Hope Comes to the Harn


, , ,

So this weekend we finally hosted friends from Alexandria.  Dan and I are members of a group focused on Deep Listening and, while we kind of take the summer off, we decided to do a mini-meet-up for the gang here at the Harn.  It was a wonderful chance for a few new people to experience what we’re doing here and it was great for us to get some more feedback on the place.

We spent some time cleaning up the place which included a thorough sweeping and reorganizing of the porch.  We typically do this clean once in the spring, as we begin spending time on the porch, and once mid-summer to enjoy a clean porch for the fall season.  It is so grand to have everything organized again, especially since Dan has almost finished the wall in the porch to assure no Asian Beetle infestations in the arctic entrance (like we had last year).  Sherry was the one member of the group that stayed overnight and, as the most frequent lodger in the arctic entrance, we’ve named it “Sherry’s Nest”.  It’s her favorite place to stay here at the Harn, this little 7′ x 7′ “nest” in the woods.  Next time, I think she’ll bring her puppy to enjoy it with her.  We think this was her fourth stay, so she’s edging in on Sadie, our most frequent flyer.

We also worked on making a bunch of food: Amish oatmeal, rhubarb/apple crisp, roasted beets and beans, zucchini noodles, and Einkorn bread.  In fact, I’m really glad everyone was an afternoon arrival as I had decided to also cram in canning of 4 quarts of green, yellow, & purple beans from Merry Gardens Farm that morning.  Happily I was able to get most everything done before eleven.  What a busy morning!  We did get to listen in on Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me, which was highly entertaining as usual.

Guests started arriving in early afternoon with Susan and Mike arriving first – bringing fresh bread and hard cider, quickly followed by Sherry with Surly and sugar-free soda.  Lee and Reed were delayed by a turtle rescue near Itasca Park.  Said turtle was nicked by a passing driver, breaking the back end of the shell.  hope the turtleWe quickly fixed it with, of all things, duct tape, and set the turtle into the yard to explore.  We named the turtle Hope and Hope found shelter in the shade and took a little snooze.  Hours later, as we headed out for a forest walk after a fine meal pulled together with watermelon and hummus from Lee, and we found Hope had headed off to new adventures.  We anticipate seeing the turtle again as we welcome this woods becoming a new home for Hope.

As I said, these friends are from our group that practices Deep Listening and I’d suggested that if we wanted to have a session, I thought Hope would be a good topic.  Our fearless leader, Lee, had looked for a topic and found one that seemed good, though not exactly Hope.  When she went to print out the quotes and discussion questions, the book magically opened to a study guide for Welcoming Hope!  Five of us enjoyed a lively, thoughtful, and thought provoking discussion of this topic.  Here are some of the things I gleaned from it:

  • One member suggested that the seeds of hope are planted in times of strife. As I thought on this I realized that, indeed, when one is faced with “enough” of any negative situation, it does instill action with a sense of hope that things must improve.  I think about the Black Lives Matter movement and #MeToo.  These people were like, “This is enough, it’s time to stand, no matter what.” And look at the differences that are being made – slow progress, maybe, but progress nonetheless.  [I did hear that there is potential that Michael Brown’s case may be brought up for review in Ferguson and, investigating that realized that his mother is running for City Council – yahoo!  Here’s MSNBC coverage, Wesley Bell comes in about 5:35 to speak about his reasons for running and his victory.  Another win for The People!!]
  • One shared simply that hope is an attitude that, when held, makes every day more happy, even if all that is hoped may not materialize.  It is my experience that, when I am hopeful, I am happier.  Hopes being dashed is difficult.  But I believe hope held is a most critical aspect of continuing to move forward in working for a cause.
  • I commented on my current waning hope in the fight against Line 3 but was encouraged by one sharing that hope is perhaps more importantly about intention and motivation than it is about goals and outcomes.  The hope is in the process, I do see that.  I noted that, while we lost at Standing Rock in that the DAPL was built, we made huge progress in opening the eyes of many and, just this past week, a federal judge was set to rule on whether the DAPL line would need to stop pushing crude.  It seems that since the permits were issued without a proper review of the environmental impacts, the situation warrants reconsideration.  Here’s MPR’s coverage. The ruling was expected by August 10th but has been delayed until month end.  It seems some remain skeptical based on the last comment in this article.  Watching current events as those in power continue to side with corporations and rather than citizens, who can blame them?  But my realization was that, even my current work that may result in Line 3 still being built in Minnesota, is important work and I need to get back on the horse and continue to ride forward.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.   ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.



Brosius After 5 Years



So this past week, Dan and I have been at the (reportedly) “#2 Family Camp in the U.S.A.”, Camp Brosius in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.  I don’t know about all that, but it’s a fun place where we have friends we’ve been seeing since 1993 and we hadn’t been there in 5 years.  That last visit was the summer Tom was a counselor at Camp Brosius.  Lots of good and bad stories from that last time.  And good and bad from this time too, though we’ll stick with the good.

We were proud to arrive first, ten minutes early and about 9 minutes before the next car arrived, carrying the Sirotas!!!  These are good family friends with Tom and Karina growing up in the same group of campers through the years.  We were happy to see them and it had been so many years that their youngest looked about as old as their middle child was last time we saw them!  I kept thinking I would call him by his brother’s name!  He did teach us later in the week about Zombie Dice, which was awesome.  His mom won the first two rounds but he finally beat her in round three.  We also played Exploding Kittens.

We also had fun with all our Annex Friends.  Scott and Vickie, Rick and Mary, John and Rosalba, Andrew and new friends too!  We completed three, yes, 3, 1000 piece puzzles!  And we read some good books, more on that later…  We even won the Euchre tournament!  Great prizes provided by Mary were shared by the top teams who split them making both teams happy campers!


Met new friend Kathleen and while we did not prevail in the Brosius Euchre Tourney or the Cornhole Tourny, we can say we held our own in the Cornhole arena.  And we were playing young men.  We thought we didn’t have a chance but held the lead for multiple rounds!  In the end, they took us.  But we had a nice long game tossing the bags back and forth.  Also did some macrame with the craft group.

We ate a lot of great food and swam in the lake.  We saw Elkhart Lake (the village), ate at the Mexican place in Plymouth (El Sombrero) – great food and staff, and shopped at Fleet Farm – discovered Dried Peas!!  We did it all.  Dan read more than me: On Tyranny, Hiroshima, Howard Zinn Conversations on History and Politics, and A Nation of Immigrants by Kennedy – all currently relevant.  He’d read this last one in 7th grade and it’s eerily relevant.  I read the first and half of the third books above.  I was too busy puzzling for much more reading than that.  But I was impressed with the On Tyranny so watch for a Book Review on that next week.

It was a good week of relaxing, not worrying about anything but chatting, enjoying the breeze, and eating with friends and family.  Even took a nap one afternoon.  It was lovely and we are grateful to Aunty Reetz for providing such a wonderful opportunity.

Next year, maybe we’ll get Tom there…


Activism Update: Dropping JPMorgan Chase


, ,

So I must admit that I have basically been avoiding dealing with a personal finance liability for some time.  Back years ago, Dan and I got a Chase Visa.  I can’t remember if it was part of a mailed offer, something from a bank, or what.  I just know we’d gotten it mainly as an alternative card to use for online purchases.  Then, when Tom went to college, it was easy to add a card for him to use as an emergency for purchases he might need to make.  It served us well for years.

But in recent years, with the Water Protector and Climate Change activism we’ve been involved with, we realized that we needed to end this relationship.  You see, JPMorgan Chase has been a huge financier of Enbridge.  There was a deadline pending on renewal of this financing just as the PUC decision in Minnesota was finalizing.  June 29th was the deadline for JPMorgan Chase to decide if they would continue their relationship with Enbridge.

So I sent an email to them just after the decision came through asking if they were supporting Enbridge still.  [I had Googled and found no news on this anywhere.  So I went to the source.]  We requested on 6/24:

We are anxiously awaiting the June 29 decision on whether 
JP Morgan Chase will continue to support the Enbridge Line
3 project. Minnesota sees no reason for this project and 
we are committed to discontinuing our relationship with 
Chase if they feel continued investment in Tar Sands is a 
viable option. There have already been large swaths of 
Indigenous land destroyed by the extraction process. The 
area is poison and sick. There is no need for further 
fossil fuel infrastructure investment as we need to move 
to renewables as quickly as possible to avoid pushing past
2 degrees C. The Line 3 project puts some of the last of 
the clean water on the planet at risk. And it is a 
continued violation of the rights of Minnesota’s 
Indigenous people and of all people in Minnesota where 
Enbridge has a terrible history of large spills. 
We urge you to NOT support the continued investment in 
Enbridge. Be on the right side of history and stop 
supporting Fossil Fuels NOW.

I got an immediate response that they would reply within 24 hours and then we got this:

“We’re reviewing your request and will respond within two
to three business days. Daniel, we thank you for your
patience in this matter.
We appreciate your business and thank you for being a
Chase customer. “

Two days later, we got this:

We understand this is important to you and will be happy
to review our stand with you.
Daniel, we have a long history of advancing environmental
sustainable solutions for clients and our own operations.
We firmly believe that balancing environmental and social
issues with financial considerations is fundamental to
sound risk management. We take these issues seriously
across our business. However, we are limited in what we
can say about any customer/clients for privacy reasons.
We appreciate your business and thank you for being a
Chase customer.

Three days later we got a notice of a special new improvement to our account!!  Coincidence?  Who knows?

I again requested a response noting they had not answered – and since their pending renewal of the Enbridge financing had just been in the global news, I figured this was not a private question.  Their reply?  On 7/2 we got this:

I will be glad to review your inquiry about the
Daniel, I received your message regarding your Feedback
about the Enbridge Line 3 project. We welcome your ongoing
feedback and will continue to work hard to meet your needs
in the future. Your satisfaction is important to us. I
have forwarded your message to our relevant team for
We appreciate your business and thank you for choosing

On the 14th of July we’d still heard no response.  So I reached out again asking for response.  And on 7/17, with still no response,  I sent: “Your lack of response to our simple inquiry shows that you do not have any respect for us as clients. As such, we will be terminating our relationship with JPMorgan Chase.”

They replied with instructions on how to close the account.  So I sent a letter.

To whom it may concern:

We’ve been card holders for many years with Chase. We appreciated using your card as our backup especially for internet purchases and for our son when he headed off to college.

