Monday, March 20, 2017

HEALTH CARE: WE NEED SINGLE PAYER IN THE USA

Yes, I'm picking up that old, battered drum and banging away on it as furiously as I can. The wonderful Republican Members of Congress (MoCs), having beaten the drum of Repeal Obamacare to splinters, are now fumbling around trying to figure out how to build a new Trumpcare drum, and they are not being very successful.


"Obamacare is a disaster!" Well, no, it is not. A disaster is "a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe, that causes great damage or loss of life." In fact, the Affordabkle Care Act has saved many, many lives by providing healkth care to those who need it most. Historians might look back at the end of 2016 and determine that the election of Donald J. Trump truly was a disaster; time will tell.

If you have paid any attention to the health insurance debate raging in Congress, and who can ignore it, you know that the Republican MoC efforts are a train wreck. The Ryancare plan (keep in mind that The Donald does not have an original thought in his yellow head, and is only the robot who signs and claims victrory for Republican bills) is basically deads on arrival; the Dems hate it, conservative Republicans hate it, many Trump voters hate it, elderly people and their organizations hate it, and the list goes on and on. And even more telling, more and more health care and insurance experts who have examined it are saying that it will not work, and even worse, it will leave the poorest among us behind. As many as 24,000,000 people will be left without health insurance as a result of the Republican plan.

Sadly, Republicare could pass both the House and Senate, at which point the yellow-headed man with the pen will sign it, and then announce that, once again, He, and He alone, has done what he said he would do, and is making America great, again. (Pardon me while I puke.)

So why am I beating the tired old drum of single payer health care again? Am I tilting at windmills? Let me explain.

First, here is an excellent piece in the NY Times that lays out the differences between American health care and that of almost every other capitalist democracy. Please read the article if you truly want to understand my opinion, then come back here. (sound of soft music playing to fill time while you read)

V. P. Mike Pence: "Obamacare will be replaced with something that actually works - bringing freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care." This is the crux of the issue, this so-called "freedom" these Republican MoCs keep clamoring for. If you have ever had to compare health insurance plans in order to choose one, or have had to figure out a complex bill for medical and hospital services, or had to pay for a prescription that is priced at the limit of your means, or had to fight with an insurance company to get autrhorization for a procedure or a referal to a specialist - then you clearly understand that you have not experienced "freedom," but instead a special kind of hell that can actually make you worse.

Why do we have such a complex and frustrating health care system? Why did health care in America become a commodity instead of a service? Why is profit more importasnt than life?

I want single-payer health care for everyone in America. You go to a doctor and you get medical service; there is no question about paying for it, it is covered. You pay taxes and you get medical service, end of story (and those who don't make enough to pay taxes also get medical services). What is so terrible about that? Where is the loss of so-called freedom from that?

And so, dear readers, I will be lobbying my MoCs for single-payer health care in America. The reality of today is that I have no control over the Republican-dominated Congress, and they will do whatever it is they want to do to get rid of something accomplished by President Obama and replace it with a system that benefits their wealthy benefactors. Trumpcare, Ryancare, Republicare...whatever we call it, it will stink like a huge pile of rotting trash - guaranteed. So I'm going for single-payer, Republicans be damned!

(...and yes, Bernie was correct...)

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Thursday, March 09, 2017

IMPACTS OF SWAMP DRAINING ON CLIMATE CHANGE

The current occupant of the Whitehouse was elected on the promise, among others, of “draining the swamp” in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, he did not consult the EPA or other agencies responsible for the environment. Had he done his due diligence, he might have been required to go through the appropriate regulatory reviews in order to do the draining.

Swamps are a type of wetland. Wetlands cover approximately six to nine per cent of the Earth’s surface and contain about 35 per cent of global terrestrial carbon. Scientists are concerned that disturbances to wetlands, such as draining them, can exacerbate climate change. Typical concerns are:

"For the first time we are getting a sense that greenhouse gas losses from drained and degraded coastal wetlands may be globally significant and that drained organic-rich soils continuously release carbon for decades."



