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Day: November 20, 2015

Former OSH doc talks mental health with McNary students

Dr. Prasanna Pati speaks with students during a visit to McNary High School. Pati worked at Oregon State Hospital for nearly 28 years and had a small role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)
Dr. Prasanna Pati speaks with students during a visit to McNary High School. Pati worked at Oregon State Hospital for nearly 28 years and had a small role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Of the Keizertimes

In September, a Gresham woman fatally shot her 17-year-old son. Reports suggested that the woman was undregoing financial and emotional strain after losing her home to foreclosure.

When Dr. Prasanna Pati reads about such incidents, the psychiatrist laments the best aspects of the now defunct Oregon State Hospital (OSH). Between 1883 and 1995, the hospital operated as the primary state-run psychiatric hospital.

“People with mental health problems are not bad guys or good guys. They are people with problems, and most people suffer from some sort of mental health issue,” said Pati, who took time Monday, Nov. 16, to talk with McNary High School students.

Pati was invited to talk with students as part of teacher Gary Bulen’s psychology unit on the brain and body. Pati served as a doctor at OSH for nearly 28 years and even landed a small role in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the Academy Award-winning film that shot on location at OSH.

During his visit, Pati provided anecotal evidence of the need for the services OSH provided. It included accounts of overbearing, and sometimes racist patients, as well as one man who had a plan to kill his family before checking in at the hospital.

“He had a loaded gun in his car when he checked in and I made him leave the keys to the car as he signed in,” Pati said. The man eventually checked out of OSH and returned to his life without incident.

The key to achieving such dramatic turnarounds was destigmatizing issues of mental health, he said.

“We offered group therapy, family therapy, family group therapy and activity therapy that allowed patients to work on the hospital campus. It was all part of a team treatment plan,” Pati said.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s emphasis on some of the more horrorific aspects of mental health treatments was one of the reasons Pati opposed filming on the hospital campus. He felt the producers offering him a role in the movie was something of “a bribe,” but he took them up on the opportunity.

Lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), he said, were performed in the absence of psychotherapeutic drugs, which are now readily available.

“I still believe there are probably 15 percent or so of individuals who are depressed and suicidal that could benefit from ECT and we’ve deprived them of it,” Pati said.

In the midst of providing students with actual accounts of the things they’d been reading and discussing in class, Pati also encouraged them to take responsibility for their own physical and mental health.

“If you are feeling depressed or lonely – if you have any sort of mental health problem –- tell someone you trust,” Pati said. “Share it with them and then do something about it.”

He also encouraged students to follow in his own footsteps. At age 90, he still walks two miles a day, down from four miles just a few years ago.

“I truly think we can walk and dance our mental health issues away. Start each morning with yoga, or meditation or dance. Study hard, play hard and make lots of social interation,” he said.

Keizerites push for WinCo

Of the Keizertimes

Ever since word came out during the summer about the Keizer Haggen closing, the question has been what grocery store chain could come to town?

Speculation and interest ramped up even more when the Haggen – formerly an Albertsons – closed in late September.

With Safeway the only grocery store in Keizer, the most common name being sought is WinCo Foods, though a company spokesperson told the Keizertimes this week there are no current plans.


Shortly after the Haggen closed, Keizer resident Joshua Miller started a “Keizer Wants WinCo” page on Facebook, a group with 55 members as of Tuesday afternoon.

“With Keizer down to one grocery store, just Safeway, I’d like to think it’s good to have competition,” Miller told the Keizertimes on Tuesday. “The lines at Safeway are really long, and things cost more than I want to pay.”

Miller figured it would be good to start a Facebook page and has asked those interested in getting a WinCo here to contact the Idaho-based company via their website.

One of the big questions regarding a WinCo – or any grocery chain, for that matter – coming to Keizer has been location. In addition to the Haggen building – roughly 40,000 square feet – at River Road and Lockhaven Drive, there is also the former Roth’s building at River and Chemawa Roads. That 20,000 square foot building has been vacant since Roth’s left in the spring of 2012.

Another option would be building a new store in Keizer Station Area C, where infrastructure is currently being put into place for a new apartment complex and a senior living facility on an expanded McLeod Lane. That’s the area where a highly controversial Walmart was proposed a few years ago.

Miller’s main push is for a new grocery store in Keizer, wherever it might be.

