Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Art of the Year-End Donation

National and local news tell us that we’ve done pretty well in transferring wealth to Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and the like at this year’s end.

Presumably we got something in return that was of value to us.

When it comes to the year-end ‘ask’ for donations from social, environmental and arts organizations, the same question of value arises.

Of course, many organizations hope for the large benefactors who are looking for some tax benefit in making a donation. Most of us 99 percent do what we can for those causes we believe in. If it isn’t a tax benefit, what value am I getting in making a donation to what I might consider a worthy cause?

The art of making the ‘ask’ is a promise to fulfill a basic sense of altruism in us. If we are civilized, we want to help and we want what we donate to make a difference.

It’s almost a no-brainer to feel good about giving to meet a local, immediate need. Local food banks, children and women’s shelters, and homeless winter shelters are pretty high on that list.

Human health, especially protecting mothers’ milk and vulnerable children, is another place that promises a return on one’s donation. Child literacy and mentoring at-risk youth, too.

I honestly find it very difficult to respond to year-end ‘asks’ from arts organizations and higher academic institutions. I’m sure the need is there and the prices of admission to be entertained or educated doesn’t cover costs— but I find myself leaving those to the patrons and alumni who can afford to give.

Saving the whales and the rain forests, saving Puget Sound, fighting climate change and many Big Causes I find need to be unpacked into specific campaigns that directly relate to accomplishing the bigger cause. The $50 you donate doesn’t really mean the group will buy 50 trees to plant with that money but that’s the idea when It comes to Big Causes.

The art of the ‘ask’ focuses on the immediacy and the urgency of the cause and the consequences of not meeting the need. The ‘ask’ needs to describe how the organization you are donating to is uniquely suited to meet the need.  It helps to have others testify to the need and to the organization’s ability to meet that need. It is essential that everyone who donates be told, exactly, how their donations made a difference.

Read the ‘asks’ you are being sent and see how artful they are in hitting the chords that resonate with your values. Then make those year-end donations. Some folks are in tough financial times; many are much worse off. Where can you make a difference?

Care to share why you donate?

--Mike Sato

Monday, December 26, 2011

Smokin’ and Talkin’ and Textin’ While Drivin’

I stopped smoking a few years ago. These days, while driving, I sometimes answer my cell phone or make calls.

Last week, Deborah Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, gave an impassioned plea for drivers to stop using cell phones while driving.

I know she’s right. Using the cell phone while driving is distracting and dangerous. I also know that “Just Say NO” doesn’t work to change people’s behavior.

Matt Richtel in his New York Times article “Reframing the Debate Over Using Phones Behind the Wheel” unpacked some of the motivators that make cell phones so compelling.

Like smoking, being able to communicate anywhere may have a cool factor like smoking had years ago. Cell phones relieve restlessness and boredom. The compulsion is powerful: “People do not know when an urgent or interesting e-mail or text will come in, so they feel compelled to check it all the time.”

We are social animals. “The ring of a phone or the ping of text becomes a promise of human connection.” Information has a value that is lost over time. Answer it now; send it now.

Consider this a good social marketing exercise to think about what it will take to change societal values and behaviors surrounding using cell phones while driving.

How about a technology fix  that would block cell phone signals while a vehicle is in motion? That would stop cell phone use but also insure that my family and friends would choose never to ride with me.

Tough laws, enforcement and education have worked in effecting changes in drunk driving, seat belt and helmet laws.

As a smoker, I heard all the health reasons to stop smoking. Shown all the ways second-hand smoke hurt those around me. Figured out how much the habit was costing me. I’m sure there were smokers who quit for those reasons. I quit but not for any of those reasons but quit because it was something my father wanted me to do and, after he passed away, I thought there was at least one hard thing I could do for him. And I did it.

Different motivators work for different folks.

Smokers quit for a number of different reasons. Smokers die. Smokers get taxed heavily. Smokers have fewer and fewer public places where they can smoke.  Smoking is no longer a societal norm because of a combination of education, regulation and enforcement.

Maybe messaging that says “driving while texting is just not cool” would work for a social segment. Maybe “driving while phoning is dangerous to your health” would work for another. Or “practice safe text.” Or even an abstinence pledge for others.  More research is needed here.

