Saturday, November 23, 2013


As the drumbeat of criticism over the failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on-line system continues, it is important to look at a different perspective. Here are a few items to consider:

1997 - The City of Portland, Oregon Water Bureau entered a contract with an IT contractor to develop a new billing system. The cost would be $6 million, and it would be ready within a year. In 2000, the Bureau decided to go live with a flawed system, and there were billing problems with 40,000 customers. The final cost was more than $10 million, and the Bureau estimated that it lost $20 to 30 million of revenue as a result. In 2004 the Bureau scrapped the system and started over, issuing a new contract to an IT company to develop software.

2008 - A new City of Portland payroll and internal operations IT system was 10 months late and $19 million over budget. Once it was put into operation city employees experienced numerous problems with their pay and benefits. Not to worry, said the City, "there is a learning curve and anyone who has implemented a system this big knows it takes 18 months to stabilize, and we're only at six."

2013 - The Oregon Employment Department spent $6.9 million on a software project that never worked, and now has to spend another $1.2 million to patch up the old system. In addition, the State might have to pay back the federal government $1 million granted for the failed project.

2013 - The Oregon Health Exchange website is a failure, and the State of Oregon vows it will hold the contractor, Oracle, accountable for missed deadlines and shoddy work. The contract dates back to 2009, when the Oregon Health Authority entered into a time-and-materials contract with Oracle to modernize the Authority computer systems. Oracle was paid over $60 million on that contract, and was paid another $40 million for the Cover Oregon health exchange work. The contract includes a warranty that states Oracle "warrants that service will be provided in a professional manner consistent with industry standards," and "Oracle does not guarantee that the programs will perform error-free or uninterrupted or that Oracle will correct all program errors." Wow! No wonder the Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison, is the highest paid CEO in the USA at $96 million a year!

The examples above are a very, very tiny window into the world of computer software. Massive failures, and time and cost overruns are probably more the rule than the exception. We hear about these when the client is a public agency; we don't hear about them when the client is private industry.

So why is anyone surprised that the web site for the ACA was flawed at rollout? The failures of the website are very unfortunate, but the flaws are not fatal and will be fixed. Was this a problem with private contractors or the government itself? Very likely both. Does this mean that President Obama is a failure? Give me a break! Does this mean the ACA will be a failure? Absolutely not, in spite of the dreams and underhandedness of the Republican Party.

I think that IT, information technology itself, is the problem. Consultants always promise the world, and often have a hard time delivering it. I know this because I have been a consultant for 30 years, and many clients ask for the impossible. Unfortunately, many consultants say that they can do the impossible because they want the contract, and most actually believe in themselves enough to think that they can do very difficult things, bordering on impossible. I once was asked by a client in a contract interview if I honestly thought what the client wanted could be done for the budget they had. Because I'm honest, and because the client was a friend, I looked him in the eye and said that no, it could not be completed for that budget. He gave the contract to the consultant who said yes. I never checked to find out if it panned out.

We have come to rely on IT more than we should. I've heard people say, in regards to the flawed ACA website, "They should have hired private industry to do it, just look at Facebook and Google." Well, we don't hear about the failures at Facebook and Google, unless they roll out something new that is flawed and pisses off their users. Does anyone remember the Apple map app for the iPhone, or the recent iOS update for iPhone and iPad?  I'm certain that these IT giants have had, and will continue to have massive failures that never see the light of public, and they are wealthy enough to absorb the costs.

So people, chill out. The end of the world is not upon us, the ACA website will work sooner than later, and all will be well in the world; or at least, as well is it can be living within The Matrix.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Salmon Chanting Bridge

Deep below the dark surface of the lower Willamette River, on a moonlit night, the ancient race of fish makes their way upstream towards their birth streams. Their ancestors have made this journey a number of times too numerous to record. Their migration is an ancient ritual, known to the first people of this land and all others in human memory.  Although they are not as numerous as they were in a previous time, these fish are survivors, driven by primal instincts and sheer will power.

This time there is something different about the journey; there is something big and new in the river as they count the structures that span the wide water. Here, between the eighth and formerly ninth spans, counting upstream from the Big River, is a different kind of span over the water. This span has 12 legs, 2 groups of 6 on each side of the river. These are fun to swim through! But the best part is the two soaring towers above the legs, and the long cables like webbing hung from the towers. And the lights; this span glows and shimmers above the water!

The ancient fish of the salmon nation smile as they pass under the new bridge. They are happy. They sing an old song taught down the generations, a chant to signify the approach of their journey's end that is picked up by all of the travelers. High above the water, on the new bridge that is quiet because there are no motor vehicles, the humans hear the ancient song of the salmon, the rhythmic chanting from a time long gone.

And the humans smile, knowing that they are on Salmon Chanting Bridge.

Sunday, October 06, 2013


The Koch Brothers (pronounced like "coke," but I prefer "cock."); who are they? These multi-billionaire brothers are the big money behind a lot of conservative causes, including the Tea Party. They are heavily invested in the fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), as one example of their involvement in American politics. In 2012, the brothers donated at least $200 million to Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. The Board of Directors of another conservative group, Freedom Partners, is led by a long-time executive of Koch Industries. Freedom Partners claims at least 200 business members, each paying at least $100,000 dues. The group provided $115 million last year to the Center to Protect Patient Rights, another group fighting Obamacare. 

A quick look at the Koch Industries website shows a list of companies owned by the Brothers:

  • Flint Hills Resources
  • Koch Pipeline Company
  • Georgia-Pacific
  • Koch Fertilizer
  • Koch Chemical Technology Group
  • Koch Supply and Trading
  • Koch Minerals
  • The Matador Cattle Company
  • Koch Business Solutions, L.P.
These are each huge companies, many global in scope, and many based on the petroleum industry. 

It is interesting to contemplate how we are each linked to these Koch companies, and that contemplation is beyond the scope of this blog. However, as an example, I took a quick look at INVISTA. 

