Tag Archives: Stephen Golub

From the Budget Crisis to Valero Fines: Two Ways and Ten Days to Benefit Benicia’s Future

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

By Stephen Golub,  originally posted in the Benicia Herald January 15, 2024

Over the course of the next ten days, Benicians will have two major opportunities to weigh in on the future of our community.

January 15-25: Addressing Our $6.5 Million Budget Gap

The first opportunity features a community survey, open houses and virtual workshops by which we can have our say on how to address the City’s budget crisis. As you may know, a variety of factors (stagnant population growth for 20 years, very little new housing or housing sales, limited retail outlets, etc.) have constrained our tax base while inflation and other factors have increased our costs. The bottom line is that we face a budget deficit of $6.5 million per year.

In an effort to get community input on the problem and potential solutions, the City has organized various in-person and online ways in which we can offer opinions and ask questions. They will take place from January 15 through 25.

You can find out more at https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/believeinbenicia, where the link to the community survey is provided and those for the virtual workshops soon will be. Here are the dates:

  • January 18, 6-8 pm: In-person Open House at the Benicia Public Library, 150 East L St.
  • January 25, 6-8 pm: In-person Open House at the Benicia Community Center, 370 East L St.
  • January 17 and 24, 6 pm: Virtual workshops (online links will be available via https://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/believeinbenicia)
  • January 15-25: Community Survey (online link here)

To alleviate the problem, the City has already cut $4.5 million from its budget. This has involved reducing ten staff positions and service cuts that include reduction of swimming pool hours, closing the Benicia Library on Sundays, eliminating road paving projects except for emergencies, delayed and deferred maintenance/upgrades on city equipment and facilities (including parks and the storm water system), and cutting support for July 4th and Christmas Tree celebrations.

But, even after those cuts, a $6.5 million gap remains. One way of addressing it over the medium-to-long term is by building the tax base by cutting regulations so as to facilitate commercial investment and approving such projects as the “Eastern Gateway” initiative, which encourages mixed-use development in the area of East 5th St./Military East.

In the shorter run, the City has placed two budget measures on the March 5 ballot. Measure A increases the local hotel tax. Measure B, by far the larger revenue-producing vehicle, increases the local sales tax by 75 cents cent per $100. This works out to costing the average Benician about 33 cents per day.

Regardless of how you feel about all this, the next ten days offer opportunities to air your input, through the in-person and virtual meetings and the community survey. Again, BelieveinBenicia.org is a good way to weigh in and get more information online.

January 18: Sharing in Refinery Fines

In early 2022, we learned from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (aka the Air District) that for at least 15 years Valero’s Benicia Refinery had been putting toxic emissions hundreds of times the regulatory limits into our air, without telling us, the City government or the Air District about it.

What’s more, for nearly three subsequent years the Air District itself had known about this, but had not informed us until two years ago. In addition, the Air District still has not informed us what fines it will levy on Valero, perhaps because it may be still negotiating the matter nearly five years after becoming aware of the violations.

Nor has it let us know whether or how any portion of the fines will go to benefit Benicia, beyond a vague assurance that it may allocate some sums from the fines for health and safety matters here.

On January 18 at 6 pm, we’ll have a chance to learn more, ask questions about and offer our opinions on Air District actions and policies regarding such fines, regarding not just Valero and Benicia but also the other refineries and communities in the area. On that day, the Air District’s Community Advisory Council will meet at the Air District’s Headquarters, at 375 Beale Street in San Francisco. But we can also access the meeting online and offer comments there.

More specifically, one key agenda item for the meeting is:

“4. Funding Community Benefits from Penalty Fund. This is an action item for the Council to consider recommending to the Air District Board of Directors that they set a policy that automatically allocates a portion of penalties for regional and local community benefits.”

