Saturday, April 28, 2018

No Cause? It's THE Cause!

Wow! I went to a GREAT presentation today by Margot Black, who started the group Portland Tenants United. They're a group that fights for the rights of tenants, and against things like no cause evictions, unreasonable rent increases, and other abusive practices. (The event today was sponsored by our local SEIU Local 503 and the Coalition of Graduate Employees, Local 6069, AFT, AFL-CIO.)

Long story short, I learned a lot today, got a lot of great ideas, and am still buzzing with excitement from it all. I feel like I've had a great big meal of healthy, nutrient-rich brain food, and I'm going to be digesting it for the next several days. But for sure I have gained some new ideas to address our nightmarish local housing/rental crisis, and will be talking about them a lot in the months to come.

In the meantime, I urge you to check out the PTU's website, take a glance at ORS 91.225(5), and then, as a bonus, see what people have to say about local rental giant Duerksen. We need change here, folks. And I am a change agent.

A HUGE thank you to the SEIU Local 503 and the CGE and to Margot Black. It was a very informative Saturday.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Questions I Cannot Answer

Well, another Tuesday, and another meeting of the Benton County Commissioners. The agenda included reports from the district water master, and local economic development officials. Also on the agenda were updates on solid waste, body cameras, homelessness and funding requests from outside agencies. That sounds like a pretty full and weighty agenda, eh? Chock full of honest to goodness government business and community development and so forth and so on.

Anyone care to guess how many County Commissioner candidates were there? Let me give you a minute to think about that before answering.

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By now hopefully you're not surprised to hear that, once again, I was not only the only candidate there, I was the only member of the public there. The only other non-county employee there was (the previously mentioned) Bennett Hall from the Gazette-Times. Heck, not even all the County Commissioners even made it. Anne Schuster was absent.

So, as I was sitting there, listening intently, taking notes, I had a whole series of questions come to mind - questions I cannot answer. First and foremost: When these sitting Commissioners, who have all endorsed other candidates, see me sitting there, and don't see "their" candidates even bothering to show up, what do they think about that? Does it bother them? Disappoint them? Worry them? Do they even register that "something's missing" at all?

Flipping that perspective around, I have to wonder what the other candidates are playing at. Why aren't they there? And by that I mean, why don't they ever seem to be there? One of them is not working and is on disability. One of them boasts of having "retired at 40." One of them doesn't have a paying job at all. And another one of them is self-employed, and thus could probably flex their schedule to make a meeting or two. But they don't. None of them do. Why not? In my world, part of running for office is knowing the office, observing the people holding those seats, etc. It just seems bizarre and taking a lot for granted to not even show up for the occasional meeting.

Per the issues covered at the meeting today, and that come up at the campaign forums...Everybody likes to talk about "economic development" for all of Benton County, right? It's almost a mantra: "And I will focus on economic development for all of Benton County!" Well, maybe...

But if you'd been at the meeting today, you might have had that notion essentially and extensively undercut by what is really going on. Is it really helping "all of Benton County" to have one of the areas of focus be working to improve things in downtown Corvallis? Does it really broaden things out much to also focus on the urban renewal plan for south Corvallis? Is it really something to boast about "for all of Benton County" that just 38% of your economic development activity took place outside of Corvallis? Do the people doing the boasting realize that 38% is much less than half?

Again, these are questions I cannot answer. But so much of the talk about economic development "for all of Benton County" starts to seem like a lie when you look at what really goes on. Corvallis continues to get a huge portion of local "economic development" efforts, even though you could say that one of the last things Corvallis currently needs is economic development. Economic equality? Yes! Economic justice? You bet! More economic resources diverted to Corvallis? Not so much, folks.

Think about it: If these people in charge were really intent on creating economic development for the whole county, they would have left the damned museum where it was and, if they had to build a new one, build it in Philomath as well. But no. The museum - and all those dollars - went to...Corvallis.

