Santa Barbara oil spill threatens the beauty of the coast and life itself…

May 21, 2015

I consider myself to have been privileged to drive along the California coast in the Santa Barbara area many a time. And while all of the coast is beautiful of course, I think that area is one of the most spectacular sites to behold, and so much of it in a natural state. But it has always made me uneasy to see those oil platforms out there in the ocean. They kind of look like invading aircraft carriers or something. I think they somewhat despoil the view. But my main concern was what happens if there is an oil leak? Well it has happened. Earlier this week area residents smelled a pungent odor and then oil was discovered covering the beach and upon inspection authorities found a leaking pipe line. Before it could be capped, more than 100,000 gallons had spilled out, over the beach or beaches and into the ocean. The depth of the environmental tragedy is not known yet.

What was a far larger spill, as I understand it, occurred in 1969, and is said to have been the inspiration for the modern environmental movement.

I realize we have to have oil (I guess we do) but there needs to be more safeguards — I mean we really need to stay on top of it — and there needs to be some kind of balance. We can’t just ruin our own nest, our natural environment, to produce energy.

Preserving the beauty of the planet is a good enough reason for me to limit offshore drilling and have restraints on all oil exploration and drilling and transporting, but that might not mean much to some. However, preserving the natural environment, our ecosystem is vital to life on this planet. The ecosystem is a miracle (a God-given one if you please) of interactive organisms and geology that makes our life possible and bearable. But I don’t think a lot of people understand that nor care. I also think money, money now, damn the consequences, blinds many to the need for conservation of the planet.

But most of all I just hate to see such a beautiful place despoiled.

I was afraid something like this might happen. And it has.


I’d like to see a candidate with a new way of looking at foreign relations, live and let live

May 20, 2015

The accepted narrative nowadays seems to be that the Iraq war was a mistake but one made due to inaccurate intelligence.

But much has been written about how the George W. Bush administration, egged on by then Vice President Dick Cheney, cooked the books, ignored any warnings that intelligence might be inaccurate, and went into the whole thing with the preconceived idea that we must go to war with Iraq (we just needed an excuse).

The so-called neo-con movement had written a paper, what was it called? Project for a New Century. In that paper it was said we needed to take control of the Middle East and that we needed a Pearl Harbor to wake us up. And sure enough we got our Pearl Harbor in 9/11.

It was only natural that even though we were not attacked by Iraq, well Iraq was close enough so we just went to war with Iraq (that was where the precious oil was), and in fact put more resources and effort into that than Afghanistan, which we invaded first because that is where 9/11 was launched and supported from via the then Taliban government.

(And all our most of the attackers were from Saudi Arabia, our supposed friend, go figure.)

I’d have to go back and do some research but I am fairly sure that I heard at least one radio talk show host warn us that the Bush administration was hell-bent on going to war in Iraq and was overstating things about or misleading us on Iraq. He hammered on this night after night (he eventually discredited himself when it was discovered he was a sexual pervert).

But I do recall at the time before we invaded hearing people say: the president knows things we don’t know. It’s hard to believe that George W. Bush could know anything that most of us don’t know. But maybe they meant that he was privy to some special top secrets and that for some strange reason he could not reveal them. And I don’t exactly understand that. Never did. I mean I do get not revealing our sources to those secrets in order that they not be compromised and made useless in the future and put our friends’ lives in danger. But to simply say we know that Saddam Hussein has “weapons of mass destruction” but we can’t tell you where they might be or prove in any way how we could know this, we just know, take our word for it seemed a little suspicious to me at the time.

I’m surprised that Hillary Clinton fell for that. But I have read that maybe she felt she had to “man up” and vote to go to war.

But in defense of George Bush, kind of, I would say that there might have been some justification for taking military action against Iraq simply for not allowing U.N. inspections.

But Bush the candidate who proclaimed he had no interest in “nation building” nonetheless invaded Iraq and tried nation building himself and it was a total disaster. He and his successor have also failed in Afghanistan.

I have more than once written that we should not let Iran develop nuclear weapons. But perhaps our best tactic on that would be to improve relations with that nation. It seems there has been some positive movement on that.

