Thursday, June 05, 2008

What To Do In The Belly Of The Beast

We're not a democracy. It's a terrible misunderstanding and a slander to the idea of democracy to call us that. In reality, we're a plutocracy: a government by the wealthy.

---Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

---Thomas Jefferson

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

---Abraham Lincoln

The photo, taken by Allison Zarcaro Walker last Saturday, is of the marriage of 2 families, the Carlsons and the Thomases.

Today happens to be the birthday of both Adam Smith, born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland (1723), and John Maynard Keynes, born in Cambridge, England (1883). These 2 pillars of the form of economics called Capitalism are for many in the United States the real Founding Fathers of our country. Smith said that market forces serve the public good, and that government regulation, for the most part, does not. Keynes wrote a book during the Great Depression that argued governments can put people back to work by spending lots of money, even if it means running a deficit. FDR tried it. Since Reagan, certainly continuing with the Bushes, and promised renewal by McCain, our country has received its direction from corporate boardrooms more than the Congress.

Somehow this seems the perfect day to reply to a very important email I received last month. It has been high in my priorities on this machine to do so, but the passion with which it was written needs to be matched by me...and that has taken some time to fuel up. The letter is from a friend and colleague at the school where we both work. I would love to identify him specifically, and maybe I will later if he gives me the high sign to do so. But I want to write this now and so I shall be vague. Besides his academic duties, this man coaches sports. Athletics is extremely important to him, almost as important as his family, living a healthy life and being as self-sufficient as possible. I've known him for 10 years, and I have to say that when it comes to my work with multi-handicapped kids I often turn to him, rather than psychologists and medical people, for an opinion on what challenges the student has to deal with. He can have a kid stand on one foot and tell me what processing is going on. So I trust him and we agree on a lot of stuff---though maybe not on whether theater or sports should get more funding.

Anyway, he replied to something I sent out about the environment and climate change. He said that increasingly his work, the chores at home, the plans for the future, all pale when he looks around at what humans have done, and continue to do, to this planet. He says a change in lifestyle is what's necessary, and few people I know are more serious about it. It's amazing to see someone make that change when they set about to do it. It's a huge commitment, and it might even mean moving somewhere else. People are starting to do that. But he knows he can't do it alone, and he looks to friends and family for support and cooperation. It's not always there. Other people we both see are not doing anything apparently. Many become hostile at the mere mention of the problems we see. They don't want to hear about it. It's not a topic for social discussion in a school.

He's a believer in school spirit, dedicated to and patriotic about the United States. He says, "I, too, feel a sense of 'change is a coming' and I aspire to be ahead of the curve when it comes. It is amazing to me how more people are not standing at the top of the mountain with lungs full of air ready to shout 'its time to act NOW!!!' Where is the leadership in this country? Of course we know where the lack thereof is. I think alot of people are waiting for the change in the WhiteHouse and are looking for someone of National Significance to get the ball rolling, to start making the sacrifices necessary to 'right the Ship'. I keep hope that it is not to late and that the 'American Engine' can lead the way again, but we need to shake this country to its foundation to do so, and the system seems very clogged with 'walk the liners and all will be O.K.'".

The series of storms we've had this week in Southeast Ohio may be something of a wakeup call even for the most hardened among us. People compare the tornadoes to ones we've had before, but no one ever has experienced 5 hours straight of ceaseless lightning and thunder. Skies never have looked more threatening around here...and yesterday in school there was a hush and little nervous laughter when we had the tornado drill. An hour later an announcement came for students not to leave their classrooms because of what was going on outside the building. During this entire year, administrators have had to figure out new guidelines regarding "calamity days," what they are and what to do.

The more conservative Americans feel that through hard work and heroic service you earn your piece of the pie. Once you have that piece you resent any interference from the "outside" that tells you change is necessary. You don't want to be told you can't throw your gum wrapper out the car window anymore, that the way you live may be bad, harmful, wrong. It goes against the grain. And yet, and yet...where did this attitude come from? What happened to the American who wants to help others? To give to a public cause and not just private charity? Was it Viet Nam that split us as a nation, totally and forever?

