Friday, July 31, 2015

Poverty Wages in Mariposa 1: Who is our neighbor?

Neighbors, friends, I was shocked recently to learn of the great number of minimum wage jobs in our county. Not only poverty wages but unemployment at least double the national rate. A report in the Mariposa Gazette said that Mariposa was 57th in California in wages and had been so for 3 years! 57th! Now I’m not a 57th kind of person and I don’t think you are either. This abuse of workers, all of whom are our neighbors, doesn’t compute; it doesn't make sense.

I see many businesses, large and small, in the Yosemite-Gold Country community profiting from a unique and booming tourist environment that brings over 4 million visitors to our area every year. I had to ask myself, how does all this prosperity get turned into poverty wages and unemployment for, literally, thousands of my neighbors? I decided to look into it and have spent much time in the last few months in my search. I was so blown away with what I discovered that I've produced 7 videos to tell you what I found in the hope that you will join me to stand with and back our workers, our neighbors, who all work hard and play by the rules but still receive poverty wages with virtually no benefits! And 800 other neighbors have no job at all!

When we examine the distressed condition of so many workers in Mariposa County, it seems to me that a central question we need to consider is, who is our neighbor?

In other words, to whom do we as a community owe our concern, our allegiance, our support? Is our neighbor the young person who grew up here, attended local schools, may even have risked his or her life in our military, and is now working for minimum wages? Or is it that young family whose wages are so low that Mom has to work, Dad has to take two jobs, and they still have to receive food stamps to feed their kids? 

Or is our neighbor, Burger King, Subway, Rite Aid, Delaware North, or, perhaps, Aramark, the Philadelphia mega-corporation that just won the bid to replace Delaware North in Yosemite?

All of these are huge foreign corporations, that is, corporations registered in other states.

 I don't believe our current 4 corporations pass the Neighbor Test because, clearly, Burger King, Subway, Rite Aid and Delaware North:

1. don’t live here
2. don’t participate in our community life,
3. are all members of the 1 Percent Club a great part of whose wealth comes from paying poverty wages to our neighbors,
4. send and spend all or part of their profits out of our county, and then
5. they expect us to make up the difference.

Now, us making up the difference for foreign corporations is no small matter. It's something most of us don’t even think about when we hear that a company pays workers minimum wages. We may be more familiar with it when Walmart does it.

It goes like this: when our workers can’t survive on poverty wages, they apply for food stamps, medical care, welfare, low income housing, income tax credits, help with childcare and more. In other words, when our four foreign corporations, who earn great profits in our community, get away with paying poverty wages to our neighbors, you and I pay the difference with our taxes and with the help we give to community organizations to help our neighbors survive.

A clear example of this here in Mariposa is our frequent fundraisers to help pay a neighbor's medical bills. It’s always a privilege to help a neighbor but why should someone who has worked all his life have to depend on neighbors to pay medical bills?

But this is only part of us making up the difference for these corporations. When our local merchants earn profits, they buy homes here and groceries and lumber and they eat in our restaurants and give money to their church and they sponsor the Grizzlies and the Butterfly festival and pay accountants, doctors and dentists: all this spending creates jobs. When our foreign corporations make profits, they ship their money back East or north to Canada. Their profits create jobs in other places instead of being used here to eliminate unemployment. 

So, on this question of who is our neighbor, I say our local people are my neighbors and I stand with them. And I expect you will, too, because I'm sure you believe as I do that good neighbors are especially important here in our mountains. Every neighbor is a member of a sacred circle that surrounds every other neighbor and keeps us and our values safe in an unsafe world.

And I also am sure that you agree that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules should earn a living wage and should not have to depend on others for his or her livelihood. Too many of our real neighbors are paid poverty wages by foreign corporations, corporations that don't act like and, in fact, are not, our neighbors.

So, neighbor, what do you think? Is it time for us to love and care for ALL our neighbors?

We are ALL Mariposa!


Please share this blog and the video with everyone who believes that those who work hard and play by the rules should receive a living wage. Also, see our 7 videos + Trailer on Poverty Wages in Mariposa on youtube. And visit our website at for ways to become active in supporting our worker/neighbors.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Israel Attack on USS Liberty - 1967

Apartheid in Palestine - 2014

... some folks never seem to change

My grandmother used to say, "Tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you what you are."

If this is true, Israel's apartheid treatment of Palestine and their July-August 2014 murder of 495 children in Gaza, much of it done with U.S. arms and munitions, tells me my government is the same as Israel's Netanyahu government and is complicit in its apartheid and its murder.

If this 2014 slaughter of 495 innocents doesn't turn your stomach and make you question U.S. friendship with this rogue nation, you need to remember Israel's 1967 deliberate attack on the USS Liberty, a U.S. Navy spy ship in international waters, and the murder of 34 of our sailors. And, no surprise, the vicious attack was immediately covered-up by President Johnson, Admiral John S. McCain (Senator John McCain's father) and, years later, by Senator McCain.

The recent resurfacing of this horrific story in my consciousness was especially troubling because I had all but forgotten it. No wonder. In June, 1967 I was 31, married, with 4 children and living in San Jose. A few months later, we moved to another city and welcomed our 5th child. Those were the days when few mothers worked outside the home, so providing for a family of 7 and finding a good job in my field kept me far too busy. Outside of work, I was active as a Rotarian, campaigned and was elected to the school board, and led a 1,000-home homeowner's association which I had founded. Our busy lives kept me so distracted from the "Big Picture" that the 60's passed in a blur, including the horror of the USS Liberty. I likely accepted the official story of "mistaken identity" put forth at the time by Israel and my government. Besides, having served my country in the Navy Air Force, I had learned to accept the official stories of my government. But no longer.

