Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The US Navy: War Games under Americans' Radar

(Similar article under the header "Gaming the System: Dumping the Navy Way" published in Counterpunch Sept 30) 

During the Bush Administration – it continues under Obama – the Department of the Navy (DON) divided the coasts and oceans into a series of “testing range complexes” (TRC) driven by five-year plans to conduct warfare exercises. They already conduct these tests in the Atlantic (and recently announced a notice of intent to expand this area), the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific.
Additionally, after the public comment period ends on October 11, 2010, the Navy will conduct a plethora of war exercises along 122,400 nautical miles of air, surface, and subsurface space in Northern California, Oregon, and Western Washington.
To be sure, such testing is in accordance with Title 10, Section 5062 of the US Code that provides:
The Navy shall be organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained combat incident to operations at sea...responsible for the preparation of Naval forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war...with Integrated Joint Mobilization meet the needs of war.
Perhaps people take war games for granted because such testing is provided for in this Code (fewer conspiracy theories if information is public?). But this information is not trickling down to the people it will affect. If anything, DON appears cagey about how it informs the public about its intentions.

Treat 'em rough...and tell 'em nothing
Rosalind Peterson is president and co-founder of Agriculture Defense Coalition (ADC). In a recent Raising Sand Radio interview ( she said, “In Mendocino County (CA) there was a one-by-one inch ad in local papers of the smallest communities that the Navy could find in northern California, Oregon, and Washington. In Oregon they advertised in tiny communities with a total of about 250 people each. They didn't publicize in the capital, Bend, or Portland or other, larger cities at all.”
Aides in California Senator Barbara Boxer's office seemed to know little, if anything, about the Northwest Training Research Complex (NWTRC) when ADC's Rosalind Peterson contacted them. A spokesperson said Boxer would “look into it.”
Peterson said, “If Senator Diane Feinstein and Congressman Thompson knew about it they did not notify their constituents along California's northwest coast.”

Pacific Northwest
The Navy acknowledges that some testing is highly classified therefore the tests are not shared with the public at all. Its 1,000 page NWTRC Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) notes that the tests conducted off the Pacific Northwest coast will “take” an estimated 11 million marine mammals, about 2.7 million per year. A “take” is “a significant disruption in marine mammal foraging, breeding, and other essential behaviors”; death is implied.
The “take” for decimated fish and bird life and the life that supports them is not mentioned. Neither is the “take” for civilians in the zone conducting commercial and recreation enterprises during tests. Beyond directions to websites for “Long-range advance notice of scheduled activities” local fishing, cruise ships, boating, and daily aviation passenger carriers passing through test areas will not be informed on the days testing occurs.

These war games include “a total of 7,588 sorties...[of] fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (“drones ”), and naval vessels conducting exercises for 6,940 hours each year”1 with mid- and high frequency sonar, underwater constructions and detonations, bombing, missile and torpedo missions with arsenals from Hellfire missiles to drones and the use of air-, land- and water-borne “hazardous materials” (defined as solid, liquid, semi-solid, or gaseous “substances that pose a substantial hazard to human health or the environment by virtue of their chemical or biological properties”).
The list – “not exhaustive” – of chemical byproducts from underwater detonations, explosives, degradation products, failure and low-order detonations, and components of training materials is extensive. Hazardous materials discharged overboard beyond 12 nautical miles include spent acid, alkali (“carefully neutralize, dilute and flush overboard...”); solvents; water with corrosion inhibitors; aircraft washdown waste water; and submarine missile tube waste water that includes heavy metals and cyanide.
Physical debris includes live and expended ordnance and casings, sunken vessels, and blasted underwater construction.
Vessels, aircraft, and military equipment used in these activities carry and use hazardous materials with directives to manage the storage, use, and proper disposal of materials that may be harmful to the environment.
The list of materials to “Containerize for Shore Disposal” includes batteries, hydraulic fluids, insecticides, pesticides, waste oil, sludge, oily solid waste, grease, propellents, PCB, and mercury in the form of fluorescent bulbs.2
Given the Navy's history, how and where are these materials disposed once “containerized”?

Out of sight, out of mind
The Navy has dumped explosives and vast amounts of other debris in the oceans for years. This is old news to NOAA, oceanographers, environmental groups, and the voiceless directly affected. NOAA has a map showing at least the last 60 years of the Navy's suspected dump zones in the Gulf of Mexico.
Greg Gardner of South Beach, Florida reports in Indian River Magazine, “Closing Fort Pierce was a classic case of dump and run....To this day, ordnance washes up on Hutchinson Island beaches several times a year after heavy surf. ”
South Beach Mayor Bob Benton concurs. “They put trucks and tanks on barges and barges and dumped them in the Gulfstream....Tons and tons of Army hardware, hand grenades and bombs.”
Off the California coast drums and canisters leak radioactive material since the Navy dumped them after tests conducted at its San Francisco's Hunters Point facilities.
The ongoing Superfund site clean up of former Naval Air Station, Alameda – at a cost, to date, of $428 million – regularly reveals mysterious contamination zones, sunken vessels, and toxic burn pits. During a recent Navy-sponsored tour, local residents watched from the bus as Navy personnel measured radiation on the vehicle's tires with Geiger counters.
Yet the vast majority of Americans know little about the Navy's dumping and warfare activities. Should We, the People, not know that the Navy's ongoing five-year warfare test plans require only one EIS per TRC? And that any EIS can be extended without informing the public at all? And that these on-going activities affect our own and all other forms of life?
Howard Garrett, president of the Whidbey-based Orca Network’s board of directors, says this includes “almost everything alive in the ocean. Anything with an air pocket in their [sic] bodies.” The Navy says it will conduct fly-overs and set up watchers before performing potentially lethal sonar testing. “But, [for example] Orcas are by nature stealthy hunters. They traverse the entire Pacific Ocean, so they can be anywhere. They won’t be making noise so it will be extremely difficult for the Navy to know whether they are there before beginning testing.”

As goes the Pacific Northwest so goes the Atlantic
Meanwhile, as research and testing continues off US coasts, the Navy recently announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Overseas EIS (OEIS) to evaluate:
...the potential environmental effects with military readiness training and research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) activities in the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing (AFTT) study area. This covers approximately 2.6 million square nautical miles of ocean area, which includes Navy operating areas (sea space) and warning areas (airspace). While the majority of Navy training and many testing activities take place within operating and warning areas and/or on RDT&E ranges, some activities, such as sonar maintenance and gunnery exercises, are conducted concurrent with normal transits and occur outside of operating and warning areas.
Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Notice of IntentAtlantic Fleet Training and Testing Notice of Intent )
That is, everything planned for the Pacific Northwest will be repeated – and improved – in the Atlantic.

ADC's Rosalind Peterson said, “Each one of these five-years-testing programs is immense...and very costly. We, the tax-paying public, will pay to replace all the bombs, missiles, and other arsenal used for these live fire exercises; we will pay heavily for the environmental degradation of ocean, land, and air; we will pay very heavily for the collapse of the marine mammal, fish, and bird populations. We don't realize that one set of activities has a wide-ranging set of consequences.”

The Navy Way
The NWTRC EIS Resource Section: Socioeconomics addresses cost from the point of view of how unobtrusive Navy testing will be and how little it will impact civilians and businesses.
It is important to note that there are no restricted areas in the NWTRC. Normal right of way for fishing boats and all other vessels is honored throughout the range complex. In fact, to prevent interference during the conduct of their activities, Navy ships and aircraft intentionally seek areas clear of all other vessel traffic for conducting their training.3
The Table of Annual Commercial Landed Catch and Value within Washington Waters (2007) carefully records every fish of economic significance – over four dozen, from northern anchovy that, for example, generated $35,883 that year, to Dungeness Crab, $54,479,797, to Sockeye salmon, $89,802, even to “Unspecified bait shrimp”, $219,648.
Then, “Due to the low level of Navy activities, and the lack of interaction between the Navy and commercial interests, there are no expected revenue losses in any offshore industry....”
Unsurprisingly, the EIS Socioeconomics segment concludes, “the Proposed Action would result in no significant impacts. Therefore, no mitigation measures are required.”4

A Better Way
Those focused on one-dimensional “national security” in terms of military might makes right – rather than a complex, multi-layered, integral system of living wonders that offer generative mysteries rather than threats – can be assured that the Navy, and the other branches of the US military, already has enough of our planet to conduct testing. It has been doing it for decades. It does not need – and should not have – even more of our precious, already-stressed, and shrinking planet.
Nevertheless, after three years and thousands of comments received by people and groups in the Pacific Northwest, Marianne Edain of Washington's Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN) perhaps it up, “I feel like a flea facing an elephant.”

