal again, for the record.
You can't really argue with regular persistence, can you?

So, if the prior Resolution - passed 6 months ago - was unanimous then, it should be again with the new Council.
And, if the current -soon to be former- Mayor still argues against the GPTerminal, likely he still will.
Same goes for the the new Mayor-elect, who rightfully chose not to make this issue the main one during the elections.

Think another unanimous and maybe stronger Resolution might reaffirm the City's will in this matter?
Like chicken soup, it won't hurt and might help.
After all, we're building a record on the City's position, whether we choose to speak out strongly again - or remain comfortably silent.
So, which will it be folks?

Just do the right thing, listen to citizens and then speak up again, and again, and again as necessary.
Until the 'decision makers' hear us loud and clear!

For a community like Bellingham, a request like this ought not to even be necessary, but I'm making it anyway.
And, I'm very sure many others feel the same.

Let's welcome the New Year properly with a display of such bright and unmistakable community intensity that people elsewhere can't help but notice!

"Git er done!"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Now, It's Come To This?

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.” ― Albert Einstein
The gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' is getting wider and deeper, yet not many in our National politics seem to care enough to even acknowledge it, much less try doing anything about it.

This article confirms what some have felt was true; that a there are many more Americans in the near-poor category than we wanted to believe. Yet, at some level, many did know all along.
How else would you expect the constant -and sometimes irresistible- pressure to use easy credit to purchase what we want, but don't necessarily need? In turn, this leads to a reliance on credit to obtain even those things we do need!

Because compound interest is a really marvelous invention. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955) called it the 8th Wonder - It can work for you, or against you. When you invest it works for you. When you borrow it works against you!

We do need credit, but not an overdose of it. Even more, we need honesty and effective action on the part of those who would be our political leaders!

The latter is certainly not happening, as tuning into any of the current 'debates' about how to reduce our Federal deficit, who will be the Republican candidate for President, how to 'create' jobs, how to repair our crumbling infrastructure, how to reform our increasingly unfair tax system, how to ensure affordable basic health care, how to deal with the proliferation of wars & terrorism, how to strengthen our public education system, how to curtail the rising dominance of corporate & monetary influence in politics, how to deal with climate change, and almost any other issue of universal importance to all citizens.

It should be getting pretty obvious -to everyone paying attention- who is serious about doing anything positive about any of these pervasive problems and who isn't.
Right now, to me, our great experiment in Democracy is on the verge of failure.
Consider for a moment this caution, issued many years ago, then tell me if it hasn't already come true:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
Now, tell me why you doubt this isn't coming to pass right now. It seems to me that we are having our freedoms constantly eroded by a tyranny of wealth & power that is controlled by the few. Whether that few equates to the 1% of very wealthy & powerful, I don't know, but that seems probable, particularly with the tremendous, growing gap between the few & the many.
That may constitute something of a 'dictatorship' by oligarchy, but by any name it amounts to a form of economic slavery.

I'm reminded of a cartoon which depicted a large, streaming herd of small Lemming-like animals rushing mindlessly toward falling off a big cliff. In the midst of this chaos, one animal raised its head and shouted; 'hey, we're Lemurs! LEMURS!'

At some point, we need to wake up to the signs that we are heading in a similar direction, toward a precipice from which it will become increasingly difficult to even slow down, much less reverse.

Did you know that the folks who used to be called Republicans are now called Democrats?
I don't know what present day Republicans used to be called, but it might have been Tories, a gentle version of King's dupes. That might be too harsh an indictment, but have you witnessed the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates? It's certainly true of most of them!

Newt Gingrich now is polling higher numbers than any of the others? Get serious! A more hypocritical political elite cannot be found. His recent quip about those involved in the 'Occupy' movement was 'they need to get a job, right after they take a bath' is an insensitive cheap shot, designed to appeal to the 'haves' from whom he wants support.

Lest you think I'm just picking on Republicans, there are plenty of folks who call themselves Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, T-Partyans and other names or non-names, who qualify as opportunistic, self-centered elites as well. You know the ones I mean, you see them or hear their screed every day on our public airways like TV, either as talking heads, the frequent guests of talking heads, the faceless owners of talking heads, or those paid by them, brainwashed by them, or otherwise in their thrall.

