68 hours in Manzanita…. The Monkey Power Trio’s 24th day as a band

The weekend of October 20 marked the 24th meeting of my one-day-a-year pseudo-band, the Monkey Power Trio. For those of you who might not be familiar with our origin story, it all began back in 1995 with a promise between old friends one hot, summer afternoon in Brooklyn. Without much in the way of any real planning, we’d decided to make a record. We gathered whatever instruments were at our disposal, and we made our way into an unlocked basement storage room in a Carroll Gardens apartment building [131 Union Street], where we proceeded to scream and beat on things while an old cassette recorder whirred away, suspended in front of us from a string tied to a sewage pipe. The result was a 7″ record, which we decided to call The First Hour, acknowledging the fact that we’d agreed, shortly after finishing, to meet up and do the same exact thing every year until the point when only one of us was left alive, creating extemporaneous noise over beers with no practice, forethought, or concern as to what people outside the band might think of it. And, against all odds, we’ve stayed true to our word for 24 years now, despite the fact that, every year, it becomes exponentially more difficult for the five of us to get away from our real-world obligations, put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies, which have grown more extreme over time, and express ourselves creatively… This year, we elected to meet in Portland, and drive out to the small Oregon beach community of Manzanita.

WHY MANZANITA… Generally speaking, we like to do things as inexpensively as possible, which usually means that we go where we can stay for free, whether it be at the vacation home of someone’s family friend in Lake Tahoe, or the basement of a bandmate who lives in the soulless exurbs of Atlanta. Occasionally, though, we all chip in and rent a house for a few days, like we did the year before last across the street from that liquor store in Baltimore, or a few years before that in a Cleveland neighborhood, where we thought we might find some inspiration at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or a few years before that in Jackson Hole, where we knew someone with a truck who promised that, if we came his way, he’d not only set us up with an inexpensive place to stay and record, but drive us around in search of large, wild animals. Well, this year, when an opportunity opened up to stay for free at a house along a relatively desolate spot on the Oregon coast, we jumped at it. While we generally like to be in proximity to restaurants, bars, museums, and other things that we might draw inspiration from, there’s something to be said for saving money. More importantly, though, it just seemed like a year for quieter introspection, given that we’re all of an age where we’re starting to contemplate the grim reality that awaits us.

When all of this started, and we made our “every year until death” pact, none us really considered the fact that, one day, we’d be gathering to record either soon before, or just after, the funeral of a bandmate. And, this year, that thought was very much on our minds, as one of us had recently been diagnosed with cancer. As it turns out, it seems to have been a very treatable form of cancer, and we’re told that, now that it’s been removed, he doesn’t even have to go through chemotherapy, which is awesome. We didn’t know that when we met, though. [His surgery was a week after this year’s session.] All we knew when we met for this year’s session was that this might be the last time all five us would be together. So there was a lot of drinking chardonnay while walking on the beach, and talking about wills between games of Scrabble. Not exactly what we signed up for as kids back in Brooklyn almost a quarter century ago, but, as they say, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Here, for those of you who might be interested, are a few photos from the trip, along with my abbreviated notes. I know it’s unlikely that anyone reading this will care, but, with my memory starting to fade, I think it’s important to document these things… just in case my children ever start to show and interest.

BIGGEST LAUGH OF THE WEEKEND… I’ve just started listening to Pete Holmes’ podcast, and there’s a question that he poses to guests from time to time. “When did you laugh the hardest?,” he asks. For me, I’m almost positive, it would be this time in high school, when, sitting in the library, I started laughing, and just couldn’t stop. I can’t remember what it was that my friends and I were laughing about, or which friends were with me, but I remember the direction that I was facing, the shape of the table in front of me, the chair that I had to pull myself back onto, and the fact that, no matter how hard I tried, I just could not stop convulsing with laughter. I’ve often thought, if it’s true that your life flashes before you when you die, I’d like to see that scene again, and hear what it was that was so damn funny. When considering the totality of laughing fits I’ve had in my life, I suspect nearly half of them have been with members of Monkey Power, most of whom I’ve known since 9th grade, with huge percentages also going to my old Shadow Art Fair crew, and my fellow zine publisher Jeff Kay. [Come to think of it, a small Monkey Power Trio laughing fit was even captured on tape back in ’95, during that historic first session. If you’re interested, you can actually hear it. Did’t people laugh funny a quarter-century ago?] At any rate, this year was no exception. I had an uncontrollable laughing fit on my first day at the house, just minutes after walking through the door.

