Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Morning in the Garden of Tranquility


Wearing shorts and a tank top, a cup of iced coffee on the wide arm of the Adirondak chair, sitting in the morning coolness of the garden; my attempt to start the day not thinking about the circus in D.C.

The sound of water falling on a large rock and dribbling into the pool below is the primary sound this early. The throbbing groan of the AC unit two houses away occupies the background. This is urban quiet.

A single ray of sunshine slices through the Italian cypress trees and illuminates the moon bridge, part of the stone temple, and the top of a feathery grass. A small breeze stirs a few mellow tones from the wind chime on the deck above.

The air in the sun ray is alive with tiny white erratic flecks - small flies that I call gnats. Their haphazard movements are somewhat hypnotic, adding a visual calming. The effect is broken, or enahnced for this ecologist, by predatory wasps and flies that speed through the shaft of light, hawking for the small living flecks.

My focus shifts outward as the city awakens. A dog barks. A truck lumbers past in front of the house. The faint roar of a jet high overhead takes a spot in my hearing. The pool of sunlight creeps towards my feet and warms the flat stones of the patio. My moment of peace is nearly over.

The temperature today will be 99 degrees. The political scandal of the moment will blast its way into my head. I will start the next task on my endless to-do list and another day will be in full bloom.

Thank you, Garden of Tranquility, for this brief moment of peace to start my day.

---

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A CHAT WITH RAVEN


I sat on the beach with nature for a very long time. It was a very low tide, and the  shallow bay was mostly mud- and sand-flats. I had no computer device in my hand, no printed material, no earphones. By pushing my tinnitus into the background, I could hear only faint or occasional sounds; the thrumming of a distant ship engine and nature itself. It was an overcast day, somewhere between cool and warm, with no breeze. I sat and watched. I sat and listened. I sat and was. 


Faint shadows appeared, and my back felt sun warmed, only for a few moments. Then cold flowed over me like a wave along the ground, and mist rose from the mudflat in front of me. I mentally hugged myself for warmth. My eyelids grew suddenly heavy, and I drifted with the mist.


Raven stopped to chat, settling on the water- and sun-worn root wad on the beach near me. I wondered what all the fuss was early in the morning when I heard him and his Clan in the roosting tree. I told him about the coyote chorus in the middle of the night before, and how I wished I had also studied their language when my brain was young and flexible. They sounded excited, maybe joyful; I didn’t know. 


Raven is wise enough to talk to me without revealing those things that only ravens should know. And so he told me of his family, where his kids were living, how many visitors they had from other clans this summer; in other words news, but nothing too important. He did share that the big fuss that morning was another of the Raven Clan political arguments, and that one of his cousins, a distant one, launched into a rant about this and that. I asked if it was about us, the humans; he demurred.


Raven left to do some foraging on the mud flat before the tide turned, and he bid me a kind farewell until we met again. I enjoy Raven. Many people think he and his kind are course, crass, verging on vulgar; but I have known him for a long time, and understand that, unlike Crow, Raven and his own are honest, kind, and very forgiving.


After a quiet interlude, Eagle glided spread-winged over my head from her nest in the fir tree on the bluff behind me. She screeched a greeting as she passed, and I knew she needed to find more food for her young ones. She soared across the mudflat, wheeled suddenly and appeared to stall, then settled on something below. I couldn’t see what she was pulling on, perhaps a fish carcass, a stranded crab, maybe a dead gull. The food item occupied her for a very long time as I watched. Several times she spread her wings and hopped a short distance, carrying the item with her. It was a series of perplexing movements - perplexing to a watching human. 


As I watched, I noticed that the area of land around Eagle was rapidly growing narrower; the tide was flowing. The tide that day was extreme, and as it rose it raced across the flats with an astonishing speed. Eagle stayed in place as the land grew narrower, finally opening her wings and jumping skyward just as the water reached her position. The light bulb lit above my head; Eagle’s strange hopping was an adjustment of her position to the highest point of ground on what to me was a pancake-flat surface. How did she do that? I’ll have to ask the next time we talk. 


Eagle soared directly towards me, and gave me a quick glance and nod as she passed overhead to the nest with her waiting, hungry children. Such a polite being, even when busy.


A sound startled me awake. It was my wife calling from the bluff above. I was still sitting in a chair on the beach. The tide had come in, the water silently rushing across the mudflat towards me, and small waves lapped the shore not far from my feet. There was no Raven, no Eagle; had it all been a dream? 


I think sometimes the boundary between awake and dreaming is fuzzy, and the real and imagined blend and separate in varying patterns. For me, this exploring of boundaries occurs most when I am alone with nature, trying to attune my dulled senses to the absence of human society inputs and the underlying sights, sounds, smells and feel of my surroundings. Deep down, I know that if I successfully cross the boundary, I can have that chat with Raven, ask Eagle how she knows certain things, understand and appreciate the music of Coyote. We humans have that ability, but most of us lost it long ago. 


---

Imagined or experienced on the beach of the Lummi Peninsula, Lummi Bay, lands of the Lummi Nation in Washington State. 

























Friday, July 21, 2017

DEAR REPUBLICAN SENATORS:

Dear Republican Senators: I'll be blunt here, what the hell are you doing?? I know, you want to prove to your mythical "base" that you are tough, you are true conservatives, and you keep your promises. To those ends, you have wasted countless hours over the past several years trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act - your so-called "Obamacare." And now you are at it again - you are making me gag!

