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Archive for July, 2010

Rising Tide 5 Is Aug. 28 in New Orleans: Register Today

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

A Conference on the Future of New Orleans

The Rising Tide Conference is an annual gathering for all who wish to learn more and do more to assist New Orleans’ recovery. It’s for everyone who loves New Orleans and is working to bring a better future to all its residents.

Fresh back from one vacation, we’re already booking our next trip: to New Orleans, baby, for Rising Tide V.

That’s right, in late August we’re going to the 5th annual Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans on Saturday, Aug. 28, on the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (8/29/05). This will be our third RT (after 2007 and 2008), and they just keep getting better. (Press release here.)

Leveraging the power of bloggers and new media, the conference is a launch pad for organization and action. Our day-long program of speakers and presentations is tailored to inform, entertain, enrage and inspire.

Treme, Environment, Levees, Public Safety, and Politics

RT5’s program keeps improving, too, every time we look at it. Check this out:

Breaking news: The keynote speaker will be Mother Jones human rights reporter (Ms.) Mac McClelland, who has been reporting on the BP Oil Flood in the Gulf. See her “Rights Stuff” dispatches for MoJo here. ]

The conference will feature panel discussions on  HBO’s hit show Treme (set in post-Katrina New Orleans) with Treme co-creator Eric Overmyer and N.O. journalist and documentarist Lolis Eric Elie . . . “Paradise Lost” on environmental issues, including LaCoastPost’s Len Bahr, a coastal science adviser to five Louisiana governors, and environmental law expert Rob Verchick . . .  flood protection discussed by Tim Ruppert, an N.O. engineer and blogger . . . public safety, led by activist and blogger Brian Denzer . . . and Louisiana politics, moderated by Peter Athas and featuring Clancy DuBos of Gambit and other N.O. journalists. And more! The event will be emceed (like last year’s) by the incomparable George “Loki” Williams of Humid City (who personifies—indeed, “lives the dream”—of social networking). And all this fun is jump-started by a pre-conference party on Friday night at the Howlin’ Wolf, starting around 7:00.

The all-day event will be held at The Howlin’ Wolf, 907 South Peters Street near the Convention Center. Pre-registration is only $20, slightly more at the door.

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Drew Landry Sings “BP Blues” to Presidential Commission

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

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“Just Do the Right Damn Thing”

Some of the most sensible and melodious testimony we’ve heard in a long time was given yesterday in New Orleans by crawfisherman and singer Drew Landry before the Presidential Commission on the BP Oil Spill. He has rolled up his sleeves as a volunteer to help with the cleanup effort and has started a good blog, Dirty Cajuns, as a practical info resource. He talked, he sang, the commission members listened (watch their faces as the camera pans across the dais), then he talked some more. Landry was eloquent with and without his guitar accompaniment.

My name’s Drew Landry. I crawfish out in the Atchafalaya Basin. I guess in late April I went out and volunteered in Venice. I still don’t have a job, but I just wanted to help clean up the spill, and there’s millions of volunteers who want to do something to clean up the spill that are willing to work for almost nothing, and instead we’re hiring all these contractors and wasting our $20 billion. We only have a certain amount of money to spend on this deal, and I feel like if we waste all the assets we have now, years down the road we’re not going to have anything. . . .

We definitely need other solutions, I mean, going green—whatever it takes, but to cut all of our people out of work right now, and also we don’t have any fisheries, we got nothing. We don’t want to be a welfare state, there’s no point in that. We’re hard-working people. . . . I never thought I’d be the hippie who brings his guitar to the meeting, but I’ll play it for you . . . [sings “BP Blues”]

I know you all care. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care. . . . We’re not ready for hurricane season. There’s a Gulf full of oil, and we’re sitting here worrying about this right now when we need to be giving people hazmat training so they can defend their homeland so they’re not going to be kicked out forever . . . I mean, this could be the next expulsion of the Cajun people, people who love this place.

