Thursday, June 25, 2015

IT'S NOT ABOUT YOUR FLAG: MORE COMMENTS ON RACISM IN AMERICA

Our dear friend Linda summed it up in a single statement the other night. We were having a group discussion about the murders in the AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, and Linda spoke so passionately about the racism in America. At the end of her emotional comments, she stated emphatically "Come on species - get your act together!!" Exactly.

Another mass murder in America; but this time there was an important difference. This killing was motivated by racial hatred, and the killer said later that his intent was to start a race war in America. This is an act of terrorism, and we citizens of America need to stop, think, and carefully consider the iceberg under this tip.

Humanity, Homo sapiens, is a species of apes that has evolved a large brain that, combined with manual dexterity, has allowed it to develop into the dominant organism on Earth. Humans have reached the point at which our actions are changing the climate of the planet.  (I will leave for a future post the wide-ranging changes implicit in the term "climate change;" however, suffice it to say that every physical, chemical and biological system and process on Earth related to climate is being affected.)  Yes, we are such an advanced species of animal that we are making our own habitat less habitable.

But how advanced are we, really? Unfortunately,  closer examination leads us to conclude that we are not very advanced at all. Sociologically we are relatively primitive. We still cling to outdated ideas, mythologies and superstitions. We retain strong group bonds at various levels, bonds that often result in acts of cruelty. We are shocked to see on the news that ISIS has beheaded their captives - the barbarians! How convenient it is that we overlook the fact that good, white Christians have a history of beheadings, burnings at the stake, disembowelment, rape, torture and genocide. (No, I'm not part of the War on Christians; I'm simply using the Euro/American majority for my example.) Look around, and you will find that our mass behavior hasn't really changed so much, even though our technological achievements are rapid and astounding.

And this brings me (at last!) to the Confederate flag. I'm sorry to tell you that it's not about the frickin' flag. The Confederate flag is, and has been for a long time, an insult to everyone. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.) stated that the flag is "who we are" for South Carolinians (to be fair, you should listen to his remarks in context here). That flag has a place in history, and it's fine to display it as part of telling that history. Flying the Confederate flag at the Statehouse in S.C. simply says; "This flag symbolizes our history of slavery and the war we proudly fought to preserve it."  Politicians in South Carolina have rushed to now remove the flag from the Statehouse - great - but this is not the story.

Walmart, Sears, Amazon, eBay and other retailers have announce that they will no longer sell items with the Confederate flag. Um, OK, but what took you so long? In other words, you've been selling this stuff up until now, but now you'll stop? So, the flag was not a problem, was not a symbol of slavery and racism, until a terrorist killed 9 Black Americans in their church? !!!

The Confederate flag is an insult to all of us when it is displayed by state or local government. But the flag is not the issue that needs our focus, and all the hoopla about it is a red herring meant to distract us from the real issues.

The main issue at play here is human nature. The fact that one human can brutally hurt or murder another innocent human is the real "who we are." If evolution can't change this behavior of our species, then we must consciously do it ourselves. The alternative to changing human behavior is a continuation of the human behaviors that result in hatred and murder. This has been for a long time, and continues to be the norm.

So yes Linda, I agree: "Come on species - get your act together!"

Thursday, June 18, 2015

TERRORISM IN AMERICA

It is still too early to know conclusively, but the killings at a church in Charleston,  South Carolina appear to be an act of terrorism. There is a dark underbelly in America, comprised of white people who are filled with racial hatred against Black, Jewish, Muslim and other Americans. In the Charleston case, a young white man shot and killed 9 people in an African-American church.

This isn't about gun control. This is possibly not about mental illness. This is about racial hatred expressed as an act of terrorism.

We Americans wonder how young people in other countries are attracted to join radical Jihadist groups, such as ISIS/ISIL/IS in Syria, Iraq and other areas. (And yes, even young people here in America.) What fills them with such hatred and zealotry that they can willingly kill innocent people and commit other acts of atrocity in the name of their god or their movement?  Well, an answer will likely be revealed as the investigation and trial of the young killer in Charleston proceeds. There are early indications that this young man had some connection to white supremacy literature and organizations, sources of hatred spread by adherents to recruit others to their cause. And their cause is to save the white race from the ravages of the "others."

