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.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

New Developments in Local Elections, Fuels to Asia

Checking today's election report shows Christina Maginnis now leads Sam Crawford by 601 votes!
An estimated 12,000 ballots remain to be counted.
Another development shows Dan Pike making up more ground against Kelli Linville, whose lead has shrunk to about 300 votes.
Next results are scheduled to appear 11/14.

Yesterday's post on possible good news on the Coal Terminal is actually more questionable than might have been implied.
Additional articles have appeared which temper the resistance seemingly being offered by the US with some alternate plans by our neighbor, Canada, which remains interested in exporting energy to asian markets anyway, likely through BC.

The first article has more to say about the proposed $7 Billion Keystone XL Pipeline project, which was being resisted by various interests, including the State of Nebraska over concerns about the R-O-W.

The second subject concerns the shipment of Canadian natural gas to asia, likely through an LNG terminal at Kitimat, in northern BC. Articles here, here and here describe this increasingly likely possibility, which is partially fueled by the fairly recent discovery of vast new natural gas fields in US shale deposits -meaning decreased reliance of Canada, at least for the moment.

The huge investments in the Alberta Tar Sands have created a frenzy to market these expensive fossil fuels in order to pay for their investment. Competition from Australia and Southeast Asian is fierce to supply China's needs.
Seems these places are in a big hurry to sell off their natural -and not so natural -resources, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Coal: Possible Good News?

Today, there appeared two articles that hint at hope that our local pending catastrophe might be averted. At least that's an inference I'd like to draw.

The first was the announcement that the Obama administration has delayed any decision on the Canadian-sponsored Keystone XL Pipeline until after the 2012 elections. Nice.
This project seeks to convey Alberta Tar Sands Oil to US refineries in Oklahoma & Texas.
Canada, already our No. 1 oil supplier, has counted on this huge project being approved to market a large portion of its ultra-expensive -and environmentally destructive- petroleum products to its nearest -and neediest- neighbor.

Predictably, these types of comments were made from the palpably angry, but still salivating proponents:

Jack N. Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said of the president’s decision, “This is all about politics and keeping a radical constituency, opposed to any and all oil and gas development, in the president’s camp in 2012. Whether it will help the president retain his job is unclear but it will cost thousands of shovel-ready opportunities for American workers.”

“If Keystone XL dies,” said Russell K. Girling, the company’s chief executive, “Americans will still wake up the next morning and continue to import 10 million barrels of oil from repressive nations without the benefit of thousands of jobs and long-term energy security.”

Nice. Petulance and pressure, combined with fear tactics to con, cajole or coerce the US to keep mainlining its fossil fuel addiction and subsidies for the same. Aren't we tired of those tactics?


The second announcement was promulgated by Secretary of Interior Salazar, which included the San Juan Islands in a list of areas proposed for designation as worthy of protection as significant wildernesses of national importance.

Care to speculate on what that might entail as far as restrictions on ultra-large vessels navigating & hanging out in our fair waters? That gives me some hope that the Feds may actually be trying to help our side, but who knows?


On a related note, Floyd Mckay posted this article on Crosscut. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Sun Is Shining: That's Money In The Bank & Pollution Avoided

Read an article yesterday that gave me extra encouragement to keep on counting on the sun.

Mr Paul Krugman, Economist & Columnist, has noticed a few telling arguments about the rising costs of energy from fossil fuels and the quickening downward trend of costs from renewable sources, like the sun we see every day - although sometimes through faith in what happens above the clouds.

I didn't need extra encouragement for myself as much as I did for the advancement of smart thinking in general. Whether one likes Mr Krugman's politics isn't important if you just pay attention to what he says.

In this case, he is citing information posted on a Seattle blog, written by a very intelligent student of advanced technology and what that can mean for us in the future, actually in the fairly near future.

I visited the blog mentioned in Krugman's article and was delighted with being reintroduced to Moore's Law, a tenet of science that seems to be currently manifesting in ways we can all understand and be happy about.

