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Thursday, November 27, 2008

The decline and fall of the American empire (a poem)

(Portland, Oregon)

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire (a poem)


Some future historian will update Gibbon’s chronicle of Rome

Portraits of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on the cover

Rumsfeld, Wolfowicz, Halliburton, Rove skulk throughout its fourteen volumes
Which generation shall write it, the only question

More bad news to follow, the likely response


---Sean Cruz, April 2008

=======================

...and the essay:


As the Bush/Cheney administration pushed the nation to the brink of catastrophe, General Eric Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff, testified before Congress that the Iraq operation would require several hundred thousand troops....

The General’s advice was ignored, as the White House ideologues dreamed of parades in Baghdad, Medals of Freedom on their chests, and the books they would write with “Triumph” in the title, all gained with a war fought on the cheap....

General Colin Powell warned, “If you break it you own it,” as the nation sat on its hands, assuaged by the comforting notion that Iraq’s own oil revenues would pay the damages, soothed by the certain knowledge that the blood sacrifices would be borne by people they did not know….

Even a cursory reading of the history of the Middle East shows that the region has been a broken bowl throughout all of recorded time, Iraq itself a notion bred by long-dead British and French diplomats, lines drawn in the sand and dust in a world where permanent political boundaries do not exist….

A calculated risk certainly, bolstered by the knowledge that Americans by and large are not prone to deep thought or historical reflection. The nation has carved out its current glory in the fields of spectator sports, obesity and shopping; no one can touch our heroes here; we are, with absolute calorie-laden certainty, clad in our world-class running shoes and emblematic sports apparel, Number One with a bullet, no one can beat an American for sitting in a chair with a sandwich….

Inheriting a vast budget surplus, the Bush-Cheney Frankenstein monster squandered all, hyper-concentrated wealth in the hands of the few, plundered the hopes of generations to follow, fractured the economic fabric in ways that mere bombs cannot touch, sacked the Nation Unconscious unconscious….

Today, middle-class Americans stand in bread lines of increasing length, manufacturing jobs spun overseas, their Nikes no longer so damn relevant….

In the future, shoes will be merely that; the prudent might learn how to make their own; “Just Tool It!!!” the nation’s new motto, printed on the gift cards we exchange for our beans and rice….

Too shrewd by half, the Nation has invested half a billion dollars into its unready Baghdad embassy as half-finished condo/office towers dominate American skylines, the barrage balloons of this World War, not worth blowing up….

Have you seen New Orleans lately? The Gulf Coast sinks to the bottom of the list, joining the veterans of all wars there, last among the least priority, the focus is on everything economic now….

Finding ever more Americans too obese to serve in the military and too few willing to enlist, the Nation’s armed forces lower enlistment standards to accommodate borderline criminals, a story foretold in Gibbons’ Rome, now here generations deep; try recovering from THAT any time soon….

The last polar bear will walk in the wild before the last backyard pool is dug in the desert; before Las Vegas tones it down a notch; before the last bogus environmentalist jets off on holiday splurge….

The point of decline of a nation, the tipping point of a civilization, becomes apparent when one generation cannot expect to achieve a quality of life equal to its predecessor, when its inheritance arrives pissed-on, pre-mortgaged and omni-leveraged beyond the horizon, the Mother of All Turds-in-the-Pocket, and good luck to you….

See Volume 6: “America before Bush, and After”….

Barack Obama campaign-spoke of “the fierce urgency of now”, these words just coming into bitter November focus for so many, sleepwalking as they were with the legacy of Ronald Reagan, patron saint of the selfish and short-sighted, a nation of individuals fixed on self-interest; now look at where we are, all but the wealthy and privileged fly ham-packed commercial….

Americans need no foreign enemy to wreak havoc among us; the model of righteous self-reliance, we can do it ourselves; this is where listening to talk radio will get you, the professional wrestling of topical discourse….

