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!)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bits and Pieces to Engage and Challenge....

MotherSpeak is beginning a new project, "This is who I am, this is where I live." This project will raise and share the voices of indigenous people in the US, Vietnam, South Africa (the Zulu of Valley of a Thousand Hills) and Palestine. And we will look at the land upon which these communities live using the lens of what is happening to the land now and what there is to learn about how to apply lessons of history, ecology, and justice that gives us the tools to reconstitute and/or conserve other natural environments.
We will share the project's progress here and, in that spirit, invite you to learn more about US indigenous people. (If you did not see the Heron's Head article, here it is again.)

Meanwhile, here is an upcoming event in California:
Indians: Vallejo's plans for park desecration. Look for more on this event soon after it happens we'll report on it here!

Meanwhile, meet Ariel Luckey and Free Land, Shellmound Part 1 and Part 2. Hold onto your hat...and your heart! This is an amazing, honest, and emotional performance you do not want to miss.

Calling all sentient beings
MotherSpeak's basic premise is that we -- all sentient beings -- are connected as one living entity on a living planet. This video proves this point - again!

Say What? "...a relatively small leak compared to the volume of water in the Gulf..."
And, as usual Gary Trudeau of Doonesbury has a good way of getting his points across. Take his "statistically meaningless poll" as BP CEO Tony Hayward doesn't seem overly alarmed about the Gulf oil spill, noting "It's a relatively small leak compared to the volume of water in the Gulf." Following his lead, let's shake off the impulse to view the event negatively and look for a silver lining in the inky gloom.

Recognizing the connections: To Baghdad from Palestine to more destruction
...Rarely have a house and a man seemed to intersect so seamlessly. Born in 1919 to a Christian family, Mr. Jabra settled in Baghdad after the 1948 war that his fellow Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More on BP's "responsive" and "responsible" ways...

A few weeks ago I quoted Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard, saying, “BP, from Day 1, has attempted to be a very responsive and very responsible spiller.”
I wrote that it was a matter of time before We, the People discover that we are on the hook for the clean up of this massive Deepwater Horizon "spill" (isn't it more like a deluge?) As the story of this catastrophe unfolds I notice that, along with the lies and finger-pointing associated with this catastrophe there are all sorts of similarities to past spills.

Last year, on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez, Greg Palast reminded us that on the fateful night "Captain Joe Hazelwood...was below decks, sleeping off his bender. At the helm, the third mate would never have collided with Bligh Reef had he looked at his Raycas radar. But the radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker's radar was left broken and disasbled for more than a year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it. It was just too expensive to fix and operate."
Palast continues, "The Fable of the Drunken Captain serves the oil industry well. It falsely presents America's greatest environmental disaster as a tale of human frailty, a one-time accident. But broken radar, missing equipment, phantom spill teams, faked tests -- the profit-driven disregard of the law -- made the spill an inevitability, not an accident.

Now we hear another tale of "human frailty", this one the usual sort of corporate power struggle and saving time - that means, saving money.
A critical piece of equipment, an annualer, was damaged several weeks ago and pieces of it started coming out of the well. The annualer is used to seal the well for pressure tests which determine if dangerous gas is seeping. A damaged annualer means the pressure tests do not show accurate data. According to a recent 60 Minutes show, the morning of the explosion there was a very public argument on the rig between the Transocean manager and the BP manager about having subcontractor Halliburton place three concrete plugs in the drilled column. Transocean wanted to do it with 'mud' in the column to keep the pressure contained. The BP manager wanted to do it before the concrete was set as it expedites the subsequent steps.
In other words, it is faster to do it this way.
BP wanted to do it faster...therefore cheaper.... and won the argument. They used the blow-out protector that had the damaged annualer. A couple of hours later the explosion killed 11 people and today, the public doesn't really know how much oil is actually spewing into the Gulf below the surface: BP was reluctant to allow independent researchers to measure amounts of oil under the surface.
By the way, there's talk that BP may be, by law, liable for only $75 million of the harm done by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

