Monday, September 4, 2017

Addressing the Amazon in the Room

What with Amazon now having acquired Whole Foods, and started their “makeover” of the company, it seems like a good time to post the following:

The Seven Key Reasons I Do NOT Shop at Amazon
The first reason is very simple: I just don’t shop much. I am not a big consumer. Other than grocery shopping, and looking for used DVDs at thrift stores, there’s not a whole lot that I buy with any regularity. I’ll buy clothes and shoes as needed, along with the occasional piece of furniture or other household wares. But, aside from that, as stated above, I’m not a big consumer. The concept of “recreational’ shopping is alien to me, and more than a little creepy.
I think my second reason is also fairly straightforward: I intensely dislike Amazon’s business practices. The way they have exerted pressure on “producers” like writers and publishers is shameful, and ultimately very destructive. (How many people can afford to be writers when the only one making money from publishing is Amazon?) The way they have used essentially their entire inventory as a loss-leader to undercut their competitors is also shameful and destructive. (Monopoly isn’t just a game to Amazon.) The deplorable working conditions that exist in Amazon’s distribution warehouses are yet another of many, many reasons to take a dim view of the way Amazon approaches business.
Aside from the above, I am also incredibly suspicious and sceptical of Amazon’s seeming desire to corner the market on essentially everything. Personally, I want to buy my groceries, shoes, DVDs and medicines at different places, from different people. This allows me to support my local economy, spread my spending around, and stay connected to my community. Mind you, I am very much an introvert, and value my time alone. But the lonely, atomized world Amazon is enabling – millions of people, cut off from their community and tied to their computer, just working and pushing buttons to shop – is nightmarish to me.
I am also extremely wary of the consumption-centric, convenience-worshiping ethos that Amazon represents and encourages. Amazon is impulse purchasing on steroids. Practically every material good you could ever want, all available from one source! Temptations abound, with items chosen to exploit your desires (which they know all about) placed ever so “conveniently” right in front of you. Under the guise of convenience - a dangerous word in many contexts - Amazon invites repeat customers to ignore how their personal information is being extracted, sold, and used to manipulate them. Amazon would like us all to forget that the more we shop online, the more our local businesses (the ones employing our friends and neighbors) struggle. And, of course, more than anything, Amazon wants people to focus on their promise of “convenience” rather than the looming threat of their corporate monopoly.
But a looming monopoly it is. Currently, right now, Amazon accounts for 43% of all internet retail sales in the United States. When you think of that in the context of the literally millions of online retail options available, you can see that, though 43% is not a majority share, it is a disproportionate share of the U.S. online economy. No one else even comes close, which puts Amazon in a strong position to dominate and, yes, monopolize internet retail. I do not like monopolies, and I will not support one. I value diversity, and choices, and I will exercise my pro-choice options as much as is possible.
Amazon is not only at the forefront of the information extraction economy, and all the exploitative darkness it embodies. They are also the “leader” in the dehumanizing of the workforce. By which I mean two things. One is, as mentioned above, their distribution centers are notoriously brutal places for people to work. The other is that Amazon is moving towards a dystopian, human-free workforce as quickly as they can. Their ideal business structure is one consisting of a handful of well-paid human executives, and a workforce made up of robots and drones. (One has to wonder about this workerless world Amazon is busy building: With all human jobs eliminated, where would their future customers get the money with which to buy things from Amazon?)
My seventh reason goes back to the start of it all – Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. To be blunt, I think the man is mad. No, really. In any other field (other than online retail) and at any other time (other than during the explosive growth of the internet) someone with his huge, world-altering “vision” would have been seen as a megalomaniacal madman. Hitler swallowed Poland, and was seen in most quarters as out of line and out of control. Bezos wants to swallow the whole world and is seen by many as a ground-breaker and innovator.
I could go on – and on – about reasons I don’t support or shop at Amazon. (Hypocrisy anyone? Amazon undercut and killed so many brick and mortar bookstores…To clear the way for Amazon opening brick and mortar bookstores. Or, how about Amazon’s cloud services being used to help enable some of the worst practices of the C.I.A.?) But I think these will suffice for now.
In the best of all possible worlds, from my perspective, there is still a place for Amazon – a smaller, more focused, more ethical Amazon. But that’s not the one we have, nor is it likely to transition to that. So, the best that I can hope for is that each day a few more people will think about what they are doing, and what they are enabling, by shopping at Amazon, and will simply take their business elsewhere.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

When Does the Shame and/or Regret Kick In?

