Congressman Bruce Westerman, Mr. Back to the 60s

Congressman Bruce Westerman, Mr. Back-to-the-Sixties
Let me cut straight to the chase; Congressman Westerman is part of the gang that’s trying to take us Back-to-the-60s—environmentally. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that he has introduced a forestry bill that is a thinly-veiled Christmas present to logging companies. He is marching in lock step with the current administration to reverse the environments progress made by former Republican and Democratic Presidents. That’s right, and the facts are clear: The previous four presidents, two Republicans and two Democratic ones all worked with congress to improve the quality of our environment, but the current President is focused on reversing the progress made by the these Presidents, and Congressman Westerman is right in step with the Back-to-the-Sixties administration in undoing past environmental progress..
Let’s take a quick look back to see how far we’ve come in improving our environment. In the early sixties New York City was experiencing air quality almost as bad as some of our third world mega-cities are today. Our rivers were terribly polluted, and then the unthinkable happened. In 1969 a river caught on fire! The Cuyahoga River near Cleveland was so polluted that it caught on fire. It was an exclamation point that our environment was in horrible shape and desperately needed help. From that time forward the current presidents, both Democratic and Republican, worked with congress to improve our environment, and the resulting Clean Water Act is a direct result of bi-partisanship. The result was a steady improvement in air and water quality and our national parks were expanded. These measure achieved broad support from the presidents of that era as well as congress, and the move toward a better quality environment was broadly supported by the public.
However, the current administration is working to undo many of the environmental regulations enacted under administrations of both parties. It is an unprecedented attempt to remove as many of the enacted rules, laws, and presidential designations as possible.
I will try to list just a few of the “Back to the Sixties” movement Congressman Westerman is part of. Basically, their bottom line goal is to deregulate as much of industry safeguards as possible in order to make as much money as possible with no regard to the consequences. *(1) They are trying are trying to kill the Clean Power Plan to allow more coal burning. (2) They are withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. (3) They are removing the environmental rules around coal power. (4) They are weakening fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks. (5) They are opening up new public lands to oil and gas drilling and coal mining. (6) They are scaling back federal support for wind and solar power. (7) They are dramatically limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate in the future. (8) They are making the Supreme Court more hostile to environmental regulations. (9) They are reversing the White House’s climate guidance to federal agencies. (10 They are packing the executive branch with industry-friendly appointments. (11)They are cutting funding to the EPA. *From various Internet sources.
Can you believe with 98% of the scientists in the world stating that climate change is a serious problem and a grave threat to future generation, and with 210 countries signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement, the United States is backing out? There is no question about it. The current administration is determined to ignore future generations, and subject them to an environment that in many areas of our planet will be uninhabitable in less than twenty years.

Overall, the EPA is being systematically stripped of its existing rules, the national parks are being opened to logging and mineral development, and our air and water is steadily becoming more polluted. The Arctic National Wildlife has been opened to oil and gas development, and our national parks and monuments are being reduced by presidential action, which will open more public lands to coal mining and oil and gas drilling; all for the almighty dollar. Congressman Westerman is part of this disgraceful attempt to slash our environmental rules and rape public land.
Congressman Bruce Westerman is trying to hide behind his Forestry Degree, the recent wildfires out west, which were worse this year because of the effects of climate change, and the guise of being environmental to sponsor a bill that will open the doors to more logging, gut the environment safeguards, and loosen public input into the timber harvesting in our national parks. His proposed Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017 is a sham. It’s a horrible bill! It’s a blatant attempt to give timber harvesting a blank check! It’s an attempt to muffle descent and to make it more expensive and harder for the public to have input. It’s a cold hearted timber grab as the expense of the public. It is a pro-logging bill to benefit a few fat cat logging companies, and it does so at the expense of our public land. Under Westerman’s bill permits up to 10,000 acres are not subject to public input. That’s a block of a national park forest of over 15 square miles, and under certain conditions could be expanded to 30,000 acres. This bill is a thinly vailed attempt to make our National Forests timber farms.
Congressman Westerman, is a congressman from The Natural State, and he should be ashamed to hold his head up when he comes home. But why should we be surprised? After all the folks Congressman Westerman is associated with are planning to open up the national forests to coal mining and oil and gas well drilling. Of course, that’s just the opening shot. They are opening up oil and gas well drilling along the offshore east coast, and they are committed to reducing the size of national monuments and national parks. They are allowing the coal fired power plants to continue to spew particulates into the air such a mercury and they are making the USA the only country of 210 in the world to not join in to stopping global warming. It is shocking to see the wildfires in California knowing that climate change has caused what has always been a fire prone dry and windy season to be ratcheted up into a full disaster, while Congressman Westerman goes along with the administration trying to deny climate change, California goes up in flames.
“Congressman Westerman, if you believe the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017 is a good bill, come down to El Dorado and defend it in a Town Hall Meeting.”