We have so much work to do! The we I refer to are all Americans who are repulsed by hate-inspired acts carried out in our midst. This is not a problem solely for the African American community; this is a problem for the American community. Let's not get sidetracked; let us bring a laser focus to the issues of racism in America. We cannot allow hate groups to gain any foothold in society, and we must root them out where they already exist and expose them for what they are. At the same time, we need to shine bright lights on institutionalized racism in our society, and expose it for what it is.

We can do this. We have to do this. It has taken too long.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

CALIFORNIA DROUGHT - CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL: HAVING IT BOTH WAYS?

Congressman Devin Nunes, Republican from California, seems to think he can have it both ways regarding climate change. Nunes is a known climate change denier, one who poo-poos scientific facts concluding that human activity has resulted in drastic changes to our atmosphere and climate systems. But he has a different opinion when it comes to the California drought.

For the past several years, Nunes has been telling anyone who will listen, and speaking and blogging about the "man-made drought" in California. Aha; so he does believe the drought and other extreme climate events are caused by human activities releasing carbon into the atmosphere! Gotcha!

Well, actually, no. What Nunes is saying is that "this is a drought that's been created by government, by their big supporters in the radical environmental groups."  Oh. In his view it is the Endangered Species Act that is the culprit, because water is being kept in rivers for threatened and endangered fish, instead of being released to farmers for irrigation. Sure, there has been less rain and snow for a few years, but the government is holding back a lot of water for "3-inch bait fish" (the Delta smelt) and thus creating the drought that is so severely affecting farmers in California. Oh my......

How convenient to have someone to blame: the damn government and radical environmentalists. Yes, the Endangered Species Act, passed during the administration of, and signed by, President Richard Nixon (wasn't he a Republican?). Well, all of this righteous smoke about a smelt is really a red herring. The drought in California appears to be caused by natural phenomena. Is there a relationship between the drought and human-forced climate change? Probably not, as explained in a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report:


It is interesting that the Republicans have adopted "man-made drought" as one of their new mantras. Carly Fiorina uses it (Remember her? She drove HP into the ground before being fired as CEO, and now wants to be President of the USA.). John Boehner uses it. Lots of other Republicans use it. And, of course, they are tying it to the Obama administration.

So don't get excited when you hear the likes of Devin Nunes talk about the man-made drought in California He hasn't changed his deniers tune on climate change; he's just playing politics as usual.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

ENDING RACISM AND OPPRESSION IN AMERICA: WE NEED TO PULL TOGETHER

Americans celebrate our revolution against tyranny and oppression every July. Yet we allow tyranny and oppression to exist in our everyday lives in the form of police brutality, hunger, poverty, disease, unemployment, homelessness and many others. 

Of particular notice in the media are the almost daily incidents of Black Americans, mostly young men, dying at the hands of police officers. Today the media are focused on Baltimore; tomorrow will be yet another American city. What is the cause, why is this happening, who is to blame? 

America is to blame. Racism is firmly institutionalized in the American system. Slavery and Jim Crow have been replaced by a more insidious and mostly hidden form of institutionalized racism that is difficult to put a finger on and even more difficult to root out. If you read past the headlines, you have at least a general sense of the issues in the Black neighborhoods of American cities. You certainly have seen the numbers of young Black Americans in prison or with prison records, mostly for crimes related to drugs. You have read about the level of unemployment, poverty, and lack of education of our young Black American men. Too many of us shake our heads in dismay, talk about how terrible this is, and move on to other things.

And all too often we blame "the police" for the problems. Yes, police brutality and excessive use of force are too prevalent in our cities. Yes, police departments across the country must be forced to change institutionally, and police culture must be changed drastically. In too many cities, the police departments include militarized units that in practice are occupational forces tasked with controlling the population, specifically in poor and minority neighborhoods. But the police are not the root of the problem.

