I Guess Women Are People?

Normally, when I’m asked for my opinion on the topic of abortion, I usually just respond with something along the lines of “My opinion is irrelevant, because I can’t have one. I don’t get a say. I’m not capable of getting pregnant.

Something like that.

Generally, that feels like the right answer. The problem is that it’s an easy, privileged stance to take. Abortion laws will never affect me directly. I can afford to sit out the argument. And I will admit, I frequently use that rationale specifically in order to avoid an argument.

I don’t relish confrontation on topics that elicit strong emotions. I will still engage in confrontation if I feel it’s necessary, but I try to avoid it when possible.

The thing is, it really isn’t possible anymore. Not if I value basic human decency.

In the past few months, several states have begun debating and passing laws that restrict, or even ban abortion outright.

  • Ohio, which has already dabbled in gradually more draconian restrictions on women’s bodily autonomy, passed a law in April that forbids abortions after a fetal “heartbeat” is detected, which usually occurs around the five or six week mark. This is well before many women even know they’re pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. This law gained quite a bit of attention due to the plight of an eleven-year-old child in Ohio who was raped repeatedly and impregnated by an adult man, but would be prohibited from seeking an abortion under this state law.
  • The governor of Georgia recently signed a similar law, although that version does include the rape and incest exceptions.
  • Kentucky and Mississippi passed identical laws in the last few months. Iowa passed their anti-woman law a year ago.
  • Alabama, always innovators, decided to forgo state legislature rules while ramming a near-total abortion ban through. This one makes exceptions only for certain medical situations. Not content with merely oppressing women in need, the law also included provisions that would punish abortion providers with up to 99 years in prison. That part managed to offend the likes of Pat Robertson and Tomi Lahren, two individuals rarely concerned with basic human rights.
  • My home state decided to embarrass itself once more by passing an eight week abortion ban, which will almost certainly be signed by the governor in the very near future.

So, it looks like a bunch of places run by Republicans have decided that now is a really good time to tell women they aren’t legally allowed to make decisions about their own bodies. And it appears the true goal is to spark a legal challenge to one or more of these laws, in order to force them through the courts all the way up to the Supreme Court, so we can eventually see a fresh challenge to the precedent set by Roe v. Wade 46 years ago. With the recent additions of anti-abortion hardliners Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the high court, abortion opponents like their odds in the upcoming battle.

That’s what’s been happening. This leads to a few, slightly scattered thoughts of my own:

  • Life begins at conception” has always struck me as a somewhat inane argument. By “life,” what exactly are we referring to? We certainly aren’t talking about human life. When an egg is fertilized, one of several scenarios can occur – only one of which eventually leads to a fully-formed human. At the magic six week “heartbeat” point, the embryo is smaller than a pea, and is visually identical to a similarly-matured chicken embryo.  Humans, it should be noted, eat quite a few chickens. Chickens also have hearts, which doesn’t seem to prevent their consumption. Okay, I’m getting off track here…
  • As noted above, many women have no clue that they’re pregnant after six weeks. The time between periods fluctuates, sometimes pretty widely, and having a period two weeks late without being pregnant is hardly a record.
  • The point of practical fetus viability doesn’t happen until 24 weeks or so into a pregnancy, and even then, it’s a less-than-even proposition until closer to 27 weeks.
  • According to the CDC, 91% of abortions are performed in the first trimester, which ends at 13 weeks. This is still during the “it might only be a chicken” phase of development. Second and third trimester abortions usually occur due to medical emergencies.
  • A six, eight, or even thirteen week old embryo is not a human being. It could become one, given the right circumstances. But that collection of cells is not imbued with some mystic personhood that grants it autonomy over the human person it happens to being growing in.

The people who describe abortion as “murdering babies” simply don’t have the facts right. Those same people often claim to be motivated by their religious belief, and in the United States, that usually (though not always) means Christianity. Of course, the Bible doesn’t say a thing about abortion. But it does heartily endorse a death penalty for people who… checks notes… commit adultery, curse their parents, let their ox wander free, work on the Sabbath, become a female sorcerer, blaspheme, and engage in fortune telling/astrology.

So, it seems difficult to take Biblical justification seriously on this, or any other modern issue. Of course, the First Amendment also has something to say about religious justification for law, as much as that pains Christian conservatives to hear.

By the way, I’d love to meet a female sorcerer. Sounds badass.

But all this talk is just ignoring the real point. Women in America are people. They are people, and they should enjoy the same right to control their own bodies as men (also people) do. I know this point has been made repeatedly on social media, but its entirely fair to note that the same anti-woman fanatics passing these barbaric laws would throw massive tantrums if someone seriously proposed a law requiring the men who impregnated these women to become the (eventual) child’s legal guardian.

This isn’t about protecting “life,” or unborn children. These laws, and this attempt at reshaping Constitutional precedent, is about asserting control over women. Oh, I’m sure there are those who are sincerely and single-mindedly focused on imaginary dead children, but regardless of motivation, the net effect is the same. 51ish percent of the population will likely soon have fewer rights than the minority. Naturally, some of the lawmakers pushing to limit women’s personal autonomy are happy for the existence of abortion when its personally convenient. But that blatant hypocrisy should enrage everyone even further.

It’s not that I’m “pro-choice.” Labels like that tend to dumb down the conversation. Self-described “pro-life” people are often fine with capital punishment, and many don’t seem to care about public support for needy children after the moment of birth. The label itself is stupid.

What I consider myself is “feminist,” if a label is required. Whatever it is that might be growing inside a woman isn’t mine to control. It doesn’t belong to the state. It doesn’t belong to anyone who isn’t her. It’s part of that individual woman, until the point that it isn’t anymore.

Why is it so hard for some people to recognize the value of the person that’s carrying the amorphous blob of cells that they prefer to cherish? Why does the unformed embryo deserve more rights than the adult human woman?

It’s already horrifying to think about forcing raped children to give birth to the product of that rape. It’s a travesty to think that a woman who is unprepared for a child, emotionally, financially, or in any other way, would be forced to carry that child to birth when she… simply can’t.

This is patriarchal authoritarianism.

Using religion to justify it doesn’t make it better.

Okay, so now here I’m bringing it back to myself. Please forgive the self indulgence.

I have long believed that abortion shouldn’t be a point of political debate. After Roe v. Wade, it should have been settled on the political front, and then should have become a private healthcare concern. When people have tried to get me to talk about the topic, I lean into that perspective. “It’s not my decision, I have no say.”

My avoidance of this debate was my idea of prudence. But it wasn’t that. It was cowardice. I wanted to be able to express my general support for women without taking a real stand.

I still believe I shouldn’t have a say. But that assumes a far more just society than the one we live in now.

I’m a straight, white, middle-class, cisgender male between the age of 30 and 40. Other than not being wealthy, I pretty much enjoy the ultimate level of privilege in American society. If I truly care about the rights about everyone else, it behooves me to not just speak up, but to implore other similarly privileged people to use that privilege they have for something constructive.

My fellow men, we need to start pushing back against this. If we care at all about the rights of the other half of our planet, we need to do what we can to fight this oppression. Our sisters on this planet have just as much right to enjoy life and liberty as we do. Don’t stand on the sideline. Fight with them. Protest. Contact your Congressperson. Vote for pro-equality candidates. Donate to NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Make it socially unacceptable to oppress people who don’t enjoy our privileges. Confront misogyny wherever you see it.

While you’re at it, please confront all other forms of bigotry, too. It’s important to approach this in an intersectional way.

My fellow men, we simply cannot allow the worst of us to oppress women. If we care at all about them, we have to use the advantages we have hoarded for ourselves to make the world more equal. Don’t let some ignorant asshole state legislators push women’s rights back fifty years.

Fight for women. We don’t deserve them if we don’t fight.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Politics, Quick post, Rant, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sticks and Stones

“I’d like to punch him in his face.”

“Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

“Part of the problem is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.”

“I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will.”

“The audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.”

“If you do (hurt him), I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it.”

“Knock the crap out of him, would you? I promise you, I will pay your legal fees.”

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people maybe there is, I don’t know.”

“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just seen them thrown in, rough. I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice.'”

“Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my type!”

Those gems all came from the current American President. And many of these quotes occurred before 63 million Americans decided he was the best possible choice to become President.