But we can no longer abide your support of the fossil fuel industry. Enbridge is looking to build a new Tar Sands Oil Pipeline, Line 3, from Canada to Wisconsin passing through some of the most pristine waters in the world in our state of Minnesota, including the headwaters for the Mississippi River which runs through the heart of the United States all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Enbridge is disregarding the rights of the Indigenous community as they pass through wild rice beds with benzene containing products that, when leaked, will poison the air.  Enbridge wants to ignore the comments of environmentalists, three Departments in the State of Minnesota (MN Pollution Control Agency, MN Department of Natural Resources, and MN Department of Commerce), and an Administrative Law Judge who all agree that there is no Need for this pipeline.  They and the many Interveners who oppose this new Line 3 know that running a Tar Sands pipeline through wetlands is the absolute worst place to run this line as the dirty oil sinks to the bottom when it leaks from the pipeline meaning it could bring a spill bigger than any of us can imagine before Enbridge realizes, admits, and reacts to such a condition.

Enbridge can afford to do this project because JPMorgan Chase continues to finance them.

Fossil fuels are a dying industry. We can only burn so much of the known Reserves, perhaps 20%, before we create a planet that is literally unlivable. Our current planet has already proven itself unlivable for hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people.  Climate refugees abound and the problem will only be exacerbated by the continued burning of fossil fuels and the continued support of that destructive industry.  While 2100 may seem a long time off, it is within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.

As such we are canceling our credit card with Chase. When you determine that you can be a more sustainable and socially responsible company, perhaps we will consider renewing the relationship. Until then we respectfully express our disappointment in your corporate decision making.


Dan and Jami Gaither

Sometimes, the only way to get corporations to listen to you is to speak their language.  And their language is money.  They don’t pay attention to human rights, environmental devastation, fair worker compensation.  By cancelling our card, we are ending any fees to them for any purchases we make.  Granted we are a small potatoes account.  As I noted, we were trying not to use this card because we knew Chase was a bad operator.  But we’re hopeful that we’re sending a message.  We also copied our letter to Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase.

We probably should have copied Matt Arnold, Global Head of Sustainability, as Honor the Earth shared a recent video that it is his failing that Chase renewed a $625M Loan to Enbridge.  I’m thinking it would be poetic justice if Enbridge goes under before they can repay this loan.

Their main language is dollars.  And when you take away their access to credit, when you stop investing in them, it might give them pause.

Bill McKibben and 350.org figured this out long ago when they started the Divestment movement, which has had much success. As such, for years we’ve had our financial adviser assure that our investments do not include fossil fuels.  (We also ask to avoid weapon manufacturer’s, tobacco, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and more.  She works real hard for us and has made us good returns, even with our restrictions.  You can check Marg out at http://www.nuccifinancial.com.)  Anyeay, I am glad to have sent this personal letter to Chase letting them know why we are quitting them.

I encourage you to stop working with those supporting fossil fuels.

  • Divest from corporations in the fossil fuel industry.
  • Cancel accounts with banks that loan to the industry.
  • Stop using credit cards from these same banks.

Money is the only language they understand.  Talk to them through it.

  • Invest in socially responsible funds like Parnassus.
  • Use credit unions.
  • Buy with cash.


Harn Update Summer 2018


, ,

I realized that it’s been a while since I’ve given a Harn Update and I’m just too overwhelmed still to write about the PUC decision on Line 3 so this week’s blog will be on happier things.  And an uh-oh situation.

We sure have been busy this summer.  Got Mom and Tom moved from their gigantor house on the lake to a small condo on a smaller lake and they seem to be happier than clams in their new abode.  It was a long couple days getting the last minute things packed up and cleaning the entire house to prepare it for the new owners but we did it.  And Mom has been unpacking like a fiend so they are almost all settled in the new place.

A result of the downsizing was that we “inherited” a LOAD of boxes of stuff.  We were like the Beverly Hillbillies all packed up from the big move.  20180629_130634 So now we’re going through all the things and dividing them among friends.  Angie got a bunch of clothes and shoes and the toaster oven.  Jill and Randy got the wreaths, the hose attachment, and the food covers for farm meals – which we will enjoy often!  Connie has the Krumkake iron so we can make that at her place this fall.  There are still many boxes to sort.  And we have some new quilts, blankets, books, graters, fabrics for crafts, clothes, and many family heirlooms from the last couple generations.

This past week, we spent time clearing out the garage to hopefully get the car back in someday.  We also found a little uh-oh situation in the wood shed. 




Seems the top portion of the two west stacks is bowing out for some reason, so we decided we’d go ahead and prepare for winter and stack that wood in the garage wood pile rather than re-stacking it in place and THEN moving it to the garage storage in another month or so.  [We’re already seeing the cooling with lovely cool evenings, so fire time will be here before we know it.] We still have cords of wood to cut but we have enough for this winter already we’re pretty sure – that is, if we get the Rocket Mass Heater built out!

That’s another of the tasks that has gotten pushed to a back burner – we’re just so busy – or our friends are busy – so we’re hoping to find a couple weekends in August/September for the cob building workshops to get that finished.  We did dig out all the sand for the project from the tarp where it’s been sitting the last 2 and a half years since we started the major cob work.  We have about 11 buckets left and think that will get us through the most of the build.  The more mass you have on the heater, the more heat you store in the house with each burn.  So the more mass, the warmer we stay and the less we have to burn fires so the less wood we use.

The first winter I was here, 2016, I burnt through a bit more than 3 cords of wood but the stove at that point had cob only over the bottom layer of exhaust ducting and little else.  I was losing a TON of heat through the chimney!  I held as much heat as I could in blankets over the top exhaust ductwork, but that was not optimal. Last year, after getting a bit more cob in place and covering almost all the ductwork, we went through a bit over 2 cords of wood.  It was a bitter cold winter with a couple LONG spells of cold, rather than the couple 35+ below days I had in 2016.  Both winters we supplemented with electric heat to make it through the worst and assure our wood lasted the season.  This year we’re hoping to minimize the electric heat and only use the RMH for warmth.  And we hope to burn under 2 cords of wood as well.  We’ll see how the experiment continues…

As a part of our clean out the garage/bucket the sand/prep for wood move day,7-18-18 (2) I also got some of my gardens cleaned up.  What with all our volunteering and working on farms and gardens off-site, it seems that we never have time for our own gardens – which are quite unproductive anyway due to the lack of sun in our Harn clearing.  I have managed to harvest quite a bit of rhubarb and even pickled some – which turned out to be a bit too spicy for me.  I’m gonna try to tweak the recipe to something a bit less clove-y and make another batch sometime soon.  Meanwhile, I’ve been sharing the first batch with friends and finding some really like the cloveyness.  I have noted that Minnesotans use more clove than I do in pickling so the first batch will find homes!  Took a couple jars to Bruce and Budd’s and a couple to Garden Club this week.

We also picked raspberries at Merry Garden Farms and I made a few half-pints of jelly.  Well, I hoped for jelly but, though raspberries have a higher than normal pectin content, I got syrup.  Actually, I almost prefer syrup since it means less maple surple we need to purchase for our pancakes!  We made a few batches last season of the crabapple ginger cardamom that didn’t gel and it is lovely on pancakes.  Or ice cream.  YUM.

And the raspberriy canes that Char gave me for Mother’s Day are producing too!!  I was tickled to eat a few ripe berries this past week as we mowed the front garden area in preparation for the Shevlin Garden Club coming for a visit.  Connie and I are hosting the July Garden Club meeting as we live close together and we’ll be sharing our gardens with the club.  Hers are much more developed and beautiful than mine but mine are unique in their own way with their hugelkulture and other crazy methods.  For example, I plant potatoes in old tires, stacking them up as the plants grow taller in hopes of more production along the vines.  And I have a new asparagus bed to show off, thanks to Connie’s abundance.  We also pulled out the old stove drawer we salvaged from someone’s loss on the highway and put it next to the asparagus bed as I hope to plant some mints in it for next year.  That gets it out of the way in the garage.

We are needing work space in the garage to finish the build on our canning table.  Dan and I got a 3-burner propane stovetop that we’re building a base for so I can use it for canning this year.  We found an old table at the dump 7-18-18 (3)and are converting it into a canning station.  We also realized this summer that moving the toaster oven to the porch helps keep the house cool while still allowing me to bake banana bread and such – I got a whole bag of day-olds for 99 cents!  We had originally planned to build an outdoor kitchen on the east end of the house but now we’re thinking we’ll just house the outdoor kitchen on the attached screened porch.  Hopefully this will be a workable and simpler solution.  It’s kind of interesting to see how things fall into place here at the Harn… it’s not always as we plan.

Speaking of plans, while we planned to eat all the potatoes we helped harvest at Merry Gardens Farm last fall, we’re still working through them.  We ate all the ones stored in the burlap bag and I’ve gone through the ones stored in peat moss in the garbage can and pulled some with very long eyes! (PIC) These potatoes are still sturdy and delicious so we’re still eating them.  I did plant a few of these guys to see how a Harn potato crop will do this year – last year we were inundated with slugs and only got a handful of potatoes.  I see the slugs this year too but have also frequently seen the snakes out in our garden so hopefully they are helping us.

We’ve been weeding weekly at Merry Gardens Farm and bringing home delicious veggies now that things are really in production.  Cuckes, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Sungold tomatoes, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage – lots of yummy stuff that we’ve eaten and shared at potlucks.  Just this past week we finally made it to Bruce and Budd’s for a Monday Potluck and took a big pot of venison (thanks, Jeff Ness) vegetable soup that was a big hit.  FULL of meat!!  We’d made a ham roast a few days earlier and I’d wondered how I’d like the flavor.  I’ve told myself that I’d have to adjust to the flavor of venison with its gaminess. But I was amazed to find it very beef-like in flavor.  I LOVE it.  In fact, it’s even better than beef as it has a richness that brings almost a livery quality.  So yummy.

In addition to the Farm work, we’ve begun volunteering at the Farm by the Lake Garden Club, newly created by Connie Nunemaker, our wise and fearless leader.  6-26-18 FBTL GC (2).jpgShe is about the best person you could hope to have when you’re working to restore gardens to a vision held by a plant collector and gardening enthusiast.  She knows plants, knows how to transplant and split them to maximize color and avoid overcrowding.  Richard Davids donated the land for the Farm by the Lake to exist and when it was donated, it was lush with flora from all over the world. In the intervening years, there has been intermittent care of the beds and now we’re working to restore the original vision.  And weed and kill poison ivy and nightshade along the way!  So far, we’re trending well with one volunteer (Rebecca Monley) joining us at the first meeting and two (Avis Sundbom & Adam Ams) at the second. 7-12-18 FBTL GC (3) Hope to keep growing in numbers as we work.  This is not quick fix but our first project, the Peony Bed – which we’d discovered as we walked the grounds early on – has now been uncovered and de-weeded and is looking pretty good.  You can see a peony to the right of our group in the second photo, along with several to my left and one behind Connie.  There are peony seedlings everywhere!