My friend, to whom this open reply is addressed, hopes this election season will be a rich time of renewal for our country. Whether we lead or control the world or not is not as important as who we really are. We have the chance this summer to review that---and in fact if the weather keeps this wakeup call going, we're not going to be able to avoid it. In the meantime, I enjoyed this poem this morning about what to do if you've been swallowed by a whale. Memories of Disney's Pinocchio came to me as I read it...but for those who wish to continue life-as-usual through it all, here's some good advice~~~

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whaleby Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fireswith the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each wayfor the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Revieweach of your life's ten million choices. Endure momentsof self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you. Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the soundof gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of allthe things you did and could have done. Remembertreading water in the center of the still night sea, your toespointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

"Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale" by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.


Tom Bombadil said...

I love the poem!

They are many who, like your friend, are saying a change in lifestyle is what's necessary. Some people I know have moved to Oregon and started to try pulling together a self-sustainable community on a farm near Eugene. Someone else, you and I, both have had the opportunity to be acquainted with online, has been trying to do just that (or something in that spirit) on a mountain in Spain.

And, as you said, for your friend too, "change"" might mean moving somewhere else." And some "people are starting to do that."

This line of thoughts brings back fondly to my mind the memory of D, and the question she once asked: WHERE IS AWAY?

Her conclusion was that there is no away or that, as she put it, AWAY IS HERE:

As I discover that "Away" is Here, it is my hope and dream that as we open our eyes to the mess we have made of this planet, we also open our eyes to ways to change an otherwise inevitable ruinous end. It is my prayer that we learn, that we teach and that we act.

I think her point was that, while in the end, one can always try to run, ultimately one cannot hide.

There is no place to hide. "Away" is a rare luxury, affordable to precious few nowadays.

As for those remaining pockets of mankind which have been living away, truly away from the rest of the world, they are finding that they too are becoming "landless" and left with nowhere to go. Biosphere Reserves are facing strong land encroachment, not to mention legal and illegal destructive logging practices which are threatening the survival of indigenous cultures such as the Flower People of the Mentawai islands in Indonesia, West of Sumatra. (The fundamental incentive for destruction of the forests there---the opportunity, however short-lived, to make money---has proved far more compelling than any argument for preservation.)

Back in the sixties already J.R. Jondorf (author of a long out of print book of poems, "Signals to Noise") coined the term "Kleenex Society." Things are probably worse today than Jondorf imagined: while some are getting seriously concerned that Earth is being destroyed as a result of such a global "Kleenex Society", there are those who think that Earth itself is no more than a mere Kleenex that mankind should get ready to dispose of. Or as Kadak, put it there, on a SF Forum, "in short...we should leave Earth and use up everything on it as soon as we can so that we can expand to the rest of the universe."

While it is true that Mankind does stand at the edge of a New Frontier, somehow I don't think that JFK meant quite the same thing as Kadak and his buddies when he spoke of a New Frontier:

"We stand at the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus."

I am sure that the development of Renewable Energies and leadership in responding to some of the planet's major Environmental Issues would also have figured prominently on that list, had those words been spoken in this new millennium. (As one of his first presidential acts, JFK created the Peace Corps.)

Where is away?

Mankind can run, but it cannot hide.

Anonymous said...

Lawrence of Cyberia (June 5, 2008) is wondering what Historians will make of our era some one hundred years or so in the future:

I often wonder what historians one hundred years from now will make of U.S. policy in the Middle East, a part of the world where vital U.S. national interests require good (or at least functional) relations with a variety of countries. In particular, how they will explain the strange phenomenon of potential leaders of the most powerful nation on earth having to genuflect before the advocates of one small, foreign nation in the Levant before they can hold high office.

It is a strange spectacle to see an Israeli, Jewish, Zionist member of the Knesset stand in front of that body on 3 June 2008 and say [link], as MK Avshalom Vilan did: "We're lying to ourselves for political reasons to make it impossible to reach a political solution in Jerusalem... Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state also." And then, just 24 hours later, to see a U.S. Presidential candidate having to stand up in front of AIPAC and mouth the rhetoric of the Israeli right about Jerusalem being Israel's "undivided" capital, just to prove himself worthy of elected office in the United States.

Good luck to them explaining that one in a way our great-grandchildren can understand.

Nausicaa said...

Lakshmi, here, says that she "had a glimpse of myriads of individuals and organizations who have defeated apathy and pessimism, and who are currently working each day to “save the planet” in one way or another," and that collectively "their big or small efforts count towards this purpose."