Donald Trump has explicitly encouraged and condoned violence by and from his supporters. This is indisputable. Sarah Sanders can deny it all she wants, but in this age of instant communication and 24 hour news – there’s video footage of pretty much every moment where Trump exhorts others to commit violence against his political opponents. He also sometimes expresses an urge to commit said violence himself. Regarding that part, it’s fair to note that his reaction to the rare moments he’s faced a physical threat have been, we’ll say… less-than-valiant, casting some doubt on his professed bravado.

The President doesn’t like it when he’s asked to take responsibility for his words. He recently complained that President Obama wasn’t blamed for causing the church shooting in Charleston. Never mind the obvious point that the Charleston shooting was an attack on African Americans by a white supremacist – which is unlikely to be something done by a supporter of the first black American President. Also never mind the next most obvious point that Barack Obama never encouraged his supporters to commit acts of violence. The real problem is that Trump doesn’t seem to connect the dots between his rhetoric and the crimes committed in the name of his lies and conspiracies. With his complaint that Obama wasn’t asked the same questions, he makes it appear that he thinks this is just about political points and not about the effect words can have.

Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand the power of his position, or comprehend that when one is President, words mean more than just entertainment for adoring crowds. One can be irresponsible with speech. Trump clearly doesn’t get this.

When he tells his supporters he’ll help them if they assault a protester – then he assumes a degree of responsibility if they carry out that act. In the emotional and hyperbolic world of politics, words can be far more powerful than mere rhetoric. They can inspire, they can dismay, they can delight, they can terrify. And they can incite.

But it’s more complicated than that. A president’s words can also cultivate attitudes. They don’t have to be directives in order to inspire action. And they certainly don’t have to be truthful to convince.

When President Obama stood in front of a crowd and really got going – he could stir emotions. Yeah, he might piss off a detractor or two, but when he was on – the man could lift up the hearts of those who listened. He conveyed a sense of optimism and belonging that meant a great deal to many people. He understood the power of words – and largely used it for good.

It’s hard to say if Trump really grasps the power of his words – but he has to know that he has the ability to motivate a crowd. He just doesn’t seem to comprehend the consequences.

Where Obama sought to raise people up – Trump gleefully brings them down. He taunts. He teases. He lies. He mocks. He frequently lapses into incoherence.

And even when he isn’t directly telling people to hurt others, he’s telling them who they should hate and fear.

Possibly more insidious than the literal incitement is the indirect stuff – the rhetoric he uses to anger his supporters. He lies incessantly, but to the true believers, the fact checkers are the real liars.

Trump has been a dedicated student of the Newt Gingrich playbook. He doesn’t just tell people his political opponents are wrong or misguided or even dishonest.

Instead, he says members of the Democratic Party are treasonous and un-American.

He tells his supporters that the “Democrat Party” is an actual threat to the nation; “They are not just extreme, they are frankly dangerous, and they are crazy.”

He claims the Democratic Party is “the party of crime,” and is “anti-police.”

In one particular speech in Iowa, Trump described the opposition party as “unhinged,” “an angry mob,” “wacko,” “too extreme,” and “too dangerous to govern.” He also claimed the party would destroy individual businesses, coddle violent gangs, and throw the nation into chaos.

It’s not just his political opposition. He says the mainstream media is the “enemy of the people.” This seems to be a response to journalists doing their jobs, and holding him accountable for his words and actions. He even used that particular phrase just days after CNN offices suffered an attempted letter bomb attack. He blamed the media for violence committed against them.

It’s quite possible Trump doesn’t understand what he’s saying. It’s possible that he doesn’t realize how serious accusations of treason and insanity really are. It’s also possible he knows perfectly well that accusing his mainstream partners in governance of attempting to literally destroy the nation they’ve been tasked with running has major ramifications. He obviously understands that his supporters take this stuff to heart. Whether he thinks it actually leads to violence is less certain. But he knows this creates anger and fear. And that’s exactly what has fueled his entire political career.

But wait, there’s more!

He’s not just telling Americans that the largest mainstream political party in the United States is made up of a bunch of psychotic radicals bent on destroying the American dream.

He’s also telling Americans that outsiders from other countries are ready to invade the States, rape, steal, spread disease, and murder innocent Americans. He started his presidential run telling voters that people from Mexico who enter the US are rapists bringing drugs and crime. He talked about what a drain immigrants are on the economy. And he’s only continued from there. He has a habit of punching down, demonizing those who are in the most distress and who need the most help.

So when a “caravan” of refugees from Central America were slowly making their way up the length of Mexico on foot, desperately hoping to reach the American border so they could (legally) request asylum – Trump was all over it.

Never mind the fact that groups like the caravan have made this pilgrimage many times over the years, including during Trump’s watch. And never mind the well-established statistics that show immigrants (irrespective of documentation status) commit fewer crimes than their native-born counterparts and tend to pay more in taxes than they receive in services.

What’s important is that Trump was telling us this ragtag group of maybe three or four thousand impoverished, malnourished refugees fleeing oppression was a dangerous swarm intent on crashing through American borders and changing our way of life.

“I would like to provide an update to the American people regarding the crisis on our southern border and crisis it is. People are rushing our border.”

Well, no. No, they weren’t. This specific group was more than a month away at the soonest (when he was yelling the loudest), and it was estimated that only around 20% were even going to make it to the border. And when some of them did eventually arrive, it was at a legal entry point, and they ended up being attacked from the American side.

Guess what, though?

Telling Americans they’re under threat of invasion – even when this is easily debunked – works. It seriously works to inspire dangerous and emotional responses. As of the midterm election week, several hundred civilian vigilantes acting like a quasi-militia were making their way to the border. In their eyes, they were a private border patrol. Local landowners generally don’t care for them. The real Border Patrol usually considers them a nuisance at best and harmful at worst.

But they were acting on what they considered to be a call to arms from Donald Trump. And yeah, they were most definitely armed. Who knows what would have happened if the caravan had arrived at the same place these groups were congregating. Adding armed, mostly-untrained, and unregulated civilians to the situation is pretty much never a recipe for a positive outcome. Remember the Minutemen of the Bush era? While they eventually fizzled out, there was plenty of violence and abuse from that militia group, including a couple murders. There’s little reason to think this would end up being any better.

Words often lead to actions. Emotional words designed to terrify often lead to terrified actions. Which means violence. As mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be a directive in order to inspire violence. Sometimes the words just need to help fan the flames of fear.

As Trump rants about the incoming invasion, his administration’s propaganda arm, FOX News (and assorted right-wing media such as Breitbart) repeats and amplifies his claims. Other people with prominent voices repeat this bullshit. Television, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, AM radio – the game of hysterical telephone continues and grows. And some people decide the situation is dire enough that they need to act.

Cesar Sayoc, a rabid Trump supporter, rage-filled conspiracy-theory believer, and small-time grifter, sent at least 16 pipe bombs through the mail at Democratic politicians and liberal political figures. No fatalities occurred, and he was caught fairly easily. He’s currently being indicted on 30 counts – which will likely put him in prison for the rest of his life. And his actions were inspired by the kind of conspiracy theories people like Trump have peddled for years. He appeared to have been a massive fan of Trump and his policies. Trump himself seemed either unwilling, or unable to acknowledge his part in this.

Robert Bowers killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. His motive appeared to be a mixture of general anti-Semitism and more specific anger at Jewish support for refugees. He blamed the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) for assisting the migrant caravan, or as he saw them, “invaders” sent to “kill our people.” Bowers himself was not a fan of Trump because he believed Trump was too moderate, and was “a globalist.” But the kind of fear mongering that Trump both encouraged and partook in certainly affected Bowers and his worldview. He believed he was committing this act of terrorism to save what he saw as “his people.”

Gregory Bush attempted to gain access to a black church in Kentucky. When he failed to do that, he walked into a nearby Kroger grocery store, and shot and killed two black people. He intentionally didn’t fire on an armed white person who confronted him, telling the man, “whites don’t kill whites.” He appeared to hold right wing political views and at least some degree of racism. The Justice Department agreed that his crime was motivated by racial hatred, and charged him with hate crimes alongside his other charges.

Three men were caught attempting to bomb an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, where a large number of Somali immigrants lived. Their motivation was primarily based around an extreme Islamophobia, and they wished for Muslims to be completely removed and barred from the United States. During their trial, their lawyer explicitly blamed Trump’s rhetoric as the final impetus behind their attempted actions.

Of course, not every violent incident can be directly tied to fear-mongering rhetoric from Trump or from his enablers. And plenty of violence – including right-wing inspired violence – occurred well before Donald Trump became President.

But that doesn’t mean what he says is helping. In fact, right-wing violence has gotten noticeably worse.