The Middle East is home to culture or cultures that seem to defy our Western thinking. Trying to get them to model their governmental institutions after us with the idea that we will have better relations is problematic to say the least. Maybe we should quit trying.

Eventually people decide they want a better way of life. If they think we do then they might follow our lead. Maybe they don’t always think we do.

What I have written here is kind of a jumble I realize. What I am thinking, though, is that I would like to hear a candidate for president express the idea that we need to reform our ideas about international relations. We need to do our best to live and let live with the rest of the world but of course we have to consider our own defense foremost. If there are bad actors who threaten our own part of the world we have to deal with that as much as is practicable.

The alternative is to try to be the world’s policeman. It seems that this has over-taxed our resources.

And while I believe in cooperating with like-minded nations, I would definitely not be for some new world order in which we give up any of our own sovereignty (to some extent we have done that with the U.N. perhaps, but in a limited sense).

There are no easy answers.

 


Graham might just have what it takes to get elected president…

May 18, 2015

So Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina is entering the presidential race (for all but sure) now, with his announcement to the press Sunday (ahead of a formal announcement to be made on home ground). He adds his name to an already absurd number of Republican candidates. But he may not be absurd. We’ll see.

I’m not good at political prognostications — I mean I thought Romney had a good chance both times he ran (regardless of his party and his politics, I just thought he looked and acted presidential and that he was moderate enough to appeal to both sides). But I think Graham has a whale of a chance.

His main theme right now is that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that the U.S. needs to confront ISIS and other terrorists before they come (back) here. He also says that opposition he has faced in elections in his own state were because he has a record of cooperating with the other side — the Democrats. He thinks both parties need to work together more.

And on foreign affairs he boasts that he has been right more often than not. I don’t know, but at least he sounds confident. He is hawkish, I know, to say the least (but we are either a military power or we are not — and like Madeline Albright once said: what good is a military if I can’t use it, or something like that (is what she said). Okay, I just looked that up. She is quoted as asking Gen. Colin Powell, in reference to the Bosnia situation: “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” And I know I am off the track here, and we are using our military in the Middle East, but we keep telling everyone we are leaving (even though we don’t and just hang around to get more people killed).

No we don’t need a war hawk who just wants to flex muscle or make up for the war he missed or the one his daddy did not finish (I’m talking George W. who dodged Vietnam service and who may have sent our troops into Iraq mostly just to make up for his daddy not going all the way to Baghdad). But we do need someone who can use our military to the nation’s best advantage. And I am not touting Graham. I have to hear more of what he says he is all about.

Now I was a little sarcastic about his military bluster the last time I wrote about him. And I think too much militarism is dangerous, but I imagine a lot of voters have concern about the nation’s slip in its military advantage and power across the globe.

I should wait to hear more — much more — but it seems that Graham is a polished speaker who does not come across as someone just tossing out meaningless jingoism. Don’t know where he stands on social issues.

The advantage he or other Republicans might have this time around is that they are not running against an incumbent.

The advantage Graham has is he does not appear to be part of the clown car that makes up most of the remainder of the Republican field.

Yes, his stance on social issues will be interesting.

And as for some of the others, like I said in my previous post below:

I cringe every time I read that a presidential candidate is having to “bone up” on foreign policy. Why are we choosing between people ignorant of the world? We are the world’s superpower and yet some of our candidates are not up on foreign affairs.

We elected (well I did not but someone did) at least one president who did not have a clue about the world in general. His initials were George W. Bush. And now his supposedly more intelligent and cerebral brother is running and he seems to need to “bone up” on world affairs — he’s already stumbled on Iraq where his brother made such a mess.

But there are others too. Why are these people even in the race?

It’s all a sales job. They study talking points. Real debate and substance don’t stand a chance.

Am I cynical?

Yes.

 

P.s.

A president ignorant of the world can easily be led astray by someone with evil intentions (Cheney effect on W.).