Toxic testing grounds
Then there are the experiments that are unique - so far -- to this spill. The British Telegraph reports that Louisiana officials accused BP of turning the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic testing-ground after winning permission for experimental chemical methods of fighting the oil slick...then cutting Governor Bobby Jindal's administration out of deliberations over the use of chemical dispersants.
Alan Levine, the head of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals, said "We don't have any data or evidence behind the use of these chemicals in the water [and we are] basically using one of the richest ecosysystems in the world as a laboratory," complained
Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive officer, told WAFB Channel 9 news station that the chemical has undergone "lots of testing" and is biodegradable. "We believe it's a very effective way of containing this spill until such time as we can eliminate the leak," he added.
But Robert Barham, the state's Secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, stated that it has not been used at such depths before - BP's leak stems from a pipe one mile below the surface - and that its potential impact and consequences are unknown. This includes how it travels through the water over time.
"We're very disappointed in their approach," he said of BP and the EPA. "The federal procedures call for a consensus between federal authorities, the responsible party and the states involved. When we met and expressed our concerns, apparently they decided to go without us."

Meanwhile, federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in Manhattan recently granted a petition by Chevron to issue a subpoena for hundreds of hours of footage from a documentary about the pollution of the Amazon rainforests of Ecuador and the oil company’s involvement.
Film director Joe Berlinger must turn over more than 600 hours of footage from his documentary “Crude,” released last year, chronicles the Ecuadorians who sued Texaco (now owned by Chevron) saying the operations of the companies’ oil field at Lago Agrio contaminated their water.
Chevron claims Mr. Berlinger’s footage could show improper collaboration in Ecuador’s legal system that could show Chevron as a victim of political influence in that country.
Chevron's lawyer, Randy M. Mastro, said:
We are very gratified by the judge’s decision...[t]hrough this kind of discovery, we have been exposing corruption, fraud and a travesty of justice going on in Ecuador. This evidence will be critical to determining Ecuador’s violation of international law and its denial of due process and fair treatment to Chevron. [This footage] represented “an extraordinary film record of exactly the kinds of abuses that have tainted the judicial process in Ecuador.”

Undaunted, Shell Oil will drill the first-ever large wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort in the Arctic Sea this summer, defying calls for a moratorium on offshore exploration in the pristine wilderness following the Gulf of Mexico disaster. They hope to get at an estimated 27bn barrels of oil and gas.
But, don't worry as Shell chief executive Peter Voser told shareholders that it would only drill there if it thought it could be done "safely and responsibly".
"The characteristics of the offshore fields are different to those in the Gulf of Mexico – we go less deep so there is less pressure," he said. "The world needs these fossil resources in the longer term." Voser said Shell had spent $2bn (£1.38bn) to secure the permits.

Some good news...
A new poll by Pew casts doubt on that idea that the US holds center-right political positions. It shows widespread skepticism about capitalism and hints that support for socialist alternatives is emerging as a majoritarian force in America’s new generation.
Carried out in late April and published May 4, 2010, the Pew poll, arguably by the most respected polling company in the country, asked over 1500 randomly selected Americans to describe their reactions to terms such as “capitalism,” “socialism,” “progressive,” “libertarian” and “militia.” The most striking findings concern “capitalism” and “socialism.” We cannot be sure what people mean by these terms, so the results have to be interpreted cautiously and in the context of more specific attitudes on concrete issues, as discussed later.
Pew summarizes the results in its poll title: “Socialism not so negative; capitalism not so positive.” This turns out to be an understatement of the drama in some of the underlying data.
Yes, “capitalism” is still viewed positively by a majority of Americans. But it is just by a bare majority. Only 52% of all Americans react positively. Thirty-seven percent say they have a negative reaction and the rest aren’t sure
A year ago, a Rasmussen poll found similar reactions. Then, only 53% of Americans described capitalism as “superior” to socialism.
Meanwhile, 29% in the Pew poll describe “socialism” as positive. This positive percent soars much higher when you look at key sub-groups, as discussed shortly. A 2010 Gallup poll found 37% of all Americans preferring socialism as “superior” to capitalism.
Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College and author of Corporation Nation and Greed to Green writes in a recent article "Capitalism: Big Surprises in Recent Polls."
He writes, "If socialism means a search for a genuine systemic alternative, then America, particularly its youth, is emerging as a majoritarian social democracy, or in a majoritarian search for a more cooperativist, green, and more peaceful and socially just order.
Either interpretation is hopeful. It should give progressives assurance that even in the “Age of the Tea Party,” despite great dangers and growing concentrated corporate power and wealth, there is a strong base for progressive politics. We have to mobilize the majority population to recognize its own possibilities and turn up the heat on the Obama Administration and a demoralized Democratic Party. If we fail, the Right will take up the slack and impose its monopoly capitalist will on a reluctant populace.