I know the EPA said not to use Corexit and they did it anyway. It feels like BP’s in control of this deal, and the Coast Guard does what they want, and the press can’t be around. More importantly the people don’t have a voice, they’re upset, and they’re not just angry. . . . What’s the future of our ecosystem with a hurricane in the Gulf? You know? What are we looking at? . . . This shouldn’t just be about a policy change. It should be about what makes the most sense, how are we going to keep people working. It just sucks. Just do the right damn thing. It shouldn’t be this hard. . . .

See Karen Dalton-Beninato’s interview with Landry here (he’s on the phone as he’s driving down to Grand Isle) in full here (NewOrleans.com) and here (HuffPo).

Check out his Dirty Cajuns blog (“gettin’ dirty to get clean”). The blog is loaded with good YouTube videos of people affected by the oil spill, folks down the bayou struggling to clean up the mess and get back to workin’ and livin’. See the Resources and How to Get Dirty pages with information about volunteering with the cleanup, legal and social services, etc.

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What Happens When You Call OSHA, White House

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Before we tell about the fun we had today phoning OSHA, sweet OSHA, we wanted to mention our recent and more enjoyable phone experience with Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a 400,000-member grassroots organization that is behind the “BP Makes Me Sick” campaign. Adam explained the Gulf Coast cleanup workers’ predicament as follows:

“At least 4 times now Keith Olbermann has focused on the issue of Gulf Coast cleanup workers who want to wear respirators as they deal with these toxins that are in the water, but BP is denying them the ability to do it and threatening to fire these workers if they do. The main reason that has been identified is that BP does not want images out there of people wearing respirators because that feeds the fact that they’ve exposed lots of toxins into the water and they’re trying to make this not seem like an environmental disaster or at least mitigate it as much as possible. So what we’re doing is forming this local-national coalition, asking the government to demand that BP allow the cleanup workers to wear respirators on the job . . .”

Dialing Through BP’s Perception Management

So today we did as Adam asked, and as we’ve urged our good readers to do: We phoned (and re-phoned) the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the White House to say Won’t you please make BP be humane and let the workers in 100-degree heat breathe through respirators instead of being forced to “go commando” at the risk of being fired, inhaling those toxic crude oil fumes and Corexit dispersant chemicals because BP doesn’t want bad publicity? (Something like that. You get the drift . . . )

(Now, the following narrative doesn’t mean it’s complicated to call—this is just what happens when you keep asking questions . . . It’s really pretty simple.)

First we called the OSHA number 202-693-2000 given by the BP Makes Me Sick web site. A nice receptionist said yes, she’s been getting a lot of BP respirator-denial calls at this number, but the number that people should call instead is 800-222-1222: there’s a comment line where you can leave a message. But no, that 800 number led to a poison-in-the-workplace prevention office in New York City. The guy there, also friendly, said I guess you should call NIOSH—but the number he gave had been changed to a new number, 1-800-CDC-INFO, that would have required going through a Byzantine phone tree, definitely not the place to register a complaint about Gulf Coast worker safety. So we called back at the original number (202-693-2000) and told the nice receptionist what happened. Maybe this number here is the correct one after all? She said (reluctantly), Well, I can take your name and number . . . So we gave her name, number and URL. Thus, we verified by personal experience that the right number is 202-693-2000. She also gave us the fax number for the head of OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary: 202-693-1659.

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Stop BP from Hurting Cleanup Workers:
Join the “BP Makes Me Sick” Coalition

Monday, July 12th, 2010

We cannot let the denial of protective gear that hurt so many 9/11 cleanup workers happen again with the Gulf cleanup workers.

BP Refuses Respirator Masks for Cleanup Workers

Levees Not War has joined the “BP Makes Me Sick” Coalition of Gulf Coast fishermen, environmental groups, and some 60,000 Americans to press the White House and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to force BP to provide the workers cleaning up BP’s toxic mess to wear protective gear. BP has refused to allow protection because photographs of workers with air filter masks would be bad for the oil giant’s image.