I'm really tired of the insidious line of propaganda, self-serving commentary and outright BS these people continually spout, but that is what dominates our media these days. That and constant, destructive criticism of the very leaders, institutions and values that are there to help knit us together as a nation. We are a nation, you know. But, we're acting like a bunch of spoiled brats that are constantly trying to climb over one another without regard for anything remotely resembling the greater good.
That type of trajectory is not leading us to sharing anything likely to be sustainable or worthy of our best intentions.
But, maybe that's not important to us any more?
More likely, we're too distracted with making ends meet, or in the case of the privileged 1%, making our next million?

The comparison of our gradual awareness of the effects of inequality to that of a frog being brought slowly to a boil, seems apt. Sometimes trends themselves are not noticed until some tangible benchmark is reached that gets our attention.
I believe the objective of the Occupy movement is to get our attention on matters than have steadily encroached upon us, like growing inequality and indifference to unnecessary suffering that could be significantly mitigated. When taken to their limits, these things will become intolerable, a point we are now beginning to reach.

For example, we hear many complaints about the fiscal stimulus measures taken to help jump start our economy. Here's a 'joke' I received recently from a friend, entitled What is a Financial Bail-Out ?:
It is a slow day in a damp little Irish town. The rain is beating down harshly, and all the streets are deserted. Times are tough, everybody is in debt and everybody lives on credit.

On this particular day a rich German tourist is driving through the town, stops at the local hotel and lays a ¤100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.

The owner gives him some room-keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the ¤100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the ¤100 note and rushes down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer. The pig farmer takes the ¤100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of animal feed and fuel.

The guy at the Farmers' Co-op takes the ¤100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the friendly neighbourhood pub. The pub owner slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar - who, in spite of facing hard times, has always gladly offered him her 'services' on credit.

The hooker then rushes over to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the ¤100 note.

The hotel proprietor quietly replaces the ¤100 note back on the counter, so that the rich traveller will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, states that none of the rooms are satisfactory, picks up the ¤100 note, pockets it and leaves town.

No one has produced anything. No one has earned anything. However, the whole town is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, dear ladies and gentlemen, is how a basic financial bailout package works!
That joke is amusing, but its intent seems to be to take a shot at the very idea of any sort of bailout.
Is that necessary? After all, all the people involved were rewarded by paying off debts, and the investor got all his money back! What's wrong with that?

The debtors are relieved to no longer be in debt and the wealthy depositor got his money back. What would be a better ending than that? That the wealthy depositor got wealthier?
And, who is that depositor? A tycoon, a Good Samaritan, or a government?
To me, it's the thought -and action- that counts, not the fact that nothing was created but debt relief.
Being in debt is not fun; getting out of it is. It's that simple.

So, have we become so cynical that we discount intended good acts that do much good and little harm? And, do we now value wealth, power and intentional inaction in the face of clear need above basic human kindness, care of society's problems and degradation of our very nests here on earth?

If so, we are experiencing the compound impacts of excessive greed & cynicism, neither of which helps build upon our real values and freedoms.
I hope it hasn't come to this, but there are clear signs that is happening.

If it is, there's a better name for than the 8th wonder of the world!
When nearly one in three in our nation lives in near-poverty, maybe the correct name is more like the fatal wound of the world?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Impacts: Coal Versus Oil Sands

Another article on Crosscut caught my eye this morning since it focuses on the impacts of coal export proposals versus the Canadian oil sands petroleum pipeline, called Keystone XL.
Check it out here.
The takeaway from this comparison is that both fossil fuel projects will have major new impacts on our shared environment.

If it comes down to a choice between these options, Keystone is the lesser of the two evils; mainly because it benefits the US by supplying oil for our habit from a near and friendly neighbor.

Also, the pipeline is a better conveyance method, providing a safe route is selected that avoids potentially catastrophic impacts to the huge Ogallala Acquifer, the primary source of fresh water over a multi-state area.

The fact that importing oil benefits us much more broadly than does exporting coal to China seems obvious, but in the end these are not competing ideas, they are separate proposals that have different impacts to widely different areas.

Sad, but true; both these reflect real world pressures that are difficult to avoid - at least for the present, until we can get serious about some other, more sustainable alternatives.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Energy: Update On Coal, Oil & Other Fossil Fuel Projects

Good Morning.

Floyd Mckay has today posted another article on Crosscut regarding the GPT proposal and it's role in the latest local elections. Check it out.

Now, back to a more general discussion of fossil fuels and their pervasive influence in our lives and politics.

Here are two more links on the Canadian sponsored Keystone XL Pipeline, one on the increasing lobbying pressure being exerted, the other on Right-Of-Way changes being granted in response to the State of Nebraska' concerns.

