Monday, December 07, 2015

A TYPICAL DAY IN THE USA, 2015






Ralph Peters, retired Lt. Col. U.S. Army, a frequent guest on Fox, commenting on the air about President Obama's speech from the Oval Office about terrorism: "I mean, this guy [President Obama] is such a total pussy, it's stunning," 

Donald J. Trump, leading Republican candidate for President of the United States, proposed, on the day after President Obamas speech about terrorism, to bar all Muslims from entering the United States until the government can "figure out what is going on." 

About a dozen demonstrators, some carrying weapons, in Irving, Texas outside a mosque: "It's not like were racist, homophobic bigots. We just have a certain level of distrust for certain Islamic people." And the Ku Klux Klan announced that they, too, were going to demonstrate in Irving; however, the original demonstrators want nothing to do with the Klan. 

Are there countries in the world that will accept me as a political refugee? 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

ELECTION 2016: CLINTON V. SANDERS, PART 2

Hello dear readers. I'm dragging you along with me as I explore the two front-runner candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States. Today I'm looking at campaign contributions. There are a lot of numbers available to look at, but perhaps one of the key graphics is to look at the summary chart and table of contributions for each candidate (Source: open secrets.org):



Above: Clinton campaign.

Above: Sanders campaign.


There are three major differences in these numbers:
  1. Clinton has raised a lot more money than Sanders ($97+ million to $41+ million),
  2. Sanders does not have a PAC (Political Action Committee), and
  3. Sanders has a greater percent contributions from small donors than Clinton (74% to 17%).
The first point seems obvious, the Clintons are more well-known than Sanders, have built a large network of wealthy liberal donors since President Clinton's campaigns, and are popular with the wealthy and corporate class in America.

The second point is a basic philosophical and political decision by Sanders to "walk the talk," as he likes to say. He has been very critical of campaign financing for many years, thinks the Citizens United decision by the SCOTUS has given control of elections to the wealthiest Americans, and decided early on, against the advice of his political advisors, not to accept money from PACs and Super-PACs. 

As a result of the above, the Sanders campaign has focused on small donors to fund the campaign. Sanders is popular with young voters and many progressive/far-left voters, and large numbers of these people send small donations.

Are these differences meaningful? Perhaps they are if large donors expect something in return when their candidate is elected. There have been questions about the Clinton donors, and the ties between the donors to the Clinton Foundation and the political campaign. In many minds, this is a difference between political business as usual and a different kind of political business. 

Bottom line: these are data, you decide what it means to you. 

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Below I'm pasting additional interesting data, if you want more to puzzle over. Data for Clinton are on the left, for Sanders on the right. 



WHEN I WAS THE VICE PRESIDENT

I enjoyed being Vice President of the United States (VPOTUS). It was a very cool job. But that was some time ago, and now, as CEO of Apple, I feel that I am doing good things for the world of technology. I sometimes regret my role in the invasion of Russia, but we decided it was in the best interest of the United States, and the Russian people welcomed us with flowers and pirogi. But I digress.

What is it with the media these days? These folks just lay in wait for us movers and shakers to talk, and then they pounce with accusations that we are not being truthful. Well, what are their sources? How dare they imply that I'm not a truth-teller? Why can't someone control these people?

This is, after all, an election year - almost, anyway - and we candidates need to let the voters know about all the great things we have accomplished. We also need to let them know all the great things we will do once elected. How dare the media try to accuse us of falsehoods!

Fishman for POTUS - Not Just for the Halibut!

Candidates Stick to Script, if Not the Truth 



Friday, November 06, 2015

THE PORTLAND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION INSULTS THE JEWISH COMMUNITY

The Portland Human Rights Commission, (HRC) has greatly insulted and put a deep-freeze on it’s relationship with the Jewish community of Portland by drinking the kool-aid served up by the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement. This action demonstrates a level of insensitivity to the reality of anti-Semitism by the HRC that questions the validity of that commission. By supporting a movement that singles out Israel, and no other country or organization, for human rights violations, the Portland Human Rights Commission has aligned itself on the side of bigotry. The core of the BDS movement is anti-Semitism; the goal of the BDS movement is not to end human rights violations, but to end the existence of the country of Israel and replace it with a Palestinian state. 