Christmas Memories

Christmas Memories
Okay, I’m going to confess: I can’t ever get enough of the Holidays. Bring on the turkey, dressing, and family, and then stand by for Christmas Carols. Of course, things do get hectic, and I know the postal delivery people dread the catalogs that flood the mail. Yes, we do get overrun with our to-do list, which can be longer than your arm, but I think the bustling is worth it. For me it’s because the holidays are a time to let your hair down, re-connect, and get retuned spiritually.
I mentally have a category for Thanksgiving, and for me, it’s a time that family, food, and our blessings are emphasized. Of course, our Thanksgiving table always has exactly the same things, and if Vertis didn’t make the Green-Jell-O-Pear Salad or her special dressing, there would be a family crisis.
But Christmas is different and there’s something about that special holiday that makes me reflect back on past Christmases. Of course, as most of us know, all Christmases aren’t created equal. Some Christmases of 50 years ago are as vivid as if they were current, and some of our last few Christmases are so vague, they could have happened decades ago. Many of my earlier Christmases were spent on a small farm about a mile south of Norphlet, nestled in oaks, on the edge of Flat Creek Swamp. We moved there when I was seven, and I immediately became a boy-of-the-woods, creek, and swamp. During the 7 years we lived on the farm, I hunted and fished almost daily. Our family, while not at the poverty level, depended upon the fish, squirrel, rabbit, and other game I brought in. During that time I was the Norphlet Paperboy, and I had a trap-line down in Flat Creek Swamp.
Most of the Christmases when I lived on the farm were pretty simple, with a shirt or jacket as the big gift and a stocking with candy, apple, and orange. However, the Christmas when I was 12 stands out. That Christmas morning I walked down the hall from my room expecting to find the usual, but instead there, with a red ribbon around it with my name on it, was a Browning Sweet 16 Shotgun. The idea that my family would spend over a $100 on my Christmas present to get me something so special overwhelmed me. I still have what is now a well-used shotgun.
However, I remember another Christmas that stands out not because of the gifts, family, or church, but because of the absence of all of them. Vertis and I had only been out of college for about three years, and I was working for Exxon as a geologist on the King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas when Doug Garrett, the District Geologist, called me into his office. “Richard, on your job application you checked the box “Interested in overseas assignments”. Well, I vaguely remembered that, but then he said, “Esso Libya needs several wellsite geologists in Benghazi, Libya. Are you interested?” I knew enough geography to know Libya was in North Africa, so I was shaking my head as he finished, “Think about it for a few days. You don’t have to give me an answer right now.” I nodded and started for the door when Doug said, “And they will double your salary.”