The laws and habits of the Nation require Change to wait until late January, no matter the dire straits, the urgent ferocity of Catastrophe, the now-ocity of crisis facing us; utter incompetence ticks time away, wastes away the clock, like the last eight years….

The Bush Administration retains its Constitutional right to be woefully wrong for two more endless months, vaporizing American jobs, Absolute Dead Weight, still damage to do before slouching off into exile….

In a parliamentary system, they would be gone already (note to students of American democracy—room for improvement here), the power levers switched over, a new puppy in the White House, no Lame Duck in the oven….

The system requires patience, the problems demand patience, sufficient to bridge to January 20, and then the patience to endure real hardship while change courses through the pond in gravitational waves, rocking the petals….

Somewhere, a foreclosed homeowner sits in the dark with a gun, waiting for the unlucky soul whose job it is to walk through that front door with a packing box, who will pluck out that Last Straw….

Moose-fed Sara Palin stands poised to take the helm in 2012, ready as she will ever be. The mere thought brings cheer to millions; guffaws and foot-stamping warm the most threadbare spots in the soul, protect against winter’s chill, a place for her towards the end of the book, splayed unpunctuated against the tide of reason….

What, me worry…?

--Sean Cruz, November 2008



====================

"Trajan was ambitious of fame; and as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters." –Edward Gibbons, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 1

“War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied….War is a grave matter; one is apprehensive lest men embark upon it without due reflection.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

“If you invade an oil-producing nation on the other side of the world, it will cost you.” --Sean Cruz, www.Blogoliticalsean

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Oregonian prints Blogolitical "White Tide" Op Ed on Oregon Legislature

The Oregonian has published my op ed on the legislature in its November 13th issue.

I shared the page (equal ink!)with the great Thomas Friedman!

Here's the link:

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2008/11/a_blue_election_tide_or_a_whit.html



A longer version of the piece, titled "Blue tide--not white--sweeps Oregon House! The Senate is next!!" is posted on BlogoliticalSean here:

http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=30929496&postID=1123465582980233978

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saluting my sons on Veterans Day






Saluting my sons on Veterans Day
By Sean Cruz

Both of my sons, Aaron and Tyler Cruz, enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2000, joining an engineering battalion in southern Utah.

Their unit was put on alert, ordered to pack and stand by for deployment for Iraq early in the war, when President George W. Bush’s team began to realize that they didn’t have enough troops, although they would never admit this fact publicly. National Guard troops were activated far earlier than the public has ever realized, or cared to know about.

Their unit stood packed and ready, poised to leave for Ft. Carson, Colorado on 24 hours notice, throughout 2003. All of their equipment, vehicles and weapons were shipped for staging to Iraq.

Tyler was married and living in Utah.

Aaron was also living in Utah, but wanted to come back home to Portland and live with me. We had to obtain permission for him to come out here. I was able to bring him home in August 2003, and have written about this part of our lives in earlier posts.

The main thing was discovering the gravity and severity of Aaron’s physical and mental condition. He had not had adequate or competent medical care in all the years he had been living in Utah. Now he was facing life-threatening illness.

We came to learn that the reason their unit was held back on alert for so long was because their mission involved entering Iraq from the north, through Turkey, and that nation was not allowing U.S. forces through its territory at the time.

In November, 2003, their mission was changed, and my sons were ordered to report.

Aaron came downstairs to give me the news. He was going to join his unit and his brother. Nothing was going to stop him. Not even the warning from his doctor that his seizure disorder could put him into a coma from which he would not recover. He was going to Iraq.

I watched him pack on Thanksgiving day. He was gone the next day, sick as he was, clad in his dress uniform, driving to Utah.

I promised him his room would be exactly as he left it when he returned home, although I could feel in my heart that I would not see him alive again.

He called several days later to tell me that he had passed the Army physical, that he was cleared for deployment and combat. I couldn’t believe it was possible!

He had not disclosed any part of his true medical condition to the doctors, and they were happy to take everyone they could.