Here are 3 YouTube videos that tell much of the Liberty story, a total of 71 minutes, an incredible tale that needs to be remembered and retold, over and over.

As a nation we take great pride in honoring our fallen heroes. But we also dishonor them, as we did with those killed and wounded in the attack on the USS Liberty when, in the name of politics, we fail to support them and bring their murderers to justice.

President Johnson's White House and the Congress, in the name of friendship, rushed to protect Israel in it's deliberate attack on our ship instead of  exposing the treachery that cost the lives of American heroes. Many Americans are critical of the U.S. government's friendship with Israel and, one can assume, none more so than the men and families of the 34 dead, 179 wounded, and their shipmates, who learned, too late, that Israelis were not friends - nor, sadly, were the leaders of their own U.S. government.

I suggest the viewing of these videos in sequence.

USS Liberty Cover-up - Full movie  (52 min.)

The story is told mainly by the surviving, eye-witness sailors from the Liberty, including its commanding officer.

McCain and Israel Bombing of the USS Liberty in 1967  (8 min.)

Clear, forceful statement by Ralph Nader, 2008 presidential candidate, in a debate, challenging candidate John McCain about his support of the cover-up. John McCain's father, Admiral McCain, headed the board of inquiry and delivered his final report only 8 days after the inquiry and never interviewed one Israeli! Senator McCain (an ex-sailor!) never answered Nader's challenge.

John McCain Confronted about USS Liberty Cover-up - Memorial Day 2012  (11 min.)

I can't find any response by John McCain except this shameful one. Observe the reaction of the military audience. If I had been in a military audience in 1967 and as unaware as so many of us were, my reaction would likely have been the same. But now I know.

Much of this video contains the words of Ray McGovern, a friend from my DC days. An ex-CIA senior analyst, for years Ray helped write the CIA's daily intelligence assessment for the President. He offers two possible reasons for the attack and confirms the Israeli strafing of U.S. lifeboats to ensure no one would survive.

If the Liberty attack doesn't rock your boat, doesn't make you question U.S. support of Israel, what will it take? And what about the horrors Israel continues to commit on Palestinians with U.S. arms, U.S. tanks, U.S. gunships, U.S. rockets, and with almost unquestioned U.S. Presidential and Congressional support? Please join me in raising your voice on behalf of the children and people of Palestine. A very wise person said, "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to remain silent?"

Please see my recent blog, Palestine Solution - Move Israelis to South Carolina

Like many Americans, I believed we needed to get out of Palestine and let the Israelis and Palestinians solve it themselves. This would be a step forward. The problem is, the U.S. won't get out. We pour billions into Israel's military and government coffers every year, vote against Palestine in the Security Council of the UN and, in a very direct way, support the domination and apartheid of Israel. If we would stop direct support to Israel, then share our support, good will, and power equally with Israelis and Palestinians, we could begin to heal the breach and help create peace. Our neutrality and support would certainly help both peoples reconcile.

As a follower of Jesus, as a human being, as a man and a father, as an American, as a Vet, as an elder, I am ashamed of my government's support of Israel's apartheid government. I apologize to every Palestinian and say with as much sorrow and sincerity as I can muster, this is not done in my name.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Palestine Solution - Move Israelis to South Carolina!

The  targeting of innocent civilians, whether by 
unguided rockets or state-of-the-art guided shells,
is never justified. But there is a special place in hell
for those who order the shelling of hospitals and
schools where women and children are sheltering. 
Attacking sleeping children in shelters has to be humanity’s worst crime. It is ... monstrous. 

In response to the horror of Gaza, I offer the following words to encourage some thinking beyond the 10-second sound bites that influence so much of Americans’ decision-making. If your initial response to the Gaza massacre was, “Those damn Arabs need to stop firing rockets,” you'll find some thoughts here to disturb and, I hope, enlighten.

(Whoops, we’re already past 10-seconds - are you still with me?)

The South Carolina Option

I’m a Californian who has never been to South Carolina but I've heard Charleston is charming. And I know that, following hurricanes, the U.S. government repeatedly spends millions of U.S. tax dollars to rebuild devastated homes on the same beachfront lots on its Atlantic Coast. I know there are almost 5 million South Carolinians living in 32,000 square miles. And, to be perfectly candid, I've often heard that the Palmetto State is, well, backward. Speaking of backward, I  know Lindsey Graham is one of its U.S. senators and I've always been happy that he is from South Carolina instead of California.

I also know it to be a place where children are addicted to cigarettes and poisoned in the tobacco fields but this, while unforgivable, is not unique to South Carolina - tobacco companies target, exploit and poison children all over the world. And the state's economy is weak. A right-to-work state since 1954, South Carolina still has a $7.25 minimum wage. A September, 2003, Wells Fargo Securities report said, “After adjusting for inflation, median household income has declined 11.4 percent over the past 12 years.”

Truth is, I don't think about South Carolina often, so I’m running out of things I know. The only other thing I can tell you is that, one day, as I was enjoying coffee in a favorite café in Buenos Aires, the beautiful girlfriend of (then) married South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, came into the café. This doesn't tell us a lot about South Carolina but for a moment I connected with the current story of this southern state. Sanford later became the state's 1st District Congressman.

Okay, so what would help South Carolina get past some of its problems? Can't do much about protecting its governors from falling in love with beautiful Argentine women or men but, surely, something could be done about hurricane damage on its beaches. And about the backwardness. And maybe the tobacco thing. And wages.