From the INVISTA website: INVISTA transforms daily life through its innovations in the nylon, spandex, polyester and specialty materials industries. You may find INVISTA's products in your clothing, carpets, cars and computers—just to name a few. Included in their product line, INVISTA manufactures these fabrics that you might have heard of (and might be wearing right now): Cordura, Coolmax, Lycra, Thermolite, and also Stainmaster carpeting and Dacron fiberfill. 

The Koch brothers are very successful businessmen, and they put huge amounts of their money into very politically conservative causes. There are also reports that the brothers are starting to buy media outlets; I'll let you think about that one.

Think about the $200 million ($200,000,000) that the Brothers donated to the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce last year to fight the Affordable Care Act. And by the way, this was just one of many, many donations the Brothers make to conservative causes. Consider that the 2013 federal poverty guidelines, the annual income that defines "poverty" in the United States, lists $15,510 for a family of 2 people, and $23,550 for a family of four. Census Bureau data for 2013 show that 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty; that's 15% of us! The $200 million spent by the Brothers to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, a law that would provide health insurance for people in poverty who previously couldn't afford it, represents the annual income of 12,895 2-person families living at the poverty line, or 8,493 4-person families living at the poverty line. 

The Koch brothers are the big money behind the Tea Party movement, those wonderful people who have shut down the federal government. Without the Koch money, the Tea Party might not have gotten off the ground. 

Think about this as you put on your Lycra running tights, your Coolmax t-shirt, your Dacron fiberfill winter vest, and your Cordura day-pack.


Tuesday, October 01, 2013


The world wants to know wtf is wrong with America. Simply said, the American government shut itself down. The results of this shutdown will be far-reaching, and Americans on the edge will be the most hard hit.

What is wrong with America? It seems that there are people in government who are anti-government. How does that make any sense? What do they hope to gain? How can this strategy have any positive results for anyone?

Part of the answer is that the United States isn't - united.  There is a sub-population that is anti government, and they have elected representatives who feed the flames of anarchy under the guise of conservatism. It's weird, totally weird. And we all suffer because of it.

Here is a very good segment of the Rachel Maddow show about the then-pending government shutdown. It is worth watching because it shines a very bright light on the shutdown, anti-government mentality of this minority that controls the House of Representatives.  The fact that these people are members of Congress is reason to be worried; very, very worried about the future of America.

Can the United States continue to be the united states? Are we still one country, or are we two or more populations separated by a widening chasm of political difference? The whole world is watching. And the whole world is wondering wtf is going on in America. So am I.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013


What can we do about the situation in Syria? What should we do about the situation in Syria? These two interrelated questions are burning into our collective brains. And the intensity of the burn is so much greater now that chemical weapons have been used against civilians. President Obama drew a red line; President Assad apparently stepped over that line, adding more than 1,000 people to the toll of more than 100,000 deaths.

We Americans are torn in multiple directions about this. Is there a moral responsibility to do something - anything? Is there a Superpower responsibility to take military action because we are the most heavily armed nation in the world, and a democracy? Should we only act if there is an American security reason? What if we kill civilians? What if we radicalize more young people into jihadism? What if the reaction to our action is Syria, Hezbollah, Iran and others launching missiles into Israel (playing the age-old game of Blame the Jews)? Can we really trust our own government to be telling us the truth about the poison gas incident? Remember WMDs and Iraq? How can we justify killing people to punish Assad for killing people? Why don't we just negotiate a peace deal in Syria? What happened to diplomacy?

And on, and on, and on, and on....

I have used the term "unintended consequences" in an earlier Facebook post on this topic. I used it to suggest a cautionary pause in the march to war. But every action has unintended consequences, including the action of inaction. We have watched, in horror, the unfolding of war and the devolution of society in Syria for more than two years. Our government has done relatively little, close to nothing (as far as is known by the public) over the course of the conflict. Now our President has declared that he intends to punish the Syrian government for crossing the red line of using chemical weapons, and he has sent a resolution to the U.S. Congress for their approval.

I support a military strike against the Syrian regime, unless there is a diplomatic path - and I mean one that looks realistic and starts immediately. Here's why...

There is an almost universal (only 7 nations have not signed and ratified) agreement that chemical weapons should be banned. Syria has not signed on to this convention, and has one of the largest stockpiles of these weapons in the world. And Syria has used them, recently killing over 1,000 men, women and children. This is a gross violation of international law, not to mention a moral outrage. If this action goes unpunished, it will make all arms conventions meaningless, and the world will move even more quickly into chaos at the hands of dictators (and terrorists). 

People in the USA are proud to say that we're number one. We're the last Superpower standing. We are mighty and powerful and not to be messed with. Well, that's fine, but it is hollow jingoism if we don't act when others won't. We have a moral obligation in the world because we are so powerful. We have sat back and watched genocide and massacres too many times without doing anything to try to stop it, or slow it down. We cannot, in all good conscience, let Assad get away with mass murder. I don't think there is a convention against civil war; hence we cannot legally weigh in on the side of the Syrian insurgents. But there is international law prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, and this is the opening we must use. 

We all have an opinion on this, and many of us express it on social media. The pundits express their opinions in the public media. This is good, this is our democracy in action. But we have to be very careful not to let opinion become fact. We have placed our trust in our government to carry out the actions that only government can do. There are many professionals in government, and those with expertise in foreign policy, international law, political science, diplomacy, military science and etc. are making, and should be making, decisions that guide the actions of our country. (1) 

To those who say that Obama doesn't know what he's doing, that he is being played by the Russians and the Syrians, I say - really? To those who say (and I have heard this directly) that Obama is no different than G.W. Bush, I say - really? I'll take a President who moves cautiously and intelligently, who does not invent the basis for invading another country and starting a 10-year war, who is man enough to stand in front of a national audience and speak truth, even if it makes him look weak or diminishes his credibility in the eyes of those who hate him. Here are the facts: our President warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would prompt a severe response from the United States; the Syrians gassed their own civilians; our President announced that the United States would act by launching a limited military response with the goal of punishing Assad as well as degrading his ability to deliver chemical munitions again; our President correctly asked Congress to approve his plan for a limited strike; Congress and the American public started to dither (as usual); our President and the President of Russia announced a plan that has a glimmer of hope to lock up Syria's chemical weapons. And this is where we are presently. 