 


Guess we better move quick on safety, humans to be taken out of the driver’s seat…

May 15, 2015

UPDATE: (6:42 P.M. PDT, 5-15-15)

So just maybe the Amtrak engineer in this week’s train crash was distracted by a flying object — a rock thrown at the train while it travelled though a bad part of Philadelphia? Weapon(s) fire?The latest today was that new information, including communications from another train, is that a projectile of some type may have hit the train. Glass breakage on the train’s windshield seems consistent with that possibility. Other trains, including, reportedly, another one just before the one that crashed, have been hit.

–   –    –   –  –  –  –

The Daily Beast is now reporting from an unverified source that the train engineer may have been exhausted because he just came off a run where existing electronic devices were not working and he had to depend upon eyeballing all signals (apparently not easy to do and fraught with danger because views are sometimes obscured) and that he had not had enough rest. The report said that engineers are forced into speeding so they can have a break at one end of the line before they go back the other direction. Interesting — is that any way to run a railroad?

–  –  –  –  –  –  –

So while most of my post below talks about the need for responsible drivers, maybe the reality is the reality most modes of transportation will soon be remote-controlled (with maybe no drivers at all). So we will be dependent upon the sophistication and upkeep of the technology.

(About the rise of the robots, see story link at end of this post.)

For the past two decades I have been an over-the-road truck driver (did not get into that until well into my 40s). Coincidentally this afternoon while driving my own private vehicle (I’m on some time off) I was hearing a radio talk show where the speaker confidently predicted that soon (and I did not catch how soon he meant) virtually all cars and trucks will be driverless (hey it was radio and I did not catch what his credentials were, but I have been hearing and reading all of this so much lately that I believe it — like it or not (and mostly not).

I see a lot of issues with all that, not the least of which is so many people (not just drivers) will be thrown out of work.

But the issue at hand is what happened to that train. We don’t know for sure yet, but it seems parts of the puzzle are coming together.

————————————-

In all of this talk of why the Amtrak train that derailed after going more than 100 miles per hour in a 50-mile-per-hour zone in Philadelphia did not have an emergency electronic braking system it seems to me the main point is being missed:

Why was the train going in excess of 100 miles per hour going into a steep curve?

I’ve never driven a train — I mean I don’t know if somehow the throttle can get stuck and the engineer can’t immediately do anything about it.

The engineer’s lawyer says his client does not remember anything about what happened. Yeah, he might do well to stick to that story (and maybe he really does not).

But until it comes out what happened, it seems as if the engineer was negligent. So the problem is competent personnel to drive the train. Electronic safety devices certainly should be operational but unless we go to driver-less trains (and I am sure that is down the road like it is for everything else, or actually already here),  we need people who act responsibly.

There have been recent commuter train accidents in which the operators were texting or sleeping.

This distracted driver thing is a problem in all modes of surface transportation in this world of cell phones. And let’s not even talk about air — there we apparently have to worry about suicidal pilots who want to do away with themselves and take everyone with them — well pilot, I’m referring of course to the German Wings incident.

And then Republicans and Democrats or mass transit fans vs. not so mass transit fans, or Northeast Corridor lawmakers vs. non-Northeast Corridor lawmakers are bickering over Amtrak funding. In fact a congressional committee denied extra funding a day after the crash in Philadelphia.

There is the troubling story now that in the latest accident, in which at least eight people died, the train was equipped with an electronic braking system but it was not yet operational because congress failed to provide adequate funding and to mandate the necessary broadband access so Amtrak was having to negotiate with private entities.

There is still an open question as to why another safety system or systems on the train did not prevent the accident and why a safety device in the direction the train was traveling had not been installed and why Amtrak officials were not even aware of that until after the crash  — all of this kind of muddled here. I’m not into the  technical stuff but I can detect that there seems to be blame being traded back and forth with some blaming congress for lack of funding and others blaming Amtrak management for not using funding wisely. If only our government was more into doing things than playing the blame game, but that is in all life, I suppose.

I know Republicans, the ones most likely to oppose additional funding, are supposed to have good business sense, but when in comes to public safety I think it is hard to put a price on that.

But right now I just want to know why that train was going so fast.

P.s.