Well, because of a huge college debt that was dragging us down, that December we found ourselves in Benghazi where I working as a well-site geologist for Esso Libya. On the 15th of December, I was 150 miles deep in the Sahara Desert on a drilling rig in charge evaluating the oil well Esso Libya was drilling. My two weeks in the desert would be up on the 21st, and yes, you bet, I was counting the days, so when the small plane landed on the rig’s gravel runway the morning of the 21st, I couldn’t wait to get back to Benghazi and be with Vertis for the week I was scheduled to be in town. Vertis met the plane, we hopped in our little Fiat 500, which was just about the size of the Smart Cars that are on the market today, and we started our week of Christmas in Benghazi.
I remember Vertis saying, “Richard, I have a couple of surprises to show you. Drive downtown.”
Benghazi’s population was around 60,000, but it seemed a much smaller town because so many of the residents lived out on the edge of town. They had moved in from the small outlying villages over the past 10 years to look for work. In the center of town there was a traffic circle and in the middle of the circle there was a big evergreen tree, and when I rounded the corner I saw what Vertis was talking about; the tree was covered with Christmas lights. Of course, that’s what I thought all the colored lights were, but Vertis corrected me. “Richard, December twenty-fourth is Libyan Independence Day. That’s why the tree is decorated.”
“Well, we can pretend their Christmas lights,” I remarked, as I circled the tree and headed for our house on the edge of town.
When I opened the front door and walked in the living room, I spotted the other surprise. Our living room had a big, brick fireplace and someone before us, who rented the house, had painted it dark green. Yes, it did look hideous. However, during the two weeks I was in the desert, Vertis had hand-chipped every speck of green paint off the fireplace. It looked great!
Later in the week, Vertis brought up Christmas, and Christmas plans. Vertis said to me, “Richard, Norma, the District Geologist’s wife, told me yesterday, we didn’t get invited to any of the ex-pats Christmas parties because we were new and people didn’t know us. She said next year would be different.” So, it’s going to be just the two of us here at Christmas.”
The next day was Christmas Eve, and that night I managed to scrounge up enough firewood for a fire in the fireplace, and we took our shortwave radio into the living room, sat down on a couple of pillows in front of the fireplace, and tuned in the BBC. As a static-filled Silent Night played on the radio, we opened our presents to each other. I had purchased a bangle bracelet for Vertis during one of my times back in town, and Vertis had bought me a new billfold.
Even when we were in college and later living in Texas, we had always made it home for Christmas to be with family, friends, and to be in our home church. This was the first Christmas for both of us to be without anyone, and not even have a Christmas card or a telephone call. We realized at that moment how much of Christmas is about friends, family, and church. I put my arm around Vertis, and as we listened to the last strains of Silent Night on the BBC, tears ran down our cheeks.