To be clear about this, I am not a Democrat.

But I do have some questions for the rational Republicans out there who voted for Trump.

First off, were you proud to support a candidate who boasted of forcing himself on women? One with a well-documented history of racism?

Were you proud to support a candidate who lied constantly, about topics both big and small? Are you proud to now have a president who lies easily, casually, and (again) constantly?

Are you at all suspicious or concerned about the Trump administration being staffed with so many people who have been found to have (previously hidden) ties to Russia? Who has more credibility for you: Multiple branches of our intelligence agencies who have expressed concerns about those ties; or the sitting president, who, as stated above, is a well-known liar?

Related, literally, to the above: Are you proud to have a president who has, in the style of so many banana republic dictators, embraced nepotism? Do you really believe that Trump's children and in-laws are the most qualified advisors available?

Are you proud to have a president who enthusiastically supports state-sanctioned murder, as is occurring in the Philippines? Do you support the idea of shooting drug users dead in the streets here, too?

Are you proud of an administration that has had reporters arrested for trying to ask questions of appointed officials? Do you see the connection between Trump's vilification of the press and the Republican candidate in Montana who physically attacked a reporter for trying to ask a question? Does this mainstreaming of hatred and violence concern you at all?

In other words, what will it take for you, as an American, to stand up and say, "No more! This is unacceptable!" Please note, I am not talking about you supporting the Democrats instead. But I am talking about putting the wellbeing of your country before your loyalty to a political party. You know these things aren't hoaxes.

So...What will it take?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

How to Make a Bad Decision: Step One

How does a local governing body, one that, in theory, is very close to the people being governed, wind up making a really bad and wildly out of touch decision? Let me walk you through one version of the process, being that I've just been subjected to it last Thursday.

For context, I'm an appointed member of the Benton County Environmental Issues Advisory Committee. This is a group of volunteers, appointed by the County Commissioners, tasked with giving said County Commissioners advice, background and/or in-depth information on environmental issues they will be making decisions on.

Yes, making decisions on. Needless to say, it's not uncommon for these decisions to have large costs (or benefits) associated with them, and/or the potential for large impacts (positive or negative) on our county.

So, how do we end up with a politically deep blue place like Benton County, with three Democratic County Commissioners, making some very backward and environmentally-unfriendly decisions? Let me walk you through one way that governing process works - or rather, doesn't work.

First, if you're a governing body, form an advisory group on a given subject. It can be almost anything. I've served on advisory committees dealing with the environment, utility rates, and solid waste, among other topics. If it could be subject to official policies, it's possible there's an advisory group to advise on it through one of your local governing bodies.

Second, make the qualifications for becoming a member of that group, shall we say, flexible.

Third, when appointing people to the advisory group, hey, don't sweat the details. I am, in all honesty, extremely qualified to be a member of the EIAC. But it's not like the County Commissioners who appointed me knew that. When there was an opening on the EIAC, I submitted an online application, and was called in for what turned out to be a two or three minute interview. That was it. It was an almost totally detail-free process. Mind you, this committee is the largest advisory group there is at the county - and pretty much everyone gives lip service to how important it is.

And yet...My experience applying and getting appointed showed me a process (and three commissioners) who were, at best, in a hurry. At worst, lazy and checked-out.

No, that's not the worst, actually. At best let's say it's a compromised system. At worst, it's a corrupt one. I serve with people about a dozen people, about half of whom seem openly hostile to the environment, and the concept of protecting the environment. These are people who seem more concerned with, say, facilitating industry, rather than protecting and promoting our local environment and eco-systems.

Those same people take us to the next step, which is to impede, corrupt, or at least slow down the process for addressing issues of importance.

At the meeting we just had, one of the big topics before us was whether or not to advise the commissioners to support a pilot program of non-lethal predator control for local farmers and ranchers. It would not cost the county any money, just reallocate some that already goes to (lethal) predator control. It would add an option to the county's array of responses, not take anything away. It's been done elsewhere very successfully, and would be a good fit for Benton County. On the surface, it would seem to be a no-brainer, slam dunk, let's do this kind of idea.