In the near future we won’t need to worry about human error. Of course none of us will have jobs. Read the following story and weep:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/books/review/rise-of-the-robots-and-shadow-work.html?hpw&rref=books&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well

 


Another day another position by Jeb Bush on Iraq war fiasco…

May 12, 2015

UPDATE to UPDATE (5-14-15)

 

Jeb Bush’s position on the Iraq War seems to be slightly different depending upon which day it is. In the space of about three days (or so) he would have done the same as brother George (but that was based on the intelligence of the time), he thinks mistakes were made, and finally by day three (or four) he would not have gone in at all.

Actually we don’t know if he would have made his own decision or would have done just like George and have done what Dick Cheney told him to do.

Being as how he is George’s brother he feels kind of compromised no doubt. He’s trying to portray himself as his own man.

And Hillary Clinton can only say she would have not voted in favor of the Iraq invasion knowing what she knows now.

What both of them perhaps miss is the fact we need to be a lot more careful in our calculations on military invasions and we ought to have well thought out battle plans and the willingness to call upon sacrifice from the American people. On that last one if we feel the people are not willing to sacrifice it might be because the effort is not worth it to them.

Right now Jeb is looking pretty indecisive. Hillary is trying to steer clear of such mine fields of the kind Jeb stumbled into.

UPDATE:

And now late in the day I see that Jeb Bush has tried to clarify remarks he made on the Iraq War, saying that he misunderstood an interview question. I’m not going to go into all that, though, except to say he has tried to clarify remarks that seemed to indicate going into Iraq was right (even knowing what we know now). And one ultra right-wing (or reactionary) loud mouth has blamed “the media” (of which he is part, even though he does not know it) of misleading people on the story. As I say in the post below it makes little sense to ask what one would do if he could go back in time (we can’t). But it is only natural to want to know how Jeb might differ from his brother George on such matters. And we still don’t seem to have a clear indication.

Meanwhile, Jeb has caught a lot of flak over all of this, not only from Democrats of course but from his own Republican party. So now he is trying to dig himself out of the hole — funny, Saddam Hussein was found in a hole in Iraq.

——————————————————————————————-

My earlier post from this (Tuesday) morning:

Jeb Bush seems to (almost) make some sense on his going-to-war-in-Iraq comments — even if he misses the point that his brother George’s administration was simply itching to go to war there so they willfully ignored any intelligence or advice against it and essentially lied to congress and the American people to get support.

————

And this is why we should all read and our history and retain the lessons from it. It has been written that we went to war with Spain after accusing it of blowing up our battle ship Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor, with thousands of our own sailors lost in that blast. However subsequent evidence suggests the explosion was internal, likely caused by a design flaw that put to coal-fired boilers right next to the ammunition magazines. But there was a steady drum beat in favor of that war at the time by those who wanted to assert American strength in the world and hegemony over our own hemisphere (kick Spain out of Cuba). They were itching for an excuse. What helped was ill-treatment by Spain of the Cuban people, much the same as the horrors inflicted on people by Saddam Hussein.

—————

But when I first saw the news story that suggested that knowing what we know now he would still go to war there, it did not seem to make sense to me. But what he really said was that intelligence indicated that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (I don’t think all that was clearly defined at the time, that is specifically what weapons) and he noted that Hillary Clinton voted in favor of going to war there.

He said the mistake, one he said his brother George recognizes, is that once we went in we failed to provide security for the Iraqi people so they turned on us.

But if you watch the video cut from Fox News you will see that he does not seem to address the question head on. I mean knowing what a disaster it all turned out to be would he have gone to war. Well actually now that I think about it that is an impossible question to answer or at least a nonsensical one to answer. I mean none of us can really go back in time. And of course he would not have done things as they were done knowing what he knows now, at least I doubt it.

But at least perhaps Hillary Clinton recognizes her mistakes. She has said she was wrong. Maybe Jeb Bush does not learn from mistakes.

———–

And the relevance here of course is that it seems as if the American electorate might be putting either a Bush or a Clinton in the White House in 2016.