The BDS movement is an anti-Israel movement considered by many to be, at it’s core, anti-Semitic. BDS affiliates, such as the coalition Occupy-Free Portland, have chosen four companies as the target of their divestment campaign, based on their allegation of these companies alleged involvement in human rights violations. The HRC voted, at their October 7, 2015 meeting, to support the Occupy-Free Portland request to the Portland Socially Responsible Investment committee (SRI) to add these four companies (Caterpillar, Motorola, G4S and HP) to the City’s “do not buy” list.

The HRC Chair, Chabre Vickers, repeatedly stated that the focus of the HRC decision was about four companies, not about a country, nationality or religion. It is difficult for me to believe that members of the HRC agree with that, because all of the background information submitted to them by Occupy-Free Portland specifically focused on alleged violations by Israel. The majority of pro-BDS supporters at the November 4 HRC meeting did not speak about any of the four companies, they spoke about how terrible Israel is. It is crystal clear to any objective person that the Occupy-Free Portland/BDS movement is an anti-Israel movement. All of the background papers submitted with information about the four companies listed alleged human rights violations in Israel, even though these companies operate in and sell products to many countries world-wide, including the United States I might add. 

The United States Department of State has a fact sheet on anti-Semitism. As examples of anti-Semitism relative to Israel, the State Department says: 
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
Multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations

Notably, the HRC did not reach out to any of the four companies, and did not reach out to the major Jewish organizations in Portland for input before voting on the Occupy-Free Portland request. Following the October HRC vote, Jewish organizations asked for an opportunity to speak to the Commission at their November meeting, and this request was accepted. Interestingly, the HRC put out a press release (see below) on October 29 confirming their decision and digging in their heels. 

The November 4 meeting took place in a packed auditorium of the Portland Building, and it was a raucous affair. The invited speakers from the Jewish community presented their information, opinions, and expressions of dismay about the HRC decision. (The HRC chair, and eventually the building security person had to repeatedly tell BDS people in the room to stop shouting out and interrupting the Jewish speakers.) The speakers presented information about the BDS movement objectives and methods, pointed out that the four companies targeted by BDS provide equipment and services to Israel and the Palestinian Authority that are used to benefit all people in Israel and the West Bank, talked about the hypocrisy of a human rights commission supporting a movement such as BDS, talked about recent acts of anti-Semitism in Portland, and expressed their great concern that the HRC had taken an action that insulted the Jewish community without first consulting with, or asking for input from, that community. 

I attended the November 4 meeting; my wife was one of the invited speakers. It was notable that every invited Jewish presenter acknowledged that Israel has human rights issues that need to be resolved. Many stated that not all Jews support the current government of Israel and many of it’s decisions. They also pointed out that anti-Semitism is rampant around the world, and that the BDS movement foments anti-Semitism in many ways, including by association of Jews with Israel. 

Following the presentations by the invited speakers from the Jewish community, Commission members had an opportunity for comment and discussion. The two Jewish commissioners renounced their previous votes, explaining that they had not read the materials and did not really understand the issue up for vote (how embarrassing!). One commissioner accused the invited Jewish speakers of using code words for Islamaphobia - an astounding and untrue accusation that no commissioner challenged. Another commissioner complained that he wasn’t paid for his time on the HRC, and if people were so concerned about this action why didn’t they attend HRC meetings, and if people don’t like what he’s doing just fire him! Other commissioners defended the HRC decision, and repeated the tired explanation that it was not about any country or group of people, it was only about four companies. 

I left part-way through the public testimony portion of the meeting; however, I heard later that the Commission voted again, and the previous decision was affirmed by a 6-5 vote (I have not yet confirmed this). I guess this is progress, as the original vote was unanimous. [Update: it appears that the 6-5 vote was on whether or not to have a re-vote on the original item; there was not a re-vote.]  

I am now wondering how this HRC precedent will play out. Will they consider requests to recommend “do not buy” for other companies allegedly involved in human rights violations anywhere in the world, including here in the United States? Or is that distinction only applicable to companies that do business in Israel? 

Following this text I’ve added the HRC press release, and my letter to the HRC dated November 3. 


