Loyalton & CalPers 9/29/16

tombstoneIn a first, CalPERS may cut small town’s pensions
A CalPERS crackdown on employers that have not been paying into the pension fund could cut the pensions of all four retirees of a small Sierra County city, Loyalton, which stopped making its payments more than three years ago.

It would be the first time that CalPERS used its power to cut pensions, in proportion to the payment not made by the employer, after a plan is terminated and closed to new members, a CalPERS spokesman said.

The city council of financially troubled Loyalton voted unanimously to stop making payments to CalPERS in March 2013. The city had a population of 769 in the last census and is about a 45-minute drive from Reno.

Four Loyalton retirees have continued to receive full California Public Employees Retirement System pensions. Another former Loyalton employee is vested in a city pension but has not yet retired and applied for it.

To avoid deep pension cuts, Loyalton owes CalPERS a $1.66 million lump sum payment that cannot be made over time with installments. The city has talked about trying to get back into CalPERS or possibly obtaining a loan.

According to a state controller’s report for 2015, Loyalton had revenues of $1.17 million, expenditures $1.68 million, liabilities $6.16 million, assets $11.1 million, fund equity $4.8 million, and population 733.

In a “final demand letter” on Aug. 31, CalPERS gave Loyalton 30 days to “bring its account to current.” If the city does not pay the amount owed, the CalPERS board will be asked to declare Loyalton in default, which could trigger the pension cuts.

Loyalton city council members and their lawyer plan to meet with CalPERS officials this week. The CalPERS board is not expected to act on the issue until its regularly scheduled meeting in November.

CalPERS also sent a 30-day demand to two other employers that are inactive but not yet terminated: the California Fairs Financing Authority, a joint powers authority of the state and fairs owing $360,958, and the Niland Sanitary District, owing $23,795.

If the Fairs authority and the Niland district do not make the payment, CalPERS staff will begin termination proceedings and ask the CalPERS board to terminate their contracts at the November meeting.

The CalPERS plan for the Fairs authority, now operating as a private organization, would face a $9.4 million lump sum payment if terminated, according to its valuation report. It has 20 retirees, 14 transferred members, and 24 separated.

The Niland district, located at the south end of the Salton Sea, would face a lump sum payment of $88,000 if terminated, said its CalPERS valuation report. It has one retiree, one transferred member, and two separated.

Last week, the CalPERS board was told that a new policy has been drafted to speed up collections. The task also has been placed under new top-level supervision in the CalPERS bureaucracy.

“The whole contract area was just recently moved into the finance area because we recognize that there was some breakdown in making sure we get these collections sooner,” Cheryl Eason, CalPERS chief finance officer, told the board.

tombstone

The deeply divided current members of the Loyalton city council agreed on one thing in telephone interviews last week: Two stone signs costing $10,000 each, telling motorists they are entering Loyalton, were not a good use of scarce city funds.

Some call them the “headstones.” Loyalton, which had a population of 1,030 in 1980, lost its main employer when the century-old Sierra Pacific lumber mill closed in 2001. An article in the Sierra County Prospect this year asked: “Is Loyalton dead?”

Loyalton is the largest and only incorporated city in Sierra County, population 3,240. A county history says it was carved out of Yuba County in 1852 because administration from Marysville in the Central Valley was too difficult.

The Sierra County seat is Downieville, population 282, about an hour drive (per Google maps) west of Loyalton on Highway 49. The county supervisors hold half of their meetings in Downieville and the other half in Loyalton.

A city council member who voted to terminate the CalPERS plan, Patricia Whitley, said a 50 percent pay raise that may not have been legitimate increased the cost of unaffordable pensions.

A city council member retired with a pension, John Cussins, who addressed the CalPERS board last week, said pay had been substandard before the pay increase, which was followed by a pay cut during the recession.

Some issues mentioned by Whitley and Cussins and Mayor Mark Marin: missing money, embezzlement, misuse of enterprise funds, illegal contracting, understaffing, employee turnover, a city museum building, and a city lawsuit over a troubled waste water project.

Cussins said he retired five years ago with a disability after more than 21 years as maintenance foreman playing a versatile role for the shorthanded city. He acted at times as a city manager or public works director, plowed snow, and dug graves.