We’ve had some fun this past month for sure – spending 4th of July and that weekend meeting more hippie friends up here in the Northwoods.  We got to meet new friends from Not Your Average Family Band at both shin-digs and spent a lovely hour in the Lake Bemidji State Park listening to them play last Sunday. I hoe to post  a video soon.

We’ve also really been enjoying the wildlife this summer.  I love the snakes and frogs best I think.  But we also enjoy watching the hummingbirds who come to our feeder.  We have two brilliant boys and a smattering of girls, though of late they are not as frequent visitors.  We hear a grouse close but haven’t seen them since finding the momma on the nest earlier this spring.  We have a robin family with a nest in the pine tree just outside the porch – convenient for them as they love to hunt in our clearing.  Happily the squirrels have moved off to their summer homes and we have not seen any chipmunks or mice, which can be destructive or invasive, near the Harn.  And no bunnies to eat our lettuce and radish!  The deer have been quite scarce this summer too though we often jump them in the winter when we go out to pee. We’ve had a couple BIG spiders, one in the house and a couple on the porch but for the most part, we and the spiders co-exist peaceably. Unlike the one raccoon I chased out of the yard a month or so back – he has not returned so my cursing appears to have worked.

We seem to always be very busy but also always have time for some porch sitting and relaxation so this life seems to be working out pretty well so far.  We talked with our financial adviser and things look good on that front too so we’re not feeling too worried.  We continue to watch spending but we also still spend more than we ought at times.  Though the longer we’re here, the less we seem to need and the more we seem to do cheaply.  I made another batch of laundry soap – the second since our move to the Harn in 2016.  It cost less than $2.25 to make a batch and it lasts for quite a while.  I also recently made a new batch of deodorant for about $2 – should last me through until winter.

We have watched a few things of late that have been fun. Had Bill and Connie over for venison stew and a movie – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – as we’re all JK Rowling fans.  We also spend a bit of time on Netflix and have seen some good movies, lots of funny comedians, and a couple good food series; we especially like Somebody Feed Phil.  The best comedians of late have been Hannah Gadsby – she will change how you see the world , Ali Wong – she is so “wong”, and Chris Rock. We occasionally watch classics from our DVD collection. If you haven’t seen Idiocracy lately, you might want to check it out as it’s a bit relevant in today’s political climate.  And we’re getting the last two films of the Hunger Games Trilogy, which became a 4-movie deal, from the Bagley Library this week.  That should be interesting to watch as well as we prepare for Revolution.  Perhaps we will learn skills for taking on the Empire.  The Rebels need all the help they can get at present and I’m hopeful we’ll take the resistance to a whole new level this fall.  Time will tell.

And so, we keep up the Pipeline fight.  We plan to continue supporting the protests against Line 3 and also to support the Valve Turners when that trial finally makes its way to the Clearwater County Courthouse.  I may yet get that bucket list item checked to Be Arrested for Activism.  Happily, some recent Duluth Water Protectors were given the right to use the Necessity Defense, giving me hope that we are seeing a turn toward common sense when it comes to saving our planet from the greed of corporations… not to mention keeping it livable for our grandchildren.  And there is a planned Youth Climate March on July 21st in Washington, D.C. that I pray is a tipping point that wakes the public to the crisis our children face as we continue destroying the planet.

The latest in my exploits was a trip to Camp Turtle Island for a Day of Resistance. What an amazing day. full of prayer, music, good food, community, and encouragement. I met some lovely people in the “Besistance” (being resistance – I love it!).  And the next day Dan and I headed to Duluth for the Honor the Earth fundraiser concert. Next week I hope to share more about that.  We also met some Water Protectors who shared their home with us.  I love the community in my life.

If you want to help in the pipeline fight, please read the recent MN350 statement on the MN PUC decision and take a pledge to help resist Enbridge’s New Line 3.   And please end all relations with JP Morgan Chase, the #1 Wall Street funder of Tar Sands oil.    You can send a message to CEO Jamie Dimon today right hereWells Fargo too needs to be abandoned (not just for tar sands pipeline support but also for their discriminatory lending practices and funding for the gun industry and private prisons).  Divestment is the only language these banks seem to comprehend.

Thanks for your support.


Habitat for Humanity – Check!


, ,

I have for years wanted to be involved in a Habitat for Humanity (H4H) project.  And finally, I have checked this item from the bucket list.

This finally happened because of my friend Sherry Bruckner’s efforts to find a good Community Service project for our U-Group (a group that meets monthly to focus on deep listening).  She determined that there were multiple projects and we selected the July 9th workday at 1909 6th Avenue in Alexandria, Minnesota.  Our project would be working on completing the garage roof.  This was the scene early in the day.


We had 5 build supervisors, gentlemen in their later years who volunteered for H4H, some for only a few years to date and some who’d been volunteering for decades.  And we had 5 UGroup members with Sherry being the youngster on the team, Dan and I middle agers and Lee and Reed being our elders.  We also had another volunteer join our team, Michael from 3M.

We started the day with a safety talk consisting of mainly of a “work safe, drink plenty of fluids, watch out for each other” kind of briefing.  Then we had a local minister provide a short “sermon”.  I was interested as he began his talk with a definition of the word Church which simply means “gathering”.

Latin ecclesia, from Greek ekklesia had an original meaning of “assembly, congregation, council”, literally “convocation”. ~ Ecclesia (Church)

So he explained that we people were a church as we were gathered together for God.  He joked about how people referring to the building as the church, and not the people, were not really correct (though if you look it up in Webster’s…)  I liked that he recognized the gift of offering our services in the help of another as that is the message of H4H that rings true to me.  But, especially as I’m not so keen on the organized religion aspect of H4H, I was offended that he took time during his talk to demean another religion (as he got into the topic of which day is the sabbath and when we should worship) but I guess I should expect that in today’s “Christianity”; largely the reason I am not a big organized religion supporter any longer.  We spent about 10-15 minutes listening to his ideas and then we broke, imbibed our first drinks of water, and then got to work.

I will say that at this point I didn’t realize how poorly organized the work day would be but perhaps that is the nature of working with a differing group of people so frequently.  And perhaps the goal of H4H is not simply building the structure but building the “church” by facilitating relationship building at the job site.  The lack of efficiency disturbed me as an engineer but as a human, especially one experiencing a very hot and humid day, I enjoyed the many opportunities for chatting that arose as we stood around (in the shade whenever possible) waiting for our next instruction or work opportunity.

We started the day putting up the trusses for the garage roof.  This was a fascinating process that I hadn’t really dealt with and I loved learning about the techniques.  We would pick up each 24’ truss and let the point drop (as gravity would naturally have it do).  Then we’d push the one end of the truss up over the top of the garage wall and walk the truss into the garage and push up the other end over the opposite wall.  The truss would dangle there, upside down, until it was ready for installation at which point Michael would use the Y-bar (a long 2×4 with a shorter piece nailed into it to create a crook) for grabbing the truss point to push it up into proper place, with its apex at the top.  As you can imagine, as we filled the space with trusses, our space available for the push up and into place diminished.  So when we got to the last of the trusses, we put up the last 4 or so without nailing them into place.  This way, we could stage the trusses against each other leaving room for the last ones to be put up and in place and flipped.  Once we had them point up and stacked, we could space them properly for nailing into place.  We measured spacing as we went to assure consistency at 24” but the trusses were so large, there was lots of wiggle room along the length.

Lee and Sherry DSCF0019put in the long truss screws that helped hold them onto the sidewalls.  This was difficult work, only made harder by the watching of multiple people.

Then we went to the roof sheathing to hold things together.  As we added the sheets of oriented strand board (OSB), we measured the trusses carefully to assure they were at 24” from the base to the top of the truss.  While this took extra time, it assured a more square building by nailing everything in as perfectly as we could.  I learned the importance of measuring and checking along the way as, at day’s end, we had a ½” difference on the east roof sheathing that would end up requiring a re-do (by a subsequent group thankfully) to bring the building into square.  What we didn’t realize was that the work on the east sheathing consisted of simply putting up sheathing without all the double-check measuring.  It made for quicker work at the time but would, in the end, require much more work to remedy.

By the end of the day, it was nice to see a roofed building.  DSCF0060We also learned a bit about building codes when we were given the job of nail checking.  Apparently, there is a requirement for a 6” on edge and 8” on center nail spacing for the sheathing.  Sherry, Lee, and I spent the last hours of the day working on adding nails where needed to assure we met code.  While it wasn’t hard work, the presence of the scaffolding made reaching much of the west wall cumbersome…  Though it was nice to be in shade!  Here’s a shot of how the garage looked at the end of our work day.

And here’s some shots of us at the end of our day.

I feel good having done this work.  I suffered for it later in the evening when I had a horrible leg cramp that Dan had to help massage out of me (and that had Mom thinking we were up to naughty business in her guest room).  But I’d gladly do it again.  And hopefully I’ll get another chance before too long.

Not feeling like such a Proud American


These days it does not feel like there is much to be proud of here in the United States. We are caging innocent children after transporting them across the country from where we ripped them from their parents arms and some see this as a “good” thing.  And, in the process, U.S. taxpayers are being charged thousands of dollars to not only fly them across the U.S. but to house them at $775/day.  And meanwhile, the administration drags their feet at remedying the situation.

When you think about the expense of child care, it’s pretty astronomical these days, though $775/day/child seems a bit much.  Many parents will tell you that child care is actually more expensive annually than college tuition these days.  And you’d think those who hate immigrants and complain about how much they drain our resources would WANT to FORCE them to care for their own children.  It makes so much more sense for the children to stay with parents economically and logistically.  Is it that there is such an extreme hatred for these people that those running the show would rather cruelly separate them from their children, regardless of the cost to taxpayers?

