The Falling Thoughts



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Living life to the fullest

Making memories


People love sharing quotes on social media. Recently, I came across a Keanu Reeves quote – or, perhaps it was Richard Gere quote as some people state – anyway, this quote made me think not only about the trustworthiness of the Internet, but also about life.

The first photograph illustrates my life these days, and the second one – my life’s beginning. As you see, the richness of color increases over the years, and the dark areas only mean that I finally know that I know very little.


Let’s go back to the quote. I am sure you have read it many times. I just copied and pasted it.

“My friend’s mom has eaten healthy all her life. Never ever consumed alcohol or any ‘bad’ food, exercised every day, very limber, very active, took all supplements suggested by her doctor, never went in the sun without sunscreen and when she did…

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AVISHAI COHEN QUARTET: Into The Silence – live at Blue Note Milano

Jazz You Too

From Avishai Cohen’s album Into The Silence dedicated to the memory of his father, this song evokes the trumpet player’s memories of their life together, the music swirls very slowly, sometimes vigorously as if pushed into a different direction until the total silence! So very passionate! Remarkable playing by Nasheet Waits on the drums!

Avishai Cohen – Trumpet Yonathan Avishai – Piano Barak Mori – Bass Nasheet Waits – Drums

avishai c

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New York Voting Fiasco Just the Warm-Up for the November Game


uckle up, America. The voting demolition derby that was the New York primary on Tuesday was merely the crash test for the coming voting wreckage in November: a carefully planned pile up.

First, live from New York….

Francesca Rheannon, whom you may know as the host of Writers’ Voice radio, did the civic thing by volunteering to work the polls in a town east of New York City.

“I just got off my 17 hour shift as an election official. In my election district, out of 166 Democratic voters, 39 were forced to file affidavit ballots. The last [election] I worked in, exactly ONE voter needed an affidavit ballot.”

That’s nearly one of four voters. Why? Their names had gone missing from the voter rolls.

An affidavit ballot (called a “provisional” ballot in most other states) is a kind of placebo ballot. You get to pretend to vote – but the chance it will actually be counted is …well, good luck. If your name is wrongly removed, kiss your vote – affidavit or not—goodbye.

Rheannon’s experience was hardly unique. In Brooklyn alone, over 125,000 names were quietly scrubbed from the voter rolls in the five months leading up to the primary.

To put it in perspective, the number of voters purged equals about half of the number who got to vote. Scott Stringer, the New York City Comptroller will now audit the Elections Board–now that the election is over. Hey thanks, Scott.

Neal Rosenstein, the lead voting rights attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group, which plans legal action, notes that part of the problem is that partisan hacks sit on the Elections board in New York—hacks from both parties.

Brooklyn is under the control of the Kings County Democratic Party, one of the last of the big city machines. Would they attack their opponents’ voter registrations? I don’t have to guess: in my wasted younger days, I was in the Brooklyn County elections office with the hacks where we were assigned by the Party to challenge voters’ signatures en masse. (I wouldn’t and nearly lost my state job.)

Am I saying the machine “fixed” the election for Hillary Clinton? Without further investigation, it would be irresponsible for me to pronounce judgment. Some of the purged may have moved, some have died. But those who waited in line only to fill out affidavit ballots are unlikely to be deceased.

If the Machine had been aware of the mass purge underway, would they have stopped it? As they say in Brooklyn, Fahgeddabouddit.

But whether party hacks shoplifted New York or not, that’s small potatoes. Scrubbing voter rolls is not a “New York value.” It’s a nationwide epidemic, a disease eating away at the heart of our democracy.

Voting officials learned a lesson from Katherine Harris the Florida Secretary of State who purged Black voters in 2000. They learned how to repeat the purge, expand it and carefully hide it.

I’ve been traveling the nation, from Ohio to Georgia to Arizona and back—and finding the voter-roll purging machinery running at full speed.

Nationwide, state voting chiefs are, from my long experience, the most violently partisan officials you’ll ever encounter.