1) NWTRC EIS – Hazardous Materials. Table 3.3-1: Number of Activities or Training Items Expended Annually – All Alternatives. Footnote 2, page 3.3-6.
2) NWTRC EIS – Hazardous Materials. Table 3.3-6: Selected Hazardous Materials Discharge Restrictions for Navy Vessels. Page 3.3-17.
3) NWTRC EIS – Socioeconomics. Page 3.14-7.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Calls to End the False Security of Nuclear Weapons

(This article published in Commondreams, Aug 6, 2010)

Takashi Tanemori stands on a makeshift stage on the back of a truck parked at an intersection near Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. Tanemori San's formal traditional Japanese dress and his silver hair riffles in the chill morning breeze. His voice is firm and clear over the roars of large trucks passing.

“I came to the United States forty years ago to avenge the death of my family killed by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”

In the pantheon of stories about that August 6, 1944 his is both unique and ubiquitous. His parents and his four-month-old sister died that day...along with 200,000 other Japanese.

Tanemori's surviving three siblings ranged in age from four to fourteen; he was eight. For years he fought rats for food scraps, slept anywhere he could, and longed for human comfort. At sixteen he attempted suicide..then he apologized to his father's memory for that “dishonorable act”...and then he vowed revenge. He traveled to the U.S. and was quickly interned in a camp where he had to pick Thompson Grapes. (“To this day,” he says, “I cannot eat grapes.”)
He became ill and was, first, diagnosed with pesticide-related food poisoning. When doctors learned he was Hibakusha (A-bomb survivor) he became, he says, “a guinea pig.” Despite the excruciating pain, doctors repeatedly had nurses hold down their young patient, take his blood, and tap his spinal fluid to test the results of radiation poisoning. When Tanemori, who spoke only Japanese, finally fought them off, he was moved to a psychiatric institution to undergo many doses of electro-therapy.

As Takashi Tanemori speaks, a passing truck driver shouts out. “Bullsh*t! F**k all that bullsh*t!”

This man is a son. Is he also a father? Does he know LLNL is the most sophisticated nuclear weapons research and design facility in the world? Or is he, like most of us, too busy to pay attention? Is he too busy working to pay the bills for the minutiae of his one, individual life...too busy to protest the overwhelming debt he – of us – incur to pay for the perils born at this lab...too busy to recognize his place in humanity's fragile interconnectedness?

Hiroshima and Nagasaki, targets for atomic experiments
Norman Solomon, author, and founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy, takes the stage. “The nuclear age was born in deception of the facts, of the human realities of these weapons... and in silence, avoidance, and through psychic numbing. These weapons are lied about constantly, by our leaders, by our news media, and by ourselves.”

Indeed, in 1979 Solomon researched the first official United States document that listed atomic targets. Titled “Announced United States Nuclear Tests,” at the top of that list is Trinity at New Mexico's Alamogordo Test Range; second is Hiroshima; third is Nagasaki.

Solomon tells us, “The moral opposition to the Nazi regime was grounded in opposing that genocidal mentality and opposing experimentation on human beings without their voluntary and informed consent. In a real sense, though, the history of the last seven decades has been that of experimentation on human being without their consent: the bombs dropped on the Japanese; the Native Americans sent into the radon ovens of uranium mines; the people of the Pacific and [Americans] downwind of nuclear test sites; tens of thousands of military personnel exposed at test sites; the fuel fabricators at Oak Ridge and Rocky Flats; workers at Los Alamos, Livermore, Nevada, Hanford and other places where radioactive revenues create huge profit for some – and abject misery for others.”

Even as President Obama talks the talk – “pursuing policies to end the nuclear arms race” – he walks the walk of “modernization” that escalates that same arms race.
“This” says Solomon, “is The Big Lie ...that it is 'technological advance' when, really, it is 'technological suicide.'”

At the May 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference participating countries, including the U.S., agreed on a unanimous intent to seek abolition of nuclear weapons.

Yet, years ago Solomon's research included interviewing State Department officials who told him that it is the top officials of Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia labs that “fight tooth and nail to ensure that the U.S. Senate never passes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty” (CTBT).

In keeping with The Big Lie, the Obama administration's budget for fiscal year 2011 – to “modernize the nuclear weapons complex” – authorizes the largest nuclear weapons budget ever: 14 percent larger than last year's budget and larger than the average budget during the Cold War – even adjusted for inflation. It includes building three new bomb plants: one at Los Alamos (NM) to enable plutonium production: one at Oak Ridge (TN) to build uranium secondaries; one in Kansas City (MO) for other weapons' components. These facilities enable the build of 80 entirely new nuclear weapons per a cost of $80 billion over the next ten years. “Modernizing” the arsenal itself costs another $100 billion.

It took Tanemori San more than forty years to overcome his rage and his desire to avenge his family. Ironically, the warmth of another nurse touched him and, he says, “began to thaw out my heart frozen by hatred.” But it was his young daughter who issued the coup de grace to his unmitigated desire for revenge.
“Daddy, I know you came here to kill those who killed our family. But isn't there any other way? For the children of those you do not kill – just as they did not kill you in Hiroshima – will come after your children. Is that what you want?”

Tanemori San considered her question. And understood in his heart that the circle of violence only begets more violence. Perhaps We, the People ought more deeply to consider this as we hurtle towards an ever more deadly, expensive, and growing nuclear arsenal.

Rev. Martin Luther King talked about “guided missiles and misguided men”...and said that “a nation that, year after year, continues to spend more on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
On this day, outside Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Norman Solomon tells that if we continue “to approach building nuclear weapons designed to inflict global nuclear holocaust we will get there.”

We do not want to get there.

Barack Obama, can you hear us now?

Listen to the radio show: "Obama, stop building nuclear weapons"

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Confronting a Mindset: “Bombing Hiroshima was Right”

This article was published on Counterpunch, August 5, 2010

Imagine the power to erase, in nine seconds, more than 200,000 human beings and everything surrounding them within a two mile radius. Then imagine that power magnified many times over. Then understand that We, the People, are represented by those who are capable of destroying far more people and property in less time. For, according to President Bill Clinton and reiterated by Barack Obama, “nuclear weapons are the cornerstone of  the policies” of United States of America –  that protector of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
Every day of the last sixty-five years since August 6 and August 9 when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have continued to design, test, develop, and stockpile ever more awesome nuclear weapons.
Researchers at the non-profit think tank Tri-Valley CAREs based in Livermore, California found that, contrary to their assumptions, Congress, the Pentagon, and the President do not commission such weaponry. “We found,” says Executive Director Marylia Kelly, “that [members of] the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory rather forcefully sell ideas for and promote weapons to the U.S. government. We'd always thought that the lab responded to the sorts of weapons these entities wanted but found the opposite is true. The weapons labs at Lawrence Livermore (CA) and Los Alamos (NM) really are the tap root of the nuclear arms race.”
It began during the Cold War...and, Kelly says, “this one-nation nuclear arms race has continued ever since. As long as these labs are unimpeded that tap root of continued weapons design and development will flourish.”
There are three main test facilities that simulate nuclear explosions and develop ever more sophisticated – and lethal – weapons. The Nevada Test Site has an underground sub-critical test facility. Los Alamos Laboratory has a new hydro test facility dedicated to the beginning stages of nuclear weapons' explosions. Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has an ignitions facility that explores the physics of nuclear weapons with respect to the later stages of nuclear explosions.
This testing has, to date, cost the American tax payer more than $90 billion...and that does not take into account the cost of cleaning up the environment and addressing current and future health. Developing this ever-growing arsenal pumps out an ever-growing amount of mortally toxic material.
Lawrence Livermore tests estimate the radiation 'dose' - beyond the heat of the blast - released in Hiroshima deposited about one million curies. (One curie of radiation is 37 billion radioactive disintegrations per second; radiation has a half life of 28,000 years.)
Tri Valley CAREs documents that more than one million curies of radiation have escaped from this laboratory into surrounding communities. During tests performed at the lab's Site 300 – located in the hills between the cities of Livermore and Tracy – non-fissile depleted uranium replaces plutonium 239  (the fissile material in the core of a nuclear bomb) and is exploded on outdoor firing tables to atomize into the wind.
Not only is there  no workable, long-term, safe solution to deal with toxic materials – including  plutonium, tritium (the radioactive hydrogen of the hydrogen bomb), uranium, and cesium – clean up is endless. There are already tens of thousands of known Superfund and National Priorities List sites around the U.S.  According to EPA officials and the GOA's report, Superfund: EPA's Estimated Costs to Remediate Existing Sites Exceed Current Funding Levels, and More Sites Are Expected to Be Added to the National Priorities List
EPA regional officials estimated that from 101 to 125 sites – about 20 to 25 sites per year – will be added to the National Priorities List over the next 5 years...higher than the average of about 16 sites per year listed for fiscal years 2005 to 2009...At over 60 percent of the 239 nonfederal NPL sites with unacceptable or unknown human exposure, all or more than half of the work remains to complete the remedial construction phase of cleanup.... By the end of fiscal year 2009, EPA had expended $3 billion on 75 sites with unacceptable human exposure and $1.2 billion on 164 sites with unknown exposure....

