september 2005

click here for permalink September 19, 2005

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., my new hero, gave a speech last weekend at the Sierra Summit 2005 in San Francisco to accept an award for his environmental work with Riverkeeper; the full text is available at and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

A few paragraphs into the speech, he shifts gears; "You can't talk honestly about the environment in any context today without speaking critically of this president. This is the worst —"

Interrupted by applause, he has to start over, "This is the worst environmental president we've had in American history." He goes on to list half a dozen Bush appointees to environmental protection roles whose backgrounds are in the very industries they are now supposed to be regulating, e.g. "the second in command of EPA is a Monsanto lobbyist," etc.

He goes on to shred the corporation-controlled media for withholding critical information from the public, rendering them incapable of making informed choices about their leaders, their own health and the future of the planet:

"This all started in 1988 when Ronald Reagan abolished the Fairness Doctrine [which] said that the airwaves belong to the public. They were public trust assets just like our air and water... as a result of the abolishment of that doctrine, six giant multi-national corporations now control all 14,000 radio stations... almost all 6,000 TV stations and 80 percent of our newspapers... their only obligation is to their shareholders and they fulfill that obligation... not by reporting the news that we need to hear... to make rational decisions in our democracy but rather by entertaining us, by appealing to the prurient interests that all of us have in the reptilian core of our brain for sex and celebrity gossip [applause]. So... we're today the best entertained and the least informed people on the face of the earth and this is a real threat to American democracy."

The entire speech is a beautifully articulated tirade against the Bush administration and against "living in a science fiction nightmare" where clean air and Mercury-free fish are on the verge of becoming nostalgia.

In an interview published at in January, it was reported that RFK Jr. has been working to close down the Indian Point nuclear power plant, situated just 22 miles north of NYC.

"After Chernobyl, 1,000 miles around the plant were uninhabitable. One hundred miles around the plant are permanently uninhabitable," he said. "One hundred miles around Indian Point would be all of New York City. So, imagine a world without New York City. Well, the terrorists already have. According to the 9/11 Commission, Mohammed Atta cased Indian Point before deciding to bomb the World Trade Center. But he believed, erroneously as it turned out, that the plant must be so heavily guarded, that it would be impossible to crash an airliner into it."

Why do we feel that this kind of passion and commitment are best packaged in the political arena? I admit, there was a moment when I thought, god, why couldn't he... But why indeed... Can you think of a more obvious example of someone who has seen firsthand what you get when you devote your life to politics? Can you think of a better legacy than saving the planet from the politicians?

click here for permalink September 4, 2005

It's been a nice year and a half without television but I think I need to stand in the stream again. I've been rooted to my desk for nearly 48 hours reading, watching, downloading, searching for details, writing, reading items of particular outrage out loud and cursing Bush and the rest who let this happen...

DC columnist Molly Ivins was just one of a surprising number of mainstream journalists who took a moment this week to shift the focus away from the mesmerizing devastation in Mississippi and Louisiana to try and paint for us a Bigger Picture...

Having perhaps detected elevated levels of criticism crackling through the news networks over the last six days, she says that the natural impulse to blame this mushrooming catastrophe on the Bush Administration is not about "politicizing" a tragedy at all, rather, it's about what happens when we wash our hands of politics, refusing to be responsible and forfeiting the power to change things.

Experts in New Orleans, she reminds us, have been warning of the possibility of the levees breaking, waters rising and the flood damage that could result for several years. She, and other reporters, point out the 2005 budget for New Orleans' Corps of Engineers, reduced just this year by $71.2 million dollars, which effectively halted repairs to the levees.

Furthermore, Ivins says, "About 35% of Louisiana's National Guard is now serving in Iraq. Recruiting... is down significantly because people are afraid of being sent to Iraq... leaving the Guard even more short-handed."

So, was it just a matter of "political bad luck" that this natural disaster came along and when it did, when all the resources of the United States are off rescuing, repairing and rebuilding (not to mention first smashing, looting and destroying) Iraq?

"I suppose the NRA would argue that 'Government policies don't kill people, hurricanes kill people'," quips Molly Ivins; "Actually, hurricanes plus government policies kill people."

They certainly do. Then I came across this, from the

Halliburton hired for storm cleanup Sept. 1, 2005, 8:30PM
"The Navy has hired Houston-based Halliburton Co. to restore electric power, repair roofs and remove debris at three naval facilities in Mississippi damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Halliburton subsidiary KBR will also perform damage assessments at other naval installations in New Orleans as soon as it is safe to do so. KBR was assigned the work under a "construction capabilities" contract awarded in 2004 after a competitive bidding process. The company is not involved in the Army Corps of Engineers' effort to repair New Orleans' levees."