And by the way, who is Occupy-Free Portland? Well, here is a screen shot of their web site: 




Portland HRC press release:

 October 29, 2015
For Immediate Release
City of Portland Human Rights Commission Endorses Occupation-Free Portland’s Proposed Statement to the Socially Responsive Investments Committee
PORTLAND - On October 7, 2015, the Portland Human Rights Commission (HRC) unanimously voted to support Occupation-Free Portland’s request to the City’s Socially Responsible Investments committee (SRI) to place four U.S. companies on the City’s “Do Not Buy” list: Caterpillar, G4S, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions.

As a commission guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, HRC based its decision to endorse Occupation-Free Portland’s letter solely on the four companies’ involvement in human rights violations in Israel and Palestine. This was not an issue relating to religion or nationality, but solely on human rights impacts, and a request to the City of Portland to divest from companies profiting from violent conflict.
HRC’s endorsement of the letter was specifically for the Occupation-Free Portland request to be presented to SRI, where that City body would use their process to determine whether the request fits their guidelines for recommendation to Council.
The process that led to HRC’s endorsement of the letter began with public testimony at HRC’s September 2, 2015 meeting. After hearing from numerous community members, HRC requested additional information and additional time for review; and communicated to attendees that the commission would hold a vote at the October 7, 2015 meeting. This process allowed Human Rights Commissioners a full month between the time the request was introduced, to the time at which the vote took place.
Regardless of any post-meeting renouncements, the unanimous vote stands unless another full-Commission vote takes place.

“Our job as Human Rights Commissioners is to hear and take action on human rights issues,” said Audrey Alverson, HRC vice chair. “This work, by default, is difficult and uncomfortable and often involves push back. We recognize that many issues we are asked to consider are complex and multi-faceted; and as a commission, we work to hold true to our mission of upholding the ideals expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ideal that those rights are endowed to all human beings, regardless of their politics. Our decisions may be unpopular to some or even to the majority, but human rights issues wouldn’t exist if these positions were popular.”

As an all-volunteer advisory body to City of Portland’s elected leaders, the HRC is not charged with making decisions nor declarations on City policy, but rather with advising elected leaders on human rights issues within the city. One avenue through which HRC’s advisory statements and endorsements are informed is by receiving community input in a variety of forums, including regularly scheduled public comment at HRC’s monthly meetings.

The HRC works to eliminate discrimination and bigotry, to strengthen inter-group relationships, and to foster greater understanding, inclusion, and justice for those who live, work, study, worship, travel and play in the City of Portland.

For more information, please contact Jeff Selby at jeff.selby@portlandoregon.gov

#     #     #





421 SW 6th Ave Suite 500 | Portland, OR 97204 US



 My letter to Portland HRC:
TO: Chabre Vickers, Chair, Portland Human Rights Commission
FROM: Paul A. Fishman, community member
SUBJECT: Basic issues with and effects of the HRC decision regarding divestment
DATE: November 3, 2015

Ms. Vickers:

Thank you for reviewing and considering my comments on the issues and effects of the subject decision by HRC. Please distribute these comments to members of the Commission. Thank you.

ISSUES

The HRC press release issued on October 29, 2015 contained the 4 bullet points pasted below (italics). My comments are the non-italicized text. 

As a commission guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, HRC based its decision to endorse Occupation-Free Portland’s letter solely on the four companies’ involvement in human rights violations in Israel and Palestine. This was not an issue relating to religion or nationality, but solely on human rights impacts, and a request to the City of Portland to divest from companies profiting from violent conflict.

What is the history of the HRC similar actions against investment in any corporations? Are there examples of the HRC recommending economic action (i.e. non-investment or divestment) against corporations other than the four targeted in this case? Does the HRC have a policy to “request to the City of Portland to divest from companies profiting from violent conflict”? If yes, how has this policy been applied to other cases? If no, why now? If this type of action is not HRC policy, and HRC has no history of this type of action, then the statement that this “was not an issue relating to religion or nationality” is not true; this is an action specifically aimed against Israel. The organization that brought this request to the HRC works exclusively against Israel, and not against any other nations. 