Clicking on the Solar Energy icon produced this list of blogs written on that subject, itself interesting.

Sometimes things do dovetail with actions one is considering, or in my case, doing.

Recently, I decided to triple the size of my solar panel array on my garage roof, since I was very pleased with the performance of the original PV system which was installed nearly 6 years ago.

The economics of the earlier system were gratifying, since the unit has increased its realtime value to me every time a power rate increase occurs. Now, the payout time has already decreased to about sixty five percent of what I initially expected.

So, with the Community Energy Challenge incentives available this year, plus improved technology & efficiency, the additional installation cost me less than the original -even at twice the capacity.

Now, that's arithmetic anyone can understand; essentially two for the price of one!

The new total PV capacity is expected to provide almost 70% of my typical electrical power needs each year. I like that, and so does Puget Power Energy, because they avoid the costs of installing more power production capacity.

The other things I like about this arrangement is that I own the Photovoltaic [PV] panels, inverters & mountings myself, and these things are mostly portable. But, left in place, the PV solar array adds to the value of my house, should I decide to sell it.

When you consider the simplicity of the PV system, the idea becomes even more appealing.

And, to think that only about 0.2% of the power needed nationally is currently produced by solar, means that a terrific upside potential is out there for anyone interested!

I hope a few folks will read this blog, check out the links given and make similar decisions themselves.

You know, PV technology was invented here, in the US, but most of the production is happening overseas in places like China -which wants to buy our coal.

Go figure!

I consider this an indirect investment in high tech with a huge upside potential, plus the ability to lock in earnings from the time of installation.

Instead of investing in a single corporation or stock, I'm investing in its broader, actual potential.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Rolling Our Rights & Freedoms; Backward or Forward?

Has it occurred to you that our Constitution, and with it our freedoms, are under attack?
It seems to me that powerful interests are steadily making inroads with their money and influence in high places. These forces are relentless, and move incrementally so we don't notice too much, until their gains have been solidified.

One example is access to our elected officials in Congress, as well as in the Administration -almost regardless of who happens to be in power.
The current situation is egregious, allowing one party to just say 'no' to even the most basic things, like extending unemployment insurance or passing routine authorizations like paying our military personnel, allowing emergency funds to be used to mitigate natural disasters, like floods, hurricanes and shortages of vaccines and medical assistance.
What is that about?

The short answer is simple meanness, and the attitude of 'my way or the highway'!
How did we get to this awful place in our national politics?
For that matter, what about those States that decided to outlaw collective bargaining?
Hey, I know that organized labor can be extremely problematic, with it's single minded zeal to constantly demand more & more, even from financially strapped governments and institutions, but even that kind of greed doesn't justify taking away the right to collective bargaining!
Talk about blame games, that takes the cake - except for what we have come to call 'corporations' and their growing power over every lever of our economy.

Of course, corporations are an integral part of our economy, providing jobs, goods and services we need. But, in exchange for providing these basic essentials, corporations are now able to engage in practices that are downright harmful to our society.
Things like moving manufacturing jobs offshore, thereby creating unemployment here. Or, exerting financial influence over elections and prudent fiscal policy. Or, claiming the same rights as people! Can you believe it? You'd better, because its happening.

Back in the early 1900's, President Theodore Roosevelt had to deal with the exceptional growth of corporate power that was being used to abuse the public in several harmful ways. That led, among other things, to the breakup of the Standard Oil Trust - actually a virtual monopoly on oil and petroleum products. Can you imagine the result of the former Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Texaco, and Standard Oil of Ohio companies still being part of the same gigantic corporation?

Before Roosevelt's time, this same phenomena had occurred before when the Mining, Steel production and Railroad industries were dominating trade and employment with their power, and the abuse of it. These were more than historical happenings, they were terrible times for many workers, consumers and ordinary citizens, too! Reviewing our history -and that of the world- such concentrations of power do occur, largely due to human nature and the lack of reasonable controls being exercised.

