Thursday, January 28, 2010

Perhaps he is a genius after all...

Many of us who supported the President's election have had some doubts this year: too conciliatory, too hawkish on Iran, Afghanistan, too supportive of larger financial institutions, maybe even too much golf and not enough hoops...

The President's state of the union may help restore some confidence.  He has some momentum now.  The financial forces of the American elite have overreached: They have been given everything, including most of the multi-trillion dollar bailout and yet they are still claiming record bonuses while millions go unemployed, into bankruptcy, into foreclosure. To get some sense of how much economic destruction is pervading America, try googling "bankruptcy blogs" or "foreclosure blogs".  Leave it to Americans to turn their own wealth destruction into a profitable boutique industry.

Now is the time to hammer home his status as a protector of middle class families and his clean tech, high-tech, export-driven agenda.  The  President senses this. He has his foes positioned as greedy, obstructionist and unreasonable and he carefully said as much.  American families should rally to this effort.  Barack Obama wants no easy solutions: He wants long term stability for the middle class.  Quite frankly, even most of us on the left believe this to be a lofty and naive goal at this point.

In reality, we should appreciate someone who holds such noble goals and cultivates conciliatory approaches to the opposition.  But in fact the greedy and the wealthy have conspired to steal the strength of our country in the last ten years and there are few of us with any sort of generational memories who will let them forget it.  War and economic exploitation destroy families.  Let us make sure the President never forgets this.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Tell me that the people who are responsible..."

This photograph bothers me a lot.  Understanding the "rich history" of the City of Bellingham and BNSF would take weeks of work.  But whatever that history, a derailment into the middle of Boulevard Park or Harris Street Pier would be an unbelievable disaster. Actually, just having some park goers crushed on a pocket beach by a falling retaining wall would be disastrous as well.  The hydrostatic forces on this area can considerable during a storm surge.

We have already had one tragic rail death last year in this park.  Please tell me that the people who are responsible....

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What would Alexander Hamilton do?

Tonight, after listening to the President's roaring new populist tone, I began to think that perhaps asking, "What would Karl Marx do?" or "What would Hugo Chavez do?" or perhaps "What would Che Guevara do?" may not be correct approach to fixing American economic problems.  Perhaps we need to go back to the fundamental notions of our founding fathers to understand what "American economic health and society" is destined to look like.  And so I asked myself: "What would Alexander Hamilton do?"

Asking  what any of the founding fathers would do in contemporary times is always a dangerous question.  First, all these men lived literally within inches or minutes of being hanged for treason. Second, the intelligence and education of many of the founding fathers were abnormally significant. The founding fathers were not "media creations" - they wrote important works, spoke multiple languages, and in the face of crisis, they invented new infrastructure. They invented a new form of government. They invented a new form of insurgency. They invented American diplomacy. Hamilton invented a national bank to pay off our revolutionary war debts.

But before I could finish asking myself "What would Alexander Hamilton do?", I realized I had an advantage over the colonists of early America:  I can simply download the Mobipocket version of the Federalist Papers from the Gutenburg Project, and read what Hamilton wrote some 225  or so years ago on my Blackberry Storm at my leisure.   Reading the Federalist Papers is an instructive act.  They are still a primary source for the interpretation of the constitution both for scholars and the judiciary.  Literally, they are still the guidebook for the law of the land. There is far too much "propaganda" in the world of our media.  The original source and the discussion of the events surrounding the publication of the Federalist Papers is immediately instructive if not to simply remember that we are not the first group of Americans to live in "interesting times". 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some good news?

Amidst a "econowash" of  news clinging to desperate hopes, there is some good economic (sort of) news...But first, the hard truth, Bankruptcies and Unemployment are up in Whatcom County and the rest of the nation (bankruptcies(1), bankruptcies(2), unemployment).  Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge has a great chart accompanying his blog post illustrating the recent increase in insured unemployment that is not seasonally adjusted.