“It doesn’t matter to me too much,” he said. “Those (River Road) locations are great, but someone on the page posted that the size of those buildings aren’t within WinCo parameters. I’m hoping it’s not true. Keizer Station would be fine, too. Keizer just needs more competition for grocery stores and I like WinCo.”

There have also been a number of posts on the topic lately on Nextdoor, a social media platform used in several Keizer neighborhoods.

John Morgan, Keizer’s first Community Development director who served in that capacity from 1990 to 1998, posted on Nov. 12 that pushing city leaders to lobby for a particular store isn’t the correct approach. Morgan’s post is a guest column on page A4 of this week’s Keizertimes.

“If the people of Keizer want to influence the decision that’s great,” Morgan posted in part. “But the interest must be focused on the potential tenants, not on city hall. Continue to pour letters and phone calls into WinCo and other desirable retailers. Find out who owns the property and ask that person if and how the community can help.”

Marion County Assessor’s property records show Haggen Property North LLC bought the 40,821 square foot building at 5450 River Road North on May 1 for $2,227,342.

Late last year, Haggen acquired a number of stores being sold by Albertsons and Safeway due to their merger. Haggen quickly went from 18 to 164 stores, but has since closed many of the new locations. Several Haggen properties were sold in auctions last week, including four in Oregon. However, the Keizer location was not one of them.

Keizer City Councilor Marlene Parsons, who has connections in the grocery industry, noted Albertsons could not buy back the Keizer location because it’s within one mile of Safeway, which would be a violation of the Federal Trade Commission rules.

On Nov. 11, Keizer resident Pam Getty posted on Nextdoor about WinCo.

“Today I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Goddard, the CEO of WinCo Foods,” Getty wrote. “He told me that WinCo very, very much wants to come to Keizer (in the Albertsons store). He said there are some political issues and that Albertsons may not want to give up the space. He told me they have been working on getting WinCo in Keizer for some time. He also said it would be a smaller store. It would be the size of their beginning stores, but would have WinCo’s great prices, bulk section, fresh meat, seafood, produce and all the other items, just smaller.”

Getty did not return messages from the Keizertimes seeking comment.

Messages left for Goddard at WinCo headquarters were not returned, but company spokesperson Michael Read did talk.

“We don’t have anything presently going in Keizer,” Read said. “I’m not aware of any statement the company has made about coming. That’s not to say it couldn’t be possible down the road.”

Read said the company looks at various factors before deciding to open a store somewhere.

“I can’t say there is one particular thing we look at,” he said. “There are a variety of economic and demographic things. The big thing is how close our nearest location is. We also look at the demographics of a community, traffic patterns, visibility, just dozens and dozens of factors. We continue to look at locations in states we currently do business in.”

Read said most WinCo stores are 85,000 square feet and larger, though the company has recently opened smaller ones in the 55,000 to 60,000 square foot range. The company has converted previous Costcos and HomeBase locations.

“We have certainly done plenty of that,” Read said. “We mostly build our own stores, but if it’s sufficient size, we have converted. We look at both opportunities.”

Mayor Cathy Clark brought up the topic near the end of Monday’s Keizer City Council meeting.

“The Haggen issue is in the courts, a clash of the titans,” she said. “What’s going to happen is in the courts. I encourage people to use social media to contact companies. Retailers are smart and are looking to see if people are interested. They will start counting up comments and realize Keizer is a good place to be. I know people are concerned. We’ll see how this turns out.”

Meet Brandon Crist (1993-2015)

Jeff and Hollie Crist hold a picture of their son Brandon, who died of a heroin overdose in late September. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Jeff and Hollie Crist hold a picture of their son Brandon, who died of a heroin overdose in late September. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

Brandon Crist’s parents were going to kick him out of the house.

The 22-year-old had once again been caught doing drugs. Though they loved him dearly, Jeff and Hollie Crist couldn’t let him live under their roof anymore.

They never had the chance to kick him out.

Two days after Brandon didn’t show up at home, Hollie’s motherly instincts proved to be sadly correct when the officer knocked on the door.

Brandon had been found dead in his van after a heroin overdose.


The death has been jarring to many who knew Brandon, some of whom thought he had finally kicked the drug habit that had plagued him for so long. Brandon’s death was a key factor behind the Chasing Dark series of stories in the Keizertimes.

The death has been most jarring to Brandon’s parents.

“Both Jeff and I were so devastated that he was all by himself for two-and-a-half days in his van,” Hollie said last week. “Then I wanted to say goodbye and kiss him one last time and was told at the funeral home they suggested I not see him. So we never got to say goodbye.”