Matt, Dan and Mike had arrived in Manzanita the day before I arrived to buy groceries and set things up at the beach house, and Dave, who lives in Portland, had stayed behind to pick me up at the airport and drive out to meet them the following day. [While everyone else was flying into Portland, I was at a work event here in Michigan, trying my best to ignore the text messages about how much fun I was missing. Speaking of which, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it here, but I also came in late to our session in Reno about ten years ago, and remember getting a photo sent to me en-route of a few bandmates at a craps table, jumping for joy with fistfuls of money, flanked by attractive young casino employees, who they’d somehow talked into playing along. This time, they just sent photos of themselves eating what looked like pizza and ice cream, which, I guess, is like the old man version of attractive young women.] After hugging Matt and Dan, I went to wake Mike, who was sleeping upstairs on a couch, as old men tend to do after a few drinks. Well, as he lay there, with his eyes covered from the sun with his baseball cap, he demanded that I hand him a box of Cheez-Its that they’d bought the night before. And that’s when things began. And I’m sure it won’t sound funny when I explain it, but, as I haven’t laughed so hard in a year, and since I suspect I’ll want to be reminded of it later, I’m going to do my best to record it here.

OK, I’m not going to attempt a play-by-play, but it started with me tying a Cheez-It to a piece of string, removing my shoes, and tiptoeing over to dangle it in front of Mike’s nose as he lay semi-conscious on the couch, and it ended with Mike, a former professional baseball player, chasing me around the room, as I attempted to stuff every one of the Cheez-Its into my mouth before being caught. Again, I know it sounds stupid… two 50 year old men fighting over Cheez-Its… but I laughed my ass off, and it’s a memory that I’ll cherish. Here’s a photo, taken by Dan, who I know probably thought that I’d either have a heart attack, or choke to death, as I stuffed fistfuls of Cheez-Its into my mouth while laughing so hard that I was gasping for air.

I don’t think I ever told this story here, but I once worked at a hotel in Kentucky, where, on occasion, they hosted World War II reunions. The attendees, I think it’s fair to say, when they got together for these things, acted like children. I have distinct memories of octogenarians running through the halls with giant novelty condoms on their heads, and making silly voices outside the rooms of their friends, only to shuffle off quickly to hide, attempting to stifle their laughter. I guess, when you’re friends from a relatively young age, that kind of shit just never ends.

THE RECORDING SETUP… The house had two floors. We slept, ate, and hung out on the top floor, and we spent our recording day on the ground floor, with Matt playing his wind instruments in a bathroom, Dave playing the drums in the garage, and Mike, Dan and myself in a little living room space. [I thought, for a good deal of our car ride from Portland to Manzanita, that Dave had somehow acquired the drum set of Hasil Adkins, but they were actually borrowed from Jody Bleyle, formerly of the band Hazel. I think he must have thought that I was a super huge Hazel fan, the way I was going on about how cool it was that he’d somehow managed to get them for us.]

Again, I know this won’t matter to anyone outside the band, but there were two relatively big advances this year in terms of setup. First, we were able to use FaceTime, or something like FaceTime, to communicate with Dave, who was locked up in the garage, pounding on the drums. He’d put some kind of distortion filter on it, which warped his face when he leaned forward to change the levels on his computer (Dave did all of the mixing in the garage too), but it was cool to just look up at the LED screen next to me to have a conversation with him. I don’t think that it’s something that we’d want to do again, as it’s more fun when we’re all together, even if the sound suffers, but it was interesting in that it demonstrated, at least to me, that we could be headed toward a time when one of us, perhaps incapacitated for health reasons, might be able to participate remotely by way of live feed. Hopefully it never comes to pass that more that one of us is bedridden at a time, but who knows what the future holds… And, second, I discovered that an ironing board makes a great stand for my notebook and megaphone. Again, I know this won’t matter to anyone, but I want to remember for next year… Here are a few photos.

As the most technically skilled person on the team, Dave does almost all of the technical work on the days that we record. He sets everything up, records everything, and mixes stuff on the fly. This is why, on the “hand” of Monkey Power, he’s the thumb… As I wrote about 20 years ago, when we last updated our website, “The thumb, opposable, brings with it tools and the ability to use them.” And that’s Dave, who also chips in equally for booze, even though he doesn’t really drink. He is, in short, the perfect bandmate… the one we all want to live to be in the final two. [While all the other guys in the band are old high school friends of mine, Dave is someone I met in college, when I was about 21, when a mutual acquaintance suggested that we share an apartment in Ann Arbor.]