Eventually, the Army would decide to hold Aaron back in Utah for medical evaluation, but sent his brother Tyler on to Iraq, where he would serve as a .50 caliber machine gunner, escorting convoys across central Iraq for the next year.

The Army held Aaron in Utah for medical review. He could not leave the state. He received no pay and no medical care from Army doctors while he was there, and he died in April 2005, as predicted, after he suffered a seizure and fell into a coma.

I went broke supporting my son between the time the Army ordered him to report for deployment and his death.

I suspect that he was out of his anti-seizure meds.

Although Aaron is not a veteran of the Iraq war, that is through no fault of his own. He did all he could to get there, even attempting to transfer to other Iraq-bound units, if only the Army could overlook his medical condition, he hoped.

And he died a death common to veterans of this and other wars: alone, sick, broke, unemployed and homeless (his home was here in Portland).

His unit, back from Iraq, turned out in full dress for his memorial service, presented him with a flag; President Bush sent me a certificate, posted here:

http://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=30929496&postID=5621767990810215403

Eight hours after we buried his brother, Tyler was on his way back to complete training for his second tour, a year spent in Ramadi, in combat every day and night.

I have had no information about Tyler in more than a year.

How I miss my boys.

To you both, on Veterans Day 2008.

Love, Dad

Photos of Tyler in Iraq:

The United States of America honors the memory of Aaron A. Cruz


Saluting my father, my hero, on Veterans Day


John Paul Cruz was my dad. He was born in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. His parents emigrated to the U.S. in the wake of the Mexican revolution, doing agricultural work in California fields and orchards, when he was an infant, just 4 months old. My grandfather also worked as a laborer on the Southern Pacific railroad.

There were hard times on both sides of the border: The oppression of colonial Mexico; the bloody chaos of the Revolution; struggle and poverty; obtaining permission to cross the border;travel as Mexicans in the United States; American bigotry; distances of class, language and culture; the Great Depression and then World War II.

My dad spoke much about going to war and coming home from war, but little about the war itself. My brother and I learned about WWII from reading the many books on the subject that dad brought home. I developed my love of history through reading the books he collected.

They settled in Fairfield, California, where my grandparents lived out the rest of their days, where my father, first-born, led his two brothers and three sisters through the immigrants' maze so that each graduated from high school in this new land.

My dad, a citizen of Mexico, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943. He went ashore at Omaha Beach with the third wave of troops, fought through the hedgerows of Normandy, earned a commendation for his service under General George S. Patton during the Battle of the Bulge.

He would talk about the hedgerows. These might have been my first geography lessons. How the hedgerows came to be built, where they were located, why they were significant, how difficult they were to fight through....

He came home after the war, met and married the lady who would become my mother, became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. When I was a child, he became a patrol officer with the Solano County Sheriff's Office, where he would serve for 15 years.

An on-duty collision in the patrol car took his kneecap and ended his career. The damage to his chest would lead to heart problems that ended his life in 1975 at the age of 52. Heart surgery was in its infancy in those days. Procedures common today would probably have extended his life, and he might be alive today.

He is alive in my heart and that of my brother Dana. Every day. One could not ask for a better father figure than John Cruz, or for more perfect love than that he gave for his country and his family.

This photo was taken in Liege, Belgium, in 1944.

Monday, November 10, 2008

OHDC whistleblower letter #1

The first of three whistleblowing letters regarding the Oregon Human Development Corporation (OHDC) appears below.

I have taken some criticism for not following the chain of command, for going outside of the organization with these letters, but in actual fact I did so, much of that documented in internal emails to the OHDC Central Office.

The problem is that the OHDC chain of command goes no further than Fernando Guttierrez in the Central Office. This has been the case for many years, according to current and former OHDC employees.

Fernando insulates staff from Executive Director Ron Hauge and from OHDC's Board of Directors. OHDC provides no information to its employees regarding Mr. Hauge's activities or thinking, but rumors abound that he is rarely in his office, despite the charm of its 5th-floor views in Tigard. There is no evidence of any visioning by Mr. Hauge in either the short or long terms, and field staff have no information as to the future and direction of their employer.