"Clearing or drainage of wetlands can lead to large losses of stored organic carbon to atmospheric carbon dioxide."

Wetlands are also a source of methane to the atmosphere. Methane is a powerful climate change gas, and draining wetlands can result in increased emissions.

Unfortunately, the man now in the Whitehouse has repeatedly stated that human-induced climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by China (!). He also seems to have a negative attitude about science, a discipline based in facts.

Our new Whitehouse occupant has also assigned the federal agency responsible for wetland, air quality and emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency, to an enemy of that agency, Scott Pruitt, with the apparent assignment of greatly reducing the EPA role and regulations. And as expected, in an interview this morning, Mr. Pruitt claimed that human-caused climate change is controversial, and that CO2 is not a factor.

How ironic is it that the person now in charge of the USA, who doesn’t give a tupPence about climate change, will greatly accelerate such change by fulfilling his promise to drain the swamp; and without the required environmental permits? Of course, the EPA very soon will not require any such permits, so, well, there you go.

And I haven’t even discussed the impact of the greatly increased amount of hot air from the Whitehouse on our changing climate.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

AI, ROBOTIC WEAPONS AND THE FUTURE OF HUMANS

NYTIMES 5FEB2017. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics applied to weaponry. 

The US and China (maybe others?) are making great advances. The future of warfare looks like it could be robotic weapons that can make their own decisions (at present, new weapons are targeted by humans, but can make decisions on-the-fly as conditions change).

Other uses of AI and robotics include medical technology and self-driving vehicles. These sound like beneficial uses of technology, although, any technology can have a dark side in the wrong hands.

Is weaponization of AI and robotics a good idea? Are we dooming Homo sapiens to either be destroyed by the machines, or made to be subservient to them? If weapons are capable of making decisions, will they at some point be able to make the "push the button" decision? We know of numerous examples in the United States when a technological problem made it look like the U. S. was being attacked, and only the hesitation of a human to initiate the defensive response averted catastrophe. How likely is it that robots will be programmed to hesitate because of a "feeling" that something just doesn't make sense? 

If you are a Star Trek Generations fan, think about the character Data. Data is a robot, an android with a "neural net" instead of a brain. Data is programmed to respond instantly to every permutation of information and conditions. If Data's neural net concludes that it is being attacked, it responds without hesitation. How many times have we seen Captain Jean Luc Piccard use intuition, emotion, common sense to avert a wrong reaction? 

Perhaps robots of the future will have the programming to intuit, emote and use common sense; however, if they do, will we humans still be in charge? 

So U.S., China and all others, do you really want to continue down the path of robotic weaponry that uses artificial intelligence to "think" for themselves?  Can't we humans be human enough to move towards ending warfare once and for all? 

Think about it while you still can.

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Friday, February 03, 2017

TRUMPARABIA: AMERICA (NOT) FIRST ENERGY POLICY

Dear readers: a few days ago I heard part of an interview on the radio with Kalid Al-Falih, the Saudi Arabia Oil Minister. One thing he mentioned was that Saudi Arabia has billions of dollars invested in the U.S. oil and gas industry, and under President Trump, they expect to invest even more. This peaked my interest, and I have spent the past few days doing research. This post is about what I have found so far.

Let me be very clear before I start; this is not a conspiracy theory, and I am not one to promote conspiracy theories. On the contrary, this is about normal business-as-usual in the global corporate world. What I have done here is show the relationships, the web of connections that tell the story, and that, inmyopinion, help us understand a lot about the intersections of corporate industry and government. My sources are listed at the end.

I made a diagram on my white board. Please refer to the diagram, below, as I go through each node in the web. 