So, please, at the end of the day, remember two things. One is that for most of the people doing the talking about economic development for Benton County, it's just that - talk. Look closely at what they're actually doing before you believe it. But also please be advised that I do, and will, represent the best interests of all of Benton County, and won't just continue the ingrained habit of sending anything and everything to Corvallis exclusively. I am running to represent the people of Benton County, and will do so in a thoughtful, informed and honest manner. And fair. And balanced. You should pardon the expression.

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Funhouse Mirror - Minus the Fun

Two separate but strangely related events occurred yesterday. The first was unpleasant, and the second was just kind of surreal. But they both informed each other.

The first event: I had an appointment to talk with Bennett Hall from the Gazette-Times about the election. My assumption was that he wanted to talk about my election plans or visions for Benton County, or something forward-focused. Ah, but when you assume...

Instead, without any preface, he launched into highly questionable questions about my supposedly provocative past. It was a dirt-digging call, and dragged me back through some of the most trying and emotionally brutal times of my life - up to and including asking questions about my extremely unpleasant divorce from nearly 20 years ago.

Bennett tried to explain that they were working on a story based on "background checks" of all the candidates running for Benton County Commissioner. Now, along those lines, let me be clear: I have no criminal record, or anything else that should be concerning to people. He acknowledged as much. (And at the end of the call he also thanked me for my candor.)

But, I absolutely do have an online "record" of articles from a very biased newspaper from when I served on the Port Angeles (Washington) City Council. I ran, and won, as a pro-farmer progressive environmentalist, in a community that trends conservative and Republican. Thus, as I explained to Bennett, I had a target on my back from Day One. I stood up for public health and environmental values against the heavily polluting paper mill in town, which at that time was owned and operated by the Nippon Corporation. At that time, the Nippon mill was the power player in town, and threw a lot of weight around, and the local newspaper was totally in their pocket - up to and including the fact that the very paper they printed on came from that mill.

In any case, the newspaper was no friend to the environment, and no friend of mine. Their lead reporter was a toxic personality who took evident glee in misrepresenting my positions, misquoting me, and generally doing everything they could to damage my reputation. I had to force them to print corrections time after time after time.

And stories from this newspaper were the source for most of what Bennett Hall was asking about. That goes way, way beyond the purview of a standard background check, and dips deeply into scandal mongering.

It also serves to illustrate a simple but overlooked fact: Anyone's history online - anyone's - is bound to be one-sided, distorted, inaccurate and weighted towards the negative. Case in point: My divorce records are online, but there is no online record of the times people have told me that I changed their lives for the better. This goes for almost everyone. When you look at someone via the internet, you are only looking down, not up, backwards but not forward.

Have you ever looked yourself up online? I have at times, and it's very illuminating. Every time I have, I've found supposed "personal information" websites that have information about me that is, to say the least, inaccurate. (And, believe me, with a name like Max Mania, I'm probably not getting confused with a lot of other Max Manias out there...) I've seen "relatives" and "friends" listed whose names I have never heard. I have been associated with groups I have no connection to. I've seen cities where I've supposedly lived that I have never been to. And on and on and on.

Which leads to the second event from yesterday: I am currently switching from working in one lab at HP to another. This means I am also switching agencies. The new agency did a background check on me, and I requested a copy of the final report. It came yesterday. Mind you, this is a professional background report, done by a company that does this as their business. And the report is both inaccurate and incomplete. In fact, it is downright bizarre.

It shows me (and my Social Security number, another highly specialized marker) as being "associated" with a PO Box in Bellevue, Washington years before I had ever even visited that city. I think I've been there twice, and have certainly never lived there, or had a PO Box there. The report also shows me as being "associated" with what seems to be a fairly random street address in Seattle - which, again, is a city I never lived in, and the address listed is not one I have ever visited. Ever.