In the meantime, maybe cell and smart phone manufacturers would include an easily activated message and voice mail feature that says, “Hey dudes, I’m driving, be back soon.”

If you drive and text and kill yourself, that’s fine with me. But if you hurt or kill others, you go to hell. Maybe those zealots who pushed relentlessly for no-smoking regulations would work to provide a meaningful deterrent by strengthen the penalties for drivers at fault in accidents when they were using a cell phone. (Yes, phone records can be subpoenaed.)

And maybe friends and family, if they can take a moment off from their handheld devices, could remind drivers that “Friends don’t let friends drive and text.”

What do you suggest?

--Mike Sato

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughts on Sewage, Shellfish and the Partnership's Action Agenda

Geoduck farming (Protect Our Shoreline News)
Last week’s posting ‘Sewage is good for you’ prompted the following comment from Herb Curl:

"The shellfish industry would it both ways: removing pollutants & providing seafood. It's incredible that shellfish are being grown in Puget Sound estuaries with high levels of pollutants from failed septic tanks. The Big Bend at the southern end of Hood Canal is a major example. Maps of shellfish rearing areas in Puget Sound are available (here).

“Shellfish culture has many downsides including production of pseudofeces from rafts, polluting bottom sediments, hybridization between non-native Mytilus galloprovincialis and native Mytilus edulis, and smothering intertidal acreage with oyster bags and geoduck tubes."

Meanwhile, today’s news clip posting at Salish Sea News and Weather of Chris Dunagan’s story about the Puget Sound Partnership’s draft Action Agenda brought the following comments:

"Regarding Chris Dunagan column on the new draft of the Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda:  I tried to read it to provide comments.  OMG!  Dense, foggy, huge long detailed tables, 41-page executive summary full of gobbeldy gook, almost impossible to actually find any "action" items/plans.  Woe is us .... "  --Rabbits’ Guy

"The Puget Sound Partnership talks about “restoring” decimated species.  But they say nothing about preventing the final destruction of Puget Sound.  Puget Sound’s death will be collateral damage to the final wave of development in the Basin.

"As we have discovered in Chesapeake Bay, restoration is probably not politically possible.  It requires scraping off most of the development in the watershed and replacing it with forest and LID.  (That is not going to happen any time soon).  Why is PSP focusing on “restoration” when we have an eternity to restore, but only months left to prevent driving the final nails in the coffin?

"The Carnegie Letter to the governor spells out the bare-bottom minimum action that PSP must insist upon if their mission is not to be a total failure.  (NPDES permits must insist on the 65/10/0 development standard.)  PSP has shown no indication that they will endorse the Carnegie action plan.  Is it because PSP’s boss, the governor, has dismissed the CG action plan?" -- Tom Holz

Thanks. It sure is interesting to read your comments.

--Mike Sato

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Sewage is good for you'

(Washington State Archives)
That's Washington Governor Dixy Lee Ray back in 1991 quoted in a 1991 Associated Press story, "Dixy Lee Ray lashes out at environmentalists"

Governor Dixy Lee came to mind with this week's flurry of news that the federal and state governments are putting $4.5 million into the local shellfish industry by cleaning up the poop going into Puget Sound.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heralded the National Shellfish Initiative as bringing jobs, clean water and more "healthy, tasty food."

Gov. Chris Gregoire's messaging about our Washington Shellfish Initiative was how shellfish are the perfect all-natural environmental cleanup crew.

The juxtaposition of powerful shellfish cleaning up poop and yummy shellfish as "healthy, tasty food" isn't the brand the shellfish industry would market, I'm sure.

The Sierra Club. for one, isn't standing up and cheering for the Initiative.

Previously, some opponents of shellfish aquaculture like mussel rafts have contended that the filter-feeding mollusks make the water too clean and damage the ecosystem.

Which brings me back to Gov. Dixy Lee.

