Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Since The First Time I Voted For President

This year, I’ll vote for Hillary and, having said that, won’t tell you how to vote but will tell you about the first time I voted for president.

That was 1968, a year in which I was angry about the Vietnam War, jeered Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election, worked for Gene McCarthy in Oregon, was shocked and numbed by Bobby Kennedy’s murder in LA and Martin Luther King Jr.’s in Memphis, and watched on TV the Chicago police riot and Hubert Humphrey become the presidential nominee.

I was 21, idealistic, angry and disillusioned. I was registered to vote in Hawaii (yes, I was born there, too, not Kenya) and Hawaii’s open ballot allowed me to vote for Eldridge Cleaver, a vote in protest. Hawaii’s then-three electoral votes went to Humphrey so my vote didn’t help elect Crooked Richard.

I continued to protest the war but figured out that a vote in protest was a dead end. I stayed engaged enough at least to vote for George McGovern against Richard Nixon in 1972. I got more engaged in energy and local land use issues and vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Over the years I’ve come to understand that the truly scary thing about the Republican Party’s national strategy has been to foster fear among constituencies as a way to build its coalitions. Fear of blacks, fear of Hispanics, fear of communists, fear of terrorists, fear of unions, fear of abortions, fear of godlessness, fear of crime, fear of government... Cultivating and organizing that fearfulness has worked ever since the modern version of the Southern strategy emerged 50 years ago and spread to the nation’s suburbs and rural areas.

In the 1980 election my father, a lifelong Democrat who was retiring, voted for Ronald Reagan because he was afraid for his Social Security and believed Reagan would protect it. I told him that was a terrible reason— but he was afraid.

Fear has been used against the presidency of Barack Obama and it characterizes how the Republican presidential candidate and his party this year conducted their campaigns. It doesn’t have to be that way.  Bernie Sanders touched a wellspring of progressive sentiment without using fear. Should I be afraid of Hillary taking my gun away, socializing my medical care (oh, Medicare), and opening our borders to immigrant terrorists?-- No.

As hard a slog as the last eight years have been, the Obama presidency has remained positive and inclusive.  So has Hillary’s and Bernie’s despite a bruising primary and ugly final months before November 8. Nevertheless, some of my colleagues and readers may feel like I did in 1968 so they will cast a protest vote or not vote at all.

But like I said, I’ll vote for Hillary. Because what’s different since the first time I voted in 1968 isn’t opposing political visions (we’ve always had that); what’s different is that Donald Trump is a culmination of Republican strategy, the grotesque embodiment of resentment and fear— about gun control, socialized medicine, immigration, terrorism, globalization-- and the prospect of salvation by the singular solution of a “strong man” in power.

You will decide how you will vote. For me, no candidate is perfect in all the policies and positions he or she takes or has taken; those birds all bear careful watching. But to fan the flames of resentment and fear is a poison that blights our civil society. Compassion and inclusion moves us forward, fear and resentment do not.

The real work of governing begins the morning after the election and it will be hard work. I will vote for compassion and inclusion, moving forward together, no matter how difficult. And I hope many, many others do, too.

How about you?

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Salish Sea News and Weather Begins 6th Year

Good morning, Salish Sea. Here's your news and weather.
Salish Sea News and Weather enters its sixth year of weekday compilations. It actually began in 2007 as Puget Sound News and Weather when the real People For Puget Sound was in action and became Salish Sea News and Weather after I was fired in 2011. So, has anything changed over the years?

The format has gone through some changes but the editorial focus has remained the same: to educate, inform and activate folks about environmental issues in the Salish Sea basin by compiling news from print and broadcast media. The inaugural issue of September 1, 2011 contained news clips about hot weather, stormwater pollution, an elephant seal stranding, bluebirds, a youngster fighting dolphin hunting, fake sea bass, Dupont gravel mining, China’s coal appetite, and how fish may have made the leap to colonize the land. And the marine (tug) weather forecast for the west end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca where all incoming and outgoing vessels pass in the Salish Sea.