HRC’s endorsement of the letter was specifically for the Occupation-Free Portland request to be presented to SRI, where that City body would use their process to determine whether the request fits their guidelines for recommendation to Council.

Does HRC have a policy or directive for making recommendations or requests to the SRI? If yes, what is that policy, and what are the criteria by which HRC should take such actions? Has HRC made such recommendations or requests to the SRI previously? If yes, what and when?

The process that led to HRC’s endorsement of the letter began with public testimony at HRC’s September 2, 2015 meeting. After hearing from numerous community members, HRC requested additional information and additional time for review; and communicated to attendees that the commission would hold a vote at the October 7, 2015 meeting. This process allowed Human Rights Commissioners a full month between the time the request was introduced, to the time at which the vote took place.

As recorded in the minutes of the HRC for September 2, 2015, three community members spoke about this issue. Two of the speakers are affiliated with the Occupy-free Portland coalition, and it is likely that the third is also affiliated with this group. This truly does not constitute “hearing from numerous community members.” In fact, you heard from three people who do not represent the Jewish community of Portland. The HRC requested additional information from the commenters, and did not seek any information or input from persons representing the major Jewish organizations in Portland. HRC members certainly are aware of the controversial nature of the BDS movement and it’s affiliates, including Jewish Voice for Peace and Occupation-Free Portland. “The process” referred to in the HRC press release was a flawed process. 

Regardless of any post-meeting renouncements, the unanimous vote stands unless another full-Commission vote takes place.

Based on the controversy sparked by this HRC action, I suggest that it would be wise for the HRC to examine it’s actions and policies. Was the vote taken within the framework of HRC policy, directives and mission? Should HRC have a policy and process for taking up requests such as this from members of the public? I also request that the HRC suspend the October endorsement until such time that the HRC has policy and process in place to deal with this kind of issue. 

EFFECTS

The endorsement by the HRC of this divestment action has the very unfortunate effect of promoting anti-Semitism. I understand that the HRC action was not intended to promote racism; however, every action involving Israel promotes anti-Semitism and often racial attacks and incidents against Jewish people all over the world, including in the United States and Portland. The situation in and around Israel and Palestine is very complex, and too often individuals and organizations, such as the Portland Human Rights Commission, fall into the trap of inadvertently supporting anti-Jewish sentiments and actions. 

It is important for the Portland HRC to understand the unique situation of Jews in relation to the country of Israel. No other ethnic group is the subject of bigotry because of the actions of a nation where they do not necessarily live. When an African country commits violations of human rights, Black people are not attacked around the world. When an Asian country commits violations of human rights, Asians are not attacked around the world. In the unique situation of Israel and Jews, the actions of Israel are all to often an excuse to attack Jews everywhere. 

The recent action by Portland HRC is part of a larger movement to isolate and de-legitimize Israel. Why doesn’t the HRC recommend divestment from companies that sell products to the many countries where terrible violations of human rights are an every day occurrence? Why have the 4 companies subject to this divestment recommendation  been singled out? It is ironic that the computer you are using right now certainly has components made by Motorola and HP, and that a lot of the construction equipment owned by the City of Portland is made by Caterpillar Corp. 

The country of Israel is often the only country singled out for human rights violations, and is an object of a double standard when other nations are not targeted. Such talk and actions are anti-Semitism, as defined by the United States Department of State (attachment A). 

The terms “Zionism” and “Zionist” are often code words for anti-Semitism: “...the expression “Zionist” – support for Israel as the Jewish homeland – is often used as an anti-Semitic code word for “Jew” in mainstream debate.” (source Anti-Defamation League 2001; on genocidewatch.org website).

We also hear, too often, that Israel is guilty of genocide against the Palestinian people; this is also not based on fact. Attachment B is a table of countries in various stages of the 10 Stages of Genocide, for 2014 (Genocide Watch). Israel/Palestine is near the bottom of the list, and is not considered in an advanced stage.

Thank you for considering my comments.



ATTACHMENT A
Fact Sheet: Anti-Semitism
United States Department of State 




Source for Attachment A: 



Genocide Watch, table from 2014 Countries at Risk Report



































Wednesday, October 28, 2015

LET'S TALK ABOUT SENATOR BERNARD SANDERS

I like what Senator Sanders, Bernie, has to say in his campaign for President of the United States. I agree with everything, and a lot of what he says matches things I say all the time.