The FBI reported that hate crimes increased 17% in 2017, with a particularly large jump of 37% against Jewish people, and an increase of 24% against Latinos. It should be noted that the FBI’s analysis of hate crimes likely underreports the total number of such crimes, and the true number could be far higher.

It’s also been reported that the “safe spaces” of college campuses have been anything but for Jewish students, as blatantly anti-Semitic harassment has shot up at colleges around the country.

And breakdowns of domestic terrorism have shown that right-wing-motivated terror made up two-thirds of the total incidents in the US in 2017. Much of the long-term analysis has shown right-wing terror to have picked up in response to the Obama presidency, but it has apparently accelerated under Trump.

And of course, without specific confessions or manifestos from perpetrators, it’s not possible to entirely link Donald Trump’s exhortations of violence to individual acts. Not all of them, anyway.

But we can say the circumstantial evidence is strong that Trump’s words and actions have encouraged an uptick in political violence. And the constant repetition of his positions from his supporters in the media and in government make things worse. Right wing politicians and media figures spent weeks telling their supporters that Central American refugees were a legitimate threat to their safety. And in Pittsburgh, Robert Bowers treated these claims seriously – in particular feeding off the constant anti-Semitic dog whistling that accompanied much of the doomsaying.

Just a decade and a half ago, the claims that immigrants and refugees represented a threat to national security, health, and safety were mostly relegated to the confines of the extreme right, especially online. Websites like Stormfront and Infowars peddled this hateful nonsense. The strongly conservative Republican president of that time went out of his way to utilize inclusive rhetoric when discussing immigration. He scolded those who capitalized on anti-Islamic bigotry in the wake of 9/11. It’s true that his policies didn’t always match his lofty phrasing – but George W Bush did put some effort into discouraging anger and violence.

Times changed quickly.

A significant percentage of Republican politicians now run explicitly bigoted and xenophobic campaigns. And while their success has been mixed, the success of Trump has emboldened the bigots. Expect to see more of the same in 2020.

As the nation evolves, so does the backlash. Americans are increasingly aware of the history of racism and bigotry that helped shape the US, and many are aware of how lingering attitudes and systemic bias continues to negatively affect non-whites, LGBTQ citizens, and women. But the realization has also hit those who aren’t ready or willing to evolve. Plenty of people are uncomfortable with change, and feel defensive about losing status as the default ethnicity/gender/orientation. And when those people find themselves with a spokesperson in the White House, they find what might be the ultimate validation.

It’s not just Trump. The Republican Party largely backs him up. When Trump throws around George Soros conspiracy theories, major figures within the party echo him. People like Kevin McCarthy and Ron DeSantis jumped on that bandwagon, and managed to ride it to victory. And his most vocal critics in the party are officially retiring, giving Trump a tighter hold on the GOP, and even less accountability than before the 2018 election.

Lies and fear-mongering aren’t new to American politics. And while politically-inspired violence has been relatively rare – it isn’t new, either. But there has been a change. Leaders on the national level are choosing their words less carefully. We have a president who threatens to jail political opponents, and directly encourages his supporters to act violently. And when violence does occur, he blames the victims.

And it’s not getting better. He recently bullied the news networks into airing an Oval Office address where he – once again – lied to the American public about the dangers of undocumented immigrants moving across the US-Mexico border.  He’s still stoking fear, because it’s the only tactic he knows. Lying about immigrants is how he started his campaign for president, and he’ll probably be doing it on his last day in office.

The Democratic Party has recently won back control of the House of Representatives. The President is barely capable of doing anything competently. And the Democrats have several potential candidates who could defeat Trump in 2020, if Robert Mueller doesn’t help push him out sooner. Hope isn’t lost. But there’s still anger in the air. And people are susceptible to acting irrationally when angry. I would hope the better angels of our nature prevail, and we resist giving into our fears. And maybe, on a nation-wide scale, that hope might be eventually justified. But it only takes one person, or a few, to make things catastrophically worse for everyone. We can’t allow our leaders and representatives to encourage them.

Posted in Civil Rights, foreign policy, Governance, immigration, Law Enforcement, Media, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Explain Taxes and Influence Republicans

Bear with me here. I need to talk about something really exciting. Hold on to your seats as we dive into the exciting world of… marginal tax rates!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I regret to inform any reader that this really is going to be about taxes. More specifically, this is about what appears to be a common misunderstanding about taxes in America.

But before I really dive in, let me give some background.

It starts with an interview.

Newly elected United States Representative (and all-around badass) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was interviewed on 60 Minutes last weekend. The interview was pretty wide-ranging, but there was one point in particular that seemed to get a lot of attention.

Representative Ocasio-Cortez explained that programs she championed could be funded by an increase in the top marginal income tax rate. This is not a new idea, of course. Just a few years ago, President Obama pushed a modest increase in the top marginal rate to 39% from the Bush era (which has been subsequently dropped to to 37% under Trump).

But what Ocasio-Cortez proposed was far more dramatic. Instead of a restoration of the Obama-era rate, or even a moderate increase over that number, she suggested 70%.

This notion was immediately attacked. Naturally.

Seventy percent? How dare you demand hardworking Americans pay a majority of their income in taxes! That’s just leftist fantasy, according to Louisiana Congressman (and white supremacist party-goer) Steve Scalise.

Right-wing gadfly and government drowner Grover Norquist equated a 70% top marginal rate to slavery.

Others have made similar comments. Many – mostly on the right – are aghast at such a lofty number. Does this silly girl (yeah, many have gone there) not know anything?

Well, yeah, seems like she does.

There appears to be two misconceptions that I’ve seen regarding income tax rates in America.

Let me preface this with the aside that I’ve heard these particular misunderstandings for years, well before a certain freshman Congresswoman decided to actually speak up about what really isn’t a radical idea.

The first misunderstanding is that this is a weird, radical, extreme left wing notion.

Well, no. The top marginal rate on the highest incomes was raised to over 90% during World War II, and that leftist crazy Dwight Eisenhower saw fit to keep the rate at that level throughout his presidency.

In the early 60s, John Kennedy managed to get the top rate lowered – all the way down to 70%. It was reduced to around 50% under Jimmy Carter, and then under Reagan, the rate dropped all the way into the high 20s.

Since then, it’s gone up and down, but never north of 40%. Meanwhile, government revenues have declined, and the gap between the wealthy and the poor has grown at an enormous rate.

And for the most part, the economy boomed during the era of seventy-to-ninety percent. Inequality was lower than now, and the middle class grew. Tax rates on the super-wealthy were not holding America back.

Several legitimately brilliant economists have come to the conclusion that the optimal top rate is much higher than what we currently have. Peter Diamond and Emmanuel Saez calculated that a 73% rate would bring in the highest possible revenue without reaching the point where the wealthy become disincentivized from trying to earn more. Saez also collaborated with Thomas Piketty and Stefanie Stantcheva, and came up with a potential top optimal range between 71 and 83 percent, depending on certain scenarios. Benjamin Lockwood went with a range of 70 to 90 percent.

The Laffer Curve isn’t entirely wrong. There likely is a point where the top rate becomes so high that it ends up resulting in decreased revenue. But that rate is far higher than what Arthur Laffer claimed, and his conclusion (cut rates on the rich!) has been proven dead wrong by… well, reality.

There’s more than enough theoretical and historical evidence to show that a serious bump in the top tax rate will be good for the majority of taxpayers, and the economy as a whole.

This isn’t a crazy concept.

The second misconception is one that both the aforementioned Scalise and Norquist appear to have made – and one that I’ve seen for ages, often from people like Scalise who should know better.

The top marginal rate is not the same as the effective rate. A rich person paying a 70% tax rate would not be paying that much overall, because with a progressive income tax, people only pay the specific rate for the amount of money they earn in each income bracket.

I love spreadsheets. Yeah, I’m weird. But I think many would agree that this may be best explained visually. I would imagine my last paragraph made any reader’s eyes glaze over. So check this out:

Under the current American tax scheme, at the federal income tax level, there are seven income brackets, each with a different percentage rate. It looks more or less like this:

Bracket Lower Upper Percent
1 0 9,525 10%
2 9,526 38,700 12%
3 38,701 82,500 22%
4 82,501 157,500 24%
5 157,501 200,000 32%
6 200,001 500,000 35%
7 500,001 unlimited 37%

Imagine a guy who makes good money, but isn’t necessarily stinking rich. We’ll say he brings in $250,000 in pre-tax income in a year. We’ll call him Rich. You know, because he’s kind of… ah, forget it.