Here's my thought. I know where there are 5½ million of some of the smartest people on the planet who can't get along with their neighbors. These people have had so much trouble accepting neighbors that they created an apartheid state to control them and encourage them to leave. They’ve killed thousands and ethnically cleansed and blockaded so many more that millions are now living in miserable conditions in refugee camps inside and outside the country. And, speaking of smart, after these folks do their cleansing, they live in the homes of those they have cleansed - no mortgages! Isn’t that smart! Yes, I'm talking about the smart Zionist Jews of the apartheid nation of Israel.

Now, before you start bashing me for picking on Israel and Jews, you should know that President Jimmy Carter, a neighbor of South Carolina, the 2002 Nobel Peace Laureate, and a frequent visitor to Palestine, describes Palestine as an apartheid state. He even includes apartheid in the title of one of his books, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.

My idea is to invite all 5½ million Israelis to South Carolina to, in effect, cleanse Palestine … but in a good way. Currently, according to Wikipedia, the Jews occupy 8,500 square miles in Palestine (not counting illegally occupied land) and could easily fit into South Carolina. Think of the boost to the economy as 8,500 square miles of South Carolina rural land is sold to arriving Jews! The state has lots of coastline, too, and could easily accommodate another seaport. And just imagine what these smart, affable, good-looking immigrants could do about the hurricane problem and the tobacco poisoning.

More good news: after the move, the state would become a major manufacturer of Israeli armaments which would eliminate low wage concerns and give still another boost to the economy. I first heard about Israel armament manufacturing during the South African apartheid period when Israel provided great arms to maintain the white racist regime there. They provided the same deadly service to Central American fascists and to right-wing dictatorships in South America in the 1970's and 1980's. And, don't forget, the Israelis also have nuclear bombs. Having their own supply of nuclear bombs - and the well-paying jobs that come with this industry - would certainly make South Carolinians feel more secure! 

There are so many pluses to this idea I'm tempted to patent it as intellectual property! It’s almost a no-brainer. I don't believe there are many Arabs in South Carolina so the Jews would easily adapt to their new home. And, hopefully, the 30 billion+ public and private dollars Americans give to Israel each year could be made available for moving expenses, beginning with reparation payments to millions of Palestinian victims, instead of being used to help Israel maintain its apartheid state. I’ve always been ashamed of my government supporting apartheid and this would begin to mitigate some of that shame.

But, caveat emptor South Carolina! You need to ensure that after the Israelis come they don't acquire more land, create a militia, and a lobbying arm in Washington, then declare themselves a country. This is exactly what they did in Palestine. 

I recently heard British MP George Galloway say that during their search for a homeland, and before settling on Palestine (which was under British control), the Zionists had considered other locations where the British Empire had influence or control, specifically, the Seychelles, Uganda and Patagonia in Argentina.

Once a small group of wealthy Zionists settled on Palestine, they began buying up huge tracts of land and inviting Jews from around the world to come and populate the new land. So far, so good but then, as land was bought, tens of thousands of Palestinians were moved from their homes and the ethnic cleansing began. When the Jewish population was large enough and their military and lobbying apparatuses were in place, they made their move to create a nation. That's why I'm warning South Carolina up front, be very careful, because, if history repeats itself, you may be ethnically cleansed and find yourself living in South Dakota or, worse, California! 

To guard against a similar cleansing of the Palmetto State, South Carolinians would do well to study this map from Israeli-Californian Miko Peled's excellent book, The Son of The GeneralActually, the 2012 map needs to be updated: Mr. Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s apartheid state and of its latest slaughter of civilians in Gaza, including the targeting of hospitals and schools, announced two days after the recent 2014 cease-fire that 1,000 more acres of Palestine land would be annexed by Israel. 

This is a ridiculous idea

I agree. Moving Israelis to South Carolina is a ridiculous idea, but here's something equally ridiculous and morally reprehensible: the U.S. government supporting Israel's cruel, criminal, apartheid regime in our name and with our money. 

The truly, over-the-top ridiculous are those, especially in the White House and in the U.S. Congress, who won't look further than the next election or deeper than the level of Israeli funds in their election war chests or the impact of an ongoing and massive Israeli public relations campaign in the U.S. led by AIPAC. They fear that standing up and publicly condemning the bombing of 7+ UN schools, the murder of nearly a thousand women and children and the wounding of 10,000 more by the thugs of the Israel Defense Forces is far too risky. If you doubt this, consider the following, one of our Congress' most recent actions:

The almost unanimous Congressional vote of 395-8 in August to give $225 million for Israel's Iron Dome - instead of putting iron domes over Gaza hospitals and UN Schools - makes crystal clear the U.S. government's support of the apartheid state and  its slaughter of Palestinian civilians. Yes, we're talking about a Congress that didn't have time before it recessed to provide emergency funds for the immigration emergency at our own border, where thousands of children were crossing illegally, but did have time to send money to Israel! One very good thing about South Carolina is that 1st Congressional District Representative Mark Sanford was one of 8 members to vote against the Iron Dome bill!

This blind, unthinking, one could say cowardly, support of the Zionist agenda by our “leaders” guarantees the continuing operation of the largest open-air prison in the world in Gaza where desperate people can't work, can't travel, can't even eat or drink enough to maintain health. AND HALF OF THEM ARE CHILDREN! Shame on you, Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Boehner, Graham, and all your cohorts (satirist George Carlin would use a more colorful name). Only 2% of the House had the courage to take the high ground!