I am saddened by the daily deaths and level of cruelty playing out in Syria. I am saddened by the powerlessness of the rest of the world to intervene. And I am saddened by the inability of Americans to stand up for what is moral and correct.

I support President Obama. I hope that his diplomatic efforts succeed. And in the end, even if Congress and the American public don't support it, I hope he uses his executive authority to do the right thing. 

And mostly, I hope the conflict in Syria ends soon for the sake of our Syrian sisters and brothers. 

(1) There is a clear distinction in my mind between the Obama and the GW Bush administrations. In my opinion, the Bush administration is guilty of war crimes because it invaded and occupied a sovereign country on false pretenses, and killed tens of thousands of people in the process. I was very outspoken on this blog and elsewhere about this during those eight years. The present administration is a very different reality.    

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Seriously. We just saw Man of Steel; oh barf. The beginning was hopeful; what is it like to be a little boy who is very different from everyone else? Actually a very sensitive treatment of the topic; OK, maybe this movie will be good.

And it was all downhill from there. Yes Hollywood, we know you can knock over a skyscraper using CGI; but isn't one enough? How many oil tanker trucks and locomotives have to be dropped on someone before it gets old? And fight scenes - OK, Supe and the bad dude in black can be rough and tumble, but didn't you learn that things need to come to an end?

How many millions of people were killed in this movie? Really, suspension of disbelief is the key to enjoying a comic book, but it doesn't take long before the audience is getting very uncomfortable because many, many innocent people are obviously being slaughtered here and, well, it just isn't OK.

This isn't fun. This is idiotic and senseless violence for the sake of idiotic and senseless violence. The real Superman would never have let this kind of murder and mayhem happen. The real Superman would have lured the villains away from the city so they could duke it out without committing mass murder. And the real Superman would have a lot more emotions than repeatedly clenching his fists and shouting as loud as possible. Come on, let's get real!

And need I say that I once again lost another small amount of hearing by sitting through yet another stupid action movie? Does it really need to be so loud? Do you movie makers equate loudness with quality, or is it that you think you can hide your bad movie-making skills behind a whole bunch of obnoxious noise? (And btw, my teenage grandkids agree with me on this one.)

I'm sorry Hollywood, but I think I'm finished with your comic book movies. Some of the early ones were quite good, but you've lost your way in the dazzling lure of big money and the computer generated graphics. The beauty of comic books used to be that the characters had, yes, character. There was intelligence behind the fists of steel. Violence was limited to bullets bouncing off of things, fists meeting chins (POW!!), and bad guys being rounded up and handed over to the cops. And the reader was allowed to use a thing known as the imagination; imagine that!

Am I being too harsh (BAM!!)? I don't think so, but I'm open to your opinion, just as you have now been subjected to mine.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Russian President Vladimir Putin turns out not to be a nice guy after all. In 2001, at their first meeting, then US President George W. Bush said "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul." I can only imagine what Mr. Putin thought about Mr. Bush; perhaps something like "I looked into his eyes and, holy Kremlin, what naiveté!!" 

Mr. Putin enjoys power, and in order to keep it he persecutes everyone and anyone he deems to be a threat. Under Mr. Putin, the new Russia seems to be more and more like the old Soviet. 

And so it is that President Putin has signed into Russian law some very severe anti-homosexual measures. These laws persecute gay people and supporters of gay people. One recent law signed by Mr. Putin bans the adoption of any Russian child by same sex couples, or even anyone who lives in a country that has marriage equality! Most recently, Putin signed a law that allows the police to arrest tourists and foreigners suspected of being gay or pro-gay, and hold them for 14 days. And yet another law defines "homosexual propaganda" as pornography, and can lead to detention and fines for people who advocate tolerance or educate children about homosexual issues. 

The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Russia this coming February. Although the Charter of the International Olympic Committee has anti-discrimination language, the Olympic Committee appears to be strangely silent on this issue.  One can only wonder about the potential danger LGBT athletes, fans, and visitors who are openly supportive of equal rights might find themselves in. We can only hope that Mr. Putin understands the concept of "the whole world is watching." 

I openly support the rights of LGBT persons. The anti-gay Russian laws, supported and signed by Mr. Putin, are evil. If I were to gaze searchingly into Mr. Putins eyes (and not get arrested on suspicion of being gay), I would likely find a deep, dark pool of evil. 

I plan to write to the Olympic Committee on this issue.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

TRAYVON MARTIN WAS MY GRANDSON... fact, if you are a parent or grandparent in America, Trayvon was your son or grandson, too.  I have three grandsons. One just turned 18, the other two are almost 15. I have seen all of them wearing a hoody, walking down the street, carrying snacks and a drink. Tray (that's what I would have called him  - I have nicknames for all my grandsons) seemed just like my other grandsons, at least from the stories and photos of him that I've read and seen. A sweet kid, good with little kids, a quick and warm smile, likes to horse around with Opa (that's what my grandsons call me), and tall because, well, teenagers now seem to get taller than we used to.

I can't imagine knowing that someone with a gun was following my grandson because he "looked suspicious." Why would my grandson look suspicious? Because of his hoody? Because he was a tall, skinny teenager? Because he was carrying a box of Skittles? Why? WHY?

Trayvon was African American; I'm Eastern-European American. Trayvon was Black; my grandsons are White. And that is why. There is no other explanation.

Unfortunately, racism, specifically racial fear and distrust, is very much alive and well in America. The outrage in the Black community is always just below the surface, and runs deep. For good reasons.