Give Arkansas a Christmas Present

Give Arkansas a Christmas Present
Well, since its Christmas, the peak of the gift giving season, I’m sure gifts are on your mind. Of course, you’re wondering if you have forgotten anyone. Yes, and not only that but you want to be sure you have given the perfect gift to everyone on your list, so think about who and what as you read this column, and consider, have you given your old home state, Arkansas, a gift? A gift that the state really needs and wants.
I think most of us have an altruistic spirit within us, which of course means we have a desire to do something that benefits others and not only ourselves, but the problem is that the opportunities are either too difficult, or they just aren’t available. What if, by joining with others across the state you could make a truly meaningful contribution to our state, and give a Christmas gift that is really needed and wanted.
Let’s look into a relative simply way to achieve that. First an example: A couple of decades or so ago the Mayor and City Council of Chicago made a commitment to plant 1,000,000 trees within the city limits of their town. Of course, the reason was to achieve a combination of natural beauty vs a blank parking lots or sidewalks or Inter-state right of ways, and as a bonus the trees would counter the cities air pollution and reduce utility bills in the city.
I had an opportunity to visit Chicago before the program started, and since then I have been back several times. However, on a recent visit I took a close look at downtown Chicago, and when I compared it to the before the pre-tree planting plan, it was a real visual eye-opener. The trees planted in the first years of the program were large enough to visually change a blank city-scape into an impressive, urban leafy canopy. Yes, they had met the challenge of 1,000,000 trees, actually several years ago, and now they are “Give us a call, and we’ll come plant a tree in your front yard—for free.” Yes, the 1,000,000 tree planting program was so successful that the City officials were bombarded with requests for trees.
I guess, if this had happened in the Natural State, say in Little Rock, we might not be s shocked, but in concrete-city Chicago? No way, but wow, what a great example for The Natural State. Yes, we have cities big and small that are planting a few trees, but we’re just scratching the surface here in Arkansas.
However, it’s not like we not doing any planting, it’s just that we can do more, and we have some help on the way. The Walton Family Foundation is providing a grant that will allow 2000 trees of 50 species to be planted in Bella Vista, Bentonville, Centerton, Gravette, Pea Ridge, and Siloam Springs. The Foundation has a wonderful history of providing grant money to plant trees, and thousands if trees have been planted because of their generosity.
Well, do we need more urban or yard trees in our state? Of course we do! Take one look at our entryway streets in every city in the state, and if you can keep from throwing up, plant a tree or a hundred trees.
Sure we can do better, and since most of us live in or close to a forest, where there are millions of surplus trees right there for the picking, finding a tree to plant is easy. After I saw the City of Dallas had planted cypress trees in landscaping the area around the new downtown arts district, I walked about two hundred yards to a small lake behind my house, dug up 8 small cypress Trees and replanted them in downtown El Dorado. Yep, every one of them lived and are doing fine. (Actually, when I saw the cypress trees being planted in Dallas I was surprised, but after I planted them in downtown El Dorado, and they thrived, I realize cypress trees make good urban landscaping trees, and they don’t need to be in the edge of a lake to grow.)
Here in the Natural State we take our trees for granted, and ignore the tremendous benefits available, if we will just plant a tree. An infra-red aerial survey over almost any town in the country has a urban hot spot of increased heat that emits from the mostly bare city centers. Studies have shown as much as a 25% decrease in utility bills can occurs when an urban canopy of leafy trees shelters the sidewalks and streets, and there is a bonus in tree planting that is not only in the ambiance, but in the actual drawing in of customers to shopping areas. Our downtowns are the original shopping areas in the almost every city in the state, and a tree lined landscaped shopping center or street draws in the shoppers according to a Government survey.
Yes, that’s the Christmas present I would like to see us give our state, and it’s a one that we can easily afford and do, and, if a number of individuals around the state join in, the numbers will mount up and the program will be hugely successful. What if everyone in Arkansas committed to plant one tree a year? Or maybe what if only a third of us committed to plant one tree a year?
That would be over 1,000,000 new trees in our state each year, and be a giant step in becoming The Natural State. This Christmas give the Natural State a gift, and what could be a better gift than to plant a living tree? So make that commitment.
Well, our El Dorado Mason Family has committed to plant 20 trees. Do I have any other commitment? If your city or you as an individual will commit to plant trees this year let me know. Email me your number of tree planting commitments, and I’ll post the total numbers in future columns. Give Arkansan a gift this year. Plant a tree!

It’s the Stuff, Stupid!

It’s “The Stuff,” Stupid!