Arms Dealers

Some of those crossing illegally into the U.S. may not always be citizens that we most desire ~ you know, only the best of the best, as that is what we [erroneously] think we are…   But in fact, many of these people are refugees fleeing horrific lives or lives where resources are depleted, just like our forefathers.  And worse, many are fleeing situations in their home countries which are a direct result of the actions of U.S. manufacturers and politicians.  Their country’s resources were raided by U.S. corporations, or their governments were diddled with by U.S. meddling, and the weapons currently in use have in large part been provided by U.S. manufacturers who are aided by U.S. politicians, most recently for Saudi Arabia (who are accused of bombing civilians in Yemen).  We could expect refugees from Yemen… except 45DD has banned them.  How convenient!


I was recently reminded that we are not truly “America” as America is actually much bigger than just the U.S., though with our arrogance, I can see how we have taken over the title to completely mean “just us”.  (It’s actually two continents…)

In reality, we are a small part of the globe… and an increasingly smaller part of the global economy (at least the productive part) and 45DD is making that ever smaller with policies and insane rants that are, once again, pushing U.S. businesses overseas.  The interesting part is that Europe and China are retaliating in this tariff war with very specific targets like: bourbon whisky (sorry, Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky); butter, cream, yogurt, and Harley Davidson (sorry, Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin), soybeans, sorghum, and live hogs (sorry Iowa and Nebraska, 45’s rural agricultural base); oranges (sorry Florida).  They are quite strategic it seems with their targeting of 45’s base.  Perhaps some will begin to question why they are so fanatically supporting this yahoo that keeps fucking up their lives rather than improving them.

It’s not going to be good for the American farmer. ~ Brian Grossman, a market strategist at Zaner Group in Chicago who used to farm in North Dakota

Bank of America Merrill Lynch US economist Michelle Meyer warned late last month that a “major global trade confrontation would likely push the US and the rest of the world to the brink of a recession.” Here’s how the dominoes could fall: First, businesses would be hit with higher costs triggered by tariffs. Then, companies won’t be able to figure out how to get the materials they need. Eventually, confidence among executives and households would drop. Businesses would respond by drastically scaling back spending.

This is the current President of the United States – what a sad state:

45DD No organ

And his supporters love him and sing his praises.  You can watch them in this video – the above quote is at 36:36.  It’s sickening to watch as he spouts nonsense and then they applaud.  How brainwashed they all are… perhaps by Fox Noise?  The only good part of this video is 45DD claiming he has “no organ”… which might explain a lot.

So we are losing jobs, losing allies, losing rights, losing land, maybe even losing benefits (like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – to which we paid into, they are NOT entitlements) and 45DD calls it “winning”.  Likely because he and his ultra-wealthy cronies are walking away with all the treasure.  Yet, what is winning more and more with the public these days is Medicare for All.  And this is more widespread than just Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’ base, contrary to what Tammy Duckworth seems to think.  The Left needs to recognize that many in their base are ALL FOR a single payer system.

I recently had someone send me a link to a rendition of The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin which was all about how bad immigrants are to America.  This was the response that followed:

Me: There is so much in here that is not based in reality. Though it is a good performance by whoever sings it. And it does expand that notion that Mexicans are to blame for all the troubles in America when truly, the corporate fat cats are laughing all the way to the bank with every penny they steal as we fight among ourselves. This kind of thing couldn’t make them happier. You really want to win, try NOT supporting those who are making life worse for you. “Patriotism is fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone and as irrational as a headless hen.” -Ambrose Bierce

Them: I just don’t want anymore people fleeing to America..she doesn’t need more problems

Me: Lots of immigrants are actually doing good work here. There are fields rotting with food because they can’t get people to pick it. We’re going to see big increases in food prices because of this anti-immigrant nonsense. There are surely bad people who come into our country too, but by and large, these immigrants, especially from south of the border, are good, hard-working people. Think about this… Have you ever seen a latino homeless person? How about one in a nursing home? It’s because they take care of each other. In fact, they take care of us. There are MANY of them who are illegal – and use a false SS# which means that they pay taxes for OUR services – roads, schools, police. And most never file a return because it may draw attention to themselves. AND they cannot access things like food stamps and medicare without proving ID so they are often not using any social services – which is a big claim by the Right. Using common sense, these people are by and large a benefit to the US, not a drain. Our biggest problems are with the rich who keep getting more and more of the pie while the rest of us fight over scraps. It’s time for a living wage – this will help ALL working Americans. Medicare for all – so the insurance companies can go fuck themselves and we can have reasonable costs for good health care. With these two things we can come a long way toward making things better for many. Oh, and I’m all for legalizing marijuana too which would eliminate a lot of our prison population. But that too would be money out of the fat cars hands so don’t look for our prison population to go down for any reason any time soon… We do have a lot of problems in this country but the Right is trying to convince you that they are not the problem while they take your rights, your money, and your health. Think about it a while and you’ll see the only one benefiting from how we’re doing things now is China. Cause all we can afford is Walmart.

It’s frustrating to me how many poorer, less educated white folks believe in the scapegoats thrown at them.  Rich white dolts too but they will not be hurt badly by the orange one’s policies and practices.  If they are more well to do, they might even be part of the “winning” circle.

And I don’t know how to combat it.  These fear-filled ideas are pitched to them with glee and hate and anger and righteousness but the messages are mostly full of lies.  That doesn’t stop many from eating it right up and believing “the other” is the problem, refusing to think critically about the true source of their struggles and problems.

Maybe it’s time to read in full Grandpa John Obert’s book The Fear Brokers.  I started reading this a few months back and found the introduction to be quite relevant to our current political situation.  Politicians have discovered how well fear works in manipulating the general public.  After I finish Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean, I think it will be my next read.  Here are some reviews for The Fear Brokers:

This is an intelligent book about the dangers and techniques of the radical right, whose politics the authors say are filled with hatred and whose major technique is described as manipulation; of a radical superpatriotism; of religion, particularly of the evangelical variety; and of racism. ~ The Christian Science Monitor

Though it sounds initially like a political tract, this scrutiny of the Radical Right by former Senator Thomas J. McIntyre is even-handed and in some respects revealing.  Kirkus Review

The former U.S. Senator comments on the Conservative resurgence in the U.S., arguing that the New Right has exploited the fears, resentments, and grievances of the people. ~ Google Review

And we have reason to fear.  It is pretty evident that we are seeing a real push for fascism, not only here in the States, but also in Europe.  The Hitler references, historically a bit over-the-top, are truly becoming apt.  A recent article by Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times details what is happening, charging that 45’s immigrant-children-in-cages is just a test-run to see how we will react and to concurrently desensitize many to the atrocities to come.

I am, however, proud of many who have stood up in opposition to the forces that work to keep down the masses and fill the pockets of the elites.  A recent Yes! Article talks about a few of these and, as you likely missed this in History class – since we don’t talk about the work and victories of the losers –  you might want to read up on some REAL U.S. history.

We are also seeing a good turn in politicians that are winning (this link is perhaps the best in this blog), although this is sadly being somewhat balanced by the Nazis and openly pedophilic that are running.

The Bronx activist represents a new generation of bold and uncompromisingly progressive leaders, many of whom are women and people of colour who hail from grassroots social justice movements. They stand in marked contrast to an old-guard political system that has relied on corporate patronage and has failed to address the myriad social and economic maladies in the US. This, as the “all white men” of the Trump administration make decisions impacting women, and the members of racial minority groups who will constitute a majority of Americans in coming years. ~ David A. Love Opinion column (above link)

People like the ones in this YES! article, and the activists we see getting more vocal and active every day, most especially my Water Protector friends, truly give me hope for our future.  My good friend Virginia had a saying about cleaning the closet and how, “it’s a lot more chaos before it gets more organized.”  I continue to hang on to the fact that perhaps all of life is like this.  Sometimes we have to swing to an extreme to fully recognize where we have gone astray.  I am working to maintain a hope that we are going to soon turn the corner to a place of more acceptance, love, and compassion.

Book Review: Lights Out by Ted Koppel


, ,

So this past week the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted to approve the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline through a new corridor in Minnesota even though multiple departments for the State of Minnesota had reported it as unnecessary and dangerous to the state’s people and environment.  Since I was out of commission all last week, I haven’t seen all the details.  But I had a backup blog ready and thought it quite ironic that the title of this book says how I feel about the PUC decision…  I’m hopeful we can pull out a win in the end and prevent this new pipeline corridor from becoming a reality.  More on that next week.

Let me start by saying that I was never a Ted Koppel fan.  I actually was a dissenter.  I just didn’t like him.  I can’t tell you exactly why, but it’s probably a bit of a lot of things.  I know at one point, he reported on something that I felt he showed bias and I was like, “I’m done with that guy.”  So I was not super keen to read his book, Lights Out.  But his topic was REALLY interesting.  Plus Dan read it and kept telling me, “You need to read this.”  So I did.  I read the first half about 6 months ago and then we loaned the book to a friend.  We got it back recently and I decided to finish it last week.  And I am glad I did.

Part I of Lights Out is mainly a review of how vulnerable our electric grid is and how easy it might be attacked and put out of business.  This is a scary but interesting review of how power stations are connected to government agencies and is mainly a condemnation of how poorly the whole thing is organized.  There are many holes, most notably in what, if anything could be done in the event of an attack.

Ted reviews one coordinated attack of PG&E’s Metcalf substation near San Jose, California on April 16, 2013 that took twenty-seven days to repair and bring the substation back online.  While this didn’t take the grid offline, even regionally, a better or more coordinated attack could prove much more damaging.  A subsequent analysis of the event by Jon Wellinghoff, at that time chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), revealed a highly competent operation that he describes as “a targeting package just like the [Navy SEALs] would put together for an attack”.

Wellinghoff cited an analysis by FERC concluding that if nine of the country’s most critical substations were knocked out at the same time, it could cause a blackout encompassing most of the United States.  ~ Lights Out, Ted Koppel p.19

Ted references William Forstchen’s novel, One Second After, which depicts an EMP attack by the Iranians and the North Koreans that knocks out the electric power across much of the country.  The novel describes how a community might struggle to survive in this aftermath.  While this is a fictional account, Lights Out notes that it aligns with a congressional commission report identifying the effects of an EMP attack on civilian infrastructure.  Their conclusion?  That “only one in ten of us would survive a year into a nationwide blackout”.

His review of the electrical industry and the federal regulations and organizations that govern them details those responsible for national security and emergency response.  What he finds is an unprepared system, perhaps worse, one unwilling or unable to do what is needed to become prepared, if such a thing is even possible.