I, too, am outraged, but my outrage is not based on direct and overt racism that I encounter every day. My outrage is based on what goes on within our society, the overt and covert, individual and institutionalized racism that grinds people down if their skin just isn't light enough. Grinds them down and often, way too often, kills them.

Many teenagers, a disproportionate number of them Black, are killed by gun every week in America. In that sense, the death of Trayvon Martin is just another disturbing statistic. But Trayvon's killing was so much more important because the law allowed it, both before and after the fatal shot was fired. George Zimmerman was allowed by the law to carry a gun. And the verdict in Mr. Zimmerman's trial tells us that Mr. Zimmerman was allowed by the law to kill another person. Both of these "allows" must be questioned equally. Neither of these "allows" should have been.

I am sad when I think of Trayvon; even more so when I picture my grandsons. I miss Tray. I miss the opportunity to know him, to read about him someday because he did something awesome, and just to know that he and every other Trayvon is alive and well and being a teenager. I will not let the Florida legal system or the media ruin the image of the Trayvon I know by somehow suggesting that it was his fault, that he was the aggressor, that he somehow was the criminal against whom George Zimmerman had to defend himself. No. Not for a second!

I am sad about Trayvon's family and friends. How do you carry on after someone you love is murdered? How do you carry on after the murderer is set free by the legal system? How do you not let the outrage that is always just beneath the surface boil over?

Let us not forget Trayvon Martin. Let all parents and grandparents keep his name and his image close in our hearts, just like our own kids and grandkids - because he was one of them, one of ours. We should all be outraged that the law allowed our child to be murdered. Trayvon is alive in our hearts; let's make certain that Trayvon is alive in the fight to end racism in every ugly form, including the law. Trayvon Martin's boyish smile is the sign we hold high for all to see, for all to grieve, and for all to fight for.


Monday, July 15, 2013


I don't have anything new to add to this conversation, but I feel compelled to put my opinion into the virtual stream of consciousness swirling around this topic.

The trial is over, Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of murder in the second degree. Like it or not, our legal system has cranked out a decision and this phase of the story is over. The facts now are:

  1. a 17-year old boy, Trayvon Martin, is dead; shot and killed by an armed citizen;
  2. Mr. Zimmerman, the shooter, has been found not guilty of the crime of murder, and is free;
  3. Mr. Zimmerman can once again, if he so chooses, legally walk the streets with a gun; 
  4. unless the U.S. Department of Justice brings a civil rights action, or the parents of Trayvon bring a civil suit, the story is over. 
But is the story over? No - not by a long shot.

You see, every day - every day - people are killed by gun in this country. And every day - every single day - legal injustices are done to someone somewhere in this country. If you study the issues you will find ample and overwhelming information about gun deaths and the injustices of the legal system. People of color and/or poor people are most often the victims. This statement alone doesn't convey the magnitude and seriousness of the problem. 

Racism is alive and well in America, and it's not just the George Zimmermans in our society. Racism has been institutionalized in this country to the point where it is difficult to see it and pin it down, but it is pervasive in our institutions. The American justice system, since the start of the Reagan War on Drugs, has become a system of mass incarceration of Black and Latino people, mostly young men.(Note 1)  It should not be a surprise that Mr. Zimmerman was found not guilty; the Florida law is on his side. He has the right to "stand his ground" and protect himself, including the use of deadly force. 

The death of Trayvon Martin is tragic, but it is not unusual; unfortunately, it is the norm in America. Yesterday, July 14, 2013, at least 41 people were killed by gun in America. The day before yesterday, July 13, 2013, at least 46 people were killed by gun in America. Since the Newtown killings on December 14, 2012,  at least 6,210 deaths by gun have been reported. (Note 2) This is a massacre. 

George Zimmerman was carrying a loaded gun the night he killed Trayvon Martin. I'm willing to bet that if he had not had a gun, Mr. Zimmerman would not have gotten out of his car, and would not have followed and confronted Trayvon Martin. A gun changes every potentially violent situation into a potential deadly situation. Mr. Zimmerman's gun changed a Neighborhood Watch Program into a Neighborhood Death Program. 

America - Americans - need to come to grips with racism and gun control. We need to dismantle the institutionalized system of racism from top to bottom; this will not be easy. Many Americans think that we made great strides as a result of the Civil Rights movement. We did, in many ways, but unfortunately the old racism has been replaced by a new racism under which young Blacks and Latinos, mostly men, are swept up in a legal system designed to take them off the streets and turn them into second class citizens. Wars on drugs and wars on immigrants are cover for blatant societal racism, and we have to fight to end these faux wars and repair the tremendous damage done to these brothers and sisters in our communities.

And we absolutely need to end the epidemic of gun violence and death in America by establishing very firm control of the sale and possession of guns. A Neighborhood Watch volunteer has absolutely no business carrying a gun. In my opinion, there is no reason for anyone to carry a gun, unless they are going hunting or target shooting. 

The killing of Trayvon Martin has captured the spotlight, but unfortunately, like so many other very important issues, I'm afraid it will soon be forgotten as our attention is directed to other things by the news media. What will it take to move forward from each tragedy and make needed change in this country? I don't know, but I'm trying to figure it out. 


(1) An excellent book on the topic of institutionalized racism in America is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I'm not really picking on Apple in regard to corporate tax evasion; the problem is systemic in our country. But let's start with Apple, because I'm in a shaming mood!

Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, passed out the crying towels at a recent Senate hearing. Poor Apple, he said; they would like to bring their obscene (OK, I added that word) profits home to the US of A, but our corporate tax rate is too high. Give me a break!

Apple has stashed $100,000,000,000 (that's one hundred billion) dollars in Irish banks, where they don't pay taxes. This is $100 Billion in profit. So let's do the math, shall we: if Apple brought that $100 B back to the USA, they would pay about 35% tax on it, or $35 Billion. And then, sob, they would only have $65 Billion in profit left. Poor Apple! 