The January 18 Community Advisory Council meeting will make a decision that could potentially yield great benefits to Benicia. It might well be worth attending in person, since we’re talking about potentially millions of dollars for Benicia from this one Valero incident and/or other violations by this or other refineries (such as in Martinez) down the line. (Again, the discussion is not just about Benicia and Valero, but about all local refineries and affected communities.)

But for those of us who can’t make it to San Francisco for the meeting, we can Zoom in and have up to three minutes each for public comment. Here’s the link for the relevant page where, if you scroll down a bit, you can in turn simply watch the meeting, join via Zoom to comment during the meeting or write a public comment.

The meeting offers a great way of seeking to secure well-deserved, potentially major compensation for Benicia, for both past and future harms. I intend to attend, whether in person or online.

Visit BelieveInBenicia.org to learn more about Benicia’s Resiliency Plan, sign up for updates from Benicia City Manager Mario Giuliani, and join the effort to help shape Benicia’s future. Add your voice!


Community Survey
January 15-26 – Community Survey Link
In Person Workshops
January 18 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Public Library
January 25 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Community Center
Virtual Workshops via Zoom (links will be available at BelieveinBenicia.org)
January 17 • 6pm
January 24 • 6pm
[BenIndy will post links to these meetings when they become available. Meanwhile, save the dates!]

In the Name of Love: MLK Day Matters More Than Ever at Home and Abroad

[Note from BenIndy: This post was first published on Stephen Golub’s blog, A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. There, Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.]

Nonviolence over brutishness, inspiration over resignation, love over hate.

By Stephen Golub, January 15, 2024

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

Monday marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Preaching nonviolence over brutishness, inspiration over resignation, love over hate, his message rings truer than ever as we tread into 2024. I’m marking it here by sharing videos featuring a remarkable rock song and an even more powerful speech.

One lesser known aspect of MLK’s work was its international dimension. Traveling to India in 1959, he wrote that “India’s [Mahatma] Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.” He further linked “the Christian doctrine of love” to the Hindu leader’s words and actions.

King conversely inspired and supported human rights struggles across the globe. He helped mobilize international opposition to the South African government’s 1957 prosecution of Nelson Mandela and 155 other anti-apartheid activists for alleged treason. Mandela in turn echoed King’s resounding “Free at last!” cry on several occasions, including when proclaiming his party’s 1994 election triumph that capped the end of apartheid.

But others celebrate MLK far better than I can. Check out the clip that introduces this post. It couples the brilliant U2 song dedicated to King, “In the Name of Love,” with images portraying his life and legacy.

And prize the highlights from one of history’s greatest speeches, King’s “I Have a Dream” address, delivered (and, incredibly, partly ad-libbed) at the Lincoln Memorial as part of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom:

Shot dead at only 39, MLK did not live to see most of the massive progress he spurred, nor the backsliding that’s also occurred – including in America, India and South Africa. We can view that mixed aftermath as a source of resignation, I suppose. But especially in view of the challenges we face, far better to draw inspiration from all that King achieved and sacrificed in the name of love.

Once more, Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. We recommend you sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.


January 6: A Date Which, in One Key Respect, Will Live in Infamy Even Worse Than Pearl Harbor

[Note from BenIndy: This post was first published on Stephen Golub’s blog, A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. There, Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations. If interested, you may sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog. The images showing featured in this post were added by BenIndy editors and are not original to Steve’s post.]

By Stephen Golub, January 5, 2024

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land.

December 7. September 11. And as we recall the third anniversary of the U.S. Capitol being seized by rioters, January 6 has joined the ranks of the most horrible days in American history. In the words FDR applied to Pearl Harbor, it is a “a date which will live in infamy.”

Thankfully, the January 6, 2021 insurrection did not wreak nearly the massive deaths nor physical havoc of those other two days. But in one crucial respect, it’s proven even worse.

How so? In the wake of December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001, the country came together in the face of massive challenges to our democracy and way of life. In contrast, the time since Insurrection Day has seen us more divided than ever. What’s more, we face the distinct prospect of the person who prompted the insurrection – and a wide array of other attempts to subvert the 2020 election results – being returned to the presidency this year.