Since retiring, Cussins said he has aided the city with drinking water maintenance and the use of his water and sewer licenses. His CalPERS pension last year was $36,034, according to Transparent California.

The large lump sum termination payment charged by CalPERS for five modest pensions, $1.66 million, results from a recent policy change. When a plan is terminated, CalPERS must pay the lifetime pensions with no more money from employers and employees.

CalPERS had used its investment earnings forecast, now 7.5 percent, to discount the terminated plan debt. Then in 2011, CalPERS dropped the terminated plan discount to a risk-free bond level (3.25 percent recently), causing the debt and termination fee to soar.

During the Stockton bankruptcy, a federal judge said a CalPERS termination fee that boosted the city’s pension debt or “unfunded liability” from $211 million to $1.6 billion was a “poison pill” if the city tried to move to another pension provider.

Several small cities that considered leaving CalPERS did not after looking at the high termination fee, among them Pacific Grove, Villa Park, and Canyon Lake. CalPERS has included a hypothetical termination fee in annual local government plan valuations since 2011.

Terminated CalPERS plans go into a pool that paid $4.7 million to 716 retirees and beneficiaries from 93 plans in the fiscal year ending June 30. The Terminated Agency Pool was 261.9 percent funded as of June 30, 2014.

CalPERS likes to keep a healthy surplus in the terminated pool for the same reason, some would say, that it lowered the discount rate and has the power to cut the pensions of underfunded plans that go into the pool.

If the Terminated Agency Pool falls short, the funds of all of the state and local government plans in CalPERS could be used to cover the shortfall — a big bite if a large plan entered the pool, which some feared in 2011 as the recession widened pension funding gaps.

A staff report to the CalPERS board last week said an underfunded plan that has not paid the fee can, after reasonable efforts to collect, enter the terminated pool with little or no cut in pensions if there is no impact on the pool’s “actuarial soundness.”

Whether Loyalton qualifies for this type of “limited” entry into the terminated pool is not clear. Sticking points for the CalPERS board might be the voluntary termination, years of ignoring collection demands, setting a precedent, and maintaining equal treatment of plans.

Putting a lien on Loyalton assets or attaching its revenue stream were mentioned at the CalPERS board last week. But taking revenue would further harm the financially distressed city, the board was told, and cities often are able to block attempts to attach their revenue.

Reporter Ed Mendel covered the Capitol in Sacramento for nearly three decades, most recently for the San Diego Union-Tribune. More stories are at Calpensions.com. Posted 26 Sept 16

Anne Clements Clark Eldred 9/28/16

Anne Eldred

Anne Eldred

Anne Clements Clark Eldred, 84, of Sierraville, Calif., died Monday, September 19, 2016 after a long illness. She had a deep and abiding love for the Sierra Valley, the place she called home for half her life.

Anne was born and raised in Hollywood, Calif., the only child of Thomas and Lydia Clements. She earned degrees in archaeology and music at the University of Southern California. One of her great joys was singing as a soloist in several choirs, and she was deeply involved with the Girl Scouts of America for many years.

During her years in Sierra County, Anne served on the school board and the planning commission, bringing tremendous passion to each and working zealously to maintain the beauty and well being of the valley she loved. She was a dedicated volunteer with the Sierra County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse, allowing her to combine her love of horses with her desire to help others. She conducted archaeological work in the Sierra Valley to help document and preserve the heritage of local tribes. She also was a member of the Sierra County Historical Society, and worked for several years as a tour guide at the Kentucky Mine, introducing countless visitors to the history of the area.

Anne was a woman of diverse and wide-ranging interests that included geology, politics, birding, the Bear Dance, turquoise jewelry, Los Dos, and dark chocolate, among others. In her later years, to the surprise of her family, Anne became a devoted fan of the San Francisco Giants. She never missed a chance to watch or listen to their games, and was delighted by their numerous recent World Series triumphs.

Anne is survived by her six children, Gene Clark (Sara), Robin Dawson (Curt), Gwyneth Van Buskirk (Bruce), Jon Clark (Martha), Thomas Clark (Tania), and Jay Clark, and four grandchildren. She also leaves behind some dear friends and her beloved furry companions, Crystal and Smokey.

