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 dejรก 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.)