Archive for July 28, 2010

We Know Depleted Uranium Is Highly Toxic And We’ve Known For A Long Time

While I”m delighted to see this piece in Truthout about the horrors of depleted uranium, it erroneously refers to, 

“a previously undisclosed 1993 Defense Department document written by then-Brigadier Gen. Eric Shinseki, now the secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), shows that the Pentagon was concerned about DU contamination and the agency had ordered medical testing on all personnel that were exposed to the toxic substance.”

Not quite. I wrote about it here in 2005,

“It is the military’s use of Depleted Uranium that should cause the most alarm. Not only is the evidence of irreparable harm becoming undeniable, it is also quite clear that the U.S. government has been aware of the lethality of these weapons for quite some time. Despite denials of health risks, a 1950 Army pamphlet states, “Although there is negligible danger from uranium and plutonium outside the body, it is possible for dangerous amounts of these elements to enter the body through the lungs, the digestive system, or breaks in the skin.” (14) An FAA Advisory Circular written in 1984 stated, “if particles are inhaled or ingested, they can be chemically toxic and cause a significant and long-lasting irradiation of internal tissue.” In 1990, U.S. Army Armaments, Munitions and Chemical Command (AMCCOM) reported that depleted uranium is a “low level alpha radiation emitter, which is linked to cancer when exposures are internal.” AMCCOM’s radiological task group also pointed out that the “long term effects of low doses [of DU] have been implicated in cancer, there is no dose so low that the probability of effect is zero.” The risk to our own military personnel was spelled out in a 1993 letter from the U.S. Army Surgeon General stating that, “When soldiers inhale or ingest DU dust, they incur a potential increase in cancer risk.” And in 1995, a U.S. Army U.S. Army Environmental Policy Institute report to Congress says that depleted uranium has the potential to generate “significant medical consequences”. (15)”

So enough already, we’ve known about the risks for decades, at least back to 1950, it is time to stop using these toxic chemicals.  Not only do they harm our “enemies” in ways that violate the Geneva Convention, not to mention human decency, they also harm our own soldiers and citizenry and while the first part of that might be hard to understand, being our own collateral damage defies all logic.

Addenda:  Truthout has changed their wording to, “little-known”, which is much better wording.  I think an issue this does bring up is that it isn’t so much that this stuff is un-disclosed than that it is there,hiding in plain sight. It just requires some digging and some persistence by the media to make sure that it gets seen.  In that, I am appreciative that Truthout is bringing it up and broadening the base of people who are aware of these atrocities.

Pete Seeger’s BP Ballad

All I can really say is that I hope I am this righteous when I’m 90:

In Plain Sight

The Sherrod debacle was right up there on the embarrassing scale as it was with the administration taking it’s cue from Fox Spews and Andrew Breitbart to piss in its pants, but now it seems that the White House is hell bent on making it worse by saying they tried, really they did, to reach Ms. Sherrod but could not reach her by phone or email.  And we pour how many billions down the drain tapping people’s phones, spying on them and otherwise tracking their whereabouts in this country?  The problem was that Ms. Sherrod was hiding on airplanes, but still,

“Even though Ms. Sherrod was out of touch for a few hours, traveling on a plane to New York from Atlanta, and her voice mailbox not accepting new messages, running her down would have been a laughable challenge to the (White House) switchboard of yore.

“Let’s say she was on the plane,” Mr. (Richard) Reeves said. “If they wanted to get a message to the pilot of that plane, they would have no trouble.””

And then to make matters worse, Ms. Sherrod went on national television,

“An especially surreal moment occurred at a briefing Wednesday, when Ms. Sherrod watched, via a split screen on CNN, as Mr. Gibbs chronicled Mr. Vilsack’s struggles to get in touch with her.

“Apparently, she’s watching this briefing, Shirley Sherrod, on CNN right now,” said Jake Tapper of ABC, to the amusement of the press corps. “Is there anything you want to say to her?” (“The secretary is trying to reach her,” Mr. Gibbs offered, again.)”

Um, like wow, someone needs to seriously look into replacing the White House can and string communications system.  And maybe the job they should be offering Ms. Sherrod is White House Chief of Staff or Director of the FBI.

A Distinct Lack Of Progressive Hope-y Change-y

Two straw polls have crossed my desk in the last day that make me seriously wonder if anyone has looked up the definition of progressives lately or taken a lessen in how to organize your priorities.  First, via the ever observant Richard  Power, take a look at this list of important issues that participants at Netroots are being asked to vote on:

Q.5 Now please read the list below and indicate which ONE you think should be the TOP priority for President Obama and Congress.

