Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas declares war on Thanksgiving

Some right wingers claim that there is a war on Christmas. Can't have Christmas trees in public schools, must call them "holiday trees," for instance.

Well, I like what one of our local county council people said instead. He said in a Facebook post:

"It looks like Christmas is declaring war on Thanksgiving."

This reference to the creeping forward of "Black Friday" as some stores, such as Walmart, planned to start their Christmas shopping season on Thanksgiving.

People question whether any time can be sacred from consumerism and the profit motive anymore.

Yes, Christmas is a very commercial time of the year. It's not that commercial for me as I don't have kids and family ties to shop for. Consumerism tends to go hand in hand with the "American family." I get along well with my brothers and sisters, but we don't do Christmas shopping for one another. We live all spread out across the country. I have no family that is geographically close to me except for friends and community potlucks.

The holidays can be a lonely time for folks away from family, but thankfully there are things like community meals and, while we're on the subject, more and more businesses stay open on the holidays.

There are two kinds of business opening strategies for the holidays. One is the creeping forward of Black Friday which isn't that good. Taking employees away from their Thanksgiving for holiday shopping specials seems kind of repugnant (or maybe Republican?). Another kind of business opening makes more sense to me. Some restaurants open on Thanksgiving realizing that not everyone has a family meal to go to.

Bellingham's Old Town Cafe has a long tradition of free community meal on Thanksgiving Day. Staffed by volunteers and serenaded with live musicians. It's become a great tradition. The Old Town Cafe can be a bit crowded, but some other places offer a meal as well. A meal that one pays for. It's nice to have some choices for the holidays.

Speaking of family, one of my brothers criticizes the Black Friday store openings that invaded Thanksgiving this year, but he also noted that it's nice to at least have some grocer open when one realizes, at the last minute, that they forgot the cranberry sauce.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bellingham BC meaning Bellingham before Canada. On the way to Canada

Bellingham, BC (before, on the way to, Canada) was a phrase that came up in a brainstorming session I dropped into about promoting tourism and the local economy way back in the 1980s. It's happening.

New hotel at Northwest and Bakerview and another about to open a bit to the west along Bakerview. There are plans for (from what I read) two more? Airport traffic. Lots of Canadians from Vancouver Metropolitan area seem to be choosing to fly to their "stateside" locations from Bellingham International, rather than Vancouver International.

Then there's the people who come down here to buy gas. All those gas cans on the road are starting to worry highway safety people.

Milk is a more benign substance than gasoline and Canadians are coming down to buy lots of milk as well. Milk from Costco and other places by the truckload. There are rumors that Canadians like to bathe in milk, but it must be that they are just making milk runs for the whole neighborhood.

US subsidizes dairy prices so that's part of what's driving the milk flow.

Does Bellingham really like being this kind of bargain basement? It does bring a lot of service jobs. Store clerks, motel maids and so forth. Still, people say it's hard to find; especially, meaningful work in Bellingham.

As for the mood of the shoppers, some folks complain that we are being overrun by aggressive Canadian shoppers. I haven't noticed this anymore than being overrun by aggressive American shoppers. I guess shopping can be a rat race and can bring out bad sides in people. Maybe people should come here to dance or join intelligent discussion groups. Then we would get a better impression of the folks in our midst.

Pictured above: Marriott SpringHill Suites.

Monday, November 25, 2013

My take on the broken promise flaw in Obamacare

The much talked about broken promise in Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) seems to only effect a small percent of the population. Folks with high deductible bare bones plans who are also high enough income to not qualify for the Obamacare subsidy of premiums. Some of those low cost high deductible plans are now not allowed under the new laws, I guess. (I listen to NPR a lot so I follow these things while other folks think about sports). This may have been a mistake in the Affordable Care Act. To outlaw many of those bare bones, cheap high deductible plans. Regular health plans that are more comprehensive are more expensive. Everyone (I guess) that makes over 400% of poverty level for their family size will be eligible for the premium subsidy. This includes single people as well as families as the poverty level is set by family size. Higher income folks may have to pay more. It isn't a perfect system, but there is a "broken promise" that the press will, of course jump on. Yes, the press jumped on President Bush also.

Basically, I like the fact that they are trying to improve healthcare access in USA so I tend to lean in favor of Obama's efforts. On the other hand, I realize that the whole thing could implode and increase the deficit depending on how it pencils out. Americans seem to want more healthcare than we can pay for, or our healthcare system is charging too much, or all of the above.

Still, it's better to have a regular physician than to wait till the emergency room for all one's care under our present (unreformed, nonsensical system). Even with having a doctor, I think people need to learn to live healthier lifestyles. I know not everyone is blessed with the best genetics and so forth and I hate to dump blame on folks from the seat of my bicycle.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

At Edison School in Pullman, WA. when Kennedy was assassinated

Just another "where were you" Kennedy assassination story, but you're probably sick of them by now.