Anyway, Rich is taxed at 10 percent for the first $9,525 of his income, 12% for the next $21,974, and so on. So his taxes for the year can be broken down thusly:

Bracket Total Tax
1 952.50
2 3,501.00
3 9,635.78
4 17,999.76
5 13,599.68
6 17,499.65
Total 63,188.37

Rich’s final bracket is the 35 percent bracket – but he’s not actually paying 35 percent on all his income. His final percentage, when all is calculated, comes to 25.28%. It’s not all that complicated. It took me 5 minutes with Excel to put this together. The number of tax brackets and the individual rates have never been the reason for the complexity of the US tax code. Any time a political figure announces a tax plan with fewer brackets as a way to simplify the code is completely missing the real problem. Doing that is like clipping your toenails as a way to lose weight. It will technically do something, but it won’t be significant.

Anyway, a bracket with a higher top rate will also not lead Rich to necessarily pay an enormous amount more. At least, not in a way that’s going to ruin his life.

Proposed progressive changes to the income tax have often added more brackets, and increased the rates on the higher levels. Often, the brackets at the bottom manage to see a decrease, too. A 70 percent top rate could actually mean a middle and lower class tax cut, depending on how it’s done.

I’m not a tax policy expert. I can barely budget my own expenses. I couldn’t tell anyone what the optimal rates within a new, more progressive bracket should be. But in a hypothetical world where we elect a progressive president and a Democratic Senate in 2020, Ocasio-Cortez becomes Speaker of the House by 2026 (when she’s gearing up for her 2028 presidential run), we could see real change to taxes in America. In a potential compromise situation, where we add a few brackets and lower the rate on the first five, someone like Rich might even enjoy a slight tax cut. For example:

Bracket Lower Upper Percent
1 0 12,000 8%
2 12,001 45,000 10%
3 45,001 90,000 18%
4 90,001 150,000 22%
5 150,001 200,000 30%
6 200,001 500,000 38%
7 500,001 1,000,000 42%
8 1,000,001 5,000,000 45%
9 5,000,001 10,000,000 55%
10 10,000,001 unlimited 65%

In this scenario, we have a top marginal rate of 65 percent. And Rich’s top bracket has seen an increase from 35 to 38 percent. But Rich is actually saving a little money. The lower rates bring his total rate from 25 down to around 23%:

Bracket Total Tax
1 960.00
2 3,299.90
3 8,099.82
4 13,199.78
5 14,999.70
6 18,999.62
Total 59,558.82

Good for Rich.

But in this same scenario, we’re going to introduce Rich’s boss, Gilded. Call him Gil for short. Now, Gil owns the company. He’s bringing in 12.5 million bucks a year. He’s doing very well for himself. Under our current tax system, his effective rate isn’t much different from the top marginal rate, because most of his income is in the top bracket (over $500,001). He’s paying 36.7% of his income in federal taxes. Well, he probably isn’t, but that’s another issue entirely.

Bracket Total Tax
1 952.50
2 3,501.00
3 9,635.78
4 17,999.76
5 13,599.68
6 104,999.65
7 4,439,999.63
Total 4,590,688.00

Right now, Gil is officially forking over around four and a half million dollars to the Feds, out of his original twelve and a half. Under the hypothetical progressive changes I  presented above, he’s suddenly set to pay quite a bit more.

Bracket Total Tax
1 960.00
2 3,299.90
3 8,099.82
4 13,199.78
5 14,999.70
6 113,999.62
7 209,999.58
8 1,799,999.55
9 2,749,999.45
10 1,624,999.35
Total 6,539,556.75

That big top bracket doesn’t start until the 10 millionth dollar earned. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described it, the tippy-top. So, for a guy making 12.5 million, the bracket doesn’t do that much. But we’ve filled in the gap some below that, so Gil is definitely paying his share. His top marginal rate is 65 percent, and he ends up with an effective overall rate of 52 percent. That’s another two million bucks that go to the government, and will ideally be redistributed to those who could use it.

And Gil still has 6 million bucks in his pocket after federal income taxes. Even after state, local, and payroll taxes, Gil is still probably 5 million richer at the end of the year than he was at the start. Don’t feel bad for Gil. And his employee Rich ended up saving four grand!

As for the super-wealthy – the kind that see hundreds of millions of dollars a year (or more), they aren’t going to suddenly become poor. Actually, most of the super rich aren’t earning their money from W-2s. Federal income tax will matter less than corporate taxes and capital gains taxes – which is another topic worth discussing.

But in the meantime, for anyone who managed to stay awake through all of this, I hope it helped explain how graduated income taxes work. A seventy percent tax doesn’t actually mean someone is paying that much in overall taxes. And for those who end up paying close to that, their wealth renders the impact pretty much moot.

Don’t believe the outrage. Don’t believe the exaggerations. A higher top marginal rate isn’t a radical idea. And it’s not going to hurt the economy.

Posted in Budgets, Economics, Governance, Media, Myths and misconceptions, Politics, Quick post | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Real Voter Fraud Looks Like

A little over two years ago, I wrote a piece discussing voter fraud in America. More specifically, I explained that voter fraud is, more or less, fake news.

This was written in the context of Donald Trump, late in his presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton, attempting to cast doubt on the fairness of a potential loss – which at that point in late October still seemed a likely bet.

I explained how Republicans commissioned multiple studies over the past 20 or so years, trying to prove that voter fraud was a serious problem that required serious restrictions. And every single study eventually showed that voter fraud was more rare than lightning strikes and shark attacks.

Well, two years later, in the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina, running along the southern edge of the state up against the border of South Carolina, there’s some reason to think we might actually be seeing a real case of massive voter fraud. Well, more accurately in this case, election fraud. The kind on a scale that can –  and may have – altered an election.

And in this case, the culprit appears to be Republicans. Yes, those same paragons of virtue who gnash their collective fangs endlessly at the notion of millions of undocumented immigrants lining up to vote, somehow undetected. Those noble souls seem to have benefited from some sort of electoral trickery.

A shock you say? How could this be? It’s not like any Republicans have ever been hypocritical before.

Anyway, we don’t yet have all the details, but what is known looks suspicious.

On November 7, nearly a full day after polls closed, Republican Mark Harris appeared to narrowly edge Democrat Dan McCready by just over 1,800 votes out of 281,889 votes officially cast. McCready conceded the election, and both candidates agreed to work together for the future of the district, and mouthed a few other bipartisan platitudes.

It seemed that it was just one close race out of many, overshadowed by the historic implications of the 2018 midterms. There was more talk about the House majority shifting to the Democrats than one Republican-leaning district in North Carolina remaining in the hands of the GOP.

But then, in the aftermath of the larger election, stories started leaking out of the district. In the weeks leading up to the election, multiple people in Bladen and Robeson counties near the South Carolina border reported people knocking on their doors and requesting their absentee ballots. Many of these people had received absentee ballots in the mail that they never requested. The ballots were often collected without having been filled out.

The fact that there were so many absentee ballots was unusual. In six out of eight counties in the district, less than three percent of the ballots cast were of the absentee variety. But in Bladen County, more than seven percent of the ballots were absentee. And to reiterate – this was one of the two counties where people reported strange visitors offering to turn in their absentee ballots for them.

And it gets worse. Throughout the district, in each county, absentee ballots trended noticeably more Democratic than the in-person votes. 24 points more Democratic, to be precise. But not in Bladen County. There, the absentee ballots were eight points more Republican than the rest of the votes. Based on the number of votes Harris received in Bladen County alone – he would have to have received the vote of every single registered Republican, every independent, and a sizable number of Democrats. This is in a district that ended up virtually 50-50. It should also be noted that Bladen County had by far the most requested absentee ballots that ended up being unreturned – even more than more populous counties.

At this point, it should be pretty clear why this stinks. The numbers stick out like a sore thumb. It’s possible of course, that this could be county-related. Bladen County encountered similar absentee ballot shenanigans in the Republican primary in 2018, as well as the 2016 general election. That could mean an issue with the county that doesn’t necessarily require fraud.

But it IS highly unusual. Certainly enough to warrant further investigation.

Now, it’s not entirely clear that these issues swung the election, even if it can be proven to be a matter of fraud. Over the course of the counting, that initial 1,800 vote gap was whittled down to just 905 votes between Harris and McCready. But the total number of absentee ballots accepted in Bladen County numbered just 684, and 258 of those officially went to McCready. So, in Bladen County alone, even if there was actual fraud from the absentee ballots, it would not have meant the “real” tally automatically indicates a McCready win.