“Homeland Security proposes that families settle on a predeteremined meeting place and that they equip themselves with sufficient food, water, appropriate clothing, money, and medicine to survive seventy-two hours – and yes, of course, the radio, a flashlight, and adequate batteries for both.”  Lights Out, p. 207

The electric power industry in the U.S. is highly complex and, because it is governed on one level federally but on another level by state, there is no cohesive set of controls or systems with which to assure competence for security or uninterrupted supply.  And because it is complex and unconnected, there are many points at which it is vulnerable.

While Lights Out reviews some of the efforts in place to alleviate the problems, the odds are stacked against us in any of the many possible scenarios that might affect our power grid.  Ted argues that our most likely issues will come from a cyberattack.  But concerns about proprietary information and privacy prevent much advancement in fighting against such an attack.  The Internet was designed to be a free and open market and it seems there is no way of securing that which was never designed to be secure.  And it seems that both the U.S. and its enemies are working diligently to infiltrate power systems and likely plant attacks in such systems that can be deployed on command.  It may well be, similar to our nuclear cold war, that it is only this threat of mutual destruction that prevents either side from acting.

However, with an Internet attack, it may not be an organized government with hierarchical structures that finds a way to sabotage.  And for a mad hacker, there may be little incentive to NOT pull the trigger.  If the only goal is terrorism, and the attack can be untraceable such that it prevents retaliation, there is only one option… Do it.  [I must interject here, that with recent news coverage being as plugged into The Orange One’s diatribes as it is and the resulting endless repetitive chatter, I’d almost welcome a TV blackout.]

One event that highlights our vulnerabilities is Ted’s mention on page 83 of the Sony debacle with their film release for The Interview.  Hackers not only rendered their corporate computer system inoperable (for months), they released some first-run films to the Internet along with information on compensation and medical records for executives and actors.  In effect, the hackers were able to prevent the release of this film with the threat that there would be more to come, even potentially a 9/11-type attack.  While Sony was condemned for bowing to the demands, it is unclear what the possible outcome may have been had they decided to tempt fate with the original version of the film.  Though even more interesting may be the subsequent North Korean loss of Internet access days after President Obama’s “pledging that the United States would, at a time of its choosing, ‘respond proportionately’ against North Korea”.  Perhaps the U.S. counter-attacked?  Perhaps Anonymous intervened?  With the Internet, we will likely never know for sure.  One thing we know for sure, this event highlighted the vulnerable nature of our world and the complexity of the many socio-political factors involved.

“We have come to know how nuclear weapons can destroy societies and human civilization.  We have not yet begun to understand how cyber warfare might destroy our way of life.” ~ Kennette Benedict, Executive Director, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (as referenced in Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter)

Once we more fully comprehend the risks and dangers of a large scale electrical grid failure, Part II in Lights Out proceeds to explain how thoroughly unprepared we are to deal with it.  From the Department of Energy (DOE), to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Defense (DOD) – NO ONE HAS A PLAN!  Perhaps most damning is his discussion with Jeh Johnson, then DHS Secretary, and his Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection Caitlin Durkovich on pages 96-98 & 108-112.  While there were some more encouraging interviews with, for example, Craig Fugate, Administrator of FEMA, even then, there was little to instill faith that we could navigate this “uncharted territory”:

“Where normalcy [wouldn’t] get established quickly, [we would be] trying to hang on and keep as many people [as possible] from dying until the system comes back.” Craig Fugate, Lights Out p. 118

Even if we had some plans, the resources to provide are insufficient. As Fugate notes, “Basically, people have to drink water, they have to eat, that waste has to go somewhere, they need medical care, they need a safe environment.  There has to be order of law there.”

  • When it comes to power, even if a city can maintain generators to pump, treat, and distribute water, most homeowners would not have the power needed to pull more than about 40 gallons of fresh water (when most pressure tanks would be depleted) or even flush a toilet more than once.  And if the event occurs in winter?  Maybe the only blessing will be that freezing to death appears to be one of the most pleasant ways to die.
  • As he notes on page 125, “There is a limit to how much fresh food is available for processing at any given time.”  In order to prepare enough MREs or freeze-dried/dehydrated foods to sustain a large population, we would need years of time in advance preparation, something in which no one in government is currently motivated to invest.
  • First responders, in a large-scale emergency, especially one deemed to be a long-term situation, are going to logically be more concerned with their own family’s survival than their jobs.  This leaves not only hospitals and clinics short-staffed but also police and fire forces without the needed people to deal with the catastrophe, not to mention the looting.

“There have been, as of this writing, only four secretaries of homeland security.  Each of them has conceded the likelihood of a castastrophic cyberattack affecting the power grid; none has developed a plan designed to deal with the aftermath.”  Lights Out, p. 104

What’s the bright side?  Part III covers “Surviving the Aftermath”.  It is a more hopeful section of the book, if only to know that some people are preparing in a way that may lead to their survival.  But for most Americans, it is salt in the wound of our gaping unpreparedness.

Ted begins by discussing the Bug Outgrowing number of “Preppers”.  But he notes that many are off-track, focusing on buying ‘bug-out kits’ and not truly being prepared for a world without electricity or fossil fuels.  For instance, he presented the contents of one “Two Person Beginner’s Bug-Out Kit… noting the absence of a simple flashlight.

From what I read, much of the Prepper Retail Industry is geared for FEAR and PROFIT.  They instill fear so you will make them profits.  And I am certain there are many people who have spent hundreds, if not thousands or even hundreds of thousands, of dollars “preparing” who have no idea where they are going or what they’re doing should they find themselves facing an “abrupt departure into the unknown”, as one Prepper paraphernalia retailer puts it.  I personally believe it’s not the physical so much that will get us, it’s the emotional, and I’m not seeing a single kit stocked with a year’s worth of Valium or Prozac to get you through that transition.

But Ted does focus on this aspect by continually asking each person how he or she would respond to someone who hadn’t prepared, someone who needed help.  The answers varied but typically end with something along the lines of “your failure to prepare for crisis does not mean I have any obligation to help you now.”  But one interviewee definitely mentions the fact that, at some point, if there is no recovery plan rolled out, anarchy may well result in someone showing up to “kill you for your food.”

While some are preparing to be self-sufficient, to whatever degree possible, others are preparing as a community. The best prepared individuals have housing with wind turbine or solar power capability, water availability and wood heat along with replenishable (hunting/fishing/growing/foraging) food stores. [And, I’d add, privies that function without electricity and water.]  But many have minimal plans that don’t address likely crisis scenarios.

The example community of Preppers Ted discusses at length are the Mormons.  Whatever you think of the Mormans, you have to respect their preparedness and ability to deal with crisis. When Katrina hit, they had evacuated New Orleans of all but seven of their ~2500 congregants before the storm even arrived.  And, the LDS church was in place with tents, tarps, water and gas for those in most need before FEMA even had a plan.  In its constant state of preparedness, the church readily addresses the needs of any member down on their luck or community in need, thus rotating the stocks of their stores over time. And not only do they store the food, they produce it with “fifty-two farms, ranches, and orchards; twelve canneries and processing plants.” THIS is prepared.  But they too struggle with the question of what to do when others in need come calling.

Ted notes the over two thousand Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) affiliated with FEMA throughout the country but also that they don’t have much presence in America’s cities with only one CERT in the nation’s capital.

As a side project, I went to the CERTFEMA1 website to find the group closest to me and got nowhere.  First, there is a screen cautioning me to go back… that also notes the “security certificate expired 307 days ago…

When I persist, I get this lovely message:






So… good luck with the CERT program.

Instead, Ted recommends neighborliness.  Two main steps include determining the needs of the most vulnerable and knowing the skills and assets of those willing to share either or both in your community.  He mentions that local law enforcement, fire fighters, and local medical teams are good sources for help, though for some these days, local law enforcement have ruined their reputation for serving the public with their over-militarization and confrontational behaviors.

There are those who comprehend the scope of the issue, including Keith Alexander, retired director of the NSA who now owns a cybersecurity business in D.C. [Some questioned why his great ideas weren’t implemented while he worked for the government and accuse him of subsequently capitalizing on government needs after becoming intimate with the concerns.]  However, many of the ideas for protection are thwarted by concerns about privacy and information sharing between industry, government, and private citizens.  As Snowden made clear, our privacy is largely an illusion.

Unfortunately, when disaster does strike, it may largely be left to the military as the only organization with the required equipment and manpower. And while some are working to equip bases with their own power systems (which was standard practice thirty years ago), it may not be possible to implement these changes before disaster strikes.  And the task of reacting will be made more difficult as the general public has little idea of what to do.  I’m starting to think that a 10% survival rate may be a high estimate.

It would be the ultimate irony if the most connected, the most media-saturated population in history failed to disseminate the most elementary survival plan until the power was out and it no longer had the capacity to do so. ~ Lights Out, p. 222

And should we lose power, many would not know if it was a simple system anomaly we sometimes encounter, like a car accident taking out a transformer or a tree taking down a power line, or an act of cyberterrorism… an act of war.  And should it be the latter, we may never know the source of the attack.  And should it happen, we’d likely never know the number of affected people.

Many of the interviewees seemed to have a common idea: there have been many disasters for which we were not prepared… Katrina, Sandy, Snowmagedden… and we made it through them.  But we didn’t ALL make it through, did we?  How many thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, heck, even Snowmagedden, did we not count?  My guess is that we lost hundreds, if not thousands, of people for whom we have no record. The Homeless are the “invisible” people we rarely consider.  Maybe when we are all refugees of a power grid crisis, homeless people will finally be a part of the accounting, if only because so many will essentially be “homeless”.

And the questions are much bigger.  How are federal and state resources managed and utilized?  How are military and national guard personnel mustered without communication systems?  How long will it take to determine plans and will that be fast enough to protect resources like fuel stations, groceries, and water utilities?  There is much to consider and, I fear, we will never honestly and openly discuss the factors, let alone find ourselves prepared.

Ted closes with a description of WWII England where preparations, even with resources that seemed “woefully inadequate”, in the end gave a sense of purpose and feeling of confidence that in some ways saved the day.  Men armed with long-handled brooms and garbage can lids would patrol the streets.  While these are seemingly innocuous tools, they did allow an incendiary device to be swept from the roof of a building and smothered with the lid.  The discipline instilled in the civilian population helped everyone at least feel like they were doing something helpful.  And, in a case of a crisis, this feeling can go a long way in helping people not lose hope.