  • Immigration reform
  • Improve jobs situation
  • Finish Afghanistan
  • Iraq drawdown
  • Reduce deficit
  • Repeal DADT

As Richard points out, there is no mention of climate change and I would add, while addressing Iraq and Afghanistan, although the wording is just plain odd, as well as DADT, why not ask about military priorities in general? And instead of asking about the deficit and jobs, how about the finance bill and Wall Street reform. And what about health care?

What this list really indicates is that the progressive left has apparently lost any sense of overall vision.

Another observation regarding Netroots–why is it that this gathering gets so much attention but that the U.S. Social Forum with far greater attendance from the numbers that I’ve heard got virtually none from the media. Just asking.

Which brings us to an email I got from Open Left asking me to choose my Democracy for America grassroots champion from a list of ten progressive champions. The list included six white males, two men of color and two white women. The white guys on the list are probably all good guys who stand for the right thing but this is progressive hope-y change-y in what way? Looks like politics as usual to me.

Picture 5

Of Ferris Wheels And Mango Sandwiches

It’s summer, it’s hot, brain has mildew…

Just returned from a week in Santa Monica at the beach with my family.  Lovely, relaxing, a few surreal moments–watching kids romp in the surf while planes with banners flew by selling bank accounts, beer and clothes.  Odd juxtaposition against the continuing horror along the Gulf coast and stories on the net about the demise of the oceans and the collapse of atmosphere. Awesome ferris wheel on the boardwalk though:



Could have watched that thing go round and round all night.  Serious blogging to return soon, in the meantime here is a newly invented recipe via my son, who is fearless in the kitchen:

Place a tortilla flat and add the following:

  • Grated monterey jack
  • Slices of mango
  • Basil and Oregano (preferably fresh)

Grill or broil until cheese melts.  Fold. eat.

And here is my variation:

Take 2 slices of bread and spread with hummous.  Add mango slices, avocado and tomato.  Eat.

Currently we are working with roasted sweet potatoes.  Stay tuned.

Regular blogging will return soon.

The Catch-22 Of Oil-Wellian Logic

A few years ago we spent a long weekend at a lovely hotel on the pristine St. Petersburg, FL shore. We walked along the beach, collected shells, ate seafood. Yesterday I got an email from them telling me they weren’t Pensacola and to come on down, the water’s fine. They even have their own no-spill-here -cam.

Unfortunately, while tar balls are not washing up on their beautiful beach (at least not yet), the safety of the water is not something I would want to bet on.  While I have all the empathy in the world for people wanting to salvage the economic remains of their lives, there are some serious questions about the safety information we are getting regarding the Gulf.  As Chamber of Commerce denizens are madly (and I do not use that word lightly) telling us the only oil you need to worry about is the suntan variety, marine biologist Dr. Riki Ott, who is an expert on the impact of oil disasters, notes that,

“Public officials have failed to sound an alarm about the public health threat because three federal agencies – DHHS, EPA, and OSHA – cannot find any unsafe levels of oil in air or water. Perhaps the federal air and water standards are not stringent enough to protect the public from oil pollution. Our federal laws are outdated and do not protect us from the toxic threat from oil – now widely recognized in the scientific and medical community.

BP is still in the dark ages on oil toxicity. BP officials stress that, by the time oil gets to shore, it is “weathered”

After wading in safe water...

After wading in 'safe' water...

and missing the highly volatile compounds like the carcinogenic benzene, among others. BP fails to mention the threat from dispersed oil, ultrafine particles (PAHs), and chemical dispersants, which include industrial solvents and proprietary compounds, many hazardous to humans.

If oil was so nontoxic, then why are the spill response workers giving hazardous waste training? Our federal government should stop pretending that everything is okay. What isn’t safe for workers isn’t safe for the general public either.”

It bears remembering as well that the monitoring that is being done of air and water quality is not up to elementary school science standards in some regards.  NRDC’s Gina Solomon points to sample results that, “don’t say where they were taken, and who was in the area.”

Questions have also been raised about testing labs with ties to BP and the veracity of assertions that dispersants are not in the air and increased arsenic levels. And then there is the matter of report after report of reporters being denied access to the effected areas.  Bottom line–between deliberate misinformation, denial of access to information and an approach to scientific fact checking that is less sophisticated than a kid’s chemistry set, assurances of safety along the Gulf are suspect at best.