I am confused about something that happens often when I talk about the 2016 election. A lot of people I know like Bernie, but say that there is no way he can win the presidential election. When I ask why they think that, most people can't really articulate the reason. The reason I hear most often is that Hillary Clinton is the candidate who can win the election.

I need to take this apart and examine it. I really don't understand why Hillary is electable and Bernie is not. To frame this discussion, I think we need to look at recent histories of Bernie and Hillary, and throw in Barak Obama for context. I'll try to organize this by topic.

1. Bernie is too radical, and a socialist; Americans will never vote for a radical/socialist. It is true that Bernie is more "radical" when compared to Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama, and certainly to any Republican candidate. But how do we define the term "radical?" Is he a type of radical who is promoting armed revolution against the government? No. Is he the kind of radical who is promoting turning the US into a communist country? No. The reality is that Bernie is what in Europe is known as a Social Democrat. He promotes social and economic equality. Probably what makes him more "radical" to many people is that he says things other politicians won't say.

2. Bernie doesn't have as much experience as Hillary Clinton.  Let's compare the two, and President Obama, side-by-side:

ELECTED OFFICE

Bernie Sanders (34 years, including 24 in federal government))
1981-1989: Mayor, Burlington, VT
1991-2007: US House of Representatives, (VT)
2007-present: US Senate (VT)

Hillary Clinton (8 years elected positions (federal government); 4 years appointed position (USA cabinet) 16 years as First Lady (AR and USA)
[non-elected: 1983-1991: First Lady, AR]
[non-elected: 1993-2001: First Lady, USA]
2001-2009: US Senate (NY)
2009-2013: Secretary of State of the USA

Barak Obama (18 years, including 10 in federal government))
1997-2004: Illinois Senate
2005-2008: US Senate (IL)
2009-present: President, USA

Based on length of time in service, Bernie Sanders has, by for, the most experience in an elected government position, and the most experience in the federal government. Barak Obama has slightly more than half the elected experience as Bernie Sanders, and a bit less than half as Bernie in the federal government. Hillary Clinton has less than one-fourth the elected experience as Bernie Sanders, and a bit less than a third as Bernie in the federal government. (Note: Hillary was First Lady of the USA for eight years, and certainly gained political experience in that role.)

So it is clear that Bernie Sanders has much more experience as an elected official than Barak Obama did before he was elected President (34 years to 18 years), and even more than Hillary Clinton's elected and appointed experience combined (34 years to 8 years). The argument that Hilary has more government experience than Bernie does not hold up. A case could be made that, as a member of the Obama cabinet, Hilary had 4 years of experience unlike that of Bernie or, for that matter, Barak before he was elected to the presidency. And her experience as Secretary of State gives Hilary higher-level foreign policy experience than Bernie or pre-president Barak.

When Barak and Hillary competed for the nomination in the 2008 election, Hilary had a a bit more than twice as much experience as a US senator than Barak (7 years to 3 years). It could have been said, and was, that Obama did not have the same level of experience in government as Clinton at the time. This does not seem to have mattered, as the Obama presidency has had a good record overall, in spite of the obstructionism of the Republicans in Congress.

3. Many Democrats, independents, and main-line Republicans will not vote for Bernie. I hear this one a lot. The argument goes that Bernie is too radical for some Democrats and independents, and also for those Republicans who are sickened by the line-up of candidates for their own party. If this is correct, it means that these same voters would vote for one of the Republicans presently vieing for the nomination if Bernie was the Democratic nominee. I think this is not a valid assumption. It also means that these voters would vote for Hillary, even if they would not vote for Bernie. Keep in mind that many voters, including some Democrats, independents. and especially Republicans, have a very hard time with Hillary Clinton based on history. If we think the R's gave Barak Obama a hard time, wait until we see what they do if Hillary Clinton is the nominee!

4. Bernie Sanders would not be a good President. Why not? He is an intelligent person. He has a lot of experience in government. He has many good ideas about how to fix the things that are broken in our country and political system. Does a President Sanders have any less a chance to succeed than a President Obama did?