Lakshmi is "looking to network with organizations and individuals who have a vision and a mission to be part of the solution for the many problems that affect our planet, its creatures, and its people." She is "looking to connect with organizations, groups or individuals who are taking any specific action to build a better world." She "wants to learn and be informed about many things like the future of constructive science, space exploration, environmentalism, animal rights, healing with plants, positivism, festivals for life, creative renewal, microcredit, human kindness, poverty relief, etc."

Lakshmi has 1214 friends.

What do you think?

Quinty said...

Lawrence of Cyberia brings up an interesting question. Will historians a hundred years from now see our goings-on today as all part of the "American family saga?" A well meaning, advanced family bringing the world out of darkness with a shining light? Will they discuss our empire as an "empire?" Will the corporate power and corruption be sanitized? A lot of questions there.

Here's Stephen Zunes on Obama at AIPAC. Lengthy but he seems to be throrough on the issues....

Published on Wednesday, June 11, 2008 by Foreign Policy in Focus

Obama’s Right Turn?
by Stephen Zunes

In many respects, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has played right into the hands of cynics who have long doubted his promises to create a new and more progressive role for the United States in the world. The very morning after the last primaries, in which he finally received a sufficient number of pledged delegates to secure the Democratic presidential nomination and no longer needed to win over voters from the progressive base of his own party, Obama — in a Clinton-style effort at triangulation — gave a major policy speech before the national convention of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Embracing policies which largely backed those of the more hawkish voices concerned with Middle Eastern affairs, he received a standing ovation for his efforts.

His June 3 speech in Washington in many ways constituted a slap in the face of the grass roots peace and human rights activists who have brought him to the cusp of the Democratic presidential nomination.

In other respects, however, he pandered less to this influential lobbying group than many other serious aspirants for national office have historically. And at least part of his speech focused on convincing the largely right-wing audience members to support his positions rather than simply underscoring his agreement with them.

Much of the media attention placed upon his speech centered on the ongoing debate between him and incipient Republican presidential nominee John McCain on Iran. While embracing many of the same double-standards regarding nuclear nonproliferation issues and UN resolutions as does the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties, Obama did insert some rationality into the debate regarding the need for negotiations with that regional power rather than maintaining the current U.S. policy of diplomatic isolation and threats of war.

When it came to Israel and Palestine, however, Obama appeared to largely embrace a right-wing perspective which appeared to place all the blame for the ongoing violence and the impasse in the peace process on the Palestinians under occupation rather than the Israelis who are still occupying and colonizing the parts of their country seized by the Israeli army more than 40 years ago.

Progressive Israeli Reactions

While there were some faint glimmers of hope in Obama’s speech for those of us who support Israeli-Palestinian peace, progressive voices in Israel were particularly disappointed.

Israeli analyst Uri Avneri, in an essay entitled “No, I Can’t!”, expressed the bitterness of many Israeli peace activists for “a speech that broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning.” Avneri goes on to observe the irony of how Obama’s “dizzying success in the primaries was entirely due to his promise to bring about a change, to put an end to the rotten practices of Washington and to replace the old cynics with a young, brave person who does not compromise his principles. And lo and behold, the very first thing he does after securing the nomination of his party is to compromise his principles.”
Avneri addressed the view of many Israelis that “Obama’s declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world and bad for the Palestinian people.”

Support for Further Militarization

In his speech, Obama rejected the view that the Middle East already has too many armaments and dismissed pleas by human rights activists that U.S. aid to Israel — like all countries — should be made conditional on adherence to international humanitarian law. Indeed, he further pledged an additional $30 billion of taxpayer-funded military aid to the Israeli government and its occupation forces over the next decade with no strings attached. Rather than accept that strategic parity between potential antagonists is the best way, short of a full peace agreement, to prevent war and to maintain regional security, Obama instead insisted that the United States should enable Israel to maintain its “qualitative military edge.”

Over the past three years, the ratio of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip killed by Israeli forces relative to the number of Israeli civilians in Israel killed by Palestinians is approximately 50 to one and has been even higher more recently. However, Obama chose only to mention the Israeli deaths and condemn Hamas, whose armed wing has been responsible for most of the Israeli casualties, and not a word about the moral culpability of the Israeli government, which Amnesty International and other human rights groups have roundly criticized for launching air strikes into Gaza’s densely crowded refugee camps and related tactics.