The root of the problem is the American system that creates the poverty, unemployment and  substandard education that keeps a large segment of our fellow citizens in a state of subjugation. A variety of barriers are erected to keep these citizens separated from the more affluent segments of our society, and the police are given the job of maintaining that separation. As the desperation of the subjugated class grows, the level of repression increases in the form of violence by police officers. 

These are complex problems that need complex solutions. It is fair to say that government as we know it today is not going to solve these problems; if that were the case, we wouldn't be in this situation now. And rioting will not solve the problem, either. So what do we do?

First, by "we" I mean every American, not just Black Americans. We need to pull together over this set of issues and work within our communities to level the playing field. And all communities need to coordinate nation-wide to take actions at a national level, or that will get attention from national news media. We need to work together to get from a society of greed to a society of collaboration. We need to push our local economies to create living wage jobs and find ways to get people who need them into those jobs. We need to find ways to improve neighborhoods without forcing out the people already living in them (i.e. gentrification). We need to push our school systems to be inclusive and to act as community institutions that address the problems of poverty and education by lifting families as well as children. 

And that's my opinion.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

HOORAY FOR NURSES

I am once again thinking about the health care system as I help my wife recover from back surgery. People always talk about their surgeon, and how fantastic he or she is. And this is usually, thankfully, true. The neurosurgeon and the anesthesiologist who conducted the back surgery on Sherry did a terrific job, and they were both friendly, caring and patient the times we met with them.

But the real kudos go to the nurses. Sherry was in the hospital for only 6 hours, but the nurses who cared for her, Steffanie, Kelly, Patty and student nurse Rachel were the front line staff who made the experience not just tolerable, but comfortable and, at times, even fun. They are professionals; they are also warm, friendly people who enjoy their jobs and are truly interested in the people to whom they provide care. So yes, my wife's surgeon was terrific, but her nurses were out of this world!

I learned recently that health care workers have one of the highest rates of work-related injuries.

Chicago, IL -(PRNewswire)- Workers in the healthcare industry suffer higher on the job injuries than most other professions, with more than two million reported lost work days in 2011. Despite this, the focus of safety in healthcare facilities has been primarily on patient safety, according to Safety Culture in Healthcare, The $13 Billion Case, a peer-reviewed feature in the October issue of Professional Safety, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) journal.
It seems that most hospitals put profit before the health of their staff (this includes the so-called not-for-profit hospitals). National Public Radio did a series on this topic. In my humble opinion, the big hospital systems are making big profits on the backs of their workers - literally. 
So let us all say hooray for nurses, nurses aides, orderlies and all other health care workers. And let's also protect the health of health care professionals. It's an old saying, but people before profit applies here. 
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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

THE SAD STATE OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL (JUST LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD)

Many months before the recent election in Israel, before Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gave his speech to the U.S. Congress, I had in mind writting a post about Israeli politics. The title would have been something like: "Why does Benjamin Netsanyahu Keep Stabbing Me in the Back?" It seemed that every time I posted my thoughts supporting the right of Israel to defend itself against terrorists (e.g. Hamas in Gaza), Mr. Netanyahu slipped a knife between my ribs by announcing more settlement building. It got to the point of being predictable, and infuriating.

In the runup to the Israeli elections, Netanyahu collaborated with the worst elements of the congressional Republican right wing in the U.S. to bolster his cred with the Israeli right wing by dissing our President and our very serious negotiations with Iran concerning nuclear weapons. This was blatant electioneering supported and abetted by the Republicans in the U.S. Congress. Senate Republicans (47 of them) then sent an amazingly stupid and embarrassing letter to the leadership of Iran, further endangering the success of the negotiations between a coalition of world governments and Iran. (Although a clear evidentiary path has yet to be illuminated, some analysts think that the letter was the idea of Netanyahu's Likud Party and possibly written by the American lobby group AIPAC (see Note 1) In any event, the concept and execution of The Letter remains a very interesting political maneuver.). 

In the final days of the campaigning in Israel, Netanyahu took the low road to bolster his support by the Israeli right wing and ultra religious groups and stated that if elected, he would ensure that there would not be a Palestinian State, the elusive two-state solution. 