Your mantra is "Obamacare is a disaster! Obamacare is a catastrophe!" NO IT IS NOT!!

Check the dictionary. Disaster: a sudden event, such as an accident or a natural catastrophe, that causes great damage or loss of life. Catastrophe: an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.

The ACA is neither a disaster nor a catastrophe. The ACA is a law that has helped millions of Americans have access to health care that is covered by insurance, something they have never had for a variety of reasons. You know this, and you know this well. In fact, your "Base," such as it is, has been yelling at you to not take away their health insurance, including Medicaid that millions of them depend on.

So what is your motivation to destroy peoples lives? Keep in mind that you have a basic job description in the Constitution, and that is "to promote the general welfare." For some reason, you have misread this as saying that your job is "to promote the corporate welfare and the welfare of the super wealthy." A pox on all your houses!

You, dear Republican Senators, are playing with fire. In the early days of the Republic, folks like you would be tarred and feathered and carried through the streets on a rail. If only! You are truly despicable people who have let partisanship take sway over your responsibility to govern in ways that promote the general welfare. It is plain to all that your only interest is in your own self-promotion and some sort of vague sense of victory in political battle. For shame! You are not governing, you are playing, and your play is making life miserable for millions of people in this country.

And then there is Trump. Ah yes, the buffoon you used to laugh at, the clown you said would never be nominated by your party to be the candidate for president. And now that Trump is the president, you smile and giggle and pat him on the back and pose with him wearing your shit-eating grins as he concludes the most ridiculous and disasterous (yes, disaster) pieces of executive order or law with his seismic scrawl. Gag me again! Have you no shame? Have you no basic sense of decency? Have you no idea that you need to wipe the brown stuff off your nose and lips?

History will correctly identify you as among the least competent, least representative and most damaging legislators in our history. Congratulations.

I hope your "repeal and replace" the ACA gambit continues to burn in your faces for all to see. I hope you fail at this endeavor. And all your other schemes, too.

Disrespectfully yours....a true American

---


AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, 2017

Definition of civil
1 a : of or relating to citizens civil duties
b : of or relating to the state or its citizenry; civil strife
2a : civilized; civil society
b : adequate in courtesy and politeness; mannerly; a civil question;

A civil war is raging in America, and it is composed of both civil strife and incivility. Citizens are polarized as never before in our lifetimes. Large chasms have opened between people in terms of politics and culture. The signs of this civil war are everywhere we turn; in the news, and in our daily conversations.

The current President of the United States and his minions have, through actions, words, and silence condoned and fanned the flames of this civil war. They didn't start this war; it was brewing for some time. Things came to a head with the election of Barak Obama, and it has been raging ever since, fueled by bigotry. Truth, facts, objectivity and science have become victims of one-sided and often ignorant thought. The tiny percentage of Americans who wield the most control over our politics and government have purposefully planned and enabled hate and ignorance.

Huge numbers of Americans, likely to soon be the majority, are the victims of government action and inaction. The political appointments of Directors of government agencies have been placed with one mission in mind: destroy the existing fabric of government that serves the people, and replace it with a new fabric that serves the wealthy and the corporations. The victims include women, children, non-white persons, non-Christian persons, working people, and everyone who cannot afford an education and health care.

Racism has never died in the American system, but is alive and well and thoroughly woven into all aspects and levels of government. Small incremental gains under more democratic administrations have been reversed or are under imminent threat at the hands of the present administration. Bigotry, always there but often cloaked, has emerged into the light of day as more and more people express openly what they previously only murmured quietly. It is now commonplace to see or hear about verbal and physical hate crimes and speech directed against all those who are "the other."

Immigrants and refugees are now singled out as a danger to American society, and this battlefield has even seen federal courts doing battle with the administration. One side wants to erect walls and enact laws to keep certain kinds of people (i.e. non-white, non-Christian) out; the Statue of Liberty weeps with shame.

The party presently in control of the federal government seems to be purposefully immune to the truths about their actions and plans. Health care, as an example, is a major battleground in this civil war. The controlling party has vowed for years to repeal the federal health care law that has made health care available to tens of millions of Americans who were shut out until it's enactment. Now this political party is in control of the Congress and the Executive, and gaining power in the Judiciary branch. And yet, even with this almost total control, they cannot pass a law that repeals and replaces the existing health care act. This failure is a direct result of the civil war; millions of Americans want to keep their access to health care, even though the controlling political party wants to destroy it.

Climate change, a well-known, if inconvenient truth to those in power, is an increasing cause of hardship and suffering world-wide. This is another major battlefield in our civil war, with clearly drawn battle lines. The president and his minions use their "alternative facts" to negate the truth of human-caused climate change, and have even gone as far as setting in motion a withdrawal from an unprecedented global agreement to reduce carbon emissions. With the federal government on one side of the battle line, an increasing number of cities, counties, states and corporations have dug in on the other side, declaring that they will honor and act on the Paris Accord.

Civility has also been swept aside in this civil war. Never in our lifetimes have we seen a presidential candidate openly spew hate speech directed at so many people and groups. Never have we seen a President publicly and relentlessly castigate the news media. Radio, television and internet personalities on both sides of the political divide regularly insult, denigrate and mock anyone and everyone who is on the other side of their beliefs (or the positions they are paid to espouse). People are verbally and sometimes physically attacked in public for being "the other." People on opposite sides of the political divide can only yell at and insult each other, rather than have serious and respectful conversations. This civility divide is getting wider every day.