However, as always, there’s still more to the story. In Robeson County, nearly 1,200 requested absentee ballots were never returned. Some of that is normal, but it is an awfully large total number, and it could indicate some sort of ballot destruction.

Between the two counties at the heart of this controversy, some 1,364 total absentee ballots were cast, and 1,673 more were requested and not returned. 3,037 total ballots against a 905 vote gap. So it is conceivable that absentee ballot trickery in two counties was indeed enough to throw a tight election.

Leslie McCrae Dowless, a contractor on the Harris campaign, appears to have been the architect of the requests for additional absentee ballots in Bladen County. Back in 2016, Dowless himself spent quite a bit of energy alleging voter fraud in his own race for soil and water commissioner – a charge he never proved, or which he even provided evidence. His questionable behavior raised some eyebrows two years ago, and it seems he can’t quite quit shady electoral practices. In recent days, a woman named Ginger Eason has claimed that Dowless paid her to pick up absentee ballots – which she said she had no idea was an illegal act. Since then, a second woman has come forward with an identical story.

The election itself has not been certified, and McCready has withdrawn his concession. The state elections board has a hearing scheduled on December 21st, and they could eventually recommend the district hold a new election. There are a few things not yet known. We don’t know just how much the Harris campaign knew about what Dowless appeared to be doing. We don’t know what happened to the unreturned ballots. We don’t know if other counties in the district were affected by any of this. It’s possible the state elections board could have some of that information by the 21st. It’s also possible they won’t need it.

So, I’ve thrown a lot of information out here. It’s all kind of ugly and suspicious. It certainly looks like potential fraud. But here’s the thing – this isn’t remotely what the Republican Party has been railing about since Newt Gingrich ran roughshod through the Capitol Building. Harsh and restrictive ID laws would have done nothing to prevent this incident from occurring. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the Republicans from doubling down on more ID laws in response to what may be their own fraud. Indeed, North Carolina in particular has been a test ground for explicitly racist anti-voter laws pushed by the GOP.  And, it should also be noted that while they have been crying voter fraud, what they appear to have committed is more accurately described as election fraud.

So, the Republican Party has pushed the “voter fraud is real and scary” lie on Americans for years, and when it finally looks like a form of election fraud might have happened on a large scale for real – um, looks like they’re the ones who did it. And as a response, they manage to lie about it, and then try to spin it as vindication at the same damn time.

I know, I know, calling the party of Mitch McConnell a bunch of lying hypocrites is beyond redundant. They’re hypocrisy-proof. This is the party that shut down the government over deficit spending (during a time when deficit spending was actually a good idea), and then proceeded to blow all budgeting out of the water as soon as they took power (and it was then a worse idea). This is the party that spent an entire year refusing to participate in the lengthy process of putting together the Affordable Care Act, all the while screaming that it was being “rushed through Congress.” For a year. And then, as soon as they ran everything, they spent a couple days slamming through a massive overhaul of the tax system without allowing the minority party a chance to read the whole thing. They tried the same thing when attempting to repeal the very ACA that they refused to work on.

So yeah, even that was probably a waste of a paragraph. We know the Republican Party doesn’t take anything about governing seriously. As long as people they disagree with have trouble participating in the voting and governing process, nothing else really matters.

There’s a whole other piece I want to work on about how the Republican Party has basically perfected the art of minority rule, and manage to run most of the federal and state governments while losing most of the votes (although 2018 cut into that a bit). That’s gonna be a long one, and I’ve already likely exhausted the patience of any reader by now. But I do want to say that a big part of how the GOP manages to control so much despite having lost 6 of the last 7 presidential popular votes is exactly what I’m talking about here. Not necessarily election fraud, as it’s still is a rare occurrence. But, by scaring the right people in the right places, they can pass laws which disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. They can play dirty tricks to keep their political opponents from participating in the system. And they can do more or less what they accuse their opponents of doing. Yeah, there’s more to it than that. As always.

But hey, it sure looks from here that a Republican operative managed to commit election fraud on a scale that his party has falsely claimed is a widespread occurrence. It remains to be seen whether it swung the election, or whether it will be overturned.

But we can say this; the GOP is really good at one thing. They’re absolute masters of warning us what they’re going to end up doing. Runaway spending, capitulation toward hostile foreign powers, corruption, extreme partisanship, and now voter fraud.

It might be projection. But we can treat it as a warning.

Posted in Governance, Law Enforcement, Media, Myths and misconceptions, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hiking Report – Battle Ax Mountain

After scaling South Sister at the end of August, I noted that I wasn’t sure I would be able to do another higher-altitude hike before the weather turned cold.

Well, I still felt like I had another hike in me. And the weather hasn’t been that bad yet. I had a couple relatively close hikes in mind. One in particular, Olallie Butte, looked promising. At 7,200 feet, it’s the highest point between Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson, it has a decent trail that goes all the way to the summit, and it isn’t that far away.

Then, I started reading up on it. Apparently, some years ago, a treaty was settled between the US government and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and the Reservation took over part of the Willamette National Forest. That part included two thirds of the Olallie Butte trail, including the summit.

People do still hike that trail, but all signage has been removed, and the Reservation seems to discourage it. Attempting to ask Warm Springs officials what the official policy is goes nowhere. So while I haven’t heard of any issues climbing it, I also felt somewhat uncomfortable doing so when the people in charge of the land clearly didn’t encourage hikers. Especially since I was planning on taking pictures and writing about the experience.

Maybe next year, if I can get a firm okay from a reservation official, I might head out there. But in the meantime, I’d rather avoid being that guy. So, I looked elsewhere.

I really wasn’t looking for anything strenuous, but I was hoping for some good vistas. While perusing OregonHikers, I was excited to run across Battle Ax, a 5,558 ft shield volcano standing at the south end of the Bull of the Woods Wilderness, about 20 miles northwest of Mount Jefferson. It’s only about two hours away from Portland, and apparently has amazing views of the Cascades from the top. Sounded perfect. There were some warnings about the quality of the final six mile stretch of gravel road leading to the trailhead, but I figured if my car could handle the obstacle course leading to the Bluff Mountain-Silver Star hike, this should be fine.

I initially eyed Sunday, October 7, but the weather was cloudy and cool… not so great if I wanted vistas. So I waited a little longer.

Last weekend, I found myself with a free Saturday, clear skies, and highs predicted in the fifties Fahrenheit.

Perfect.

I woke up at 5 AM two Saturdays ago (the 13th), grabbed my pre-packed bag, layered up for the 36 degree (2°C) start, and headed out into the dark.

At about 7:45 am, I turned onto FR 4697, and started rattling uphill. Yeah… the road was bad. My Acura coupe is not an off-road vehicle. But going slow, easing around rocks and washouts, and taking steep points at angles kept me from doing any damage.

It felt like it took forever, but there was nobody else on the road, so I wasn’t annoying some dude in a Jeep stuck behind me.

After nearly 7 miles and maybe 35 minutes, I finally reached the “trailhead,” which was just a slightly wider piece of road a couple hundred feet beyond a fork. The left side went down to Elk Lake and a campground. The right side had the parking area and a rapidly deteriorating (seriously) road. Technically, there was parking farther down, too, but I was pushing my luck as it was.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I parked, grabbed my pack, and started down the road. After about a third of a mile, a steep and narrow trail veered up into the woods to my right. It was marked with a fairly small sign, though they did include another tiny sign just a few feet further up the path.

A small permit station stood just beyond the second sign, but it was in some disrepair, and no longer contained any permits. I figured I was okay without one.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail veered through the woods, moving inexorably upwards. It wasn’t quite as steep as some of the other hikes I managed this year, but the terrain felt pretty similar. After the first half mile or so, it felt like I could have been on Dog Mountain, or Saddle Mountain, or almost anywhere else in the region.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

About 20 minutes in, I finally got my first glimpse of Mount Jefferson through a gap in the trees. As it was backlit by the rising sun, few details were visible, but the outline was impressive.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It didn’t take long for me to start warming up. I unzipped my jacket and removed my gloves within the first half hour. It may still have been under 40 degrees, but it felt warmer.

Maybe the trail was steeper than I realized.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Parts of the early section of trail were made of a mulch-like material that was quite forgiving on the joints. Thus far, it was the easiest hike I attempted this year.