Meanwhile, the years I spent in Port Angeles, the city where I was elected to the City Council, and the source of so much of the dirt that Bennett Hall was digging through...Well, on this official, professional "background report," Port Angeles doesn't show up at all. Not at all. Zero. Zip. Zilch. It's like I was never there.

My point being this: Any and all second-source information online is bound to be inaccurate, incomplete, and utterly lacking in context. And any reporting based on such information sources is also bound to be one-sided, distorted and woefully incomplete, as well as, yes, lacking in context.

Now, please understand, this is not intended to be a bashing of Bennett Hall (who is just doing his job), or the GT, or the press in general. Nor, obviously, is it meant to be some sort of whitewash of any supposed scandal in my past - I'd hardly be the first to bring this up if I was trying to downplay something.

All I am doing here is trying to add that grain of salt to whatever you read from secondary sources online. Again, the internet is inherently weighted towards the scandalous, the salacious and the sad. The built-in bias is towards the negative. It inherently distorts reality to some extent, like a funhouse mirror, only without any fun at all. And again, this isn't just about me; all candidates will be subjected to this process.

In closing, let me just say that, if you have any questions about me, or my history, please just ask me. (That goes for you as well, Bennett.) I am happy to tell you whatever you want to know. In a local election like this, you can easily get your information from the source, not second-hand.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

No More Black Coffee?

I'm not a coffee drinker...And I don't really patronize corporate stores like theirs much anyway...But you know, I wouldn't be surprised if now a whole lot of black folks in this country are suddenly going to join my Starbucks-free lifestyle.

I mean, really, this is what it's come to? Black people can't even sit and wait for a friend in a coffee shop without getting arrested? In Philadelphia? Really?

You can't blame this one on Trump, people. Racism is our foundational sin in this country, and it's something white people have been pretty lax about addressing overall. I've been with my (beautiful, brilliant and brown) wife for almost two decades now, and have thus absolutely been aware of the many, many ways that racism infects our society and our systems.

And dealing with racism means just that: Making systemic changes. Anything less attributes too much of the burden to individuals, while keeping in place a legal but immoral status quo that only serves to keep us separated from each other, and from ourselves.

Until we honestly deal with the sin of racism in this country, none of us will ever truly be free. In the meantime, as mentioned above, we can all decide to, at the very least, be Starbucks-free.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Necessity Defense

When my wife and I first moved to Corvallis, we knew we were lucky. We were leaving a place that was in a beautiful setting, but kept stagnant by deeply, deeply corrupt local politics. By contrast, Corvallis and Benton County seemed a relative oasis of sanity and progressivism, with a high quality of life.

But, when my wife and I first moved to Corvallis, we didn't know just how lucky we were. Through friends, we met another couple who were wanting to move and break their lease at the exact same time that we wanted to move here. The house was relatively affordable, centrally located, and we just slid right in. It wasn't until after we settled in that we realized just how incredibly tight the local rental market is, and how lucky we had been.

When we had to move (due to the outfall from our first landlord's second, on site illegal rental being shut down), we learned a lot. As you doubtlessly already know, the rental market is small, while simultaneously rich with ripoffs. Most places are the worst of both worlds: Outrageously expensive, and painfully rundown. If we're being honest, the unofficial mascots of Corvallis could be black mold and/or illegal wiring, so common are these gruesome twosome.

So, long story short, yes, Corvallis and Benton County are doing alright in some respects, but there's a serious and growing dark underbelly. It was some of the people struggling in that dark that first cried out to me to consider running for County Commissioner. People who got to know me knew I was progressive and serious, and had held public office before. These people urged me to take a look, get involved, and not be lulled into complacency by the local Democratic fa├žade of soft progressivism and gentle greenwashing.

Being a political animal at heart, and having had a much needed and revitalizing break from holding elective office, I took their advice and took a look. Once I did, I realized that they were right. Behind a thin, fragile veneer of mainstream Democratic demagoguery here, I saw a lot that was shocking - especially on the county level. At the County Commissioner level, I saw a small group of leaders who were utterly failing to address the needs of the next generation.