For those who believe that government is too big and pervasive, ask yourself if you'd like to live without a government strong enough to deal with big business and big labor! Then ask yourself how those selected to represent public interest can, themselves, be corrupted by these very powerful forces. Not so easy, is it?

Most of my adult life was spent working for corporations, so I am grateful for the good livelihood that -and a great education- has provided. But, there were times I didn't enjoy working for poorly managed companies, arrogant & incompetent bosses and working conditions that were inadequate or unsafe.
So, for all the good that corporations provide, there can also be a big, bad side, too! Corporations are not inherently good, and they can be used for purposes that harm people and the economy as well as the environment. We've seen enough examples of this to know with certainty, the truth about corporations.

My main concern about corporations is their potential for misuse. They are not people - as our Supreme Court has come to claim, do not have a conscience and always can be counted on to act in their own selfish, self interest. Other than that, very little to be concerned about!

Now, consider extending these concerns to the people who control corporations. They are people, but with a difference. These folks -the elite 1% among them and at the top- are in the habit of setting themselves up to be special; wealthy, protected from normal liability, well-connected to power, used to getting their way, prone to believe they belong to an exclusive, chosen class, exempt from normal duties of a citizen - think military service, entitled to the best of everything, beyond the influence of small shareholders, employees or servants, able to enjoy the trappings of high-life at will, etc

And, think about all the advertising oriented to appeal to those with lots of money; large gated estates, luxury cars, yachts & planes, jewelry fit for royalty, lavish & rare art, investment opportunities not generally available to most of us, legal, medical and money management services too expensive to imagine, vacations, cruises, galas, sports events, closed private clubs where the rich & famous hide out to enhance their exclusivity, casinos, elite schools, fancy spas and the like.

Can you honestly say that you are not influenced by this kind of opulent lifestyle? How do you feel about people flaunting what they have -and what you don't- in your face? My goodness, this stuff rivals those emperors, kings and potentates of old, who thought they were divine and had a right to take what they wanted, fight wars to expand or keep what they had, torture those who dared look at them crooked, and live lives of debauchery and excess.
Does what is happening today, sound much different? Materialism reigns, baby! Every act, thing or lavish service is treated better than motherhood, because it adds to what we have decided to call our Gross National Product!

Know any of these people? Maybe, but not personally. More likely from the media, urban legends or fame. To most folks, these titans of corporate - or inherited or stolen - power exist in a sort of never-never land, beyond our credible imagination. Occasionally, one of them crashes to earth, from one of their excesses, most likely. Then, we are inclined to castigate them, ridicule and despise them, or maybe actually revere them and hold them up as paragons of virtue! The choices ours, of course, of how we view these people of privilege and excess.

How do you feel about some of these folks earning as much in one day as you do in a year? Is that size of gap healthy? What would you say if you learned that some of these wealthy people pay essentially no taxes, while you are struggling to make ends meet? How about when they can get the finest medical care available on earth, and you're lucky to have health insurance? Or, they fly around in corporate jets while you are lucky to own a car, or be able to buy the gas to run it?

I don't mean to idly sow seeds of discontent; merely to point out a few inequalities that do not seem to be necessary or productive in our society. What does concern me is how such gross inequalities may harm our way of life, and what we can do about it.

First, the money problem. How much is enough? Is any limit necessary? What about the concept of fairness? Shouldn't the rich pay more than ordinary citizens? Shouldn't corporations? Don't they depend on our infrastructure, services, security and stability? Don't these essential benefits matter in tangible terms? Why can't these obvious disparities be reconciled? Who can we trust to do it?

By allowing our government to become so dysfunctional, we are unknowingly committing the error of undermining the very things we value. Think about it, if its not too painful. No, think about it anyway! Corporations are eroding the underpinnings of our Constitution by claiming person-hood and dodging important responsibilities and reasonable guidelines. Because they have the resources, constant and clever attacks are being made that grant corporations more 'rights' then they are entitled to.
And, by the expedient of 'incorporation' all manner of tax and identity dodges are being created that allow 'anonymous' donors to buy election votes and influence legislation without the public knowing what interests are being represented, or how rules are being skirted. That is unacceptable!