How and when will the civil war of 2017 end? Are the results still an open question, or does one side have a winning advantage over the other? (In fact, there are likely more than two sides in this battle.) One fact is abundantly clear, the interests that presently control the federal government have the advantage of that control, as well as tremendous wealth. They will probably maintain that control after the 2018 election, which will set up a major battle in 2020. The controlling interests have at least one clear advantage right now, a monolithic block of voters who hew to a small number of conservative ideals. This voting block can and will be mobilized around this small number of ideals, and under our electoral system can maintain their controlling position.

The other side of the political divide, unfortunately, is itself seriously divided. The wedges holding these divides open include political correctness, intersectionality, accusations of bigotry, non-inclusiveness, vestiges and scars of Bernie v. Hillary, not-progeressive-enough-ism, and others. This side of the civil war lost badly in the 2016 election, and is poised to continue on the same path unless the need for serious and drastic changes are understood and implemented - a daunting task.

Future historians will pour over the records of the 2017 American civil war. The realities of their world will be a direct result of the battles being fought in this war. There is no way to predict the outcomes, but it is certain that 2017 represents a turning point in American and world history. The extent of the casualties is unknowable now; all that can be said is that there will be many over the course of ther next few generations.

Can we end this war soon? I am optimistic that so many people have become energized and spurred into political action. I am pessimistic that the so-far disjointed and leaderless efforts of one side, my side, have little chance of prevailing against the juggernaut of wealth and power on the other side. Perhaps our best hope is that the other side suffers a major implosion that leaves an advantageous opening.

Time will tell, and time is racing into the future.
---

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

OUR FLAG



We proudly fly OUR flag for every national holiday. For many years, it seemed that the American flag belonged to the folks on the right (not correct) side of the political spectrum; but this was a false narrative. This flag is OUR flag, "our" meaning everyone in America. It is a symbol of many things, including the good, the bad and the ugly. But mostly it is a symbol of a country that was founded on a set of remarkable ideals, and by remarkable I don't mean perfect, but ideals that we can hold up and strive towards.

I believe in America. I believe that as a nation, as a people, we will somehow survive this present phase of populist, authoritarian leadership and systematic government deconstruction. We will emerge a damaged nation, both physically and in spirit. However, we have a touchstone, a place we can go together to find our way again, and it is the Constitution.

In the time B.T. - before Trump - we knew that there were many very serious issues to deal with as a nation. We continued to leave many of our sisters and brothers in unacceptable situations, victims of institutionalized systems that were unjust. This has not changed, it has only gotten worse under Trump. When we emerge from the Era of Trump, we will not only need to pick up where we were B.T., but also roll up our sleeves and fix the extensive damage done by Trump and his minions. But I have faith in America. If we pull together as a nation characterized by diversity, the strength of that diversity will pull us through.

So celebrate America today. Take a few moments to contemplate what America is, what it stands for, what it's potential is and can be. Say hello to your neighbors. Embrace the vitality of our diversity.

And then get back to the beer and burgers and fireworks.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

WHITHER (WITHER?) THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY?

The defeat of Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive House of Reps election in history is a big downer for Democrats across the country. Ossoff ran as a moderate, tried not to offend Republican voters by demonizing Trump, and spent truckloads of cash. He lost anyway.

I have a few thoughts about this election result. First, it seems that political party might be more important than any individual politician, from candidates to president. No matter what Donald Trump does, Republican voters still seem to vote Republican. Perhaps party loyalty is stronger than any other factor in elections.

Second, I think the specifics of a candidate are more important than the party. This seems to contradict my first point, but let me play this out a bit. The strategy used by Ossoff was to run as a moderate in order to attract independent and less conservative Republican voters. This strategy didn't work. Perhaps the biggest problem for Ossoff was that he simply was not a good candidate for this kind of election. He is young, inexperienced in politics, and doesn't even live in the Congressional District he hoped to represent.

I want to use my state, Oregon, as an example. We have one Republican Member of the House, Greg Walden, who represents the more rural parts of the state. Walden is conservative, and was instrumental in passing the Repeal/Replace Obamacare legislation in the House. Unseating Walden will be a very difficult task for Democrats, perhaps an impossible task. Walden's district is majority Republican, made up of ranchers, farmers, loggers and other rural demographics. If a Democrat has a chance, a slim chance of unseating Walden, that person would need to be a well-established local who is part of the majority demographic in rural Oregon, a moderate, and someone with a political or government history.

To date, two Democratic candidates have anounced their intentions to run against Walden; both are from more liberal towns in Walden's district. One candidate, a Bernie Sanders supporter, ran against Walden in the last election and was soundly defeated by a huge margin. The other candidate is a political newbie, a woman dog-sled racer. Both candidates, in my humble opinion, are snowballs in hell regarding their chances to beat the Republican incumbent.

So, what is my conclusion? Well, I think loyalty to political party is probably the most important factor in elections, and any chance of upsetting a Republican, especially an incumbent, has to be based on understanding not only voter loyalty, but what factors make a candidate appealing to independent voters and voters in the other party who might be having serious qualms about their party candidate.