But then several members of the EIAC started complaining that the whole thing is anti-hunter, and things have ground to a halt. Mind you, this non-lethal predator control proposal has NOTHING TO DO with hunting. Nothing at all. But it's a progressive idea, and the rigidly conservative people on the EIAC - the ones who were appointed by our three Democratic commissioners - have clearly decided to oppose it strongly. Why? I can't tell you for sure, but it certainly seems purely ideological.

And this ideological interference is not conducive to good advice. A lack of good advice is conducive to bad decisions. Sadly, it's a nearly perfect system of screwed-upness. Just put lazy and lack in one end, and bad advice and bad decisions come out the other. Repeat as necessary.

But it's not a closed system. Nearly anyone can play, if they have a mind to, and a willingness to go to a few meetings. The Environmental Issues Advisory Committee has, apparently, been churning out bad advice for quite some time, due to the composition of the group, which currently (and historically) skews towards being anti-environmental. Now that I've joined, I'm another voice for protecting the environment, rather than industry. Were another person who actually cares about the environment to be appointed, and/or one of the anti-environmental members to leave, the balance would be further corrected. More good inputs would result in more good outputs.

Making decisions. We all want out elected representatives to make good decisions. In this case of Benton County, every one decision results from the three votes of the County Commissioners. Those three votes are likely very influenced by the advice given by a handful of other people. The power of advisory committees can be huge - for good, or for ill.

ALL OF WHICH is a long-winded way of encouraging anyone and everyone to find a local governmental advisory committee on a subject they care about and GET INVOLVED. Apply to become a member. Download their meeting agendas and minutes. Attend their meetings whenever you can. Speak up. Bring a friend. It's pretty easy. You don't have to run for office. No one even need know you're "doing it."

Becoming one of the official voices whispering in the ears of your elected representatives is any extremely important way to address issues of importance to you. And if you aren't willing to step up and do it, rest assured, someone will. That someone might not have pure intentions. They might, in fact, be pure poison.

YOU are the cure.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

GET OUT to the Movies in Trump's America

If you wanted to write and record a protest song, you could do it in an hour -  including the time it would take to post it online and send it around the world. Music, that pulsating pleasure, is a very immediate art form.

Film, not so much. It takes time to write, cast, shoot, score and edit a film - and that's all before getting it distributed. Roger Corman used to crank 'em out and get his product into theaters in a couple of months, but these days, cinema is a long-term endeavor. That goes double for a film with lots of special effects and post-production work. In some cases, all that can take years before the finished product is done.

This delay is a big part of what makes films that feel timely a rare and special thing. And if, as the saying goes, timing is everything, then two films we saw this weekend have everything.

We just got home from seeing Logan, Hugh Jackman's latest and (it is said) last appearance as the character Logan, AKA Wolverine. It was a very good film, and very heartfelt. It scaled down the usual - no, make that cliché - whole-world-in-peril scope of superhero films, which made it much more engaging. In addition, it had the courage to be a very sad film. But, the thing that made it seem so, so timely was that the plot can be boiled down to this: An effort to get a bunch of mostly brown-skinned kids (who are mostly girls) across the border to safety. The safety of Canada that is, and away from the danger of being hunted down in the United States.

Resonance, and then some.

So Logan soared pretty high by avoiding many of the clichés of superhero and action films. Now, clichés are clichés because they sell, or at least sold at one point, but they are a death trap for creativity. Ah, but the other film we saw this weekend, Get Out, soared even higher by making a very creative death trap indeed.

Black men in mainstream movies...How are they usually represented? Gangbangers, thugs, and various heavies, with a smattering of comic sidekicks for "flava" are the cliché roles usually reserved for them. But Get Out manages to subvert those clichés twice, as well as a few horror movie clichés. The main character of the film, Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) transitions from being the victim of violence to becoming the hero of his own story.

I don't want to even get near summarizing the plot of Get Out, because its appeal lies so much in the unexpected turns it takes. But again, with a plot involving white on black crime (I'm being very general here), and what people of color have to do to survive in white America, it is a very timely film as well. Jordan Peele, directing a feature film for the first time, from his own script, has created a unique and masterfully crafted film. The acting is absolutely top notch, with a special nod to Betty Gabriel for one amazing scene. Yes, it's a "horror" film, but it is so much more than that as well.