That’s Matt, sitting in the bathroom, behind Mike. He’d open the door between songs, when he wasn’t paying his various wind instruments, or taking a nap. [Dave played some trumpet this year, but otherwise all the wind instruments were played by Matt.] Matt, for what it’s worth, usually plays sequestered off somewhere from the rest of us, as his mic tends to pick up the sounds of other, louder instruments. This isn’t an issue when we record parts separately, but, when we’re all making up stuff on the fly, playing together, it makes mixing the tracks almost impossible. So it’s not that he’s in the bathroom because we don’t love him. We do.

Yes, Matt somehow got three crumhorns past security this time.

That’s Dan on the right, standing alongside the ironing board where I did my work. We didn’t make use of the fireplace, but we probably should have. In the past 24 years, I don’t think we’ve yet had a session around a fire. We should probably do that… This year, it would have been super easy to carry an acoustic guitar and a flute down to the ocean, build a fire on the beach, and try to come up with something. I tell myself that, if we were younger, we probably would have. The truth is, though, we probably wouldn’t have. I remember, several years ago, when we were going to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, suggesting that we go into the bathroom and record a track of us harmonizing the morning of our session. Great idea. But no one wanted to do it. And that includes me.

I have no idea what I’m doing with my hand. It looks like I’m doing some kind of Señor Wences impersonation. If memory serves, this was me screaming dance instructions to a non-existent audience for our song “The Sand Flea,” which you may hear four of five years from now, once the record finally comes out. [The last record we put out, The Ballad of Christian Wolfcock, got us caught up to 2015, so we now have a backlog of just three sessions that need to be released.]

THE SONGS… There was at least one pretty good song this year. We worked hard on it. Or, at least, hard by our standards, meaning that we did more than one take of it, and worked on it for an hour or so. I can’t remember exactly what it was about, now that a few weeks have passed, but I remember having liked it. There was also the dance song, which I mentioned earlier, which was inspired by a walk along the beach the night before our session, where we were beset by small, dense clouds of sand fleas. Again, I can’t remember the specifics, but the dance, as recall, involved my yelling commands like, “scratch your ankles,” and “hop to the ice-cold water.” There was also a song about jellyfish, and what antisocial dicks they are. As always, we fed off what was given to us. And, this year, the universe gave us lots and lots of sand fleas and jellyfish. The jellyfish off the Oregon coast, as least the weekend I was there, were really amazingly colorful. [They were really purple.] And, of course, we sang about death. I don’t want to listen to the recording right now, but I can recall saying “contemplating the abyss” a few times.

THE NAPPING… By my count, three of the five of us fell asleep while recording this year. This, again, is something that we hadn’t bargained for when we started this, as we certainly weren’t taking naps mid-session when we were 25. For what it’s worth, as one of the nappers, I can tell you that it’s pretty awesome to just wake up and find that an entire song’s been written, and that you just need to get yourself off the couch for a few minutes to yell nonsense… As I don’t want to share photos of us sleeping, here’s the lovely view out the window.

OTHER STUFF… In addition to the music, the Scrabble, and all the talk about wills, there are probably a few other things worth noting, if only so that, years from now, those of us who remain can read over them and pretend to remember. Here they are, in no particular order. One – I don’t know how it came to pass, but two new nicknames were bestowed this weekend — “Pantless” and “Low Sack.” For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure those nicknames weren’t earned at the same time, but I suppose it’s possible. Two – There’s legal weed in Oregon, so a couple the guys availed themselves of that. For what it’s worth, I didn’t. I also didn’t drink much. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I think I’ve finally come to learn that the hangover the day after isn’t worth the incremental effect of the additional drink or two the night before. Three – I learned a lot about divorces, and the court system as it pertains to alimony and the like. [Two of us are now divorced.] I also learned a lot about cancer of the appendix. Four – I walked the beach several times. The night that we recorded, Dan and I walked down to the ocean, which required cutting through someone’s yard, at about 4:00 AM. It was really lovely, as the night was incredibly dark, and the stars were super bright. [During most of the day, it was foggy, like on Skull Island.] I recall that we identified a few constellations. I wouldn’t know it until a few days later, but, had we gone out earlier, we would have seen an meteor shower. So I guess you can add that to regrets, along with the fact that we didn’t have a fire on the beach. Five – We only went out to eat once while in Manzanita. We walked a few miles to a place where we ordered scallops. They were good, as I recall. Six – Matt and I walked the mile an a half into town for groceries one morning, and Dan, who had apparently finished off the mayonnaise the evening before, was insistent that we get more, to the point where I started to think that he might have an addiction issue. I texted him this picture from the store. Before cell phones, I would have had to buy all of this mayonnaise for the joke to work. Now, though, thanks to technology, I just had to snap a photo and put all but one back on the shelf.