Let's put this in perspective. All 4 of my grandkids go to school in buildings that are 100 years old. These are buildings made of brick; they are death traps when the big earthquake hits - the one we know will happen. So let's assume that a brand new, modern, high tech and SAFE school building costs $20 million. The 35% tax on Apple's $100 Billion could build 1,750 brand new, safe school buildings! And what the hell, they could throw in an iPad mini for every kid, too! 

I'm sorry Apple, I like your computers (I'm using a MacBook now), but you suck. And just so you think I'm not picking on Apple, all the other big corporations suck, too. Because they all do the same thing. And it's legal. Do you now why it's legal? Because the corporations have armies of lawyers and lobbyists who make sure that tax evasion is legal. 

Corporations suck the tax blood out of America. It's part of doing business. How often do you read about some big corporation shopping around for the best deal on a place to build a new factory, server farm, call center, etc.? By "best deal" I mean the largest package of economic discounts by a city, county and/or state. Whatever public entity gives them the best deal will be the lucky winner, and the lure is JOBS. Unfortunately, as documented by the New York Times, this is very often a con game, where the tax payers are the big losers. A Times investigation has examined and tallied thousands of local incentives granted nationwide and has found that states, counties and cities are giving up more than $80 billion each year to companies. The beneficiaries come from virtually every corner of the corporate world, encompassing oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains.

According to the NY Times interactive database (go to the link above and spend some time clicking around - this is truly fascinating), my State of Oregon spends $865 million per year on incentive programs - or giveaways to corporations. The Times identified 48 companies in the $100 Million Club - each has received more than that amount in state incentives since 2007.  Apple is one of the members of that club. Apple has received at least $119 million from 3 states. The State of Nevada paid Apple $89 million to build a data center in Reno that is supposed to employ 241 people. So Nevada paid more than $369,000 for each job. It's a good thing Apple can stash that $100 Billion profit in Ireland and not pay taxes in the USA! 

But let's be fair here, and pick on Microsoft. Microsoft received $312 million from 4 states.  And Google, and Amazon, and....oh hell, let's just show you the members of the $100 Million Club:

What we need in this country is state governments who "just say no!" Why should we give money to wealthy corporations to incentivize them to build something in our state? They don't need the tax break or loan or grant. They are simply greedy blood suckers who play the game because they can get away with it. 

If I was in charge, I would say to these guys "No, we will not give you any tax or other incentives. But I'll tell what we will give you; we will give you the opportunity to build in one of our great communities, pay taxes just like everyone else, AND, the opportunity to build one new school building in our state every year using a small fraction of your annual profit. Take it or leave it!"

 People, this has to stop. Corporations should pay their fair share of taxes. Look at this chart:

Notice that the corporate income tax has steadily dwindled since 1950. Yes, corporations pay part of the payroll taxes, but even so, individual income and payroll taxes account for an ever growing share of tax revenues: 63% now, compared to 45% in 1950. And corporate income tax now accounts for 17% of total tax revenue, down from 32% in 1950. 

This is a very complex issue, and my post is just the tip of the iceberg. Sure, corporations create jobs, but only when it works for their bottom line. And don't forget, corporate lobbyists basically write the tax code and other laws that corporations live by; and corporations and their executives, through huge contributions to candidates and PACs, select the candidates who run for office. 

Of, by and for the People? Not a chance! 

Monday, May 20, 2013


 The stalled gun control discussion in America is primarily focused on background checks to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and people with known mental illness. This is important, but it is only part of the problem with guns in America. 

This is what a human skull looks like after a hand gun is discharged while pointing up under the chin or in the mouth. This skull was found with most of the rest of a human skeleton and a number of personal items in the woods of rural northwest Florida. The remains of this John Doe were determined to be the result of a suicide by gun.

This is the handgun found with the human remains. According to the Taylor County Sheriffs Office, "The weapon found at the scene was a Charter Arms 38 Cal. Revolver with a serial number of 23173. ATF trace shows the gun shipped from manufacture to Howard Brother Wholesale Distributers at 801 Riverbarge, Monroe Louisianna on 15 February 1968. No further records available."

According to data for 2010 published by the CDC, the rate of suicides in the United States has risen sharply since 2000, now accounting for more deaths than automobile accidents. Suicides by middle-aged men have risen more sharply than for other segments of the population. 

Here are some summary data for 2010:

All suicides

  • Number of deaths: 38,364
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 12.4
  • Cause of death rank: 10

Firearm suicides

  • Number of deaths: 19,392
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.3

Suffocation suicides

  • Number of deaths: 9,493
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 3.1

Poisoning suicides

  • Number of deaths: 6,599
  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 2.1

What stands out immediately in the data summary above is that suicide by gun  is the most popular method among suiciders (I prefer this term to "suicide victims"). Why is that?

I can only guess about the answer to that question, of course, because there are no interviews of successful suiciders. My guess has two parts: 1) suicide by gun is instantaneous, if conducted properly, thus avoiding the pain and suffering of suffocation, poisoning, or bleeding to death; and 2) guns are very easy to get. 

And this is the issue; the accessibility of guns in America. Tens of thousands of people in this country kill themselves with a gun every year. And we - that's right, you and I - allow it to happen over and over and over. We allow it to happen by not insisting that our government strictly control firearms. I don't have statistics, but I will bet that the number of suicides would drop by many thousands a year if guns were not so easily obtainable in America. 

Did I mention that the skull shown above was my kid brother Larry? Larry became a missing person in January, 1999 after sending his 2 brothers and a few close friends a long, carefully composed printed suicide letter. He disappeared from Manhattan where he had lived for many years. In August of 2000, some hunters found human remains in the woods of Florida, and a diligent investigator with the Taylor County Sheriff's Office finally cracked the John Doe suicide case in 2004. From the articles found at the scene, it appears that Larry sat under a tree, drank a bottle of brandy and smoked a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes (irony was one of Larry's trademarks) while listening to a John Coltrane CD ("My Favorite Things" which I now have and listen to occasionally) on his walkman. He then put a bullet through his brain. 