The Celebration of Life will be held November  5th  at 1pm at the Sierraville School. In lieu of flowers, donations in Anne’s memory can be made to the Gene Upshaw Memorial Tahoe Forest Cancer Center, 10121 Pine Avenue, Truckee, CA 96161.

Juan Gives Thanks 9/28/16

On Tuesday September 20 while Downieville EMS Supervisor Jacie Epperson was returning from Grass Valley after her husband Don’s physical therapy appointment  meandering aimlessly through the Indian Valley area she inadvertently meandered into a drowning incident in the No Yuba River near Rocky Rest Campground. A very fortunate thing for Juan M. Ramirez who was here with his wife from Columbia visiting his sister who lives at the Ananda Village near No San Juan.

Jacie recognized the situation as critical and called Downieville VFD Dispatch on her fire department radio. Downieville Ambulance and fire department members including Sierra 1A Frank Lang responded to the scene. Juan’s family had managed to get him out of the river and start CPR and he regained consciousness, his condition was considered not good and a helicopter was ordered and he spent the next three days at the Roseville Sutter Hospital before release.

On Monday Juan and his family came to Downieville to present a card and their thanks to the Downieville Fire Department for helping to save his life.

Jacie Epperson, Juan Ramirez and wife, Juan's sister and Chief Lee Brown pose at the Firehouse, Frank Lang not pictured.

Jacie Epperson, Juan Ramirez and wife, Juan’s sister and Chief Lee Brown pose at the Firehouse, Frank Lang not pictured.

 

Almost Incomprehensible 9/28/16

Lawrence Wittner

Lawrence Wittner

Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending? – by Lawrence S. Wittner

In early September 2016, Donald Trump announced his plan for a vast expansion of the U.S. military, including 90,000 new soldiers for the Army, nearly 75 new ships for the Navy, and dozens of new fighter aircraft for the Air Force. Although the cost of this increase would be substantial–about $90 billion per year–it would be covered, the GOP presidential candidate said, by cutting wasteful government spending.

But where, exactly, is the waste? In fiscal 2015, the federal government engaged in $1.1 trillion of discretionary spending, but relatively small amounts went for things like education (6 percent), veterans’ benefits (6 percent), energy and the environment (4 percent), and transportation (2 percent). The biggest item, by far, in the U.S. budget was military spending: roughly $600 billion (54 percent). If military spending were increased to $690 billion and other areas were cut to fund this increase, the military would receive roughly 63 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending.

Well, you might say, maybe it’s worth it. After all, the armed forces defend the United States from enemy attack. But, in fact, the U.S. government already has far more powerful military forces than any other country. China, the world’s #2 military power, spends only about a third of what the United States does on the military. Russia spends about a ninth. There are, of course, occasional terrorist attacks within American borders. But the vast and expensive U.S. military machine–in the form of missiles, fighter planes, battleships, and bombers–is simply not effective against this kind of danger.

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Defense certainly leads the way in wasteful behavior. As William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project of the Center for International Policy, points out, “the military waste machine is running full speed ahead.” There are the helicopter gears worth $500 each purchased by the Army at $8,000 each, the $2.7 billion spent “on an air surveillance balloon that doesn’t work,” and “the accumulation of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons components that will never be used.” Private companies like Halliburton profited handsomely from Pentagon contracts for their projects in Afghanistan, such as “a multimillion-dollar `highway to nowhere,’” a $43 million gas station in nowhere, a $25 million `state of the art’ headquarters for the U.S. military in Helmand Province . . . that no one ever used, and the payment of actual salaries to countless thousands of no ones aptly labeled `ghost soldiers.’” Last year, Pro Publica created an interactive graphic revealing $17 billion in wasteful U.S. spending uncovered by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

Not surprisingly, as Hartung reports, the Pentagon functions without an auditing system. Although, a quarter century ago, Congress mandated that the Pentagon audit itself, it has never managed to do so. Thus, the Defense Department doesn’t know how much equipment it has purchased, how much it has been overcharged, or how many contractors it employs. The Project on Government Oversight maintains that the Pentagon has spent about $6 billion thus far on “fixing” its audit problem. But it has done so, Hartung notes, “with no solution in sight.”