Keep in mind that Canada is our No.1 source for imported oil, and that the US represents 97% of Canada's market for oil exports.

No wonder this is such a high profile issue!

Other than complaining about fossil fuels and the trains, ships and pipelines that carry them, what are you doing about reducing your dependence on them?

If that sounds like a unusually difficult question, it is; but it is one every one of us needs to answer.

Without those answers, why bother complaining?

My wife & I have been attending a WSU Extension course called 'Carbon Masters', in which we have been pleased, yet concerned to learn much about the pervasive role of carbon in our lives, and the accelerated rate of greenhouse gases being released into our atmosphere, especially since about 1850 when the Industrial Revolution began to dramatically change our lives, in more ways than one.

Being trained as an engineer with knowledge of thermodynamics, I probably ought to have a better grasp of these things, and maybe I do at times. But, that's the problem, I'm only thinking about it at times instead of always trying to walk my talk.

Think about it, then figure out what can be done better all the time.

A carbon tax to remind us might help, but then there are still those who choose to disbelieve that too much carbon can harm us. [Check out this article by Naomi Klein for her take on that situation]

And, how would we get around, and heat our homes?

Or, earn a living, or go on vacation, or have all that stuff, or unlimited choices of food?

These kinds of questions are important to even recognize the nature of the problem, much less begin to resolve it.

And, that assumes the problem even has a solution.

Maybe we're just talking about a shorter -or a longer- version of life as we know it?

Or, think we know.

You know, this could be the type of problem that just makes your head hurt!

But, we've got to start somewhere....don't we?

Don't we?


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Local Elections Results & Related Topics

"Bear in mind that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant." - George Washington


Today, we celebrate the results of our local elections, which did produce some positive results in my view:

• Kelli Linville will be our next Mayor, by a margin of 164 votes - not exactly an overwhelming mandate, but good enough to give her the chance to do better for our community than her 1-term predecessor, whose political naiveté, ego and self-serving style managed to irritate more people than it satisfied in a series of missteps, largely of his own making.

• Cathy Lehman, a first-time candidate for City Council -Ward 3, was an overwhelming [2 to 1] winner and promises to be an intelligent and energetic voice on the issues which matter most to our community.

• Christina Maginnis, also a first-time candidate for County Council lost a closely contested race with a 12-year incumbent, but forcefully demonstrated that seat will be in play in future elections, and that her opponent in on notice to more carefully consider his obviously special interest agenda.

• Almost overlooked was Jack Louws' early and clear triumph over Doug Ericksen for County Executive. Louws is a proven elected official and an honest, reliable person with excellent credentials for this top job.

• While I am no fan of Pete Kremen, it is a good thing that he defeated Tony Larson for a County Council seat. Lesser of two evils.

There are other results which can be accessed here, but these 5 races are the ones I watched with most interest.


Before launching into relatively simple local budget matters, aren't we lucky to have such stellar examples of courage and ability to work together as the 'Super Committee'? Note the advice one CNN columnist reports that George Washington might have given the 'Super Committee'.


One of the issues of enduring importance to Bellingham is its municipal budget, which has been -and remains- stressed by the fiscal hard times. Not only is the overall budget critical, but so is each of the sub-budgets of which it is comprised. The workings and interrelationships of these various sub-funds are sometimes quite difficult to understand, but the City Council must make the decisions to keep these budgets - and the overall budget - in balance, thereby protecting the City's credit rating and the trust of its citizens.

There has been one notable occasion in which the City Council and the soon-to-be ex-Mayor have knowingly violated this trust; that was the appallingly unwise decision to purchase the entire so-called Chuckanut Ridge property, without a current appraisal and without sufficient funds designated for that purpose - and despite clear directions as to the proper use of the Greenways 3 funds, voluntarily voted by citizens!

Instead, the Mayor -preferring to listen to his vocal partisan supporters- deliberately, and with much fanfare, led the Council into making a decision that expressly violates the distinct words of another admonition by none other than the Father of our Country, George Washington in his farewell address:

'.....adding to their sense of urgency, determining not to ungenerously throw "upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear."

Perhaps, our new Mayor WILL have the courage to ask the erstwhile Council to do the right thing and sell sufficient of the unneeded property to bring this ill-considered purchase into budgetary balance, thereby honoring the wishes of citizens, volunteers, staff and prior elected officials.

Cleaning up someone else's messes are never fun, but this cleanup is necessary to preserve the integrity of the Greenways program, universally appreciated by the public.