Trump Companies - During 2015 - 2016, before and during his candidacy for President of the United States, Mr. Trump had at least 8 deals going with the Saudi Kingdom for hotels, resorts and other developments. By the end of 2016, at least four of these were still active. 

Trump Administration - As President of the United States, Donald Trump has wasted no time putting forward guidelines to his political agenda. On inauguration day, the whitehouse.gov website already had a number of policy or issue statements. The first listed is An America First Energy Plan. This plan is focused on domestic energy production in order to provide energy security by using oil and gas resources within the United States (mostly on federal lands). One paragraph is especially germane to my discussion: 


In addition to being good for our economy, boosting domestic energy production is in America’s national security interest. President Trump is committed to achieving energy independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to our interests. At the same time, we will work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our anti-terrorism strategy.

Saudi Arabia - The Saudi Kingdom is extremely wealthy as a result of their oil and gas industry, which is largely state-owned. The Arab American Oil Company, Aramco, is the largest oil company in the world, and is on-track to exceed Exxon Mobile as the world's largest refiner, with facilities in the USA, China, South Korea, India and the Netherlands. The CEO of Aramco until very recently was Khalid Al-Falih. Mr. Al-Falih is now the Saudi Arabia Oil Minister. 

In his interview this past week, Mr. Al-Falih said that President Trump's policies will be "good for the oil industry" and will steer the U.S. away from "excessive anti-fossil fuel, unrealistic policies by some well-intentioned environment proponents." He also said that the U. S. and Saudi Arabia  have "huge areas of alignment," and that the United States is the largest energy and petroleum market in the world.

Aramco, in a 50:50 joint venture with Royal Dutch Shell some years ago, built the Motiva Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, on the Gulf Coast. The joint venture is ending this year, and Aramco will be the sole owner of Motiva. Motiva is one of the ten largest oil refineries in the world, and is the largest refinery in the United States, producing gasoline, diesel and other refined products for the U. S. market. Until recently, much of the crude oil refined at Motiva came from Saudi Arabia; this was a result of the decrease in supply resulting from the sanctions against Iran and Russia, to which the Saudis agreed to step up their production. Saudi crude, however, known as "sour crude" cannot be refined in most U.S. refineries, so it was shipped to Texas where it could be processed at Motiva.

Saudi Arabia is a member, and the actual leader of the OPEC oil cartel, and is one of America's "Gulf allies," as referenced in the Trump America First energy policy. 

Exxon Mobile - Everyone is familiar with Exxon Mobile, one of the ten largest energy companies in the world. Exxon has holdings all over the world, including a lot of business in Saudi Arabia. One recent business deal was between an Exxon research branch and the Saudi-owned Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), in a joint venture to site and build a new petrochemical complex on the U.S. Gulf Coast (location is yet to be finalized). The new plant will be a natural gas refinery that will produce chemicals for the plastics industry. The natural gas source will be regional fracking facilities in the U.S. south. A 2016 Exxon brochure stated: "Exxon is one of the largest foreign investors in the Saudi Kingdom; and is one of the largest private purchasers of Aramco crude oil." 

The new Secretary of State for the United States, Rex Tillerson, was the CEO of Exxon Mobile until he stepped down this year to take the helm of State in the Trump Administration. Mr. Al-Falih, the Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia, says, very effusively, that Mr. Tillerson is "one of the highest qualified executives I have ever dealt with."  

The State of Texas - Texas is the home to a huge petroleum industry, especially along the Gulf Coast. Rick Perry was Governor of Texas from 2000 until 2015. He is now the Trump nominee to head the U. S. Department of Energy (yes, the department he wanted to eliminate when he was a candidate for President). Rick Perry is an alumnus of Texas A & M University, just like Khalid Al-Falih, the former CEO of Aramco and present Saudi Oil Minister. In fact, in his recent interview, Mr. Falih said of Secretary-designate Perry; "he is a great person; pro-oil and gas." 