From the data provided by the US Elections Assistance Commission, we can calculate that no less than 491,952 voters were wrongly removed from the rolls in 2008, the last reviewed Presidential election in addition 2,383,587 voters filled out registration forms that were simply never added to voter rolls – and 767,023 provisional and affidavit ballots were not counted.

And it’s not just anyone’s ballot. I’ll never forget that, at one of my recent talks on vote suppression, I asked how many in the audience had ever been shunted to a provisional ballot. There were only two Black people in the audience. They were the only two to raise their hand.

US Civil Rights Commission statistics tell the story. The chance of a ballot “spoiled” – not counted for one reason or another – is 900% higher if you’re Black than if you’re White.

As Rosenstein says for NYPIRG, “Instead of purging voters, we should be enfranchising them.” Yes. Though we thought that was settled by the Civil War.

OK, we didn’t know about the New York purge beforehand. But I’m telling you this now: My team is uncovering an unjustified ethnic cleansing of voter rolls from Ohio to Florida to Texas.

This year I was in Selma, Alabama, with Hank Sanders, an African-American who joined Martin Luther King on the march to Montgomery that won the Voting Rights Act. Today, he’s State Senator Hank Sanders, a title that is a tribute to America’s advance on voting rights. He’s also Hank Sanders, purged voter, forced to vote “provisionally” this year.

Why? I’m investigating. But the state officials (and let’s tell it like it is: it’s mostly GOP officials) have used so many spurious grounds to cancel registrations—“caging,” “cross-checking” and a host of other sick tricks, it’s not easy to pin-point which one is responsible for the “lynching by laptop.”

It’s worth noting that Brooklyn, like Alabama, was on the “pre-clearance” list in the Voting Rights Act. I can tell you right now, it’s unlikely that neither Hank Sanders nor the 125,000 Brooklynites would have been purged, had the Supreme Court not gutted the Act in 2013.

As I look upon the wreckage that was the New York primary, I see the prelude, the test run, for the catastrophic failure, the well-planned failure, of the voting system in November. The purges and votes “spoiled”–the votes not counted—not the voters, may well elect our President.


But there’s something you can do about it. Right now, my investigations and production team are finishing the final frames of our film on the upcoming theft of the 2016 election:  The Best Democracy Money Can Buy:  A Tale of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits.

By Greg Palast, Greg Palast’s Website

Talking Transportation: Cross Country by Amtrak

A recent business trip took me to Dallas on a crowded, turbulent three and a half-hour hour flight from LaGuardia. But the return trip was a real treat:  two days and nights on Amtrak, for free. Image

Riding a lot of Acela trains in the Northeast Corridor, I’ve built up a ton of Amtrak Guest Rewards points, augmented by their co-branded credit card. So when I checked my calendar and the Amtrak website, I saw an opportunity to enjoy a leisurely ride home in a full bedroom, meals included, gratis.

The long distance trains I rode from Dallas to Chicago (The Texas Eagle) and Chicago to Washington DC (The Capitol Ltd) were all “Superliners”, ie double-deck cars with a variety of accommodations, including coaches and sleeping cars.

Each train also had a diner and an observation car, though the sightseeing through Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois wasn’t exactly memorable But the second leg of the trip through the hills and river valleys of Pennsylvania and Maryland was gorgeous.

“Fly over” country sure looks different from an elevation of about 20 feet.

My bedroom was equipped with a big couch that folded down into an almost queen-sized bed, surprisingly comfortable for sleeping. The private commode doubled as a shower.
Firing up my radio scanner, pre-set to the railroads’ frequencies, I followed the action as the conductor and engineer received instructions from a dispatcher hundreds of miles away.

The food was good, all cooked to order, and included in my first class fare. Dining was communal, one of the fun parts of train travel:  getting to meet real folks from across the United States, chatting about their travels, their work, everything except politics.

In Chicago and Washington D.C., where I had time between train connections, I enjoyed Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge for first class passengers, complete with free Wi-Fi, snacks and priority boarding. I also had time to explore those cities’ beautifully restored train stations jammed with commuters, Amtrak passengers, shops and restaurants.