Hooray! Now let's mobilize!

And listen to this week's radio show, "Oil spills, then and now...."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Next year in Jerusalem? Sixty three years after the Nakba

In the binary view of war or peace it is the cruelest irony that May 14 commemorates Independence Day in Israel while May 15 commemorates the Nakba, or Catastrophe, in Palestine..and on the very same land.
Sixty-three years ago, more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from 531 towns and villages. Today, there are an estimated seven million Palestinians still living in 58 registered refugee camps throughout the Middle while millions endure collective punishment in the Occupied Territories.
This, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states that every person “has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Not only has Israel never accepted  this basic human right for Palestinians as a basis for peace negotiations, it has successfully undermined these rights by ignoring them – and convincing the international community to follow suit.
What is changing, although so slowly it must feel inconsequential to those directly affected, is the historical narrative of “a land without a people for a people without a land” that blossomed during and after World War II and still thrives today.

“God is not a real estate agent”
Ziad Abbas, associate director of MECA, grew up in Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank. His family and more than twelve hundred others were expelled violently from their village, Zachariah near Jerusalem (now Kfar Zacharia) in October 1948.
Abbas says, “That God gave the empty Promised  Land to his Chosen People is a romantic and  convenient myth...and inaccurate. God is not a real estate agent.”
Abbas conducted an oral history that shares witness reports from local villages. He talked to the daughter of the woman who, along with three men and a child, were abducted from Zachariah by Zionist militias. The men were executed and the woman and child sent back to the village with a terrible message: they intend to kill us all; we must flee for our lives.
Walid Khalidi, Ilan Pape, and Rosemary Esber are among the sources of this more accurate history that is replacing the binary, cartoon-heroic versions taught in schools and communities around the world. Even Zionist historians agree that the 1948 expulsions – referred to euphemistically as “transfers” by perpetrators – were violent and  wide-spread and followed the ethnic cleansing strategy laid out in the Haganah's master Plan Dalet (“D” in Hebrew). The Zionist version of this same history fully embraces the views of Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, et al that cleansing Palestine of ethnic Arabs is a basic requirement for a successful Jewish state. Murder, mayhem, usurpation of land and property, cultural destruction, and banishing Palestinians to refugee camps were fully sanctioned and justified; they continue to this day.

What goes around, comes around
There was nothing organic in how the Jewish state was founded, little that grew out of diverse people working over time toward generative solutions while respecting differences. Rather it was violent rush to fill the spaces left by living, breathing, loving human beings terrified for their lives leaving behind generations of orchards, fields, gardens, and memories.
Anyone with an open mind who actually visits Israel and the Occupied Territories quickly understands that nothing is simple here. Beneath the surface energy of “can-do” Israelis and awed Holy Land pilgrims lies a deeply complex multi-culture...with a highly stratified class system that reflects the country's founding ethos.