While Perry was the Texas Governor, the Motiva Refinery was awarded a $2-million grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund, promising to hire 300 people within a certain time-frame (they eventually met that goal, but within a longer time-frame). Just after that award, Shell Oil, the Joint Venture partner in Motiva with Aramco, began donating to the Perry campaign ($13,000) and to the Republican Governors Association (a total of $235,000 as of 2011). 

Also during his governorship, Rick Perry establish Foreign Trade Zones in Texas. Texas has 31 Foreign Trade Zones, more than any other U. S. state. These zones include the Motiva and other major refineries, including those belonging to Valero, BP, Koch Industries, Exxon Mobile and others. Within these FTZs, there is no state or federal taxation on sales. 

Keystone XL Pipeline - There are not many refineries set up to handle the type of crude petroleum, known as "dilbit" that is produced from the Canadian tar sands. The Motiva refinery stands out as the largest facility that can easily process dilbit, as a result of it's being built to handle Saudi sour crude. As the supply of Saudi oil to Motiva became more limited due to political initiatives during the Obama years, Aramco, the Motiva owner, looked north to Canada for a supply. The Keystone XL pipeline would deliver Canadian dilbit (and other products) to Port Arthur, Texas, home of Motiva. Within Texas, at least 9 refineries that are listed as possible purchasers of Canadian tar sand products are within FTZs. This means that they can export refined products, or even crude product from Canada without paying any state or federal taxes. 

On January 24, 2017, President Trump issued a Presidential Memorandum inviting TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline, LP to "promptly re-submit its application to the Department of State for a Presidential permit for the construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a major pipeline for the importation of petroleum from Canada to the United States." 

Petroleum Markets -  World demand for petroleum products, including in the United States, is forecast to increase for at least the next 30-40 years or beyond. Oil and gas production within the United States is booming, largely due to improved recovery techniques, especially fracking. U. S. exports of oil and gas have been increasing dramatically, and many regions have seen proposals for or construction of export facilities for oil, natural gas (as liquified natural gas, or LNG) and refined products. It is clear that the Motiva and other refineries on the Gulf Coast will continue to supply domestic petroleum markets, as well as sell product to foreign markets, such as China, other Asian nations, and nations in Latin America.

Conclusion - As I stated at the beginning, this web of relationships is not surprising; people within an industry know each other, and companies work together. What is striking here is how the Trump Administration has put together a group of companies and people and government officials that seems all too purposeful to achieve major wins for not only the United States, but also the Saudi Arabian Kingdom and one or more very large petroleum industries. Does the relationship between the Trump company and Saudi Arabia have anything to do with this? I have my opinion. 

This cozy web of relationships begs the question of an America First energy policy.

Finally, I included the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in my diagram, even though I have not (yet) found any direct connections between the new head of EPA, Scott Pruitt, and other nodes in my drawing. Mr. Pruitt is very pro-oil and gas, and has a record of being very anti-EPA. Because the EPA has a major role in regulating refineries, we can expect to see major changes within that agency and the way it treats the oil and gas industry. 

Sources:




http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/306990-trump-appeared-to-register-eight-companies-in-saudi-arabia  

https://www.ft.com/content/7239bd93-67e9-3c0d-ab89-027991860e20

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/business/texas-refinery-is-saudi-foothold-in-us-market.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

BOYCOTT UBER?

A number of our FB friends have posted that they are boycotting Uber. I don't agree with this as a political strategy, but the larger question is why boycott anything?

The boycott has been used effectively a few times in our recent history. The United Farm Worker's Union, under Ceasar Chavez, used a boycott of Gallo wine and table grapes as a way to build public pressure on the grape/wine industry to negotiate with farmworkers to improve working conditions, pay and other benefits. The boycott campaign was well thought-out and managed, and actually helped achieve the union goals over a period of many years.