Both films speak loudly about the current state of affairs in America, what with a racist sociopath occupying the White House and promising to "secure our borders" from brown-skinned "others." I highly recommend these films both as art, and as social commentary.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Why do they keep putting the Rats in Democrats?

Before I say anything else, let me make it clear that I am not a partisan of any of the people that will be mentioned below. I'm merely making my observations as an interested observer. I am not a Democrat, or a member of any political party at this time. At this point in our evolution, I think that the Democrat/Republican duopoly of "choice" does far more harm than good to our political system - which then does far more harm than good to our country overall.

Now, having gotten that out of the way...Isn't it disappointing that the Democratic National Committee has voted to install (in every sense of the word) loyal, corrupt and uninspiring Tom Perez as their chair? Mind you, as I stated above, I am not necessarily a Keith Ellison partisan by any means. He was not a perfect candidate, and didn't actually excite me all that much.

BUT...He had the support of the two national Democrats who still can inspire something close to, well, inspiration, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. As a black man, and the first Muslim elected to Congress, Ellison also could have served as a potent symbol of the Democratic Party's (supposed) inclusivity, especially in the time of Trump.

Instead, the DNC chose to elevate former labor secretary Tom Perez, someone who elicits little if any excitement from the progressives who are literally out on the streets protesting and fighting the Trump agenda. So why Perez? I mean, why was he even in the race for DNC chair in the first place? Let me quote Zaid Jilani's recent article in The Intercept to answer: "Perez was widely perceived as being brought into the race by allies of President Obama, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and other members of the party establishment."

All of which would probably be fine, if. That is to say, if Obama had not presided over a party that spent the last several election cycles shrinking and becoming ever more marginalized. If Clinton had won the election, or could even be said to have run a campaign that was meaningful and inspiring and tapped into something, anything, other than her desire to be president. I would also throw in if it had not been shown that the DNC conspired with the Clinton campaign to hobble the Sanders campaign. You know, the one that generated genuine excitement and enthusiasm, and, in positive ways, challenged the status quo.

Well, the status quo has struck back - again. Corporate lobbyists and Haim Saban can now officially rejoice. As for the rest of us...

...As for the rest of us, I certainly hope that people don't just fall into line. I hope that people won't be silent. The Democratic Party is laying there bleeding, having been viciously beaten for the past few years, and the DNC is the police officer waving us to move on, saying "Nothing to see here, nothing to see!" The fact that the "party establishment" sees Tom Perez as a good choice should be alarming to progressives and Democrats alike - not comforting.

Trump has authority, but no legitimacy. Currently, the Democratic Party has little of either. And so long as the DNC keeps pretending that nothing is wrong, that there are no internal problems, they will be unfit to serve as the opposition to the Trump agenda, and could even serve as a threat magnifier. Much of his strength is built on a foundation of their weakness.

Stop being weak, Democrats. Please.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Banality of Evil

As our entire nation...No, wait, as the entire world tries to deal with the unceasing gusher of lies coming out of the Trump administration, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. So many lies, so many distortions, so many intentional omissions...Who has the time to keep up with them all?

A central theme of these many mistruths is our supposed "at risk" status, coupled with Trump's hollow promises to "keep America safe." Trump knows it's easier to sell the safety when you give 'em the fear, and the minority of the population that believes him eats up fear like it's candy. They can't get enough of it. (Some other time we'll have the conversation about how so many people of a conservative political persuasion are so susceptible to fear...)

And so, following the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid), Trump would have us all believe that we are all in imminent danger from radical Islamic terrorists who may be hiding in our midst. This introduces the element of danger, which, when paired with the unknown ("Gosh, maybe my neighbor is a radical Islamic terrorist!") creates a low bar for proof, but a high degree of unease.

Never mind that, statistically speaking, it's all a bunch of nonsense.

Now, mind you, I readily admit there are likely to be radical Islamic terrorists within our borders, plotting ways to do people harm. But, the fact remains, those who are statistically more likely to do Americans harm are often able to hide in plain sight.

Above you'll see a mugshot of Benjamin Thomas McDowell, then 23 years old, of Conway, South Carolina. This mugshot is from April 4th, 2011, when he was charged with Burglary and Criminal Conspiracy. Now much to look at, is he? Just another nondescript, pudgy white boy.