The ground was damp in parts, and I passed a sizable tarn after the first couple of switchbacks.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path leveled near the tarn, and then quickly steepened just past it.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

In a particularly marshy area, massive trees loomed imposingly over me.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Autumn colors brightened the underbrush.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

There was a noticeable layer of frost on sections of the trail.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

This was odd, in part because the temperature was a bit above freezing – and rising. Also odd because other sections before and after were damp, muddy, and occasionally covered in actual running water.

In fact, there were a handful of segments I encountered about an hour into the hike that made me think I had stepped off the trail and into a stream or creek.

Water poured down parts of the trail, causing me to backtrack briefly. It appeared to be a creekbed, but further exploration indicated I was still on the trail, albeit a mildly flooded section.

It wasn’t quite like parts of Mount Defiance or South Sister – where the tail disappeared altogether. But the trail did become far less clear at points.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

By 9:00, I was coming across a lot of early autumn color – mostly in the underbrush.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Many of these photos don’t do the color justice.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At one point, I got a nice view of Olallie Butte.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The foliage continued to do its thing.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Around 9:20, I came across a footbridge between two tarns.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Just beyond was a marshy field, a hybrid of tarn and meadow.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path gradually became rockier.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 9:40, I came up to a big talus slope. There was a trail worn into it, but it was sketchy at points.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I made my way across the boulders, a sizable rock gave way beneath my foot. I caught myself before sliding off the edge of the trail, banging my knee into another rock.

“Idiot,” I cursed to myself. “In Latin, Jehovah begins with an ‘I’!”

I pulled myself back up, and made my way across, my good-natured grumbling giving way to a partial recitation of the greatest movie of 1989.

Despite my self-amused reverie, I indulged a glance back up from where I came. I could see the bulk of Battle Ax receding from view.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I understood that the trail would soon double back, and head toward the summit. However, it was slightly discouraging to realize that I had to continue away from my destination before I could actually conquer it.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Another great view of the outline of Mount Jefferson, still mostly backlit.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 9:52, I reached a four-way trail junction. A campsite lay directly ahead, and paths leading off into the Bull of the Woods Wilderness veered to the left and right.

A sharp left, basically going backwards, led upward, back toward the mountain. After a short break for a snack, I made my way up the trail.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

It wasn’t long before I was passing back across the big talus field – this time from higher up.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I made my way back toward Battle Ax, the views improved. Here is Mount Jefferson on the left, and I believe Three Fingered Jack on the right.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Interesting rock formations appeared on the slopes.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail got steeper, and began switching back.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path moved to the right side of a ridge, and became fairly strenuous.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 10:35, after a bunch of switchbacks, there was an outcropping facing north-ish. Mount Hood finally became visible, in all its picturesque glory.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At this point, the switchbacks ended, and I found myself heading mostly south, along the final summit ridge. I was at least 5,400 feet now, and for a while, I could see the summit not far off.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I hoped, the views were spectacular. To the right and below was the bulk of Mount Beachie. Back north, Mount Hood continued to loom impressively behind me.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 1050, I had to pick my way around a sizable rock formation, and found myself on the summit. The bare supports of what used to be a lookout tour were all that remained of a human presence at the top.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Well, that, and an Army Corps of Engineers marker.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

All around me, the views were gorgeous. The sun illuminated Mount Jefferson in greater detail as it ascended in the sky.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

To the southeast, the Three Sisters peaked over the horizon. On the right, the South Sister waived at me. Or maybe I did the waving.

Yeah, I really enjoyed that climb.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Here’s a sharper, albeit more distant shot of the Sisters, with Three Fingered Jack on the left.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And waaaaay off in the distance, Mount Adams stood silent watch over the Cascades.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

My obligatory summit selfie.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

One last view of Mount Hood to the north.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After 30 minutes on the summit, a bunch of photos, and some lunch, I got one last nice shot of Jefferson, with Elk Lake peaking out from behind a rocky outcropping.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I hit the trail to head back down and complete the loop, I could see a stocky black Lab with an elaborate harness and pack strapped around its torso. A short distance behind was a single hiker. The Lab greeted me with enthusiasm, and received well-deserved pats for her effort. The hiker who belonged to her chatted briefly with me. Then I was on my way. They would be the only people (as dogs are people too) I would come across during the entire hike.

The trail down was a series of moderately steep switchbacks, initially quite exposed. Excellent views of Jefferson continued for a while.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I also had some great views of Mount Beachie as I eased down from the summit.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Beachie could be hiked about as quickly as Battle Ax, and the trails for each met back up at a saddle near the road. If I gave myself more time, I might have considered a twofer.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

One more good view of Elk Lake appeared. The photo doesn’t show it, but I could see the wind pushing small waves across the surface of the lake.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I managed to get a final decent glimpse of the distant Three Sisters before they disappeared below the horizon. Another shot at the South Sister will be a must next year, but I’m hoping to make attempts on the other two by 2020 or 2021. I need to work on route-finding and technical climbing.

And make a few climbing friends.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I started descending into denser forest, but I had one last really good glimpse of Mount Jefferson, now seen in greater detail with the sun basically directly overhead.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The rest of the descent was pretty easy.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Around a quarter past 12, I reached the Beachie Saddle. It was a big wide open area that looked like a parking spot. I had the option to make a run up Mount Beachie here, or make a left and head back to the car.

I was tired, and had two hours to drive to get home, so I elected to be lame. Maybe next year…

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The final stretch of road started off decently, but eventually became impassable for vehicles.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 12:30, I reached the passable part of the road, and at 12:40 I was back at my car.

This was the shortest, emptiest, and quietest hike of the year for me. Just under 1,800 feet of elevation gain (and then subsequent loss), about 6 total miles, one hiker, and one friendly dog, in just over four hours and twenty minutes.

While not particularly challenging, I recommend Battle Ax for the solitude and the spectacular vistas. I will likely be back in the future.

Posted in Adventure, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Scary Time for Young Men

On the South Lawn of the White House, Donald Trump briefly stopped for reporters as he headed out to an event. Commenting on the current situation with his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, the president at one point said, “It’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of.”

This awkward sentence fit nicely with other comments Donald Trump has made, with him arguing that false allegations could “ruin a man’s life.” Other people who support Trump’s nominee have made similar statements.

It’s instructive that there’s far more concern in certain circles for the men in these situations. It’s a scary time for men. Men’s lives could be ruined. Men could be fired from their jobs. Men’s families could suffer.

The problem here is beyond obvious. And yet, the President of the United States himself tells the world that not only is he concerned for men, but “women are doing great.”

So, I have to ask a few questions about what these poor men are going through:

  • Are men forced to look over their shoulder at all times while out in public?
  • Do men have to cross the street when a lone man walks up the sidewalk toward them?
  • Do men have to Wolverine claw their keys as they move through a parking lot?
  • Do men have to plot out walking routes away from construction sites, bars, dark areas, bus stops, alleys, parking lots, stairwells, elevators, subway entrances, doorways, garages, abandoned buildings, and any place where multiple men might be gathering?
  • Do men have to switch up their jogging routes to deter stalkers?
  • Do men have to avoid using headphones while jogging outside, just to make it harder for men to sneak up on them?
  • Do men have to avoid eye contact with men in public to avoid being immediately harassed?
  • Do men worry about being screamed at and cursed when they ignore or decline unwanted advances from men?
  • Do men receive constant sexual comments and photos from men on dating websites?
  • Do men have to zealously guard their drink at a party or bar, to reduce the risk of being drugged?
  • Are men forced to weigh whether or not the risk of harassment and doxxing is worth expressing an opinion on the internet?
  • Do men worry about being paid significantly less than half of their coworkers?
  • Are men frequently forced to make the calculation of how much sexual harassment to tolerate in order to keep a decent job?
  • Do men have to make the calculation of whether or not its worth coming forward about being assaulted, because rape culture is so entrenched in American society that even the President worries more about the accused than the victim?
  • Do men have to make the calculation of whether or not its worth coming forward about being assaulted, because only 6 in every 1000 sexual predators is actually sent to jail?
  • Oh yeah, and do men live in constant fear of not just being accused of rape, but of being raped?

Oh wait, I’m sorry, I was thinking about women.

It is fair to note that the answer to some of the above questions is most definitely… sometimes for some men. It’s certainly true that a culture of systemic misogyny also makes it harder for men to speak out against harassment.

But the answer to the above questions is a huge YES for most women.

Sure, Mr. President, women have it great now…

…compared with 1612, 1830, or even 1950.

But they deal with a hell of a lot more then men do, especially from men like the president.

The fact that there are functioning adults who initially responded to the Kavanaugh allegations with concern for the well-being of Kavanaugh, and not Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, is THE direct answer to that universal question, “why didn’t she come forward sooner?”