Historical amnesia
If We, the People, are unaware of this ongoing pollution so, too, have we lost sight of our history. How many Americans understand that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki had almost nothing to do with the end of World War II? Rather, these horrific deeds positioned the U.S. so that we would not have to share influence with the Soviet Union and Asia; the A bombs were used to intimidate the Soviets for the post-war period.
The Emperor of Japan understood by 1944 that the war was lost. He changed governments and the mandate of the new Japanese government was to negotiate a peace treaty with the U.S. with a fundamental condition that the Emperor remain on the thrown and avoid a trial as a war criminal.
General, later President, Dwight D. Eisenhower opposed dropping the A bomb. “Japan was at the moment seeking some way to surrender with minimum loss of 'face'. It wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
Admiral William D. Leahy, Former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against the Japanese...already defeated and ready to surrender. being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was taught not to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying woman and children.”
J. Samuel Walker, Chief Historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that, while, experts continue to disagree on some issues...critical questions have been answered [among them that] “alternatives to the bomb existed and that [President] Truman and his advisers knew it.”
Yet, powerful forces within the U.S. continue to fight against the American people understanding this history. In 1993 the Smithsonian, for example, suggested the launch a major exhibit as an opportunity for people to understand more deeply the effects of the atomic bomb and to surface the circumstances surrounding its use. Controversy ensued for two years and included twenty-four members of Congress sending a letter on August 10, 1994 to the Smithsonian expressing “concern and dismay” that the planned exhibit portrays Japan “more as an innocent victim than a ruthless aggressor” in World War II.
The Smithsonian canceled the greater exhibit on January 30, 1995 and began work on a completely different plan, one that displayed only the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the bombs.
When even that trimmed down, more palatable exhibition finally closed in May 1998, it had drawn almost four million visitors. Imagine if the original exhibit had gone ahead as envisioned. Four million Americans would better understand how deeply enmeshed we are in war as a nation and a society. Perhaps then we would face real facts...and remove our sense of legitimacy in preparing for nuclear holocaust.

Voices in the wilderness
As Direction of Programs of the American Friends Service Committee in New England and AFSC'ss National Disarmament Coordinator Dr. Joseph Gerson advances U.S. and international movements for the abolition of nuclear weapons and the ratification of the limited “New START” treaty. He served as co-convener of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review International Planning Committee, a network of 25 leading disarmament organizations created to help ensure a successful NPT Review Conference.
During this service a U.S. senator's aide told Gerson that “the Bombing of Hiroshima was Right.”
“ This,” he says, “just reflects enormous ignorance” sixty-five years after the cataclysmic events in Japan.  “The reality is that each thermo-nuclear weapon today has the capability to kill far more people than were killed at Auschwitz. Yet, such genocidal, if not omnicidal weapons are the cornerstone of U.S. policies. It is in every American's interest to understand this element in our society and to transform it.”
The opportunity is there. For the last 55 years there has been an annual international conference to commemorate what were, says Gerson, “war crimes and the memory of the victims of those war crimes..and to press for the abolition of nuclear weapons.”
In a recent Raising Sand Radio interview Dr. Gerson told of his first visit to Hiroshima twenty-five years ago. “I fully engaged with the pain of what happened there and with the ongoing damage, including genetic, from radiation.”
While there, however, he did not dream at all. After he returned to the U.S.  his dreams resumed and, at first they were crowded with images of cinders and destruction. But, “The “waking image I had was of the colors and angles of the peace cranes – symbols of peace and affirmation of life.”
The letter versus the spirit of the law
The U.S. signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Essential elements of this, one of the seminal treaties of the 20th century, are that:
1) non-nuclear nations - excepting Israel, Pakistan, and India - commit not to obtain nuclear weapons;
2) nuclear nations promise they would a) provide technology and recognize the inalienable right of all nations to produce nuclear power for peaceful purposes and b) engage in good faith negotiations to completely eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
When non-nuclear nations see the nuclear nations ignore this second promise (Article 6) they suggest it undermines their commitment when they are threatened by nuclear nations. So, despite President Obama's rhetoric, the May 2010 conference saw the U.S. beat back the non-aligned and other non-nuclear nations pressing for a mandate that nuclear nations negotiate to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
As signatory to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (the Senate has never ratified the CTBT) the U.S. abides by the letter of the law by following the moratorium on above-ground testing. It does not, however, abide by the spirit of the law when it tests nuclear weapons' components, simulates explosions, and extrapolates the results to develop yet more deadly weaponry.
During May's review conference the Arab League initiated a demand – followed by the non-aligned nations – toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Israel balked. Dr. Gerson said that the Obama Administration in not particularly interested in this either although if finally agreed to the demand in order to advance Obama's larger strategies and to avoid the collapse of the conference. Israel finally agreed and is now named in the document.

Glimmers of hope
While it is dispiriting to see how little progress has been made toward a nuclear weapons-free earth in the sixty-five years perhaps one can take comfort in such micro increments. If Israel is finally named in the latest treaty document – despite the deep consternation within that country and within the American community for whom Israel can do no wrong – perhaps there is a glimmer of hope.
Moreover, Hiroshima is, today, a beautiful, modern city. And the Japanese – a community that knows deeply, genetically, the reality behind nuclear warfare – have a deep commitment to life and a peaceful world. Perhaps there is hope for humanity....

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Play ball! ...on a radioactive site. Or, denial is a river in Egypt

On a recent visit onto a usually-closed-to-the public former naval station - now a Superfund site - I snapped the picture, below. And remembered the aphorism, "denial is a river in Egypt"!

Lonesome basketball hoop on a radioactive field along Oakland Estuary and San Francisco Bay. Insets: gate leading into the site; notice on a fence surrounding the site. What does it say about human beings who disregard the well-posted area to play ball? Yes, denial is alive  and well...(Photo Susan Galleymore, July 17, 2010)
I live on the landfill section of an island that is the transitional zone to the former US military base, Naval Air Station, Alameda. It is beautiful here...humane, 'downscale' enough to maintain the homey feel lost when sterilized by class consciousness...families gather here and children play in the park beyond the trees on the my fence line...and music from every culture in the world wafts through the trees: salsa and mariachi, reggae, dastgah, rai, blues, rock 'n roll, occasional drumming circles...
This spot once sported 'public baths' and roller coasters.  Once known as Coney Island of the West, Alameda is the birthplace of the Kwepie Doll, Skippy Peanut Butter, the Doors' Jim Morrison, and other notables. Today Fish and Wildlife staff introduce kids to the miraculous critters that live in water and upon and around the beach.

...a short distance away is a Superfund site. These 1600 acres of dry land and 1000 acres of submerged land have been under CERCLA clean up for over a decade at a cost, according to an EPA official's estimate, of $428 million; the clean up is just more than 50 percent complete.
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of benzene, naphthalene, and jet fuel pool underground. Among other chemicals and substances such as PCB, pesticides, VOC, and PAH there is evidence that radionuclides were flushed into drains -- and into the bay -- back in they heyday of war-time airplane manufacture.
And it is not just fallout from the US military. "Marsh crust" derives from the days of Standard Oil (precursor to Chevron), a borax plant, coal energy generation across the estuary, and other industries operating before the city sold this land to the Navy for $1.00. (Today, the City of Alameda's Marsh Crust ordinance requires a home-owner in the marsh crust area to obtain a permit to dig into the marsh crust. This permit requires that a home-owner spend about $5,000 in professional services, and hazardous waste disposal fees and taxes, for simple tasks like planting a tree. Right now, not too many of us live in the worst marsh crust zones but with plans to develop residential housing, a VA facility, etc, things will change rapidly.)