Since first running for the U.S. Senate, Obama has routinely condemned Arab attacks against Israeli civilians but has never condemned attacks against Arab civilians by Israelis. This apparent insistence that the lives of Palestinian and Lebanese civilian are somehow less worthy of attention than the lives of Israeli civilians have led to charges of racism on the part of Obama.

Despite his openness to talk with those governing Iran and North Korea, Obama emphasized his opposition to talking to those governing the Gaza Strip, even though Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian parliament in what was universally acknowledged as a free election. Though a public opinion poll published in the leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz showed that 64% of the Israeli population support direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas (while only 28% expressed opposition), Obama has chosen to side with the right-wing minority in opposing any such talks. Furthermore, Obama insists that Hamas should have never been even allowed to participate in the Palestinian elections in the first place because of their extremist views, which fail to recognize Israel and acts of terrorism by its armed wing. Yet he has never objected to the Israelis allowing parties such as National Union — which defends attacks on Arab civilians and seeks to destroy any Palestinian national entity, and expel its Arab population — to participate in elections or hold high positions in government.

He insisted that Hamas uphold previous agreements by the Fatah-led Palestine Authority with Israel, but did not insist that Israel uphold its previous agreements with the Palestine Authority, such as withdrawing from lands re-occupied in 2001 in violation of U.S.-guaranteed disengagement agreements.

In reference to Obama’s speech, the anchor to Israel’s Channel 2 News exclaimed that it was “reminiscent of the days of Menachem Begin’s Likud,” referring to the far right-wing Israeli party and its founder, a notorious terrorist from the 1940s who later became prime minister. By contrast, back in February, while still seeking liberal Democratic votes in the primaries, Obama had explicitly rejected the view which, in his words, identifies being pro-Israel with “adopting an unwaveringly pro-Likud view of Israel.” Now that he has secured the nomination, however, he has appeared to have changed his tune.

Endorsing Israel’s Annexation of Jerusalem

Most disturbing was Obama’s apparent support for Israel’s illegal annexation of greater East Jerusalem, the Palestinian-populated sector of the city and surrounding villages that Israel seized along with the rest of the West Bank in June 1967.

The UN Security Council passed a series of resolutions (252, 267, 271, 298, 476 and 478) calling on Israel to rescind its annexation of greater East Jerusalem and to refrain from any unilateral action regarding its final status. Furthermore, due to the city’s unresolved legal status dating from the 1948-49 Israeli war on independence, the international community refuses to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with the United States and other governments maintaining their respective embassies in Tel Aviv.

Despite these longstanding internationally-recognized legal principles, Obama insisted in his speech before AIPAC that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”

Given the city’s significance to both populations, any sustainable peace agreement would need to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city for both Israel and Palestine. In addition to its religious significance for both Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims, Jerusalem has long been the most important cultural, commercial, political, and educational center for Palestinians and has the largest Palestinian population of any city in the world. Furthermore, Israel’s annexation of greater East Jerusalem and its planned annexation of surrounding settlement blocs would make a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian state impossible. Such a position, therefore, would necessarily preclude any peace agreement. This raises serious questions as to whether Obama really does support Israeli-Palestinian peace after all.

According to Uri Avneri, Obama’s “declaration about Jerusalem breaks all bounds. It is no exaggeration to call it scandalous.” Furthermore, says this prominent observer of Israeli politics, every Israeli government in recent years has recognized that calls for an undivided Jerusalem “constitutes an insurmountable obstacle to any peace process. It has disappeared — quietly, almost secretly — from the arsenal of official slogans. Only the Israeli (and American-Jewish) Right sticks to it, and for the same reason: to smother at birth any chance for a peace that would necessitate the dismantling of the settlements.”