Associate professor of cultural anthropology Smadar Lavie grew up in Jaffa as a lower-middle class Arab Jew, or Misragi. A college professor once told her that her mind was “too untamed.” This meant, Lavie says, “I asked too many questions about Zionism – and everything in Israel is filtered through the sieve of Zionism.”
Lavie said in a recent radio interview, that Arab Jews, like her mother from Yemen, and others from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and north Africa, were brought to Israel to swell the numbers of Jews, as place-holders to inhabit the homes and land left by terrified Palestinians, and as workers for Ashkenazim, or European Jews. Considered “dirty Arabs” – upon arrival in Israel they were sprayed with DDT – Misragim children often were taken from parents “for their own good” and put in boarding schools; even babies were taken from mothers and given to childless Ashkenazim. 
Dislocated from their native lands and cultural bearings kept Misragim complaint and available to work at menial jobs for minimum wage. Misragim still fill this function in Israel; they are over-represented in lower levels of the military, as grunts, check-point attendants, and as enforcers.
Moreover, Lavie states that, despite the stereotype depicted on television of settlers as “Brooklyn Cowboys”, many Misragim live in the settlements ...and are happy to do so if urban slums are their alternative. The group tends toward right-wing politics and the benefits offered by right-wing politicians, such as airy, affordable homes in disputed areas. Nevertheless, Misragim are, for the most part, politically powerless.  “Misragi women,” says Lavie, “try to 'marry up' so as to access higher level careers or society.”
Tragically, what could be an alliance between Palestinians and Misragim, based on shared Arab roots and language, does not happen.
“The hegemony of Ashkenazim includes the intellectual, political, professional, business, and industrial classes. This privileged group is mobile and has access to alternative living arrangements in Europe and the United States if things get too bad in Israel.”
The Misragim, on the other hand, cannot return to their ancestral, predominantly Moslem, lands. In addition, Palestinians do not look to Misragim for a political solution; they look to Ashkenazim even though very few of that elite speak Arabic or mix socially with Palestinians. Furthermore, says Lavie, “the face of day-to-day oppression – at the check points, in military and police vehicles, and so on, is Misragi – or 'Schwartzes' (Blacks) as we are known in Israel.” 

The two-state pipe-dream
The two state solution – an Ashkenazi promoted pipe-dream that also holds sway within the US political elite and military-industrial and business classes – has failed. When this becomes clear even to those who can still afford to ignore such “facts on the ground”, Ashkenazim will depart Israel for greener pastures – as they did, for example, after South Africa's apartheid regime crashed.
Nothing is simple in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Will Palestinian history repeat itself, this time for the Misragim pawns in the Zionist grand plan, who will be left to face the consequences of the plunder of the last 63 years?

And read another excellent article on the Nakba by Dina Jadallah

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Ultimate in Online Fraud Scams! (Several Days Worth, plus a pic!)

Everybody loves -- or trusts -- a man in uniform?

Here is the ultimate email scam to seize an opportunity to cash in The War on Terror (that is, for us Little Guys since the Big Guys cashed in years ago or are continuing to cash in). Pretty soon I expect a similar email from Afghan war lords!

First Contact - Day 1
Re:FROM: Sgt. Jeff Frawley,
This is Sgt. Jeff Frawley, an American soldier; serving in 1st Armored Division in Iraq, We are lucky to recover some funds belonging to Saddam Hussein’s family. The total amount is US$12 Million dollars in cash, mostly 100 dollar bills, the money has been kept somewhere outside Baghdad for sometime but with the increase troop by the president Barack Obama, we are afraid that the money will be discovered hence we want to move this money to you for save keeping pending the completion of our assignment here.
We are ready to compensate you with good percentage of the funds, No strings attached, just for you to help us move it out of Iraq. Iraq is a war zone, so we plan on using diplomatic means to deliver the money to you, with military cargo, using diplomatic immunity. If you are interested I will send you the full details, my job is to find a good partner who we can trust that can assisting us on this very matter. Can we trust you? When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest.