Lies have been piled on lies, to portray the insurrectionists as heroes. A quarter of Americans believe that the FBI probably or definitely organized and encouraged the attack; fewer than half of us say that it probably or definitely did not do so.

The original, underlying sin of the insurrection and Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election was his misbegotten claim that Joe Biden stole it. Yet, as former Rep. Liz Cheney has pointed out, “There were over 60 court cases where judges, including judges appointed by President Trump and other Republican presidents, looked at the evidence in many cases and said there is not widespread fraud.”

Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results. | Ahmed Gaber/ Reuters.

To further hammer home this same point, eight leading Republican legal luminaries published a 2022 report that explained that the 2020 election was lost by Trump, not stolen by Biden. The group included two former U.S. senators, two former federal judges and a former chief of staff to two Republican congressional majority leaders. As he explained in asserting the Biden’s election was valid, “I’m certainly not a ‘Never-Trumper.’ I voted for Donald Trump twice for President.”

Trump’s legal allies failed in 61 of 64 cases. Even their three “wins” were minor, technical exceptions to the rule, all in Pennsylvania and none of them undercutting the validity of Biden’s victory there: They “threw out 270 provisional ballots lacking signatures, separated Election Day provisional ballots from those cast afterward, and moved back Pa.’s deadline for absentee voters to present voter ID by three days.”

I’m belaboring the point about these lawsuits because the conclusions by Republican judges and attorneys constitute key parts of the overwhelming proof that Trump has misled his followers – the over a thousand insurrectionists and the many millions of others – about 2020. Yet an August CNN poll found that two-thirds of Republican still attribute his loss to voter fraud.

Which brings us back to the insurrection, and the one respect in which January 6 was worse than December 7 and September 11, for all of their horrors.

Supporters of Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. | Brent Stirton / Getty Images.

Here’s how it’s worse: The drive to undermine our democracy continues. It includes Trump’s election denialism, as well as his Hitleresque attacks on political opponents as “vermin” and on undocumented aliens as “poisoning the blood of our country.”

But it also includes so much more. Just a partial compilation of Trump’s anti-democratic attitudes, actions statements and online activity includes his: excusing the January 6 insurrection; suggesting that the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deserved execution; accusing NBC of treason and threatening to deny it airwaves access; threatening and otherwise attempting to intimidate judicial system personnel and witnesses; stating that he has “no choice” but to lock up certain political opponents if elected – even contemplating indicting Biden; praising Hungary’s authoritarian leader (as well as like-minded figures such as Vladimir Putin); and planning to politicize the federal civil service to do his political bidding.

Phil ScroggsUnsplash.

However, there’s another compilation we can take into account as we ponder January 6. It lists what we can do to prevent that date of infamy from defining not just our recent past, but our impending future. It’s what we can do to help save democracy. Here are a few such actions from that lengthy list:

First and foremost, voting for democracy, which means for Biden (or, in the unlikely event he does not run, whomever else the Democrats nominate). Personally, I believe he’s accomplished a lot. But you don’t have to be a fan of Joe to cast your vote for him. Recognizing the threat that Trump represents, a very conservative friend of mine (who thinks that Biden is lousy) intends to do so.

Not voting for a third party candidate, and not simply sitting out the election, even if you’re a progressive who feels Biden has fallen short. The choice is either/or: not voting for Biden only helps Trump. This election will be decided by voter turnout and whom people turn out for – we need only bear in mind 2000 and 2016 to recall the consequences of third party candidates’ impacts.

Finally, a biggie: Becoming politically active, whether it’s through donations, phone banks, canvassing, writing letters to editors, helping out in toss-up states or seeking to influence friends and relatives on the fence. Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Once more, Steve blogs about domestic and international politics and policy, including lessons that the United States can learn from other nations, at A Promised Land: America as a Developing Country. We recommend you sign up for future posts by subscribing to the blog.