Reporter Hal Spencer ends his 1991 account of the governor's talk to the Pacific Coast Association of Port Authorities with:

"Ray cited an attempt by Los Angeles officials to eliminate al traces of human sewage in the city's harbor. They wiped out a "fine fishery" of anchovy, perch, herring and other species, she said.
"What happened, she said, was that the sewage treatment system robbed the fish of their main food supply. 'Without something to eat, without organic material in the water, the fish cannot survive. You can draw any conclusion that you wish, including that sewage is good for you,' she said to appreciative chuckles from the crowd."
Oh, Dixy.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Well, sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world"

PHOTO: Dangerous Minds
The line’s from Bruce Springsteen’s song Nebraska.

It came to mind yesterday when House Republicans passed a bill extending the payroll tax break and long-term unemployment payments— along with approving construction of the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada through our nation’s Midwest communities.

How cynical can elected representatives be in getting for industrial capitalists what they want by holding the economic well being of this nation’s workers and unemployed hostage?

Politics is the art of the possible, a phrase coined by Bismark.

House Republicans play "politics," the kind of all-or-nothing governing that give politics a bad name.  When the Democrats play “politics” that way, I’d call a pox on their house as well.

The Keystone pipeline issue should be dealt with as a separate issue. It should not be tagged on to a bill about a worker tax break and unemployment relief.

Eric Cantor (R-VA) said tagging on approval of the Keystone pipeline was justified because pipeline construction was a jobs issue.

It’s not a jobs issue. It’s an energy policy issue. It’s an issue of how local community values stack up against a project where communities bear all the risk and little benefit. Like building a coal export terminal at Cherry Point and transporting coal by rail or building a liquified natural gas terminal and pipeline near the mouth of the Columbia river, do these projects fit our national energy policy?  I’m sure there will be jobs and some local benefits but are those jobs and local benefits in the long-term interests of local community values?

Be honest and have that discussion. Shame on House Republicans.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why I Will Work To Re-Elect Barack Obama in 2012

(PHOTO: Julie Denesha)
I read the speech President Obama delivered in Kansas this week.   I hope you will, too.

I’ve sometimes felt disappointed in the President in the past three years as the reality of governing overshadowed the momentum of the election. While I expect the political attacks from opponents to continue and intensify, I’m disturbed by some of my activist colleagues who talk of withholding support to accomplish policy aims. I don’t forget or forgive the “idealists” who did the same in supporting Ralph Nader and screwed the pooch in the 2000 election.

I told friends and family that I was finally proud to be an American when Mr. Obama was elected president. Not only because we both grew up in Hawaii where so many of the principles of community and caring for others are shared but also because, for the first time, my ideals of truth and justice seemed commensurate with that of the majority of this nation.

After reading his Kansas speech, I want to reaffirm those ideals of truth and justice despite the difficult times of economic decline and political stalemate.

The promise of moving forward to build a national consensus towards the kind of nation we wish to become seems further and further out of reach.

It would be understandable to call it quits.

For most of my professional life I have worked to communicate and to organize around environmental values. I have reveled in the glow of winning an issue that furthers environmental protections and felt the bitterness of defeat when decisions have gone the other way.

As climate change and global warming accelerate, as endangered species decline and go extinct, and as short-term profit taking lays waste to our limited natural resources, it’s sometimes hard to answer the honest question of why continue to get up in the morning to pursue a cause that seems to have such heavy odds against winning.

The answer is that it is not myself alone who believes in these ideals; the cause calls out for giving voice to many others who share the ideals but do not have a voice.

President Obama’s campaign to be elected to a second term is about giving a voice to the many Americans who still hold to the ideals and values so ably articulated in the first campaign— and in the speech given in Kansas. I believe that the ideal of a just and caring nation capable of conducting its business with civil discourse is shared by the majority of the American people.

That is the task before the Obama ’12 campaign—a task to which I will offer my skills, experience and passion.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Whatcom County’s Yew Street "Whack-A-Mole"

 12/7 update: The Whatcom County Council rescheduled discussion of the Yew Street rezone to its Feb. 28 meeting. 

The current Whatcom County Council’s approach to avoiding land use lawsuits is to zone and rezone to accommodate developers at the expense of the public trust.