The story of the F-35 jet fighter shows how easily U.S. military spending gets out of hand. Back in 2001, when the cost of this aircraft-building program was considered astronomical, the initial estimate was $233 billion. Today, the price tag has more than quadrupled, with estimates ranging from $1.1 trillion to $1.4 trillion, making it the most expensive weapon in human history. The planes reportedly cost $135 million each, and even the pilots’ helmets run $400,000 apiece. Moreover, the planes remain unusable. Although the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force recently declared their versions of the F-35 combat ready, the Pentagon’s top testing official blasted that assertion in a 16-page memo, deriding them as thoroughly unsuitable for combat. The planes, he reported, had “outstanding performance deficiencies.” His assessment was reinforced in mid-September 2016, when the Air Force grounded 10 of its first F-35 fighters due to problems with their cooling lines.

U.S. wars, of course, are particularly expensive, as they require the deployment of large military forces and hardware to far-flung places, chew up very costly military equipment, and necessitate veterans’ benefits for the survivors. Taking these and other factors into account, a recent study at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs put the cost to U.S. taxpayers of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at nearly $5 trillion thus far. According to the report’s author, Neta Crawford, this figure is “so large as to be almost incomprehensible.”

Even without war, another military expense is likely to create a U.S. budgetary crisis over the course of the next 30 years: $1 trillion for the rebuilding of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, plus the construction of new nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, and nuclear-armed aircraft. Aside from the vast cost, an obvious problem with this expenditure is that these weapons will either never be used or, if they are used, will destroy the world.

Wasted money, wasted lives, or maybe both. That’s the promise of increased military spending.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark?

Loyalton City Council 9/28/16

The seven candidates for the Loyalton City Council are seated below at a Candidates Night in Loyalton. Carla Wells works for the Senior Center, Jason Van Daam, father of three, Nancy Rogers a proprietor of a saw shop, Brooks Mitchell, retired teacher, former Sierra County Supervisor and current Council member, Genelle Wentz a manager at Leonard’s Store and Kristin Gallegos, daughter of former County Supervisor Lenny Gallegos. The city council is going to have a rough year ahead of them facing a dismal shortfall and unpaid CalPers benefits to the State. It is possible I am wrong about all of the above, however you can find out the real facts by reading this weeks issue of The Mountain Messenger. Don Russell actually went to the Candidates night and the City Council meetings and has much more interesting information.

9/28/16 Seven candidates are running for the Loyalton City Council.

9/28/16 Seven candidates are running for the Loyalton City Council. Photo by Sierra Booster

Environmental Abuse TNF 9/28/16

greenhorn-creekEnvironmental Abuse of Greenhorn Creek Prompts Stronger Enforcement

The Tahoe National Forest (NF) is implementing the next phase of its strategy to address the environmental damage to the Greenhorn Creek area on the Yuba River Ranger District; enforcement through ticketing.

Identified in 2008 as an area of concern due to the public’s use and misuse, the Forest Service had identified the area and began to actively engage the local community and forest visitors in educating them on why there was a need to address the environmental impacts occurring.

According to Yuba River District Ranger Karen Hayden, an Environmental Impact Statement that was part of the 2010 Forest Motorized Travel Management analysis showed the foothill yellow-legged frog living in Greenhorn Creek and the surrounding area. The species is currently listed as a Forest Service Sensitive Species and California Species of Special Concern. Based on the 2010 environmental analysis, the concern for impacts to sensitive species, and preserving the water quality, a decision was made to close the area to motor vehicles.

In 2014, the Forest published its Motor Vehicle Use Maps, which clearly established Greenhorn Creek area as a non-motorized vehicle use area. However, the use of the Buckeye Road crossing was permitted.

However, efforts to educate the public have not proved effective. It seems to have had little impact on the activities that still occur there. Tahoe NF Off-Highway Vehicles Use

Program Manager Joe Chavez pointed out, “The amount of trash still showing up is disheartening. Burned and abandoned vehicles and trailers, discarded household appliances used for target practice, abandoned campfires, litter, garbage, and recyclables are still a problem.”

The next phase is enforcement.

Law Enforcement and Forest Protection Officers have increased surveillance and patrolling. “We want the public to know that in order to protect natural resources, the Forest Service will not hesitate to issue tickets to violators,” stated Hayden.

