Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Communication, Transportation and Education Projects Ongoing in Bellingham

It is easy in this recession to lose track of all the positive growth and economic visionaries working hard to keep Bellingham, WA the cutting edge, progressive, enlightened force it is,  bundled up to America's 49th parallel. For a city of only 75,000 we generate a lot of political noise, energy and hope. And we should be lauded for it.  For all the criticism you may read in this blog and others, this is not in anyway a dangerous, depressed, unfruitful place to live.  Quite the opposite.  Free thinking and visionary souls are drawn here because of our tremendous physical beauty and then they stay to contribute their arts, their minds, their souls to this beauty by the bay.  Is it Brigadoon? Of course not.  But come springtime when the vitamin D gets back into our blood for the first time in six months, this is a beautiful place to live and work. Let me show you what is going on in this town right now.

First, the City of Bellingham is making a first class pitch for Google Fiber.   You can view excellent presentations here that highlight not only the beauty of our city but the intellectual intensity and community activism that drives much of the economic pulse of this very serious college town (WWU, WCC, BTA).  COB's video presentation with a little girl gleefully running red string through out our town may be one of the most touching city video presentations ever.  It is important to realize that there are standout technical environments in Bellingham like SPIE and VRI.  This is SPIE's pitch for Google Fiber.  This is the Bellingham Angels (venture capitalist) pitch for  Google Fiber.  More links:
Second, with strong community effort, Whatcom County is trying to preserve the high quality of its previously well-financed transit system.  This is a laudable effort to my mind. Public transit stimulates economic growth, creates a unified community and provides stable public employment.  I just don't see how an extra two-tenths of one percent sales tax could hurt us now,despite the ferocity of some of the WTA's critics:
Last, a group of very determined private investors are attempting to finance and build a top notch college-preparatory high school - right at the end of my Columbia neighborhood block!  Across the street is currently Bellingham's best private elementary school (I am biased since my daughter attends Kindergarten there!) The end result will be a multi-story, 56,000 sq. ft building (with a gymnasium) on a plot of land slightly less than two acres. Gary Gideon will be the architect. Some links: 
Truly, these ongoing and possible contributions to our community are part of the enlightened effort that make Bellingham the beautiful city it is to live in now and will continue to be.

the jobless recovery continues...

04/02/2010: An update to the original post showed surprising job creation in March by the BLS.  168,000 jobs were created, however housing, finance, and IT are still shredding positions as is most of the private sector. The President and the Treasury secretary are happy.

All signs continue to point to a "jobless recovery" (1,2,3), with a larger employment report out on Friday.  Treasury's March 16 report sees prolonged unemployment with job creation under 100K per month for the rest of the year. Year over year, Washington state has lost 89K jobs and seen its U-3 rate soar 1.4 pts to  9.5%  from February 2009 - 2010. For the United States,   "Broader U-6 unemployment rate of 16.8% would imply 25.8 million unemployed Americans."  After a period of unemployment decline for fourth quarter 2009, the unemployment rate appears headed up for the  Bellingham MSA  (Whatcom County). As of January 2010, BLS statistics show Bellingham's 9.4% unemployment rate sits it 154 out of 372 Metropolitan Statistical Areas.   A comparative google unemployment chart (not seasonally adjusted) looks like this with data for year end 2010:
The talk about gains in productivity, bonds, bank surpluses is not abating the continued wealth destruction in mortgage finance, bankruptcies, foreclosures,  unemployment.  So where are we going  in Whatcom County?  If you have cash in the bank you may survive the next year.  If not, you should shed your debt and hold onto your job.  At this point, a dynamic spike in growth is not predicted.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The "Green Zone" rocks...

On the weekend of the seventh anniversary of the Iraq War, I saw Matt Damon, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Jason Issacs and a host of others (including Iraq War vets playing themselves!) simply rock the house in the "Green Zone".  Only, very few people were there for my Sunday matinĂ©e.  I don't know why not.  With our country threatening to invade Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq still a mess, why more people wouldn't want to see a movie whose punchline is: "The reasons matter! The reasons we go to war always matter!" Damon gets to say these words in full flak-jacket military dress while grabbing the lapels of Greg Kinnear's suit!

This is a great movie.  Thrilling, uncompromising, action-packed, and direct. Damon plays the entire movie as a hero, without the sense of confusion or pathos in his Bourne characters.  "We're here to do a job and come home safe. The reasons don't matter," says Damon's no. 1 to him in the movie.  "Well they matter to me," says Damon character (Warrant Sargent Roy Miller).   Indeed.

I've never been to Baghdad or been part of the military.  (Hell, I've never been to Washington D.C. or New York either.) So I don't know whether it is believable in the heat of a confused battle for a non-commissioned officer to break ranks with his higher authority and work with the CIA station chief.  I don't know if Special Forces members are allowed to punch out other members of their army like Issacs does to Damon.  But I know this - this is a damn good movie.  See at the Regal Sehome 3  before it goes away...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Eva Golinger

Just discovered this thoroughly engaging activist and  author Eva Golinger  who discusses Venezuelan affairs from a pro-Chavez perspective.  What is fascinating about her text is the thoroughness of the  dissection of American funded 'pro-democracy' efforts of  USAID, NED, DAI, SAIC in Caracas.  Ms. Golinger has written several books about American funded efforts in Venezuela including : The Chavez Code.  Ms. Golinger is also an engaging public speaker. Her blog contains at least four gripping videos about American/Venezuelan political relations, the last of which described covert funding of American NGO disruptive efforts in foreign countries.