Well, this is going to sound like the simplest solution to putting some life in a dead downtown that you have ever heard: Add stuff. I know that begs the question, of course. What kind of stuff? And the answer is….almost any kind of stuff!
Before we get into the details of why stuff matters, let’s look at the towns without stuff and see if we can get a glimpse of why a dead-as-a-sack-of-hammers downtown is as blank as a sheet of paper. But, why is it blank? Yes, you might say the former downtown businesses closed because no one came downtown to shop and you’d be right, but why did shoppers abandon that downtown? I think the absence of stuff had a lot to do with it. In order to understand the concept of stuff, I’m going to use an example a very successful restaurant—The Superior Grill in Shreveport. It’s packed every night, and yes they do serve good food, but the Superior is much more than a good place to eat. Going to the Superior is having the Superior experience complete with all the trimmings, and the trimmings are the “stuff” that makes the restaurant click. Colored lights are strung from the ceiling, almost every inch of wall space is covered with everything from bullfight posters to mounted steer heads, plus adding to the stuff, there’s TVs on every wall and the music is blaring. This restaurant is the poster child for “more stuff”. Yes, I know they serve great margaritas and their open grill turns out super fajitas, but would the restaurant still knock ‘um dead without the stuff? Maybe, but can you imagine stripping the restaurant to the walls? Of course not, because who in their right mind would tinker with a cash machine like that?
Okay, now let’s see if the “stuff” concept will transfer to a dead downtown and breathe life into it. There are plenty of dead downtowns to use as examples and they all have one thing in common. Almost without exception the store fronts, parking lots, and sidewalks are bare. There are no trees, green boulevards, or any other items to clutter the area. It’s not that the residents wanted a bare downtown; it was a matter of priorities. Trees, planters, kiosks and any other “fluff” items, as these things were called were given such a low priority that by the time the town’s limited resources were allocated, the monies were depleted. Yes, the industrial parks and job creation was considered primary beneficiaries, but if you want to know how that worked out, check the multi-millions spent on deserted industrial parks. Obviously, there has to be a better way for our towns and cities to spend their money.
First, let’s look at the easy items that will improve a downtown, and believe it or not it’s the visual items that are the most important. A government survey of several strip centers proved this point. They compared strip centers that were essentially blank to those that were landscaped with plants around the stores and trees in their parking lot. The compared centers carried similar merchandise. They found that the landscaped strip centers did almost 25% more business than the blank shopping centers. Customers actually thought the stores with the landscaped parking lot had better quality goods and they were willing to pay more for them. Even though, that wasn’t the case. The two strip centers had stores with almost identical merchandise. Well, landscaping is sure stuff; so I guess you might say stuff sells.
I guess you might say stuff sells because of our inquisitive human nature. Let me give you two examples: First Jasper, Arkansas. Well, tiny Jasper is not big enough to have much, but it’s right in the middle of scenic Arkansas, and very close to our elk herd. So why not put a 9 foot statue of an elk right downtown? Yep, they did and a picture of that elk was splashed across paper after paper. Just think of the folks who will go out of their way to visit Jasper—and see the elk. Of course, it takes visitors to give a downtown life, and Jasper has taken a step forward in attracting them. Example number two: El Dorado…yes, we have great buildings and a wonderful courthouse, but what are the most photographed items in El Dorado and maybe in the state? Yes, it’s two pieces of stuff, which are the two red, Old English Phone Booths. They are the real thing straight from London, and when they were installed they were actual phone booths. However, cell phones put them out of business, so the two phone booths have been resurrected as the Downtown Book Exchanges. They are back in business and are as photographed as ever.
If we look a little deeper into the stuff concept, we’ll see we are really picky when it comes to adding stuff to a downtown. The country of Switzerland is almost a Disney theme park when it comes to adding stuff, and naturally with a drop dead backdrop of the Alps, tourism is the number one business in the country. However, most visitors don’t climb the Alps; they end up walking around in the hundreds of small towns filled with stuff. The Swiss have developed a knack for just the right stuff, and what do they focus on? Well, in their natural setting around the mountains, the theme in most villages has to do with nature. Hanging baskets from streetlight poles, window boxes with flowers, and on and on with everything natural and historic as they can make it. If you removed the stuff from the Swiss villages, they might look a lot like some of our downtowns, and they would probably have about as many visitors as we do.
Now, let’s hone in on Arkansas and focus on stuff that would enhance not only the looks of most towns, but would draw visitors, and maybe give some of our visitors a reason to move to one of our towns that are losing population. First let’s look at the big minuses that detract from our Natural State theme, and blank parking lots are the biggest eyesore in most towns. Of course, in automobile American almost every town of any size has parking lots, but they don’t have to be blank eyesores. If we check out how almost every progressive city handles bare parking lots, the first thing you will find is they have a greenscape ordinance, which very simply means parking lots must have at least 25% greenspace. If a city builds on the greenscape ordinance basis, it will promote sidewalk planters, window boxes, and street trees. Yes, it’s just more stuff, but it all adds up.
Of course, I could go on and on about stuff, but I think you get the point. Stuff draws people, and people restore life to a dead downtown.