Recently, Alameda's active and effective Restoration Advisory Board (CERCLA mandates a RAB interface between Navy, local residents, EPA, and other regulatory groups) requested the Navy's Base Environmental Coordinator - "BEC" - arrange a tour of a few key areas. Accordingly, a bus load of interested and affected parties spent Saturday morning  learning more in the field about the clean up.
For some on the filled-to-capacity bus, it was the first visit ever onto closed sections of the base.

The edited basketball picture of the basketball hoop was taken at Installation Restoration Site 1, a former dump site and burn pit. Among the cocktail of "usual suspect" chemicals found on the base (some listed above) this 36-acre patch is contaminated with radium. I took the picture through the fence before we climbed aboard the bus to tour Site 1. Once on the site, we were not allowed to disembark the bus. A Geiger counter measured radiation exposure on the tires before we departed Site 1.

While I noticed a few healthy -- acclimated? -- black bunny rabbits hopping here and there, no one on the bus knew about the basketball hoop: when it was erected; if it was ever used; why it is still there.

I am as susceptible to denial as the next woman. Denial can be comforting. But a basketball hoop on a radioactive site? This indicates powerful denial...or someone is not forthcoming about the chemicals wafting from the site... and the mystery basketball players are dangerously incurious; the site's EIRs and other assorted documents present information about the site that should keep the most ambitious basketball player away.

Can't miss these signs, yet...

Last November the Dubai Star spilled a few thousand gallons of fuel oil in the San Francisco Bay. It contaminated our island and, for a week or so, clean up crews were deployed. (Pictures and more on that spill.) What remains today are a few signs...and warning about potential illness.

Warning signs at Crab Cove. (Photo: Susan Galleymore, 2010)
Close ups of two of these signs.
Sign in effect immediately during and after the fuel oil spill remains almost a year after the event. (Photo: Susan Galleymore, 2010)
 The most recent sign, posted in early summer.

"Swimmer's itch"?

Yet, people disregard these signs and enter the water anyway... and allow their children to do that same.

Then again, when I look at the beach, the water, the beauty of the area, I realize that We, the People, should expect to enjoy this natural bounty...we should be able to go into this water, play basketball, plant a tree, make a garden, and revel in our surroundings without fear of toxic contamination, environmental illness, or radiation poisoning.

How has it come to this that we cannot? How did we allow such devastating environmental contamination of  water, air, and even our food?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Storytelling at Indian Canyon

There was an excellent turnout for the annual storytelling event at Indian Canyon this year.
This spot is the only land within traditional Ohlone/Costanoan territory (around the San Francisco Bay section of Californai), or, for that matter, within coastal California between Santa Rosa and Santa Barbara, that is owned by Indian title in trust with the Federal government. So, it is the only 'Indian Country' in this vast region; most other traces of Indian land ownership have tragically been lost and not yet regained.

Descendants of  Ohlone, Costanoan, and other California tribes work hard to raise awareness about this history.

 This year, a storyteller from Australia. Listen to Mamiya's story.

And dancers too...

The audience came from all over the bay area...

and a Jingle dancer....

Learn more about Indian Canyon Village

Listen to Scott Terrapin's story.

The story of Glen Cove

At Glen Cove, in Vallejo, a group gathered to celebrate the success of recent Shellmound Walks. These are ongoing protests by native people to the desecration of sacred burial grounds in what is now Emeryville.
A decade ago, developers eyed potential profits that could be - and have been - generated by building a shopping and entertainment haven at the confluence of major north/south and west freeways. Then, they simply bulldozed over the shell mounds, despite native peoples' explaining the historical significance of the area.
The same thing is happening in Glen Cove where large single family homes are built on sacred burial grounds.

From the Vallejo Inter-Tribal Council website:
Historically Glen Cove has been a traditional meeting place where services such as burials were performed for over one hundred local California Indian tribes. The sacred cove contains human remains, shell mounds, and other artifacts. Glen Cove continues to be a spiritually important area to the local Native Communities. The site was first documented in archaeological records in 1907 by an archaeologist from the University of California at Berkeley. According to a 1988 report by Novato Archaeological Resource Service, is at least 3,500 years old. Many of the sacred items unearthed from the site in previous years remain illegally housed in the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley which houses over 13,000 ancestral remains and over 200,000 sacred objects.
Pictures of the celebration in June 

 Organizers recognize what has been accomplished with the Shellmound Walks.
(Middle) Corrina Gould (Chochenyo Ohlone), Shellmound Walk co-Founder and (Left) Indian People Organizing for Change, Johnella Sanchez (Shoshone Bannock) and Shellmound Walk co-Founder.
Wounded Knee De O'Campo (Right) sitting on chair holding staff.

The river runs into SF Bay here...and the largest sugar processing plant on the west coast is visible top right.

 Looking east, a cargo ship just visible....

Listen to audio interview with Wounded Knee

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Meanwhile... views of a catastrophe

Sigh! Almost beautiful, isn't it? Who knew disaster could be so attractive...and artistic?

The New York Times answers some questions on the oil catastrophe....

Also, below, news from the US Social Forum

And, the flip side: not quite so beautiful after all!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

It the Gulf oil spill was in your neighborhood....

Here is a scary interactive graphic that puts into proportion the extent of the Gulf oil 'spill' (don't I mean 'catastrophe'?)

If this was your home...

After you get your breath back, drop down the page and read the text, including:

What Can You Do?
* Talk. First, share this map with your friends so they can understand the impact as well. Next, write to your Representatives and Senators and share your feelings about this disaster.
* Think. The EPA is soliciting ideas for possible technology solutions to aid in the oil spill response efforts. Submit your idea. You can also visit the clever inventors over at and help them build their crowdsourced technology for oil cleanup.
* Volunteer. Lousiana and Florida are both looking for volunteers to help in cleanup and prevention. If you have a boat and live or work on the gulf coast, you can participate in the Vessels of Opportunity program where BP will pay you to take part in oil skimming operations.
* Donate The National Wildlife Foundation and International Bird Rescue are accepting donations for coastal relief. Matter of Trust is also collecting hair to be bundled into booms. Hair absorbs oil even better than the synthetic materials being used. You can find a participating hair salon or barbershop at their site.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Israeli Shipping Line Zim Shut Out at Oakland Docks

Long before 5:30 a.m.  on June 20 about  800 protesters traveled the mile from West Oakland's BART station, near San Francisco, to Berth 57 of the Oakland docks. The early risers were determined to block the gates and discourage longshoremen from unloading a Zim cargo ship.  Zim is an Israeli shipping company.

A second shift of more than 200 hundred protesters kept the gates closed for the 4:30 p.m. work crew too.

Gloria La Riva organized the personal vehicle shuttle service that transported both waves of protesters.
She said, “There is a provision in their contract that states workers do not have to cross a picket line if their health or safety is at stake. The arbitrator -- who is always on call for these kinds of situations -- twice reviewed the lines of protesters in the morning. At about 9:15 a.m. he decided that it wasn't safe for the workers. We consider it a great victory that the arbitrator ruled in the union's favor and the men did not have to work.”

Since they had already been dispatched and the arbitration ruled in their favor the men will be paid.

For La Riva this was another full day of dedicated service to her life-long commitment to justice... along with some dej√° vu, too.

Back in June 1984, when San Francisco still was a commercial container dock, La Riva supported the ILWU longshoremen who took an official action at Pier 80 and refused to unload apartheid South Africa's Ned-Lloyd ship. Union members held firm for ten days -- the longest political cargo stoppage in West Coast history -- despite the multi-million dollar fines levied against them.

Back then, South Africa's racist apartheid regime was under pressure. As its defense forces cracked down ever more brutally on black South Africans, including women and children, the eyes of the world riveted on images of white policemen shooting black children in school yards and in poverty-stricken segregated townships.

Now Israel is under pressure. On May 31, that country's navy violently boarded ships in international waters and attacked passengers delivering food, building materials, and medical aid. Nine passengers are dead and six are still missing. 