Larry most likely bought the handgun on the street in New York. Maybe he knew some shady characters; he hung out at the horse races a lot. The coroners report mentioned that he had a few healed ribs that had been broken;  hence part of our family lore that Larry was in trouble with the mob over gambling debts - but this is just us imaging Larry's life and death. 

The handgun shown above can be traced from the manufacturer to a wholesale dealer, and that is where the trail ends. Why is that? How did that gun get into the hands of a guy in New York city who used it to kill himself? Why doesn't the government track guns as they move through the population? I'll bet the NRA knows the answer to this one! That gun could not be traced, and therefore the identity of a John Doe could not be determined. It took 5 years for us to find out what happened to our brother, and the answer came only because a dedicated law officer in Florida wouldn't give up and finally figured it out starting with the State of New York tax stamp on the package of Lucky Strikes

Larry I. Fishman was 49 years old when he left New York for the last time. He was a bachelor, and in many ways a loner with few close friends. He was intelligent, a talented actor and song writer, a lawyer. He wrote, produced and starred in a short movie just before he checked out (we have a copy). And as shown above, Larry never missed an opportunity to mug for a camera or an audience. 

Alas, poor Larry. I still have a black plastic box containing Larry's ashes (we had his skeletal remains cremated after getting them from the Taylor County Coroner). I need to do something with it, but I haven't yet. His suicide was carefully planned and staged; he even had a plastic bag in his pocket with $150 and a note that the money was for any expense involved if someone found his remains - and it included an apology for the trouble. A kind and considerate man to the very end!

I often wonder if Larry would still be alive if he had not been able to get a handgun. I don't know whether or not Larry would have done himself in by poison, a plastic bag over his head, or opening a vein. But I think he would not have - a single shot through the brain was so quick and, well, so Larry. Maybe if guns were not so easily attainable my little brother would still be mugging for my camera. 

How many more Larrys will kill themselves with a gun before we come to our senses? This is a national tragedy, and we need to end  it

Monday, May 06, 2013


I like Metro (the Metropolitan Service District). I like open and green spaces, fish and wildlife, parks for everyone, natural restored organic sustainable places in my natureshed.  But I might vote no on Metro Measure 26-152.

The Oregonian editorial today recommends a no vote because of some unresolved questions and timing issues. I don't always agree with the Oregonian editorial board, but this ballot measure has been nagging at me, and the editorial peaked my interest, so I dug around a bit. 

I read the entire text in the Voters' Pamphlet for Measure 26-152. I went to the Metro web site and read more, including some background reports. I googled (yes, using google, not bing or yahoo) "no on measure 26-152" and managed to find maybe 3 coherent items. 

OK, first off, the measure title falls into one of my pet peeve categories: using buzz words to get a favorable reaction. The measure title: "LOCAL OPTION LEVY: IMPROVE NATURAL AREAS, WATER QUALITY FOR FISH." Wow, three buzz words/terms in one concise title: natural, water quality, fish; impressive. And in fact, water quality and salmon (another PNW buzz word) are prominent in the text. 

By itself, this choice of buzz words isn't such a big deal, but hear me out a bit more.

Here is a pie chart from the Metro web site that shows how the bond money will be spent:

Notice anything? Where do the terms "restore, natural, wildlife, fish and water quality" appear? The right half of the pie, "Restoring natural areas for wildlife, fish and water quality" representing 40-50% of the money. 

The remaining 50-60% of the bond money will be for other things, including 20-30% for regional park operations (places like Blue Lake Park and Oxbow Park). 

So, in fact, only half or less of the bond measure is for "improve natural areas, water quality for fish;" the majority is for operational expenses for other programs ("improving public access to natural areas" is kind-of "improve natural areas" but is a bit misleading). (1)

Why not put forward a bond measure for half of the $53,300,000 (53.3 Million) to fund habitat enhancement and protection projects (the real goal of "restoration") and save everyone some tax payments; or, give the measure a name that actually represents what it is, an operating budget for Metro parks and natural areas?   

I think this is deceptive on the part of Metro.

There are two other items that disturb me about this bond measure: (1) deception regarding the information presented by Metro and supporters about the last natural areas levy, and (2) tax compression.  As Krugman says: let me explain.

(1) Metro and it's supporters on this measure tell us that the last two times we the voters approved bond measures on this natural area stuff, it was ONLY for purchasing property, not maintaining or improving it. Voters approved bond measures for Metro related to natural areas in 1995 and 2006 totaling $363 Million. Here is the first sentence in the Voters' Pamphlet summary for the 2006 measure:  Protects specific natural areas, lands near rivers and streams, wildlife and trail corridors through land acquisition and restoration (underline added). And here is the second bullet in the summary of what the bond measure will do: Protect and restore watersheds for improved water quality (underline added). OK, "restore" is a verb, it means that Metro (or someone) will take actions to restore (improve, enhance, whatever) the land and the watersheds. So Metro and it's supporters are not being factual, the previous bond measure was to restore lands as well as purchase them. 

(2) What the hell is tax compression? This is what I asked myself when I read the Oregonian editorial. So, from the State of Oregon web site: 

The Oregon Constitution also sets limits on the amount of property taxes that can be collected from each property tax account. These limits are often called the "Measure 5 limits." To figure these limits, taxes are divided into categories described in the constitution. The categories are: education and general government. Some taxes, usually for general obligation bonds, are not subject to limitation. The limits are $5 per $1,000 of real market value (RMV) for education taxes and $10 per $1,000 of RMV for general government taxes. 
If taxes in either category exceed the limit for that property, the taxes are reduced or "compressed" until the limit is reached. Local option taxes are compressed first. If the local option tax is compressed to zero, and the limit still hasn't been reached, the other taxes in the category are proportionally reduced. 
Please note that these limits are based on the RMV of the property, not the taxable assessed value.