What Makes Us Americans

Richard Mason

What Makes Us Americans

Well, what makes Americans what we are today? I guess you could fall back on our diversity. You know the old melting pot stuff, but I think we’re a whole lot more than a mix of around-the-world refugees. Yes, I may be bragging, when I say Americans are a special breed of cats but I say that in the light of our place in today’s world. However, I don’t think being the world’s most powerful nation or the greatest economic power defines us. No, we’re sure not one smooth, big ball of economic and military wax, and that’s not all bad either. Sure we’ve got some rough edges, which also adds into what make us who we are. Yes, some of our rough edges make us prone to violence and that’s not all bad either. When an American, sitting at a computer in Las Vegas, puts a hellfire missile in the ear of a Somalis warlord, who is committing genocide that American is reacting the same way our first troops responded at Lexington and Concord. But there’s not any doubt that we have violence intertwined in our soul. If you don’t believe me, watch two demonstrations meet—one right and one left—exercising their free speech complete with clubs and knives. Yes, you’ll be looking at another wild fight when the Alt-right, Nazis and unrepentant Confederates meet Black Lives Matter, the Anarchists and the Ultra-Left, and that’s not all bad either. Hey, what if they didn’t care? So sell tickets and let ’em get after it.
Yes, the spirit of America has a streak of violent intertwined in it and that’s not all bad either. We wouldn’t have a country if our forefathers hadn’t fought it out in the streets of Boston. Of course, we thrive on contact sports. Well, what do you call those Gladiators who trot out on the field every Saturday in the fall and we have the same little routine the ancient Romans had when one of them was ‘hurt’. They are carted off and the game goes on, and that’s not all bad either. It is part of who we are as Americans. But it’s a little different since the Roman ones died right there on the field and the American ones take another 30 or 40 years to die from the brain injuries, but that’s not all bad either or maybe it is. Hell, how should I know, I’m just a geologist who likes to write.
But the true spirit of Americans comes through when fellow Americans are in need. The response to Hurricane Harvey is a good example. A few days after the city of Houston became Lake Houston, we drove to Dallas on Interstate 20. We were in East Texas when we passed a caravan of Caddo Parish sheriff and police officers escorting several 18 wheelers loaded with relief supplies heading for South Texas. That impressed me but not as much as the pickup truck we passed a few miles on down the road. It was an older, non-air conditioned truck driven by a bearded young man who looked to be about 30. He had two large flags flying on the front of his truck; an American and a Christian. In the back of his truck he had an aluminum rescue boat with a motor and the boat was packed to overflowing with cases of bottled water. He was doing just what Americans have been doing ever since there was an America, he was responding to other Americans in need.
No, we’re not a perfect country but that’s not all bad either. I’ve lived overseas and visited Switzerland several times and it is as close to a perfect country as any place I’ve seen but just the idea that I would live there and be bored to death is beyond my thinking.
I worked in Benghazi, Libya of all places, for a couple of years and when I returned to the States, the customs agent in New York handed me my passport back and said, “Welcome home” it brought out a since of pride and a smile. Yes, I’m proud to be an American and I actually like some of America’s rough edges. When I go for a run or more likely a long walk and I see beer cans at the stop sign, I know how long it takes one of our good-old-boys to drive from the convenience store and finish a Budweiser and that’s not all bad either, because I know those guys are part of the backbone of our country and we’d be something like the French with bad food if we didn’t have them, and yes, that would be bad. When I was in college at The University and in love with a Smackover girl, I had to hitchhike 300 miles home on the weekends to see her, I could always count on those good-old-boys for a pickup truck ride.
Of course, we have our Chamber of Commerce and even our Governor still out looking for new jobs for Arkansas, even though we can’t fill the openings we have now, and that’s not all bad either. What if, instead of having ‘em out beating the bushes for a Toyota factory, they joined the work force? Gosh, they would set productivity back ten years, and that would be bad.
Of course, the 2020 Presidential race is about to start up, but that’s not all bad….wait a minute: that is all bad…unless you’re selling advertising.