If these games continue to be played with ever wider impacts, there will come a time when public trust becomes history. Already, there is evidence that the trust so necessary to our way of life is being steadily eaten away by sharp practices designed to surreptitiously benefit schemers of all stripes, creating a virtual shadow government that usurps honest debate, discussion and elections.

Our Constitution is a great document, limited only by the ideas our Founders could conceive of and get approved by compromise in 1787. But, it acts as a general statement of policy, not a bible. And, it was considered obsolete before it was put in place by a relative handful of wealthy white men! Just imagine, the Bill of Rights was an afterthought! It's great that these 10 Amendments were adopted, but that didn't exactly solve the problem either to every one's satisfaction. That is why we continue to try and amend our Constitution, to address issues the Founders finessed. You know, little things like slavery, the right to vote for blacks, women and unhanded whites; just a few little details like that!

Now, we need to address the growing problem of wealth-enhanced influences that mainly serve to further enrich the rich! Anytime ordinary citizens like you and me suffer the loss of their influence to the rich, powerful and famous, that is a blow to the essence of what has made this country great. That is why squarely facing this growing problem of 'corporate' wealth & power that is so insidious, is so necessary.

Now, how do we do this? No short answers exist, but it will most assuredly be up to us, the citizens. We could start by coalescing around the idea that our freedoms are being eroded, and that we demand acceptability from our elected representatives. We could also recommend a few corrections that will be necessary to define what is broken and what needs fixing. And, we can certainly attract attention by speaking out and taking to the streets if necessary, like the 'Occupy' movement is doing now.
My only caveat is trying to be 'for' something, not just being 'against' it. But, that is always the catch in a democratic type of society, like ours; change is possible, but likely not easy. Like others, I counted upon the success of corporations to earn retirement income, so I don't lightly dismiss their importance. But, there has to be a better way!

So, that is our challenge; we don't have to reinvent the wheel, because that's already been done. Our task now is to decide which way that wheel needs to roll - backward or forward?
I choose the later, if we can overcome the inertia of the backsliding that seems to be accelerating, despite our wishes to the contrary. While I won't be around a whole lot longer, millions & millions of people will, and already I can see what the steady accretion of disastrous practices can wring the very life out of people! These people don't really want handouts, they want a more level playing field - in education, opportunity, nutrition, health and those basic freedoms that were fought for by our forefathers.

As the Buddhists say; we are born as well-favored beings, which is difficult to gain and easy to lose! Think they got it right? If so, what are you going to do about it? Maybe the 'Occupy' movement is a beginning of something we need. But, we need to identify what that is, then stand for something good, not just lash against what we dislike.
Who knows? But we all should care!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Coal: What Does Lake Whatcom, Waterfront Redevelopement & The Olympic Pipe Line Have to Do With It?

This lengthy title precedes a more lengthy blog, with lots of moving parts and a call for action.

Even if the reader does not agree with the position taken, perhaps you will appreciate the importance of the challenge we are now facing as a direct result of the Coal Terminal -and its accompanying extra trains, large seagoing vessels, unanticipated costs -without funding, and everyday inconveniences coming to pass.


Mysteriously, an old and forgotten Chinese fortune -from a cookie- appeared as I was cleaning out old stuff.

For some reason, I picked it up, read it and saved it for future reference.

It said: "Before the beginning of great brilliance, there must be great chaos."

Wow, that seems to fit the world we're living in, doesn't it? And why not expect great brilliance later?

Today's headlines also featured at least two lead stories containing the word 'chaos'. One pertained to the 'Occupy' movement, which now seems to be more about what people don't like, rather than what they are for; I hope that changes. The other referred to the situation in Greece, where fiscal austerity seems very necessary for that country to save itself -and maybe Europe- from a fate worse than debt. [Yes, that pun was intended]

Point is that major chaos does exist, must be dealt with skillfully and effectively, and is up to people to force their chosen leaders to help them do something about it!

Is there ever any other way? Think about it.