Finally, let me make myself absolutely clear: I support the right of all people, Jews, Palestinians, South Carolinians, Californians, to have a homeland, a place where all may enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But, when one people destroys the people and homeland of another to create its own homeland, we Americans should be first, not last, to call, Foul! 

I have known many Jews and always have had great sympathy and respect for them. They are an impressive people who have had more than their share of suffering, an inspiring people who have heroically met and triumphed over so much of what the world has unjustly inflicted on them, but I'm calling Foul! on the Zionist leadership in Israel and, specifically, on apartheid, and invite you to join me. 
While we're waiting for Israel to move to South Carolina or otherwise cleanse itself by becoming a decent neighbor and restoring peace and justice in Palestine, I'm boycotting all Israel products and business friends of this apartheid state. I  hope you will join me. Boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions healed South Africa from its cruelty. Let's heal Israel!

Here is a link to help you begin your research. It lists the companies being targeted for a boycott and the reasons they are targeted.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buenos Aires and Washington
1: Blurred Vision

It dawned on me as I wrote this 3-part series about two great cities that all my posts have been, in one way or another, about urban environments. It's a critical subject. Where we live often sets our mood. It can inspire us. Or depress us. Or energize us. Or kill us! We need to pay attention to how we choose and care for the place we call home.

I'm more dweller than environmentalist and react to my city environment more as someone who lives in it than one who studies it. I lived on Capitol Hill in northeast Washington for 7 years and now divide my life between Buenos Aires, a city of 3 million, and Mariposa, a California gold country town of 2 thousand, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Yosemite. I'm an avid hiker and am deeply moved by the beauty of nature and constantly disappointed with city folks for not demanding their cities more closely mirror nature. More trees. More parks with playgrounds for children and adults. Less concrete. Fewer cars. Quiet, efficient, elegant public transport. Noninvasive lighting. Smaller signs. No graffiti. Clean creeks and rivers intersecting neighborhoods. Urban gardens. Flowers, bicycles and pedestrian walkways. All of this is possible with enlightened political leadership, enthusiastic citizens and a clear vision shared by both. Without vision, the people perish.

Scenes like this from Ostrander Lake in Yosemite National Park need to be found throughout our cities.
Photo: Paul Weiss

Buenos Aires, a port on the Rio de La Plata, has a population of 3 million, 86% of whom are European (mostly Spanish and Italian). Washington, alongside the Potomac River, has 600,000 people with 54% African American and 35% European. The only reason to compare these two vastly different world capitals is that I have lived in both and during those times, thought daily about how to resolve obvious problems and make city living healthier, safer, more pleasurable. Again, at the heart of creating such a city is a clear vision shared passionately by its leaders and citizens.

Penguins are always surrounded by nature's splendor. What do they know that city folk don't ?  Photo: Paul Weiss

American cities, long held hostage by their addiction to automobiles, have not learned to mix residential and commercial use, so many services are not easily available to foot-bound city dwellers. I lived on Capitol Hill for 7 years and ignored a recall on my Ford all that time because the closest dealer was in Maryland. My supermarket was 12 blocks distant. There were 38 restaurants in Union Station, 6 blocks from my home, but these were for travelers, not neighbors. The closest neighborhood cafe, where I could interact with locals, was Pop's, an uphill mile from my home, a nice walk for me and Morgan, my German Shepherd, but far too far for most car-bound Americans.

Buenos Aires, also in the thrall of gas-guzzling machines, reduces some of the impact with more people-oriented zoning. The Argentine capital is world famous for its cafes – they are everywhere! And supermarkets, restaurants and bakeries, are within short walks. There are bookstores and newspaper kioscos, flower stands, hardware stores and laundry services. Blocks have residences and commercial shops or, alternatively, commercial areas never more than a few blocks from residences. See my video essay, My Affair With Buenos Aires – And Tango

Jane Jacobs wrote persuasively about mixed-use and short city blocks in her classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Focusing on New York, she argued that short blocks give more interesting options when walking between two points and mixed-use zoning makes neighborhoods interesting as well as functional. And since homes, jobs and commercial services are all closer, transportation options increase, as well. I see these ideas manifested far less in Washington than in Buenos Aires.

Visionary Jacobs argued vehemently against planning our cities and lives around cars. Both cities abuse this good advice and allow cars way too much sway. I grumble as I stumble over broken sidewalks in the Argentine capital as cars and buses pass by on well-paved streets. I walk in the street at every opportunity. In Buenos Aires, I see beautiful buildings gutted to convert them to parking garages because there is so little street parking. One reason both cities are so hot in summer is reflected heat from cement and blacktop and the hot metal of hundreds of thousands of parked cars. In both cities, signs and signals to control and direct traffic are placed wherever the traffic engineers decide, with no regard to pedestrian traffic. Buenos Aires is stingier with its traffic light installations and saves millions of pesos by minimizing the total number of lights and poles at intersections. The city saves even more by not installing stop signs at every corner, signs that most Argentines ignore anyway! Liability paranoia, poor planning and mistaken priorities in U.S. communities result in far too many outlandishly expensive and wasteful signaling systems at intersections.

In Washington, pedestrians “have the right of way,” however, local WUSA-TV says there are “3,000 pedestrian accidents every year in the area, including 90 fatalities.” Much of this carnage stems from a widely-accepted value system that places motor vehicles above people. Videographer Jay Mallin in his video How Pedestrians Interfere With Traffic" makes the point that planners and enforcing authorities consider pedestrians second in the pecking order. Where does the idiocy come from that permits 90 pedestrian fatalities every year? A Pedestrian Pro-Life Movement is desperately needed.