Hayden said the public is still welcome to recreate in the area. “They can park within the Buckeye Road crossing area defined by the arrangement of boulders,” she said

On the Shelf 9/28/16

on-the-shelfIssue 2016 – 12
Online Opportunities at the Library
The Plumas County Library (of which the Downieville Library is a station, along with the libraries in Alleghany, Loyalton, and Sierra City) provides some online services free to its patrons. In order to access these services, all you need is a library card, which, if you have a local address in Sierra County, can be obtained at one of the library stations. Here’s what’s available (through Plumas County Library’s website: http://plumascounty.us/index.aspx?nid=546):

Zinio: access to digital magazines, with availability on Mac’s, PC’s, and mobile devices. The above weblink will bring you to the library’s online services page. Click on “Zinio”, which will open up a new window. Click on “Create New Account” at the top right of the page, and a small window will open that will ask for your library card number (this is why you need to get a library card first). Follow the instructions, and soon you will have established an account with your e-mail address and password. You are now in business; so, back on the Zinio page, click on the “Browse Magazines” button, and the whole selection of available online magazines will open up to you. You can search by the magazine title, or by genres, which now include: architecture; art & photo; automotive; boating & aviation; bridal; business & finance; children; computers & technology; crafts; computers & technology; crafts; current affairs; cycling; entertainment; family & parenting; food & cooking; games; health & fitness; hobbies; home & garden; lifestyle; literary; men; motorcycles; music; off-road; outdoor; pets & animals; religion & spirituality; science & nature; sports; teen; travel; women. There are two ways to read the magazines: (1) check out magazines and read them instantly on your desktop or mobile browser; or, (2) check out and download magazines through mobile apps. You can also sign up for weekly e-mail reminders about your favorite magazines. There is no limit to the number of magazines you can check out, and you can keep them in your account as long as you wish (no “return” date).

Overdrive: access e-books and/or audiobooks onto your desktop computer, laptop, or mobile device. Again, using the above weblink to Plumas County Library’s online services, click on “Overdrive”, which will open up a new window, entitled “Library to Go”. Clicking on the “Sign In” button at the upper right of the page will open up a window, where you will be asked to type in the library’s name (Plumas County Library). This, in turn, will open up a box asking for your library card number (remember, this is why you came to the library to get a card in the first place), after which you click on the “Sign In” button. Now the various e-books and audiobooks are open to you. You can request by book title, or you search among the available categories: all fiction; all nonfiction; biography & autobiography; business & careers; literature; mystery & thriller; romance; science fiction & fantasy. In addition, under Juvenile & Teen e-books and audiobooks are found these categories: all juvenile fiction; all juvenile nonfiction; all teen fiction; all teen nonfiction. You can borrow up to four titles at a time, with the lending period varying from title to title. You can also place four title on hold at a time, and will receive an e-mail notification when those titles become available (you then have four days to borrow the title, before the hold is cancelled). Furthermore, it is possible to renew a title, when the lending period has expired.

Zip book request: readers of this column will know that books, not currently present in the Downieville Library, can be requested through the Plumas County Library system. However, sometimes books are not available there, either. If that is the case, there is another way that books can be found, using the Zip book request system. Let your local library know of the book that you wish to read. The librarian will send a Zip request, which will result in the book being purchased, and sent directly to your mailing address. (Please let the Downieville Library know when it arrives.) When you have finished reading the book, you bring it to the library, and it will be sent on to the Plumas County Library for cataloging and adding to its collection. (We’ve already done this at least once, so we know that the system works).

Book Share Review Group
A reminder: the next gathering of the Book Share & Review Group will take place at the Downieville Library on Tuesday, October 25, 1:00 PM. Come and share what you’ve been reading — or just come to listen to what others have read. Either way, you will be most welcome!

Carol’s Movie Too 9/28/16

poster227x227After a long and explosive life in munitions, involving a number of the seminal moments and phenomena of the 20th century, including the Spanish Civil War, the Atomic Bomb, and Cold War espionage, Allan Karlsson finds himself – on his 100th birthday – stuck in a tranquil Swedish nursing home. Determined to escape the monotony, he hops out a window and kicks off a hilarious and unexpected comic-adventure by way of a stolen briefcase, a roughneck biker gang, and an escaped circus elephant named Sonya. Adapted from the runaway international best-seller, THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED is a charming, globe-trotting riff on world history and the highest-grossing Swedish film

Finger on the Button 9/28/16

Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin

Whose Finger? On What Button?  – by Kevin Martin

Through a combination of denial, lack of empathy, fear-mongering, security jargon and political dysfunction, the question of what to do about nuclear weapons, which threaten all life on Earth, is one few Americans wrestle with very often. Nor do most voters consider it a top priority in their decisions at the ballot box.