This is risk free.
With regards from,
Sgt. Jeff Frawley.
Two Days Later
I received a response, plus a photo of "Sgt. Jeff Frawley"... and then another email from a second person. Guess they figure I'm an easy touch.
From  Sgt. Jeff Frawley
Hello Friend,
Thanks you very much for your honest response to my mail, I found myself in this opportunity and with our position we had no any other option than to give out this blind trust. I believe nothing happen on earth by chance, our destiny are in God’s hand. As much as you will assure us that I and my partners will have our 60% as soon as you receive this fund through diplomatic courier delivery at your door step. I will appreciate if we can confide in you for this business that will profit us both. I want to assure you that this project will not in any way bring any harm to us rather everlasting joy in our fortune lives. Please my dearest friend this fund is all our Hope of securing our financial stability we have to treat everything concerning this transaction with uttermost secrecy to avoid any raise of eyebrow until this money is delivered to you through diplomatic courier delivery. We are going to cover the shipment of the fund (Consignment) out of Iraq legally, you have a little role to play in this project and that is to receive the fund (Consignment) and keep our 60% of the money safe with you pending our arrival to meet you. I want you to keep this project as top secret and very confidential since you understand my position and what is going on in Iraq presently.
We shall take total care of everything involved here to see that the delivery of this consignment is made safely and legally. You will only receive the consignment and keep our share for us pending our arrival to meet you after our mission here in Iraq. Because of trust we have accepted to give you 40% of the fund while I and my colleague share 60 % among us.
You must know that the content of the consignment is well kept as top secret and very confidential. As regards to this, We intend to deposit this consignment with a Diplomatic International Courier Org here in Iraq so that the consignment can depart from Iraq immediately to you, The diplomatic Courier Org will combine the consignment with their Cargo diplomatic vessel direct to you, it must be hand to hand delivery because we must make sure that the consignment is delivered to you in person.
You fully understand our condition here in Iraq and the source of this fund so therefore, you must not let the courier company or the delivery agent know the content of the box because we are not going to disclose the content of the box in case you are been asked you must maintain that the box contains some Family valuables although no body is going to ask you any questions because I'm going to ship the consignment with my real names, you know that we are American soldiers on duty here. The opening numbers will be release to you as soon as you confirm the receipt of the consignments.
Since you did not send us your contacts information, we request that you send it to enable us work on the delivery arrangement of these consignments to you immediately with the diplomatic Courier Org for onward delivery.
1, your full names......................................
2, your office and home address.................
3, direct telephone number.................
If possible your passport or ID card........................
Iraq is a war zone and this money is no longer safe to keep here any longer.
Please you should understand that we are American Soldiers and we are not allowed to any of our personal contents while on duty, what we use here is Military Radio for duty calls and report and what so ever we discussed on Radio is coded to the Monitoring Control Department in United States, So therefore we may not have the chance to call you on phone for security reasons.
We shall keep you posted as soon as we conclude on the delivery arrangement of the consignments with the Diplomatic Courier Org as soon as we receive your contacts information’s.
In case you need anymore clarification, you get back to us immediately. Attached is my Picture for your view.
Best regards,
Sgt. Jeff Frawley
 I don't know whose son this is... or how these scammers got this kid's pic. I figure this is some kind of a hazing episode that is common in the miitary. I will research and see what turns up.