Obama argued in his speech that the United States should not “force concessions” on Israel, such as rescinding its annexation of Jerusalem, despite the series of UN Security Council resolutions explicitly calling on Israel do to so. While Obama insists that Iran, Syria, and other countries that reject U.S. hegemonic designs in the region should be forced to comply with UN Security Council resolutions, he apparently believes allied governments such as Israel are exempt.
Also disturbing about his statement was a willingness to “force concessions” on the Palestinians by pre-determining the outcome of one of the most sensitive issues in the negotiations. If, as widely interpreted, Obama was recognizing Israel’s illegal annexation of greater East Jerusalem, it appears that the incipient Democratic nominee — like the Bush administration — has shown contempt for the most basic premises of international law, which forbids any country from expanding its borders by force.

However, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Obama campaign, in an attempt to clarify his controversial statement, implied that the presumed Democratic presidential nominee was not actually ruling out Palestinian sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem and that “undivided” simply meant that “it’s not going to be divided by barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-1967.” The campaign also replied to the outcry from his speech by declaring that “Jerusalem is a final status issue, which means it has to be negotiated between the two parties” as part of “an agreement that they both can live with.” This implies that Obama’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does not necessarily preclude its Arab-populated eastern half becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Israel, however, has shown little willingness to withdraw its administration and occupation forces from greater East Jerusalem voluntarily. Obama’s apparent reluctance to pressure Israel to do so makes it hard to imagine that he is really interested in securing a lasting peace agreement.

It Could Have Been Worse

Perhaps, as his campaign claims, Obama was not rejecting the idea of a shared co-capital of Jerusalem. And perhaps his emphasis on Israeli suffering relative to Palestinian suffering was simply a reflection of the sympathies of the audience he was addressing and was not indicative of anti-Arab racism. If so, the speech could have been a lot worse.

Indeed, Obama’s emphasis on peace, dialogue, and diplomacy is not what the decidedly militaristic audience at AIPAC normally hears from politicians who address them.

Obama did mention, albeit rather hurriedly, a single line about Israeli obligations, stating that Israel could “advance the cause of peace” by taking steps to “ease the freedom of Palestinians, improve economic conditions” and “refrain from building settlements.” This is more than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain was willing to say in their talks before the AIPAC convention. And, unlike the Bush administration, which last year successfully pressured Israel not to resume peace negotiations with Syria, Obama declared that his administration would never “block negotiations when Israel’s leaders decide that they may serve Israeli interests.”

Furthermore, earlier in his career, Obama took a more balanced perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, aligning himself with positions embraced by the Israeli peace camp and its American supporters. For example, during his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000, Obama criticized the Clinton administration for its unconditional support for the occupation and other Israeli policies and called for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He referred to the “cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians, whereas most Democrats were insisting that it was a case of “Palestinian violence and the Israeli response.” He also made statements supporting a peace settlement along the lines of the 2003 Geneva Initiative and similar efforts by Israeli and Palestinian moderates.

Unlike any other major contenders for president this year or the past four election cycles, Obama at least has demonstrated in the recent past a more moderate and balanced perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As president, he may well be better than his AIPAC speech would indicate. Though the power of the “Israel Lobby” is often greatly exaggerated, it may be quite reasonable to suspect that pressure from well-funded right-wing American Zionist constituencies has influenced what Obama believes he can and cannot say. As an African-American whose father came from a Muslim family, he is under even more pressure than most candidates to avoid being labeled as “anti-Israel.”

Ironically, a strong case can be made that the right-wing militaristic policies he may feel forced to defend actually harm Israel’s legitimate long-term security interests.

A Political Necessity?

If indeed Obama took these hard-line positions during his AIPAC speech in order to seem more electable, it may be a serious mistake. Most liberal Democrats who gave blind support to the Israeli government in the 1960s and 1970s now have a far more even-handed view of the conflict, recognizing both Israeli and Palestinian rights and responsibilities. In addition, voters under 40 tend to take a far more critical view of unconditional U.S. support for Israeli policies than those of older generations. There is a clear generational shift among American Jews as well, with younger Jewish voters — although firmly supporting Israel’s right to exist in peace and security — largely opposing unconditional U.S. support for the occupation and colonization of Arab lands. The only major voting group that supports positions espoused by AIPAC are right-wing Christian fundamentalists, who tend to vote Republican anyway.

Furthermore, Obama has been far more dependent on large numbers of small donors from his grassroots base and less on the handful of wealthy donors affiliated with such special interest groups as AIPAC. This speech may have cost him large numbers of these smaller, progressive donors without gaining him much from the small numbers of larger, more conservative donors.