In this election, however, Donald Trump’s lack of government experience, disdain for concrete policy positions and flippant manner have many questioning whether he can be trusted with this finger on the nuclear button. Trump himself has fed these concerns, as reportedly he asked, three times, during a private high-level briefing on nuclear weapons policy why a president can’t use nukes.

I don’t want Mr. Trump’s finger on the nuclear trigger. Nor do I want Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein or anyone else (including the leaders of the eight other nuclear weapons states) to have the power to unilaterally decide the fate of life on our planet by “pushing the nuclear button” (there’s no button or trigger, it’s a clumsy metaphor but works well enough to be widely understood).

Put aside momentarily the specter of rendering the planet a smoldering, radioactive sarcophagus where any few remaining humans would envy the dead, or the vanquishing of most other plant and animal species that had no say in their destruction. Even a “limited” nuclear war, employing the relatively small arsenals of India and Pakistan in a regional conflagration, could cause global famine on top of the deaths of hundreds of millions of innocent people.

How is it acceptable or legitimate for anyone to have the power to decide whether our civilization continues, or whether other species survive? We shouldn’t trust anyone with this power. Human beings are far too fallible.

Unfortunately we have ceded too much power to alleged experts. The mumbo jumbo jargon of the Dr. Strangeloves in the Pentagon, National Nuclear Security Agency, nuclear laboratories and weapons contractors – “deterrence,” “stability,” “security” and the like, obfuscates reality and intentionally disempowers the populace, though they work for us. Our taxes pay their salaries.

Take “deterrence,” a very serious sounding and widely accepted term. What it really means is “basing your country’s security on the threat to incinerate tens or hundreds of millions of women, children and men who live in another country and who never did anything to us.” Does that sound like a good way to provide for a country’s “security?” Especially when other countries have a similar “monkey see, monkey do” (with apologies to monkeys, who aren’t so foolish) posture, and thus base their “security” on the threat of incinerating the United States?

There have been far too many close calls, detailed most recently by author Eric Schlosser in a forthcoming documentary Command and Control and his 2013 book of the same title, where mistaken readings of tense political situations or technological glitches nearly led to catastrophe.

Perhaps the scariest event occurred 33 years ago this month. On September 26, 1983, Stanislov Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Forces correctly (and under what must have been immense pressure) determined a report that five U.S. nuclear missiles were heading toward the Soviet Union was a false alarm, thus staving off a Soviet “launch on warning” attack on the U.S. Appropriately, a 2014 film about Petrov is called The Man Who Saved the World.

While Petrov deserves credit for sparing humanity, we should take no comfort that this and other incidents that could have led to calamity were averted, often by luck more than anything else, especially since the U.S. and Russia still have thousands of warheads on hair-trigger alert. Compounding the problem, the U.S. plans to spend about one trillion dollars over the next 30 years on overhauling our entire nuclear weapons complex. Predictably, every other nuclear state has followed suit in announcing similar plans.

Harvard University Professor Elaine Scarry, in her 2014 book Thermonuclear Monarchy, poses a simple challenge, namely that vesting one person (in the United States, the president) with decision-making authority to launch a nuclear attack that would likely end life as we know it completely subverts our nominal democracy.

The obvious solution – let’s be democratic about this. Take the nuclear trigger away from everyone. Eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide, as the vast majority of the world’s people favor (76% worldwide, 77% in the U.S., according to a 2008 WorldPublicOpinion.org poll conducted in 21 countries). Perhaps Trump, with his unorthodox campaign, has provided an unwitting service, a wake-up call to end the illegitimate, unearned trust we give our presidents, prime ministers and potentates with respect to nuclear weapons.

Kevin Martin, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with more than 200,000 supporters nationwide.

Regret the Loss 9/28/16

Robert Koehler

Robert Koehler

Stop the Killing  – by Robert C. Koehler

Maybe half a million dead, half a country — 10 million people — displaced from their homes, jettisoned onto the mercy of the world.