However, I found some good news.   The organization Pro Publica has done a report that shows that "Two Dozen States’ Unemployment Funds in the Red, Nine More Within Six Months".   Pro Publica's report shows that Washington State currently is the most solvent of any unemployment fund!  To see this, simply sort their excellent graph by "Trust Fund Balance".   Well, there is $2.8 B of government funding that will soon be well spent!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Funny the way it is..."

I suppose I was going to start to  notice this type of thing more often anyway.  As my wife and I (and other busy Dads and Moms) were hustling their kids to ballet class at the YMCA, doggedly sorting through the dumpster in the parking lot was a member of the homeless; complete with shopping cart, multiple garbage sacks and some systematic technique for sorting through the trash. She was a middle-aged, alert women.  I thought about capturing a photograph as a walked to the steps going downstairs to the YMCA's lobby. But she caught my eyes and hid.

There are multiple organizations dealing with the issue of homelessness in Whatcom County. The best  way to get an overview of  "all things homeless in Whatcom County" is through the minutes of  The Whatcom County Coalition for the Homeless.  Currently, the coalition is busy preparing for the "Point-in-Time Count 2010" on January 28th. There have been numerous press articles on Whatcom County's homeless population of late. The Bellingham Herald has reported that "40 to 80 people come into the drop-in center each day" at 1013 W. Holly Street. The drop-in center is reportedly expanding it's hours in January.  The Seattle PI has posted a dynamic article by the Bellingham Herald's Jared Paben on the conflict between the homeless population of Bellingham and redevelopment.  The article, which quotes Paster Chuch Sargent, Lighthouse Executive director Ron Buchinski, and developers  Fred Bovenkamp and Ken Imus, exposes the conflict between urban development and social services in Old Town. You can view this  touching video on the issue of homelessness in Bellingham from Project Homeless Connect.  PHC Bellingham has a sparsely populated but interesting blog  and a Facebook  page on their project.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Google page on Donations for Haiti :

Google is maintaining a page for donations to Haiti.  You can donate vi Google Checkout.  Google will also donate $1 million to Haiti to relief organizations. Google is maintaining updated Google Earth views of Haiti as well as offering free Google Voice calls to help US Families reach Haiti.
You can also give "micro donations" via your cell phones for certain organizations:
 "The following organizations are accepting SMS donations in the US only:
  • SMS text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts
  • SMS text “YELE” to 501501 to Donate $5 to Yele Haiti’s Earthquake Relief efforts
  • SMS text "GIVE10" to 20222 to donate $10 to Direct Relief"

"525,600 Minutes: How do you measure a year?"

In the profile to  her stunningly beautiful and elegant photo blog, the late  Molly Mackenzie Hightower describes herself as a ... "a 22 year old from Port Orchard, WA, who just graduated from the University of Portland and is avoiding getting a job. I majored in Psychology, Sociology and French, and plan to get my masters in special ed, counseling or education."

For Molly, "avoiding getting a job" apparently meant spending one year of her young life living and working in Haiti with children of special needs.  Molly wrote and photographed beautifully about the children of Haiti she came to know in her blog "525,600 Minutes: How do you measure a year?" She was very much looking forward to the trip back. In the post "Halfway Point" she commented:

"Its very weird to think that my trip is more than half over at this point. Since school started up in September, it really has flown by. I have a ticket back to Seattle on June 8th, so really, I'm only here for 5 more months and some odd days. My frappachino maker is waiting for me."