We Democrats need to understand that in this time of history, nominating very left candidates in traditionally conservative districts is not a good strategy. Both houses of Congress are controlled by one party, and that party gets to do whatever it wants, with limited options available to the minority party to stop them. So the most important thing Democrats can do for the forseeable future is put forward candidates who are Democrats who can win, whether or not they have each of our specific set of political "leftness." Our choice going forward is very simple: 1) keep putting forward candidates who have the best "left" credentials but can't win because they have no credibility with the majority of voters in their district, or 2) put forward candidates who have the best possibility of winning as Democrats, no matter how centrist they are. If we use strategy 2, we might have a chance to gain the majority in Congress.

My conclusion actually bothers me, because as a self-described "progressive realist" and long time some-kind-of-socialist I would prefer a more left-leaning majority party. The realist part of me, however, understands the present political realities of the United States, and the important context of the rest of the world, and so I am reluctantly comfortable with my aforementioned conclusion.

Any thoughts?
---

Friday, June 02, 2017

DEAR PEOPLE OF THE WORLD: MOST OF US AMERICANS DON'T AGREE WITH TRUMP

Dear people of the world:

It is important for you to know that most Americans did not vote for Donald Trump, and most Americans disagree with everything he has done and will do. I know this because: 1. his opponent received 3,000,000 more votes than he did; and 2. public poll after public poll show that most Americans do not approve of what he is doing.

Donald Trump has redefined American exceptionalism; this now means that the USA will do everything except what is right and just. This is not the Amercia you know, and it is most certainly not the America the majority of Americans know. Donald Trump has his base, meaning the people who support him and what he does. Those of us who are not part of his base, and again I have to assure you that I mean the majority of Americans, vascilate between thinking we should try to understand his base and simply understanding that they are ignorant people. Yes, l know, that previous thought is not very politically correct, but seriously....

American democracy is a strange system. Someone recently wrote that our democracy is still in Beta testing, and it has many major bugs that need to be fixed. We are a country in which big money has taken more and more control of our political system. One of our two major political parties, the Republican Party, is controlled by that big money, spouting free market economic theory mixed with Libertarianism and, now, Trumpian populism. (To be balanced, there is a lot of Big Money supporting the Democratic Party, also; however, that party has ideals that differ markedly from the R's.) Members of our elected Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, are charged by our Constitution to "promote the general welfare;" this is their basic job description. Unfortunately, there is no annual job review for these politicians, and the only way to remove one is to not re-elect her/him. Also unfortunately, it is too often the case that Republican politicians at the state level rearrange voting district boundaries to ensure that their party candidates win elections.

Donald Trump, unfortunately now the President of the United States, has rejected the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This is a shameful, selfish and ignorant action by a shameless, selfish and ignorant man; a very privileged man, I might add. By rejecting the Paris Agreement, Mr. Trump has rejected every principle of justice, peace, understanding, tolerance, human rights and common sense. I assume that Mr. Trump has never read the Paris Agreement; he does not read lengthy documents. He, or someone close to him, has cherry-picked themes that he has misapplied. One only needs to read or listen to his speech on rejecting the Agreement to understand what a completely ignorant person Mr. Trump is. Perhaps the funniest and saddest line in his speech was that he was not elected by the people of Paris!

In rejecting the Paris Agreement, Mr. Trump also rejected everything contained in it, including these words and phrases:
- equity,
- responsibility,
- respective capabilities,
- urgent threat of climate change,
- best available scientific knowledge,
- specific needs and special circumstances of developing country Parties,
- (Parties) vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change,
- effective and progressive response,
- equitable access to sustainable development and eradication of poverty,
- safeguarding food security and ending hunger,
- just transition of the workforce and creation of decent work and quality jobs,
- obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity,
- importance of the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of the greenhouse gases,
- importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems,
- protection of biodiversity,
- the importance of the concept of "climate justice,"
- importance of education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information and cooperation at all levels,
- importance of the engagements of all levels of government and various actors in addressing climate change,
- recognizing that sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production, with developed country Parties taking the lead, play an important role in addressing climate change.

In other words, by rejecting the Paris Agreement, Mr. Trump, claiming to act on behalf of the American people, has rejected the rest of the world, and all the people in it! He has rejected all notions of equity, fairness, science, justice, sustainable development. He has damned the vulnerable people of future generations everywhere on Earth to continued poverty, disruption, misery and death. This is truly a crime against humanity.

Let me be very clear here: Donald Trump, the elected leader of what until now has been the leading country of the free world, has given away the mantle of leadership, has abandoned everything that makes America America, has let the poor, aspiring peoples of the world know that America no longer gives a damn about them, has slapped our allies across the face, and has heaped scorn on the ideals, real and aspirational, of the United States of America.

I, like most Americans, am ashamed and embarassed that Donald Trump is the president of my country. In the few short months he has been in office, Mr. Trump has wreaked much havoc on the instituions of American government. He has, through his own statements and actions, condoned the emergence into broad daylight of the most hate-filled and bigoted elements of our society. And on the world stage, he has publicly embraced our traditional enemies while insulting our closest allies. The President of the United States is no longer the leader of the free world, let alone the leader of his own country except in title.