Netanyahu has now won what was supposed to be a very close election. This is a very big problem for liberal and progressive Jews and other people who support the existance of Israel as a democracy in which Jews have the national security they lack in many other parts of the world. The reaffirmation of Netanyahu and his policies is a blow to the open support of Israel, which is now clearly dominated by right wing, nationalistic politics. The election result fans the flames of anti-Israel sentiment and activities, and, by association, bolsters anti-semitism world-wide. 

I swore loudly when I woke up this morning to the radio news that Netanyahu had won the election. I had hoped that more moderate political forces would gain control of the Israel government and try something new regarding relationships and peace negotiations with Palestinians. This election result is a disaster for the Israeli peace movement and the Israeli left. It is also a disaster for support of Israel in the rest of the world. It continues the disaster for Palestinians who want peace,  political and economic power. 

I have, for several years, stated that I believe the conflict between Palestinains and Israel has no end point in sight, but that the two peoples are locked in a cycle of violence that is self-perpetuating. Based on history, I don't believe that Israeli political leadership of the past couple of decades, or more, have any real interest in peace and the creation of a Palestinian State. They have been two-faced, talking peace out of one side, while continuing the occupation and the illegal land grabs out of the other side. (see Note 2) Yes, the Israel-Palestine situation is very, very complex, and simple answers do not exist. But smart and serious people on both sides can certainly find a way to interrupt the cycle of violence and find solutions. Benjamin Netanyahu, and the interests he represents, are not these people. 

I am more disappointed than upset by the Israel election result. The state of politics in Israel is, after all, not much different than the state of politics in the United States and the rest of the world. Have we Americans already forgotten George W. Bush? We elected that dangerous politician twice! And we are still dealing with the result of those elections. Our House and Senate are now controlled by the Republican right wing. America is dancing with fascism. What about Europe, China, Russia, the Arab states, Africa, South America? Israel absolutely has no lock on right wing politics. 

Does the election really mean that a two-state solution is out of reach? Maybe; maybe not. After all, above all else, Benjamin Netanyahu is a politician. And politicians very often say one thing during a campaign, and another thing once elected. But maybe this is a good turn of events. Maybe the clear admission by Netanyahu that he and his backers will not endorse a two-state solution is a way to move the discussion to a different level. Join fact, it appears that there were some very important gains in the Israel election for women, Arab Israelis and other groups.

The real losers here are the Palestinians, such as those in the West Bank, who are faced with a continuation of an illegal and often brutal occupation.

It might be that the world has entered a period of human right-wingism that will last for some time until it plays itself out. In that case, we progressives and other left-of-center folk need to hunker down for the long-term, and do all we can to fight back (and drink more red wine).

What we don't need to do is bash Israel alone for it's right-wingedness; after all, this seems to be the    sad state of affairs of most of the world.

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Notes:
1. The article is here. It first appeared in Middle East Eye, and this is a link to the "who is" Middle East Eye. I am not certain yet about the credibility of this source; however, the link described would not surprise me.  
2. There are some notable exceptions to this conclusion, such as the efforts of Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

WHY IS PADDLING IN PORTLAND SO PROBLEMATIC?


View downstream, north, from the tip of Ross Island.
Portland, Oregon is a river city, or so it is said by some. Yes, the Willamette River runs through the middle of Portland on its way to the Columbia River. The meeting of these two rivers is also in Portland. One would think that Portlanders are river people, by which I mean they use their river for many different activities and consider it one of the most important parts of the Portland identity. Well, that is not the case.

Like so many other American cities, Portland was developed along the river, but the river was considered only a place of business between land and water, and a place to dump things people wanted to get rid of. In the past few decades, however, Portland has changed its mind about the river in many ways, and the land along the river is now seen as an amenity and a public and natural resource.

But there are still problems in regards to Portland truly becoming River City. One of those problems is access to the river, not visual access, but physical access. This is especially true for people who want to put a small, human-powered water craft in the river in the downtown area (I'll call these people paddlers). I am a paddler, and the portion of the river that flows through downtown Portland offers a variety of interesting experiences, if I can get to it.
The new Tilikum Crossing transit bridge behind the Ross Island Bridge,
viewed from Ross Island.