To their credit, Amtrak does a great job with their money-losing long distance trains. The service is truly first class, the ride smooth and, for the most part, on-time (thanks to a heavily padded timetable). We had only two small delays—one caused by another Amtrak train colliding with a truck at a grade crossing (no injuries), the other by a boulder on the tracks that needed to be removed.

Because demand is high and the supply of sleepers is low, fares for long distance Amtrak trains are pricey and booked many weeks in advance. Roundtrip airfare from New York to Dallas is as low as $230. But one-way on Amtrak is $299 in coach and $700-plus in a roomette. Of course with Amtrak it’s like getting two nights of hotel plus meals, but to me it’s well worth it.

So next time you’re planning a long distance trip, turn it into a journey. Take the train!

A Machete for Your Thoughts: Free Trade, Hillary Style

Berta Caceres, a indigenous environmental activist, who was murdered in Honduras. (photo: Goldman Environmental Prize)

An interview with Beverly Bell, founder of Other Worlds

‘ve heard it said more than once, since the close-range murder of indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, that it’s time for Hillary Clinton to apologize to the people of Honduras for supporting and sustaining an anti-democratic process that has turned that country into the murder capital of the world. Meanwhile, as Clinton campaigns, touting her expansive foreign policy record, the violence in Honduras continues unabated.

In the following interview with Beverly Bell, founder of Other Worlds and a close friend and associate of the murdered Cáceres, we learn that anyone on the ground in Honduras who opposes the 10-plus US military bases there, and who is standing against turning the country into one big free-trade zone, is putting himself in grave danger. That point was made very clear with the murder of Nelson Garcia, a second environmental leader from the same organization as Cáceres.

Bell herself, who has been in Honduras for the last two weeks, says she was inches away from being killed by machete during an anti-government protest last Friday in Honduras, when her potential killers realized she was an American and lowered their machetes. “I went to get a bottle of water and I somehow ended up on the wrong side of enemy lines,” Bell said. “Everything shifted very fast, and two different men within moments came up to me, machetes raised sharply over my head, just started to bring them down, and then I guess seeing that I was a gringa, thought better of it and stopped.”

Dennis Bernstein: Good to hear your voice, Bev … Where exactly are you?

Beverly Bell: I’m speaking with you, Dennis, from the town of La Esperanza, in Honduras. La Esperanza is where Berta Cáceres, the global movement leader who was slain on March 2nd of this year, was born, where she lived, and where she died. It is also the headquarters of the organization that she founded, The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). I am here because my organization, Other Worlds, and the Center for Economic Justice that I ran prior to that, have worked closely with Berta, and with COPINH, for 18 years now, in quest of sovereignty and rights for indigenous peoples of Honduras and elsewhere. We have been working for the protection of their lands and waters, their rights to control those riches of nature, and also for a very profound global transformation of economics, politics, and society.

DB: When did you arrive there, and why did you decide to go down at this time?

Bell: I came down here a week ago at the request of COPINH to help out because they lost their leader, Berta Cáceres, who not only was a moral and political powerhouse, but also was like a 100-woman work operation. So the organization is in need of a lot of support, mainly to mobilize international people to get at the root cause of their problems, many of which lie with an unelected and dictatorial government here with the backing of the U.S. military – and also the backing of international institutions, including even possibly U.S.A.I.D. in dams and other operations that are taking place on Lenka land here. COPINH is an organization of Lenka indigenous people. But the most immediate reason for my arriving when I did was to attend a magnificent international gathering called the Convergence of the Berta Viva People, and that is the peoples of the world, indigenous and otherwise, who identify so profoundly with this extraordinary leader. There were approximately 1,500 people from 22 nations at this 3-day gathering.

DB: Two other things that relate to the murder of Berta unfolded before you arrived. One is that her friend, the eyewitness to the murder, was by grace and a lot of organizing gotten out of the country, escaping the death squads in Honduras, and in the same context, there was another murder.