Fernando also insulates staff from any information regarding the OHDC Board of Directors, its membership, meeting times and locations (if any) and agendas (if any).

The news that the economy is in crisis and unemployment rates soaring does not appear to have reached either Mr. Guttierrez or Mr. Hauge. More on this later.

As an Employment Specialist, my job was to find employment for clients seeking work, to monitor the status of employed clients over a period of time, and to submit signed reports to the Central Office. The most important reports are the quarterly status reports, which the Central Office uses to support its claims to the U.S. Department of Labor.

My employment began as the 2nd quarter 2008 reports were coming due, and there was intense pressure from the Central Office to get the forms filled out, signed and delivered.

I could see right away that the OHDC information system was a mess, because it didn't work. I learned from staff that no one knew how to make it work and that it had always been that way, which is why the organization functions on paper via fax and UPS.

I also saw that the status of many clients could not be confirmed, that many had not been seen or heard from in months. Fernando brushed that all aside, telling me to focus on a handful of current clients only, to ignore all the others.

It was easy to see that we would encounter the same problem when the next quarterly reports were due at the end of September.

I knew that I was not going to sign any document attesting that clients were being contacted by OHDC or were receiving services when I could find no evidence that this was the case.

Over the course of the summer, I received much pressure from the Central Office to remove from my case notes anything that did not support whatever claims OHDC was making to the feds. I refused to alter my notes. I will have more to say about this later in the series of posts.

Here's the 1st letter:

July 10, 2008

To Whom It May Concern:

Since entering employment at OHDC as Employment Specialist in the Gresham office on June 3, 2008, I have observed or become aware of a number of troubling issues, many long-term or endemic in the organization, that I have reason to believe are detrimental to its ability to fulfill its mission.

My observations are informed by my prior System Analyst experience in business computer systems, my family history as the son and grandson of Mexican farm workers, and by my position as Oregon State Senator Avel Gordly’s Chief of Staff. I have staffed Senator Gordly during her service on several Joint Ways and Means budget committees and on the Emergency Board since 2003.

Since many of the problems are related to OHDC’s computer and workflow systems, I will begin my comments in that area:

1. Observations re Information Services

There is no central file server in the OHDC system, and no backups in the field offices. Paper files are the only backup system in use.

All data is at perpetual risk of loss. All client files in the Gresham office reside on a single staff member’s computer, and I assume each office is configured the same way.

No two OHDC offices organize electronic files in the same way. The central office is currently attempting to standardize paper files, but no like effort is underway regarding electronic files.

Despite the ample provision of computer hardware in all of the offices, the OHDC information “system” ultimately operates via printouts sent (and often re-sent and re-sent again) between the central and field offices by fax and UPS. The organization essentially uses the computers as typewriters.

Nearly every management report pertaining to the requirements of the FJTP/WIA grant monies are keyed in by at least two employees, one in the central office and one in the field.

The OHDC electronic file system is chaotic, lacks any organizational concept or structure, and OHDC procedures require both field and central office employees to repeatedly re-enter data with no confidence that the result will be satisfactory in either the short or long term.

Paperwork errors in the central office and the workflow system itself creates unnecessary and unreasonable delays in clients’ receipt of reimbursement or other support funds and contributes to high levels of employee frustration.

Payments to clients or on behalf of clients are routinely held back by central office for one reason or another, often related to the illogical computer and workflow system that absolutely no one anywhere in the organization is master of.

The company providing computer support services has repeatedly made recommendations to OHDC to address these and other related issues, to no avail.

The Gresham office has a new ten-station flat-panel computer lab with overhead projection system for ESL instruction that mostly sits unused. The Rosetta Stone software that accompanies the lab does not work properly (or we lack any staff member who knows how to use it).