That intro brings me to the meat of today's subject, which I'm just gonna put out there; the proposed GPT Coal terminal has galvanized chaos in our community; what are we going to do about it?

Pout? Fulminate? Complain? Point fingers [you pick which one]? Jawbone each other? Blame our corrupted Constitution? Blame corporations? Blame organized labor? Blame the ancient & vested 'right' of railroads to ship whatever they want to anywhere without asking permission? Blame Warren Buffet, Bill Gates for being unable to curb their appetite for big profits? Blame our elected members of Congress for daring to support such a project? Blame the State government for not nixing this idea out of hand? Blame Whatcom County for having a do-nothing Executive & Council that continues to lean hard right? Blame those idiotic planners of the past for suggesting Cherry Point be a terminal site? Blame each other? Blame China? Blame big Coal? Blame history that actually sought to make Bellingham a leading west coast rail terminus? Blame God for making the waters off Cherry Point deep enough for the largest vessels afloat? Blame WTO, NAFTA and other world trade agreements for greasing the skids for -gasp- world trade? Blame the current economic situation on creating an atmosphere conducive to grabbing any new job opportunity that comes along? Blame the Obama administration for whatever comes to mind that displeases some of us? Blame the previous administration for running up the national debt from unfunded wars & rebates to the rich, then sticking to us to pay for? Blame the Founders for being business friendly? Blame the Courts for interpreting the Constitution such that corporations have now achieved actual person-hood? Blame all the big money that appears around virtually every political contest or proposed change? Blame George Washington for not living long enough to continue being our President? Hell, blame everybody else but ourselves!

Get serious, people!

We have met the enemy, and it is us!

So, how do we go about corralling this churning chunk of local chaos and turning it into energy for positive change -or in the case of GPT- no change?

Let's see; we could buy the property and turn it into a park! You know, like the City did when it splurged and went into unfunded debt on the overly densely zoned area euphemistically known as Chuckanut Ridge.

Maybe that property could be traded back to its former owners -once or twice removed- in exchange for the Cherry Point property currently owned by the same people?

And, if that weren't enough, we could sweeten the pot by agreeing to rezone their other property known as Governor Point, provide them sewer & water and waive all impact fees so they can build an exclusive marina & living spot for the very wealthy.

That ought to jump-start our local economy and create more jobs than GPT, don't you think?

What say you, wealthy owners? A deal? Where do we sign?

Experts say that just by acknowledging it, one solves half the problem. If that's true, maybe a little Resolution -but preferably an Ordinance- along the lines suggested further below, will get us to the halfway point. Of course, our erstwhile Mayor and -as he is quick to point out- the lazy and irresolute Council would have to raise the tempo of our local chaos by getting off their collective keisters and doing something to demonstrate the dire mood of the populace on this issue!

Surely, that would be no problem, would it?

Don't kid yourself, Bellinghamsters, our fearless leaders aren't fearless when it comes to this sort of thing at all!

Ask me how I know.

OK, glad you asked: here's an instant replay of a little scenario that took place over 10 years ago, regarding what everyone said they thought was important, but had done very little walking of that talk. Yes, I'm talking about the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, our public water supply that needed more than talk. Fortunately, the City Council did take action to establish the Watershed Acquisition & Preservation Ordinance, but only after a vigorous public initiative demanded it, and over the objection of the Mayor and 2 or 3 Council members that were too lazy or timid to act!

Read about it here.

That, folks, was a struggle, but one that resulted in action that was badly needed and has been pretty effective.

Something like that will be needed again, but maybe without the luxury of an actual public initiative?

Tell me, why the City Council can't -or won't- represent citizens' interests and agree to pass a simple Resolution -not even a law- that clearly states Bellingham doesn't want the GPT, all those coal trains and the enormous tangible and intangible expense this proposal will burden us with?

Could it be that without a public initiative, they just don't pay attention? Does that mean they disagree with the widely held opinion that GPT is a really bad idea? Or, just lazy, risk adverse or simply clueless?

