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Unbeknownst to Most New Yorkers the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is Spraying a Dangerous Pesticide in the City's Parks, In Order the Prevent the Outbreak of a Relatively Benign Virus.
Most people pass without noticing the eight by eleven sheets of paper, taped to lamp posts, fences, and trashcans sporadically through the park. After all they are probably ads for guitar lessons or lost cats. Such bills are common in public spaces. However, on close inspection the signs are a warning from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for people in the six zip codes surrounding Brooklyn's Prospect Park to remain indoors from 8:15pm tonight to 6am the next day.
The trouble started back on July 7th when the department discovered mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus in Staten Island. The department promptly began an eradication campaign, as in previous summers, in all Burroughs with the exception of Manhattan. As in the past, the department went with a pesticide known as Anvil 10+10 to do the job.
Anvil 10+10 contains pyrethroids, which mimic hormones such as estrogen, and have been linked to breast cancer in women and infertility in men. Pyrethroids have also been associated with prostate cancer, miscarriages and premature delivery, and asthma to name just a few diseases in the compound's deadly pantheon. Also in Anvil you will find, piperonyl-butoxide, listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “likely” carcinogen. The immediate effects of Anvil 10+10 are allergy like symptoms such as a runny nose. The chronic effects mentioned above come later.
The Department of Health is required to give at least 72 hour notice before spraying the pesticide and says it distributes press releases. However, every resident this reporter spoke to who live in the vicinity of Prospect, many of whom enter the park on a daily basis, said the day of the spray (Aug. 4), was the first time they spotted the alert. Large swaths of the park contained no warning sign whatsoever.
A Parks Department employee I spoke with the following day said she personally had posted the signs, indicating she had taped them after the 72 hour minimum had expired.
Though the postings warned residence to stay indoors over night they did not caution residents that Anvil lingers long after the initial spay. Pyrethroids have a soil half life of twelve days according to the National Pesticide Information Center.
When asked I asked the Parks Department worker if she knew where specifically the spraying had been conducted she referred me to the signs she had posted, which still clung precariously to where she had tacked them a day earlier.. When I pointed out that the map on the sign included the entire park and stretched down to Caton Avenue in the south and as far as Fifth Avenue to the North, well beyond the park's perimeters, a look of surprise broke across her face; she hadn't examined the very signs she was posting.
A majority of people in fact, were unaware of the warnings and were shocked once they were pointed out. Many could not speak or read English, the only language the sign was in, and therefore had no idea Anvil would be sprayed that evening. At 8:15, the appointed time residents were warned to remain in doors, the park was still full and thriving. Police officers directing traffic in Prospect said they were unaware of the warning. One griped, “They don't tell us anything.” When I pointed out the Department of Health's sign was only in English another officer observed candidly, “That's racist.”
Pesticides have a long, sordid history in New York City. Thousands of New Yorkers were sickened by an discriminate spaying in city parks in 1999 and 2000. That includes six employees of Clarke Environmental Mosquito Management, the Illinois based firm that manufactures Anvil. The workers became extremely ill after they were sent on the job without training or protective gear. What began as allergy sneezing quickly evolved into migraines, nose bleeds, difficulty breathing and sexual dysfunction.
In 2007 the city settled a lawsuit brought by grassroots community groups against the department of health for violating the Clean Water Act. The No Spray Coalition, one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs traded monetary compensation from the city in exchange for the Department of Health's admission that Anvil is dangerous to humans, contaminates water, kills fish and strengthens mosquitoes. Despite the admission New York continues to spray, while Clarke supplies the poison.
West Nile is not a significant threat to New Yorkers, though the disease has been cropping up in parts of the US at a rising rate. According to Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals 90% percent of those infected won't ever feel the symptoms. Center for Disease Control data puts the death total from West Nile in the United States at 30 in 2009. Meanwhile, approximately 20,000 people die each year in the US from the flu.
Many scientists have attributed the spread of West Nile, which thrives in damp, humid environs, to global warming. In a 2009 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, scientists warned climate change will “likely increase the burden of this disease in coming decades.” In warmer climates mosquitoes reach biting age faster and multiply in greater number, diffusing West Nile at a greater rate. Warmer weather also prolongs the rain season, extending the climate in which mosquitoes thrive.
Aside from the obvious irony of spraying a deadly pesticide to prevent the dissemination of a rather benign virus, the oil based production process of pesticides such as Anvil 10+10 aids the depletion of the ozone and aggravates the green house gas effect, which contributes to climate change which spreads West Nile.
The spraying of Anvil did not, after all, occur at the fated hour of 8:15, but according to the Health Department was delayed until 12:30 to accommodate a showing of the classic German Expressionist silent film Metropolis, with live orchestra accompaniment. The dystopian film is set in a future city, where the world is divided between the managers who rule society, and the workers who toil at their mercy. The film's eery score would have provided fitting accompaniment to Anvil 10+10 as it hissed out of the nozzle.
A version of this article appeared orignially at SocialistWorker.org
NEW YORK--Colleen Clappas had a simple answer when asked why she came to protest fracking on June 25 in Manhattan's Foley Square: "I drink water."