Welcome to war. Welcome to Syria.

This is a conflict apparently too complex to understand. The U.S. brokered a ceasefire with Russia, then proceeded to lead a bombing strike that killed 62 Syrian troops, injured another hundred — and gave tactical aid of ISIS. Later it apologized . . . uh, sort of.

“Russia really needs to stop the cheap point scoring and the grandstanding and the stunts and focus on what matters, which is implementation of something we negotiated in good faith with them.”

These are the words of U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, as reported by Reuters, who went on to point out, with exasperation, that the U.S, was investigating the air strikes and “if we determine that we did indeed strike Syrian military personnel, that was not our intention and we of course regret the loss of life.”

And. We. Of. Course. Regret. The. Loss. Of. Life.

Oh, the afterthought! I could almost hear the “yadda, yadda” hovering in the air. Come on; this is geopolitics. We implement policy and make crucial adjustments to the state of the world by dropping bombs — but the bombing isn’t the point (except maybe to those who get hit). The point is that we’re playing complex, multidimensional chess, with, of course, peace as our ultimate goal, unlike our enemies. Peace takes bombs.

But just for a moment, I would like to step back into the middle of that quote by Samantha Power and point out that, in the wake, let us say, of 9/11, no one in the United States, speaking in any capacity, official or unofficial, would have spoken thus about the victims: with cursory regret. The fact that their deaths occurred in a complex global context didn’t somehow minimize the horror of the event.

No. Their deaths cut to the national soul. Their deaths were our deaths.

But not so with the dead of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — not so with the victims of our bombs and bullets, the victims of our strategic vision. Suddenly the dead become part of some larger, more complex picture, and thus not our business to stop. The “regret” we express is for PR purposes only; it’s part of the strategy.

So I give thanks to Jimmy Carter who, in a recent op-ed published in the New York Times, took a moment to look beyond the moral unintelligence of our militarized worldview. Speaking of the fragile Syrian “ceasefire” brokered by the United States and Russia, he wrote: “The agreement can be salvaged if all sides unite, for now, around a simple and undeniably important goal: Stop the killing.”

He presented this not as a moral imperative but a strategically smart plan:

“When talks resume in Geneva later this month, the primary focus should be stopping the killing. Discussions about the core questions of governance — when President Bashar al-Assad should step down, or what mechanisms might be used to replace him, for example — should be deferred. The new effort could temporarily freeze the existing territorial control . . .”

Let the government, the opposition, and the Kurds keep their arms, focus on stabilizing the territory they control and guarantee “unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, a particularly important demand given the strike on an aid convoy near Aleppo,” he wrote, detailing some of the long-term realities and urgent needs any legitimate peace negotiations must confront.

Compare this with the simplistic moral righteousness of bombing our way to peace. Last June, for instance, the Times reported: “More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war. . .

“The memo concludes,” the Times informs us, “‘It is time that the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict once and for all.’”

Oh yeah, that should pretty much fix everything. War is addictive, whether you wage it from a terrorist cell or from some perch in the military-industrial complex of the most powerful country on the planet.

The Center for Citizen Initiatives responded at the time: “Similar statements and promises have been made regarding Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. In all three cases, terrorism and sectarianism have multiplied, the conflicts still rage, and huge amounts of money and lives have been wasted.”

The statement, signed by 16 peace activists, also says: “We are a group of concerned U.S. citizens currently visiting Russia with the goal of increasing understanding and reducing international tension and conflict. We are appalled by this call for direct U.S. aggression against Syria, and believe it points to the urgent need for open public debate on U.S. foreign policy.”

The time is now. Foreign policy should no longer be classified, hidden, the province of an unelected government engaged in a game of global chess and high-tech terror, a.k.a., endless war.

Peace starts with three words: Stop the killing.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

Bully Vine Values 9/28/16

Manifesting the worst old norms – by Tom H. Hastings

Tom H. Hastings

Tom H. Hastings

A half-century ago I was a 17-year-old who had just been hired to do door-to-door canvassing for the Minneapolis Housing Authority to inform people in the poorest neighborhoods that they could nominate community members to serve on the board of the agency. We held trainings and exercises to develop our team and one of the supervisors, a very nice and somewhat chubby fellow, said he hoped in 10 years that the acceptance of heavy build—fatter—would apply to women as much as it did then to men.