But since every other person seems to be so worried about the chance Kavanaugh is the real victim here, let me deal with one specific point.

I plan to discuss this in greater depth in the future, but to quickly get this bullshit out of the way:

False accusations of sexual assault and harassment are rare.

Really rare.

There have been numerous studies done over the years, of varying degrees of quality and scientific rigor. Incomplete police statistics, the tendency for victims to not report the crimes against them, and societal pressures all make it difficult to precisely gauge the frequency of false accusations. But the best data puts the range between 2 and 10 percent. Which means (depending on the situation), if someone says they were assaulted – without knowing anything about them or their attacker – the odds that they are telling the truth is between 90 and 98 percent.

If cold statistics are the only thing that one cares about, then it still leads to the conclusion… BELIEVE WOMEN.

Yeah, it’s a slogan.

And yes, like all slogans, it lacks nuance.

And yes, if one is accused of sexual assault, then there is a LEGAL presumption of evidence. The court system requires that the burden of proof rests on the accuser.

But Brett Kavanaugh isn’t on trial.

Whatever crime he may have committed against Dr. Blasey Ford occurred years ago. Fair or not, no court is going to charge him.

He isn’t defending himself from being imprisoned. He’s been nominated for a job which would likely give him the power to help strip millions of American women of the right to control their own reproductive decisions. He will likely cast deciding votes in cases that determine the constitutionality of laws that impact… well, everyone. Due to his political positions and the current ideological tilt of the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh would wield enormous power – if confirmed.

So yes, in this case, it’s reasonable to consider the very credible claims of someone who knows him, and his friends, and has been backed up by people who knew them both. I would hope the standard for Supreme Court Justice includes “not likely to have sexually assaulted someone.”

Even ignoring the statistical probability that she’s telling the truth about Brett Kavanaugh, Dr. Blasey Ford’s allegations deserve consideration because of the potential gravity of his confirmation. Quite a bit will likely change if the Senate decides Dr. Ford isn’t sufficiently credible – or even if she is, but her allegation isn’t enough for them.

And if Judge Kavanaugh isn’t confirmed, he will still go back to his job on the US Court of Appeals. And he won’t go to jail. His life – not ruined.

And Dr. Blasey Ford will still have been assaulted.

Yeah.

Backtracking a bit here…

Do the accused deserve to have a chance to tell their side of the story?

Absolutely.

That includes Kavanaugh, even if his issue isn’t officially a criminal one.

But listening to a woman tell her story of abuse, and considering it as well, doesn’t mean that the accused is suddenly being unfairly railroaded. It doesn’t mean it’s a scary time for young men. It means that a woman’s voice is actually being heard, which is a far-too-rare occurrence.

All credible accusations deserve credible investigations.

Worrying more about the very slim chance of a false accusation than of the very common problem of sexual violence is proof that women don’t have it as good as the president thinks.

And it’s another answer to the question, “why didn’t she report sooner?”

If the public response is, “what about his career?” when a man is accused of assaulting someone – we know we still value men over women.

Not all men (hashtag!) are misogynists.

But toxic masculinity is still a dominant force in our culture.

It’s not a scary time for men.

But it is scary that men being forced to face the consequences of their actions is considered scary.

The line between justice and perceived oppression depends a great deal on who has the power, and who is fighting for a fair share of that power.

I will admit that I’m scared.

I’m scared when I debate on Facebook with women who call Dr. Ford a lying bitch. I worry for the possibility of progress when the person tasked with leading the most powerful nation in human history has very likely assaulted nearly two dozen women, but publicly proclaims his concern for men.

We still have a lot of work to do before we can rest.

And I haven’t even addressed racial or wealth inequality today.

Posted in Civil Rights, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hiking Report – South Sister

I used to write about politics. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that politics were almost the only thing I would write about.

And when I say not that long ago, I mean, just a month ago.

Then I started hiking this summer. And I kept taking pictures, and I wanted to talk about my experiences and observations.

So, here we are. The A Skewed Perspective summer hiking tour.

Or something. I dunno.

I moved to the Pacific Northwest, and this is how I decided to spend my time. I have no regrets.

I’ll be talking about heavier stuff again soon, I promise. Or threaten, depending on your perspective.

But since I do live in the Pacific Northwest now, and I do have time to go find things to hike and climb on during my weekends – I’m going to keep writing about it. And my most recent such adventure happened this past Friday.

For years, certain mountains captured my attention. Most of these are in the Cascades. Maybe it’s the impressive topographical prominence, maybe it’s the picturesque quality of them, maybe it’s the fact that most of them are volcanoes… but for whatever reason, the larger peaks of the Cascades have called to me.

The Three Sisters complex just west of Bend, Oregon has always been among my favorites. Three peaks, all grouped together within a few miles of each other. All three rise to over 10,000 feet in elevation. All three are volcanoes, although the North and Middle Sisters are considered dormant – neither one having erupted in the last 14,000 years. The South Sister, however (the tallest of the three), is thought to have erupted within the last 2,000 years, and showed some tectonic activity as recently as the year 2000. It is considered an active volcano – a point that occasionally came to mind as I hiked it.

The South Sister, while the tallest at 10,363 feet, is considered the easiest of the three to climb. There are well-worn trails that cover most of the distance from Devil’s Lake Trailhead up the south slopes of the mountain to the summit – although the trail does become a bit… muddled at points. Some scrambling over boulder fields becomes necessary at times. It’s a challenge, but doable for someone in decent shape.

South Sister is also known as Charity. The other two are Hope and Faith. It’s often said those are good reminders as to their relative difficulty.

So, all summer, as I’ve hiked a variety of shorter peaks and lower-altitude trails in the Pacific Northwest, I started angling for one big climb near the end of the summer. Something that would provide amazing views, and get me out into the wilderness, while still being a hike that a novice could handle. Mt. Adams came up as an option – but I need some ice and snow climbing equipment that might have to wait for next year. Mt. McLoughlin was another possibility – over 9,000 feet, with a trail to the summit – but it’s also five hours from Portland. I will likely consider that one for next summer as well – but I wasn’t wanting to drive more than three or four hours from home this time around. Mt. Bachelor was another option. It’s also over 9,000 feet and hikable, and also happens to be an hour closer to home than McLoughlin. But just next door to Bachelor was a more challenging option – one that I’ve been thinking about for years.

So, that’s how I decided South Sister would round out my hiking summer. The third-tallest mountain in Oregon would be a challenge. But I believed I could handle it. It would be just me, in the wilderness, for the better part of the day. As I got closer to the day I marked, I became more excited.

So, let me quit babbling about the why, and let’s just get to the how.

Last Thursday, after work, I drove out from Portland, heading southeast in the direction of Bend, Oregon. I didn’t get on the road until around 7 pm, so it was after 10 when I made it to the Devil’s Lake Trailhead, about 20 miles west of Bend.

I considered bringing a tent and camping out at the campground by Devils Lake, but I really didn’t want to deal with the hassle of putting it together and breaking it down just to sleep five or six hours. I wanted to be up early, to ensure I could be done at a reasonable time the next day, so I decided to sleep in my car. Not the most comfortable choice in the world, but I was able to pass out and stay asleep for most of the night.

At 4:30, I was awake. Despite a bright moon, it was still too dark on the trail. I neglected to bring a flashlight or headlamp, so I decided to take my time. I stretched in the parking lot, ate a sandwich, and started organizing my backpack. By 5 AM, there were other people stirring in the parking lot and at the campground. The sun was taking its sweet time illuminating the sky, and so I dawdled around the trailhead until nearly 6, when I decided I couldn’t wait any longer.

I’ve spent more than 800 words setting this up, and since I tend to be too long-winded anyway, I’m going to keep the text part of this narrative to a minimum. Or at least, I’ll try to do so.

