Nov 052010

Regarding the ferry, the rates have gone way up as some of us expected. And, we haven’t even heard yet what the schedule will be or started discussions about the parking lot. This is just the first of many impacts that Islanders are going to experience as the result of economic downturn and Peak Everything.

Government is now stalemated even more than it was during the first two years of Mr. Obama’s bi-partisanship program. There won’t be a lot of free money. County government is one vote more conservative and the conservatives on the Council are not sympathetic to Lummi Island. The rest of the county thinks Lummi Island living is a lifestyle choice. Anyone who owns a home on the island who wants to leave is stuck because there just aren’t many home buyers out there. The housing market hasn’t hit bottom yet.

A lot of time and effort went into lobbying for unrealistic notions about the ferry. What chance was there, really, to maintain the existing service at the existing price? The Council isn’t concerned with elasticity.  Although they understood it well enough to increase the pedestrian rate big time.  And now PLIC is, unfortunately, in the position of being a messenger of bad tidings.

Here’s the deal: to get ready for the future we can’t plan on getting in our car by ourselves and going where we want when we want. This is what James Kunstler refers to as “Happy Motoring.” We’ve operated that way for many years as a country. It’s over. We’re not out of gas but the supply will slowly dwindle as growing nations like China increase their demand. Some see it going as high as $20 a gallon.

Soon, Islanders will be carefully planning their trips to town because of the cost of ferry travel. At the same time everyone should consider the total cost.

The national reimbursement rate for auto usage is approximately $.50 per mile. It’s roughly 20 miles one way to B’Ham.  Add another 20 for errands and you’ve driven 60 miles for $30 dollars of depreciation (wear and tear on your car) and gas, plus $11.40 for the ferry (if you have a multi-ride ticket). So, essentially, a trip to town will cost $41.40. That’s the real cost starting January. Here’s what we don’t think about: the real cost today is $36. So, starting in January a trip to town is going to cost the solitary passenger car traveler $5 dollars more. And the per mile cost will increase as gasoline prices inevitably rise. The numbers may not be exact and will differ depending on type of auto, etc. But the point is, there is a fixed cost when traveling to town in addition to the ferry fee. And, it’s a greater cost than the ferry fee.

To me that 40 mile round trip and the price of gas necessary to make the trip is more problematic than being able to land at Gooseberry Point. The road distance to Bellingham isn’t going to get shorter. Gas prices are certain to go up.

In my imaginary, pie-in-the-sky-sustainable world I would prefer never to take a car off the island. Instead, I’d prefer to ride a passenger ferry directly into Fairhaven where I could link up with the existing transportation  network supplemented with  car share, cooperatively owned vehicles, rentals, taxis, shuttles and other transportation services or functions, avoiding the geographic obstacle of the Lummi Nation.

The private auto is about to become obsolete. It doesn’t make sense to me to lock into 50 years of trying to get from Gooseberry Point to Bellingham or Ferndale. We could see prices jump to European levels overnight and keep on rising.

Nov 032010

Why would a book about US foreign policy since WWII be pertinent to a discussion of resilience on Lummi Island in 2010? Answer: we need to understand how we got into our current predicament and why it’s unlikely that things will not change.

Andrew Bacevich has paid his dues to the flag as a West Point graduate, career army officer and father of a son killed in Iraq. He writes books critical of American foreign policy, in this case a set of “Washington Rules” which dictate the creepy way that we behave around the world which has been consistent since the end of WWII and has been supported by all Presidents from Harry Truman to Barrack Obama.

Here are the Washington Rules:
1. The world must be organized (shaped) or chaos will reign.
2. The United States is the only country that possesses the capacity to enforce a global order, to organize the world to avoid this chaos.
3. America is in charge of defining the principles that define international order and the most recent American articulation of these principles is the only one that counts.
4. The world wants the US to lead.

As a result of the Washington Rules our national treasure is expended around the world with a military budget that exceeds the combined military budgets of the entire  rest of the world. Including our ships at sea, we have nearly 400,000 troops garrisoned overseas (and thousands more of military contractors) at  761 sites in 39 countries. We have divided the world into military “commands” including a Space Command plus a Strategic Command which owns a force of missiles and bombers always on alert with enough force to blow up the planet many times over.