Her discussion reminds me very much of recent RNC memo that describes the psychological operations now being carried out on the American populace through public relations of the Republican party.  Among the "psychological operations" most harmful to Washington state is "anti-tax" rhetoric that convinces members of Washington State that they are over-taxed. We are not "over-taxed" in Washington state. If anything, we are comparatively "under-taxed" because we have no corporate or personal income tax.  The lack of corporate tax, which is not made up for by BOT (Business and Occupation Taxes), is hurting all of us dearly. There is literally not enough funding for municipalities to keep our librarians, teachers and bus drivers.  Almost all of the states are desperate for cash, many of them fighting off multi-billion dollar deficits while we fight our foreign wars and ship money by the billions to essentially American state supported actors like (USAID, NED, DAI, SAIC) to destabilize foreign governments.  Why is there no money for our libraries, schools, and bus systems?   Listen to Eva Golinger and find out where all your federal tax dollars are going.  Better to send those tax monies to your state and local communities than Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan.

So what would corporate and state income taxes bring us?  For starters, they would make our tax based infrastructure less dependent on property taxes. Considering the glut in housing stocks and the instability of American residential construction, income taxes could be a stabilizing influence on government revenue.  In addition, it would make the maintenance of wage income revenue critical for the functioning of the state. Lose jobs, lose revenues.  A fallacy we live with in the propaganda of Whatcom County is that housing drives jobs. In fact, jobs drives housing.  Our counties defacto economic plan to attract homeowners from other states is frail without the aggressive development of our employment base, state or private based

Google's public data is redefining economic visualization.

Google Public Data Labs is going to redefine how we communicate and visualize public economic data.  Take a look at this interactive chart and ask yourself: Why is Whatcom County  in last place?

We look a little bit better if we just compare Bellingham to all Washington State MSAs. Maybe.

Feel free to click the 'Explore Data' link and create your own comparison detailing how vibrant our middle class is in Whatcom County, compared to Yakima County perhaps?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Tech Centers" of the Northwest...

An excellent Wall Street Journal Article, "Where Clouds Displace Forest" talks about the "Tech Centers" of the pacific northwest but not Hillsboro, Portland, Redmond, Bellevue, Renton,  Everett, Seattle or Vancouver.  It means those small communities, mostly in Eastern Washington/Oregon, that have abundant power at cheap industrial rates. Their cooler weather and inexpensive power make an ideal location for high-energy consuming "data centers".  The key to attracting such facilities is cheap local power. In this case, Prineville is made use of a local power provider's very low industrial rates to recruit the new Facebook data center.

What I find somewhat ironic about these data centers stored in depopulated areas is the actual relationship between local and global information.  Facebook,  no doubt, will be hosting accounts from all over the world in Prineville.   Lots of stuff is happening on Facebook - lots of activism, lots of marketing, lots of community, even lots of intelligence gathering.  And where is all this exciting activity physically (or virtually) happening? Somewhere in the high desert of sparsely populated eastern Oregon and Washington.  Should a natural disaster cut the fiber lines that no doubt travel over the mountains to the coast, an entire world of communities will most probably disappear. The physical presence of virtual communities has no relation to locality.  Social networking, at the physical level, is truly a "non-local" business model.

Using financial software.

Like many of you, my wife and I are streamlining our finances.  In doing this, we have been searching for financial software to help us understand what is now a complicated set of accounts.  I have been a little disappointed in personal financial software in the past. So much so that I have purchased, tried and stopped using it. However, some of the software has now improved.  And standardization of bank to financial software protocols is proceeding apace.  We've looked at a number of options before settling on Quicken's Home and Business Software.  The choices are somewhat limited. Microsoft has given up the development of Money. GNUCash is a fascinating program, but somewhat clunky (especially on Windows) when compared with Quicken. The interlink between your bank and your smart-phone is still sketchy for most.

Good personal financial software should at least make you think about your expenses and income. Even so, it is an exhausting task with multiple accounts, many creditors, and increasing costs. To be frank, there are two overriding thoughts that occur to me being a "debt-strapped" member of the middle class about day to day economy:

(1) The level of complication of middle class financial life has increase dramatically
(2) the inflation of services, food, energy costs has increased dramatically as well

It is sobering to realize that in managing your internet/cable, smart phones, hybrid vehicle payments, heavily refinanced home that you have become dependent on technology and services your parents and you did just fine without not too long ago.  Almost as sobering are the increasing costs for utilities, school, energy and food.  Where did the simpler life go?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A look at RNC Psychological Operations?

 "Motivation to Give"

Ben Smith's publication of the alleged  RNC fundraising memo sheds a remarkable light on modern political campaign fund raising.  What I find most shocking about it is not that the fund-raising is well-organized and comprehensive, but that RNC fund-raising leadership appears to be:

(a)  openly callous about playing on the emotions and not the intellect of small donors
(b)  poorly advised on how to protect the security of the members of its organization

Like most funding organizations, donors are effectively divided between small and large donors with separate strategies for both in the alleged document .  On slide 29 ("Motivation to Give" pictured above),  the small donors are characterized by terms that might indicate some pretty harsh psychological operations. Under the 'Direct Marketing' box are these labels:

Visceral Giving
-Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration
-Issue/Circumstantially oriented

Those terms don't exactly seem to describe the giving Republican electorate as a body of enlightened philosophes.  There must be somewhere in history an example of a well-educated nation state whose democratic members support their political organizations on the basis of idealism, humanity, commitment to hope. If this document is indicative and real,  such an example is apparently not the current Republican Party.