————-

And on the subject of that failed war, I would say that it can be debated on whether we should have invaded Iraq. Probably the evidence we have now in hindsight suggests no. But the problem is that we went in there without a good military plan. Also we failed to recognize that Iraq like the Middle East in general is a place where religious sect and tribal loyalties are more important than national identity. And of course the Western Powers created Iraq as a nation — it did not naturally form as one people.

We did not send in enough troops and we destroyed the country’s infrastructure and made life miserable for the inhabitants and then wondered why they were so upset at us and were not throwing rose petals at our feet in recognition of us as their saviors.

Oh, and we never found that cache of weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs as they were called, as a kind of threatening buzz word meant to conjure up some existential threat that demanded action, demanded war.

Who knows? Maybe there really were WMDs there and somehow they were spirited out of the country before we could find them.

What we do know for sure is that we botched the job and lost thousands of our own people in the process, not to mention touched off a civil war that killed millions of Iraqis.

Jeb Bush would do better to leave the subject alone —

Next question please…

P.s.

I don’t know, if you have not seen the video of Jeb’s comments on this maybe you can watch it and decide for yourself. He was asked if knowing what we know now he would have invaded Iraq (as his brother did). He says he would have anyway. Does he really mean that like it sounds? And does the question even make sense?

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/05/10/exclusive-jeb-bush-says-hillary-clinton-would-have-backed-iraq-invasion/

 

 

 


Trade deal details secret, but no secret that we keep losing jobs…

May 10, 2015

Admittedly I know little of how these trade deals, such as NAFTA, work. And I certainly don’t know how the Trans Pacific Partnership President Obama is negotiating is supposed to work — I understand the details are secret.

But I do know the reality: jobs keep being shipped overseas or over the border, where wages are extremely low and working conditions are horrendous. In fact, workers sometimes have no rights at all.

Nonetheless, the president hypes up the trade deal he is negotiating in secret at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Nike may have its headquarters there but it only employs a few thousand people in the U.S. but millions elsewhere, mostly in Asia.

Nike sneakers are real popular in the ghetto. People have been killed for them.

Too bad we don’t make them here. Then people would have jobs and hopefully would not be killing other people over tennis shoes.

——————–

But let me insert this: It’s not that we don’t have industry here. In fact, after posting this, in my job as a truck driver I was sent to the place I am at now — a paper products plant in Oregon. I’m picking up paper grocery bags (hey good for the environment; biodegradable paper instead of plastic) and while I am waiting, besides writing this, I took a gander of the workers out on the floor busy producing those bags and readying them for shipping. Made in America, jobs for Americans. And of course the raw material is from our own natural resources (maintained in a sustainable way I would hope).

———————————

They say trade protectionism does not work.

All-out protectionism with its extremely high tariffs on incoming goods would present a problem because of course we want to export our own goods overseas. We need a balance. But we need to produce stuff right here in the good old USA. Too much of our society is unproductive.

We could all afford to pay a little more for our shoes, as long as they were of high, long-lasting quality.

We cannot afford to let our own society waste away.

I mean we are not going to employ everyone in Silicon Valley designing games or phone apps. Someone actually has to make and fix things of real utility value. And we all cannot be hedge fund managers or participants either.

I really wonder if the powers that be in either of our major political parties really get that or really care or have the will to go a different direction.

Also, much of our energy and money is going to fight the bogeyman ISIS.

Certainly we need to protect ourselves, but sending out drones all over the world that kill innocent people along with the bad actors and eavesdropping on our citizens like the Gestapo or KGB or Stasi is not improving life here at home. And sending our military into the Middle East to try to deal with the chaos there is not tending to our own society.

For my own part I cannot complain, but I see a society falling apart around me.

Still looking for the leader or leaders who will show us the way out of this morass.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has worked for the Obama administration in the past, and whose politics generally align with the president, is strongly opposing him on the trade deal. She claims it will mean more lost jobs for American workers and that provisions in the agreement could even be detrimental to curbs on Wall Street excesses.

I have not found any detail on the latter charge, but in fact, details on the whole trade agreement proposal seem to be secret.