I want to conclude by telling you, people of the world, that Americans are not being silent and passive. As of June 1, 30 mayors of American cities, 3 governors, more than 80 university presidents, and more than 100 businesses have come together to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the greenhouse gas targets of the United States under the Paris Agreement. As individuals, huge numbers of us will continue to be politically active, outspoken, and engaged in efforts to thwart and reverse Trump and the Republicans wherever and whenever possible.

This is our pledge to you, made by true American patriots.

---








Saturday, May 27, 2017

TRUMP 360 - THE SIGNATURE

I have always been puzzled by the seismic signature of Donal J. Trump. I've studied it, tried to trace the line of his pen, tried to discern any letter in the alphabet - all for naught.

So I decided to take The Donald's scrawl as written, and also repeatedly turned 90 degrees, yielding 4 views. Perhaps this would reveal something. Maybe The Donald's brain turns words a certain number of degrees.

This worked. In fact, each of the 4 positions revealed something that makes sense about The Donald.

What do you think?




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

THE POLITICS OF POLICING: WHY CAN'T PORTLAND GET IT RIGHT?

The Portland Police Bureau, Oregon, has limped through what seems like a slow-motion train wreck over the past few years. The Bureau was the subject of a US Department of Justice investigation primarily about use of force in dealing with people experiencing mental illness, and also in dealing with minority members of the community; this resulted in a Settlement Agreement still being implemented (with great difficulty within a citizen oversight Board). A newly appointed Chief of Police from within the Bureau had to resign after accidentally shooting a friend while hunting and allegedly lying about it during the subsequent investigation of the incident. The former mayor negotiated a new contract with the Police Association (union) shortly before the end of his term that generated controversy among some community activists. Community activists held increasingly vocal and violent demonstrations against the Mayor and Police Bureau after police cracked down on demonstrators who were taking over streets and freeways, blocking mass transit, and anarchists destroying and vandalizing public and private property. The newly appointed interim Chief was put on leave during an investigation related to his presence at a training; he was eventually cleared.
And now this: a job listing for Chief of Police was posted by the City this month, and it has sparked controversy within the Bureau as well as the community. I have studied the job listing, as well as the statement issued by the President of the Police Association and a reply by the Mayor (the Mayor oversees the Police Bureau). I have to say that I agree with the opinion that the job listing is amazingly insensitive to the hard work done by rank-and-file officers in the Bureau, and conveys the impression that the major issue in the City of Portland regarding police work is relationships with "communities of color."

Here is the first paragraph of the job listing:

The City of Portland is seeking a highly qualified and transformative Police Chief to lead the Portland Police Bureau. The Portland Police Chief serves as the Chief of the largest law enforcement agency in the State of Oregon. This individual reports to the Mayor and is responsible for directing and leading all aspects of bureau operations. The State of Oregon and its largest city, Portland, share a history of legally sanctioned systemic racism with legally enforced exclusionary practises. Given this history, the successful candidate must demonstrate the capacity and commitment to expand on existing strategies to improve relationships with and service provision to Portland's communities of color, ensuring that equity is a bedrock of policing in Portland.

For someone not familiar with Portland, this leading paragraph certainly conveys the message that systemic racism is the main problem with the Portland Police Bureau, even today. This is not true. It is true that Oregon and Portland have shameful histories of racial policies and actions; however, it is also true that the State, City and Police Bureau have been addressing these problems for many years, and much progress has been made. Yes, there is much work to be done to improve relationships between police and citizens, especially marginalized communities.In fact, later in the job announcement, this statement appears:

Highly skilled in facilitating, negotiating and building consensus and trust among diverse customers and stakeholders with competing and differing needs.
In other words, Portland is a community with a diversity of people ("customers") who the police interact with and serve.

The Portland Police Association President issued a statement responding to this job announcement.
Understandably, the verbiage and the tenor of the job posting left many in the rank and file angry and confused, as the clear implication from the posting is that the Police Bureau and its members have supported a racist culture in the City.

The union statement went on to list the many recent positive accomplishments of the Bureau. It also pointed out that the job announcement had nothing positive to say about the hard-working and dedicated officers of the Bureau.

I have worked with the Portland Police Bureau on neighborhood projects, and was involved for over a year in the public part of the Settlement Agreement. Although I am not a member of the Bureau, I feel that the job announcement for Chief of Police is an insult to the many good people of the Bureau.
I don't understand this. Is this a huge human resources blunder by the City of Portland? Is this an example of political correctness gone wild? Or is this, for some reason, an intentional insult?
Portland, Oregon is not la-la-land; we have real problems that need to be addressed, including, but not exclusively, issues of systemic racism. Our Police Bureau is seriously under-staffed and consistently criticized by certain elements of the community. The Bureau has been plagued by internal problems and incidents, and the Mayor has initiated a nation-wide search for a new Chief of Police. Unfortunately, the job announcement for Chief doesn't help matters.
---

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TRUMP IS THE TOOL, NOT THE OPERATOR

Donald J. Trump is not a smart person. Trump the person is not the reason he is president; Trump the idea is the reason. It has never made sense that working people, poor people, college-educated people, and other demographics voted for, and many still support Trump. Really, does Trump care about any people other than himself and his close family? The obvious answer is, he does not.