THE REST OF THE STORY… Matt and Dan were the first to fly back home. I’d decided to stay a day, as there were some things I wanted to check out in Portland. And, Mike, apparently in no hurry to get home, decided to stay as well. So Mike and I crashed with Dave, his significant other, whom I like very much, and their six year old daughter, who I’d yet to actually meet. She was smart, funny and bright, and many laughs were had. [As all three of the remaining members of Monkey Power suffer from bad backs, we had to take turns carrying her down the street for dinner that night… Collectively, we make one good dad.] And I just hung out on my own for a little while, driving around to three different restaurants that I’d wanted to check out, and sneaking around McMenamins properties, looking for inspiration. [Now that I’m technically a developer, given that some friends and I own a commercial building, this is how I spend my vacations.] I also hit the World Forestry Museum, where I learned about efforts to build high-rise developments from wood, and the Oregon Historical Society, where I took this next photo. Oh, and I also hiked for a couple of hours in the mountains outside of Portland. [note: I really like Pear Hawthorn trees.]

As I’m not quite sure how to end this, here’s a little something I wrote a few years ago about these annual sessions of ours, followed by a photo of us on the beach of Manzanita.

Standing there, in front of our microphones, like it or not, we have to confront the fact that our minds aren’t working as fast as they once did, and that our ideas aren’t quite as sharp as they once were. It sucks, but that’s life. And, if nothing else, I think this little project of ours is a reminder that we should enjoy the time we have left with one another… Listening from year to year, in these tiny little audio snapshots, you can literally hear us collectively breaking down like a space capsule upon reentry. And it’s actually kind of beautiful… if you can get beyond the sadness.

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Happy Thanksgiving

A few years ago, I made the decision not to write anything new for Thanksgiving, but, instead, to recycle something that I’d written the year before. And, ever since then, I’ve been posting the same damn thing. Well, here it is again. I was tempted to remove some of the old references, and replace them with new ones, but it occurred to me that altering this post, which is fast becoming a family classic, would be like changing It’s A Wonderful Life so that Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed dabbed and flossed instead of dancing the Charleston in that scene that takes place over their high school pool. So, with that in mind, here it is, untouched… Enjoy….

macy11turkey

This Thanksgiving morning I’m tempted to get political and say that I’m thankful above all else for the fact that a majority of Americans still feel as though Sarah Palin is unfit to serve as President, and that former U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay was found guilty yesterday of money laundering. But, I’m trying to think less about politics today, and the swirling gyre of weaponized stupidity that is the Tea Party, and focus instead on friends and family. I probably don’t say it here as often as I should, but I’m incredibly thankful for both. Without my family, I wouldn’t be here. And, without my friends, I wouldn’t be the person that am today… Sure, I might be a better, more successful and more productive version of myself without them, but I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. So, before I get started with this post, I’d just like to note that I’m incredibly thankful for everyone that I’m related to, from my grandmother in Kentucky, to my daughter, who is now in the other room, looking at our enormous turkey through the little glass porthole in the oven. There have been some bad times, and we’ve lost some people over the years, but, all in all, I’d say that we’ve been really fortunate as a family. As far as I know, all of us that are alive at the moment are healthy, happy, employed and have roofs over our heads, which is quite an accomplishment in today’s world. As for friends, the same, for the most part, goes for them. A few are temporarily without partners or between jobs, but, as far as I know, the people in my friendship network (“tribe” sounded too new age) are doing pretty well, and I’m thankful for that. But, what I want to write about today are a few of the less obvious things that I’m thankful for – things that I don’t think I’ve ever shared with you before.