This year’s September 1 compilation contained news clips about Canada premier Justin Trudeau, a BC fuel spill, the value of forage fish, a fine for selling endangered abalone, the value of razor clams, shellfish harvest closure, pier construction, wolf kill controversy, radio station KNKX, new Pacific marine national monument, and a job posting for a new director of the Northwest Straits Commission. And the marine (tug) weather for the west end of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Over the years, the landscape of environmental reporting has changed. Profit margins make it increasingly rarer to have reporters dedicated to environmental science, policy and activism issues and events. There is always the media frenzy over “big” stories like an oil spill, dam removal, killer whale death and mass protest but we’re less likely to get knowledgeable reporting about ongoing land use, water quality, research and policy issues.

At the same time, those who might serve as “newsmakers” like government agencies and environmental not-for-profit groups do their jobs but say less and less about the state of the Salish Sea. The Puget Sound Partnership and the restoration of Puget Sound has faded from public view. Attention has shifted to ocean acidification, global warming and climate change, and it’s rarer to hear anyone speaking on behalf of the Salish Sea.

During the last few years, however, a most notable exception has been the emerging role of Treaty Tribes and First Nations in the Salish Sea. As government and non-profit advocacy voices for the health of the Sound and Straits have ebbed, native leaders have spoken and acted decisively in fossil fuel issues, sustainable harvest, and habitat protection and restoration-- as sovereign nations.

That’s welcomed. We cheer the successful restoration of the Elwha River and the Nisqually Delta. We watch for results from expensive cleanup of our bays and harbors and new stormwater infrastructure. We worry about vessel mishaps coming from increased vessel traffic, dying sea stars, fish and shellfish toxins... Since there no longer are timelines for the Sound’s recovery, we wonder, in a time of changing climate and ocean chemistry whether our progress in habitat restoration, pollution removal and toxic chemical reduction exceeds, or at least equals, the Salish Sea’s growing population, economic growth, impervious surfaces and consumer consumption and waste.

As readers might have noticed, some days there’s a lot of Salish Sea news, some days not. What’s reported depends on what editors and reporters think important enough to write about and what there’s time and resources to research and write about. Nobody expect a full feature article every week about the state of the Salish Sea but it would be good for news to be reported with a fuller understanding of the interconnectedness of the land, water, plants and animals and human activities in the Salish Sea basin. A killer whale story is as much about our activities on land, the nearshore environment, toxic chemicals and forage fish as it might be about salmon prey availability. A local land use or development issue is as much a story about climate change, runoff, salmon and forage fish. You know the drill: it’s all one ecosystem, connected, vulnerable, wonderful.

We rely on some good reporters doing their jobs and you will see their bylines in the clip compilations: Lynda Mapes and Hal Bernton at the Seattle Times, Bellamy Pailthorp at KNKX, Phuong Le at Associated Press, Allison Morrow at KING, Jeff Burnside at KOMO, Tristan Baurick at Kitsap Sun, Noah Haglund at Everett Herald, Kimberly Cauvel at Skagit Valley Herald, Samantha Wohlfeil and Kie Relyea at Bellingham Herald, Derrick Nunnally and Jeffery Mayor at Tacoma News Tribune, Paul Gottlieb at Peninsula Daily News, Chris Dunagan at Watching Our Water Ways, Bob Simmons at Cascadia Weekly, Floyd McKay at Crosscut, Martha Baskin at Green Acres Radio, Amy Smart and Bill Cleverley at Times–Colonist, Larry Pynn at Vancouver Sun, Mark Hume at Globe and Mail, and a whole slew of spot news folks at the CBC.

A couple of housekeeping notes: Folks have asked ‘why tug weather?’ and the answer is:  to maintain a focus on one of the most vulnerable areas in the Salish Sea, where thankfully there is now a full-time rescue tug stationed but where ships proceed unescorted by tugs. The other high risk area, as more fossil fuel exports are proposed is the narrow channel of Haro Strait where all Canadian traffic enters and exits the northern Salish Sea.

Folks have asked how long it takes to put the weekday clipping together. Maybe there’s a handy app that compiles news clippings efficiently but, because I enjoy the task and am a news junkie, it only takes about an hour to scan publications and broadcasts online. The most problematic part is oftentimes finding an appropriate photo and story to lead the day’s blog, an image and story at least mildly informative, relevant and engaging to get your early morning read started.