Our economy depends upon trade. I know this first-hand as a truck driver. Much of what I haul is imports, but I also haul exports (as well as domestic products traveling from point to point within our nation). But I would not want to be competing with workers who earn half or less than what I do and who work under harsh conditions.

Also, I recently read about toxic building material being imported from China. And we know that China manipulates its currency to make its exports more marketable.

If consumers were more savvy much of this could be dealt with through the market place. We should be demanding quality and safety and we should buy American where we can.

The president says that Warren is wrong on her trade deal criticism and charges that she is playing politics. It may well be that she is using the charge in part to drum up support for a presidential run on her part — even though she claims she is not intending to run.

Since details on the trade deal are secret, there is really no way to judge on all of this.

But it is no secret that much of the monied class is quite happy to ship jobs overseas to put labor on the defensive.

The people do have the power to change things if they would just use it, except that they need candidates on their side.

But big money donors have the advantage.

Nonetheless it costs nothing to vote (but of course you need someone you have confidence in to vote for).


It’s hard for young blacks to separate themselves from the ghetto…

May 7, 2015

I was watching a New York Times video presentation on the subject of what it is like to be black in America, a series of observations from several young black men, who looked to range in age from pre-teen to teenagers. All were very articulate and came off as being extremely well mannered.

It was heart rendering and troubling. They cited the usual litany: being stopped by police for no other reason than being black. Having people move to the other side of the street when they see you out of fear. One kid said that he was the only black student in a class and they were discussing Huck Finn and then the magic word came up, the one that begins with n. And everyone looks at him — what will he say or do or feel? I noticed in saying this he reverted to the black slang way of talking: “I be”.

Of course we all use slang or informal speech patterns, and maybe that was a good way to describe the feeling, the moment.

One or more of them assured viewers that they were not a threat to anyone.

It seems to me the black community is hampered by the actions of those who do mean harm. But that is not the only problem. It is true that racism has a long history in the United States. But the U.S. is not the only place on earth where racism persists. Racism is part of human nature I think.

You are only as good as the company you keep, they say. Sometimes people are forced by circumstances beyond their control to live with or keep company with the less desirable element of society. That less desirable element comes in all colors and races. It just happens to be easier to spot when there is such a distinct difference in skin tone, black vs. white.

In the original colonies there were essentially both white and black slaves and even free black people. The white slaves were indentured servants who had no more rights than black slaves, at least during their indenture (which sometimes they could never get out of). But I think the convenience of having a race that stood apart by skin color seemed attractive as a captive labor force by those who imported slaves into America. It was the most shameful part of our past, the time of slavery. We’ve yet to overcome it.

I have few answers in all of this really, mostly just observations.

But I think the bad element, who like I say includes those of all colors or races, needs to somehow have its control over large parts of our cities taken away. It seems to thrive where people have nothing to do and where people feel hopeless and not part of our democracy, not part of the wider society.

That element seems to thrive in blighted areas. So we need to clean up the blight. We need more grocery stores and fewer liquor stores. We need more jobs, but our leaders over the past decades have done about everything that can be done to ship those jobs overseas in the name of free trade.

I don’t really know what community policing is, except I have heard that term used over the years. It seems that it has been tried many times but always runs out of funding. I think it means having the cops have better relations with the people they serve, going out on the street and talking to them, getting to know them and helping where they can when appropriate. But I guess that takes more officers and time and that means money. But the cruising down the street like an occupying army is counter productive, as we have seen lately.

In the meantime, however, it does not matter what color you are. You will be judged by the way you comport yourself, by the way you dress. If you act and look like a hoodlum what do you expect? (This admittedly not withstanding the situation when one is black and neither looks nor acts like a hoodlum and still meets grief with the police.)

I realize the problem is that if you are black you are more easily identified by the non-black and for that reason you may well be put to an unfair higher standard.

In earlier posts I stated that it is my observation that people have a better chance if they can somehow move out of the ghetto. I guess, however, some of these young black men are saying somehow that the ghetto follows them.

In that respect I have to agree that it must be indeed challenging to be black in America.


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