My "gateway drug" was watching the whole process of the commissioners deciding what to do about their position on the stupid timber lawsuit. As you probably know, and as at least one of them clearly stated, the majority of Benton County residents wanted the county to stay out of the timber industry-funded and Republican-driven lawsuit against the state of Oregon. But two out of three of the Democratic commissioners voted to remain in. Their stated "reasoning" was vague at best. They said they wanted "a seat at the table" and that this was "a shot across the bow" of the state. What they wanted to do with that "seat" or what the real message of that "shot" was remains unclear.

Left unaddressed was the fact that this lawsuit, with a price tag of one and a half billion dollars, if successful, could bankrupt the state. Which would, of course, have a devastating effect on our already struggling schools. A successful lawsuit would also result in even more logging in Benton County, which would serve to increase our local contribution to climate change drivers. It was a tone deaf, out of touch and potentially disastrous decision, made for unclear reasons.

Having witnessed all that, I started watching the budgeting process. (Sidebar discussion: At the end of the day, the budget is the key task that County Commissioners are responsible for. All priorities and policies are only brought to life via the budget. But, since Benton County only does their budget every two years, it has reduced flexibility. Meanwhile, the County Commissioners get overpaid the same no matter what, while only having to grapple with their biggest responsibility every other year. I support the structural improvements of A) Having an annual budget, and B) Reducing the yearly pay of the County Commissioners. Currently, Benton County pays out over a quarter of a million dollars every year in salary for the three commissioners. I don't know that we're getting a quarter of a million dollars a year worth of value out of them, though. Also worth noting: I can no longer find the page on the Benton County website that lists the salaries for commissioners. Which is interesting...)

The budgeting process was light on accessibility, and heavy on misplaced priorities. Public input was minimal. There weren't enough public meetings held (in my opinion) and they were all held in Corvallis-centric locations. And, keeping with the theme, organizations like the amazing Old Mill School (where they work with children) who had requested small amounts of the county's discretionary funds got nothing, while at the same time the commissioners gave nearly half a million dollars to a museum that, strictly speaking, didn't need the money. The message sent and received was that they would pay big bucks to lionize the past, but nothing - nothing - for the next generation.

(Another sidebar discussion: Most local politicians and candidates obviously love, love, love to talk about "rural economic development" - which is to say, economic development that takes place outside of Corvallis. But I have yet to hear any of these people talk about how paying to move the museum from Philomath to Corvallis is really a form of stealing economic development from rural Benton County and transferring it to Corvallis. Once again, we see Corvallis getting a lot of public service, while the rest of Benton County gets lip service.)

So, stepping back and looking at the whole picture, things here get a lot less brightly progressive and a whole lot more backwater murky. Our commissioners (on the whole) often vote like Republicans, and crafted a budget that zeroed out county support for children and mental health services. They largely ignore the issue of climate change. They talk the talk of county-wide economic development, while generally favoring Corvallis. And, to bring it back to where I started, they express a lot of "concern" about affordable housing, but haven't taken any sort of concrete steps to do anything about the issue.

All that being the case, and with a lack of major party candidates willing to even talk about so much of this, yet alone do anything about it, I felt I had to step up, sign up, and at least try to make a difference. I love my life, and I love my wife, and, let me be honest, part of me wishes I didn't feel duty-bound to jump in and devote so much of my time and life to this. I wish we had more responsive, responsible and progressive people who were already taking care of the important business of governing locally. But we don't. We just don't. What we've got is a Democratic monoculture that too often seems to believe that feeling bad about bad things makes them good people - and is willing to stop with that.

I feel a moral duty to do more than that. And, for me, many of these aren't just abstract issues. The health of our environment affects my personal health. As a renter (the only renter running, by the way), I am directly affected by the poor housing market here. It's not abstract, it's not a theory. It's my lived reality. That gives me a different perspective, and powers my commitment to make the changes that need to be made locally.