Here's McDowell's mugshot from May 21st, 2013, when he was, once again, charged with burglary. Nothing seems to have changed. Same double chin, same orange jumpsuit. He was 26 years old.

Later the same year, on August 27th, McDowell was arrested again, this time for Assault and Domestic Violence. He was still 26 years old, still living at home. By this time, he has had some racist right-wing tattoos inked onto his doughy body. You have to wonder...Did his mom even notice?
And here is Benjamin McDowell just a day ago, after the feds arrested him for planning to commit a racist massacre in "tribute" to fellow disgruntled white racist murderer, Dylan Roof. Not necessarily what you'd guess if just shown this mugshot of someone who still just comes across as a nondescript, pudgy white boy.
But that's the point. There absolutely are dangers in our midst, especially for people of color, gay, lesbian and trans people, immigrants, Jewish people, and, yes, Muslim people. Statistically speaking, you are much, much more likely to be a victim of a homegrown right-wing terrorist than any other kind. In other words, essentially all the groups that Trump is trying to make you afraid of are actually groups who, in the distribution of violence in America, have much more to fear themselves.
Trump's already infamous seven nation "travel ban" was pitched as a safety measure. Yet, in the last 40 years, how many Americans have been killed here by attacks perpetrated by people from those seven nations? That would be zero. As in, zero deaths. None.
In that same time period, hundreds of people have been killed by homegrown right-wing terrorists. And those terrorists could often be described as nondescript white guys. The type of white guys who have started acting out in even greater numbers since Trump's election. So, yes, Americans are at risk, and a great deal of it is Trump's fault. He blows the whistle on a daily basis, and the dogs come running...
In closing, let me say that I don't want this to come across like I'm also trying to sell "the fear." (Being that I'm also a fairly nondescript white guy, that would potentially be counterproductive.) All I'm trying to do is inject a note of reality, a few facts, into the discussion about what we realistically have to fear living here in the United States.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Log 'Em If You Got 'Em, or, Don't Look at Me, I'm Stumped, Too

Reporting from today's County Commissioner meeting...After much discussion (both here and at the recent public forum), and after much hand wringing (both verbal and silent), the Benton County Commissioners voted two-to-one to stay in the lawsuit against the state. Annabelle Jaramillo was the lone vote to opt out, and to at least try and live in the 21st century.

Here are some pertinent quotes:

Annabelle Jaramillo: Stated she "doesn't like using litigation to balance our budgets."

Xan Augerot: Regarding state funding for counties, said it's "appropriate for counties to fire a shot across the bow of the state." Along a similar line, she also said this issue is "one more demand they (the state) need to take into account."

Anne Schuster: Echoing the above, stated she "wants to send a message to the state." And yet, later she said she "wants to hear what other counties are thinking on this" (with a decision deadline looming just over 24 hours away) and explained that she's "not an expert on this."

Annabelle Jaramillo: Worried that this "lawsuit will create more divisiveness."

The sad capper may have come when newbie Commissioner Augerot, chiming in with the others over how difficult a decision this was, said: "It's only my third week on the job!"

Augerot also stated that, between the comments they've received both in public and in writing, she believes that a majority of county residents want them to opt out. (Having been to the meeting and having read the comments submitted, I agree with that statement.) But when it came right down to it, no one wanted to make a motion on this issue.

Finally, after some stalling and delay, Annabelle Jaramillo made a motion that Benton County opt out of the lawsuit. The motion died for lack of a second.

Then, Augerot moved that they stay in the lawsuit, and Schuster seconded the motion. The vote was held, and that's how the two-to-one split went down.

No one seemed happy with the result, frankly, and a brief break was called.

One of the factors cited by the two Commissioners who voted to stay in the timber lawsuit was the recommendation from the County's own Environmental Issues Advisory Committee that they do just that. However, I have learned that it was a close vote, and that two members who would have voted for the county to opt out were absent from the EIAC meeting where they voted on the issue. On a related note, I have just been appointed to that very committee, and, needless to say, I would have voted for the county to stay out. Clearly there are some structural issues with the EIAC (allowing proxy votes, phone in meeting participation, etc.) that I look forward to addressing ASAP.


As a related subject...Today's County Commissioner meeting featured a presentation on a inspiringly large trails project (; another presentation dealt with funding for the Old Mill Center and their services for abused and traumatized kids; and, of course, there was the multi-million dollar do-we-stay-or-do-we-go issue regarding the timber lawsuit.