But international anger has been simmering for some time against Israel's actions in Palestine. The bombardment of Gaza over Christmas and New Year 2009 was an act of sustained brutality that riveted the world. Since then, images of desperate Palestinians are hard to miss. They include babies and children living in what is referred to by some as the “world's largest open-air prison”. 

Israel's blockade of Gaza extends beyond its land borders. Fishermen are allowed within only 5.5 km of their own coast. Some sneak into Egyptian waters to fish but doing so puts their lives at risk.

Israeli officials insist there is no humanitarian crisis. United Nations aid workers inside Gaza, however, speak of  80 per cent of the people depending on food hand-outs. UN data draws disquieting images: 14 per cent of children suffer stunted growth due to malnutrition.

At one of three gates blocked at the docks,  protester Catherine Orozco puts down her sign (it reads “Let Gaza Live”) and says, “I visited Israel and Palestine in 2002. I went to Jenin and saw the results of the massacre and buildings and homes destroyed. I went to Jerusalem and  saw people evicted from their life-long homes. I am very concerned about the disaster Israel is visiting upon the people of Palestine. While we Americans tend to be more concerned about our own troubles like the economy and oil spills,  it opens up a lot of peoples' eyes to see peace ships carrying humanitarian aid attacked in international waters and human rights activists killed.”

As the United States sinks deeper into debt, President Obama insists that Israel is a “true friend” whose security is “top priority...sacrosanct …non-negotiable.” On June 4, less than a week after Israel's act of piracy in international waters, Obama declared a “strong commitment” to ensure “the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, unbreakable tomorrow, unbreakable forever.”  Then he authorized a further $30 billion in assistance to Israel over the next decade. (President Bush authorized $13 billion during his presidency.)

These days, the word “apartheid” is linked regularly with Israel. Indeed, the parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa are clear to anyone who visited both places or studied this form of politics.

In the clear sunshine that poured over the Oakland docks on June 20, it is apparent that ever more people of all ages and backgrounds are looking into the face of this new version of apartheid. What they see makes them unafraid of the omnipresent threat of being labeled  “anti-Semitic” or “self-hating Jew.”

If the Israeli government follows the directive of just one sign in evidence on this day – “Boycott Israeli Ships and Goods” – it would consider deeply apartheid South Africa's history. Then it would steer its ship of state toward a different star...and full speed ahead.

Note: I was born in apartheid South Africa, lived in Israel from 1975 to 1977, during which time I learn to speak Hebrew and traveled all over the country - including El Arish, then part of the Gaza Strip. (Israel included the Sinai peninsula at that time.) I visited again in 2005.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hate to say it, but... "told you so!"

A few weeks  back in the post "BP: "...very responsive and responsible spillers",  I wrote:
Soon we will learn the spill and its effects are far larger than stated ...then we'll learn the monetary costs of the clean...and it will be accepted that We, the people, will foot the financial and  environmental bill.
I wish I had been wrong!
But, I was not wrong.

It begins with  Bill S.3305, the "Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act" - a Senate bill "to amend the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to require oil polluters to pay the full cost of oil spills, and for other purposes."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on the Energy Committee, managed to defeat Bill S.3305 that would cap BP's liability at $10 billion, even if damages from the gulf oil spill surpass that figure. The company already estimates that spill will cost $450 million to clean up.

A drill-baby-drill supporter, Murkowski, apparently, has received almost $300,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. She says she supports raising the cap but argues that the $10 billion figure would prohibit all but the biggest of oil companies from drilling oil offshore.

Meanwhile, local fisherwoman, Diane Wilson, traveled to Washington, DC  from Texas, where her livelihood and those of her fellow shrimpers has been ruined. Wilson describes herself as
...a high school–educated fisherwoman with a pile of kids and a broke-down truck....I am a fourth generation shrimper from the Gulf. With this BP disaster, I am seeing the destruction of my community and I am outraged.
I am also seeing elected representatives like Senator Lisa Murkowski blocking BP from being legally responsible to pay for this catastrophe. She stopped the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Act and wants to keep the liability cap at a pitiful $75 million. This is outrageous. How dare she side with big oil over the American people who have been so devastated by this manmade disaster....

Wilson writes,
There are approximately 4,000 oil and gas rigs out in the Gulf, but there are a sizable number in the bays, too. Seismologist teams sometimes use dynamite blasts to produce sound waves that pinpoint oil and gas deposits. Generally, dynamite charges aren't allowed near the reefs and they're not supposed to be so powerful that they blow up fish. That's the law, anyhow, but who's listening? I was trotlining for black drum and I had a string of lines near an oyster reef that black drum love to hang around. I picked up my line and there, hanging off the hooks, was a very long line of dynamite charges. Things really got messy when the dynamite blasts started rocking the fishermen's boats and blowing fish out of the water. To stop the obvious show of dead fish, the company brought in a three airboats. An airboat can generate decibels equivalent to a jet plane, so imagine three giant airplanes ripping and running up and down the bay to scare the fish out of the bay. Well, they accomplished their goal. All the fish ran out of the bay and there went our fish for the entire season. It was nothing but a bleep on an oil company's corporate work sheet, but for our family-based inshore fishermen, it was devastating.

That's not all. Just listen. The oil industry dumps over a billion pounds of mercury-contaminated drilling-mud wastes into the Gulf each year. Drilling muds are used to cool and lubricate drill bits as they bore into the earth while plumbing for oil and natural gas. The mercury is present in an element called barite, the main ingredient in the muds. In l996, the EPA limited the amount of mercury that could be present in the drilling muds to one part per million, which could still allow l,000 pounds of mercury to be dumped from the Gulf platforms each year. For 50 years prior to the EPA rule, there were no limits on mercury in barite. A report published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers suggested that, in the past, barite with mercury up to 30 parts per million could have been used. Looking at information supplied by the oil industry and the EPA, hundreds of thousands of pounds of mercury have been dumped in the Gulf via drilling muds since the l960s.

So it shouldn't be surprising at all that some oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are so contaminated by mercury that they could qualify for Superfund status. The mercury concentrations in many fish sampled near at least one rig were high enough to qualify the area as a contaminated fishery.
Read her full article.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

World Cup Soccer 2010: Shame on the Beautiful Game

Soccer fever rises. A billboard on the East Bay side of the California's Oakland/San Francisco Bay Bridge displays an animated advertisement with the FIFA logo announcing “RSA vs. Mexico, Friday 6:30am.” The growing excitement makes even someone who elects to live sans a television cast around  for a  place to watch the sport referred to as the “beautiful game.” 

At ground zero, South Africa's liberal Mail and Guardian quotes President Jacob Zuma: the World Cup is “the single greatest opportunity we have ever had to showcase our diversity and potential to the world. We must rise and tell the story of a continent which is alive with possibilities.”

Indeed, Zuma's post-World Cup future promises magical transformations: racial reconciliation; the end of post-apartheid troubles, disasters and tragedies; a plethora of international investors; and horizons chock-a-block with spend-happy tourists who, drawn to South Africa's charm and beauty, will return again and again. This, despite glowing estimates (450,000  international and 100,000 African  soccer fans) falling woefully short and despite the growing disincentives of future carbon taxes on air and other travel, the country's failing infrastructure and social services,  and its hard-to-beat reputation as the “rape capital” of the world.

The word on Main Street has it a veritable honor to any country granted the opportunity to host FIFA's World Cup. But, back in the 'hood where the host country's majority live, the downside is very real to the people whose government contracted with FIFA to spend lavishly for FIFA. The effects persist long after the last soccer fan departs a brand new stadium built for a handful of games.
Show no poverty!
In Cape Town, FIFA officials took one look at the location of the existing – functional – Athlone stadium and refused to play soccer in it, explaining that “A billion television viewers don’t want to see shacks and poverty on this scale.”

Here's an idea. Instead of infantalizing a billion viewers at the cost of the new stadium in Green Point spend the money on the improving civil infrastructure. Yes, Table Mountain is beautiful behind the new stadium that is also the most expensive ever built anywhere – so far! But, imagine what that budget of R4.5 billion/ US $580 million – with cost overruns and escalations in 2006 rising from R1.8 billion/US $225 million to R3.1 billion – could do if it went toward creating durable jobs that built sustainable neighborhoods with schools, clinics, and parks for the next generation to learn soccer?

Then a billion finicky television viewers could see their largess manifested in Athlone and feel the adult joy of constructive participation in real South Africa.