20 percent of offshore workers have been exposed to 2-butoxyethanol, a chemical used in the dispersant Corexit 9527 that has been linked to health concerns. —“Where Are the Respirators?” (Mother Jones)

Click here to tell the White House and OSHA to protect workers (script provided).

Phone the White House (comment line 202-456-1111) and OSHA (202-693-2000 or 800-321-6742). • Also fax the White House (202-456-2461) and OSHA Asst. Secretary Dr. David Michaels at 202-693-1659.

“President Obama and the federal government must demand that BP allow every cleanup worker who wants to wear respiratory protective equipment to do so—and ensure that workers get the equipment and training they need to do their jobs safely.”

The Coalition is organized by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and backed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and supported by some 35 environmental and public health and fishermen’s groups, including the Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Louisiana Shrimp Association, United Commercial Fishermen, and members of Congress including Reps. Alan Grayson, Kendrick Meek, and Carolyn Maloney (see signatories list here).

See the Mother Jones article “Where Are the Respirators?” below the fold, Elana Schor’s “Petition Urges Obama Admin to Protect Gulf Spill Cleanup Workers” in the New York Times, and Keith Olbermann’s interview with MaryLee Orr of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network on the screen below.

And then click here and here to UNF––K THE GULF.

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Martha Serpas: Our Life, Between Sea and Oil

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

In today’s New York Times, Louisiana poet Martha Serpas gives a rich and sensitive account of Louisiana’s environmental predicament by focusing on Bayou Lafourche where she was raised and the Cajun people who have survived through generations of “persecution, banishment and years of deadly storms.” These people and their culture—along with the entire southern part of the state—are now at risk from encroaching BP oil and salt water erosion of the delicate coastline.

Her essay is subtle and nuanced—the energy industry is not cast as a one-dimensional villain, and she acknowledges that “we Louisianans have not always acted in our own best interests”—and we’re happy to see that the Times editors gave her the space her subject deserves, room to explain some complex history and political, cultural, and environmental issues.

Well, enough clumsy summarizing. Please, read “Our Life, Between Sea and Oil” for yourself in its entirety below the fold. It’s well written, and we highly recommend it. We also hope you’ll watch the video clip of Veins in the Gulf, a feature-length documentary about Louisiana’s disappearing coastline. Martha Serpas is a participant in this film that traces the history of the environmental crisis of southern Louisiana and its threat to Cajun culture whose music, cuisine, and joie de vivre have enriched the nation and the world. The film is due out in September.

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Jim Bohlen, a Greenpeace Founder, Dies

Friday, July 9th, 2010

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Navy Veteran, Peace Activist, Born on 4th of July

A quick note of appreciation for the life of James Calvin Bohlen (at left in photo above), a cofounder of the environmental and peace action group Greenpeace, who died Monday in British Columbia. He was 84. We did not know Mr. Bohlen—we confess we weren’t aware of him at all until we read the New York Times obituary—but we wish to take a moment to honor his life and work, his commitment to Stopping the Bomb, to peace, and to courageous action to keep the planet a livable place for all. Now that we know about him, we wish we’d been there with him.

Bohlen was a member of a splinter group of Canadian Sierra Club members called the Don’t Make a Wave Committee who opposed American testing of nuclear weapons at Amchitka Island in the Aleutian Islands (where he had served in the Navy in World War II as a radio operator). The U.S. had been testing in the Aleutians, at a point midway between Alaska and the USSR, since 1965. (For hair-raising accounts of the tests’ seismic and physical consequences, see here and here.) Among the opponents’ concerns was that the nuclear shock waves, so soon after the horrific Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, would not only terrorize the already traumatized populace and release radioactive poisons but possibly also trigger new earthquakes (the test site was near a fault line) and tsunamis. In 1969, ten thousand protesters blocked a major U.S.–Canada border crossing, holding signs that read “Don’t Make a Wave. It’s Your Fault if Our Fault Goes.”