Godspeed, Ms. Hightower.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Fountain Bistro

The North End received a boost in the economic arm for this new year with the opening of The Fountain Bistro at the intersection of Broadway and Meridian.  I think I was expecting another slightly dumpy coffee bar.  Instead, the The Fountain Bistro is a bright, happy place with a first rate wine and lunch menu and a burgeoning chic clientele.   We need places just like this in the North End more than almost anything.
It shows some cheek from owner Jill A. Holmes to field a top notch lunch place in the middle of the Great Recession, but even more so to open a restaurant that is well-staffed, organized and reasonable  in cost.  I could find only one lunch menu item above $10. At the wine bar, I munched happily on a delicious chicken ceaser salad.  Two businessmen in suits networked to my right while two well-dressed matrons on my left engaged in happy, bourgeois converse.  The place was full of diners and  a strong winter light raced through the ample glass windows at this newly remodeled location.
Wow!.  That bright, happy feeling doesn't hit me too much during this time of year in Bellingham.  I will definitely have to do that again. Cheers to the The Fountain Bistro .   Check out their Facebook page.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A must read...on Afghanistan

 "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan "
is a must read on the culture of American intelligence officers and battlefield success and failure in Afghanistan.  The officers who wrote the article are taking heat for publishing in a think tank outside of the military hierarchy.  In reality, they are taking a brave stand by attempting  to communicate to the public and the president how our intelligence community is failing us in Afghanistan.  The officers who published the article "get it".  They understand we are doomed to fight an endless guerrilla war in Afghanistan if we do not use our intelligence efforts to understand the tribal people who have lived there for generations.

Friday, January 1, 2010

“Revolutionary” Travel Sentiments for the New Year

“Wars spring from unseen and generally insignificant causes, the first outbreak being often an explosion of anger.” - attributed to Thucydides

“All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.” - attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville

Among the treasures I received this Christmas, I now count a book given to me by my brother and sister-in-law as dear: “Travel as a Political Act” by a Edmunds, WA based travel writer Rick Steves (paperback Nation Books, New York, NY 2009 ISBN-13:978-1-56858-435-5). Mr. Steves accomplishes something in this work of which past world travelers/commentators (like the ancient Greek general Thucydides or the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville) would have been proud: He translates the political struggles of people from distant lands into local equations.

Mr. Steve's travel experiences have not made him a fan of the “war on terror”: “Every three days, a 747's worth of people die on our highways....imagine we downgraded our “War on Terror.” Fantasize for a moment about...all the good we could do with those resources...” [p. 15] Mr. Steves documents the insights from his travels that helped him come to such conclusions: “With each new president, other nations wonder if there will be unilateralism or multilateralism, respect and collaborations or threats and hypocrisy....because I care about our society, I challenge us to do better. In difficult times, we should be open to considering all the solutions we can.” [p. 79]

Indeed. Whether visiting El Salvador on the anniversary of Cardinal Romero's assassination, exploring the communes of Copenhagen or embracing his own personal peace quest (“Mission: Understand Iran”) , Mr. Steves continually encourages the reader to use travel as a form of personal evolution; a type of pedagogic seminar to help Americans understand the best parts of themselves through immersion in the struggles of foreign cultures: “If an American diplomat complained to his European counterpart, “America is doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to military,” the European might respond, “Well, you seem to be enjoying it. We're building roads and bridges instead.” [p. 55] This debate between guns and butter, war or prosperity needs to be had more open and frankly in our society. We have yet to connect the economic and social costs of our “Three Trillion Dollar War” to its devastating consequences on the American middle class.

Despite an often nonchalant and informal style, Mr. Steve's comments on the outlook of various foreign peoples can be as noble and powerful as a Thucydides or de Tocqueville might have been in their times.: “I have long held that travel can be a powerful force for peace. Travel promotes understanding at the expense of fear. And understanding bridges conflicts between nations....I left Iran impressed more by what we have in common than by our our differences. Most Iranians, like most Americans, simply want a good life and a safe homeland for their loved ones...Our political leaders sometimes make us forget that all of us on this small planet are equally precious children of God. Having been to Iran and meeting its people face-to-face, I feel this more strongly than ever.” [pp 191 – 193]

In his final chapter, Mr. Steves coaches his readers on how to use travel as a political act – how to understand others by seeing the world through their eyes. Even now, I find myself practicing his perspective at my hotel room in a small town in southern Oregon, on my way home to Bellingham.  I heartily recommend reading “Travel as a Political Act” for your new year.