In Brandon’s last year, he had moved back home to Keizer. His parents thought he was clean, only to find out he wasn’t. Instead of using suboxone, an opiate blocker that is designed to help block the craving for heroin, Brandon was selling suboxone pills to pay for heroin.

As far as Jeff was concerned, when he came from work Monday, Sept. 28, he was kicking his son out of the home.

“I’d had enough,” Jeff said. “I was done. Putting me through it, that’s fine. But his mom is emotional, with all the ups and downs this puts her through. It wasn’t fair to her. Considering all the things we’d done in the last eight months, we spent a lot of money, fixing cars, buying stuff.”

When Hollie got home on Sept. 28, she noticed Brandon had left his Facebook page open on a laptop in the house.

“I saw his private messages,” Hollie said. “I called his last phone numbers he’d called. Anyone he contacted, I texted them. He was selling suboxone. I was frantic. I put a Facebook post out to his friends about him being missing. He didn’t want us to see anything. He just randomly left the computer open that day. I felt this was a God thing, because I was able to reach out to his friends.”

Hollie knew something was wrong at that point.

“When I looked out Tuesday, his van wasn’t there,” she said. “He would always call or text if he didn’t come home. I called all the hospitals, jails, rehab centers. I knew. I started worrying Tuesday morning when he didn’t come home.”

Jeff wasn’t as concerned initially.

“I just thought he would come back and I would kick him out,” he said. “I was done. I didn’t want to see him again.”

Jeff then turned to Hollie.

“You said, ‘You know he’s not coming home,’” Jeff said.

Hollie looked at her husband and nodded.

“You said, ‘He is too,’” she said. “That Wednesday at about 8:45 p.m. we got the knock we’d feared for five years.”

It was a Keizer Police Department officer knocking on the door.

“He said, ‘Is Hollie here?’” Jeff recalled. “I said yes. Then I said, ‘So you found him?’ He wouldn’t say until he could talk to Hollie.”

When Hollie came to the door, the officer explained Brandon’s body had been found in his van in Salem.

As with other addicts, there were two Brandons.

“He’s outgoing,” Hollie said when asked to describe her only son. “He was always smiling when not using drugs. Anyone who met him liked him. Any rehab place we took him to, they said he was awesome. He had a great heart. He was a good kid.”

Jeff said Brandon’s charm was apparent to all who got to know him.

“All of our friends liked him,” Jeff said.

Troubles started in eighth grade. After going to a private Christian school in Salem previously, Brandon decided to start attending Whiteaker Middle School.

“In eighth grade it started with alcohol and pot,” Hollie said. “He didn’t feel like he fit in. He didn’t have a group to gravitate to. The kids who were experimenting (with drugs), he was gravitating to them.”

Police reports obtained by the Keizertimes show a history of a young man in trouble with the law, mainly for drugs and behavioral issues, dating back to when Brandon was 13.

Things progressed when Brandon entered McNary High School. He started running away and doing other drugs like ecstasy. At age 15 the Crists sent Brandon to a boarding school in Costa Rica.

“He was skipping school, running away, being defiant,” Hollie said. “It was good for a while when he came back. Then it went downhill again. He lied about who he was seeing. He probably started doing heroin at 17.”

Hollie said Brandon eventually admitted to doing heroin, cocaine and speedballs, a mixture of the two.

“He and his friends wanted to try all the drugs,” Hollie said. “Heroin was the one that hooked him.”

Over the course of several years, Brandon was in and out of detox centers. He went to one in Portland three separate times – two weeks each time – but didn’t finish the third time. There was a week spent in a Eugene detox center. He got a diploma for completing 45 days at a detox center in Klamath Falls.

“He was just a troubled kid,” Jeff said. “I don’t know what to think. He was a good boy before all of this. You never think it will happen to you, or to your kid.”

In July 2013 Brandon was arrested by Detective Chris Nelson of the KPD for unlawful possession and delivery of heroin.

“Brandon said when Chris Nelson pulled the gun on him and he went to jail for the first time, that’s when he decided to get clean,” Hollie said. “The arrest was the best thing that happened to him. We had him back for a year.”

As mentioned in a previous Chasing Dark story, Brandon entered a detox center and then transitioned to a long-term rehab center. He talked with Nelson about once a month.

“He showed interest when he got out of the treatment center about talking to kids about the dangers of drug use, particularly heroin, and the devastation it hails on individuals and families,” Nelson said. “Brandon fought hard against the dark and evil addiction to heroin. He gave himself a glimpse of freedom and you could hear energy and excitement in his voice when he was drug-free. Unfortunately, he relapsed after treatment and the addiction to heroin ended his life.”

Hollie also noted the change in her son.

“He was clean for 11 months,” she said. “He was pumped about it. He was happy. He was going to be a drug and alcohol counselor. He found a friend in Bend. He was going to live in a youth shelter, then a Sober Living house in Bend.”

In an Oxford House, recovering addicts live together in transitional housing, support each other and go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings together. In short, it’s a large support group.

“He was always going to meetings,” Jeff said. “He knew exactly how many days he’d been clean.”

Suddenly, things fell apart.

“We’re not really sure what happened,” Hollie said. “He called, crying and said he was going to move out. He said he was going to have a drink. He was struggling with step four of the recovery, which is coming to terms with who you’ve hurt. He moved out but didn’t have a place to live. I think it was to use heroin. I have no idea what happened, no clue. I thought he was doing fine.”

Brandon came back to Keizer, but continued using drugs. He didn’t want to go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, since he wanted to go to bars with friends.

Hollie said it became clear when Brandon was on heroin.

“He was negative when using,” Hollie said. “The poor pitiful me thing. Everyone was out to get him. He wasn’t nice. He didn’t smile a lot and was always unhappy. When he was clean he was smiling, happy, outgoing, family oriented. But he missed my birthday and Mother’s Day five years in a row.”

In addition, Brandon would come home late, constantly be tired and nodding off.

“He alienated himself,” Hollie said. “He was definitely nodding off with the heroin. He looked bad. He was very thin, had lost a lot of weight, had dark circles under the eyes. He wouldn’t shower. His nails would be dirty. He used black tar heroin, which would be under his fingernails. He was washing his clothes all the time. There was a real personality change. They’ll get very defensive when you confront them.”

Jeff said parents suspecting drug use need to trust their instincts.

“If you think there’s something wrong, there’s something wrong,” Jeff said. “Don’t doubt it.”

Hollie said nothing else could have been done to help Brandon.

“We tried everything,” she said. “We did everything. He had every opportunity to get clean. The times he went to detox, he just did it for us. It’s an internal thing. It has always been his choice (to get clean). We loved him to death and would have done anything, but it had to be his choice to get clean.”

After bouncing between Keizer and the Bend area, Brandon came back to Keizer in October 2014. He had trouble finding work due to his felony history, but in September – just two weeks before his passing – Brandon got a job at a call center.

“He told them before being hired about the felony,” Hollie said. “I do human resources, so I told him to tell them right off the bat. They knew about it and they hired him. He was so excited about it. Three days in, he got a tap on the shoulder and was terminated. He was devastated. I wonder if that’s the excuse for what set him over.”

Hollie still feels anger.

“I get mad at Brandon for doing it again and for leaving me,” she said. “I know he wouldn’t want me to see him using. I’m mad at myself for not catching it. I’m mad at myself and at him.”

Hollie said her son didn’t want to be remembered for his addiction.

“He never wanted to be known as a junkie,” Hollie said. “He would hate that. But that’s how people are remembering him. He would just be devastated. He had a lot of shame and guilt in being an addict.

“He was the addict,” she added later. “He chose to do it. He couldn’t get out of it. It’s a disease. People don’t choose to get cancer, but he chose to do drugs. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into.”

The pain can be felt in Brandon’s obituary, which includes this line: “Brandon put up a good fight with his addiction, but sadly lost the battle. He is finally at peace and will be deeply missed.”

Hollie recalled one Christmas gift from Brandon.

“He had stolen our camera,” Hollie said. “So he brought us a camera, which he’d probably stolen from someone. It was just a box and a camera, nothing else. I know he had guilt about stealing. He wasn’t stealing, it was the drugs. He would rather sell drugs than get money from stealing things.”

Now it’s Jeff and Hollie thinking about their son’s life being stolen away.

“A lot of friends have helped us through it,” Jeff said. “I think about it every day. I’ll drive somewhere and I’ll remember Brandon. It could be places we would go, or I’ll see a white van. I think about it every day, all the time.”

Hollie still hasn’t completely processed the loss of her son.

“I’m more numb still,” she said. “I sleep with his coat. We haven’t touched anything in his room. He was the love of my life. I just adored him. I told him I would lay down in the road and die for him in order for him to be clean. That drug just got him really bad. It’s just the most awful thing ever.”

At Brandon’s memorial service, a mom wrote in the service book her son was going down the same path Brandon had. She asked for Hollie to call her.

Hollie tearfully said last week she hasn’t made the call yet.

“Right now I don’t know how to help somebody,” Hollie said. “I didn’t even know how to help my own son. We did everything we possibly could. I hope this story helps one kid. That’s what Brandon would have wanted. His message would have been don’t ever start.”

Ideally, Hollie would love for more than one addict to be saved after hearing Brandon’s story. But even if that happened, it wouldn’t replace the hole in her life.

“It would feel good, but it wouldn’t make his death any easier,” she said.

Show rationale for new district

Everyone likes parks, but not everyone uses parks on a frequent and regular basis. Parks do add to the quality of life of a city. Keizer has 19 parks from pocket parks to the jewel—Keizer Rapids Park.

There has been talk for several years now about how to fund our parks. By necessity the parks have been at the bottom of the budget list after the city allocates money for public safety and the infrastructure of the city (sewers, streets, etc.). Some think that is unfair and think that parks should get as much financial support as any other part of the city’s operation. That’s a nice viewpoint, but until the city is able to increase its tax base, our leaders will have to work within the revenue we have.

A few years ago there was discussion of adding a surcharge to water bills or some other existing fee that homeowners already pay, but that idea was dead on arrival.  It seems there are people who have already decided that a special district is the only way to sustain funding for Keizer parks and they’ll find a way to make it happen. Of course a parks district cannot be wished into existence, it will require the approval of Keizer voters to levy a new tax on themselves.

Those who propose a parks district concede that it will be a long process—researching existing parks districts in Oregon, deciding how to move forward with a master plan for all the parks and how the district woud operate. A district would call for an elected board, equipment, staff and operational organization. That’s a lot of extra bureaucracy for 19 parcels of land.

A governing body of parks supporters with control over a pot of new money could easily go out of control. One would expect there would be public hearings regarding budgets and how to allocate money to parks other than Keizer Rapids Park (KPR)—which really drives the whole parks district proposal.

The master plan for Keizer Rapids Park is really a blueprint for an amusement park. When we think of parks we think of opens spaces, trails, fields, benches, picnic tables, nature. With most of Keizer Rapids Park forest undevelopable, parks and athletic supporters eye the remaining land with visions of pavillions, soccer fields, tennis courts, softball diamonds and more. The more activities that are crammed into Keizer Rapids Park the further from its original intent it will be.

Residents like to have a park in their neighborhood they can walk to and use when they want. Would a parks district assure that every park gets equal attention?

If a parks district is placed on a ballot for voter approval, the public will have the final say on increasing their own taxes. In a political climate where cutting taxes is always a winning campaign platform, the rationale for asking Keizer households to add another financial burden had better be well thought—and planned—out.


Park district for Keizer?

To the Editor:

The Keizertimes had an interesting article about a parks district in Keizer

My first thought was “Here we go again, folks;” several people on the city council want more of your hard earned money. They are talking about forming a parks district. They are not satisfied with the money parks receives from the general city budget. Keizer is known for its frugal handling of your tax dollars but some folks want to get deeper into your pocket.

Forming a parks district will mean having to elect a board of directors, hiring a superintendent and maintenance staff, not to mention park equipment. Then there is the office space, office personnel and a variety of costs including things like insurance and legal costs.

The city would have to sell or give all of the park land to the district. I wish these people would get real and learn to live within a budget like the rest of us do. Richard Walsh was quoted as saying the park budget has to compete with sewer and water for funding. We all have to pay a fee for sewer and water completely separated from the general fund. Mr. Walsh knows this as he was on the city council. Such statements raise questions as to trustworthiness of future statements. The next thing you know these same people will want a police district and a library district in order to receive more taxes. This topic is like a vampire.

We put a stake in its heart several years ago and it is back again.

Bill Quinn

Parks district not a slam dunk

To the Editor:

So, some members of the Parks Advisory Board are considering forming a Parks District. Why? They say “to stabilize park funding,” but what they really hope for is more funding and more autonomy.

Parks board member Richard Walsh and city councilor Marlene Parsons seem to suggest that competing with other general fund programs such as the police department is somehow unfair. There are few citizens that would put parks ahead of the police needs.