Bell: That’s right. Gustavo Castro is to the environment and its defense, in Mexico, what Berta Cáceres was, and I will say is, even though she is dead in the body. And he was at her home the night of her murder. He said that the hit men thought that she was alone, and were very surprised to see him. They did shoot him twice. One of the bullets went very, very close to his skull, but fortunately hit his ear instead. The other hit his hand. He then went through the most horrific experience of 26 days of either being directly held by the Honduran government, supposedly for questioning, but through the entire days he was horribly psychologically tortured, and to some degree physically tortured. And then the remainder of the time he was in the Mexican Embassy, he being a Mexican citizen, for his own protection, because the Honduran government refused to allow him to leave.

However, his departure, and the fact that he is now back in Mexico, is a rare moment when people united actually get to see immediate results of our work. And what happened is that people around the world who know Gustavo or who care about the struggle, mobilized, and we got responses from 62 congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives, denouncing this to Secretary of State Kerry, and asking him to cut military aid. We got the Vatican to pronounce itself against what was happening to Gustavo. There were calls from everybody, from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and so many other well-known people. And in Latin America alone, over 100,000 people sent letters calling for Gustavo’s release.

So he is back home. However, I am sorry to say that he is not at all safe because a hit man could easily be dispatched from Honduras, and go into Mexico. And we are at a moment when this sort of thing is happening quite regularly here in Honduras. Gustavo is, unfortunately, extremely inconvenient to the Honduran government and to the dam company that Berta and her group had been opposing, who we are quite sure paid the hit men who killed her.

And incidentally I was with Berta’s brother, also named Gustavo, a couple of days ago, and he said that two weeks before her death, Berta called him and said that they had already contracted and paid for the death squads who were to shoot her. This was a long anticipated event.

DB:  The name of the company.

Bell: The company is DESA, which means “energy development” in Spanish. It claims to be a Honduran company – however, it is underwritten by funds from the Dutch Development Bank, the Finnish Development Bank, and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, which basically the U.S. runs. In the past it was also underwritten by the World Bank, although very strong pressure from the indigenous organization here, COPINH, caused the World Bank to pull out, and it also caused the largest dam company in the world, Sinohydro, which is owned by the Chinese government, to pull out.

And this makes me think all of a sudden of a wonderful expression I once heard, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve never spent the night in bed with a mosquito.” So these unarmed and under-resourced people are indigenous folks, without so much as a cell phone, but they were actually able to get the World Bank and the largest dam company in the world to stop. But the dam itself and the company behind it continue under construction.

DB:  What about the second murder? Please remind us what the situation is there.

Bell: Yeah. So, one might think that all of the condemnation that has been brought down on the Honduran government’s head after it killed Berta Cáceres, its best-known international figure, would have stopped it. But that is not the case. Since her death the government has attacked I think something like eight other COPINH members, arresting them, beating them, or threatening them. And it did kill Nelson Garcia, who is another of the leaders of COPINH, The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, which Berta Cáceres started at the ripe age of 20 years old.

Nelson was coming back from helping some people whose land were being illegally seized by the military, and so the government, in a very clear message to all Hondurans who attempt to stand up and speak out and fight back, killed him as well. Then this past Friday, April 15th, numerous other people came quite close to losing their lives, including me. Yes, the government is continuing on its path.

DB:  What happened to you? And where did the danger come from, in terms of the work you’re doing on the ground now.

Bell: Well, I wasn’t targeted, in my case, I’m sure. Although it was targeting in the case of some of the others who were attacked. But the third day of this international gathering of people from all over Europe and the Americas, to honor the life of Berta and to recommit to her struggle, involved a trip to the site of the dam construction, which was the final reason for which the infuriated Honduran government and the dam company killed her, after so many threats on her life for so many years. This was the final straw for them, that she and COPINH had been able to stop construction of the dam for about a year and a half.

So the dam company had actually moved from the village of Rio Blanco, which is organized as a COPINH Lenka indigenous community, which had stopped the construction to the other side of the river, the northern edge of the river where there is a town of people who are not organized, who do not identify as indigenous. Although, of course, they are all the same people.