Anyway, I set out past the parking lot, along a trail that wound next to Devils Lake and headed about a quarter mile north to the highway. It was no longer dark, but the light was pretty dim.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail crossed the highway, and by 6:10, I was standing in line behind a half-dozen other hikers, waiting to sign in and get my day pass.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail set off north, into the woods. It was fairly steep at points, and I ended up pulling out one of my trekking poles within a few minutes of starting. The temperature was cool – under 50 Fahrenheit, and I had a light jacket and a hoodie on. But I could tell I’d have to shed a layer fairly soon. I tried to maintain a steady pace, but was warming up fast.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I was in the woods for about an hour. After one particularly steep section of switchbacks, the trail opened up and straightened out. The sun was starting to appear over the horizon, and I found myself on a wide, fairly flat plateau. Off to the north, I could see the mass of South Sister, catching the first rays of the sun.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I had read about this part. After the first two miles through the woods, the plateau is a relatively easy section that stretches for a good mile-and-a-half, before hitting the hard parts in earnest. It was around this point that I caught up to a couple other hikers (and was in turn passed by a few stronger ones). I slowed to chat for a few minutes, as well as answer a few emails from work. Even out in the wilderness, climbing a mountain, I can’t entirely escape responsibility.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The plateau sat a few hundred feet above Moraine Lake, which was visible to the right. This is a popular spot for campers seeking to make South Sister a two-day affair.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

To the east, beyond the lake, I could see the jagged peak of Broken Top, backlit by the morning sun.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The plateau gained and lost elevation, but was fairly flat – significantly moreso than the forested section that started my journey.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail became more exposed, as the plateau turned into a narrower ridge.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail surface was a soft, dust-gravel mix that reminded me of a really terrible softball field I played on a decade ago.

By this point, I had shed my jacket, as I was sweating profusely, but the wind was sharp enough to keep the hoodie on for the time being.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Sometime around 8:30, the plateau section was clearly ending, and the trail started getting steep again.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail was at times soft and dusty, but also littered with rocks. The going wasn’t incredibly slow yet, but I was feeling the altitude some. As the plateau ended and the steep stuff begun in earnest, I was around 7,000 feet, up from 5,000 feet at the start of the hike.

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Looking back the way I came. Mt. Bachelor can be seen in the distance. – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At points, the trail seemed to branch off in different directions, and even briefly disappear, though there were no shortage of footprints providing some idea of where to go. Looking back the way I came, I could see the trail pretty clearly, which strangely made it easier to then locate where it picked back up above me. When the trail vanished, I had to scramble over some rough scree, and even some boulders on a few occasions.

At around 9:15, after some scrambling over a steep section of boulders (maybe 300 feet of elevation gain over about 800 – 1,000 feet of total distance), I found myself back on a recognizable trail. I had reached a spot that I would later hear referred to as “the false summit.”

Indeed, the actual peak of the mountain had disappeared from view more than a half hour before, and it had seemed like I had been making real progress. A pair of hikers I encountered back on the plateau had stuck near me for the last mile, and all three of us grumbled cheerfully at what loomed ahead.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At the base of the final push was a beautiful green lake, resting at the base of the Lewis Glacier, a thousand-foot chunk of ice carving out a massive indentation in the slope of the mountain. To the left was an exposed ridge with the trail running up. And up. And up.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I started up the slope. The trail was thick, soft scree that occasionally splintered and turned into multiple paths that eventually reconverged. It wasn’t too difficult to stay on the basic path, but the going was slow, thanks to the steepness, the altitude, and the material of the ground. I slipped some, but my boots were able to dig in fairly well. The trekking poles helped.

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Broken Top and Bachelor in the distance. – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path was really just a tiring slog. The views were inspiring – which helped, because my progress continued to be… um, glacial, and I had to stop and catch my breath every few hundred feet.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The muscles in my legs were starting to spasm. I was beginning to have doubts I would even make it to the top. The scree became heavier, turned red, and the trail became more rock-filled. Finally, I could see the crater rim just a couple hundred feet above. The trail more or less disappeared, and from there, it was just a tough rock scramble.

At 10:56, I finally staggered up to the edge of the summit crater, gasping and wheezing all the way. Looking back down, the base of the mountain seemed absurdly distant.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Turning back toward the crater, I could see a massive bowl, maybe a quarter mile across. It was filled with snow and ice. Almost directly across the bowl was a rocky ridge, a hundredish feet above the snowfield. That was the summit. I could see a handful of ant-like figures clambering around on it.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

To my right and left, a trail appeared to wrap around the crater rim. I could either hike around the crater, or try my luck across the frozen lake. I didn’t trust my energy or balance to make that attempt. The crater rim would be fine. I went right. The views off the edge of the rim were more than worth the effort it took to get there.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I stopped and chatted with a hiker who I encountered earlier on the trail, but had powered past me on the final stretch. He was enjoying a well-earned snack, and enjoying the view. Apparently he didn’t feel up to clambering up to the true summit. We chatted about other hikes in the area, and then I bid him adieu, and pressed on.

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It’s farther away than it appears… – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I took my time around the crater, stopping to take photos every time the view inspired me – which was often. Along the east side of the rim were a series of wind shelters made of stacked rocks, in U-shaped patterns. Nobody had tents up at that point, but it appeared to be a setup for summit camping.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail finally disappeared a few hundred feet from the summit. Some light scrambling was necessary to get to the actual top of the mountain. I was tired, but there was no way I would turn back now.

Finally, just before 11:30, I stepped up to the summit of South Sister. There was a small USGS reference mark just below a pile of rocks that marked the official high point.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

There was a group of hikers lounging on the summit when I arrived, although they shoved off pretty quickly after I got there. I know I looked pretty rough, but I’m assuming I wasn’t scaring them away.

Looking back across the frozen crater lake, I could see more hikers dragging themselves up on the rim.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The views around the crater were all amazing, but the real gem was on the north end, off the true summit. To the northeast was another great view of Broken Top.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And to the northwest were the other Sisters, Faith and Hope, looking jagged and ominous.

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Middle and North Sisters – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Far beyond the North Sister I could make out Mount Jefferson, though it didn’t show up well with my cell phone camera.

I did manage a now-obligatory selfie… at least to prove to myself in the future that I actually did this.

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It’s me! – Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After about half an hour, some water, a sandwich, and a bunch of photos, I decided it was time to depart the summit. Also, another round of hikers was showing up, and I was hoping for a bit more solitude. I considered continuing around the rim in the direction I hadn’t yet tried… but I couldn’t clearly make out the trail at points, and I wasn’t feeling that adventurous. So, I headed back the way I came. By around 12:20, I was back at the crater rim, looking down.

Well, first, admiring the view more out than down.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And then down. Way down. I could see the trail along the plateau far below.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I started down, I immediately noticed a couple of differences.

The trip down was far less taxing on my leg muscles and my overall stamina than heading up. I wasn’t breathing nearly as hard.

However, it was hard to balance on the steep scree, and I kept slipping.

After some trial and error, I developed a technique on the steeper sections. I angled down, somewhat sideways, with my right foot forward and pointed slightly to my left side. Using my trekking poles for balance, I would sort of skid down a few feet at a time, pushing with my back foot here and there. It wasn’t pretty. I must have looked like an enormous, drunk praying mantis. But the locomotion was reasonably efficient, and as I made my way down the ridge alongside the Lewis Glacier, I made decent time.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Taking a break to glance back after 30 minutes or so, I could see how much ground I had covered.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The views continued to be spectacular, even from increasingly lower elevation.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I eventually returned to the lake at the bottom of the glacier. I could see hikers milling around next to it.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

From that point on, it was just a slow, increasingly warm afternoon, gradually heading down the hill. I lost the trail a few times, and had to scramble off the false summit very carefully, but on the whole, it was a smooth and enjoyable experience.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Just before 3 in the afternoon, I returned to the plateau region, and started my stroll to the forest and the final section.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The sun felt harsh, although it wasn’t oppressively hot at this point. The bright light did provide some stunning views, however.

Mount Bachelor loomed ahead.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Broken Top sat to the east, no longer backlit like it was in the early morning, but occasionally covered in shadow from passing clouds.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And directly behind me, the bulk of South Sister watched over me as I walked away from her.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I got a good look at Moraine Lake shortly before I dipped back into the woods.

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Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As I headed toward the trailhead, I came across several groups of campers hiking to the lake, to stay the night and take a shot at Charity the next morning.

As I dove into the forest, I found myself decompressing. This was a good day. So good in fact, that I’m now second-guessing whether or not I want to make this my last major hike of the summer. Maybe Mount McLoughlin or Mount Bachelor in a couple weeks?

Regardless as to what I decide, I’m glad I made this decision. The sunburn is taking days to heal, and my legs are still sore, but I would happily do this again. If one is willing to spend most of a day dragging themselves up a giant rock for the chance of some thin air and ridiculously gorgeous scenery – I recommend it. Also, it’s apparently wise to avoid weekends. I went on a Friday, and while it wasn’t crowded, I was rarely alone after 10 am or so. Take a weekday if isolation is ideal.

Posted in Adventure, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment