Paige's Return to Deutschland!

Hallo Berlin! This blog will be a place for friends and family to get very occasional snip-its on Biggs' life in Germany.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A New Family Bonding Activity

It took a move to Germany to finally make protesting a family affair. (Truth be told, it took dropping Crosby's nap.) We rode our bikes to the Brandenburg Gate for a concert / protest against the right wing party AFD that just gained enough of the vote to join Parliament (Bundestag). We'll plan on going to more of these events as a family.

No helmet laws = green light from the midwife to ride with Hugo in the Ergo.

All this protesting made Hugo hungry. ;)

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger

This week has been a strange tug of war for this soul of mine. First, we start with the positive. Germany has embraced the Biggs family with open arms. By Germany, I mean the German state. We keep on finding out all of the benefits of our “Blue Card” immigration status.

Just two days ago I found out that I, who have not contributed one cent or minute of work to the German workforce, get 300 Euros a month after Baby Boss arrives. AND, if Paul takes two months off of work, we both get paid, for a total of 14 months. This chunk of change is in addition to the ‘child money’ we get for each child as well as the state picking-up 90% of Crosby’s preschool bill. As I don’t work outside the home, I normally would be ‘entitled’ to 4-5 hours of care. However, as we don’t speak German at home we receive 5-7 hours a day for the same price as Crosby’s four hour-a-week preschool in Portland. In summary, I am ‘making’ more money here as a mom than I did in Portland working freelance.

I know that Germany has a reputation of being family friendly. But, extending these services to people who are not even German citizens is amazingly generous. Yes, we do pay higher taxes, but we also tangibly see that money directly deposited back in our bank account. What a concept that people who can use a break - students, new parents, and retired folks - are actually getting it.

That’s the segue to my newest frustration - The Trump administration’s announcement that it will be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These 800,000 young people, 90% of whom are employed and 72% of which are in higher education, are what make the US great. To end this program under the guise of ‘eliminating Obama’s overreach’ and giving back jobs to ‘Americans’ is plain and simple racism a la Trump. The governors who have strong armed Trump into this repeal should be ashamed of themselves.

So what do expats like me do to let Dreamers know they are supported? Well, the usual - pray, donate to organizations, call-up legislators, etc. But, it all feels distant. My heart breaks for these kids who are stuck in the limbo after having a taste of ‘freedom’ to earn degrees and find legal employment. I pray that the Dreamers and supporters keep up the fight. This struggle is not just about immigration it is about the future of the United States. Cros is up for the good fight.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Kids are Not OK

Up until this week, I feel like I was functioning okay in Trump's America. My big hope was that Trump's election, which I recognize was widely supported by a very misguided white church, would be the catalyst to a big spiritual awakening to the concept of actually loving our neighbor. I knew it was going to take some time for hearts to change, and people to repent. Maybe we wouldn't even get there until 2020. But, at least I thought the silver lining is that the church would wake up.  And, mainstream culture would also start being more engaged with politics.

But the health care reform is putting me over the edge. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Every rational person knows that giving people access to health care so they aren't forced to wait until an Emergency Room urgent visit moves them into bankruptcy or serious disability results in savings in the long run. It not only makes economic sense, it's the humane thing to do. But here are the Alt-right giving folks a 6 ft ladder while their in a 20 ft hole and thinking that's a solution. These law makers literally have blood on their hands.

The folks waiting for the other shoe to drop with health care are waiting with dread, but people with shaky immigration status are living in fear. In the last couple weeks buses of migrant workers in Woodburn, 45 min from PDX, were stopped and people were detained and are now getting ready for deportation. These are hardworking folks, trying to make a better future for themselves and their families.

Woodburn has a special place in my heart, as I first visited on a school trip in early elementary school. For some of my classmates, Woodburn was an opportunity to see a Latino community without even having to leave the country. We went to the library filled with books in Spanish and saw a tortilla factory in action. We got to speak Spanish to folks everywhere we went.

This culture of diversity was something we celebrated and appreciated. I know that my education wasn't and isn't the norm in this country. Obviously, our world would be a much different place if more kids showed up to Woodburn to learn.

Speaking of learning - Cros started tap dancing. He's a dancing fool.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On the bright side, I have smart friends

I went to my first rally on Sunday since 2005. Hundreds of us gathered in Portland to listen to an Allstar line-up of Oregon politicians talk about the importance of keeping the Affordable Healthcare Act also known as Obamacare. If you ever want an earful, get me started on the disparities of health care in the US. This blog post is going a different direction - but suffice it to say, the ACA solved a lot of problems and while it's not perfect, repeal and run is both unethical and financially irresponsible.

My penultimate rally was part of a campaign called "Expose Exxon". I'm not going to lie, I don't remember the details of why were there. My participation consisted of sitting in the back of a Senate briefing with an oversized T-shirt that said "Expose Exxon". Getting into trouble - 'good trouble' as John Lewis calls it, was the reason I moved to DC in the first place.

Fast forward to today, Exxon is in the news as Rex Tillerson, Exxon's CEO, is President-Elect Trump's nomination for Secretary of State. (Side note - it's painful to write President-Elect but I'm trying to be respectful). From the get-go having a CEO of an oil company as the secretary of state seemed like a bad idea because oil execs are just one place below tobacco execs on my unofficial ranking of people who are extremely socially irresponsible. Furthermore, one of my super smart buddies who knows a thing or two about the oil industry let me in on the dirty dealings of Exxon in Chad. This info from my buddy should move anyone of conscience to pay attention and hopefully act:

" This is a breaking news article about the ousting Petronas and Chevron from Chad (August of 2006). What you need to know is that landlocked Chad discovered an oil field around 2000, and by 2003, three major oil companies had completed construction of a pipeline running through Cameroon that would make the oil producible (by bringing it to a port). The World Bank and the US government helped to broker a deal that would require 85% of oil revenues resulting from production of Chad oil to go toward various forms of humanitarian interests. (Chad, at the time, was somewhere in the top 10 of the world list of impoverished and failed nations.) The US government and World Bank got involved in an effort to thwart the "resource curse". That is, when very poor countries discover valuable resources, the money usually goes to corrupt government and not to the people.

Chevron (30%), Petronas(30%), and Exxon Mobil (40%) were the three oil companies that had rights to drill. By 2004, revenues started coming in. The three companies, World Bank and US gvmt. jointly oversaw the application of revenues for development of public education, health, infrastructure, etc. for more than two years. (Revenues quintupled the GDP of Chad during this time). In August of 2006, everything changed. The dictator in Chad gave Chevron and Petronas 24 hours to vacate the country, and completely withdrew from the agreement with the World Bank (article above). Instead, they brokered a new deal:

In the new deal, Exxon would be only remaining producer of oil (leaving Chad a portion of rights to establish a national oil company). The World Bank wss forced to concede the original agreement, and allow 30% of revenues to go to the general treasury of Chad, which can be spent at the dictator's discretion (this is double the $ from the previous deal). Not mentioned in the above story is that in  the dictator issued a “state of emergency” shortly thereafter in Chad that required all oil revenues to go directly, and totally, into his personal command.

The World Bank officially suspended participation in the pipeline project in 2008, citing that oil profits were no longer going toward any humanitarian efforts, (education, medicine, infrastructure, etc.). While even the World Bank exited participation in 2008, Exxon Mobil is still drilling, producing, and paying Chad to do so today. Chad receives $500 Million dollars from Exxon operations annually.

Exxon’s Chad ops from website:

Rex Tillerson became CEO of Exxon Mobile more than 8 months before the ousting of the other partners and the break from the deal with the World Bank (Jan 1, 2006.)
Since the ousting, the dictator of Chad (currently in his second decade of rule) has spent more than $4 Billion on weapons, and managed to become incredibly, independently wealthy.

This stuff is just the United States government official info on lots of aspects of Chad. They talk about the oil revenues too:

In his confirmation hearings on Tuesday, Tillerson insisted, with regard to operations in Chad, Russia, Iraq, Papa New Guinea, and a handful of other nations that "no laws were broken".
While no “laws” were broken, you’d have to be a completely socially irresponsible company to agree to remain the sole participating party in paying a dictator funds that were previously allocated (85%) for the good of the country. (85% of $500M is $425M...annually) This is just in Chad...

Now consider that Exxon Mobile has 64 million acres to drill in Russia (compared to 14 million acres that they have the leases to drill in the US and 7 million acres in Canada.) The kicker is that they can't currently drill these 64 million acres because the US government precludes it through its classification of Russia, and sanctions that have been in effect for a long time. As Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson is responsible for classifying countries as hostile, in violation of international law, corrupt, etc.

If Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump support lifting sanctions on Russia, then Exxon will gain the ability to drill it's single largest lease holding. (This is the single largest lease holding of the single largest non state-owned oil company in the world).

The majority of the 64 million acres is part of a partnership between Exxon and Russia (Rosneft) to drill in the Arctic (Kara and Black Seas). More info here. Obama just passed legislation to ensure the prevention of arctic drilling. Trump has pledged to try to repeal this legislation in the first 100 days.

The money that will exchange hands in the Arctic operation alone is in likely into the tens of billions of dollars.  That's tens of billions to share between the Vladimir Putin, (because Russian oil is state-owned,) Exxon Mobile, and anyone lucky enough to enjoy official and/or unofficial kickbacks that might occur in various forms (eg, consulting fees, political and business favors, service contracting deals, cash bonuses for other projects, stock grants, etc.)

When you're doing this kind of math... a multi-billion dollar figure, divisible by tens of people, you had better be interested in ethics. Rex Tillerson's approach to deal-making in Chad demonstrates a lack of ethical and moral integrity."

I'd never want to say this before, but can we give Mitt a call? In the mean time, I think we'd all do well to avoid Exxon gas stations and On the Run convenience stores.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Trump who Stole Christmas

If we are honest, we will admit that we miss important local, national, and international news all the time. Truthfully, I had no idea what's been happening in South Sudan before being invited to a private dinner with some of the South Sudanese American parishioners of St Luke's Episcopal Church in San Diego. (Per usual, Laurel and Colin were actually invited and I just tagged along.)

But you know what I didn't miss? In this chaos of election, I did catch wind of the human rights atrocities of Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Duterte's drug policy is to literally hire hitmen to kill anyone - street kids included - involved with the drug trade. Not only is this wrong on so many levels, being a hitman is the new side hustle for some moms in the Philippines.

Today while jumping around at the gym, I caught glimpse of the CNN banner 'Philippines' Duterte gets Trump White House Invite'.

HOW CAN THIS BE HAPPENING? During his campaign, Trump totally pushed me over the edge when he mocked a disabled reporter. Let's be honest, there have been many, many more unacceptable things since but putting out the welcome mat to Duterte is something that is throwing me into a rage today.

I just want to shout my frustration at anyone who will listen. (Sorry 24 Hour Kids Klub employees.) I feel so powerless. And so, the takes a different thematic turn.

I want to enjoy this Advent Season as we wait expectedly for the celebration of Jesus' birth. But it's an ongoing struggle to stay heaven focused in these dark times. A special visit from our friends Agata and Maciej was also a learning moment. Their native country, Poland, has another Trump-like figure in charge. Also very sadly, the church there is turning its back on the teachings of the Pope and saddling up to anti-immigration rhetoric.

So as John Stewart used to do, to lighten the mood, your moment of Zen.

Cros and Lucjan get ready for the soaking pool at the Kennedy School.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Democracy is a B, Part Deux

Surprise, surprise...I don't do my best writing with no sleep at 5 am. ;)

In the week since the election, I've learned of many people who voted for Trump. These are lovely people who don't fit the description of white, never traveled, and not educated. Now I have a different take:

This election, too many of us forgot our hearts and heads when we went to the polls. Our 'crap detectors' stopped working as we got caught in a reality TV saga.

There are the other factors - the FBI email investigation, Russia's hacks, complacency because we thought Hillary was going to win, etc. But in general, we didn't have our game faces on.

While some would say it's too little too late, I'm at the ready to protest, march, or get arrested to show solidarity who those Trump disrespects. I am for unity of this country insofar as it's unity for ALL the people. I have Phelps face now.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Democracy is a B

I have so so much to say this night as I can't sleep. But anger, frustration, and sadness make the words few.

There are so many things that make me proud to be a citizen of the United States. It is a place where we have safe and fair elections. We have a culture of innovation. We have a population of generous people.

But this year, I remember that the America I love isn't the 'real' America. The vast majority are not well educated, do not have passports, and do not truly love their black/brown neighbor as themselves. This America got the president that does, in fact, represent their values. Fear mongering, not bravery, won the day.

The outcome of this election breaks my heart but we can't let it break our spirit.