I’ll keep compiling; I hope you will keep reading.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What’s Upstream Generally Comes Downstream

Guest blog by Pete Haase

I have followed the “What’s Upstream” campaign – website, Facebook, and billboard campaign-- that argues for more water pollution regulation of agriculture. I’ve seen pop-up ads for it in several online news sites over many months.  On its web site it has a lot of information about water pollution caused by some agriculture-industry players because of minimal regulation or oversight.  I say “minimal” because I am well aware of the extensive water pollution regulations and inspections that almost any other industry, port, or municipality is subjected to.

For example:  If a marine repair shop is sanding paint off a boat in their boatyard, the sander must be equipped to suck up the sanding dust, and most likely the boat is shielded with tarps to prevent any that might escape from blowing away.  However: Airplanes and helicopters often fly over my house and dive down into the berry fields and out comes a huge plume of who knows what. A major slough runs right through those fields and soon drains into Padilla Bay.

Another:  When herds of cattle graze in fields that border a stream or ditch, it is common practice to set the fence as close to the top of the bank as possible, without it falling in. Farmland is precious.  Some places have hundreds of cattle loitering along those fences, rain or shine.  However: When a big construction project is going on, you will see barriers, fences, pumps, blue water-storage and treatment tanks, and covered dirt piles.  Sometimes the big trucks have their wheels washed before driving out. You might even see the person who is there to make sure that all those “best management practices” for erosion control work, and that no dirty water flows from the site, rain or shine. You’ll see porta-potties, too!

The “What’s Upstream” campaign points out examples like those instances of agricultural pollution and highlights a lot of damage done.  It urges folks to write to their elected officials to ask for more stringent regulations and inspections.  There is a way to send “letters” right from their web site.

It was a pretty quiet affair until up went some big, blatant “What’s Upstream” billboards with cows on them in Olympia, and similar signs showed up on buses in Bellingham. It was sort of like poking a bee’s nest with a stick.  The agriculture advocates jumped and protested and got the insulting billboards and signs removed pronto.  The argument was that the campaign is largely funded from a Federal Environmental Protection Agency grant, and those grants do not allow campaigning directly.

In the meantime I regularly see on online news outlets three different pop-up, rolling “advertisements” from my county Clean Water Program.  One reminds dog owners to “Keep picking up after your dog.”  Another reminds me that there is a law requiring septic tanks be inspected regularly and I should be sure I am current.  The third shows a man with a “two-pickup load” pile of what appears to be manure and he is covering it with a blue tarp that is maybe 10’ x 10’.  “Cover your manure piles.”  It felt a bit like “arm twisting” with public money.

(There are none of these ads about the farmer and the 100 cows in a waterlogged field with the fence next to the stream.  There are none talking about a tractor pulling a spouting sprayer through a big berry field near the stream or a dairy having 50 pounds and more of manure and urine a day from each of hundreds of cows.)

Further, the whole “Save Puget Sound by 2020” campaign, overseen by the state Puget Sound Partnership agency, is quite a bit of advocacy to get us to stop everything that might possibly harm Puget Sound, like building bulkheads, dumping waste overboard from boats, or driving a car that leaks oil.  It is not private money funding that.

I once saw a small trucking firm that was pressure washing the truck engines in their concrete driveway.  The water flowed down to a storm drain that was about 100 feet from, and emptied into, Fidalgo Bay.  I took a picture and reported it to the hot line phone number.  They don’t wash there anymore.

I also recently saw about 30 cows grazing in a field in heavy rain.  There was a little ditch in the field with water running down it and some of the cows were standing in it.  The ditch drained through a road culvert, over the side of a bluff, and into Padilla Bay.  I took a picture and reported that to the hot line number.  One of the responding agencies is trying to find out who owns the cows and the other is waiting to be able to take water samples. The cows and the ditch are still there.

I, too, think it is time to regulate agriculture for water pollution just like other industries, cities, ports, and counties.  The farmers will survive.  Everyone else did.

[Pete Haase is an energetic environmental volunteer in Skagit County.  He likes being in the field with teams, doing things that he hopes will make a difference.  Much of what he does is citizen science.  Pete also likes engaging the public, helping them appreciate volunteer efforts and getting them to add their voices in support of protection and restoration. Pete has been named by RE Sources as a 2015 environmental hero.]

Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Many More Earth Days Until The Earth Is Saved?

Friday is the 46th Earth Day and hundreds of thousands of people young and old will be doing something good for the Earth. That’s a good thing because every act of recycling, reusing and restoring helps. But honestly, it’ll take a lot more to make our Earth a healthy place.

Hurrah for Earth Day volunteers and weekend warriors but the big, big threats to our planet aren’t addressed by the kinds of incremental actions that supposedly lead to full scale activism. That’s a hard pill to swallow for us educators and activists but, honestly, aren’t 46 years time enough to show some major progress in creating an environmental constituency among the majority of our nation’s people?-- especially given the urgency of the problems?

I sat this week with a group of lively black kids about the age of my grandson who had just got out of the Baltimore’s National Aquarium and they shared with me all the things they saw and did with the kind of detail and enthusiasm that made me want to enlist them in my marine crusade. But what will happen next? They will move into adolescence and young adulthood where the future of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean will join other interests and concerns in a grand hierarchy of being alive. How do we keep the flame burning once it is lit in the young?

I sat with scientists and environmental colleagues last week at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C., heartened that there was a strong mix of men and women participating but disheartened by the vast preponderance of Caucasian faces. Despite periodic hand wringing, the environmental movement continues to be white. How does environmentalism progress when the white population of this country becomes a minority in the next couple of decades?

I’m not sure how the information that comes out of the Ecosystem Conference will inform public policy and translate into the kinds of concerns that most people have when they think about their environment. In  our everyday lives, the environment comes down to public health, safety and access— our food, our water, streets, our parks and our beaches. In other words, environment and community need to go hand in hand to be relevant and meaningful.

The environmental movement need to become racially diverse if we are to progress beyond annual Earth Day events. The movement needs to speak directly to class differences and address issues meaningful to more than just educated, economically comfortable people. The movement needs to speak with many voices for each of us in the individuality of our ethnicity and our social standing. In doing so, it can speak to our individual responsibility for our environment. It can speak to the opportunities our environment provides us. It can speak to our legacy we leave for our children and their children.

Now let’s go pick up some trash, dig some weeds and plant a tree.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What’s In A Name?

Referring to the inland waters of Puget Sound and the Georgia Strait as the “Salish Sea” makes a difference, I believe, as I wrote about last week in "The Salish Sea— What’s In A Name?" So, how about “Jap” and “Nigger” Islands?

Knute Berger in Crosscut reports on how place names are important, full of meaning and capable of firing up intense passions. [Politically correct maps: Damn right.]

Berger writes:

.... In an article about the [Pramila] Jayapal-led name change effort, the Longview Daily News reported that a Wahkiakum County commissioner, Dan Cothren, signaled his dismissal of changing the name of Jim Crow Point there by saying he “would probably tell the person, ‘Well you need to get a life’ ” and calling the ideas “ridiculous.” He later told a writer for the Wahkiakum County Eagle in Cathlamet, “I just don’t like it that folks from the urban setting telling us from the rural setting what to do.”

.... The goods news is that no one is telling the people of Wahkiakum or any other Washington county what to do. Reconsidering a place name allows plenty of room for historical research, local values, debate, public input and disagreement to take place before a decision is rendered at either the state or federal level. It’s an opportunity to learn more about our heritage. Jayapal says she has heard from some folks in Wahkiakum Co. who didn’t know the term “Jim Crow” was at all racial. Another man told her he’s often been embarrassed when tourists visit and ask about the name.

Name discussions can educate all sides in the discussion, and in some cases they result in updated maps that reflect who we are now as opposed to who we were then.

The writer of The Wahkiakum County Eagle’s article, Rick Nelson, supports changing references to Jim Crow. “In my lifetime, the county has had some other name changes. We once had ‘Jap Island’ and ‘Nigger Island’ off the shores of Puget Island, and changing those names was a welcome move to change the heritage we will leave for future generations,” he writes. “Getting rid of Jim Crow in Wahkiakum County would be another welcome move to define our heritage.”