And so now the dam construction is continuing on the northern bank of the river. So there was a delegation of many hundreds of us, no one knows for sure, maybe 500 who went to that village and were to make the trek down, way down the dirt road to the river itself, both to hold a ceremony, given by Mayan Guatemalan healers, and also to take a swim in the sacred river.

Well, what happened … first we were stopped several times along the way by police, but the COPINH members – whose fierceness I could never overstate, it’s extraordinary, their bravery – got out of the vehicles, and basically harassed the police until they let us go. But when we got to the village where we were to – on foot after we had gotten out of the buses – where we were to go to the river, there were about 20 paid thugs. They were paid by the company. Some of them were known hit men, who had threatened Berta and others in prior times. And they were waving machetes and shrieking like crazy people, shouting horrible racist remarks, and holding rocks and some of them holding guns. And they even said, one of the chants was, “We killed the fly, and yet her plague remains,” referring to the beautiful Berta Cáceres

And they, in turn, were protected by about the same number, about 20 police who held them back, clearly stood there, wanted nothing to do with us. So we went down to the river anyway, and did what we came to do, and as we were turning these thugs, these goons, by now many of whom were quite drunk, were let loose by the police. The police just stepped aside and then watched, without any intervention, as the goons started attacking people with machetes, and rocks, and sticks.

And there were between 8 and 10 people wounded, none very seriously. However, there was one man who almost lost his hand. One of these goons was bringing his machete down on the man’s arm when someone else, one of us, one of our team, grabbed a machete away from him.

And then in my case, two different men … I went to get a bottle of water and I somehow ended up on the wrong side of enemy lines. Everything shifted very fast, and two different men within moments came up to me machetes, raised them sharply over my head, just started to bring them down, and then I guess seeing that I was a gringa, thought better of it and stopped.

So it was horrible, and then the police continued harassing people. And in fact they themselves got more violent, and really jumped into the action, and started physically pushing us back toward the buses. Some of the police got in their vehicles and were pushing, literally, almost literally pushing some of the walkers who were retreating at that point, to our vehicles, with their trucks. If someone had tripped the police car could have easily run over that person. Shouting at us, cursing at us, and waving their rifles at us.

DB:  Wow. We have repeated announcements from the U.S. government, official announcements from the State Department that they are cooperating with what the government is doing. Is this about right? Is there any response to this, what happened in this attack by these thugs? You say the police let them go. What is the government thinking? What can we think about the government’s policy?

Bell:  Well, the Honduran government is very much a part of this. And they have worked hand in hand with the paid death squads of this dam company, DESA. Which, again, has been the target of opposition of this wonderful, radical, militant, passionate, committed, justice minded, indigenous group, COPINH.

The government, as you mentioned Dennis, is a completely illegitimate government. There was a coup, your listeners may know, in 2009 that the U.S. was very behind. Hillary Clinton herself has taken pride, and publicly bragged at having consolidated it. As we have spoken about before on this show, in her last book, Hard Choices, she even said that, speaking of the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya, she said, “We rendered Zelaya moot.” Which is an extraordinary statement about a sovereign government of another country.

But, of course, Honduras is not sovereign. It has been the main U.S. client state for the whole region of Central America ever since it was used as a base for the contra, who were, of course, fighting against the revolutionary Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and also as a base for death squads used in Guatemala. And now, I have clearer figures on the number of Honduran military bases that the U.S. is behind. The U.S. says it has zero military bases. But I consulted with some human rights observers who have been here for years and the U.S. is known to be involved in 12 to 13 military bases in this country, which is basically the size of Virginia.

So after the coup in 2009, there was then a false election later that year, and another false election in 2013, which I believe that only the U.S. and Canadian governments certified as legitimate, where the U.S. basically imposed its puppets, so though it is not widely recognized as such in the U.S., your listeners and everybody needs to know that this is a completely illegitimate government here to prop up the U.S. military presence, again that’s used all over Central America. And also Canadian investments in mines, which is happening here to an extraordinary degree, that extraction.