I’m thankful that my friends Dan and Matt, when they’d graduated from college, moved to Ann Arbor to live with me. If they hadn’t, I might never have had the misdirected encouragement I needed to start a band. And, if the three of us hadn’t formed a band, I probably wouldn’t have ever ventured into Ypsilanti, where I met my wife, Linette. There are others that played a role as well, like Ward Tomich, who booked us to play at Cross Street Station that fateful night. Without all of these folks, I’d likely be living in the forest today, sucking nutrients from moss-covered rocks.

I’m thankful for the car crash that my dad had in the late 60’s, which almost tore his arm from his body. If it hadn’t happened, my dad surely would shipped off to fight in Vietnam, with the other men that he’d been training with. Of the dozen or so men in his group, only two returned alive. I cannot imagine growing up without my father.

I’m thankful that my mother encouraged my father to apply for job at AT&T after he was released from the Navy. (He worked at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital after recovering from his accident.) He’d been working highway construction jobs when she talked him into applying for a position at a remote audio relay station of some kind near Monticello, Kentucky. He got that job, flipping switches and listening in on people’s private phone calls, and the rest is history. He steadily climbed up through the ranks, ending his career at the company headquarters in New Jersey – probably one of the few people without a college degree to do so. If this hadn’t happened, I would likely still be in the same small town in Kentucky today, instead of in the worldly, sophisticated metropolis of Ypsilanti, Michigan.

While my parents never graduated from college, they did both attend classes as they could, which wasn’t easy with full-time jobs and two kids to raise. I remember pretty clearly my mom studying Spanish late at night at the kitchen table. And I remember them proof-reading class assignments for one another. It made an impression on me, and I’m forever thankful for it. It’ll probably make my mom cry to hear it, but I’m also thankful that they stopped taking me to church at a young age.

I’m thankful that my parents valued education enough to settle our family in a decent school district, instead of closer to where my father was going to be working. My dad, most days, left for work at 5:00 AM to catch the bus, and didn’t return until 7:00 PM or so at night. He did that for over a dozen years straight, and, because of that, I got to attend a great public school, where I met people like Dan and Matt – the guys I mentioned above who moved to Ann Arbor to make noise, drink $1 pitchers of beer, and publish zines with me.

Speaking of sacrifice, I’m also thankful that my distant relatives made the decision to come to America when they did. They did so without knowing if they’d ever see their homelands again. They left everything they knew in England, Sweden, Scotland, and Poland, in order to make a better life for their families. And, it’s because of their sacrifices that I’m here today, not having to work in the fields from sun up to sun down as they did.

Oh, and I’m thankful that, of all the mental illnesses in the world, I got OCD, which kind of has its up-side.

OK, there’a whole lot more I’d like to say, but that’ll have to be it for now, as the buzzer on the oven is ringing.

Happy holidays.

[note: The image at the top of the post, if I remember correctly, is from the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. If I had to guess, I’d say that the balloon was supposed to depict a kind of turkey-mosquito hybrid that plagued the United States at the time.]

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Saying, “It is what it is,” Donald Trump announces that we will be giving the Saudis a pass on the cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident and Washington Post reporter

Today, Donald Trump issued an extremely unusual official statement from the White House on the October 2 murder in Istanbul of United States resident Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist. After declaring the world to be “a very dangerous place,” the President, in his statement, made the case as to why, in his opinion, even if Khashoggi’s murder was ordered by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and carried out by a 15-person Saudi assassination squad, we should look the other way, as we rely on Saudi oil, and want to keep selling the royal family our American fighter jets and advanced weapons systems. The bottom line, Donald Trump said, after parroting Saudi talking points about Khashoggi being an “enemy of the state,” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is that “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia.” [Khashoggi, by the way, was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and, in fact, considered them a terrorist organization.]

In his official statement on the matter, Donald Trump makes it a point to reiterate that we cannot know for certain that the assassination of Khashoggi, which we know was carried out by 15 Saudis who had flown into Istanbul with bone saws for dismembering his body, was called for by Mohammed bin Salman. “Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information,” Trump said, “but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event… maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t!”

Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t! [The exclamation point is Trump’s.]

Well, according to the CIA, it would appear as though he did.

Four days ago, the following ran in the Washington Post, in a feature titled, “CIA concludes Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination.”

…The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter.

The CIA’s assessment, in which officials have said they have high confidence, is the most definitive to date linking Mohammed to the operation and complicates the Trump administration’s efforts to preserve its relationship with a close ally. A team of 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul on government aircraft in October and killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate, where he had gone to pick up documents that he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.