50 years ago, I was in the 3rd grade when a surprise assembly was called. We went to the gym and sat in the place marked on the floor for our class. Other classes were gathering in their little squares on the floor. The principal was pacing back and forth on stage looking real upset. We wondered, "what happened?" He would stand at the mike and walk away several times. Then he was finally able to say it. "The president has been shot." The room of little kids gasped. Eventually we went back to our classrooms and the teacher in my classroom was crying. She said she didn't know if she could teach the class because she was so upset. Then a messenger came down the hall with a memo from the main office. School was dismissed for the day. I found my older sister, who was then in 6th grade, and we walked home thinking Kennedy might recover from the gunshot. At home, our mom greeted us with the news that he had died.

Much of the rest of that weekend news came to me through the radio as I think my parents were wise and thought too much television might just be "too much;" so to speak. My memories of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot are from radio rather than television. Maybe not hearing it as it happened, but I did hear replay after replay on the radio news. I think my folks wanted us to try and continue living life in a somewhat normal way. Our black and white television was used a lot during the funeral, though. The flag draped coffin lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda, the horses, the somber music and so forth all made an impression on me.. I was scared of the dark for a long time after that and my folks had to let me sleep with my bedroom light on.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Can pricy Seattle area retain Boeing jobs?

Overlooking part of Renton assembly plant on my 2013 bicycle tour.

Land values and housing costs keep going up in the Seattle area adding to the cost of living. Also the cost of doing business as higher wages are needed to retain a similar standard of living that workers could have for less money in cheaper areas.

This is one of the factors that could be pricing Boeing aircraft manufacturing jobs out of the Puget Sound area.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has recently pushed for a special session of the state legislature to reinstate some big tax breaks for the aerospace industry. To try and assure that the 777 jetliner will be built here. Inslee is fairly left leaning and not likely to be thought of as a proponent of huge tax giveaways to corporations, but Boeing has long been an important locomotive in our local economy. The prospect of those jobs being lost with all their ripple effects through the rest of the economy is frightening to lawmakers and the public alike. The special session was called and the deal sailed through the Legislature only to run into a roadblock set up by the Boeing Machinists Union. Part of the deal called for significant concessions from the union, but rank and file voted 2 to 1 against the pact.

Who knows now what the future will bring, but Boeing is looking at other states, such as Utah and South Carolina, to see where the best deals might be.

I say it's too bad that tax deals have to be cobbled together like band-aide solutions rather than Washington State automatically being the best place for Boeing. Behind the debate about union or non union, there is a deeper issue of the cost of living. If the cost of living, in Seattle area, was more comparable to other areas, there would be lots of advantage for Boeing to stay. Seattle has it's skilled and educated workforce an well as the years of experience of having Boeing in this area. Lots of local institutions, including institutions funded by state tax revenue, add to the quality of life. I read, in one column, that the proposed Boeing tax deal would have been bigger than state funding for University of Washington. U of W has seen big cuts in the state portion of its funding in recent years.

Seattle's prosperous economy has been buoyed up with many corporate entities such as Microsoft and Amazon. Boeing once was the main game in town, but other players could be starting to crowd it out.

Lowering the cost of living seems desirable to me, but it isn't an easy thing to do. When housing prices start coming down, affordability should go up, but that's not the only thing to happen. Homeowners become "upside down" in their homes where the mortgages they owe are higher than the current value of the home. It's a difficult situation, as people learned in the 2008 crash.

Planning for more affordable lifestyles is very important, but often overlooked in the race for prosperity. Such things as affordable housing, density and transit come to mind along with affordable healthcare. Affordability should be the key to keeping industry in any region, but it's often overlooked. Affordability is a more sustainable solution than the continuing race to the bottom of tax cuts between regions.

Planning for affordability isn't just something we should do to be nice to our less fortunate citizens. It's also important in sustaining our economic viability.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

We've just had a TEDx in Bellingham

Not far from where I live. TEDx just took place today. 11/12/13. Also a significant date 11/12/13. This was a small event, audience size, as the TED organization wants new TEDx events to prove themselves before being allowed to get too big. Organizers plan to, most likely, have a bigger one next year.

This event was streamed live on the web and I saw a bit of it, but will look forward to the archive when it becomes available. Then I'll pick out topics that interest me rather than just seeing what happens to be live at the moment.

TED Talks are often quite interesting and the local stepchild TEDxs are coming to many communities.

Monday, November 11, 2013

On Veteran's Day

I've often wondered what it would be like to be a veteran. Must take a lot of courage to make it through basic training, military life and then back to civilian life. I've led a pretty sheltered life, myself, I'm thankful for the somewhat sheltered environment I find myself in for whatever reason that environment exists be it our relatively stable society, versus living in a place like Syria for instance. Or maybe it's also my own tendency to try and avoid conflict where ever I go personally.

Sunday, November 03, 2013