There is some concern that passage of the Metro Measure could result in some municipalities in the Metro region having to cut budgets from other programs, based on the State mandated tax limitation rules. In fact last November, 19 suburban mayors in the Metro region signed a letter to Metro asking it to delay a decision on placing the bond measure on the 2013 ballot until serious concerns were examined. 

There is a green juggernaut in the Portland metropolitan area, and you're either on the bus drinking the lime koolaid, or your not relevant. I generally don't ride that bus.

So now, gentle reader, scroll to my opening paragraph to remind yourself about what I like - I am not anti-environment, anti-natural areas, not etc. (I like cute little pussy cats. I like cotton candy on a summer day at the county fair. I like toast and jam.) 

But I might vote no on Measure 26-152 because of the serious issues discussed above. 


(1) I recently applied for a Community Project Grant, but was denied. This is a good program, I think, and I'm not against the program. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013


The following is from the U.S. Department of Justice web site: 
The United States and the city of Portland, Ore., have jointly filed in federal court a proposed court enforceable settlement agreement to remedy constitutional claims that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional uses of force in response to “low-level offenses” against persons with actual or perceived mental illness.  The agreement addresses the allegations described in a civil action also filed today by the United States, under provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

There is a long story behind the above paragraph, one that I'm not getting into in order to save time and space. But I chose the above as a lead-in to this post. The answer to the title of this post is yes, in my opinion. 

Here is an opening statement in the final Agreement between the USDoJ and the City of Portand (CoP):

The United States and the City of Portland (“City”) (collectively “the Parties”)
recognize that the vast majority of the City’s police officers are honorable law enforcement professionals who risk their physical safety and well-being for the public good. 

I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, and that is not part of the argument I'm making. I want to talk about the culture of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), the organizational mind set. 

Here is another statement from the Agreement between the DoJ and the CoP:

The Parties further recognize that the ability of police officers to protect themselves and the community they serve is largely dependent on the quality of the relationship they have with that community. Public and officer safety, constitutional policing, and the community’s trust in its police force are, thus, interdependent. 

This statement really captures the essence of my position. It's all about the "quality of the relationship" the PPB has with the community, and the community's trust in the police.

In my opinion, the Portland Police Bureau has a bad relationship with the Portland community, and it is because of a systemic problem within the Bureau.

There have been numerous killings of Portland citizens by Portland police officers in recent years. The deaths by police of Keaton Otis, Aaron Campbell, James Chasse, Jr., James Jahar Perez, and Kendra James have received a lot of media attention. There are many other shootings by police that have resulted in injury or death that don't get much press. And there are many more incidents of people injured by police officers using excessive force. 

Three recent examples of police using excessive force will illustrate my point. 
1. a young woman was pulled over by police at 1AM, she refused to take a sobriety test but agreed to take a breathalizer test (citizens have this right), she was grabbed by police officers and dragged out of her car through the open car window, and her wrist was broken in the process. 
2. a police officer stopped when she saw a man sitting with his car door open and puking into the street, when he didn't get out of his car after being asked, the officer filled the car with pepper spray and arrested the man when he staggered out of the car gagging from the spray, he spent two nights in jail before being released without being charged.
3. "The city of Portland will pay $2.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by William Kyle Monroe, a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was permanently disabled after Police Officer Dane Reister mistakenly fired lethal rounds at him from a beanbag shotgun in June 2011." The unarmed man was stopped by police after getting calls that a man was acting strangely around a playground with children. After he was stopped and emptied his pockets to show that he had no weapon, Mr. Monroe became frightened (he was having a paranoid mania incident) and started to run. The police officer fired his shotgun, thinking that it contained beanbag rounds, but it contained live rounds. The officer fired 5 times, the last shot from about 15 feet away, severely injuring Mr. Monroe, who nearly bled to death. (One wonders why the officer kept shooting after seeing that the shotgun had live rounds.) 

Another example to illustrate my point is that of Captain Mark Kruger. "An internal affairs investigation found Kruger brought "discredit and disgrace upon the Bureau and the City," when Kruger nailed "memorial plaques" of five Nazi soldiers to a tree on the east side of Rocky Butte Park sometime between 1999 and 2001." Kruger was mildly disciplined for this incident that greatly disturbed the Portland Jewish community, and has since been promoted to Captain and conducts leadership trainings for the bureau. 

Finally, another incident that did not involve a human victim of police actions, but helps illustrate my point. In 2012, a Portland Police Bureau anti-terrorist unit staged a training raid on the Columbia River. The cops stormed a beach by boat, shooting high-powered assault weapons at targets set up on the beach. The problem with this exercise was that the location was in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, at Cape Horn on the Washington side of the river. The training exercise left the basalt cliffs at Cape Horn permanently defaced with a large number of pock marks from the high-caliber rounds. The U. S. Forest Service, which manages the Scenic Area, was not notified of the exercise, and probably (one would hope) would not have approved it. The City of Portland apologized and blamed it on a "new person" who planned the operation. There was no penalty of any kind. (Imagine what would have happened to me if I had shot hundreds of live rounds into the basalt cliff in a National Scenic Area!)

My point from all of the above is this: the Portland Police Bureau has little regard for the community it serves, as evidenced by the way they treat Portland citizens as well as iconic and significant landscape features that help form the foundation of what it means to be Portland. All of this stems from the bureau's institutional mindset that values bureau insularity more than the community. People in Portland's minority communities are afraid of the police, as they should be based on the record. 

Police officers can do their job without hurting people, except in a small number of incidents. People stopped for weird behavior, suspicion of drunk driving, or suspicion of gang activity should not be beat up or shot. This is not simply a matter of a "few bad apples" in the force; it is a matter of a failed institution that trains it's officers poorly and condones bad behavior by looking the other way. 

Police officers have a tough job to do, every day. However, their job would be easier if they were a part of the community, not an armed force running roughshod over the community. 