Walsh used examples of competing with the water and sewer departments. This is misinformation in the extreme. Both Walsh and Parsons know the parks do not compete with water and sewer. They never have.

The parks board would soon find out there are many duplicate administrative costs, now borne by the city, that they would have to cover before one additional penny is spent for the betterment of the parks. Costs such as an administrator, a secretary, field workers, a furnished office, heat, lights and water, insurance, legal support, annual audits, and the list goes on. The cost of a special election to establish the district would be an estimated $30,000.

There is a funding solution if the parks board is up to it. That is to first convince the city council and then the general public that more money is needed at this time for the parks. That would mean more taxes in the form of a traditional levy.

Dr. Jerry McGee

The marketplace chooses winners


I am a specialist in community development working with cities all over the state. I also served as Keizer’s Community Develpoment Director from 1990 through 1998. I have some particular understanding in both how corporations make location decisions and in how local government operates.

Therefore, I finally have to step in to short-circuit the belief city governments pick the stores that locate within a community. It seems many people think the Keizer City Council or staff will choose who goes in the vacant Albertsons/Haggen building, or at least will actively market the building. I am afraid it does not work that way, nor should it.

Cities only regulate private market decisions through zoning restrictions, and only proactively engage in market decisions in extraordinary situations. Cities will get proactively engaged in the context of a major redevelopment of a substandard district. This is a classic role of urban renewal. Even in Keizer’s major urban renewal efforts for the River Road Corridor the focus was on creating a more attractive business district not on the city becoming a developer. There was the rare exception of a small delegation of business leaders and me talking with the folks at Shari’s to encourage them to locate in Keizer, which was successful.

You have to look to projects like Salem Center, where the city of Salem bought out that whole block and actively marketed it to specific retailers, including Nordstrom, recognizing it was key to the redevelopment of downtown Salem. It was a multi-million dollar public investment.

The Albertsons/Haggen situation is far from that. It’s a vacant store owned by a private party and being marketed by them as aggressively as they see fit. That’s no different than the Roth’s site or any vacant storefront on River Road. It is a private market situation and a private market decision to be made.
If the people of Keizer want to influence the decision that’s great. But the interest must be focused on the potential tenants, not on city hall.

Continue to pour letters and phone calls into Winco and other desirable retailers. Find out who owns the property and ask that person if and how the community can help. If there is any pressure to be brought on city hall, it is to raise the level of urgency to have the city be more aggressive with the overall River Road redevelopment program. The city can help create an even more attractive district and then let the market do its thing to fill Albertsons, Roth’s, and all the other vacant spaces. That is what works and it should be where all this great energy is focused—looking forward to the grand opening of the wonderful new stores the market creates.

(John Morgan, of The MorganCPS Group is executive director, of The Chinook Institute for Civic Leadership.)

Foreign policy brought to you by Facebook


It seems sad how little encouragement it takes to return me to this page. A long-time friend at church asked why I have been absent so long.  I told her it was because I realized that I’m an idiot. Not going so far as to deny that, she did say she sometimes agreed with things I had written. Good enough. Let’s continue on.  My new premise is that we are all idiots to some degree. See, you’ve already found something with which you can disagree.

Facebook has been a major contributor to my growing belief that I am only one among many in a crowd of idiots. Somehow any restraint shown in face to face conversation is jettisoned in Facebook commentary.

My Facebook “friends,” of whom I know much about, are similar to me in many ways. Most of us have the standard American high school education, perhaps with some college thrown in, have stable income, a decent living space, and the security of American freedoms as protected by the most able military ever seen.  Despite our common origins each of us believes we have the answers, hostile to any bold enough to disagree.  I’m not sure how we all became so singularly brilliant.

Not for the first time, I recommend humility. If you are contemptuous of compromise that implies belief that you are right, others are wrong.  There are more than three hundred million of us in America.  You can’t find one of them that agrees with you about everything.  If there is just one right way to do things the odds are three hundred million to one against you being the one with the true path.  The odds are the same for me.  The odds grow even longer if we are magnanimous enough to include people of other nations.

Facebook lives in the now.  France is our forever ally and we support them in their grief by coloring pictures of our face with red, white, and blue.  Never mind “cheese eating surrender monkeys” and “freedom fries” when France resisted going to war with Iraq. It could be that that war with Iraq created the swamp from which ISIS was brewed.  Anyhow France is again our original and best ally, a recognition that can be switched on and off as needed.  Facebook has the attention span of a gnat.