As you may have read, there have been honest to goodness judicial rulings regarding some people accused of crimes related to climate change protests where the judge has acknowledged the validity of the "necessity defense." In other words, climate change is such a threat to our collective wellbeing that the actions of protesters are not necessarily criminal, and are, in fact, defensible. That is real, positive progress. It's also a frame of reference I use personally. When my wife, and friends, complain that we don't have any personal time anymore, I have taken to invoking the necessity defense. My time is not my own, because there is work that needs to be done.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Standing Up Against Cruelty

I regret to inform you that the abusive Jordan World Circus is returning to our own Benton County Fairgrounds this week. They will be here this Wednesday, and needless to say, many of us will be there (again) to protest this "business" that profits from torturing beautiful and endangered animals until they will perform meaningless "tricks" for a paying audience. The Jordan World Circus has a well-documented history of animal abuse and neglect and deaths.

So here's the ask: Please join us at the Benton County Fairgrounds this Wednesday, the 11th, anytime between 4:00 PM and 7:30 PM. We will have signs for you to hold, or you can bring your own. All we ask is that people be peaceful and responsible in protesting - it doesn't do anyone any good to get into a shouting match or argument over this issue. We'll be taking the higher ground, and protest this cruelty peacefully.

Also, let's be clear: While it is unfortunate that the Jordan World Circus is returning so quickly to Benton County, that actually represents progress. Many jurisdictions are banning circuses of this sort, so they have to rely more and more on the remaining venues that will allow them to appear there. So, the immediate goal is to get people to not go in to the show this time. The long-term (and achievable) goal is to get Benton County to change their policies so that we too become a place where such cruelty is not allowed.

You can also feel free to go to the Jordan World Circus Facebook page and tell them what you think of their cruel, sadistic "business." You could also contact our current County Commissioners and tell them that they need to change Benton County's policies on this immediately.

Many thanks to Britt West for all her efforts on this issue, and on organizing this protest. Britt is also an amazing artist, and often incorporates her deep love of animals into her work.

If you need some further information as to why these circuses are so vile, you can watch the heartbreaking videos below. But be warned, they are very disturbing.
 
 


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Without Principles, What's the Point?

I've spent a lot of the weekend at the Radical Imagination Conference being held on the OSU campus, and I'll be headed back over there in just a bit. But first, I wanted to share a helpful reminder I received yesterday at the "Transformative Organizing Workshop," which was facilitated by Olmeca. These short principles really helped me focus in on what my campaign should look like, and I thought these were a great way to capture the essence of what I want my work to be about.

And so, here are the Principles of Zapatismo:

1) To serve, not serve yourself

2) To convince, not defeat

3) Everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves

4) To construct, not destroy

5) To ask questions while walking

6) To obey, not dictate

7) To propose, not impose

8) To come down, not up

9) We want a world where many worlds fit

Now, I will freely admit I'm still struggling a bit with number five, but as for the rest, they're clear and beautiful. Please read them, ponder, and discuss.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Price of Doing the Right Thing

Today was the monthly Benton County EIAC (Environmental Issues Advisory Committee) meeting, and one of our guests was Julie Jackson, from Republic Services. They're the folks who come by and pick up your trash and recycling.

Now, as some of you may already know, historically, China would buy a great deal of our recyclables. For years, they would accept recyclables that had a contamination rate as high as 2%. This made things easy for us, and allowed many Americans to grow, if not lazy, at least complacent in their recycling habits.

But, as some of you may already also know, China recently changed their rules. They now will accept no recyclables with a contamination rate higher than 0.5%. That's zero-point-five. As in, a great deal less contaminated. As in, a low level of contamination that few, if any, American municipalities can currently hope to even come close to.

Which is to say, China is no longer a ready and dependable market for American recyclables.

Uh oh.