It's simpler in Buenos Aires: pedestrians have no rights. I was doubly careful but still came close to serious injury several times this year while crossing streets in Buenos Aires. One enraged driver, delayed by my walking in the crosswalk in front of him, said, “Next time you do that, I'll kill you!” An August, 2010 article in the Trip Advisor relates: “Today's paper carries a front page story about the 21st pedestrian or motorcyclist killed by a colectivo (bus) in Buenos Aires this year. The substance of the story is that the danger to pedestrians from colectivos has reached crisis proportions … It seems to be the law that pedestrians do not have the right of way even when crossing with a walk signal, vis a vis a turning vehicle. This means that even when you clearly have a walk signal, you have to be aware of vehicles turning because they may not stop for you.” And it seems no safer to be inside a colectivo. In September, 2011, this horrific colectivo crash also involved 2 trains and killed 11 people!

North and South Americans love their cars but cars are at the heart of many city problems: pedestrian safety and comfort, air purity; noise pollution, immense budgets for paving, lighting, traffic control and emergency services, overheated air, dirty, ugly gas stations with oil-saturated pavements, less and sicker flora, even obesity. Although energy use in Buenos Aires is more efficient because cars are smaller, SUV's and vanity-pick-up trucks rare, and RV's almost nonexistent, I still see as many cars there with single occupants as I see in Washington. Too many city planners work with the assumption that, since population is expanding and more cars will be on the road (Argentines will buy 800,000 new cars this year), we must make room for them. Instead, they need to be planning attractive, convenient, economical, public transport to lure people out of their cars.

As I travel on one of California's great highways, I often wonder what California would be like if the nurture and education of children, not highways, police, and prisons, were the priority. Sure, I love to move quickly from place to place on a great freeway but I'd much rather ride on a monorail, hybrid bus or subway, and have every child able to attend a great California school or university. More education and nurture now, fewer prisons and prisoners later. Oh, and did I mention that 1 out of 4 children in California's San Joaquin Valley come to school with inhalators to relieve their asthma? Two major freeways run north and south through the Valley with vehicle emissions causing much of the distress. And what did our Mission Accomplished president do about it? He authorized Mexican trucks to enter the U.S. without smog controls. Do I sound angry? Maybe all of us need to show a little more temper: this isn't about being “PC”, it's about making children and our future count for something.

Before moving from Santa Barbara, I had developed a strong interest in astronomy. I brought my 8-inch telescope with me to Washington, looked up and saw that light pollution from city lights had hidden the stars; I put the telescope in the basement for 7 years. Light pollution is no different in my South American city but in Mariposa, aaaaahhhhhhhh—one can see the night sky … priceless! And it may be cold in Antarctica but all those penguins enjoy incredible star-gazing. Did you happen to notice the absence of poorly-designed street lights in my penguin photo?

Demonstration at the U.S. Capitol at
one end of the Washington Mall. Photo: Paul Weiss

As national capitals, both cities frequently stage mammoth spectacles, Washington on the Mall and Buenos Aires around its Obelisco, as well as in the lovely corridor along the Avenida de Mayo between the Casa Rosada and El Congreso. For two months earlier this year, I stayed in an apartment one block from El Congreso and had to endure day-long demonstrations at least once a week. Ceaseless drumming, exploding cherry bombs and bullhorns or, worse, full-blown rock concert PA systems! Passionate Argentines upset with one injustice or another shouting into microphones. A very active but noisy democracy! In Washington, demonstrating is often confined to the Mall or around huge government buildings, not near residences, a good argument for single-use zoning for such locations. As I write this, however, the 99% demonstrations are focusing on financial districts and even private neighborhoods.

The Argentine Agency of Environmental Protection recently reported that Buenos Aires is the 4th noisiest city on the planet, after Tokyo, Nagasaki and New York. Of course, the Argentine capital is much larger than Washington. I read sometime back that Washington had 3 million people at noon and 600 thousand at midnight. It's much quieter when everyone leaves at the end of the workday! Well, most people don't leave Buenos Aires after work – they simply go home.

Not unusual for buses to travel at highway
speeds on narrow streets like this one, putting pedestrians at great risk. Photo: Paul Weiss

Another reason for noise: buses. Although Buenos Aires has more convenient public transport, with buses (colectivos) operating 24-hour routes, the negative is that the buses are noisy and often dangerous, moving at reckless speeds on narrow streets. Accidents involving buses are frequent. More than once I've had my sleeve brushed by a speeding bus because I wasn't mindful of how close I was walking to the edge of the sidewalk!

It's easy to list and gripe about the city's problems. The challenge is to come up with solutions. See my final post in this series where I offer some thoughts on moving cities closer to the light, to leaders and citizens embracing a common vision. My book, Touching The Rainbow Ground - 8 Steps To Hope, discusses  the path we need to take if we are to be people of vision and light.

Paul Weiss founded and, for 30 years, directed Americas Children, an international nonprofit for children in North and South America. He recently published a book about his work, Touching The Rainbow Ground – 8 Steps To Hope. In 2011, he began a new journey on the rainbow trail, a global mission, The Rainbow Ground, to address the terrible challenges facing children everywhere.

This post is the first in a 3-part series:
Buenos Aires and Washington 1: Blurred Vision
Buenos Aires and Washington 2: Social Glue, Hubris & The 4 S's
Buenos Aires and Washington 3: Vision of a City on a Hill

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Buenos Aires and Washington
2: Glueless, Hubris
and The 4 S's

My 3-part post continues about the failure of these two world capitals to become great cities by dreaming exciting dreams and converting them into clear visions. Both are in need of cataract removals to see their problems clearly and to create visions for all leaders and citizens to see and enthusiastically embrace.