Mr. Bacevich writes that his own education began as an army colonel when he finally had a chance to observe, first hand, Soviet Army forces in East German and realized that the great threat posed by the Cold War was a sham. The Soviet Army was weak and poorly equipped.

But when the Cold War ended, when we had “won” Washington Rules did not change. The military industrial complex that Ike warned us about (after his term was over) came up with new threats (China, terror, drugs) for us to fear and to justify the enormous cost of Washington’s Rules.

Sadly, there is no real public discussion. We accept Washington Rules and they are supported by a vast network of media, lobbyists, and think tanks in addition to the Pentagon and defense contractors. The few who advocate closing down the empire (Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, for example) are marginalized as cranks and not serious. Democrats are no better than Republicans as evidenced by Obama’s immediate acquiescence to the general’s request for 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan.

“At one level, we can with little difficulty calculate the cost of these efforts: The untold billions of dollars added annually to the national debt and the mounting toll of dead and wounded US troops provide one gauge. At a deeper level, the costs of adhering to the Washington consensus defy measurement: families shattered by loss; veterans bearing the physical or psychological scars of combat; the perpetuation of ponderous bureaucracies subsisting in a climate of secrecy, dissembling, and outright deception; the distortion of national priorities as the military-industrial complex siphons off scarce resources; environmental devastation produced as by-product of war…; the evisceration of civic culture that results when a small praetorian guard shoulders the burden of waging perpetual war, while the great majority of citizens purport to revere its members, even as they ignore or profit from their service. Furthermore, there is no end in sight…”

So until we decide as a national community that rebuilding Detroit is more important than investing in Kabul the Washington Rules will rule us, our wealth will go into an imperial foreign policy instead of building and supporting infrastructure needs (such as ferries).

We all tacitly support Washington Rules. Often it is through the litmus test of “supporting the troops,” through honoring the service of vets, as with the upcoming Veterans Day celebration at our local school and at schools around the country. I’m a vet with more than twenty years of service  but  find it hard to get behind these celebrations that, in their small way,  perpetuate Washington Rules. It might be more productive for the kids to write letters to all the family practitioners in the area begging them to take Tricare patients (that’s the military’s medical insurance which doesn’t pay enough to interest most doctors).

Nov 012010

Chris Martenson writes that there are no real solutions to what might be coming at us, “just outcomes to be managed.” A key point is that we can’t do it alone no matter how well prepared one might be. In fact, there is no advantage to be one of the only families to have made preparations. It’s important that the community as a whole be ready and in a transition frame of mind.

We are interdependent and will continue to be interdependent. The big problem is to convince friends and neighbors of the necessity to take steps to build resilience into their lives. Many people I talk to believe that we are just in another down cycle, that the economy will come back in short order, that if there is an energy crisis, technology will find a way. Again, I recommend that everyone who hasn’t take the Crash Course tabbed at the top of this page.

One of the easiest and most important things to do is to get involved in community, developing a support network of friends and neighbors who can work together. For example, the Lummi Fire Department has an excellent and well-organized Disaster Preparedness program to deal with short term emergencies. The essence of the program is neighborhood pods looking out for each other when disasters strike the island.

On a longer term basis Dr. Rob Kahn and a large group of islanders have formed the Island Health Care Assessment Committee with a goal of determining current and future health care needs of our community. This is an exciting and important project and is right on target as far a resilience is concerned. (Resilience: the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions).

We have numerous groups on the island that one can support, participation in which will build relationships and improve the quality of life on the island: The Beach School, Grange, FOIL, WEC, Heritage Trust, Conservancy, Civic Club, Boy’s and Girl’s Club, Gardener’s Network, PLIC, Fire Department, Church and Chapel, Parish Nurses, LICA and more.

There’s the opportunity to dive in and help a neighbor in need like a group recently did in filling potholes at the Islander parking lot.

Building interdependent relationships is a big step in getting ready for an uncertain future.