But that is not even the most dangerous part of the story.  As I pointed out a few weeks ago, the oil disaster, first framed by BP, the government and media as a regrettable spill, quickly escalated into a war that needed to be fought. As Anne McClintock writes,

“Billy Nungesser, indefatigable President of the Plaquemines Parish, implores anyone who will listen: “We will fight this war….We will persevere to win this war.” For Ragin Cajun, Democratic strategist, James Carville: “This is literally a war… this is an invasion…We need to hear someone say ‘We’ll fight them on the beaches.’” Retired Gen. Russell Honore, who oversaw the Katrina debacle, insists: “We need to act like this is World War 111. Treat this like it’s an invasion…equal to what we decided about terrorists. We’ve got to find the oil and kill it.”…

…Visit the BP site (one of the more surreal Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass internet experiences) and you will see the word “kill”–BP’s favored, faux-techno buzzword–appearing with ritualistic incantation. Kill the well, kill the leak, kill the oil, which morphs into “kill mud” (the mud that will kill the leak) and “kill lines” (the lines that follow the pipes to kill the leak)..

…So why are people calling the calamity a war and why does it matter that they do?

Calling the oil the ‘enemy’ helps us not to question who was culpable in the first place. Calling the response ‘a battle front’ helps us not ask who, other than the military, should be in charge. Calling the spill an ‘invasion’ helps us not to see that our global culture of militarization is what got us into the mess in the first place. Calling the spill a ‘war’ only fuels the pervasive militarization that produced the crisis in the first place. And calling the oil the enemy helps us not admit how much we, the consumers, having awakened the oil from its ancient slumber to fuel our gas-greedy lives, are the most complicit of all…

…All this war talk would be understandable, defensible even, were it not for a fatally circular, feedback loop. BP would not be in the Gulf drilling deeper than it knows how to drill were it not for its uniquely profitable relation with the US military war machine. The United States Department of Defense buys more oil than any other entity on the planet. The protection of overseas oil is now so unquestioned that even Defense Secretary Gates warned against the “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy. And to fuel this militarization, the Pentagon uses 75% of the oil bought by the DOD for its jets, bombers, drones, tanks, and Humvees. And in order to keep buying this oil, the military has to keep protecting our regional oil interests, two thirds of which are now in conflict prone zones. US military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan use a staggering ninety million gallons a month. And to garrison this vast, global gas-station, the DOD keeps expanding, which means buying more oil.

From whom? In 2009, BP was the Pentagon’s largest contractor at $2.2 billion…

…Keeping this in mind, we would do well to remember that militarization is the number one cause of environmental destruction in the world, and that military production facilities, which are exempt from environmental restrictions, are the most ecologically devastated places on earth. We drill, we spill; nature pays the bill.”

GritTV’s Laura Flanders asks some important questions about the connection between the economy, which according to experts such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich is in serious trouble, and the military:

“The US is currently shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs each month. It’s not just in the Ozarks that the recruiters are the only ones with jobs around. The economy shed 125,000 jobs in June. That’s about the number of troops we have left in Iraq…

…We’ve long heard about fighting people over there so we don’t have to do it here. Is the colder truth becoming that we’re sending people over there because we sure can’t employ ’em over here? And we’re scared to death of what unrest might come with a massive return of men and women who’ve served and endured — and who expect something better for their families than starvation wages, and no social services when they get back?”

I think there is a lot of truth to that as well as to the fact that a bad economy makes for fruitful military recruitment when kids can’t get jobs or afford college, why not join the military like that cool recruiter who hangs out at lunch in the cafeteria in that bad-ass uniform is pushing you to do.  As McClintock points out, the military is  busy defending the oil on which its existence depends. And for that it needs an endless supply of human cannon fodder.

And so we fight pointless wars without end rather than actually defending our citizens or literally, our shores.  We allow the real enemy to tell us how to ‘clean’ up the resultant disaster and to control the information flow even while the oil flows unabated, because we are addicted to their product and our Congress has been bought off.

As for the beaches of St. Pete–are they safe?  Perhaps.  I hope so, but we simply cannot have enough confidence in what passes as data to say so, even if the damage is not visible.  What is unquestionably dangerous however is the wholesale usurpation of government oversight by a  lawless private corporation and the denial of freedom of the press in covering this story.  As damaging as this disaster has already been to the ocean, shoreline and inhabitants of both, it will continue to be more so unless we insist on proper precautions, good science and full transparency. Above all, it is time to take a long overdue, very hard look at just what our military is supposedly defending and why and how, in the end, real security is defined.

Practicing Deep Democracy–Reflections On The U.S. Social Forum

In late June, thousands of activists gathered for the second U.S. Social Forum in an all but left for dead city (Detroit, with its beautiful architecture and boarded up buildings)–to march, confer, create, help and collaborate in what was the largest exercise of deep democracy that this country has ever seen. Many of you have asked me to share my thoughts about the USSF, which I attended and participated in and the following are a few thoughts about what what I took away from the experience. Opening March

It is impossible to fully describe the social forum process to someone who has not attended such a gathering.  It is a participant driven event, in this case with more than a thousand panels and sessions and at least as many organizations and many, many more individuals. The forum is organized with a horizontal structure that promotes the equal value of all participants.  The downside of that is a certain amount of peaceful chaos, the upside is collective empowerment. The number of participants has been pegged at 15,000.  That seems high to me, but 10,000 would not be a stretch.