MN PUC Hearings June 18-19, 2018


, ,

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is in the final hearing days prior to coming to a decision on whether there is a Need for Enbridge’s proposed new Line 3 pipeline to transport Tar Sands oil from Canada through Minnesota.  This report is on the first two days’ of hearings (of a possible six days… originally scheduled for four).  Unfortunately, I will be unable to watch the hearings live next week so will be catching up as I can, hopefully before the final decision is made.

How to summarize all this information?  As I watched the hearings, I captured over 5000 words on Opening Statements alone!  But I will try to make this report as brief as possible while still covering highlights. A good but even more brief summary was published by the Bemidji Pioneer.

Enbridge starting the day by offering three new incentives during their opening statement, though without details, it’s unclear whether these will be viable, credible, and/or useful.  What did they offer?

Enbridge said it would buy renewable energy credits to offset energy use after a new Line 3 is in service. In addition, Enbridge offered to work with those concerned about the old Line 3 to set up a trust fund to decommission all old pipelines in Minnesota.  Finally, Enbridge would put a guarantee in place by its parent company, Enbridge Inc., to ensure there would be cleanup money available in the event of a spill.  ~MPR News coverage

It remains to be seen whether these offers will make a difference.  Enbridge was scheduled to release a detailed document on these offerings but it has yet to show in the record.  It seems it may release today meaning a very small window for their opposition to review it, likely causing further legal delays.  [There was another surprise document put in the record last week, a letter from Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which will be discussed in this weeks’ hearings.  It seems rules are being violated left and right in this process.]  It has been argued that, with fossil fuels companies hanging on in a dying industry, the parent company guarantee would be meaningless if Enbridge, Inc. goes bankrupt.  Their work on decommissioning could take years, if not decades, and would require additional permit approvals.  And buying offset credits is hardly going to make a difference to Minnesotans when their pipeline leaks into our environment.  Nor to our grandchildren who will inherit an unlivable planet due to climate change brought on by our continued addiction to hydrocarbons.

It was made clear that Enbridge wants things both ways.  They want the PUC to believe that the current Line 3 is so unsafe that a full replacement is the only way to return to safe operations while simultaneously maintaining that they can safely operate the existing Line 3 for another 15 or twenty years if needed.

That said, opposition parties spoke to the willingness to live with an existing Line 3, even with its failings, rather than adding a new corridor for a completely new Line 3 because the existing Line 3 is almost out of time.  While a new line will run for another 20-40 years or more, the existing Line 3 will certainly shut down within 15 years (the term to which Enbridge did studies on the integrity dig information), 10 years (when Leech Lake easements expire in 2029 and they tell Enbridge to remove the pipe from their land immediately), or even 5 years or shorter if Enbridge or the DNR realize safe operation of the line is no longer possible and the company shuts the line down or the DNR revokes Enbridge’s license for operating.

I was surprised that Kevin Prentis for the Laborers made no mention of the removal of Line 3 and the jobs that would supply to his constituents. He did make sure to comment on the new corridor noting: Spreading risk around is more fair and environmentally just than putting it all in the same corridor!  (SMH)

Bill Grant, Deputy Director of the Department of Commerce, made their stance very clear – they see no reason to grant a CoN.  He noted that Enbridge is asking for 340 miles of northern Minnesota to be released to a private company via eminent domain.  As such, it is their burden to prove need for this line is needed with data and statistics that defy scrutiny, not just their word and claims from their supporters.

The following is from the ALJ report and summarizes the demand data failings.  Mr. Earnest testified on behalf of Enbridge and Dr. Fagan on behalf of the Department of Commerce.

Demand for Refined Product

  1. Dr. Fagan’s second criticism of Mr. Earnest’s analysis is that Mr. Earnest ignores demand for refined product and assumes that consumer demand will remain unchanged for the entire forecast period (until 2035).
  1. Mr. Earnest does not deny that his analysis completely ignores refined product demand. He confirms:
    • Dr. Fagan is correct that the demand for refined product does not play a role in the analytical modeling for assessing utilization of the Enbridge Mainline. This is fundamentally because the Enbridge Mainline transports crude oil, not refined product, and it is the demand for crude oil that will drive the utilization of the Enbridge Mainline, not refined product.
  1. Mr. Earnest explains that, because he sees “no direct connection between Minnesota (and Midwestern and U.S.) crude oil runs and refined product demand,” he found “little utility in providing a refined product demand forecast.”
  1. Dr. Fagan disagrees. According to Dr. Fagan, under the economies of oil markets, demand for refined products drives refineries’ demand for crude oil.  Dr. Fagan explained that, with very few exceptions, no one consumes crude oil except a refinery; and a refinery does not consume crude oil unless refined products are expected to be sold profitably. It follows that demand for refined products drives demand for crude oil, and is, therefore, is a driver of the price of crude oil. This means that weak demand for refined products can lead to lower prices for refined products; lower prices of refined products can lead to lower refinery margins (lower profitability), which impacts the viability of some refineries, which, in turn, can lead to lower refinery demand for crude oil. Thus, by focusing only on crude oil supply (as reported by Canadian oil producers) and totally ignoring refined product demand (local and global demand), Dr. Fagan concludes that Mr. Earnest’s analysis is materially flawed.
  1. The ALJ agrees. It is commonsense that reduced demand for refined products would impact the price, supply, and profitability of crude oil. By ignoring the demand for refined products — and focusing only on the supply of Canadian crude — Mr. Earnest’s analysis ignores an important factor in forecasting the need for additional transportation of crude.

When it comes to apportionment (not receiving all oil nominated as being needed) causing problems for MN Refiners, the ALJ reported: 1) “Applicant has presented no evidence that Minnesota refiners are being harmed by apportionment or that these refiners are not receiving the oil supplies they need.” and 2) “Minnesota refiners’ comments simply state that reduction of apportionment will improve their ability to access crude oil supplies and will benefit them. They did not present any evidence of harm.”

The ALJ also noted on Reliability that Enbridge has assured us “it can continue to operate Existing Line 3 in a safe and reliable manner”, while also noting that a new line is more reliable than an old line.  However, in line 731 of her report: “Because much can change by 2035, it is important to consider what will happen to the new Line 3 if global demand for oil significantly decreases as some parties’ experts have projected; and the cost of oil is too low to make Canadian tar sands oil extraction and export profitable. The Commission should give serious consideration to the possibility that if oil prices continue to decline and Canadian oil is no longer profitable or in sufficient demand, Minnesota could be left with abandoned infrastructure”.

In her conclusions I love this line:

890. The ALJ further finds that the impacts on Minnesota’s natural resources could be mitigated by: (1) a route alternative that utilizes the existing Mainline corridor where impacts have already occurred and the risk of contamination can be contained to one, existing corridor; (2) a permit that does not allow for abandonment of roughly 300 miles of steel pipe; and (3) a route that does not open a new pipeline corridor through some of Minnesota’s most precious water and natural resources – a new corridor that could be used to locate or relocate other pipelines before or after 2029, when Enbridge’s Mainline easements expire.

Mr. Grant later made it very clear that Enbridge, rather than making a business decision to discontinue the pipeline on its own, is putting decision on the PUC – not an appropriate ask of the State of MN.  This decision belongs with company executives in Calgary and having it pushed off on the PUC has seemed inappropriate to the Department of Commerce all along.  He further says that: A lot has changed since the Alberta Clipper case and PUC issuance of an order in 2014.  We were seeing a lot of refinery capacity expansion then, but not now. The late 2015 US policy change to allow global exports was a game changer causing DOC to think differently on demand for oil as a function of Minnesota’s need and looking at how to answer CN requests from companies for MN to support the process.  (When it comes to the apportionment issue…) One state agency cannot do a full Environmental Impact Statement AND determine demand forecasts as well. This is a failing of DOC and the record and they own this.  Even with the deficiency noted by the ALJ, none of this changes the fact that Dr. Fagan provided with, what ALJ agrees, are material flaws in the Embridge analysis – whose burden it is – to prove demand.  Since Enbridge bears the burden of proof, the DOC cleared the threshold to Deny the CN.   Perhaps an independent forecast would have proved the demand fallacy but it is not there.  Perhaps tellingly, Lange replied, “Not sure enough doubt has been cast.”   She then noted that the ALJ asked why the DOC didn’t reach out to the refineries.  This was refuted by Julia Anderson, counsel for the DOC, who noted that it was Enbridge, not the ALJ, who asked this question.  In responding, she noted the first letter of response from Flint Hills Refinery was addressed to the DOC.  Flint Hills, not being a party or subject to discovery for this case, along with the additional and concurrent case load she bore, led to a lack of resources to dig deeper proactively.  However, Flint Hills filed three letters.  And in none of them did it state that they had been harmed by apportionment.

I was disappointed that no one brought up that the fossil fuel companies are looking to sell as much as fast as they can before someone realizes we only have a couple GigaTons of CO2 to go and we’ll have to stop selling it completely if we are serious about the 2°C idea.  Bill McKibben did the math back in 2012.  At that time, we could burn only another 565 gigatons of CO2 and remain under 2°C.  At that time, we had 2795 gigatons in proven reserves – five times the amount we have space left to burn!  His more recent article (2016) showed a continuing concern with the math of climate change.  Based on Rystad data (frequently referenced in this PUC hearing), and the new goal of 1.5°C set by world leaders in Paris in 2015, we can only burn another 353 gigatons of CO2.  Yet we have 942 gigatons worth of CO2 in the currently operating coal mines & oil and gas wells.  So we’re gonna overshoot if we use up all we have found, let alone if we continue pursuit of more fossil fuel sources.

Winona LaDuke gave a challenging, common sense based opening statement for Honor The Earth noting:

  • She represents the Home Team – her people have an 8000 year history in this land.
  • The Canadian economy is frontier economy, a flawed economy.
  • Half the world does not have water – we still do.
  • Good corporate citizens do NOT make messes. The PUC needs to tell Enbridge to clean up their old mess before making a new one. $2B to clean up OLD mess is JOBS.  Green Jobs for the future of MN, not a Canadian pipeline company.
  • Six pipelines is enough.
  • 12 cities suing on climate change.  Major corporations being sued. $6.15B in divestment. No one wants a Tar Sands pipeline.
  • 68,244 people submitted comments against Line 3 to the PUC.  There were only 3,756 supporters. [Love seeing Dawn and Maurice in this below post.]