In reaching its conclusions, the CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence. Khalid told Khashoggi, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, that he should go to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so.

It is not clear if Khalid knew that Khashoggi would be killed, but he made the call at his brother’s direction, according to the people familiar with the call, which was intercepted by U.S. intelligence…

So, once again, Donald Trump is taking the side of a despot over his own intelligence agencies. The CIA told him that they knew Mohammed bin Salman had his brother call Jamal Khashoggi, telling him that it would be safe for him to go to the embassy, and we know that 15 Saudis with bone saws were dispatched at the same time to meet him. And yet our President says that we don’t know for certain that Mohammed bin Salman was involved.

When asked about all of this today at Mar-a-Lago, where he’d gone to golf, Donald Trump said, “It’s a shame, but it is what it is.” He then added, “For me, very simple, America first. Saudi, if we broke with them, your oil prices would go through the roof.

By the way, that’s Mohammed bin Salman at the top of this post, sitting in the Oval Office with Donald Trump in March of this year. During the meeting, Donald Trump said, “It’s a great honor to have the Crown Prince with us. Saudi Arabia has been a very great friend… we’ve become very good friends over a short period of time.” Of course, it hasn’t really been a short period of time. As we know, Donald Trump has a very long, profitable, and well-documented history with the Saudi royal family.

“I make a lot of money with them,” Donald Trump has said publicly of the Saudis in the past, adding “I love Saudi Arabia. The people are very nice to me. They buy my apartments like you wouldn’t believe. It’s true. They’ll pay me anything.” And, of course, it’s not just that, according to Trump, they bought $40 and $50 million apartments from him before he was elected president. He’s also continued to benefit from them at president, as they continue to spend great sums of money at Trump properties. So, if you’re wondering why, as Republican Senator Bob Corker put it so eloquently today, “(the) White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” I think we have a pretty good sense as to why that is. And I think, once the Democrats take control of the house on January 3, and start holding hearings, we’re going to know a whole lot more. [For a full list of Trump’s financial entanglements with the Saudis that we’re already aware of, click here.]

Interesting, Donald Trump isn’t always so reticent to take action against people. In fact, we just learned today that he attempted to use the Department of Justice to investigate his perceived enemies, like Hillary Clinton and James Comey. So, for what it’s worth, he is willing to use the U.S. government to go after women who send emails from private accounts, and men who he sees as being “nut jobs.” He just draws the line when it comes to going after dictators who kill innocent journalists for exercising their right to free speech as American residents.

I get that we’re addicted to oil, and that we feel as though we need a strong ally in the Middle East, but, as we were just saying yesterday, we also know that we need to make a break from oil if we want for humanity to survive. So this isn’t just a question of us not wanting to do business with a regime that we find morally repugnant. We know that we need to get away from them anyway if we want to survive. The product that they’re selling is quite literally killing us.

It’s like we just discovered that our crack dealer had our neighbor dismembered, and yet we’re sitting around trying to justify it, when we know, deep in our hearts, that we should be running into rehab, and looking to cut a deal with law enforcement.

But here we are, doubling down on the addiction, and making excuses for our dealer, instead of doing the right correct, moral, and responsible thing… which would be to cut off military funding to the Saudis, and initiate an aggressive transition to renewable energy.

I know it might make things rough for a while, but how about, for a start, taking this opportunity to throw the alternative energy switch in a big way, taking back that $1.5 trillion we gave to American’s most wealthy, and instead using it to fund alternative energy installations around the country? What about instituting aggressive tax breaks for people putting solar installations on their homes, and changing the laws to allow for people to seek energy back to the grid? And what about reinstitution those Obama era fuel efficiency standards that the Trump administration just recently scrapped?

One last thing. Let’s not forget that 15 out of the 19 hijackers who attacked our country on 9/11 were Saudis, and their government never paid a price for the role they played… I think there are ample reasons not to give them another chance here.

update: It’s now a few days later, and Trump continues to defend Mohammed bin Salman from the accusations of our intelligence community, in much the same way he defended Vladimir Putin from charges of having interfered in our 2016 election. “Whether he did it, or whether he didn’t,” Trump said of Mohammed bin Salman’s participation in the Khashoggi murder, “he denies it vehemently.” Our President then adds, “Do people really want me to give up hundreds of thousands of jobs? And frankly, if we went by this standard, we wouldn’t have anybody as an ally.” This, of course, is a lie.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Make America Rake Again

As of right now, 76 people are known to have died in the drought-stricken Sierra foothills of Northern California, where a wildfire, dubbed “Camp Fire,” has been burning for 10 days. As 1,276 people are still unaccounted for, this number is expected to rise considerably over the coming days, as the smoldering remains of over 10,000 homes, spread over approximately 149,000 acres, are examined by public safety officers. And, sadly, that’s not the only out-of-control wildfire raging in California right now. Just to the northwest of Los Angeles, the “Woolsey Fire,” fed by the similar forces, has already consumed 98,362 acres, taking the lives of 3 people, and destroying approximately 713 homes.