More importantly, a few thousand of the currently 4.18 million unemployed South Africans would have jobs, pay taxes, consume local goods, and offer security to their families. 

Instead, “Statistics South Africa” reports that numbers of unemployed rose from last year's 3.87 million. In their updated article, “South Africa’s Unemployment Rate Increases to 23.5%”, Nasreen Seria and Mike Cohen report that the jobless rate rose to 23.5 percent from 21.9 percent in three months. South Africa’s unemployment is the highest of 62 countries Bloomberg tracks.

An overblown corporatized event?
In a recent interview, Professor Patrick Bond of the University of Kwa Zulu Natal's School of Development Studies, also director of the Center for Civil Society there, said, “The World Cup is an example of an overblown corporatized event of corporate athletics that involves nationalism and police hysteria about potential threat.”

He highlights facts-on-the-ground for ordinary South Africans. “We had no idea, back in 2004 when FIFA granted South Africa the Cup, that this would entail actually surrendering any democratic control of our cities where the big stadia are [located]...[South Africa's] police – essentially given to FIFA for free  – now patrol 10 kilometers around a stadium to discourage protest.”

Police warned the public that any kind of protest is disallowed for the duration of the Cup. This means coordinated protests by organized activists...and spontaneous bursts of frustration by residents with the initiative to leave their 'hood day after depressing day to fish for a few coins in the tsunami of unemployment.

So much for laissez-faire capitalism and the self-regulating marketplace!

Can  South Africa’s multi-billion investment pay off?
South Africa's current account deficit has soared. According to The Economist in February 2009, imports for construction and other goods plus profit outflows put South Africa at the top of the risk list amongst emerging markets.

In the 26 May 2010 article in Engineering News, “World Cup return on investment not guaranteed”, ACE Insurance senior underwriter Trevor Kerst states that South Africa spent about R33 billion/ US $4.1 billion on preparations for the sporting event.
“… the return on that investment is by no means assured; add to that the reality that FIFA pays no taxes and institutes exclusion zones around the stadiums where matches take place, and tax income is curtailed. Within these exclusion zones, only FIFA and its partners may sell any goods; nothing from these sales accrues to the government.”
Such massive debt, Kerst warns, would lead to a marked slowdown in public sector spending, especially on large capital projects, and that the insurance industry might face lean times ahead.

While South Africa incurs this staggering debt, a  huge import bill, and a dramatic rise in foreign debt  FIFA's profit is estimated at R24 billion/ US $3 billion; television rights alone run to approximately US $2.8 billion.

Even other large corporations are issuing warnings. MasterCard stated recently: “Any company should have grave concerns about doing business with FIFA:  lying, deception, and bad faith are standard operating procedure.”

Where there's a will, there's a way
A wonderful thing about human beings is their generous creativity in the face of injustice. For, of course, there will be protests. Indeed, a small cadre of extraordinary talents has already begun protesting. Hip hop musicians Creamy Ewok Baggend are sponsored by the Khulumani Support group, currently taking on five major corporations who, they charge, are complicit in supporting the South African Government during apartheid and are also investors in FIFA World Cup.

Where numbers and statistics may fail with some audiences, Ewok's contribution, “Shame on the Game” may go viral and their lyrics tell the world a compelling story:
It's a beautiful game
where we stand on the side
as they play with the pieces and
we pay with our pride.
It's a beautiful game.
How they loan us to own us
they've shown us a beautiful game.
I'm not talking to the people in the stands on the side
the people who need a little hope in their lives
I'm not talking to the kids who want to see the stars
want to see a future without death or jail bars.
I'm not talking to the coach.
I'm not talking to the team.
I'm talking to the money men behind the screen.
I'm trying to stop another dummy move getting past

We're playing with our balls while they're playing with our lives.
They come disguised like they're playing for our side
but the minute that we're finished
they're the first to vy!
The picture is bigger than the one getting played.
They sold back then
and they're still getting paid!

To date, the financial gain is always on FIFA's side. How that small group of private investors must smile as their bank balance fattens: the beautiful game harnessed as the miracle investment. They have outlawed cries of “foul” and, as they go to the bank, they must yell with the same joy Mexican soccer announcers yell, “gooooooooal!
(Share the link to this music and help it go viral.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

BP's Hayward "...a very significant environmental crisis and catastrophe."

In an interview with the UK Guardian two weeks ago, BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, described the spill as "tiny" relative to the size of the gulf.
Today, he drastically scaled upwards his assessment of the spill. He told CNN: "This is clearly an environmental catastrophe. There is no two ways about it. It's clear that we are dealing with a very significant environmental crisis and catastrophe."
Wow, who knew?
Read the UK Guardian article.

This past week, Greg Moses wrote a terrific piece for CounterPunch titled "Oil Wars Come Home to Roost." Here is the opening:
Even the birds are pissed.  Whether it’s the Mockingbird who guards the footpath down by the bus stop.  Or the Blue Jay who cusses across my back deck.  Or even the frigging Grackle who buzzed me early morning at the grocery-store parking lot.  This week I‘m a Hitchcock player and these birds come straight for my neck.

AP says 333 birds have been found dead along the Gulf Coast with no oil on them.  Well, the birds I know are telling me what their fellows died from.  The lead weight of grief.  As if the oil companies hadn’t wrecked every other week this century.  As if this must be nothing but the century of dirty oil.  Suddenly the oil wars have come home to roost and there is nothing to do about it except what everybody else has done who gets smacked by this dark force of history.  You just stand there and cry.

It’s like shock and awe bounced back off the dark side of the moon.  All the wealth and brains and power of the mighty American empire sucked into a vacuum of arrogant corruption and relayed back to earth in the form of a blob that will not be stopped until the death of it all finally sinks in.  You call this stinking mess democracy?
Read his - short - article.

I was struck with his passionate anger and emailed him:
Hello Greg Moses,
I've enjoyed both your Counterpunch articles this week. The article, "Oil Wars Come Home to Roost" was great: short, passionate, direct...and unafraid of your pain and anger. Almost unAmerican of you!
I'd like to interview you on my radio show....

He emailed me back:
Thank you...however, I can't even begin to imagine talking about the death of our beloved Gulf of Mexico without crying out loud.  I'm afraid I could only supply rather pathetic conversation right now....
Yes, if Greg cried on the show I'd cry too. We'd have a cry-fest...which is what the whole country needs: to howl, scream, cry, rage, cry, cry, cry....
The Gulf is a fast moving catastrophe made to look 'manageable' by the criminals who perpetrated the crime. This is one result of the thinking that Grover Norquist represents: "government small enough to drown in the bathtub." Except government -- that is, run with the little guy's tax dollars that are too few for education, health care, community care -- will be enough to pay for this ongoing corporate crime/tragedy.

As an aside, there is also a slow moving tragedy-in-the-making in rural South Africa -- where I grew up -- as it undergoes massive industrialization.
Long story that will unfold over the next months but, summarized, the Outer West zone of the municipality eTekwini -- home to SA's largest cargo port, Durban -- has been earmarked for industry, "dry dock," and to house the many freight trucks that upset Durban's residents. (Yes, there, same as here, we use diesel/oil instead of trains for freight. And, remember, this was once a British colony and the Brits built train track everywhere they went.) Instead of assessing what could be done differently to minimize the problem in Durban, the municipality is expanding its area of operations. So, besides the fallout from the manganese smelter, Assmang Cato Ridge Works that we have been subjected to for six decades, and the criminal spills of toxic mercury that continue to dibble into rivers from the days of UK's  transnational manufacturer Thor Chemicals... the area will soon have the world's largest landfill, but not a fill, instead it'll be a pyramid that goes into the sky on the edge of a windblown escarpment! Plus, all sorts of other industries. Learn more at the Cato Ridge Environmental Coalition blog.

A cry-fest is long overdue. Then a real workable cross-cultural, trans-national, apolitical, non-U.S.-centric enforceable agreement for a sustainable way of life. Sure, we Americans may have to cut back on privileges -- for example, spending money on junk food like the currently vastly over-promoted "Hotpockets" and all the other forms of edibles that have little to do with solid nutrition and everything to do with profit.
Hey, wouldn't that bring down the epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, obesity...which also means the cost of health care?
My god, a win/win among the tarballs!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It is “Perfectly Safe: It just Kills Plants”

 (This article also published in Counterpunch on May 28)
Each year for the last five years the U.S. has welcomed a delegation of Vietnamese affected by  spraying chemicals in Vietnam three decades ago. The Fifth Agent Orange Justice Tour ended recently. It focused national attention on grass roots and legislative efforts to achieve comprehensive assistance to victims in Vietnam, to the children and grandchildren of U.S. veterans, and to Vietnamese-Americans. 