PUC Testifiers

While several Commissioners stated that they did not know yet where they would land on the question of Need, it seemed to be that they often used the language of Enbridge, not the language of the opposition.  They would state assumptions about rail being more unsafe than pipeline, even after just hearing input that rail, while experiencing more spills per barrel than pipeline also allowed for more easy cleanup of much smaller and known releases. In fact, rail was finding renewed support in the industry as a cheaper alternative to pipelines as they can transport crude without the added dilbit (chemical soup that allows the sludge to flow), meaning more crude can be shipped on rail per barrel than in a pipeline.  Some companies are actually rolling the crude into solid balls that can ship in open containers and, even that shipped in closed containers, should there be a leak, would not actually release from the car as it is solid, especially in the cold temps we often see in Minnesota!  Yet the Commissioner’s statements continued to reference Enbridge’s assumptions for rail safety, crude oil demand (based solely on supply), and what Enbridge says is in the best interest of society as a whole.

I am hoping that the tide is turning for the fossil fuel industry. People are recognizing that we need to move to renewables and that in their end game, we need to hold the fossil fuel companies responsible for their infrastructure.  California recently denied a new gas pipeline calling it “unnecessary” and forcing the company to conduct expensive safety testing on the existing pipeline rather than replacing it.  This will also save customers from having to pay a monthly increase to support this new build.  In addition, US News & World Report is urging a stop for financing for the Line 3 project, calling it a “potential disaster”.  The article reports on a recent commitment by Crédit Agricole which pledges to take into account climate change and vows to exclude hydrocarbons that pose the biggest threat to the environment, specifically mentioning oil sands, and notes: “Wall Street darling JPMorgan Chase and French behemoth Crédit Agricole are set to renew a $625 million line of credit for Enbridge Energy Partners, the subsidiary building the U.S. portion of Line 3, on June 29th. …  Banks can’t claim to want to avoid financing Line 3 while they continue to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the company building it.”

Meanwhile, the PUC Hearing process has received much criticism on its recent hearing procedures.  Did you know participants are barred from bringing in water bottles even though the hearings are an all day affair?  Even a woman with medical condition that requires access to water was denied this basic human need.  Meanwhile the Commissioners sip their lattes… But even worse are the ways their ticketing process was being abused.

“Once the doors finally opened on Tuesday, a couple of dozen teenagers (or very young adults) wearing “Minnesotans for Line 3” T-shirts got their tickets and promptly exited the building as a group, never to return to the meeting. They effectively ate their tickets so that no authentic members of the public could take those spots. …

Some who had spoken with the kids in line — trying to strike up a conversation about Line 3 — learned that they didn’t know what Line 3 is, or were “not allowed” to talk or were there because it had “paid really well.”


Despite the PUC’s knowing that this had happened, and despite numerous complaints about 26 empty seats in the main room that could have been filled by the overflow audience, staff members were rigid about the ticketing policy. ~ Star Tribune article linked above

The charge is that the PUC could have found a larger venue, in light of the packed hearing rooms throughout the last year of this Line 3 process.  I have charged many times that the PUC does not appear to be truly interested in hearing the public input as I have faced many difficulties and obstructions in finding data throughout my investigations.  It would seem that, if they truly represent Minnesotans, there should be as many of us in the room as we would like to encourage civil participation.  Their actions in this last step of the process do not convey an attitude of encouraging public involvement.

Perhaps their final decision will redeem them.

Book Review: “What Every Person Should Know About WAR” by Chris Hedges


, , , ,

While this book is dated, being published in 2003, it remains relevant in the clarity it brings to the facts of war.  Most striking in Chris Hedges‘ introduction are a paragraph about the book content and a closing about how hard it might be to read.  I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to join the U.S. Military or National Guard.



I think the review by Goodreads was quite accurate:

Utterly lacking in rhetoric or dogma, this manual relies instead on bare fact, frank description, and a spare question-and-answer format. Hedges allows U.S. military documentation of the brutalizing physical and psychological consequences of combat to speak for itself. …
This profound and devastating portrayal of the horrors to which we subject our armed forces stands as a ringing indictment of the glorification of war and the concealment of its barbarity.

Some of the things I learned (again, based on this 2003 edition):

  • From 1940-1996 (war & peace cycles, arms race of the cold war), America spent $16.23 Trillion on military ($5.82T on nukes), versus $1.7T on health care and $1.24T on international affairs. [So… if we’d spent all the money we spent on military/war instead on programs for our citizens, this could have become a pretty nice place to live.  Reminds me of Vonnegut, aptly enough as we discuss war, who noted, “The good Earth — we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.”]
  • The U.S. is the world’s largest arms manufacturer, supplying almost half of all arms sold in the world market.  [This might be why they hate us…]
  • One is more likely to abuse your spouse if in the military.  The Pentagon has disclosed that an average of one child or spouse dies each week at the hands of a relative in the military.  [Wonder what the current statistics show…]
  • Artillery shells can kill you by heat, blast effect, or shrapnel, which sprays ~200′ in all directions and can strike at twice the velocity of an AK-47 round (1,798 meters/sec or almost 6000 feet/second).
  • Explosions create pressure waves moving at 6000 miles/hour.  In enclosed spaces, even a hand grenade can cause serious internal injury.
  • Pressure can rupture air sacs in your lungs meaning, even if you think you are fine, you have have respiratory stress up to 48 hours later that can be fatal. Your organs can rupture even if your skin is not broken.
  • Land mines of 30-grams will blow off your foot or damage it so it will require amputation.  A 150-gram land mine will shred your legs to midthigh.
  • Fragmentation mines are often interconnected in a series of three to six mines and have explosion velocity of about 1000 meters/second (3280 feet/second).
  • Hand grenades can be lethal to a radius of 150 feet, explosing a thousand fragments at 2000 meters/second.
  • If you are hit by an explosive that does not detonate, and the surgeon thinks you can survive and the round will not detonate, it will be removed.  [Else, you just sit there until you die?  They shoot you in the head?  This left me guessing…]
  • Incendiary devices are quite awful.  Magnesium and thermite burns are small but deep.  Phosphorus can burn for hours and has toxic effects on liver, kidneys, and heart. Napalm burns more of the body and often suffocates its victims as it burns for a long time creating toxic vapors.
  • Dumdum bullets were so devastating that they were outlawed in 1899 at the Hague Conference.  New M16A2 bullets are even more damaging.
  • Exit wound from a 5.56 mm (0.22″) dumdum bullet can leave an exit wound of 4″ diameter.
  • Guns are the most effective weapon as they most likely take a soldier from the battlefield.  1/3 of hit soldiers die, 1/3 are removed from battlefield (many permanently discharged) and 1/3 return to battle quickly.
  • There are many Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) from nuclear to biological to chemical (often referred to as NBC).
  • Nukes can kill you in many ways from the blast, to thermal radiation, to initial and residual nuclear radiation, to electrical power surge.  Typically you will die within 2 weeks from nuclear exposure.
  • The only nation to ever use a nuclear bomb was the U.S.  In fact, we detonated TWO bombs in short order on Hiroshima (4/6/45) and Nagasaki (4/9/45) killing 64,000 and 39,000, respectively.
  • Botulinum nerve toxin is the most toxic substance known to science, though sarin nerve gas can kill within minutes (asphyxiation, sweating, drooling, vomiting, dimming of vision, heart failure, epileptic seizures).
  • When you kill someone, you likely go through several emotional reactions, generally sequential but not universal: freeze up (unable to pull trigger), kill with possible exhilaration due to adrenaline (which can create a “killing addiction”), followed by remorse/revulsion, and finally rationalization and acceptance.  If you cannot rationalize your killing it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • About 2% of the population are considered “natural killers” (3-4% of men and 1% of women) and these typically account for up to 50% of the killing done by a military unit.
  • It is harder to kill when you are afraid because, when afraid or angry, you think not with the forebrain but with the midbrain, which harbors a deep instinct against killing one’s own kind.
    • “The military combats this with repeated training.  You will be rewarded for being able to overcome this instinct. It is the same principle used to train dogs.” ~ p. 77
  • Most military personnel are NOT decorated for bravery.  Only 1.8 M decorations were awarded in WWII for a force as large as 8.3 M in May 1945.
  • If an officer gives a command that you believe is illegal, you must refuse to execute it.  However, refusing to follow a lawful order in combat, even if you believe it will get you killed, can result in a court-martial, or military trial.  [Court-martial is a jury of 12 officers, not your peers, while a special court-martial is just in front of a judge.  This contribution is from Dan.]
  • Troops kill officers in every war, usually for recklessness or incompetence.  This is referred to as “fragging” since Vietnam where at least 600 officers were murdered by their own troops.  An additional 1400 officer deaths could not be explained suggesting that 20-25% of all officers in Vietnam were killed by enlisted men.  [Makes one wonder why the government is so loathe to take care of military folks once they return.  We have trained them to kill efficiently and effectively…]
  • 77% of all combat vehicles lost int he Gulf War were destroyed by friendly fire, or weapon fire coming from one’s own forces.
  • Combat stress, a negative reaction to combat, occurs in 15-30% of soldiers during and immediately after combat.  This condition may result in negative behaviors such as raping, torturing, or killing noncombatants (civilians, chaplains, or medical personnel) or prisoners.  Alternatively, you may resort to drug or alcohol abuse, refuse to fight, or injure yourself.
  • A combat high is when a large amount of adrenaline is released into your system and is equated with getting an injection of morphine – “you float around, joking, having a great time, totally oblivious to the dangers around you”, an intense experience… “if you live to tell about it.”
  • Chapter 7 covers capture, torture and rape, though I was concerned that all the rape figures given were of women: In Kosovo, approximately 20,000 women were raped between 1992 and 1994. In Rwanda, between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 genocide.”  [What about the men that were raped???]  Also interesting to note that, while rape is a war crime, the UN notes: “Rape remains the least condemned war crime.”  It was only declared a crime against humanity in 1993…
  • It was noted that in peacetime, US military personnel are less likely to commit rape than male civilians of the same age.  [Not sure I believe that, except that perhaps it is a result of being segregated by sex in the service.  Again, why is rape assumed to be only against women?  A 2014 RAND study found that women in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps were 1.7 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in the Air Force (as reported here) and reported this:

    An estimated 20,300 active-component members were sexually assaulted in the past year, out of approximately 1.3 million active-component service members