Rick Nelson is publisher of the Eagle and my brother-in-law. I know if you’re running a community newspaper you have to serve your community. That means taking every opportunity to inform and educate that community to move beyond the prejudices of race, class and gender.

Do people living there think “Jim Crow” was a brand of whiskey? It was a black-faced minstrel character created around 1830 who was a slave owned by Mr. Crow and who sang: “"Weel about and turn about and do jis so, Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow."

Laws passed to limit black people’s rights were called “Jim Crow Laws” and the term “Jim Crow” is a derogatory reference to African Americans with the connotation of foolish, uneducated and lazy.

Got it? Is that what county commissioner Cothren wants to preserve with his wrong-headed local pride? One Facebook comment suggested that Jim Crow Point could be renamed to honor James Saules who was being honored originally. (How Mr. Saules could have been honored by “Jim Crow Point,” however, is another story, another time.)

No doubt this discussion should go on for a long time in Cathlamet and Wahkiakum County; maybe long enough for me to offer to boycott my next Mother’s Day visit like others have been doing to North Carolina and Mississippi.

But innocent folks get hurt that way. Although it does give me pause to learn that one letter writer to the editor said: “Nazi Socialism succeeded so well in Germany because local newspapers spread it, according to the writer, and Wahkiakum County is so fortunate to have a newspaper doing the same thing.”

“Nazi Socialism?” Who are the innocent? Education opportunities abound.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

#SSEC16— Hold On To That Blue Marble

Canadian astronaut and scientist Roberta Bondar gave an inspired and inspiring keynote address to kick off the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, BC, on Wednesday. Capacity attendance of 1200 folks will be sharing information and experiences during the three-day meeting.

From space, it’s a whole different perspective on the problems and opportunities the conference is addressing in jam-packed concurrent sessions throughout the days. Keeping that perspective is good because I sat and listened to how rising water temperature correlates with sea star wasting disease, learned how higher water temperature correlates to increased shellfish toxins, and how we’re don’t know why tufted puffin populations are plummeting in the Salish Sea while auklet populations are doing OK. And, after all these years, how we still don’t know what works to change people’s behavior to save and restore the Salish Sea.

Sharing knowledge and networking with others are good stuff and the conference does a great job in bringing folks together in that respect. But the urgency of preserving the healthy parts of the Salish Sea and restoring the health of what’s damaged requires concerted actions on both sides of the shared waters, now, more than ever.

Before the next conference in 2018, we should send everyone to outer space to see the world the way Roberta Bondar has seen it. Meanwhile, as long as I’m here at the conference, I’ll do my best to hold on to that blue marble.

--Mike Sato

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Salish Sea— What’s In A Name?

The Salish Sea (NASA/WikiCommons)
It’s not a good idea to read a Wikipedia entry and think that makes me smart, but it’s not a bad idea to read an entry to remind myself that I don’t know everything. For example, about how the Salish Sea officially got its name.

I’d followed over the last couple of decades efforts to gracefully refer to the shared marine ecosystem shared by Washington state and British Columbia and cheered Bert Webber on in his successful crusade to have these shared waters named “The Salish Sea.”

Reading Wikipedia, “The name was endorsed by the Washington State Board on Geographic Names in late October, 2009... [and] was approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names on November 12, 2009.”

What I’d forgotten or maybe never even knew was that the Stz'uminus First Nation (formerly known as the Chemainus First Nation) in March 2008, according to Wikipedia, proposed the name “Salish Sea” and B.C.'s Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong championed the name formally to the British Columbia Geographical Names Office which, in August 2009, recommended adoption to the Geographical Names Board of Canada, which adopted the name contingent on the approval by the United States Board, which was forthcoming on November 12, 2009. [Isn’t bureaucracy amazing?]

Does it matter? I think it does as an important recognition of the First People in this place where we now live sharing resources. And saying “Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference” feels a lot more graceful than the mouthful of “Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Research Conference” or parsing that awful word, ‘transboundary.’

Maybe “The Salish Sea” is a start. When Washington participant travel north to this year’s Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, let them practice saying “Tahoma” and “Komo Kulshan” and “Shuksan” before reaching the border.

Bienvenue a la Mer de Salish.

--Mike Sato