DB:  Just to have you reiterate: How would you characterize the things that happen in Honduras in terms of the Clinton legacy as Secretary of State? Because that is touted as one of her strongest strengths.

Bell:  Yes, well I also work in Haiti, and she has played a very similar role in Haiti with disaster capitalism. And, here, not only did she help to put in this horrendous government that is fully neo-liberal and that has run or that has operated under the explicit banner of “Honduras is open for business,” and incidentally in Haiti the exact same expression, “Haiti is open for business.” But English is used, in both cases, in a non-English speaking country. But Hillary Clinton here is very much seen as the person who facilitated for the U.S. government this ongoing regime of a government that has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere, and that has presided over the nation that has the highest level of killing of environmental activists, according to the research of the group Global Witness. And Berta Cáceres, a few months before her death, singled out Hillary Clinton as having the blood on her hands of having destroyed that democracy, and then through the coup, as having responsibility for so many people who have been killed since. Hundreds and hundreds of environmental defenders have killed since.

DB:  Finally, you’re there. There are days of resistance, people are still fighting, putting their lives on the line, as you have. And you’re there to witness that and to support that. What are the people seeing next? What do you see as the plan? Do you see, given this extraordinary amount of intimidation, just what you faced this week, do you see a slowing down? A sense by the people, that the people are tired and frightened?

Bell:  On the contrary, Dennis. People here are so angry at Berta’s murder, and they are not going to stop. And those who have taken up the leadership behind her know that they walk with their coffins under their arm, but nobody cares about that. People are working hard for justice, and that is their single determination. They do have a very strong call for us in the U.S. We have a unique opportunity to impact what is happening in Honduras by the grossly applied power that our government has over what happens in this country.

The demands are for the U.S. to cut all security assistance to Honduras, and also to pressure the U.S. government to work with, well, the Central American Bank for economic integration, and others whose finances the U.S. does have influence over, and to stop the dam on this sacred river for which Berta died, and four other members of COPINH died. So I hope that all of your listeners will get in touch with their Congress people, will get in touch with their senators, even if they have already, and will again ask for all security assistance to Honduras be cut, and that the U.S. work to disengage itself from any capital that is involved in this dam.

By Dennis J Bernstein, Reader Supported News

Shippers to gain reliability from US terminal automation

LONG BEACH, California — Importers and exporters will benefit as container terminals in North America are automated because automation will result in “reliable productivity” for beneficial cargo owners, according to a marine engineer.

“Why do BCOs care about automation? Because it results in less exposure to interruption,” Mark Sisson, senior port planner and analyst at AECOM, told JOC’s 16th annual TPM Conference here last week. Automated terminals deliver consistent performance hour after hour each day, and reduce the chances of interruption due to job actions.

However, terminal operators warned the almost 600 BCOs in attendance at TPM not to get too excited too soon about automation because it is hugely expensive. Also, terminal operators are waiting for the approximately 25 automated container terminals worldwide to achieve the level of productivity they were designed to reach.

Ed DeNike, chief operating officer at SSA Marine, said his company has scrutinized the vessel, yard and gate productivity at automated facilities, and given the container volumes SSA handles at its three conventional terminals in Long Beach, “we couldn’t have done it with the current automation we have seen,” he said.

Five terminals in the U.S. and Mexico are automated or will be soon. The semi-automated APM terminal in Norfolk was the first to open, in 2007. The semi-automated Global Terminals in New York-New Jersey and the semi-automated APM terminal in Lazaro Cardenas will open this year. Semi-automated terminals feature automated stacking cranes, but they use conventional yard tractors to move containers from the ship-to-shore cranes to the stacks.

The TraPac terminal in Los Angeles last year opened the first phase of what will be a fully-automated terminal. TraPac deploys unmanned autostrad machines to move containers from the ship-to-shore cranes to the stacks. Next month, the Middle Harbor terminal in Long Beach will open the first phase of its fully-automated terminal. Middle Harbor will use unmanned automated guided vehicles for its ground transportation.