Big issues, big subjects, big dollars...And there were just a couple of members of the public there. I continue to be shocked that, with all that's in play and at stake, there aren't more members of the public attending these meetings. Big, big things go down, big, big decisions get made, with very little in the way of public oversight. I can't help but think that the 9AM meeting time is a real hindrance to more public interest and participation. Or, do people just not care?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Real Community, Unreal Coverage

Courtesy of the Gazette-Times, I had my "Ah ha!" moment this morning. Actually, there were a couple of them.

Per my last post, about the absence of any elected officials attending the community march and protest yesterday, well, we now have a partial answer. Why wasn't Anne Schuster there? Because she was being honored at the hastily arranged "Celebrate Corvallis" awards, which also took place yesterday. Despite the fact that said awards took place after the march, I guess she was too busy getting ready to be feted to join in and say "No!" to Trump, and "Yes!" to community. As were, it seems, all other local elected leaders associated with Corvallis or Benton County.

Which was very much a missed opportunity for them, because the real community, the real people, were out on the streets, raising their voices. The fact that so often politicians would prefer to be raising a glass of wine instead, at some self-congratulatory but meaningless event, is one of the reasons people so dislike politicians. And, coming full circle, that dislike of politicians is a huge part of why the monstrous Trump won in the first place.

Of course, he also won because the media couldn't stop covering his campaign as a freak show, while going light on the fact-checking and dirt-digging that might have made a difference. That sort of distorted, fact-light coverage absolutely helped him win. And I thought of such distorted coverage when I saw the GT's headline for their article about yesterday's march: "More than 500 protest Trump." Which is true, if deceptive. Yes, there were at least 500 people there, but, with years of experience putting on and working various events, I would say the actual total was closer to 600 to 700, at a minimum.

The article also states that "The rally dissipated at the riverfront at around 5 p.m." That is just plain false. It makes it sound like the event wasn't organized, and an ending wasn't planned, so things just "dissipated."

Of course, the fact is, the march continued to the Odd Fellow's hall downtown, where there were speakers, representatives from various community organizations, food and drinks, etc. My wife and I were designated to count heads at the door, and we counted nearly 300 people coming in from 4:30 to 5:30 PM.

As a final comment, let me point out that the march and protest was a big, moving, and extremely colorful and photogenic event. Signs, banners, costumes, etc. The "Celebrate Corvallis" event was, almost certainly, a lot of people sitting at tables and a few talking heads. The GT ran one photo of the march; they ran three from the "Celebrate Corvallis" event.

Please do keep these types of things - these subtle editorial highlights and fact-fudgings - in mind when you read the news. Even the local news.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Earth First...We'll Log the Other Planets Later

Last night was the public forum on the topic of whether or not Benton County should be part of Linn County's lawsuit against the state of Oregon...Over 100 people attended, and it seems like at least half of them made public comments.

What is it all about? Well, the crux of the issue is that, back in 1939, a number of counties in Oregon made a deal to turn over dedicated areas of forested land to the state, with the understanding that the state would manage those parcels so they achieve their "greatest permanent value," and share any proceeds resulting with the counties. Now, Linn County's position is that the state has failed to do that, and, as a result, they have been undercompensated. They, along with other counties, are engaged in suing the state, asking for a total of over a billion dollars.

So, the question for the forum was: Should Benton County be a party to this lawsuit, or decline to participate? And, underlying it all, there was the question of what actually constitutes the "greatest permanent value"? (Another pertinent question that remains unanswered is: Who thinks the state of Oregon, already facing a  $1.8 billion dollar deficit, has a billion dollars to spare? But more on that later.) For context, there are 8,400 acres of these lands in Benton County - a few small lots up in the northwest corner of the county.

Speaking from the stage for the pro-lawsuit side was Mark Gourley, who works for a forestry company. (A majority of these in attendance who spoke in favor of joining in on the lawsuit were people who self-identified as owning land to be logged, and/or as people who worked in logging industries.) Gourley's presentation started with him going way, way off topic, talking about the county fairgrounds, and his being a fifth generation logger. He then went on a tangent about the sewage systems in coastal communities and the troubles they have. (Yes, really.) Then he took a few shots at environmental groups. Then, finally, he talked briefly about how this was really just a breach of contract lawsuit, and then wrapped up. It was a somewhat bizarre and fractured free-form presentation.