A good example is the recurring attempts to allow subdivision development along the Yew Street corridor in the Lake Padden watershed, an area shared by both County and City of Bellingham jurisdictions.

Tonight, Dec. 6 at 7 PM, the County Council holds a public hearing to allow more development despite the City’s past opposition to denser development and promises to sue in opposition.

In a Bellingham Herald article on Monday, Dec. 5, Jared Paben reported that, “City Planning Director Jeff Thomas sent a Dec. 1 letter to the County Council reiterating the city’s opposition to the Yew Street Road urban-growth area at this time. In 2007, the City Council then rejected annexing the then-urban-zoned land.

“’A city study at the time found that if the city annexed the land, it would spend $30 million more than it collected in revenue from the properties over a 20-year period,’ Thomas wrote.”

In a letter to the County Council, People for Lake Padden
director Betsy Gross yesterday wrote, “Several years ago, the Lake Padden watershed was given a watershed protection designation, the area was removed from Urban Growth Area status, and a portion of this area was rezoned as an urban reserve, in order to protect the lake from degradation.  It would therefore be unwise to undo these decisions without taking into account their potential for negative impacts on the lake.”

The protection, of course, was done by the “old” County Council which was more receptive to protecting the public trust throughout the county; the current Council has been more receptive to development interests active in the Yew Street area-- and the issue of rezoning for higher density keeps coming up.

The fact that current County Executive Pete Kremen, who supported the urban reserve zoning, will be replacing pro-development councilmember Tony Larson next year may have something to do with this holiday-season effort to rezone the area.

In any case, this is a classic case of development interests being put before the public’s interest. The public benefits don’t pencil out economically, nor do they make environmental sense.

That’s pointed out by Betsy Gross of People for Lake Padden, where citizens are taking water samples and Western Washington University interns are doing water quality analysis of the lake and land use studies of the watershed.

Lummi Nation Natural Resources Director Merle Jefferson used a good phrase to describe how the tribe would be assessing the full range of scientific, economic and social issues associated with the coal export facility proposed for Cherry Point. He said the tribe would be  pursuing a “knowledge-based decision-making process.”

Whack that County Council mole with some real fact-finding and public process, I say. (Disclosure: I live in the Lake Padden watershed and I believe in a “knowledge-based decision-making process.”) I know that’s supported by others: A Year of Sprawling Achievements

December 5, 2011
To: Councilmember Bill Knutzen,
Councilmember Tony Larson
Councilmember Kathy Kershner
Councilmember Ken Mann
Councilmember Sam Crawford
Councilmember Carl Weimer
Councilmember Barbara Brenner
Cc: County Executive Pete Kremen
Whatcom County Council

Mayor Dan Pike

Re: Yew Street Rezoning Proposal

I am writing to you on behalf of the group People for Lake Padden ( <> ) requesting that the Whatcom County Council postpone action on rezoning the Yew Street neighborhood until the county has sufficient scientific and land use information to make a knowledge-based decision that protects the Lake Padden watershed and the health of Lake Padden.

Several years ago, the Lake Padden watershed was given a watershed protection designation, the area was removed from Urban Growth Area status, and a portion of this area was rezoned as an urban reserve, in order to protect the lake from degradation.  It would therefore be unwise to undo these decisions without taking into account their potential for negative impacts on the lake.

People for Lake Padden is a citizen’s initiative which is collaborating with City, County, and University professionals to conduct scientific studies of this lake and its watershed. These studies and community discussion should inform the discussion and decisions regarding the land use designations in the watershed, education and regulatory measures to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the lake through the watershed, and any zoning or rezoning changes.

Results from these studies will be available in 2012 and shared with watershed residents and with the State DOE, the County and the City of Bellingham. It would be premature to move forward now with any rezoning until the public and the county have had the opportunity to review and discuss the findings and recommendations.

Lake Padden is one of the crown jewels enjoyed by many residents of Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham. The health of our lake is determined by how well we manage our activities as stewards of the Lake Padden watershed. Let’s wait until the studies are done to make any decisions about rezoning the Yew Street portion of the Lake Padden watershed.

Thank you,
Betsy Gross, Director
People for Lake Padden
715-1173 <>