This is how the President of the United States responded to the crisis early on.

Instead of showing empathy for those who had lost loved ones, or commending the heroic efforts of firefighters, our President chose to take the opportunity to condemn the home state of Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi, a state that has continued to vote against him, threatening to cut off federal assistance, claiming that the people to California had brought this on themselves due to bad forestry management. [Speaking of California’s repudiation of Trump, it’s worth noting that every last Republican seat in Orange County flipped Democratic during last week’s midterm election.]

Thankfully, the backlash against Donald Trump was swift, harsh and unrelenting.

Shortly after Donald Trump posted the above statement, Brian Rice, the president of the California Professional Firefighters Association, responded with a letter, calling Trump’s comments “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.”

Others, at the same time, stepped forward to point out that, actually, contrary to what Donald Trump might think, only 3% of California’s 33 million acres of forest are owned and managed by state and local agencies, with 57% being owned and managed by the federal government, through the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. [The remaining 40% is owned by timber companies, private families and Native American tribes.]

And, as you might imagine, several experts issued statements about how ludicrous it was for the President to specifically call out forest management, while neglecting to mention the the undeniable link to climate change. As Noah Diffenbaugh, professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University, said to reporters yesterday, “We’re getting warmer and warmer conditions around the globe, but certainly here in California, and in the western United States we’re getting earlier melting of snowpack. That means that when those warm conditions happen in the summer and fall all the vegetation is even more dried out and that means that when lightning strikes when a spark from a from a car or a campfire hits the ground that the vegetation is more dried out there’s more fuel available.”

And, as the fires continued to rage, and the death toll continued to climb, the blowback against Donald Trump intensified, forcing him to fly to California yesterday to survey the damage himself, and meet with California leaders. While he apparently told these leaders that, contrary to what he’d tweeted, the federal government would continue to support California’s efforts to fight the fires, he continued to deny the role of climate change, which he’s referred to in the past as a hoax, and blame forest management procedures, going so far as to imply that this could have all been avoided with raking.

Here’s Donald Trump yesterday in Paradise, California… which he kept referring to as Pleasure, California… talking about how he’d heard from the President of Finland that “raking” can prevent disasters like this.

For what it’s worth, the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, came out today and said that he “never mentioned raking” to Donald Trump.

In Trump’s defense, it is true that clearing underbrush, either physically, or through the use of controlled burns, can help lessen the damage of wildfires. It is also true, however, that it’s both ridiculous and offensive to suggest that, had people just “raked” California’s 33 million acres of forest, these people who died might still be with us. [There are 39.54 million people living in California, so that’s roughly one acre per person.] And it’s worth noting that, according to the New York Times, while prescribed burns have been utilized in the past, the cost of fighting fires over the past few years has taken money away from such preventative measures. “In recent years the Forest Service has tried to rectify its past forest-management practices by conducting more prescribed or ‘controlled’ burns to get rid of dead vegetation that could fuel future wildfires,” the Times reported. “But its budget has been overwhelmed by firefighting costs.” [I’ve heard it reported that clearing underbrush, if that’s what Trump meant by “raking,” costs approximately $5,500 acre, so we’re talking about billions of dollars annually.]

So, just to recap… Trump blamed the fires on the State of California’s forest management, when, in fact, most of California’s forests are owned and managed by the federal government, which has been spending less on preventative forest maintenance, and more on actual fire fighting. And we all know why that is, right? It’s because global climate change. And there’s really no question about it.

As Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory climate scientist Ben Santer just recently told the LA Times, what’s happening right now “isn’t a big scientific surprise.” These longer and more frequent heat waves, the higher nighttime temperatures, and the fact that record-setting hot days are outnumbering record-setting cold days by 5-to-1, are all things that he and other scientists predicted.