The OHDC website is badly in need of updating throughout. Board members are not identified, and no meetings or minutes are posted.

There are no recent OHCD success stories, identifying either client or employer partner, posted on the website.

It is doubtful that OHDC’s MIS staff has installed any traffic-analysis software on the company website that would provide information, for example, on who accesses the website and how they got there.

The online staff directory is months out of date.http://www.ohdc.org/directory.html

It is unclear what the role of the OHDC “MIS Manager” is, given all of the above.

It is also unclear what role other central office employees have in “managing” the OHDC system, and whether they have the qualifications to do so competently.

Some central office staff titles do not seem to correspond to actual duties, which appear to include monkeying ad hoc with the computer and workflow systems.


2. Staffing issue observations:


There are serious employee safety issues in the Gresham office, which is located in an area notorious for high rates of criminal gang activity. There is no active partnership with law enforcement in Rockwood, no alarm system or panic button for staff, and emergency exits are blocked due to the fear of intrusion from the rear of the building. Women feel particularly vulnerable.

Field office employee turnover is excessive.

Employee morale is low.

Opportunities for advancement within the organization for field staff personnel appear to be limited to the field offices alone.

Apparently, 100% of OHDC field office personnel are Hispanic and bilingual, but only a minority (1) of those in the central office are Hispanic or bilingual.

There appears to be little or no history of field employees successfully transitioning to central office positions.

Perhaps 40% of field office staff have been employed less than 6 months.

One experienced field office employee estimated that paperwork took up 40-50% of the employee’s time. My observation is that much of that paperwork is fruitless and reduces the employee’s opportunities to interact with either clients or employers.

3. Observations re clients and services

Central office employees are isolated from our clients; it is field office staff that deal with clients as human beings, not as numbers in a report.

There are scant records of successful placements and no active partnerships with employers in the Gresham area. This may be the case in other offices.

Employment Specialists are required to test the English proficiency of all new clients upon entry into the program, but no client progress reports of any kind are required of ESL instructors.

There is no record or report required of either (a) subject matter covered or (b) competency attained through the ESL class. The only measure of a client’s participation in ESL is the daily attendance sheet.

The central office routinely requires our clients to come into the field office any number of times to sign or re-sign forms without consideration for the trouble and expense imposed on the client, and with no sense that time is important to either staff or client.

For example, many of our clients need assistance to pay for the gasoline they must burn in order to get to the interviews we send them on, or to get to the job we have found for them, but there is no telling how long it will take for the central office to cut a check. The paperwork and process that the central office is developing will likely cause the value of the staff time required to exceed by far the cash value of the help provided to the client.

Our clients face overt racism and anti-immigrant hostility like no other population that is competing for these jobs. I am seeing Help Wanted ads for landscapers requiring English proficiency to mow lawns and trim bushes.

I have learned that only 20% of OHDC’s $ 1.8 million budget projected for the coming FY is allocated to client support services, the rest eaten up by overhead.


Closing comments and recommendations:

I believe that OHDC has many strengths upon which to build, but that several drastic steps are in order.

I also believe that—since our clients live on the thin margin and face significantly more difficult obstacles to stable employment in the present economic climate—the issue is urgent and remedial action must be taken immediately.

There is a major disconnect between the central office and the people we serve, brought upon in large part by the physical isolation of central office staff from the field offices and of the communities we serve, and by the astonishing lack of Hispanic employees and cultural competence within the central office.

Recommendations:

1. Change in leadership
2. Resolve file server and system backup issues.
3. Close central office and co-locate central office staff with field office providing direct services to reduce overhead and bring all staff into alignment with community and client needs.
4. Change at board level


Sincerely,


Sean Cruz

Thursday, November 06, 2008

White tide--not blue--sweeps Oregon House! The Senate is next!!

(Portland, Oregon) While the rest of the nation celebrates a transformational election that could not have taken place without minorities in general and Barack Obama in particular gaining access to political power at the state level, the Oregon legislature is making ready to convene in 2009 as its least-diverse body in decades.