Facebook also shows that ISIS is succeeding in making us believe they are Islam. Their bloodthirsty and hideous terrorism is not aimed at encouraging religious conversion but at provoking holy war.  Christianity and Islam have coexisted for a very long time.  Now we are seeing a terrifying slide toward religious hostility toward all Muslims.  We are reacting just as ISIS hoped. There are lots of tough guy American Facebook posts about bombing them and shooting them if they come down our street.

Given all that I am willing to concede that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and willing to believe the same of you.  This is a representative democracy.  The president was twice elected and fairly by a majority of Americans.  He has sources of information and intelligence that you and I don’t even know about. He has complete access to all military branches, the State Department, intelligence agencies and diplomats of every foreign country.  He is advised about Middle Eastern history, geography, finance, resources, religion, governments and military threats.

We are armed with Facebook memes.  Recognize your limits.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer. He occasionally gets on his soapbox in the Keizertimes.)

Don’t feed the Islamic State narrative


As careful as we should be in drawing lessons from tragedy—and there is something particularly disgraceful in mounting a political soapbox at a funeral—the horrors experienced in Paris demand a renewed dedication to the prevention of future horrors.

Islamic State terrorists have goals beyond a blood-drunk love of carnage: to discredit the Syrian refugees (whom they hate) and to encourage the perception of a civilizational struggle between Islam and the West. They are currently succeeding in both.

What are the elements of the Islamic State’s strategy? Sunni terrorists have fought in local civil wars across the Middle East—exploiting the tribal politics of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and Sunni resentments against a petty Shiite despot in Iraq, and a civil war against a brutal, Iranian-sponsored despot in Syria—to gain a territorial foothold and raise the black flag of global jihad. They are stoking religious conflict between Muslims and Christians in order to attract recruits, including from Western countries. And one way to encourage the appearance of civilizational conflict is through spectacular acts of murder that somehow (horribly) appeal to a Sunni Arab sense of historical disempowerment.

This raises a serious, medium-term prospect for the terrorists: to gain in morale, territory and recruits until they have the nonconventional capabilities to sabotage the great Western advantage and vulnerability—the global economy. Consider the effect that a radiological or biological weapon might have on London or New York—and on our world order of trade, investment, banking and travel. All of it is built on a fragile foundation of confidence.

With the rise of the Islamic State in the ruins of Syria and western Iraq—wealthier and more capable than any terrorist group in history—the U.S. has a fateful decision to make in the Middle East. Destroying the Islamic State is necessary. But does America fight in effective cooperation with Shiite radicalism (Iran) and Russia? Or does America build and lead a more effective coalition of Sunni powers and European countries that are up for the fight, while countering Iranian influence?

A rapprochement with Shiite radicalism to defeat Sunni radicalism (which was America’s approach during last year during the Iraq emergency) would be a terrible mistake. It would effectively ratify American irrelevance in the Middle East—giving legitimacy to the Iranian bid for regional dominance.

Adopting a “let them fight it out” approach is to encourage a regional Sunni/Shiite civil war in the Middle East, with Iran funding militias and supporting proxies (while we tacitly approve) and Sunni powers (secretly or not so secretly) funding Sunni militias and proxies of their own. This battleground is good for Shiite radicalism and for Sunni radicalism. It strengthens both through perpetual, sectarian jihad. And it could eventually produce people and movements that strike America and Europe in ever more ambitious ways.

This is the hard fact. Americans don’t want this role, but it needs to lead an alliance of Sunni powers (the Gulf States, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt) and NATO countries to crush the Islamic State. The current strategy of train, equip and bomb is not containing the threat. And we can’t rely on Iran and Russia to do the job without inviting new problems.

And all our efforts are undermined by declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and by treating Muslims in America, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists. Instead of blaming refugees, we need to make sure our counterterrorism and intelligence policies give us a chance to screen and stop any threat. But if American politicians define Islam as the problem and cast aspersions on Muslim populations in the West, they are feeding the Islamic State narrative. They are materially undermining the war against terrorism and complicating America’s task in the Middle East. Rejecting a blanket condemnation of Islam is not a matter of political correctness. It is the requirement of an effective war against terrorism, which currently means an effective war against the terrorist kingdom in Syria and western Iraq.

As of now, that war is not being won.

(Washington Post Writers Group)