Donald Trump, however, apparently still isn’t convinced of the threat. After witnessing the devastation in California firsthand, he told reporters that his opinion on climate change has still not changed, adding, like the simpleton that he is, that he wants us to have a “great climate.”

I could go on, but I’ll just leave you with this simple thought… Every climate change denier needs to be run out of office, and it needs to happen right now… As the most recent report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states, we have to move aggressively, and do so right this minute, if we hope to avoid our present fate. [If you think the caravans from South America are bad now, just wait and see what happens if we don’t curb global climate change now.]

Here, for those of you who won’t read the report, is an excerpt from The Guardian.

The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)… say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.

The half-degree difference could also prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic, according to the 1.5C study, which was launched after approval at a final plenary of all 195 countries in Incheon in South Korea that saw delegates hugging one another, with some in tears…

And we, of course, under Donald Trump, pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, choosing instead to double down on coal and fossil fuels. In fact, I was just reading that Donald Trump intends to name Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, to head the EPA… We, my friends, if you haven’t already figured it out, are living inside a death cult.

update: Clearly having learned nothing at all from his time surveying the damage in California, Donald Trump, now safely back at one of his golf resorts, is tweeting again about the “hoax” of global climate change.

Posted in energy, Environment, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

“Things innocent people would never say for $500, Alex”

There’s a whole lot I want to say tonight, but I just don’t have the time. So I’ll just leave you to ponder these five tweets from President of the United States on your own.

OK, I take that back… I do have time for you…

If I had to guess, I’d say that we’re finally heading toward the long-awaited climax of this Shakespearean drama that we’ve all been unwittingly cast in, with Donald Trump and Robert Mueller moving all of their remaining pieces into position for the endgame. Having made the midterms about himself, and failing miserably, Donald Trump pushed out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, replacing him with the completely unqualified Matthew “masculine toilet” Whitaker, a known critic of the special counsel, who had speculated previously about how, as Attorney General, it would be relatively easy to defund the investigation into the President’s criminal activity into nonexistence. And, now, we’re hearing that avowed Trump defender Lindsey Graham will be taking over the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Department of Justice. While it’s not clear whether or not Trump arranged for the Graham’s ascension, it’s certainly a move that our increasingly unstable Commander-In-Chief would welcome, as word in Washington continues to swirl about a new round of indictments that will likely sweep up the likes of Wikileaks founder Julian Assenage, and Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi, getting one step closer to proving collusion with the Russians during the campaign. The question just seems to be when Robert Mueller and his team of elite prosecutorial witch hunters will pull the trigger, and whether or not the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr, and his 2016 campaign advisor, Roger Stone, will be targeted in this round. Given all this recent activity, I’d thought that word would have come out on Friday, but I guess Mueller’s decided to hold back a bit, perhaps wanting to see how Trump responds to the pressure.

So far, Trump, who supposedly just finished answering Mueller’s questions in writing with the help of his attorneys, doesn’t seem to be holding up well to the pressure. Not only did he meltdown on Twitter, sending out the above barrage of tweets about the Mueller investigation, after pretty much not mentioning the former FBI Director for the past two months, but, since his disastrous trip to France, word is that he’s retreated into a a cocoon of bitterness and resentment, lashing out everyone who gets into his way, and threatening to fire the likes of John Kelly and Kirstjen Nielsen.

Oh, speaking of Trump’s recent chess playing, check out this idiotic attempt on his part to get Democrats to turn against Nancy Pelosi, the person who terrifies him most after Robert Mueller.

I know I’ve said it before, but, if I were a betting man, I’d say that Donald Trump’s finally gotten to a point where he’s in danger of losing his Republican support. For all that he’s said publicly about how he personally won races for Republicans during the midterms, the truth is that 36 people he personally endorsed lost their races. And, more importantly, suburban voters seems to be turning against the Republicans in a big way. And the same is true of young, white voters, who seem to be gravitating toward the Democratic Party, inspire of all the lies, and fear-mongering about terrorist caravans headed toward our border. And, when all was said and done, the Republicans lost the Midwestern states that gave Trump the presidency in 2016. So, one would think, the Republicans, as they’re heading into 2020, have to be thinking that now might be the right time to cut Donald Trump loose and explore their options. With that said, though, it doesn’t look as though Republican Senator Jeff Flake is getting much support in his attempt to rally conservatives to protect the Mueller investigation. Maybe that’ll change, though, with a few more indictments.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 55 Comments

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