Maybe, you, -gentle reader- will agree to tell the City Council what you would like for them to do?

And, if they resist, tell them again and again until they get the message.

Tell them individually and forcefully. Tell them publicly and privately. Tell them you mean it!

If that doesn't work, then remember that during the next election; which unfortunately, may be too late to influence the decisions that others will undoubtedly make - whether Bellingham speaks up or not.

• Tell Terry Bornemann, the longtime henchman of organized labor, that you want him to think for himself, but this time to represent your wishes, not only those of his good buddies!

• Tell Gene Knutson, longtime union laborer, populist, sound-byte quipster and sometimes unreliable idol of lazy folks, that you want him to do something that gets him off his ass, and might make him unpopular to some in his audience!

• Tell Stan Snapp to get serious about something besides Lake Whatcom and the Budget while he's still in office!

• Tell Barry Buchanan, come on, what do you really have to lose? Make a lasting statement on an important issue before you go!

• Tell Seth Fleetwood, hey, your South Hill, Edgemoor & Fairhaven constituents need you to speak up on this issue, and with unaccustomed force - that they hope you do have!

• Tell Michael Lilliquist, wrap your carefully coiffed intellect around this issue all you want, but also follow the will of most all the citizens of Bellingham, and hurry up about it!

•Tell Jack Weiss to do what he knows is the right thing and resist this GPT scourge with every ounce of his considerable energy & wit!

And while you're at it, tell our current Mayor, and our new Mayor-to-be, to lead the parade only with the full backing of citizens -we've got your back- and get the hell out of the way if the trombones goose you, or the Majorettes want to strut their stuff, which they can always do better!

And, for god sakes, don't use the predictable advice the City Attorney will surely offer to cover your ass, because what will be proposed may seem slightly outside the bounds of what some may call 'legality'!

Remind this person that she really works for you, comfortably or not.

And, bullshit to any goal-line defense by 'Legal Man', that fictitious Super Hero who loves to stall, stymie and sink any action that doesn't fit pre-ordained protocol!

Hell, we fought a revolution over that crap!

Now, we need to do it again, if we are to regain our rights over a ridiculously stupid project designed to enrich a very few while impoverishing the rest of us.

I have never -at least rarely- been more serious about something in my entire life!

So, without further preamble, here's a few basic points that could be the gist of a Resolution our Council needs to pass, say, by the day after elections? That would be Wednesday, November 9, so next Monday would be a good time to publicly discuss and pass this subject Resolution and post-date its effective date by 2 days. Oops! My bad, today's the deadline for packet agenda items, but there's always the requirement for a mere 24 hours notice if the Council Pres is up to it.

Title and premise could include something like the following:

Bellingham's concern relates to direct impacts likely from tripling of train traffic through its entire shoreline which will create what amounts to an almost constant nuisance and safety hazard that will affect almost 40% of Whatcom County's population and over 60% of its jobs.

Then, the customary litany of whereases [feel free to add your own, see below for comparison to Lake Whatcom]:

• nuisance & noise expected to be tripled from current levels to a projected average of one train every 48 minutes

• safety hazards at all road & trail crossings and water channels [from ships]

• expensive costs of grade crossings & grade separations

• depreciation of public & private property values along Railroad Right-of-way, also affecting current jobs, and future jobs related to waterfront redevelopment and long planned for improved public access

• endangerment of surrounding marine waters, coastlines, aquatic life and inherent exceptional scenic beauty and jobs dependent on same. [tourists, fishers, watercraft, etc]

• arbitrarily wasting the thousands of hours this community has spent in envisioning a higher and better use for over 200 acres of prime waterfront property, plus the accrued expense to date, as well as depriving the City & Port of a viable means of recouping their substantial investment and achieving their anticipated goal of a vibrant mixed use area of universal appeal and value.

You get the idea, see how easy this is?


Now, we get to add what we want to happen, or in this case, what we don't want to happen.

Like, maybe a prohibition against trains over a certain frequency, length, weight, timing.