Meanwhile, word it out that there is an easy mark... Here is a follow up from  Sgt. Jimmy Roberts
FROM: Sgt. Jimmy Roberts, An American Soldier currently in Iraq.
Important Message,
My name is Sgt. Jimmy Roberts, I am an American soldier, I am serving in the military of the 1st Armored Division in Iraq, as you know we are being attacked by insurgents everyday and car bombs. We managed to move funds belonging to Saddam Hussein's family. The total amount is US$18 Million dollars in cash, mostly 100 dollar bills, this money has been kept somewhere outside Baghdad for sometime but with the proposed troop withdraw by president Barack Obama, we are afraid that the money will be discovered hence we want to move this money to you for safe keeping pending the completion of our assignment here. You can go to this web link to read about events that took place there:
We are ready to compensate you with good percentage of the funds, No strings attached, just for you to help us move it out of Iraq, the safety of you and your family is guaranteed. Iraq is a war zone, so we plan on using diplomatic means to shipping the money out as military cargo, using diplomatic immunity. If you are interested I will send you the full details, my job is to find a good partner that we can trust and assist us. Can I trust you?
When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest including your confidential telephone number for quick communication also your contact details will be needed for the shipment.
    This is 100% risk free.
    With regards from,
    Sgt. Jimmy Roberts.

Let's see what comes next...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fort Point Gang

The Fort Point Gang gathered at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, next to Ft. Point on the San Francisco side, on Thursday May 6, 2010.
It was my first time there although the Gang gathers every Thursday. This Thursday -- the closest Thursday to May Day -- was also the annual commemoration of folks who have passed on.
Gang members - about 30 or so - remembered their friends and colleagues as each name was read out loud and a red carnation was either tossed into the waves or threaded into the fence.
The Fort Point Gang originated in 1978 with seven men - Joe Passen, Bill Bailey, Al Richmond, Lou Goldblatt, Frank Jones, Jack Olsen, and Jim Kendall -- all lifelong labor activists, union leaders, and former members of the American Communist Party whose lasting friendships had taken root many years before in San Francisco, a union stronghold. (Purchase the book, "Better Red: The Writing and Resistance of Tillie Olsen and Meridel Le Sueur" for more.) All now have plaques on several wooden benches at the Point to remember them.
After the event, the group went off for lunch.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mother's Day for Military Moms

(Also published in Truth Out for Mother's Day 2010)

In America, Mother's Day falls on May 9 this year. In Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon it fell on March 21, and in Afghanistan it fell on March 8, where it is also celebrated as the first day of spring. Israel forgoes Mother's Day in favor of Family Day, celebrated on February 14 this year.

I take an interest in these countries because, while my son served in the US Army, I visited them to understand more deeply the effects of war.

Mother's Day has not been the same for me since my son deployed for three tours of duty, one to Afghanistan and two to Iraq. I barely remember those kinder, gentler celebrations when my young kids proudly presented me, under strict order to stay in bed, slightly charred pancakes on a flower-bedecked tray. Now I remember when few Americans could locate Afghanistan on a map yet the prevailing sentiment held that bombing that country was “righteous”...and Colin Powell used flip charts to preach the gospel of Iraqi WMDs...and civil dissent was akin to treason.

My son is out of the Army now, honorably discharged, and moving on with his life. I have stayed in touch with many war-affected families; in the US this I relatively easy to do.

The US
Adele Kubein's family immigrated to the US from Jordan. Her daughter, M'kesha joined the National Guard and deployed to Iraq where she was gravely wounded. After years of military medical treatment, this young woman will get what she has repeatedly asked for: to have her constantly painful leg amputated. She will be able, then, to walk beyond the half block from her home where she lives with her profoundly deaf and disabled son.
M'kesha became a mom despite her base commander orders to abort that new life conceived in Iraq. She refused and is, Adele says, “a caring and attentive mother. My grandson is a beautiful child that we will have to care for the rest of our lives. He may be M'kesha's spiritual path of atoning for the killing she was forced to do as a National Guardswoman in Iraq.

M'kesha writes her way back to the land of living beyond war wounds. A recent poem begins:

“Welcome home soldier,
you're just in time for the recession.”
They hand me
a fist full of medals,
a quilt sewn by some unknown women,
a teddy bear,
in a paper packet.
This is my guide
to becoming a civilian again...