Bohlen had complained to his wife, Marie, that the committee was taking too long to make up its mind about how to stop the tests; she said offhandedly why not sail a boat to the test site? When a reporter from the Vancouver Sun happened to phone to check on the committee’s deliberations, Bohlen (perhaps to his own surprise) announced, “We hope to sail a boat to Amchitka to confront the bomb.” When the remark appeared in the paper the following day, the die was cast.

The Don’t Make a Wave Committee rented a halibut fishing boat, named it “Greenpeace,” and in September 1971 sailed toward the Aleutians, but was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard. The public outcry had an effect, however—boosted by a fund-raising concert in 1970 starring James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Phil Ochs—and the U.S. stopped testing in 1971.

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Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has signed a “guns-in-church” bill sponsored by Louisiana state representative Henry Burns that will authorize individuals who qualify to carry concealed weapons in “any church, synagogue, or mosque, or other similar place of worship.” The Times-Picayune reports that the bill “would authorize persons who qualified to carry concealed weapons having passed the training and background checks.” The pastor, rabbi, imam, or other head of the house of worship “must announce verbally or in weekly newsletters or bulletins that there will be individuals armed on the property as members of the security force.” (How many rabbis and imams in Louisiana are likely to exercise this option?) Rep. Burns said he proposed the bill so that houses of worship in “declining neighborhoods” can have extra protection against crime. “I was born and raised with Mayberry, riding my bicycle any time of the day or night,” said Burns. “But we live in different times.”

Think Progress notes that last year a pastor in Kentucky invited his congregants to bring their firearms to church. “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” said Pastor Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church in Louisville. “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”

The Guns of Academe?

Nor need colleges be pacifist institutions: in 2009 Louisiana state Rep. Ernest Wooton (R) of Belle Chasse proposed a bill that would allow concealed weapons on college campuses, but that measure did not pass (this time). “It is not a gun bill,” explained Wooton, “it is a rights bill.” He may have a point. We admit, we can think of a few papers that might have been delivered in a more timely manner had the professors been packing heat . . .

Now, thanks to Rep. Henry Burns and the governor, Mr. Wooton can bring his gun to church and pray for passage of his guns-on-campus bill.



Declare Independence from Endless War

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967

While we’re enjoying good old-fashioned 4th of July cookouts, fireworks, and other traditional Independence Day pleasures, let’s also take some time to remember the soldiers far away in Iraq and Afghanistan who are not with their families, as well as those who are recovering (we hope) in military hospitals, and let’s begin mentally drafting letters and phone call messages to the White House and Congress to demand the nation’s independence from those unaffordable wars. Bring the troops home already. We can’t wait until July 2011, which Obama suggested as a potential beginning of a drawdown when he announced the 30,000-troop escalation at West Point last December when the Afghan war was already in its eighth year. (See our assessment of the president’s decision to escalate, “Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation.”)

The explosive revelations in Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” were only superficially about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s trash-talking Obama’s national security team. It may be that in the long term the most damaging consequences will be the revelations that the troops in Afghanistan do not support the vaunted counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy for which the additional 30,000+ troops have been “surged” into the hell-hole, and even McChrystal himself has doubts that the COIN strategy can work there (see “Afghanistan: More Insane Than a Quagmire” below). We expect no substantial changes under Gen. David Petraeus, whose 99–o approval by the Senate on June 30 can only be interpreted as a license to do as he will, for as long as he pleases, whatever it may cost.

Costs of War: Unaffordable, Unsustainable, Unconscionable

This past week, when Senate Republicans and Ben Nelson (D-NE) warmed up the nation for the 4th of July festivities by filibustering for a third straight time an extension of unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans—15 million are out of work, about the number who were unemployed when Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933—the House approved $80 billion for Afghan war funding. Sounds just like the Bush years. The Center for American Progress reports that “as of July 3, an estimated 1.7 million workers will lose their benefits. If this drags on through July, a total of 3.2 million workers will lose their benefits.”

Think Progress reports that 17 senators from states with double-digit jobless rates have repeatedly voted to filibuster unemployment benefits. Click the chart to read all about it.

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