    • This includes approximately 1.0 percent of men and 4.9 percent of women.]
  • The last words of most dying soldiers are calls for a mother (wife or girlfriend).  [See women?  They do need us! 😀 ]
  • There is a possibility that your body will not be recovered (if you die over water or geographic, climactic, or political conditions prevent it).  Or if the enemy steals it.  And, if they do, they will likely take anything of value from your body, including possibly an ear or finger, even though mutilating the dead is a violation of the general laws of warfare. [Is it funny to anyone else that there are “general laws of warfare”?  I mean, how can we have some level of civility on something that is brutally focused on killing in the name of righteousness?]
  • The process of notifying the family includes instruction to not physically touch the family members in any way unless they suffer shock or faint.
  • Your body will be prepared for burial by trimming the nails, shaving the face, suturing wounds, restoring distorted features, disinfecting your orifices and stuffing them with cotton (destroying maggots and other insect larvae), removing gas from your head, chest and abdomen, draining your fluids and replacing them with preservatives.
  • Prior to being sent to the one person who receives your personal effects, these items are reviewed to remove anything the officer in charge believes will cause “embarrassment or added sorrow, including anything obscene, unsanitary, multilated, burned, or bloodstained.  All letters, papers, photos, and videotapes are screened.  [Wonder how they determine which are photos of your girlfriend and your wife…  Or husband and boyfriend, as the case may be.]
  • A bonus to military service?  “The U.S. government pays for your body’s transportation, religious services, grave site, and other burial expenses. It provides a free tombstone.”  Per the Department of Veterans Affairs: “Veterans discharged from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable; Service members who die while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training; and spouses and dependent children of Veterans and active duty service members, may be eligible for VA burial and memorial benefits.”
  • Post combat procedures should include a discussion of what happened during the war including performance of ceremonies or rituals to simulate the “long march home” thus giving time to process the war experience prior to returning to civilian life.  [Found this online: “During and after the U.S. invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf War, U.S. Army mental health teams conducted a number of unit debriefings, although there was no formal doctrinal mandate or training program. With the deployment to Somalia in January 1994 of U.S. Army division mental health and combat stress control detachment teams, critical event debriefings became common practice. They were conducted following deaths in a unit from enemy action, accident or suicide, or after other distressing events involving deaths of civilians or mass casualties of multinational force allies at U.S. medical facilities.”]
  • The return home is typically awkward as the family adjusts to the soldier’s return.  There are greater risks for physical disorders as well as drug-related disorders and alcoholism, depression, hysteria, and hypochondria in combat veterans.
  • This 2003 assessment indicated only a slight increase for combat vets in committing suicide.  [More recent studies are conflicted.  One showed similar percentages of military and civilian suicide rates with “no link to combat deployment and suicides”:

    Those figures translate into a suicide rate of 17.78 per 100,000 person years for those who did not deploy and 18.86 per 100,000 person years for those who did — a difference that is not considered statistically significant.

    Multiple deployments appeared to influence the rate somewhat, with those who deployed more than once experiencing a rate of 19.92 per 100,000.

    Among those who separated early, however, the rate difference was significant. Those who separated from the military without having deployed had a nearly rate of 26 per 100,000 person years rate and those who had deployed had a rate of 26.48 per 100,000 person years.

    The civilian rate, adjusted for age, gender and socioeconomic factors similar the the military population, is 18.8 per 100,000, according to Army and National Institutes of Mental Health calculations.
    Subgroups at highest risk, besides those who had served less than a year, included Marines who did not deploy and separated from the Corps early, with a rate of 32.6 per 100,000, and Army soldiers who deployed and separated — 28.1 per 100,000.

    while another finding significant increases in suicide risk (but overall lower risk of death in general, surprisingly enough) compared to the civilian population:

    Among deployed and non-deployed active duty Veterans who served during the Iraq or Afghanistan wars between 2001 and 2007, the rate of suicide was greatest the first three years after leaving service…
    Compared to the U.S. population, both deployed and non-deployed Veterans had a higher risk of suicide, but a lower risk of death from other causes combined. Deployed Veterans also had a lower risk of suicide compared to non-deployed Veterans.]

  • The book also reports no increased likelihood for homelessness noting: “Although one third of America’s homeless are veterans, 250,000 on any given day, studies indicate that neither military service nor exposure to combat are related to an increased risk of homelessness.”  [More on homelessness below…]
  • On comradeship, it is unlikely that soldiers will stay in touch with their comrades.  It seems that while “friendship creates ‘a heightened awareness of the self’, … comradeship is predicated on ‘the suppression of self-awareness.'”    While in combat, soldiers may love each other like brothers.  But once combat is over, “when other experiences intervene and common memories dim, they gradually become strangers.”
  • Yes, you do get to keep your uniform.  However, when disposing of it, “you are to make sure no nonveteran acquires it.” [Yeah, that always happens. 🙂 ]

I found the figures on homelessness surprising as I was under the impression that a larger percentage of our homeless were ex-military.   Perhaps part of the issue is classification as the “veteran” population does not include those dishonorably discharged.  Another issue is data availability.  For example,  domestic violence providers are prohibited from providing data in accordance with the Violence Against Women Act, leading to potential underestimates of homeless women and children.  And it seems we’re having more women homeless vets since the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.

This link has housing situation information, though also dated (from 2009).

  • In 2008, foreclosures in military towns were increasing at four times the national rate.
  • About 8% of vets are paying more than half their income for housing – a high risk for homelessness.
  • While veterans make up about 10% of the adult population, they make up 30% of the homeless population.
  • Nearly 20% of Iraq/Afghanistan vets return with PTSD or mental health issues – both of these are highly correlated with a risk for homelessness.

VETERAN HOMELESSNESS resource from April 2015 noted:

  • Just under 40,000 vets are homeless with these demographics – largely male (91%), single (98%), live in a city (76%), have a mental and/or physical disability (54%) and are between the ages of 51 and 61 (43%) – so lots of Vietnam era vets.
  • While we’ve made great strides since 2010, the problem is still ongoing.  New Orleans announced in January 2015 that they’d ended veteran homelessness and since then, 3 states and 60 communities have joined them.

You can find a detailed 2017 report here.

The Financial Services Committee in DC reported 5/17/18 “It has been reported by the Department on Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that from 2008 to 2016, the number of people experiencing homelessness has declined.”  The information on this website is a bit misleading as the current Housing and Urban Development report (December 2017) reports homelessness is recently going back up, including for vets.

  • Homelessness increased for the first time in seven years. The number of people experiencing homelessness increased by a little less than one percent between 2016 and 2017. This increase reflected a nine percent increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in unsheltered locations, which was partially offset by a
    three percent decline in the number of people experiencing homelessness in sheltered locations.
  • Between 2016 and 2017, the number of veterans experiencing homelessness increased for the first time since 2010. Nonetheless, homelessness among veterans dropped 45 percent since 2009. The two percent increase during the past year was almost entirely accounted for by increases among unsheltered veterans in major cities.

The good news is that families with children may be finding homes (or their kids are aging out or going out on their own as the data appears to be new for unaccompanied homeless youth).  This may be due in part to the Supportive Services for Veteran Families’ (SSVF), initiated in 2011, that aims “to rapidly re-house homeless Veteran families and prevent homelessness for those at imminent risk due to a housing crisis.”  [Though I noted that Volunteers of America is a supporter in this effort – a 501c3 which is also a “ministry”.  So much for the separation of church and state…]

There were over 500,000 homeless people in January 2017 based on the annual Point in Time figures.  Note that Part 2 of this report for 2017 will come late in 2018.  You can find a link to recent annual reports here.  While figures were much improved from 2010-2016, we’re now seeing an uptick of 1% in homeless individuals.  1% may not sound like much but we’re talking about 5,000 people.

So, I learned a lot reading this book, dated as it was.  It was a departure from Hedges normal fiery rhetoric… but as informative as ever.  I would recommend it for anyone considering joining the military service or National Guard in the U.S.  It gives an accurate description of what to expect as it answers many of the questions someone might have when considering enlistment, especially in this age of perpetual war.

Enbridge vs. Faith Leaders on the Upcoming PUC Decision on Enbridge’s Line 3 Proposal


, , , ,

So the final round of Public Utilities Commission hearings happen this week.

I’ve spent many hours reading about the pros and cons submitted on this Line 3 Proposal in Minnesota and I must say that I found the recent letter from the Interfaith Leaders to be quite inspiring.

Yes, five hundred fifty-four Faith Leaders.  554!!  Their names and information are included on the letter to the PUC and I can provide the full document to anyone interested.

Their main points include the fact that approving Line 3 would continue the “long tradition of taking positions against politically marginalized Indigenous communities” and that Enbridge’s “history of pipeline spills” could bring devastation to wild rice areas. “Even if there were no spills (an implausible outcome), this pipeline would be a massive new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when the threat of climate change requires a new direction.”  They note: “All signers of this letter wish to join together in stating our clear opposition to Line 3 and ensuring it is never approved.  We are ready to open a new chapter in how we treat our environment and and how we relate with our Indigenous neighbors.”

Enbridge too put out a letter recently, which they chose to print as full-page ads in many Minnesota newspapers.  They noted their commitment to “protect communities and the environment” and to “bring opportunities and lasting economic benefits”.  I’m not sure how they reconcile their commitment to protect communities with their pursuit of a lawsuit that is seeking tens of millions of dollars from Clearwater County alone. And their notorious history of oil spills has done nothing but harm the environment.  When it comes to job opportunities, most of the jobs will go, not to Minnesotans, but to outside experts.  And the economic benefits will mostly bypass America entirely, instead filling the pockets of Canadian business owners.

The Enbridge letter fails to mention that 1) the Tar Sands products they want to push through Minnesota will almost entirely go to foreign markets, having little effect on gas prices in Clearwater Country, 2) their preferred route will pass through forty-one wild rice watersheds potentially affecting 4000 acres of wild rice, 3) they are actually ignoring Tribal Sovereignty as all five affected Indigenous Nations are opposed to the New Line 3, and 4) their proposed route may affect less populated areas of the state but the people in this area are no less important than those along the I-94 corridor.

Enbridge says they will “work with any landowner who would like us to remove the old line from their property” but has made no strides in a month’s old request from Red Lake Tribal Council to immediately remove their pipelines from Tribal lands. They also fail to mention that they have yet to put in writing to the State of Minnesota how they will guarantee financing to clean up any spills that will occur here when their New Line 3 fails.  With the Canadian Tar Sands pipeline in South Dakota failing after only seven years of operation, this is a valid concern, especially since Enbridge’s lawsuit hopes to snatch from our coffers what amounts to over two years’ worth of Clearwater County revenues.

The question should not be, “What is the best way to transport Tar Sands oil through Minnesota?” but “What is the cleanest way to provide Energy for our Future?”