Rita Dougherty's son Ryan was an Army lieutenant trained as a nuclear engineer at West Point. He almost died in an attack on a Stryker, the armored vehicle designed to be impregnable to first generation IEDs...but not to the next generation version that pierced through the vehicle's floor, his seat, and his hips and legs. He fought infection in his critically wounded leg for months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center then for years in a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU).

At this point, Ryan is exhausted from dealing with the WTU, recovering from eighteen surgeries so far, and regularly using Methadone to ease his pain. He wants to get on with his life and has been accepted at Harvard in the fall.
Rita supports her son's decision to have his leg amputated. And sometimes the military medical teams agree to do it, and sometimes they do not. Ryan's case worker warns him that a prosthetic limb may not fit him when his is sixty.
Rita says, “I am stunned! What a thing to tell a 27 year old. Who knows what to expect in 30 years? I certainly hope we will be light years then from the sort of care WTUs provide today!”

At twenty-one years old, single mom and Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson was not physically wounded in war. In fact, she never deployed although she fully intended to accompany her unit from Georgia's Hunter Army Airfield to Afghanistan in October 2009. She had followed the directions outlined in the Army's Family Care Plan and her mother was set to care for Hutchinson's month-old boy, Kamani. But a family emergency intervened and Hutchinson's mother was unable to follow through. Specialist Hutchinson asked her commander for an extension of time to find a trusted caregiver for her child. On November 4, her commander refused. On November 6, when she missed her flight to Afghanistan, Army officials took Kamani from his mother, placed him in foster care, arrested Hutchinson, and read her court martial charges: desertion, dereliction of duty, missing movement, failure to obey orders, and insubordination.

Hutchinson found an attorney and their request for discharge in lieu of court martial was granted on February 13, 2010. Today, she and Kamani live together in California; Alexis will enroll in community college this summer.

The Middle East and Afghanistan
It is not easy to stay in touch with Iraqis in Iraq and Syria ...nor Afghans in or out of their country or in refugee camps. Their situation remains dire as their countries' social fabric unravels and war-induced diasporas continue.

On the other hand, while Palestinians lose their homes to Israeli demolition orders and military attack, they are a people determined to remain on their land. This year on Mother's Day in Hebron, Mazin Qumsiyeh's mother went to the eye doctor and, while driving her home, his sister was cited for what Israeli soldiers say was an illegal turn. The fright made his mother burn the dinner and temporarily smoke the family out of their home.

Meanwhile, Qumsiyeh participated in protests and commemorations. He reports that during the 30-hours leading up to and following Mother's Day over 100 Palestinians were injured and four killed: two 19-year-old farmers were shot dead near Nablus for carrying what Israeli soldiers say were “deadly tools” – actually, it was a shovel for digging; two 16-year-old boys, Mohammed and Useid Qadus, died of gun shot wounds in Burin village.

About 300 female Palestinian political prisoners spent Mother's Day behind bars. Fatma Abu Rahima's husband, Adeeb, is one of thousands of male political prisoners. The family was not permitted to visit him. Then again, their 17-year-old daughter, Alaah, could not have walked there. The doctors find nothing physically wrong with her; they suggest her troubles are psychosomatic.

I do not long for the lost innocence of earlier years. If I long for anything, it is that more women heed Julia Ward Howe's call of 1870:

Arise, all women who have hearts!
...Say firmly:
We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
...From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!

Listen to the radio show: Mother's Day during War

Palestinian Agro-Resistance

Today, I share Vivien Sansour's article, "Palestinian Agro-Resistance."

Vivien Sansour is the Producer Relations Manager and Life Style Writer for Canaan Fair Trade. She has appeared on Raising Sand Radio and you can listen to her there.
When the last day of your life comes, plant the seedling that’s in your hand. -- Palestinian Proverb

Abu Adnan does not talk about a global movement to save the earth. He doesn’t know much about Greenpeace or the Kyoto Protocol; but he does know everything about keeping his soil healthy and fertile, and the terraces he builds to protect his soil make his mountainous piece of land a visual paradise.
Read the article >>