When I lived in Washington, my Capitol Hill neighborhood in northeast lacked social glue. It was glueless! That is, there were few policemen, firemen, teachers, shopkeepers, etc., living in my neighborhood. Most of these folks lived in Maryland and Virginia and went home to these states every night. These are the folks who make neighborhoods work. They are the neighborhood leaders, watchers, helpers, friends, mentors, and models for children, the glue lacking in many Washington neighborhoods.

Townhouses on Washington's Capitol Hill. Three open-air drug operations functioned on this lovely block for many months – one block from a primary school.   Photo: Paul Weiss

What we did have were university students, transient Congressional staffers, homes with handicapped persons working in shelters, half-way houses for folks coming out of prison, all good people trying to make their way but not people committed to the neighborhood for the long haul.

A little aside on one small group of day residents. Since they didn't live in the neighborhood, school employees had no parking space when they arrived from their commute. Two schools near my home turned over their children playgrounds to parking areas for their staffs, leaving virtually no play space for hundreds of students. Cars over people, children too low in the pecking order, and glueless neighborhoods do not great cities make.

By contrast, although there are many cars commuting between the Buenos Aires Province and the City/ Federal District of Buenos Aires each weekday, it doesn't begin to compare to the mass migration to Maryland and Virginia at the end of each workday. Buenos Aires has many beautiful neighborhoods occupied by millions of porteños who work in, live in, and love their city. It makes all the difference.

Argentina's Minstry of Defense (center background) next to the Casa Rosada and Puerto Madero, a tall building that doesn't occupy a vast campus and is integrated with other city structures.    Photo: Paul Weiss

Washington, the city, has another great disadvantage: it is home to the leadership infrastructure of a nation of over 300 million people whose leaders and planners believe it needs massive bureaucratic campuses like those of the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, Congress and Homeland Security, etc., to govern well. And since America, with its 800 military bases worldwide (many with golf courses!), its massive production of war machines and frequent wars, its chain of mega-embassies and its tens of thousands of nuclear bombs, has assumed the world's police role, it requires even more buildings and more massive buildings (see my first post on short blocks and mixed-use). Such an infrastructure requires millions of people to support it. The cost to the nation and the physical impact of all this hubris on a small city of 600,000 residents is overwhelming. Just as cars rule the planning pecking order, the national interest of this massive presence trumps neighborhood interest or any other interest!

Is hubris too strong a word? Well, then, compare the sorry state of Washington's public schools to the luxury of the U.S. $700 million, 100+ acre campus of the Iraq embassy (larger than the Vatican) and see if a better word comes to mind. And the impact of this hubris on a city of 600,000 is not limited to its huge physical presence. It includes hundreds of thousands of federal employees (with their cars) who are part of the 480,000 federal, city and other workers who work in the city but live outside it. Add to it the tens of thousands of other vehicles needed to provide the food, mail, furniture, light bulbs, cement, lumber, etc., to build and support the places where the 480,000 work. This massive army expects roads, health, fire, police and other services but most don't pay income tax to the city that provides the services. Hubris has a very high price tag for the nation and for the city of Washington: every dollar the city has to spend for these daily “legal aliens” takes away quality from the lives of Washington citizens and vital education dollars from its children. As do the chain of embassies, the militant policing of the world with 800 military bases, arms production, the frequent wars and the nuclear arsenal. And money is not the most important cost. (See my video, Teen Soldiers)

Buenos Aires is the capital of a country with 40 million people. Argentina has no global chain of military bases nor has it assumed a global police role. It has no huge embassies or nuclear bombs. Even its 67-meter Obelisco is overshadowed by its look-alike cousin, the 167-meter Washington Monument. The federal physical plant, like so many other businesses and services, is spread out and integrated with other city structures and neighborhoods. And most of its workers work and live in Buenos Aires. Argentina doesn't have the hubris of a superpower.

It has something better. It has tango. And asado. And malbec. And besos and abrazos. Dancing, barbecuing, enjoying world-class wine and greeting each other with a kiss and an embrace beats nuclear bombs every day of the week.

Tango dancers please a crowd of locals and tourists on Calle Florida in Buenos Aires
Photo: Paul Weiss

The 4 S's:
signage, smoke, sidewalks

Washington does a far better job of controlling commercial signage than does Buenos Aires. The Argentines allow branding of everything in sight, including athletes. See my posting on Sports Branding The Argentine capital seems to have no problem tolerating ugly signs, posters glued on every open space (many from political leaders!) and graffiti beyond belief. See my video on YouTube: Coca Cola - Take Down That Ugly Sign

Coca Cola and McDonald's are allowed to pollute with their garish signs the area around an important national monument, the Obelisco, the place from which the Argentine flag was first flown. City officials had a party at the foot of the Oblisco and celebrated the lighting of the polluting Coke sign!!   Photo: Paul Weiss

Lower left: Washington Monument enshrined in cherry blossoms and expansive lawns. A monument revered by Americans.
   Photo: Paul Weiss

I know that far fewer folks smoke in the American capital. Americans pay $4-5 a pack but cigarettes only cost $1.50 a pack down South. People committing slow suicide with tobacco doesn't seem like a major environmental issue until you wait for the signal to change at a busy Buenos Aires street corner and 2 or 3 people are filling the air with second-hand smoke. And, of course, most are young, a demographic well-targeted by tobacco companies. Needless to say, the streets and sidewalks are littered with cigarette butts. And when many adults smoke, good role models are not plentiful. I recently saw the head coach of the famous Boca Junior fútbol team, Julio César Falcioni, arriving at the airport and talking with reporters, a cigarette dangling from his lips, either oblivious or uncaring about his impact on the young!