I've worked with Portland cops on neighborhood issues. They are mostly good people with a difficult job. There are many good things to be said about the Portland police and the majority of dedicated and professional officers. As an institution, however, the Portland  Police Bureau has failed the community in too many important ways, and a complete overhaul to change the culture of the institution is way overdue. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013


I am the NRA's favorite man. I am the man they will excitedly point their fingers at, jump up and down, get red in the face, and piss their collective pants. And they will smile, because their favorite man has made their case for them.

Here's my 10 point plan that makes me the NRA's favorite man:

1. I want the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealed because it is worthless and causes more trouble than good. Short of repealing the Second Amendment, I want it amended. My proposed amended text is in a previous post, here.

2. I want the U.S. government to collect all of the military-style semi- or fully automatic weapons presently owned by non-military persons. The government can buy them back from the present owners, but it will be compulsory. The Australian government has done this twice, and the results very clearly reduced gun violence and death.

3. All military-style weapons, like the infamous AR-15, will be illegal to own unless you have specific permission from the government because of your need as a military, police or security officer. And possession of such a weapon will be strictly regulated and controlled.

3. I want a federal system of gun registration for all privately owned guns - any and all kinds. Yes, a registry of who owns what weapons. Part of an owner's responsibility is to immediately report the theft of any weapon, and there will be a stiff penalty for not doing so.

4. Gun ownership will be allowed only after a prospective owner passes a background check, a written test, goes through training for safe use and storage of the weapon, and passes a shooting test. Think driving license.

5. Gun owners will be required to have insurance that covers accidental injury and death by their gun to themselves and others.

6. Gun owners will be held legally responsible for shooting accidents that occur with the owner's weapon.

7. Ammunition magazines for all non-military weapons will be limited to a 10 bullet capacity.

8. Gun manufacturers will be required to design safety features for all guns sold in the United States that will minimize or prevent accidents. (There is no reason why a 3-year old should be able to fire a gun he or she picks up.)

9. All of the above, where applicable, applies to handguns.

10. People will be allowed to own guns (yes, they will have a "right" to own guns) in compliance with 1 through 9, above.

This 10-point plan is not meant to prevent people from owning guns. I have no problems with guns used for hunting or target shooting. If people feel that they need a gun for self protection, fine; follow the 10-point plan.

My 10-point plan is very rational and reasonable. The present situation of guns in America is neither rational nor reasonable.

My 10-point plan is exactly what the NRA uses to get people all riled up about the government taking away our rights. This is why I am the NRA's favorite man.

To the NRA I say: "Bullshit! I'm calling you out, suckers! My goal is to protect human lives; your goal is to deal out death under the guise of freedom. I'll win this one."


Monday, April 08, 2013


For many, probably most Jewish families alive today, there are branches in the family tree that end suddenly in the late 1930's - early 1940's. My family is no exception. Here are two images from the family tree my Uncle Louie did many years ago (it is not up to date).

The red arrow points to the Tevyansky family; all 5 were killed by the Nazis in about 1942. Chaike Fishman, the mother of this family of 5, was my grandfather Isadore's sister. 

I'm in this snapshot of the family tree. I never had a chance to meet these relatives; they were murdered before I was born. Find my name in the second image. I know almost everyone in the column that has my name, and I knew everyone in the column to the left, my parent's generation - everyone except my father's cousins: Zloty, Sorreh and Masheh Tevyansky. 

Also notice that above my father's name, Morris Fishman, are the names of 6 siblings who all died in about 1942 (ABT1942). These were also my father's cousins: Raisel, Yossel, Yentl, Schloime, Osher and Herschel Pollack. 

They were all victims of the Holocaust. 

We Jews remember these victims today because we should never forget them. 

Everyone should take time today - and every day - to remember all victims of genocide. We should remember them as a way of honoring their lives, and their deaths. We should remember them because this evil was carried out by human beings, and we are all human beings. This dark side of our biology has to be controlled and eventually eradicated if we have any hope of peace and justice for the humans on this tiny planet. 

Thanks for reading this.

Saturday, April 06, 2013


"What's on your mind?" 

Well, as many people are reminding me, thanks to facebook, it is my 23rd (X3) birthday. And I want to thank facebook for helping all of my fb friends remember this historic day. 

So what does a birthday mean, anyway? 

Well, I'm still wearing the same suit I was wearing when I was born; although next time I think I'll request permanent press. 

I have a lot on my mind, except for hair, which seems to have abandoned ship (and it must think that my ears and nose are lifeboats). 

It has become more difficult to spring out of bed at 6 AM.

I now have at least 5 doctors with whom I spend wonderful times talking about various biological systems that are getting close to warranty (and, yes, maybe the extended warranties would have been a good investment). 

But - on the other hand - 

I still live with my best friend and love going on 48 years.

We know two amazing middle-age men who also happen to be our loving sons.

We have two beautiful young women whom we call daughters.

Grandkids - what happened? Tall Boy is in San Diego right now checking out one of the universities that accepted his application for this fall. One of the 14-year-olds has been asleep in our guest room since we picked him up at a dance last night. He and the other 14-year old dude will be high school students in the fall (and how did they get to be my height already?). And then there is a certain 12-year old going on 17 young woman who continually boggles my mind with her wit, smarts and looks. 

What happened to all of our babies??? 

I'm still retiring every year, which means that I'm still in the game and getting to exercise what's left of my brain. 

My repaired shoulder is at the point where I'll be back in the kayak very soon. And I'm hoping the other shoulder makes it.

The Zap 3-wheel, 6 battery UEV is still on the road.

I have so many wonderful friends and relatives, whose names I actually still remember!

And so, on this very rainy April 6th, as I sip my coffee and tap on the computer keyboard, I can say that I very much enjoy this day of birth celebration. 

And finally, I want to thank my mom and dad, Florence and Morrie, without whom none of this would have happened. 

Getting old is a grey area. 
Man of the Fish