A Halliburton Press Release dated September 2, 2005 confirms this, "KBR is providing power distribution restoration, emergency roof repair and debris removal at three Mississippi Naval facilities.... [and] will begin performing damage assessments on other Naval facilities in New Orleans as soon as it is deemed safe to do so."

Safe for whom, I wonder? Note the press release is dated September 2, a full five days and hundreds of deaths after the disaster struck. The same document goes on to say, in support of the company's fine past record of service, "[KBR] began providing disaster relief two days after Hurricane Ivan struck Florida in 1994." Florida. Well, I guess that shouldn't surprise anyone.

Greg Palast commented on Bush's fly-by at a safe 1,700 feet over the flooded city; "I'm sure the people of New Orleans would have liked to show their appreciation for the official Presidential photo-strafing, but their surface-to-air missiles were wet." It also sent shivers down my spine as it was almost the same imagery that had filled my mind the night before, after news stories, survivor accounts and hours of streaming video, when my rational impulses had been reduced to stunned, sickened outrage.

I had imagined the First Pilot taking a final pass over the drowned waterfront, coming in closer at the request of imbedded White House photographers for that perfect wide-angle shot of the United States' new Southern coastline.

Out of the thick, smoke-stained blue sky there was a sudden, solitary ripple of tropical turbulence, perhaps Katrina's final, delayed shockwave - or maybe it was, after all, what witnesses would later swear they saw from the ground, tracing the sign of the cross across their chests as they said it; an invisible hand, with one single, smiting uppercut, smacking Air Force One right out of the sky.

The nose of the plane shot up at a 90 degree angle and the engines seized. The aircraft seemed frozen for a split-second before it began to sink, upright, with wings outstretched as if balanced on a high wire, accelerating in a tight spiral dive into the median of a sunken strip of highway that now looked like the off-ramp into oblivion.

A sonic thunderclap ripped through the sky and across the black-brown flood waters, the sound slightly out of synch with the spectacle and searing heat of impact. The nose of the plane and the starboard wing made contact with the highway at exactly same the instant and gouged two fresh, black trenches in the warped, cracking surface of the asphalt.

The body of the aircraft slammed into the uprooted thoroughfare at a steep angle and a hail of silver sparks burst from the undercarriage as it touched down, raking open its soldered seams. Steel crumpled and shredded like aluminum foil as it met the rising ground, leaving a wake of rivets, stripped metal and mangled wads of insulation.

Acid brown smoke rose up in a tight column from the rear of the aircraft and fuel gushed from its breached wings, cascading down and pooling in mangled banks of windows. The shrieks of tearing metal were suddenly drowned out by a ferocious roar accompanied by two fireballs racing up the body of the plane towards the cockpit.

A blinding flash of white-hot flame tore through the plane, causing its smooth, steel skin to bubble. Between its flaming wings, the cockpit burst open in a series of shuddering explosions which twisted and rocked the aircraft for several earth-shaking minutes. Slowly, they subsided into crackling, hissing, smoking indecision, as if this finale were still, somehow, up for grabs and unresolved.

As the fires spent the last of their fuel, the highway began to swarm with the city's most enraged, deranged citizens, who climbed up onto the plane, tearing pieces of steel and handfuls of wires out of the way to get inside. They tunneled into the heart of the fallen craft until they finally came to the bodies of its dozen or so doomed passengers, who they dragged and hurled down from the wreckage.

Rage and pain consumed the men, women and children surrounding the plane, coalescing and compounding exponentially as they stared at the bodies that had been cast down to them. Their remains were charred and battered but easily recognizable, to the now-frenzied mob on the highway and, later - forever - to the billions who would watch the amateur video footage in paralyzed disbelief as they were torn apart, crucified and paraded through the throngs of flood-ravaged homeless lining the highway as far as the eye could see.

Just as I was transcribing my vision into a tirade, an email arrived from Brady. He's been traveling in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Singapore since he crossed the border into Thailand last December 26, just as a Tsunami was ravaging Phuket Island, where he would devote himself to the relief effort for the next three months:

Subject: Furious, Ashamed, Coming Home
"So I will be catching the first plane home that I can in hopes of doing a little help if I am able and allowed. I simply cannot stay over here knowing the nightmare that is unfolding back home.

I am very proud to be an american! We have an amazing and diverse history and have placed an unprecedented positive mark on the world with the contributions from many artists and leaders, and of course little things like electricity, airplanes, telephones, jazz...

I sure hope that we can hang on for a while longer."