Then, speaking in favor of the county not participating in the lawsuit, was Chris Smith, who works for the North Coast State Forest Coalition, and is a coordinator for the Sierra Club. Smith's presentation was much more focused, and provided a lot of pertinent facts and figures. He showed how the current arrangement - the one that Linn Co. and company are so upset about - has already paid out $1.4 billion to state forest counties. Smith also spoke to the ecological damages that would occur if the status quo changed to more logging, and how those changes would then have a negative effect on recreational use of those lands. He pointed out that, if this lawsuit proceeds, and if the counties prevail, it will create a tax burden for all counties, and a budget crisis at the state level. (Remember that already existing deficit?) In other words, he made a good case for the position that, though the current management plan isn't perfect, and doesn't satisfy all involved parties completely, it is very much preferable to the financial and environmental damage that would almost certainly occur if these counties prevail.

With all that in mind, it then made sense when Smith informed the audience that Clatsop County, the county that has more acres of these disputed forest lands than any other, has decided to not be a party to the lawsuit.

When it came time for the public to speak, I joined many others in taking a turn at the microphone. Needless to say, I urged the commissioners to decline to participate in this lawsuit. 

It was so interesting, and so revealing, to note how so many of those who spoke in favor of the county participating in this lawsuit did so from a position of self-interest. They were primarily loggers and/or owners of land to be logged. Those urging the county to not join in the lawsuit seemed to be viewing things from a longer-term, more altruistic perspective. It will be interesting to see how the commissioners come down on this one.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Two Firsts

Today was the first 2017 meeting of the Benton County Commissioners, and the first meeting for new Commissioner Xanthippe Augerot. Only a handful of people were in attendance, despite the contentious subject of the Corvallis-Albany Bikeway being on the agenda. Of course, the fact the meeting took place at noon may have been a barrier to public attendance, since that's right in the middle of the work day. (Given the choice between lunch or attending a mid-day public meeting, I'm going to guess that most people would choose lunch.)

For me, the most interesting part of the meeting came, well, during the short series of meetings that came after the regular Commissioner's meeting. These were comically short "meetings" of a number of County Service Districts, held for the purpose of choosing a chair and vice chair for each group.

One after another - Alpine, Alsea, Library Services, North Albany, etc. - these micro-meetings were convened just long enough for Augerot to nominate Schuster as chair (every time, of every group), and for Schuster to nominate Augerot as vice-chair (every time, of every group). Clearly this had all been worked out ahead of time, letting Annabelle Jaramillo off the hook for anything, while making Anne Schuster the chair of everything.

At the end of it all, there was more than a little joking about how they'd gotten through six "meetings" in just seven minutes. Sure, you could say it was an "efficient" use of time, but it sure wasn't a fair or sensible division of responsibilities. And the prepackaged, we've-already-discussed-this-behind-the-scenes nature of the division of duties was...Odd, to say the least. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Ringing in 2017...

It's New Year's Day morning, 2017. In a few weeks, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States. This is almost certain to be a disastrous occurrence for the United States, bringing forth a wave of corruption, greed and incompetence such as has never been seen before. On the federal level, we are sure to see an all-out assault on ecological protections, financial regulations, civil liberties, and notions of good governance and transparency.

This means that, for at least the next four years, any progressive efforts in governing will have to come from the states and counties of the country. Oregon and Benton County both already stand out as being more-progressive-than-not places; my hope is that both will embrace sustainability, diversity, governmental transparency and an ecologically-friendly economy even more in the near future.

All of which, of course, runs counter to the way that things will soon be run in Washington, D.C. This is a point of pride. We can and will do better than the Trump administration in addressing the issues that people in this country, and this county, face going forward. I look forward to being part of those efforts, and starting this blog is just one way I intend to be involved on a local level. Working together, we can make this the best, greenest, most prosperous county in the state, and that can only serve to help make our state more of a beacon to the rest of the country.

We have much to be proud of here. But we have much that is still to be done. There's a saying: "In chaos, there is opportunity." In the coming chaos, we must do all we can to seize the opportunity to lead by example. As darkness descends on our nation's capitol, we will not simply curse the darkness - we will light a candle.


Max Mania