Far more importantly and something that absolutely must be stated loudly and clearly, is that perhaps the greatest strength of the forum and what truly makes it both possible and successful, is the diversity of the participants.  Starhawk made this eloquently observation about this crucial point,

“Too many times I’ve sat in meetings having the same conversation, over and over again—where are the people of color?  The answer is not to go comb the streets, dragging in random people to make our group look more diverse.  Nor is it to stop doing what we’re doing, if it’s the work we’re called to. An effective answer  involves drawing a bigger circle, like this Forum has done, that includes all of our multiple movements and issues within it as allies, and if we have resources or skills or connections, saying to our brothers and sisters, “We’re on the same mission—how can I be of service to you?””

Perhaps this graphic from a pamphlet called So That We May Soar that was distributed by by Coil LA/Another Politics Is Possible depicts the vision of the USSF best:


I spent most of my time on gender justice issues and had the wonderful opportunity to listen to and share time with a wide cross-section of activists from all over the world. Our time together brought much needed support, feedback and inspiration.

Although I did attend the first USSF in Atlanta, this was the first time that I participated actively in the Peoples Movement Assembly process. As a general rule I’m not particularly

The PMA process

The PMA process

good at long participatory position statement writing and will confess that a good part of my attending the Gender Justice PMA was because I thought that I should and it involved promising myself that if it got to be more than I could deal with, it was okay to leave after the first few hours.

I stayed. What I participated in and witnessed was deep democracy in action, every voice that chose to speak was heard and considered with respect and four and a half amazing hours later, a document that synthesized what had been said resulted and was presented to the closing PMA the following day. Unlike the U.S. Congress, no one had to worry about being re-elected, there was no back-stabbing, pork barrel legislation and certainly no lobbying or corporate contributions. In other words, democracy, the actual kind.

There were the predictable problems of a gathering of that size, don’t ask about the logistics of getting to all the venues or the heat or the bathroom lines, but the organizers, the people who did the very hard work to make this happen deserve major kudos, not just for getting it done, but for showing us all that, despite all the issues we face today, there is a common ground at the intersection of all that matters and it is indeed possible to get there.

There has been much good reporting (albeit not by the MSM) as well as excellent commentary about the USSF, here are a few links:

Perhaps it is all best summed up by this message to the USSF from Leonard Peltier:

“I encourage you to find unity in your various causes, because all of your struggles are linked. Actually, you don’t just find unity, you create it—each of you individually. Create unity within your specific organizations. And between them. Link your efforts and find ways to network and maximize those efforts.

Making change has never been more important. Make the most of every second, for time is growing short, as so many prophecies have foretold. Educate others about the realities you are struggling for and against. Especially focus on educating the young people who will further your efforts tomorrow. Know that your sensibilities are a gift from Creator intended to wake up and shake up the world so that we may improve how we treat the Earth and each other.”

The 6 Month Doughnut Hole In The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan

Will someone please explain why you have to be uninsured for six months before qualifying for the Pre-Existing Condition Plan?  Because I have a health history (and how many people my age don’t) and because I don’t work for a company that provides insurance, the chances of my being able to purchase a new individual insurance plan are probably nil, so this clause makes it impossible for me to move out of state because I would lose the coverage I have and then have to wait 6 months to get insurance which is insane.  Sorry Kentucky, you are stuck with me until this gets fixed.

May I apply for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan if I have existing health coverage?

Hard to sugar coat this flaw in healthcare reform

Hard to sugar coat this flaw in healthcare reform

You are not eligible unless you have been without health coverage for at least the last six months.  For example, if you have Medicare or TRICARE, you shouldn’t apply.  If you are uninsured and have been told that you may be eligible for other coverage programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, you should check out those programs first, as they may better meet your needs.  If you have job-based coverage, or individual insurance coverage, you aren’t eligible to apply.

May I apply for PCIP if I have COBRA or other continuation coverage?

No, even if your COBRA or other continuation of coverage is about to run out, you won’t meet the requirement to be uninsured for at least the last six months.  You also need to be meet the criteria for having a pre-existing condition and be a U.S. citizen or individual residing here legally to qualify for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.

And as was pointed out during the long drawn out health care reform debate, women are less likely to have insurance through employment and are thus more likely to be impacted by this seriously FUBAR plan.