A boycott's effectiveness depends on how widespread it becomes, and how persistent. If the target is a large corporation or industry, the target will have greater staying power (i.e. money, lawyers, public relations, etc.) than a poorly organized "organic" boycott. The various social media make it relatively easy to spread the word; however, this type of home-grown boycott has little chance of success over the long-term because there is no strategy, no plan, no funding and PR campaign.

The underlying question about boycotting Uber or any other company is: "what is the goal?" The Uber boycott, apparently started by one or more persons on Twitter or Facebook, was in response to the perception that Uber's CEO is a major Trump supporter, and that Uber didn't stop service to JFK when one of the taxi companies did as a way to protest the Trump immigration/refugee Order.

But what does boycotting Uber really do? Does your deletion of the Uber app hurt Donald Trump? No, absolutely not. Does it harm the Uber CEO financially? No. If enough people do this, maybe it will have a financial impact in part of their market. But more likely your boycott of Uber will hurt the Uber drivers in your neighborhood, you know, the people who are trying to make a living by driving you around. Is this really your intent? (And btw, a bit of research shows that Lyft is heavily financed by major Trump supporters, so the boycott Uber - use Lyft meme is nonsense.)

Jumping on a boycott bandwagon is not necessarily a PC thing to do. In fact, in my opinion, it is rarely a correct thing to do. Too many people jump on these bandwagons simply because someone they know has done the same, and it is very likely that no one has taken the small amount of time needed to check facts and then think about it. It is easy, way too easy on social media, to click on something, or share something that sounds like a good idea. We all need to be more mindful. We all need to toss PC in the trash bin and be more intentional.

We are presently being played, big time, by Steve Bannon, the puppet master pulling Trump's strings. He is laughing at us. He tells Trump to ban immigrants and refugees, and the left boycotts Uber! Hilarious! We fools are doing exactly what he wants us to do - taking our eyes off the reality of his political coup and fighting among ourselves.

Let's be smart, not PC.

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Friday, January 27, 2017

ON INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY

We Jews remember; evolution has made it part of our DNA. We have been "the other" since the beginning. We have been hounded across continents. We have been the convenient object of whips, clubs, knives, axes, torches, bullets, and the much more "advanced" technology of gas chambers. 

Those who today self-assign as Nazis, or the so much more fashionable "Alt-Right" have no claim to notoriety except as brutes. And yet. And yet. 

Those who deny the barbaric deeds of a government and it's people deny my history, my existence, and although this pleases them, they are no more than a cruel mutation.

Those who play the anti-Israel game without concern that it fans the flames of Jew hatred, because it is The Bandwagon, because it is Politically Correct, because it is "intersectionality;" well, to them I say, lucky it's not you. 

I am an atheist. I am a Jew. If Hitler's (or Trump's?) Storm Troopers knock on my door I will be hauled away with those from the synagogue, regardless, because of my genes. There are no buts. 



And now a poem. I am not a poet, but many people are. Here is one that is not apologetic. Here is one filled with anger...righteous anger! Read it, to the end. I truly hope you don't enjoy it. 

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a poem by William Pillin

FAREWELL TO EUROPE

1.

We, the captives of a thousand skies,
sang the airs of many peoples,
tango, waltz and leaping czardash;

but the waltz stumbles, the oboe
is poised on the brink of a scream.

We whispered madrigals of woe
in sewers and cellars.
We learned sparrow wit, hangman humor,
at the bottom of scaffolds,
at the gates of stone chimneys.

Europe, the odor of your guilt
lingers in our nostrils.
You are a perspective of walls
diminishing in cold moonlight.

Vanish from our songs!

2.

Will your pianos haunt us to the end?
The stars in your snows, O steppes?
the sunlight bleeding gold
on the rim of a snow-foaming mountain?

Facade of roses and wings,
shall we cloak our memories in blue
because your gardens sang to the sun?

The kaftan companions of the Presence
are swept from the streets of your cities.
Our migrants kiss a new wind
scented with ancient cedars.