In Oregon, it is the irony of stepping backward to pre-civil rights times as President-Elect Obama prepares to take residence in the White House that rises to historical proportions….

Sal Esquivel, a moderate Republican from southern Oregon, hung on to re-election by his fingernails. He will be the House of Representatives’ sole non-white member for the 2009-2011 biennium.

The irony…the irony….

And as it has for the past three biennia, the Oregon Democratic Party will sift out all of its non-white candidates in its partisan primaries and send a completely Caucasian House delegation to Salem. With a single exception, the same for the Senate.

Some say race is not a factor….

Some say affirmative action is no longer relevant, that equality has been reached….

Some say that Oregon’s partisan primary system works as intended….

…I’m sure that last one is the case….

After all, it was created in a day when only white men could own property or vote in an Oregon election….

This fact was reflected in the many Measure 37 hearings I monitored over the past several years. Those hearing rooms were always filled with white people; the proceedings completely irrelevant to Oregon’s minority populations.

Measure 37 looked back, you see, to those days when a person of color could not own or purchase property outside of certain urban areas in the state.

To have a Measure 37 claim, you pretty much had to be white….

How quickly people forget….

As a candidate for Senate District 23, the most racially and ethnically diverse senate district in Oregon, every endorsement interview I attended was conducted by a panel of 100% white people, with a single exception….

American Federation of Teachers (AFT): all white
Carpenters Union: all white; the one minority present left mid-interview
Firefighters: all white
Sierra Club: all white
Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV): all white
Stand for Children: all white
Basic Rights: all white
SEIU: the single exception—one person in the room was also a minority
AFSCME: all white and already in the tank (see AFSCME-gate post)
Building Trades: all white
Planned Parenthood: all white
Oregon Education Association (OEA): all white
Portland Association of Teachers: all white

The panels themselves mostly consisted of paid lobbyists and a handful or less of union members ranging from hard core to novices.

Few of these interview panelists were actually constituents of the district I was seeking to represent.

As a Mexican-American, a Chicano, I have a lifetime of experience reading white people’s facial and body language. Most of these panelists had never sent a person of color to the legislature before, and had probably never seen the inside of the state capitol.

Those are big hurdles to overcome in a 15-20 minute interview.

I didn’t ask any of them for their money….

They already knew what they were going to do….

The Democratic Party of Multnomah County itself played no role in the primary process itself; did not host a single public event, no forums or debates, staged nothing that might pose a threat to its incumbents' ambitions.

The publicly-funded Oregon League of Minority Voters (OLMV) spent the entire primary period ignoring minority candidates for the Oregon legislature, running and hiding, ducking and dodging, slippin' and slidin', stayed far away from the question of who would succeed Senator Avel Gordly in the Oregon Senate and who would serve in her old House seat.

Many of the OLMV members, you see, are secret members of the Committee-Once-Bent-on-Renaming-Interstate Avenue AND signed on to my opponent’s campaign, and you get the picture….

Did I mention that the OLMV is funded with your tax money?

But that was the past, and now we look to the future of the state, and how its legislature will reflect its citizenry….

That may be a couple of decades in the future….

The Senate has only two persons of color among its 30 members. Republican Senator Jackie Winters and Democratic Senator Margaret Carter are probably serving their last terms before retirement.

And then there will be none….

The clearest path to the Oregon Senate is through the House, but there is no place for people of color there, not for Democrats.

Individually, the Members are all good, hard-working, dedicated people….

But collectively, as a reflection of the state’s racial and ethnic makeup, issues and priorities, they fail to meet the rhetoric of inclusion and democracy.

They do make the case for open primaries and other electoral reform, though.

Oregon’s partisan primary system keeps us mired back in the era where decisions were made in smoke-filled rooms….

There was plenty of smoke in those endorsement interview rooms I was in….

You couldn’t see it, but you sure could smell it.


Sean Cruz
November 6, 2008