This morning Dry Bag Dave and Paddlin' Paul (that's me) loaded our kayaks and gear and headed off to do an easy and relatively short paddling trip. Our goal was to paddle under the new transit bridge, a cable-stayed beauty named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People. The new bridge, that will open in September, will only have light rail trains, buses, cycles and pedestrians; no automobiles or trucks.

So we decided to launch on the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland and paddle a short distance upstream and under the Tilikum Crossing. There is a low floating public dock just upstream of the Hawthorne Bridge designed for use by rowing and paddle craft where we have launched before. When we arrived there, we found that there are some visitor spots in the parking lot, but parking is limited to 2 hours; not enough for a paddling trip. Parking there used to be for as long as desired. So we got back in the car and drove to the downstream side of the Hawthorne Bridge because it seemed to me we could launch from the dirt beach under the bridge. I know that the Human Access Project has cleared a lot of rocks from that beach so people can get into the river. There were some parking spots in the lot near the Eastbank Esplanade (pay parking, of course), so we figured we could carry the boats to the beach under the bridge. Well, the river was high, and that spot did not have a safe or easy place to launch kayaks.

We had spent a lot of time trying to find a place to put into the river. Our fallback was Willamette Park on the other side of the river and a few miles south of the Tilikum Crossing bridge. We arrived at Willamette Park and found an almost empty large parking lot. I went to buy the parking tag, and it was $1 per hour, or $6 for all day; pretty reasonable. I figured I would put in $4 for 4 hours - plenty of time for our paddling. But as I pushed the time button on the meter, the dollars kept going up, but the hours stayed at 3. Hmmm; well I read the fine print, which informed me that after 3 hours, a full-day fee would be charged. Really? OK, well the Park Bureau needs the money to maintain the park, so I was kind of OK with this scheme.

I went over to the restroom building at the park to get rid of some excess liquid - and the restrooms were "closed for the season." What? No bushes nearby, either. Luckily for us, there were 2 porta-potties on the other side of the parking lot, probably related to work going on in the park. OK, problem solved, but still, I paid my $6, what did I get for it?

We had a terrific paddle of about 7 miles round trip and spent about 3 hours total. But I was disgruntled about the experience of paddling in Portland.

Why isn't there access for paddlers to the Willamette River in the downtown area of Portland? The public dock on the east side and just upstream of the Hawthorne Bridge is a convenient location, but parking is limited to 2 hours. (I later found out that after 3PM parking time is unlimited, but that really only works in the summer when days are longer.) The only places to launch from close to and south of downtown are Willamette Park and Sellwood Park. Going north from downtown, I can only think of Swan Island Lagoon and Cathedral Park, both very far from the downtown area. These four launching opportunities are shown on the map below.
The only four formal and convenient launching spots for paddlers in Portland are shown as red stars.
And by the way, Willamette Park, operated by the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation, is set up for power boats. The parking lot is mostly long spaces for trucks and trailers, with a much smaller number of spots for cars (and you get ticketed if you park a car in a truck-trailer spot, even if there are very few truck-trailers in the lot). The ramp into the river is concrete that is deeply ribbed for tire traction - real hell for the hull of my wood kayak. There should be a gravel ramp into the river for canoes, kayaks and other paddle craft to make this facility truly convenient for paddlers.

There is a new ramp that is being described as a kayak launch in the South Waterfront Central District immediately south of downtown; it will be open later this year. It is a narrow concrete sidewalk that I consider to be a tricky launch spot at best, and a dangerous spot especially when the river is low in the summer. Because there is no way to drive a car close to the ramp, and public parking is not located nearby, it will likely be used mostly by people who live in the condos in the South Waterfront who can cart their boat to the ramp without a motor vehicle. This does not solve the problem for the rest of us.

City planners know that river access is a problem, and they are working on ideas to create more and better access. They will need to change some city codes, figure out access and parking for motor vehicles, and also deal with federal agencies that discourage river access because of alleged issues with fish habitat. In the meantime, I'll paddle the downtown stretch of the Willamette once in a great while, and drive to other places on the edges of or away from Portland that are more welcoming to paddlers.

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