Maintenance of Buenos Aires sidewalks is the responsibility of the property owner. Big mistake! The sidewalks, except in upscale neighborhoods, are a disaster. I hike on smoother trails in the mountains. When a construction company is repairing or building a new building, it totally trashes the sidewalks along the entire length of the project, sometimes for years. In the U.S., the city builds and repairs sidewalks using revenues from property taxes. They don't always do a first-rate job but, generally, they are safe and adequate.

Oh, I almost forgot the 4th S. I don't want to be indelicate so let me walk around it. The 4th S has to do with dogs and sidewalks. And let me say this right up front: I don't blame the dogs! I side with Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan who says that dogs don't have problems; their owners do. Sorry, porteños, you don't get my vote on this one. Washington has its dog-sidewalk issues, but Argentines take the cake. Or should I say they don't take the cake, and that's the problem? Well, you get my point.

And while we are on the subject of clean streets, in late 2005 the City Council of Buenos Aires passed a zero waste law that bans land filling of recyclable and compostable waste by 2020. Against the backdrop of “institutionalized” waste collection is an infrastructure of cartoneros, or waste pickers, possibly as many as 10,000 in the city, who do their recycling in front of shops and residences.

Daily cycle. The streets of many areas of Buenos Aires are pristine at 8:00 o'clock each morning because the merchants and the porteros of the apartment buildings sweep and wash the sidewalks with garden hoses. Then out come the dogs. Later in the day, sidestepping the dog droppings, folks start depositing garbage bags, sometimes large piles, on sidewalks. As day moves into evening, cartoneros, often with wives and small children, come down the streets, tearing bags open to get at recyclables. Recycling and income generation for impoverished cartonero families are admirable goals, but streets are scattered with filth many hours every day. Then, late in the evening, huge garbage trucks roar down the streets, picking up 95% of the debris from streets often indistinguishable from garbage dumps. The remaining 5% is swept up by an army of yellow-garbed sanitation workers who patrol streets with brooms and trash cans on wheels. Eventually, everything gets picked up. The sun comes up, the sidewalks are swept and hosed down by the porteros and everything is pristine, once more. Then out come the dogs ...

In Washington, waste pick-up in my neighborhood was done from alleys behind residences and neighbors were responsible for keeping front yards clean. A weekly street-cleaning by big street-sweeping machine took care of the streets. The system was never perfect but got the job done. And, then, of course, out came the dogs.

There are solutions to all these problems, ways to clean our lenses by creating and embracing a vision for the city. I hope you will read my final post, Vision of a City on a Hill.

Paul Weiss founded and, for 30 years, directed Americas Children, an international nonprofit for children in North and South America. He recently published a book about his work, Touching The Rainbow Ground – 8 Steps To Hope. In 2011, he began a new journey on the rainbow trail, a global mission, The Rainbow Ground, to address the terrible challenges facing children everywhere.

This article is the second in a 3-part series:
Buenos Aires & Washington 1: Blurred Vision
Buenos Aires & Washington 2: Social Glue, Hubris & The 4 S's
Buenos Aires & Washington 3: Vision of a City on a Hill

Monday, November 7, 2011

Buenos Aires & Washington
3: Vision of a City on a Hill

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill...
Jesus in Matthew 5:14 NIV

It's all about light!  In The Kingdom Of God Is Within You, the book, it is said, that changed Gandhi's life, Tolstoy wrote :

...the life of a man [woman] and of humanity is nothing but a continual movement
from darkness into light, from a lower stage of truth to a higher,...

These words of Jesus and Tolstoy provide a compelling vision for our 2 cities: just as our lives ought to be about constantly seeking truth and the light that truth generates, our cities need to be about seeking truth and light.

Finding truth in an urban environment is finding the optimal arrangement of living space so it is in tune with nature and people. It is about facilitating learning, employment, health, good shelter and nutrition, and good relations, always seeking the optimal conditions so that all may enjoy access to these requisites of a good life. When we are moving toward this optimal mode, we generate light and inspire and create light for others. When children receive great educations from community schools, we are hopeful. When communities clean their air and water, we are relieved. When we see the homeless and elders cared for, our hearts sing. When many nations reached out and stood together, Chilean miners were rescued, and we stood proud and tall in the new light of possibilities that cooperation and caring brought to the global community.

I've tried in 2 previous posts to make it clear that the visions of our two cities are blurred but not hopeless. It's really quite simple. A city can be interesting and beautiful. It can attract visitors and residents by the millions BUT it will never be great, it will never be The City on the Hill that gives light to everyone, until its people have an enthusiastic, uncompromising commitment to a clearly-defined vision and I fully believe that the engine of this vision that will drive our two cities to greatness is a commitment to the well-being of children. The future of Washington is its children. El futuro de Buenos Aires es sus niños. And, yes, I say to all my aging peers, cities must also care today for yesterday's children, our honored elder citizens, but the future is today's children. It must be understood that the future demands that we place our youngest, most vulnerable citizens in the first position. Today. Every problem with which we now struggle, is connected to a failure to ensure the well-being of previous generations.

Nurturing and educating this generation of our precious children will turn the world around in one decade!  Photo: Paul Weiss

Think about this: of all the problems facing us in the chaos of our cities, the one that would inspire the most support and give us the most impelling entry point is the lifting up of children. And once we begin, the spirit of our efforts will spread to every city need. This is not about only taking care of children, but about bursting the dam of resistance and starting a flow of energy that will touch every corner of the city.