It is not news that American troops fighting for the U.S. military in Vietnam were told by their commanders that the defoliants and herbicides sprayed by the U.S. Air Force were “perfectly safe...[they] just kill plants.”
The statistics, while heartbreaking, are, likewise, not news for anyone who pays attention to recent history. From 1961 to 1970 more than 20,000 missions that composed Operations “Trail Dust” and “Ranch Hand” dispersed about 13 million gallons of chemicals over five million acres of Vietnam's forests and agricultural lands; southern Laos and Cambodia were sprayed too.

To the military mind, defoliating was a practical solution that disallowed cover to the enemy. To the corporate mind – Dow, Monsanto, Hercules, Uniroyal, Diamond Shamrock, Syntex Agribusiness, and more than two dozen others – manufacturing chemicals provided good ROI: one gallon of liquid cost $7 back then. Moreover, corporations sped up the 2,4,5T manufacturing process so they could produce more, faster. They ignored the partially catalyzed molecule, dioxin, that was a byproduct of the faster process; it remained in Agent Orange (AO). 

Vietnam's dense southern uplands' forests were sprayed with a range of chemicals signified by color-coded barrels: Agents Blue, Orange, White, Pink, Purple and so on.  Areas that the  C-123 “Provider” airplanes didn't  reach – equal to the size of Rhode Island -- were bulldozed with Rome Plows.

Paul Cox was a US Marine fighting along the DMZ for months. Today, he is a civil engineer, a Veteran for Peace member, and a board member of Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC). In a recent presentation in San Francisco, he described the area he fought in at the time as “almost totally denuded from high explosives and multiple spraying sorties; aside from some invasive grass, hardly anything lived, no animals, no bugs, no nothin'. We could operate in the area for days in a row and see no living trees.”

Since 1994, the Canadian company Hatfield Consultants has conducted contamination and mitigation work in Vietnam in close collaboration with Vietnamese Government agencies. More than nine projects in twenty provinces have determined levels of Agent Orange/dioxin in soils, food items, human blood, and breast milk. Hatfield also studies the effects of loss of timber that leads to reduced sustainability of ecosystems, decreases in the biodiversity of plants and animals, poorer soil quality, increased water contamination, heavier flooding and erosion, increased leaching of nutrients and reductions in their availability, invasions of less desirable plant species (primarily woody and herbaceous grasses), and possible alterations of Vietnam's macro- and micro-climates.

In short, there is no let up to the devastation wreaked by war's practicality and profit three decades ago.

Consistent determination
Despite VAVA delegates representing three million people when they travel to the U.S., to date U.S. courts have not acknowledged the chemicals' effects on Vietnam or the Vietnamese. 

Yet, under U.S. law, veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 (including those who visited Vietnam even briefly), and who have a disease that the Veterans Administration (VA) recognizes as being associated with Agent Orange, are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and are eligible for service-connected compensation based on their service.

The VA’s list of “Diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents” are Acute and Subacute Peripheral Neuropathy,AL Amyloidosis, Chloracne (or Similar Acneform Disease), Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (now expanded to B Cell Leukemias), Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2), Hodgkin’s Disease, Ischemic Heart Disease, Multiple Myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Parkinson’s Disease, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda, Prostate Cancer, Respiratory Cancers (of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus), and Soft Tissue Sarcoma.
Veterans' children born with Spina bifida “may be eligible for compensation, vocational training and rehabilitation and health care benefits.” For the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded in its 1996 update to its report on Veterans and Agent Orange – Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam that there is “limited/suggestive evidence of an association between exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam and spina bifida in children of Vietnam veterans.”

A time line, briefly
September 10, 2004: an amended class action complaint was submitted to the U.S. District Court, Eastern District; Constantine P. Kokkoris, represented the victims.
March 10, 2005: in Brooklyn, Judge Weinstein dismissed victims' claims.
September 30, 2005: a Brief was submitted to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York  against 36 U.S. chemical companies. The summary by Jonathan Moore states:
The lawsuit...seeks to hold accountable the chemical companies who manufactured and supplied Agent Orange to the government. Contrary to government specifications, the product supplied to the government contained an excessive and avoidable amount of poison...[D]ioxin...was present in the herbicides supplied to the government only because these chemical companies deliberately and consciously chose to ignore then existing industry standards and produce a herbicide that contained excessive and avoidable amounts of dioxin. The presence of the poison dioxin had no military necessity...chemical companies...knew that the more herbicide they produced the more money they would make and the faster they produced it the more they could sell to the government....[T]hey ignored industry standards....
That lawsuit was unsuccessful.

Another try
This year VAVA, Veterans for Peace, and the Vietnamese will begin to apply pressure on Congress to pay the bills for damage done in that country. These groups are drafting legislation that they expect will become a bill – eventually  – that addresses this legacy. It consist of four parts:

1) clean up the environment and do no further harm.
2) address the problems of millions ill ...that now extends to three generations.
3) create regional medical centers specifically for victims' children and grandchildren born with the physical deformities and mental illness associated with dioxin.
4) conduct a public health study on the Vietnamese American population in the U.S. to learn if, and if so, how they have been affected by AO sprayed in their homeland. (The assumption is that this population could have a similar exposure to deployed American military personnel).
A third generation of Vietnamese children is being born with
physical deformities and mental illness due to Agent Orange/dioxin.
(Photo: Merle Ratner, Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.)

Personal stories: new every time
If the news about dioxin – and the political and economic wrangling that accompanies it – is depressingly familiar, what is always fresh are the hopeful voices and enthusiastic faces of the VAVA delegates. All suffer grievous disease or deformities yet their spirits and generosity are astonishingly strong.

This year, 33-year old Pham The Minh accompanied the small group. He is the son of a Vietnamese fighter contaminated by Agent Orange in Quang Tri Province where the spraying was most intensive. Minh and and his sister were born after the war with birth defects that signal dioxin contamination.
His is no story of victimization. The man's voice is vibrantly honest and alive as he says,  “I grew up with pain in my spirit and in my body...I graduated from university and I am happy to teach English to victims of Agent Orange.”

In Minh's city of Hai Phong alone there are more than 17,000 victims with birth defects, most of whom live difficult lives and require constant support from hard-pressed families.

Last year, the delegation was headed by Dang Hong Nhut who suffers from cancer and has experienced multiple miscarriages. Twenty-one year old Tran Thi Hoan accompanied Nhut. Tran was born with one hand and no legs due to her mother's exposure. Despite Tran and her mother both being diagnosed with life threatening and disabling conditions that create severe and life-long hardship, the young woman attends college and is determined to work for a just solution for other Vietnamese families.

The 2007 delegates shared compelling stories too.   
Vo Thanh Hai was 19 years old in 1978 when he was employed replanting trees around Nam Dong that had been defoliated by the U.S. Army's spraying operations. 
In 1986, Mr. Hai’s wife miscarried. In 1987, their son, Vo Thanh Tuan Anh was born. In 2001, he began episodes of fatigue and dizziness that was diagnosed as osteosarcoma for which he was treated with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Their doctor also advised Mr. Hai to have a lump on his own neck examined. Tests disclosed Hodgkins Disease.
Both father and son have difficulty performing routine activities. Mrs. Hoa provides their daily care...which means the family has little regular income.

Nguyen Van Quy  served in the Vietnam People's Army from 1972 through 1975. He ate manioc, wild herbs and plants and drank water from streams in areas that had been spayed with Agent Orange. He experienced periodic headaches and exhaustion and itchy skin and rashes.
In 2003, Mr. Quy was diagnosed with stomach cancer, liver damage and with fluid in his lung. His son, Nguyen Quang Trung, was born with spinal, limb and developmental disabilities, enlarged and deformed feet, and a congenital spine defect; he cannot stand, walk, or use his hands.
Mr. Quy's daughter, Nguyen Thi Thuy Nga, was born deaf and dumb and developmentally disabled. Neither child can attend school or work and neither is self-sufficient.