And, the precondition of paying for grade-separated crossings at all existing and planned traffic or trail crossings; sound walls & barriers, track & switching gear relocation and improvements.

And, secured insurance against damage from accidents, injuries, spills, excessive air particulates, etc

And, schedule assurance that AMTRAK trains will have priority access over freight between Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC, and all stops in between.

And, BNSF will assign an individual to be personally responsible for handling community concerns and resolving them on a timely, fair basis, without additional costs to the community, local businesses and property owners.

SSA, BNSF & partners will agree to share its profits from additional trains -full or empty- with Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham at a rate to be determined.

While these examples are meant to illustrate what could be demanded, a more inclusive approach could also be sought by asking the project owners & sponsors to agree to submit a proposal covering & committing to all the benefits, mitigations, infrastructure costs, dispute resolution mechanisms, insurable items, payments/penalties, job opportunities they offer our community.

Once in writing -and only then- can we have a real basis for negotiation, much like what we demanded before allowing the Olympic Pipe Line to be re-installed through City property and restarted under more stringent regulatory and management rules.

Note: That process took 18 months, and required active support from all levels of government agencies, citizens and the entire range of elected officials.

Something like that will also likely be necessary to bring the railroads under more reasonable control; this is not the 1800's, when the government opened the box that turned out to become Pandora's!


{Early excerpts from the draft Watershed Acquisition Ordinance from the year 2000, which became effective on 1/1/2001]

WHEREAS, protection of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the drinking water source for the City of Bellingham and others, is of the utmost public health importance to the citizens of Bellingham and others who obtain water from the lake; and

WHEREAS, a proven and effective method of protecting municipal water supplies, such as the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, is to acquire, for public ownership, lands within the watershed and protect them from development; and

WHEREAS, the City, County, and Water District 10 Joint Resolution No. 92-68, signed in 1992, recognized the importance of protecting Lake Whatcom and its watershed as a Reservoir and the major drinking water source for the County; and

WHEREAS, the City's Comprehensive Plan requires that before-the-fact prevention take precedence over after-the-fact mitigation or treatment; and

WHEREAS, a Citizens' Task Force of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program is currently developing criteria to prioritize land for protection, determining options for preserving & enhancing high priority lands, and mechanisms for integrating these options with identified priority areas; and

WHEREAS, preserving and enhancing the quality of our drinking water supply has been identified as the top priority for the City Council for the past three years; and

WHEREAS, recognizing that a truly comprehensive program of education, land use regulation and enforcement, monitoring, and review as well as land acquisition is essential to preserving water quality in the Lake Whatcom Reservoir; and the City Council will continue its active support and encouragement of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir Management Program with Whatcom County and Water District #10. Therefore ........



We can do something to help at least condition and cope with the GPT proposal!

In fact, we are the only ones who can - but only if we will.

Our leaders desperately need us to tell them what to do; actually, we'll probably need to command them to do it! That is because most of our elected leaders are a lot like us, they wait until they have to do something to actually do it.

Unless, of course, they want to do something - with or without our advance approval.

This is a time when we need to give our leaders advance approval to stand up for what is essential to keep Bellingham a livable, welcoming and viable community.

Long past are the days when a few robber barons -or wannabes- could take over an area and strip it of its resources, beauty and livability!

Yet, something like that could be in the offing if the current crop of robber barons get their way.

It's time, folks!

It's getting close to past the time for us to get involved, other than jawboning.

We've got to do more than talk; we've got to speak up and take the names of those willing to actively help, and those better suited to laziness and bitching!

A really good way to get started is to pick on those we allow to call themselves elected officials; the City Council & Mayor of Bellingham, the County Council & Executive of Whatcom County, the State Representatives & Senator, the Federal members of Congress.

Get their attention! All of them, and take names of what they propose and what they oppose.

Then, we will have identified not only our enemies, but our allies!

At that point, we'll know who's got our back and who's acting behind our back -to our mutual detriment.

Choose sides wisely, then work to achieve your objective!

The world won't revolve around our little problem, but if we don't find a way to fight it, it may have us revolving around it!