This is a fluid and evolving situation, so nothing hard, fast and permanent is locked in yet. (On one hand, I like to think it's a great impetus for this country to finally create and manage some internal markets for recycled goods - as well as being a spur for life-of-product laws.) Recycling in this country has never been a big money-maker, but traditionally, Republic at least broke even, or made a little profit.


 
Well, they're still picking up and transporting our recyclables, but, currently, they're losing around $100,000 a month on it. Yes, every month. Or, if you like, somewhere north of a million dollars a year.

I'm not writing this because I have some sort of cohesive, global or regional solution to the problem, or access to some heretofore hidden pot of money to make things all better. (Though passing some strict life-of-product and packaging laws nationally would help.) Just consider this an informational update, and a heads up of further changes ahead.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Finger On The Scale Department, Chapter Two

In the past few days, both the Gazette Times and The Advocate have used the same sloppy, inaccurate and biased language to describe the current race for Benton County Commissioner. They have both stated that whichever Democrat wins the primary election is essentially certain to be the next Benton County Commissioner.

Needless to say, as the unaffiliated candidate in the race, and the candidate who is absolutely planning to win the race, I object to this injection of opinion into what is supposed to be news coverage. This is not science; this is politics. Science may dictate that the sun will indeed come up in the east each and every day, or that ice will start to melt once the temperature rises above freezing, but science doesn't dictate the results for the decidedly more fluid and chaotic world of politics. It's more malleable, and more unpredictable. (Let's remember all the examples, including some high profile recent examples, where an election just "couldn't" turn out a certain way - then did.)

Mike McInally at the GT tried to make the point that Democrats have "a lock" on the position here. When I pointed out that, in fact, the majority of voters in Benton County are not registered as Democrats, he tried to counter that, somewhat bizarrely, by noting that 4 out of 10 voters are registered as Democrats. To which I replied, exactly - nearly 6 out of 10 voters are not registered as Democrats. He also seemed to assume that all Democrats will vote for the Democratic candidate. I beg to differ. I intend to be more appealing to Democratic voters than their own candidate - whomever that might be.

Meanwhile, The Advocate, such as it is, seems to get their news from...Well, frankly, I don't know where. They certainly haven't talked to the people who work in the county elections department. Their description of the situation showed a basic misunderstanding of the whole electoral process. They described the chain of events as being: Hold the primary, swear in the new commissioner, and then they immediately start serving with the "sitting electeds" already holding seats. In other words, their description bypassed the general election entirely.

Needless to say, as the unaffiliated candidate in the general election, I object to this injection of misinformation into the discussion. The Advocate also stated that independent or unaffiliated candidates "may" enter the race later - without mentioning me, the unaffiliated candidate already in the race. When I pointed that out to them, they said I wouldn't be a candidate until I filed my paperwork to run. So I pointed out to them that I was, in fact, the first candidate to file to run for this seat.

In response to that, they changed their story, and said that, wait, I'm not a "real" candidate because I haven't turned in the signatures I am required to gather yet. So, once again, I informed them of the facts: I cannot turn in the signatures until May 30th - at the earliest. That is the law. To which they replied, essentially, "See? Then you haven't filed!" So I explained to them, again, that yes I have filed. I filed first. That's how I got the forms I am using to collect signatures. You don't get those forms until you...Say it with me, file to run for office.

In any case...You can see how running for office can be both frustrating and exhausting. But I'm in this for the big picture and the long run. I'm still going to be the most experienced, most creative and most energetic candidate. I'm still going to run a campaign propelled by the power of good ideas and high ideals. And, speed bumps or not, I'm still going to win this election. The issues facing us are too important, and too time-sensitive, to just revert to the status quo.

Thanks to those of you who have sent notes of support after the above mentioned "irregularities." And thanks to the warm reception last night at the forum. I was just there to observe, but welcomed the chance to try and clarify some of the confusion (see above) about my candidacy.