No, Donald Trump is not the brains behind the Trump ascendency and the Trump presidency. He is the tool, and, if we change one letter, the fool. Trump was not the brains behind his campaign. He did not plan the strategy, develop the message, write the speeches. (To be fair, most candidates don't either, but most are certainly very involved.) Trump was good at one general theme that encompassed provoking the crowd, firing up populist ideas, race-baiting, thuggery and name-calling. He is terrific at self-promotion, and terrible at everything else. He has not written any Executive Orders; he has not conceptualized any legislation. He has only signed his seismographic signature and smiled for the cameras.

So who are the Operators of the Trump tool? Are they his children? Are they the people he has placed close to him in the White House, like Steve Bannon? Well, no. These people are his handlers, the ones who try to tell (suggest to?) him what to do and how to do it, to stay on-message, and to get in front of the cameras and try to explain that the alternative facts are the real facts, no matter what the Fool in Chief tweets. These are not the high level Operators.

The Operators are people most of us have never heard about. They are people the mainstream media don't talk about, either. They are members of the Billionaire Class who actually, unlike Trump, are intelligent and have tremendous amounts of control in our society, and others around the globe.

This all sounds shady and thriller novel-like, doesn't it? Conspiracy theory stuff. Shadowy figures pulling levers and strings. Well, yes, it does. And I believe it is something we all need to look at. For starters, take a look at this piece in the Guardian about Robert Mercer, Steve Bannon, and Cambridge Analytica. Is it getting chilly in here?

---

Saturday, April 29, 2017

ONLY SOME REMEMBERED THE LIGHT

Portland, Oregon USA. April 29, 2017.

Only the elders remembered it, but even they sat amazed, squinting at the glowing windows. It was somehow familiar, and yet not familiar. For many, not just the elders, it was discomfiting, somehow alien. Bright. Light.

Hopefully, many thought, this will be fleeting, an aberration. And then it will be normal again; grey, wet, rain falling constantly, puddles on the sidewalk, streams running in the gutters. "April showers bring May flowers," some said. "The sun is dangerous on your skin," said others. "Vitamin D pills are just as good!"

I sat rocking on the porch swing, moving over to stay in the shade as the warm light moved across the porch. I thought that I could take off my socks and feel the warm wood boards on my soles, but why risk the tender white skin on the top of my feet? Perhaps we will go for a walk today; I should carry a raincoat and umbrella, just in case.

There are diffuse clouds in the blue sky (that's right, it is actually blue!), and in the east the sky is totally grey. I guess this is transitory, after all, and the world will be normal again, soon.

I feel better.

---

Friday, April 28, 2017

RESIST: EVERY GENERATION HAS TO DO IT AGAIN

We received a mailing from the United Farm Workers last week, asking for support. I took some time and visited their website, and confirmed what I knew I would find; they are very actively working as part of the resistance to support undocumented people (as well as everything else they do). I thought about the old organizing song with the line that "every generation has to do it again." Then I went to my dresser and opened the infamous Junk Drawer (you all have one too, don't you). I dug around: miscellaneous keys that I have absolutely no idea what they are for, a nose whistle, a small vial of baby teeth, a deck of naughty playing cards my Aunt Laura sent when I was sick - I was probably 12-13 years old, a real sardine embedded in acrylic with a pin on the back that I sometimes put on a sport jacket lapel, an ancient package of Zig-Zag rolling papers (21 cents!), and the button box. The button box has a bunch of political buttons. I also found the small United Farmworkers flag, and pinned some of the buttons to it; here's the photo:


OK, I tend to be a hoarder, but these items each have an attached memory. This grouping brings back a flood of past activism, the teacher's union, the Farmworkers struggle, the car trip to Coachella Valley for a rally where Cesar Chavez spoke, various boycotts, and so on.

There is a point here, and this is why I dug through the junk drawer: our work is not done! So many have struggled for so long, and yet there is so much still to do. Especially now. Especially now that so many of our sisters and brothers are under attack by people and organizations, including the president and the majority in Congress. The onslaught is daunting, and yet we, the people, are fighting back, each in her/his own way. How many rallies and marches have there been in this country since January 20, 2017? How much media coverage has focused on exposing the corruption of this president and this Congress? It's gratifying to see it happening daily.

I am convinced that America will survive this explosion of populism, because Trump has failed greatly over the course of the first 100 days of Trumpism. The Republican Congressional leadership has also failed in big, visible ways, demonstrating that they have no skills for governing, only for saying no. America will be damaged by the time we dump Trump, and the global effects will be huge and dangerous. But I think our democracy is strong enough to survive and rebuild.

Donald Trump is a buffoon, a dangerous buffoon. He has and will continue to ruin many lives, make many people miserable, shake the foundations of both domestic and foreign policy. Hopefully there are a few good men (yes, he has surrounded himself with men - I'll write about the daughter separately) in his circle who have the knowledge and experience to know when to tell him "NO!" and to avert a disaster, such as war with North Korea. He is causing damage on so many fronts that the results will be horrifying and way too real. But I have hope.

So, brothers and sisters, don't get discouraged, don't shrink from action, fight the good fight, RESIST! (And wear those political buttons!)

---

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

YES, THIS IS AMERICA

We received a Voters' Pamphlet from the county for a special election in May (school boards, school bonds, etc.). The two pages of information on voting and election facts are repeated in six (6) languages, including English. We vote by mail here in Oregon, something that I think should be the norm in every state.