In her presentation in San Francisco, shortly before leaving the U.S. to return home, another 2007 delegate, Mrs. Hong, said how happy she was to have had a chance to visit this country and talk to people she found “very welcoming.”
Mrs. Hong had served in the Eastern Combat Zone of South Vietnam as a clerk tailor and medical care worker. In 1964, she was sprayed with Agent Orange while washing rice in a stream. She tried to dive into the water to wash away the chemicals that stuck to her body. Moreover, she consumed contaminated food, wild grasses, and water every day after that.
In 1975 she was diagnosed with cirrhosis and required long term hospital treatment. In 1999 she was found to have an enlarged spleen and hemopoesis disorder. Several tests later uncovered cancer of the left breast as well as shortness of breath, high blood pressure, cerebral edema, breast cancer with bone metastasis, stomach aches, cirrhosis, gall-stones and bladder-stones, varicose limbs, limb-skin ulcer, weak legs and limited range of movement.

Both Mr.Quy and Mrs Hong died shortly after they returned to Vietnam.

Tragedy of such magnitude easily can overwhelm those unprepared to hear it. Yet listening deeply to these personal stories presented in the even-handed, non-blaming manner of the VAVA delegates creates an opening that may allow We, the People to apply pressure on Congress to co-create legislation to alleviate our nation's moral stigma from our actions in Vietnam.

Perhaps the courage of the women in Lan Teh Nidah's poem, Night Harvest  can give hope to Americans of peace and reconciliation. These courageous Vietnamese women harvested rice at night to avoid detection by American forces.
The golds of rice and cluster bombs blend together.
even delayed fuse bombs bring no fear:
Our spirits have known many years of war.
Come, sisters, let us gather the harvest.
We are the harvesters of my village,
We are not frightened by bombs and bullets in the air --
Only by dew, wetting our lime-scented hair.

One day, perhaps, we in the United States will acknowledge our responsibilities in Vietnam. For we, too, have known many years of war. Those who struggle for peace are harvesters too. Let us accept our history, sew the seeds of peace, and highlight the futile lose/lose proposition that is war. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

BP - deja vu ...Or, Why Are the American People Protected from Truth?

I understand that some political questions are simply too hot to handle, for example:
Who looked the other way before and then on September 11, 2001?
Why is the US (that is, you and me!) propping up Zionist ethnic cleansing to the tune of $13 billion for the next few years?
Bringing such answers into our individual and national political worldviews could bring down the entire system...and who has the stomach for that?

But there are answers to less volatile questions that would not only bring some honesty to our public "debates" but also force The American People to develop real critical thinking skills...and that would grow our capacity to deal with an increasingly complex world.
For example, why the daily strewing out of lies associated with BP's Deepwater disaster? Why the cover up about the extent of our environmental troubles? We, each of us, is in deep doodoo with this spill...yet we are encouraged to swallow the drivel that it is a just a drop in the Gulf"....

Recently I interviewed author Alan Hart who said, "Americans are the most idealist people in the world."
Yes, that is true. Idealism is vitally necessary...but it is only effective when it deals with the actual facts on the ground, it is only productive when it takes into account all the dimensions of a problem or issue. Remember, for example, when Dubya, Rumsfeld, Cheney et al insisted that invading Iraq would be a "cakewalk"? And, today, We, the People are still dealing with fallout from those lies...and going broke at breakneck speed.

The half truths, scare tactics, boogey-man scenarios keep us intellectually adolescent. Such mentalities cannot lead today's world. Alas! For it seems that is all our leadership is capable of...therefore all that is demanded of The American People.

Trot with me down the primrose path of the lies of yesteryear...

Associated Press, March. 6, 2006.
Alaska pipeline spill amount debated
Industry critic says its huge, BP and state officials say it's unknown

An emergency worker monitors a vacuum sucking up oil and melted snow on Friday near a pipeline where a leak was discovered a day earlier. (Picture: BP Exploration.)

Excerpts from this article:
...State, federal and oil company officials said the total amount of oil spilled is still not known, but they discounted claims by an oil industry critic that the spill was much larger than BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is saying.
...Matt Carr, onsite coordinator for federal Environmental Protection Agency. "Of course it's not a perfect seal. There's a little bit of dripping, but it's not a huge active leak."
...The amount spilled is far greater than BP and government officials are saying, according to oil industry critic Chuck Hamel. Hamel, of Alexandria, Va., said he learned from onsite personnel that the spill volume is closer to 798,000 gallons, which would make it the second largest oil spill in Alaska, second only to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill of 11 million gallons in Prince William Sound.
Hamel said meters record the volume flowing into the pipe as well as the amount leaving it.
..."There's a 798,000 gallon discrepancy," he said in a phone interview. He declined to provide documentation of the discrepancy, however.
[Nevertheless]..."The progress has been just stunning," Johnson said.
(Read the entire article.)

NPR, September 7, 2006
Congress Investigates Alaska BP Pipeline Leak

The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing on BP's corrosion problems in Alaska. A leak forced the shutdown of half the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Committee Chairman Joe Barton says evidence indicates the problem was caused by BP's poor maintenance of the pipeline.
(Read the entire article.)

December 10, Wall Street Journal
BP Says Alaska Pipeline Leak Was Due to Ice Buildup

A spill of 1,095 barrels of crude oil mixed with water from a BP PLC pipeline in Alaska was due to a rupture caused by a buildup of ice within the line, BP and the local environmental authorities said Thursday in a joint statement.
...In 2006, thousands of gallons of crude from BP's Prudhoe Bay operations leaked into Alaska's North Slope. Later that year the company shut down a bulk of the oil output at the field following the discovery of corrosion in some pipelines. Prudhoe Bay is the largest oil field in the U.S.
(Read the article.)

May 21, 2010 by ProPublica
Meanwhile  ...Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are considering whether to bar BP from receiving government contracts, a move that would ultimately cost the company billions in revenue and could end its drilling in federally controlled oil fields.
Over the past 10 years, BP has paid tens of millions of dollars in fines and been implicated in four separate instances of criminal misconduct that could have prompted this far more serious action. Until now, the company's executives and their lawyers have fended off such a penalty by promising that BP would change its ways.

Don't want to be a buzzkill, but... I really doubt BP will "never again" receive a government contract. In fact, I bet it will...and as soon as the buzz on the Gulf is off the front pages. That is, say, another couple of months?
I am tired of choking down the hairballs of lies that make up our daily fare, the petting and patting that keeps a majority too scared to risk what they see as their privilege but really simply perpetuates pettiness.
With that in mind, let's find ways to promote solid articles when we stumble across them. Such as the following:

May 21, 2010 by the McClatchy Newspapers
Low Estimate of Oil Spill's Size Could Save BP Millions in Court
BP's estimate that only 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking daily from a well in the Gulf of Mexico, which the Obama administration hasn't disputed, could save the company millions of dollars in damages when the financial impact of the spill is resolved in court, legal experts say.
...A month after...neither BP nor the federal government has tried to measure at the source the amount of crude pouring into the water.
...That decision, however, runs counter to BP's own regional plan for dealing with offshore leaks. "In the event of a significant release of oil," the 583-page plan says on Page 2, "an accurate estimation of the spill's total volume . . . is essential in providing preliminary data to plan and initiate cleanup operations."
(Read the article.)

May 21, 2010 by The Huffington Post
Dan Froomkin: Gulf Oil Spill: Vast Majority of Pollution Could Lurk Below Surface for Months or Years
Dan Froomkin writes, "As little as 1/60th of the oil belching from a blown-out deep-sea BP well could be making it all the way up to the surface of the Gulf of Mexico right away, judging from the results of a field test of a similar scenario conducted in 2000 by a consortium including the Department of the Interior's Mineral Management Service and BP."

And, finally, what I've been seeking for weeks now. People of courage and truth. 
 Giant Hooray for Ian R. MacDonald is a professor of oceanography at Florida State University. John Amos is the president of SkyTruth, which uses satellite images to monitor environmental problems. Timothy Crone is a research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Steve Wereley, professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University.

May 21, 2010, NYT Op-Ed Contributors
The Measure of a Disaster
(As you read this, remember that 1 barrel = 55 gallons.)
Taking all this into account, our preliminary estimates indicate that the discharge is at least 40,000 barrels per day and could be as much as 100,000 barrels. Certainly, our assessments suggest that BP’s stated worst-case estimate of 60,000 barrels has been occurring all along. What matters most is that we take the steps to find out if it has.
(Read the article - please!)