Full automation is costly — about $500 million or higher — which is why many operators in North America, Europe and Asia are not rushing to do it. BCOs, however, can realize immediate benefits from those terminals that automate. The main drivers of automation are mega-ships with capacities of 10,000 to as much as 18,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units that are now calling at North American ports. These ships place tremendous stress on the yard and gate operations that directly affect BCOs’ ability to receive delivery of their containers.

Big ships require longer marine terminal operating hours and higher terminal capacity to handle cargo surges of 10,000 or more container moves per vessel call, Sisson said. Containers can be stacked more densely in an automated terminal, and the operators can afford to conduct yard operations virtually round the clock because their automated stacking cranes significantly reduce labor costs.

Automated terminals are cleaner, safer and quieter than conventional terminals, and they deliver containers much faster to truckers than do conventional terminals. Harmful diesel emissions are also slashed because the cargo-handling equipment is powered by electricity and batteries.

Yard productivity improves because the container stacks are positioned perpendicular to the vessel and the gates. Trucks travel a short distance from the gate to the landside end of the stacks to deliver and receive containers. This process allows for efficient dual transactions in the same location. Trucks move quickly into and out of the terminals. Even more importantly, street truck traffic is separated from the machines that move the containers from the cranes to the stacks. This should significantly enhance yard efficiency and safety.

BCOs in Southern California who suffered through four months of work slowdowns during the longshore contract negotiations this past year heard that automation improves terminal reliability because it neutralizes a key form of leverage the International Longshore and Warehouse has over the terminal. The ILWU during the contract negotiations slashed its daily dispatch of yard crane operators from about 110 per day to 35. Those jobs are mostly eliminated by the automated stacking cranes. The only manual involvement in ASCs is the lowering of the container the final three feet to the truck chassis.

Sisson noted that the downside of automation is its huge upfront capital cost, the inflexible layout of steel rails that are sunk in concrete and the complex electronic systems that need ongoing support from the information technology staff.

There is no doubt that the elimination of dozens of costly ILWU yard tractor and yard crane jobs, that pay well over $100,000 per longshoreman in wages and benefits, will significantly reduce labor costs at each terminal that automates. A Port of Los Angeles study said 40 to 50 percent of the jobs at the TraPac terminal will be eliminated when the facility is fully automated in the next two years.

DeNike, however, noted that most of the terminals that have automated, even those in Europe that continue to refine the technology, have not achieved the productivity that conventional terminals receive from longshoremen. “Productivity trumps manning,” he said.

Longshoremen employed at conventional terminals now have an added incentive to be productive because, if automated terminals like TraPac and Middle Harbor succeed commercially, other terminals will have to automate in order to compete. “We rely on the ILWU for efficiency,” said Alan McCorkle, vice president of West Coast operations at Yusen Terminals. “If they don’t get it, they will lose out to TraPac and Middle Harbor,” he said.

Dockworker productivity is especially important in operating the ship-to-shore cranes. DeNike said that each improvement of one container move per hour translates to a savings of $5 for the terminal. Therefore, if a terminal that handles 1 million lifts per year improves its productivity from 30 moves per crane per hour to 31 moves, it saves $5 million a year.

If operators of conventional terminals must automate to stay competitive, the biggest challenge they will face will be to maintain existing operations while removing portions of the facilities from production to install the automation, said Steve Trombley, managing director of APM Terminals in Los Angeles. Building an automated terminal on a greenfield site is much easier, he said.

Nevertheless, the need for consistent, almost non-stop operations to handle as many as 15,000 container moves generated by today’s mega-ships in a single call creates a compelling case for automation at the busiest ports, said Rolf Nielsen, senior vice president and head of North American operations at Maersk Line.

Sisson described this phenomenon as “smooth, predictable performance” hour after hour without a need for down time to change operators or to take lunch breaks. When that consistency is combined with 24/7 operations, lower operating costs, safer, greener operations and improved gate times for truckers, BCOs may find that shipping their cargo through automated terminals in this era of big ships is something they should certainly care about, Sisson said.

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at and follow him on Twitter: @billmongelluzzo.