The point is, America is a nation of diversity. We are a population of immigrants, except for those of us who have native ancestry. (Although, go back far enough in time, and even the native people in what is now North, Central and South America are descendents of immigrants from Asia.) For those who rail against immigrants, I can only ask, where do you think you came from? To those who think that migrants from Mexico and further south don't belong here, you need to remember that the United States went to war with Mexico in 1846-1848 after annexing Texas, and ended up with 525,000 square miles of Mexican territory, what Is now all or parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The Rio Grande River became the new boundary between Mexico and the United States. So who are the real immigrants?

So do us all a favor, you anti-immigrants, shut up! You don't know what you are talking about. We like being a nation of diverse cultures; this is what America is all about. We were founded by immigrants, and we should always welcome immigrants. We should also recognize the shameful moments in our history when we did not welcome immigrants and refugees, and understand that this is happening again today in 2017.

As you look around and see a diversity of people in your community, say to yourself: "Yes, this is America!"
---

Thursday, April 20, 2017

THE SHAMEFUL BEHAVIOR OF EVERYONE REGARDING BILL O'REILLY

It seems that allegations of sexual harassment have brought Bill O'Reilly down, at long last. As the reports of O'Reilly's behavior grew, the sponsors of his Fox cable show started to jump ship. At least 40 to 50 sponsors ditched Papa Bear (or is it Papa Bare?), and the list includes many of the worlds largest companies. This is commendable, but way too late. These companies tried to spin their decisions in cloaks of outrage over the way O'Reilly apparently has treated women, but in my humble opinion, their protestations were sickening PR stunts designed to keep them from getting any O'Reilly shit on themselves. These companies are rats deserting a sinking ship, after getting every crumb of advertising revenue they could wring from it.

The fact is that O'Reilly is, and always has been an outspoken loudmouth who has built a cable TV empire based on bigotry. I never paid much attention to O'Reilly; maybe I should have. I have now seen some post-mortems with clips from his show, and I am astounded by the blatant bigotry and hatred he spewed towards women, people of color, LGBT people and all others who are not white Christian patriots.

All of the wonderful companies that sponsored the O'Reilly show are tainted by his bigotry, and issuing PR statements about how shocked they are regarding his treatment of women are too little, too late. The O'Reilly stink is on these companies and will not come off, no matter how much liberal drivel they publish. Where were these companies every time O'Reilly made bigoted remarks about African-Americans, gays, lesbians and transgender people, Latinos, Muslims? Why didn't they pull their ads then?

Sorry, I don't buy it.

And then there is the so-called 45th President of the United States, a huge fan and friend of Bill O'Reilly. Here is what he said recently about the O'Reilly sex scandal: "I think he shouldn't have settled; personally I think he shouldn't have settled," Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday. "Because you should have taken it all the way. I don't think Bill did anything wrong," he said. "I think he's a person I know well — he is a good person," he said.

Wow, such terrific support from the Groper in Chief!

Shame on the companies that advertised on the O'Reilly show. Shame on The Donald of the United States for supporting a sexual predator. Shame on me for not paying attention all these years. Shame on a society that allows a beast like this to become obscenely wealthy and influential based on blatant bigotry.

---

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

DONALD J. TRUMP IS JEALOUS OF RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN

The President of the United States called the President of Turkey to congratulate him on winning a referendum that gave the Turkish President sweeping powers that many analysts see as being one step closer to a dictatorship. Erdogan is making moves to change Turkey from a Parliamentary to a Presidential government. It is no surprise that Donald Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him, because it is clear that Mr. Trump would like the same kind of power.

Think about it. After thousands of people demonstrated on April 15 that Trump should release his income tax filings, Trump said that those people should be investigated. He accused former President Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower. He wanted to put the former Secretary of State in jail because she used a private email server. He has called journalists horrible, evil liars, purveyors of "fake news" and excluded them from press conferences. His administration is ripping families apart and deporting undocumented parents. He recently referred to "my generals" when talking about the military. He has taken a wrecking ball to government agencies, particularly those that regulate business. He denies the human connection to climate change and is trying to diminish the role of the United States in solving this problem. He wants to roll back laws and legal decisions that protect women's health, ramp up policing in minority neighborhoods to control crime, and require all Muslim-Americans to register with the government. He has whipped up fear and hatred by describing all immigrants from south of the US border as murderers and rapists, and all people, except Christians, from Muslim-majority countries as terrorists. To please his base, Donald Trump would likely want to institute something akin to "Christian Law" in America. And much of the above has been accomplished through Executive Orders, pieces of paper containing legal language that he signs with great flourish, as if he is an emperor.

It is clear that Donald J. Trump wants to have dictatorial powers. He would like to be able to jail journalists for reporting things he doesn't like. He would relish the opportunity to arrest and jail all people who dare protest against him. Would he sieze an opportunity to close universities because they harbor intellectuals who claim to use facts that contradict Trumpism? You bet he would. He would most certainly enjoy sending "his military" anywhere in the world, and even here at home, to strongarm people and governments who oppose him. Yes, Donald J. Trump would love to have the powers of Recer Tayyip Erdogan, a President who has his military conduct mass arrests, torture and murder Turkish citizens, arrest journalists, judges, and university professors, all on trumped-up charges (!), and is moving Turkey towards being ruled as a Muslim, rather than secular nation.

So let us not kid ourselves about Donald Trump's motives. Keep in mind that he recently told reprters that he alone develops his strategies, not others like Steve Bannon. And that is one of the scariest comments yet in this young administration!