Got it? Okay, let's begin. We create the future by the way we nurture and educate our children. Children need healthy, safe, inspiring places to live, play and learn. Every child that is neglected reduces the light and the future capacity of the city to realize its dreams, its vision. In Buenos Aires last year, students took over and closed 30 schools demanding repairs and heat and other necessities. As the take-overs occurred I couldn't help thinking about the possibility of the same explosion of student demands in Washington, in places like Potomac Gardens, where virtually no recreational facilities exist and where neighbors wonder why children are so troublesome. Duuuuh! As I write, another student upheaval is happening in Chile with students demanding better schools. How different the image of President Sebastián Piñera welcoming the miners as they emerged from the rescue capsule and, now, repressing the students! Blurred vision. Is this the way we want our city and future to evolve, with anger, tear gas and political discord? Little truth, no light. We're talking about creating a City on the Hill, a Beloved Community, where every child has an opportunity to develop his/her potential. When children know they are valued at home, in the neighborhood, in the school, they don't go in anger to the streets. But we need to create a process, a vision of a city, that values its children, then make it happen. How do we do this?

The rescue of the Chilean miners gives us a clear model to follow. See my blog post, 33 Miners Rescued – DC Kids Still Trapped, where I wrote about the U.S. public school system:

What is needed in DC – and every failing school system – is an immediate, all-out encampment on the Washington Mall like the one at the San Jose mine. Bring in the experts, the media, the money guys, the politicians, and start putting together the rescue apparatus.

Encampment at the San Jose Mine that resulted in the rescue of every trapped miner. Photo: Associated Press, October 2010

Then start drilling through all the issues that keep our public school kids trapped and in danger of living lives without hope. Drill through all the greed, prejudice and stupidity that separate poor kids in public schools from privileged kids in private schools. And create – and fund – the escape capsule. And this is most important: the encampment stays in place until every child in every failing school is rescued.

We need to create an encampment and we need to find a rescue capsule. We need to come together to create the process and the vision. It would be great if our political leaders would call the city together but chances of that happening are not great. However, I'd love to be the Lionel Messi or Cal Ripken of a movement in both cities and lead the charge to create beloved communities for the children of both. I'm willing to sit down with Mayors Vincent Gray and Mauricio Macri to talk about it. Fellows, I'm free for lunch. Give me a call.

But you and I that telephone call will not be coming. Politicians, by their very nature, are not people with the kind of vision we're talking about, a vision that endures beyond the election cycle. Sure, at election time we hear a lot of promises about better education, improved highways, more security, blah, blah, blah. But that's politics, not vision. We need politicians, and we are grateful for the good ones, but by their very nature, they are not able to create the city we are seeking. We, the people, need to do it. We, the citizens, have great power and we need to use it to create the vision and engage the assistance of our city leaders, elected or otherwise, but we must take the lead, make it happen and make it endure.

But, before we begin, our vision needs to overcome two major stumbling blocks. Our two cities are too big and there isn't enough money.

Cities are too big. We need to create urban villages throughout our cities, each with no more than 25,000 residents in each village. The principal goals of each village are to make children its highest priority and to create a volunteer force to care for the children, the elderly and the village. In Washington, the villages would be organized within existing wards; in Buenos Aires, they would be organized within the new comunas. Every village would have one representative to be part of a weekly city “encampment” which would develop a vision, discover resources, and give leadership. Monthly public village meetings would give everyone an opportunity to hear progress reports, voice concerns and engage in solutions.

There isn't enough money. It's not about money. Money is why existing structures don't work—money, money, money. The coin of the realm for our City on the Hill will be the spiritual and moral energy of its citizens. Everything will emanate from the goodness of people who share a great vision in their hearts of a city that cares for all its people.

How do we begin? Simple. Invite 1 or 2 neighbors you respect for coffee. Draw a line around enough of your neighbors to include 25,000 people. Come up with a great name for the village. Continue meeting for coffee, always inviting more neighbors. Keep a conversation going about how the village, 25,000 strong, can enrich the lives of children, the future.

Find a cafe. Invite one or two others. Begin the conversation
about children in your city.
   Photo: Paul Weiss

Next, pick one issue from the issues in these three posts. Ask, “How can we solve it?” One solution to much of the damage drivers and automobiles cause would be to enforce a 25 mph speed limit throughout the city. Save lives! Make it so!

As the group takes on size and consistency, talk about an encampment and an escape capsule. It's that simple. Simple, but never easy! Never easy because we never achieve much without taking some risks. It can be risky just to put yourself out there and invite friends and strangers to talk about changing the future. Keep drinking that coffee, talking, and inviting more neighbors. And watch things happen.

The bottom line. Conversation will not immediately bring us to the light, but it will create a place for light to shine. Little candles will soon become large torches, guiding our steps toward truth. Soon we will act and our actions will create hope. And we will find ourselves at the rainbow ground, the place from which beautiful colors of light emanate, shouting to the world that we have created hope … and discovered truth.

Paul Weiss founded and, for 30 years, directed Americas Children, an international nonprofit for children in North and South America. He recently published a book about his work, Touching The Rainbow Ground – 8 Steps To Hope. In 2011, he began a new journey on the rainbow trail, a global mission, The Rainbow Ground, to address the terrible challenges facing children everywhere.

This post is the third in a 3-part series:
Buenos Aires & Washington 1: Blurred Vision
Buenos Aires & Washington 2: Social Glue, Hubris & The 4 S's
Buenos Aires & Washington 3: Vision of a City on a Hill