I had certainly never thought about that but it made total sense. Overweight men were not nearly so rejected as were overweight women, and that of course would be a double standard that would evaporate as we created a new world based on equality.

Now, all these years later, we have the bizarre spectacle of Donald Trump as a viable candidate for the highest office in the land routinely expressing all the bad old values we hoped and assumed were headed for righteous extinction or at least extreme marginalization. Is this Trump’s fault that he cannot go a day without saying that Miss Universe is “Miss Piggy” because she gained weight after winning her crown, or that another woman’s face is unacceptable, or that Rosie O’Donnell is a “slob”?

No, Trump is who he is. I have personally never watched him on TV before this campaign and never patronized any of his businesses in any way. He’s in a world I have been able to ignore as crass, gauche, boring, patronizing, atavistic, juvenile, and shallow. Now it’s clear that he is deeply hypocritical, racist, and misogynist.

And now I’m faced with the sad truth that millions of my fellow Americans support these views. The levels of voter incompetence and horrific mores revealed make me question the goodness of a huge swath of my own countrypeople. Seeing his support is what is painful, not his own puerile adolescent behavior and character. That this spoiled brat born into privilege and clearly raised about as well as Uday Hussein can garner so much support from supposedly freedom-loving Americans is simply depressing. Rich boys who love to intimidate others have run the world far too long. Hillary is problematic but Trump is absolutely unacceptable.

I hope we begin some self-reflection soon in our country. The worst sexist and racist values of the 1950s are on full display and need to be soundly rejected. Trump stands for unfairness and he should be standing alone, not on the shoulders of real people who work for a living, who scuffle to make ends meet, and who know what unfairness feels like.

Leave Trump to his own devices. Let his poor values wither on his patriarchal bully vine.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Be Ready for Earth Shake 9/28/16

dropcoverholdGovernor’s Director of Emergency Services Reminds Californians to be Prepared for Earthquakes
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Following a swarm of recent small magnitude earthquakes that began on Monday near the Salton Sea in Southern California, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services reminded local emergency managers and the public to be prepared for the potential of similar or larger earthquakes over the next week.

“California is earthquake country. We must always be prepared and not let our guard down,” said Director Mark Ghilarducci. “The threat of an earthquake on the San Andreas Fault hasn’t gone away, so this is another important opportunity for us to revisit our emergency plans and learn what steps you need to take if a significant earthquake hits.”

This reminder comes just a few weeks before the Great Shakeout, a nationwide earthquake preparedness drill on October 20.

Ghilarducci asked the California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council (CEPEC) to convene on Tuesday morning to discuss and evaluate a sequence of small earthquakes that have occurred about 10 kilometers southwest of Bombay Beach, Salton Sea area. CEPEC is a committee of earthquake experts that reviews potentially credible earthquake forecasts and advises the Director using their best judgement.

The council concluded that stresses associated with this recent earthquake swarm may slightly increase the probability between 0.03 percent and 1.0 percent of an additional earthquake as large, or larger, than the September 26 magnitude 4.3 occurring over the next week.

Although this increased probability is relatively small, Ghilarducci stressed that it’s always important for officials and the public to take steps to prepare.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cal OES held a conference call with emergency managers in eight Southern California counties to discuss this recent swarm of earthquakes and ensure that local emergency plans and preparedness education remains a priority. He reminded them of the important earthquake response and recovery planning work that has been done over the years, including earthquake plans in Northern and Southern California and the Cascadia Subduction Zone–Earthquake and Tsunami Plan along the north coast.

Additional earthquake preparedness resources:

Cal OES Earthquake Program    –   Cal OES Earthquake Preparedness

Old Friends Visit 9/28/16

It was so great to see our old buddy Steve Connie Kyser today! We’ve been friends for many years since they lived in Downieville. He’s visiting from Lopez Island, Washington. It’s been a couple years ago, but he and Rick bought two police Harleys one time when we were in Santa Fe or Albuqurque, New Mexico. They rode them back to Downieville and had fun on the highway! People were moving over and slowing down when they saw them! Great fun and memories! Miss you, Connie Kyser!

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