---

Friday, April 07, 2017

US MISSILE STRIKE IN SYRIA: MY INITIAL THOUGHTS

I have a very cynical view about anything and everything done by Donald Trump. So what do I think about the missile strike? My initial thoughts are below, but I know that as more information comes out, I could have different thoughts.

First and foremost, we know as a fact that everything Donald Trump does has one, and only one purpose: to promote Donald Trump. His first two months in office have been a shitstorm of ineptitude, chaos, scandal and angry tweets. But suddenly an opportunity was served up that he could make into something good for himself, the Syrians used chemical weapons against their own people. First, Trump did what Trump does best, he blamed someone else - Barak Obama, that weakling! - for the incident. Then he did something manly and decisive - he bombed the crap out of a Syrian airfield. Well, he didn't do the bombing, but he ordered the military to do it.

It appears that the Trump administration called the Russkies to warn them not to have any people or equipment at the target airfield; this makes sense, why risk getting into a fight with Putin? The Russians are now spitting and spouting and posturing about the US military action - great political theater for their own people to see. How dare America do something so horrible? (We must conveniently ignore Crimea and the Ukraine.)

So, a simple and effective action (i.e. Donald Trump is The Man, and don't mess with him!) to boost the Trump credibility at a time when it is rapidly shrinking. Nicely played. But we need to look at some alternative facts.

1. The Western Democracies should have acted against the Assad regime years ago to stop the mass killings of Syrian civilians and the tidal wave of refugees streamimg out of that country. The lack of decisive action for so long is a shameful stain on the United Nations and all the democratic nations, as usual.

2. Donald Trump, who shed crocodile tears about the children murdered in the chemical attack, does not give a gnats ass about Syrian children, or any other children for that matter. After all, these are the same kids he won't let into the United States because they are from Syria. And, as my wife eloquently pointed out in a Facebook post, Trump doesn't care about the children whose lives are torn apart when their father or mother is swooped up by ICE and deported from the USA, or like the ones who will be harmed by his program and funding cuts of social service and educational programs, environmental regulastions, and so forth.

3. We have not seen/heard a Trump plan for the Syrian conflict. What we did hear over and over from Candidate Trump was that the United States should not get involved in the Syrian conflict, or any other for that matter. My view, yes - the cynical one - is that this is a one-off opportunity for The Donald to boost his approval ratings. He told us over and over that he has plans - many, many plans that are great, great - to defeat ISIS, to end the Syrian civil war, to bring peace to the Middle East. When pressed for details, he feigned secrecy; "I can't tell you because then the enemies will know, and that would be stupid; after all, I'm smart!" Fact: for every secret plan Donald Trump claimed to have as a candidate, he has issued an Executive Order for various government entities to develop a plan within X days and present it to him. Don't believe me? Check it out at whitehouse.gov.

4. The Russians. The Russians are complicit in mass murder in Syria (and other places). Under the cover of "fighting ISIS," they have bolstered Assad's murderous regime and enabled him to remain in power by murdering Syrians using high- and low-tech weapons. The Russians excell at deception. They excell at political theater. Oh my, they are so upset, so angry, so righteous about the Trump missile strike! They are posturing and rattling swords, and threatening something dire, and truly bidding for the best actor award! Bullshit! They were told about the strike before it happened so they could get their people and equipment out of the way. They are complicit with Trump as well as the Syrians. This is political theatrer at it's best (or worst).

5. The Syrian people. This is the shame, the heartbreak of it all. The Syrian people, on all sides of the conflict, have suffered for years. Estimates of Syrians killed in the conflict range from 325,000 to nearly 500,000. An estimate of the number of people wounded in the conflict since 2011 is nearly 2,000,000. The Syrian Centre for Policy Research estimates that 11.5% of the country's population have been killed or injured in the war. Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, is a medical school graduate from Damascus University and did post-graduate work in ophthamology at the Western Eye Hospital in London. So much for the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm." (In Assad's case, it is the hypocrytic oath!) This monster remains in power, thanks largely to the actions of Russia, and the inaction of the rest of the world.

6. "Donald Trump is finally being presidential." NO!!! He is not!!! Do not try to normalize Donald J. Trump!!! He is not being "presidential;" he is being Donald J. Trump and doing everything he can to promote himself and his brand. This is not "normal," and never will be. Everything he does is all about him. It is not even "republican" or "conservative" or "christian." It is Trumpism, and Trumpism is flim-flam, snake oil, a con, self-promotion, profiteering, and bigoted misogynistic uncaring hurtful harmful unadulterated bullshit! Did I make myself clear just now?

Will the world move on from and forget about the Trump missile strike at a Syrian airfield? Very likely, unless the Russians see an opportunity to stir up more trouble and shame the USA, or Trump decides that he can use another boost to his ratings. Personally, I am in favor of getting rid of Assad and moving the struggle in Syria out of the realm of war and into the realm of politics. I do not think the United States should always act alone, as the policeperson of the world, but should build effective coalitions to act quickly when thousands of people are being attacked by their own government. Syria is not the only place in the world where this is happening, and shame on all of us in the democratic world who ignore these brutal conflicts.

Let's keep this conversation going; let's not turn our backs on the oppressed people of the world.

---



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...)

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---


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. 

-------------

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

Twitter