Indeed, there may not be a single policy issue where Obama’s liberal base differs from the candidate more than on Israel/Palestine. Not surprisingly, the Green Party and its likely nominee, former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, along with independent candidate Ralph Nader, are both using this issue to gain support at the expense of Obama.

Only hours after his AIPAC speech, the Nader campaign sent out a strongly worded letter noting how, unlike Obama and McCain, Nader supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements and would change U.S. Middle East policy. The widely-circulated response to the speech makes the case that, in contrast to Obama, “Nader/Gonzalez stands on these issues with the majority of Israelis, Palestinians, Jewish-Americans and Arab Americans.”

Betraying the Jewish Community

Through a combination of deep-seated fear from centuries of anti-Semitic repression, manipulation by the United States and other Western powers, and self-serving actions by some of their own leaders, a right-wing minority of American Jews support influential organizations such as AIPAC to advocate militaristic policies that, while particularly tragic for the Palestinians and Lebanese, are ultimately bad for the United States and Israel as well. Obama’s June 3 speech would have been the perfect time for Obama, while upholding his commitment to Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, to challenge AIPAC’s militarism and national chauvinism more directly. Unfortunately, while showing some independence of thought on Iran, he apparently felt the Palestinians were not as important.

Taking a pro-Israel but anti-occupation position would have demonstrated that Obama was not just another pandering politician and that he recognized that a country’s legitimate security needs were not enhanced by invasion, occupation, colonization and repression.

That truly would have been “change you can believe in.”

Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy In Focus senior analyst, serves as a professor of politics and chair of Middle East Studies at the University of San Francisco.

Copyright © 2008, Institute for Policy Studies

mowrey said...

Wonderful picture. Looks like Ash cave. Congrats to everyone.

jazzolog said...

Ash Cave it was. Other pictures at Snapfish here

after login of course---if that works.

jazzolog said...

Gary Houser is an activist, based (as opposed to "housed:" this guy sleeps wherever his backpack drops) in Athens. We're not "Harvard on the Hocking" or the Greek ideal realized in Appalachia. We're coal country~~~

As we observe the tragedy of what may turn out to be the largest ever spill of toxic coal ash, there is something positive to celebrate this Christmas Day. Eight years ago in Martin County Kentucky, there was another dam failure and huge spill of 300 million gallons. Despite its monumental size, national media coverage never even occurred because the coal companies and local law enforcement blocked the road and kept media out. And the national environmental groups did not do enough to garner attention.

This time around, the story has turned out differently. Due to a collective effort of dedicated activists all around the country, pressure was successfully mounted on the national news networks to provide adequate coverage. At a time when the coal industry is hoping to gear up its "clean coal" propaganda campaign to the Obama administration, the last thing it wanted was a huge coal tragedy on prime time on Christmas.

NBC and CBS have already broadcast incisive reports on their evening news programs, and ABC is preparing another for tomorrow (Friday). The story was front page in the New York times today. Here are direct links for your own viewing:
NBC News:
CBS News:;topStories
NY Times article "Coal Ash Spill Revives Issue of Its Hazards" :

The opening line of the NBC report describes the spill as being around 30 times the size of the Valdez oil disaster in Alaska, and there is a spokesperson for the Union of Concerned Scientists stating emphatically how this shows there is "no such thing as clean coal", that this is an "oxymoron" - like saying "safe cigarette".

The NY Times coverage points out that "the Edison Electric Institute, an association of power utilities, estimated that the industry would have to spend up to $5 billion in additional cleanup costs if the substance were declared hazardous. Since then, environmentalists have urged tighter federal standards, and the E.P.A. is reconsidering its decision not to classify the waste as hazardous." (emphasis mine)

Publicly minded citizens will have an opportunity to push Obama's EPA to make this declaration, which would place substantial additional pressure on the coal industry. This coverage of the spill will also put "clean coal" forces on the defensive at a time when the Obama transition team is debating how much economic stimulus money to direct toward clean sources. Hopefully, Obama is watching these developments on TV while in Hawaii.

Here is a link to an ongoing compilation of print media coverage of the spill (including some international):

Something very positive did happen "behind the scenes" during this very sad disaster. My heartfelt appreciation is extended to all who helped out !!!
Gary "Spruce" Houser