Stephen Golub: This Thanksgiving, Let’s Be Thankful for What We Don’t Have

By Stephen Golub, November 23, 2023, previously published in the Benicia Herald

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

Each Thanksgiving, and whenever I need to remind myself to feel thankful, my mind turns to an interview I conducted in a Southeast Asian refugee camp decades ago…

Back in 1985, fresh out of law school, I was dispatched by a U.S. human rights group to document and write a report about a torrent of abuses against 370,000 Cambodians who had escaped across the border of their war-torn homeland to find precarious shelter in refugee camps in Thailand. Most had languished there since fleeing the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.

The savagery threatening the refugees took appalling forms: unspeakable brutality by Thai soldiers assigned to protect them, by rampaging gangs of Cambodian bandits and by Cambodian resistance militias battling the Vietnamese occupation, ostensibly on their behalf; deadly shelling of the camps by Vietnamese artillery based just a few miles away, in Cambodia; and brutal repression in the few camps controlled by the remnants of the fanatical Khmer Rouge regime, which had once ruled their country in a reign of terror. 

Every day for over two weeks, I spent dawn to dusk interviewing as many victims as my (non-refugee) Cambodian interpreter/guide could find. At the end of the trip, in Bangkok, I met with a Thai general who dismissed his troops’ cruelty with the glib observation that “boys will be boys.”

That chat was a doozy. But an interview with a particular refugee stood out far more. The memory has both haunted and moved me over the years…

Darkness was descending on the largest refugee camp, Nong Samet, when a furious, feisty, elderly woman rushed up to my interpreter and me. She’d heard that we were seeking victims to interview. We met with her and her 15-year-old granddaughter in a bamboo hut. The first thing that caught my eye was the circular scar, a healed bullet wound, spanning the girl’s wrist.

Getting shot was not the most recent attack that she had suffered, however. Just a month before my visit, a Thai soldier had viciously assaulted the girl, apparently as punishment for her sneaking to a banned edge of the camp to get water. She described the crime through a sea of tears. The crippled wrist, crushed spirit and brutalized body seemed to encapsulate the terrors visited upon her people. 

Many months later, colleagues and press coverage informed me that my resulting report, along with other types of pressure, helped spark Thai government action to better protect the refugees. But the abuses did not come to an absolute end until 1993, when a peace treaty finally led to the Vietnamese army’s withdrawal from Cambodia, the camps’ closure and the refugees’ repatriation.

Why in the world am I recounting this story, from so long ago, on the cusp of Thursday’s happy holiday? 

Each Thanksgiving, we break bread with friends and family. We toast with those loved ones. We’re thankful for what we have, as well we should be. 

But we might also pause to be thankful for what we don’t have. 

By and large, in America and other privileged nations, we don’t have our lives filled by wars, starvation, devastation and repression that plague many parts of the globe. Most of us don’t have the hunger and poverty that mar the lives of millions of fellow Americans.

While giving thanks, perhaps we can pledge to take whatever small steps we can toward the cures for such ills, at home or abroad.

My point here, however, is not just about suffering. It’s also about the incredible human spirit, strength and courage that enable people to survive horrific situations and to help each other despite the dangers and deprivation they face.

I have no idea what became of the specific refugees I interviewed in Nong Samet and the other camps back in 1985. But I do know that the remarkable resilience of the Cambodians there enabled most of them to endure, so as to eventually return home safely or resettle here in America. 

With all of this in mind, this Thursday, I’ll reflect on a post-it note I wrote years ago. I still have it stuck to the corner of my laptop screen. 

I glance at the note almost every day. I particularly value it when I’m feeling less than thankful and need a reminder about my own blessed lot in life. 

The note reads, “The Girl at Nong Samet.”

So here’s a toast to whatever you do to remain thankful throughout the year. And Happy Thanksgiving.