5. It's time we elected a woman as President of the United States. I agree, but is this a good enough reason to vote for a candidate? By that logic, we could just as correctly say that it's time we elected a Jewish person (Bernie Sanders) to be President of the united States.

There is a very major difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at this moment in time. Bernie Sanders speaks truth to power; Hillary Clinton is a shrewd politician. This is not a criticism of Hillary, it is merely a truthful comparison. Bernie has always waged battle against corporate greed, corporate welfare, the destruction of jobs through outsourcing, attacks against women, minorities, seniors and the poor. He is not afraid to take on the big money interests in this country, and does not seem to owe anything to big campaign donors. Hillary also has good credentials on these same issues; however, she has more financial backing from big money interests, and there are nagging questions about ties between her and big money and foreign interests related to the Clinton Foundation.

As Senator, Bernie has never been afraid to take on the big corporations, and to name names in the process. Here is a great piece he published in 2012 about corporations and their CEO's and their impact on the recent recession. I don't think Hilary would ever dare say these kinds of things. Does this mean that Hillary would be a better president than Bernie because she plays nice with the CEO's of big corporations?

This is not an anti-Hillary post. Hillary Clinton is a viable candidate for POTUS, and would hopefully be a good president. I will vote for Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee from the Democratic Party. I would also vote for Bernie Sanders if he is the nominee. If I have the choice, I will likely vote for Bernie in the primaries.

My position is very simply this: in the United States we have the opportunity, even the responsibility to vote for the candidate who best represents our political positions and opinions, even if we think that candidate might not win. Too often I believe we compromise our positions for the sake of expediency, telling ourselves "I want to vote for candidate X, but I should vote for candidate Y because everyone says that one can win."

I think that in 2016, faced with the kinds of issues and problems we have that are truly unique, we need to make a political revolution Let's not vote based on who the pundits say can win; let's vote for the candidate who truly represents each of our positions and opinions. In my opinion, that candidate, at this time in the election process, seems to be Bernie Sanders. Hillary and Bernie have many things in common, but for me, the major difference is that we need to have a president who goes toe-to-toe with corporate big money interests for the good of all Americans, not just the good of the wealthy few. I think that person is Senator Bernie Sanders.

In June, 2015, I wrote a post titled: "Now is it Time for Revolution?" Seems worth reading, again.



Thursday, July 30, 2015

THE PLAN: U.S. ENERGY STRATEGY, INCLUDING OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT

I guess this is part 3 in my on-going discussion of the Shell Arctic Ocean oil exploration project. I'll be brief; it's up to you to do some reading, or not.

The Obama Administration has an energy policy they call the All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy. Here it is on the Whitehouse website:  https://www.whitehouse.gov/energy/securing-american-energy



On drilling for oil beneath the ocean, the Whitehouse website says:

Safe and Responsible Domestic Oil and Gas Production
In 2010, in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration launched the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history and put in place new safeguards to protect the environment. These measures help to ensure that our nation can continue to safely and responsibly develop offshore energy resources. The Administration continues to develop and implement a series of standards that will make oil and gas production and transportation safer, including in hydraulic fracturing, arctic drilling, and rail safety.

The Obama Administration has completely retooled the review and regulation of energy development in the USA. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has replaced previous agencies and consolidated numerous review and regulatory functions.

I found a FAQ on the BOEM website that has helped me understand oil spill risk in the Chukchi Sea, where Shell will be doing exploratory drilling. Here is the FAQ sheet: http://www.boem.gov/Risk-and-Benefits-in-the-Chukchi-Sea/ and I suggest reading it if you are interested in understanding the risk assessment.

And if you want to go a bit deeper, and look at a very interesting technical report about how risk is modeled, here is another link: http://www.boem.gov/Ocean-Science-2014-Oct-Nov-Dec/

The federal agencies involved in reviewing and issuing permits for projects such as the Shell exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea have numerous experts in various scientific disciplines, as well as many other scientists at universities and science/engineering companies under contract. These reviews and permits are not conducted and issued by bean counters or anonymous clerks with rubber stamps!

OK, this is good stuff, keep up the conversation, and check your sources, of course.
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ENERGY AND OIL DRILLING: BUT SERIOUSLY, WHAT'S THE PLAN?

People dangling from the St. Johns Bridge. Kayaktivists forming a blockade across the Willamette River.  The Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker trying to get out of Portland. Greenpeace activists and other greenies want to shut down Arctic Oil drilling.

I think we need to have a national conversation about the topic of energy policy, including sources, production and consumption. When it comes to hydrocarbons, we all use a huge variety of them every day. Look around you at this very moment. Anything made with plastic, polyester, nylon is made from hydrocarbons extracted from the ground. Almost everything you own is made somewhere else, and it has been transported to the store where you bought it, often from faraway places - have you ever heard of China? So I don't think we can simply stop using hydrocarbons.

Activists are protesting Arctic Ocean oil drilling (and drilling in other oceans), fracking, oil shale mining, Keystone pipeline, coal trains, oil trains, and other energy projects. But what is the Plan? Seriously. If all of these protests actually worked, what would we do for energy and all the materials we use made from hydrocarbons? Wind and solar are good alternatives, but not the complete answer.

As always, I like to use data to illustrate my points. Below are two graphs; one shows crude oil consumption in the United States, the next one shows the same for Sweden.  U.S. oil consumption has trended upward since 1980; Swedish oil consumption has declined drastically since 1980.   Sweden implemented a national policy with the goal of becoming the first European nation to be oil-free by 2020. (!) In 1970, oil accounted for 77% of Sweden's energy, by 2003 it was only 32%.  This difference reflects a difference in societal attitudes and government policy.



Is the Plan for energy policy in the United States based on delaying the Shell Oil icebreaker from leaving Portland? What about stopping the oil and coal trains; is that the new energy plan? Obviously not. The Plan has to start at the individual level and translate into a community and societal level. I don't have much faith in Americans to be rational and realistic about energy - there is little evidence for that. Sure, in liberal islands like Portland, Oregon there is a greater communal mindset that trends towards sustainability; however, we all know that this place is not the national norm.

So go ahead Greenpeacers, dangle from the bridge, fly your banners, paddle your kayaks, and more power to you - seriously. But until you show me The Plan for energy in the United States, and convince me that the majority of Americans are willing to think, act and purchase differently, I'll smile at your stunts, but I won't be out there with you.

In future posts I want to discuss what the Obama Administration has and is doing in terms of the energy plan. The present administration has actually accomplished a lot, even when faced with the Republican majority in Congress. Is drilling in the Arctic Ocean part of the plan? I think it is. I think the federal agencies that issued the permits for the drilling have imposed the most strict conditions ever included in these kinds of permits. The Shell project is exploratory, not production. If Shell demonstrates that drilling in the Arctic can be done safely and with minimal environmental damage, then we might see oil production there in 15 to 20 years. Keep in mind that all of the Arctic is not open to drilling, only very limited portions in a very cautious way.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ROYAL DUTCH SHELL, THE ARCTIC OCEAN, GREENPEACE AND ME

Fishman. P. A., R. S. Caldwell, and A. H. Vogel. 1985. Lethal and sublethal effects of oil on food organisms (Euphausiid: Thysanessa raschii) of the bowhead whale. U. S. Dep. Commer., NOAA, OCSEAP Final Rep. 43(1986): 617-702. 

My co-authors and I wrote the above report 30 years ago, under a contract between my consulting firm, Fishman Environmental Services (1983 - 2004), and the Outer Continental Shelf Environmental Assessment Program (OCSEAP). The report was published in Volume 43 of Final Reports of Principal Investigators, and included reports dealing with gray, Belukha and Bowhead whales in the oceans around Alaska. The OCSEAP spent many millions studying the environments of and potential ecological impacts on outer continental shelf areas under the future potential of oil and gas drilling and production.  

I thought about this project today as I looked at the news out of my city, Portland, Oregon, that a group of Greenpeace protesters are hanging by ropes from the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River in an effort to block the passage of a Royal Dutch Shell ice breaker that has been at a Portland shipyard for repairs. Shell intends to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic in an area between the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. This was the subject location of my 1985 report. 

So I guess I have a relationship with the protesters, Royal Dutch Shell, and drilling in the Arctic. Earlier today, in a short amount of internet search time, I found a 1990 environmental impact statement for an oil and gas lease sale in the Chukchi Sea that cited my report, and others, to support the conclusion that an oil spill from drilling for oil in the Arctic would not have significant effects on whales. OK, that’s cool. 

There is an adventure connected to the oil and euphausiid study my colleagues and I conducted. To do the research, I proposed collecting live euphausiids (or krill) in Alaska and transporting them to a laboratory in Newport, Oregon where tests could be conducted using Alaska crude oil. We arranged to have a barrel of Alaska crude oil shipped to Dick Caldwell’s lab in Newport where he set up the equipment to do the tests. I contracted with a graduate student in Juneau, Alaska to collect euphausiids with a plankton net towed behind a boat, pack plastic bags of seawater and the live animals in Coleman cooler chests with ice (might have been dry ice), and ship them to me in Portland on Alaska Airlines. I then drove the coolers to a meeting point about halfway between Portland and Newport, where Dick met me and took them to his lab. We did this 5 times between March and September of 1985.  

On one occasion, the euphausiids were put on a plane in Juneau and off-loaded in Seattle, as usual, to be then put on a plane from Seattle to Portland. I always called Alaska Airlines at each step to confirm that the coolers had been transferred and were on their way. On this trip, however, the coolers missed the flight to Portland. “Where are they?” I asked. “Sitting on the tarmac.” I was told. Me: “Can you put them in the cooler until the next flight?” Them: “We don’t have a walk-in cooler.” Me: “It is living material that is temperature sensitive, and it's a warm day, they will die!” Them: “Sorry, there is nothing we can do about it.” 

Well, in those days I didn’t have a corporate jet (I still don’t), so in desperation I did the next best thing; I called our friend Steve, a pilot with United Airlines. Me: “Hey Steve, are you busy?” Steve: “Not really, why?” Me: “How would you like to fly me to Seattle in your small private plane, pick up a bunch of Coleman coolers, and then we’ll fly them to Newport, Oregon?” Steve: “Sounds like fun; I’ll pick you up at your house and we’ll head to the airport.”  And so we did. The euphausiids were still alive when we got there, and they were fine when we got them to Newport and loaded them on Dick Caldwell’s pickup truck. 

By now you’re thinking, “OK, fine, nice story, but what does Fishman think about Royal Dutch Shell drilling in the Arctic Ocean?” Well, it’s a complex issue, and my answer isn’t definitive. If I had a choice, I would not drill for oil and gas in the Arctic if there were other sources for these hydrocarbons. If you do a bit of research, you will find that consumption of petroleum fuels (gasoline, jet fuel, etc.) is increasing in the United States and worldwide. To meet this demand, production of oil and gas is increasing. 

Here are some interesting data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA):
Source: http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/report/us_oil.cfm 

Shell, like the other players in the hydrocarbon industry, is looking at the long-term. If they find oil/gas beneath the Arctic ocean, it will take them about 15 years to get to the point of having production wells. Experts estimate that the resources beneath the Arctic oceans represent anywhere from 15-25% of untapped global oil reserves. As long as there is a market demand for petroleum, companies like Shell will find and produce it. Do we need petroleum hydrocarbons? Yes, and the demand for them is increasing. 

It all comes down to acceptable risk. Remember, one of the basic laws of ecology is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Wind and solar-generated power, electric and hybrid automobiles, LED light bulbs, recycling, LEED buildings, bicycles and all other sustainable things are the way to move forward, but each has a set of costs, including environmental ones. So we have to be smart. We have to think clearly about all of the connections (another basic law of ecology: everything is connected to everything else). We need to accept certain levels of risk in order to sustain human societies in an ever more modern and interconnected world.

The Greenpeace bridge-hangers are conducting a great stunt that is calling attention to the prospects of Arctic Ocean oil and gas development. Will their actions stop Royal Dutch Shell from drilling in the Arctic? Of course not. But I hope the stunt stimulates a wider conversation about energy consumption and sources, acceptable risk, and the bigger picture of human societies and the planet.


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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.  

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