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process of natural gas extraction that includes the pumping of millions of gallons of pressurized, highly toxic water, sand and chemicals into shale rock to release the gas trapped inside.
Fracking poisons the air, the soil and especially the water, so many of the 1,000 demonstrators wore blue. "Drinking water is a public good," said protester Brian Kleve. "We've got to protect it from creeps, hustlers...and scumbags."
Much of New York City's water supply comes from the Marcellus shale formation. As a result of the ancient rock's insulation, the city's water is some of the cleanest in the country, at least at its source. The Big Apple's infrastructure might be crumbling, firehouses closing and its streets full of litter, but any laid-off sanitation worker can drink for free, the kind of water yuppies in Beverly Hills pay top dollar for.
There is currently a moratorium on all new fracking leases in New York state, but it expires July 1, and energy companies are crying "drill, baby, drill."
A study of Marcellus and Utica shale drilling sights in Pennsylvania and New York conducted by Duke University researchers and published this spring by the National Academy of Sciences found clear links between hydraulic fracturing and methane and ethane contamination of groundwater.
Residents who live near these drilling sites didn't need scientists to tell them their water was contaminated. All they had to do was light a match under their faucet or over the bubbles gurgling in their streams and watch the flames fly.
An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study published last year found arsenic, copper, vanadium and adamantanes, which can cause cancer, kidney failure, anemia and fertility problems, in water from 11 out of 39 wells tested near natural gas drilling sites in Wyoming.
Last year, the EPA planned to raise concerns to state lawmakers over the effect of untreated, radioactive wastewater from the fracking process being discharged upstream from drinking water treatment plants. But instead, according to records obtained by the New York Times, the EPA ignored its own data showing the threat that fracking poses to public safety.
EPA officials have also limited the scope of studies. The Times reported, "Asked why the letter about hydrofracking in the New York City watershed had been revised, an agency scientist involved in writing it offered a one-word explanation: 'politics.'"
The scientist might have added "profits." Aside from being a revolving door between the government and the corporations it's supposed to regulate, the agency also comes under pressure from lawmakers who receive campaign donations from the energy industry.
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PROPONENTS OF fracking say it will create jobs. But recent reports show that energy companies have been exaggerating the amount of gas under the U.S. and its profitability, leading to fears that the so-called "gas boom" could go the way of the "housing boom." While drilling operations will create jobs, including many that entail transporting and disposing of toxic substances, many others will be eliminated, particularly in agriculture.
Jessica Reynolds' livelihood will be in jeopardy. She works at a greenmarket in the city for a duck farm. If the fowl go foul, there'll be none to sell. But that's not why she came to the protest. "Personally, I'm a vegan," she said. "I'm concerned about the animals."
Rotting carcasses of fish, birds, cattle and deer follow fracking sites wherever they may go. Recently, wastewater from a Marcellus drilling site along the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border was linked to the mass death of 10,000 fish.
The demonstrators at Foley, chanting "No fracking way!" stood on the ground of what was long ago Collect Pond, one of the few fresh water sources for Manhattan and the largest body of water on the island. After severe contamination that led to epidemics of typhus and cholera, the pond was drained in 1811.
With a forest of signs at their backs, speakers addressed the assembled from where Collect Pond once rested, on steps leading to the Triumph of the Human Spirit, a 50-foot fountain in the shape of a Malian antelope headdress, commemorating the slaves who were buried near spoiled pond. One placard summed up the fracking process: "Frack Plan: 1. Take water out of river; 2. Add toxic chemicals; 3. Put water back in river."
Reverend Billy with the Church of Earthaluiah hollered into a manhole while the Stop Shopping Choir warmed up behind him. He called to those locked up in the Tombs of the Manhattan Corrections Facility beneath our feet. They, The Reverend explained, are “the real energy” that must be excavated, not shale gas, which it ought to be criminal to extract. “You hear me down there?” he shouted. “We're gonna stop fracking!”
The Choir began clapping and singing, "Our ecosystem is not for sale, our aquifer is not for sale, our drinking water is not for sale...burning with a justice ghost."
Filmmaker Josh Fox was also on hand. His documentary Gasland illuminates the problems hydrofracking has wrought in communities in Wyoming, Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania--not just inflammable water, but cases of cancer and brain damage.
"I've been to rallies all across the country, millions are with you," Fox told the crowd. "But if we want to win, we'll have to look at the history of social movements in America...We have to learn from the civil right's movement and the women's suffrage movement...The green movement is next."
Fox called for building a mass movement and for civil disobediences to protect the water, air and soil. "If they start drilling, we'll stand in front of those trucks and blockade the drill sites," Fox said, adding, "If Cuomo wants us to go to jail, we'll go to jail."
One of the rally's final speakers was Lauren Chan, a New York City high school student. "How will we survive if the water that travels through our city contains dangerous chemicals? I wouldn't want to drink flammable water, would you?"
There's a mural on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn that reads, "Water is the life of NYC." Pristine shale water runs through our faucets that we depend on to cook, bath and drink. If our water supply is poisoned by fracking, New York is dead.