Farewell, the Vienna woods are no longer calling,
or the grimacing spires of Cologne,
or your gleaming cupolas, Kiev.

3.

Your temples are Gothic stalactites,
frozen tears of eternity;
your gardens are lavender clouds;
your streetlamp shimmering buoys
of musical boulevards.

But you were never our motherland.
We were born
not on the Rhine or the Vistula
but in Abraham’s tent
on a journey from Ur to Judea.

This you never ceased to remind us;
that we are alien,
remote from you, the light of a dead star
that faintly lingers upon this planet.

4.

We are leaving. We take little with us;
some music, a few poems.

It is well that we stand under new arches
bequeathing to our children
our praises, our celebrations.

Our Einstein will toughen the mental sinews
       of other continents.
Our Freud will plumb the dark soul of Asia.
Our Marx will rally the cadres of jungles
       and savannah.

5. 

We are leaving. No longer will you have to cross
yourself, people with pitchforks and cudgels,
as our huddled remnants trudge over your
meadows.

O mother of white nights, after a millennium on
your steppes your hostages are pleading: let
us depart!

We are leaving our ancestral tombs, our shrines,
our wealth endlessly plundered by the card-
playing nobles.

We are leaving you forever, belching Siegfried,
Vladimir red-eyed from distilled potatoes!

6.

Europe, you realm of carnivorous blondes!
Your grand canals are clogged by chemical silt,
The sculptures of your saints are eroded by
pigeon droppings.
Smokestacks spew their black spittle on the
vineyards of Chateau de Rothschild.

Elegant bushmen celebrate your Requiem Mass
with tom-toms and banjos.

Even as you revel in your utopia of pig-fat,
blood sausage and Pilsen
you look nervously over your shoulder
at the lean wolves of the east.

They will strip your flesh leaving
the bare bones of cathedrals.
What the wolves will not eat -
monuments, fountains, castles -
will be shipped stone by antique stone
to the Disneylands of America.

7.

Basta! Genug! Assez! Dostatochno!

Farewell, blue-eyed maiden. You need no
longer exclaim on seeing the mark of
our ancient covenant: “You cheated me!
You never told me!”

Farewell, priests whose blood mysteries at
Lent goaded the tavern heroes to wield
their axes among us.

Zbigniew, whom will your children curse?
Zoltan, astride a stallion, at who will
you lash out galloping by?

You have no one to bludgeon but each other!


© by William Pillin 1975
in the abandoned music room

Kayak Books, Santa Cruz, CA

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States

Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety
in the Interior of the United States

January 25, 2017

This Trump Executive Order is for rounding up and deporting "REMOVABLE ALIENS." They are not illegal any longer, they are The Removables!!

This Order is infuriating and outrageous. Every American should read it in it's entirity.

One paragraph is about my city, Portland, Oregon, as well as many other cities:

Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.

We are a self-declared Sanctuary City, which means our police will not act as immigration officers of the federal government. Are we violating Federal law? If so, BRING IT, you megalomaniac! We will fight you in the streets, in the courts, everywhere!

Anf then there is this:

Sec. 5. Enforcement Priorities. In executing faithfully the immigration laws of the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary) shall prioritize for removal those aliens described by the Congress in sections ... as well as removable aliens who:

(a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;

(b) Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;

(c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;

(d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;

(e) Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;

(f) Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or

(g) In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.

WTF? "Have been charged...where such charge has not been resolved." Guilty without being proven guilty!

"Committed acts that CONSTITUTE a chargeable criminal offense." That is ALL of us! I was speeding the other day and didn't get caught. I said something out loud in the shower that could be a treasonable statement but the FBI didn't hear me.

"In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security." So, in other words, some immigration officer doesn't like the way someone looks, you know, he has brown skin and therefore looks like a criminal. In that officer's judgment the guy poses a risk. And that's all that is needed to deport someone.

Folks, this is truly bad shit. This is not our America.

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