FORTY LIFE-sized origami cranes stood in New York City's Tompkins Square in the drizzling rain on June 11. Tilted on one wing or the other, each bore a spray-painted nuclear fallout shelter emblem.
The cranes were folded together by some of the hundred or so demonstrators who gathered to mark three months of the ongoing nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant that began March 11. The rally was held in conjunction with anti-nuke rallies held around the world. Tens of thousands of people in Japan took to the streets to call for an end to nuclear power.
Jo Nakajima said he attended the No Nukes Rally in New York because for 50 years, the Japanese government and energy companies invested in nuclear power, saying it was safe and clean, while ignoring criticism. "Now we see the result," Nakajima said. "Fukushima's devastation has to change policy."
Word of the rally was put out by Todos Somos Japan (We Are All Japan, or TSJ), a newly formed worldwide network of activists standing in solidarity with the people of Japan and dedicated to fighting against what they describes as "atomic capitalism" in the "post-3-11 world."
Yuko Tonohira spoke on behalf of TSJ. Her voice choked with emotion as she described how the mothers of Fukushima Prefecture were being marketed radioactive milk, eggs and vegetables and told that their families must patriotically consume them in order to convince the world that everything is okay.
Tonohira explained that the only way for the people of Japan and the world not to live in the shadow of nuclear terror is to end the use of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. "Germany shut down its nuclear reactors because people took to the streets," said Tonohira. "We need to build a strong movement to stand up to the nuclear industry."
Members of Shut Down Indian Point Now, who are working to build such a movement were out in full force for the rally.
In the 1930s and '40s, Indian Point was a park with ball fields and amusement rides, a dance pavilion and verdant cherry trees. Today, the site is home to what many consider America's most dangerous nuclear plant, housing enough radioactive material to equal 1,000 Hiroshima bombs and located on two earthquake fault-lines.
Entergy, the plant's operator, has committed numerous safety violations for which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has granted them generous exemptions.
Activists have fought for decades to shut down the plant, but the catastrophe in Japan has shed new light on the struggle. New Yorkers don't want a Fukushima in their backyard, especially when Homeland Security says there would be no possible evacuation for the 20 million people living in the surrounding area.
Fukushima has alerted the globe to the threat of atomic energy. But nuclear power is not only dangerous, but unnecessary. A May United Nations study found that renewable energies such as solar, wind and hydropower could supply almost 80 percent of world demand by 2050.
Indian Point only provides 4 to 6 percent of New York City's power--the rest is sold to the grid. Windmills could easily make up the difference if Indian Point shut down.
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AT THE June 11 protest, anti-nuke demonstrators lifted their cranes in the air and hit the streets of the East Village. The sky began to pour rain, but they continued marching uptown on Broadway toward General Electric (GE) headquarters.
GE isn't just a multinational corporation that made over $14 billion in profits last year and received a $3.2 billion tax return from the U.S. government--they also make nuclear reactors.
Forty years ago, GE designed the boiling water reactors at the Fukushima plant. The U.S. government's Atomic Energy Commission (AEC, a precursor of the NRC) raised concerns at the time that the reactor's lack of containment capability would lead to a hydrogen explosion.
That's exactly what happened at Fukushima. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the cooling systems at the nuclear plant and caused hydrogen explosions and meltdown of three reactors. Doubts of the design's safety were ignored by GE, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates the Fukushima plant, and the Japanese government--and buried under paper by the AEC.
GE didn't manufacture Indian Point's reactors. But don't exhale, New Yorkers--the Westinghouse reactors are similar in design.
People around the world are calling on their respective governments to put a halt to nuclear energy and invest in safe sources of power. But GE is seeking to build new reactors in China, which plans to construct 10 new reactors a year for the next decade, and India, which is planning to add dozens more. With the Indian government prepared to spend $150 billion for its nuclear vamp-up, GE is licking its lips and putting profits before people, as it has in the past.
At Rockefeller Center, the mega-corporation projects its towering presence to the world. GE security personnel were flabbergasted when 100 people showed up hollering "No Nukes!" in front of the building. When they asked the crowd to pick up the flock of soggy origami cranes placed at their doorstep, the demonstrators told them that it was GE's mess, and they'd have to clean it up.
Meanwhile, Japan continues to struggle to contain the radiation at Fukushima. Extreme radioactivity at Chernobyl levels has been detected in densely populated areas far beyond the 12-mile evacuation zone.
Former nuclear executive, Arnold Gundersen, told Al Jazeera this week, "Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind." Gundersen explained, "Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed. You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively."
At the beginning of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote that class struggle results "in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." The cruelty of that possible "common ruin" is nowhere more evident than at Fukushima. Companies such as GE and TEPCO illustrate that the energy industry will again and again put profits over people.
It will take a mass grassroots movement in the U.S. and abroad, harnessing people power, to combat nuclear power.
Originally published on the Socialist Worker website
Dust off your flags America, the big bad wolf is dead. After announcing the kill and capture of Osama bin Laden President Obama jumped twenty points in opinion polls overnight. You'd think bin Laden's death were a stimulus package. But with the Obama administration aiming to revamp the War on Terror and simultaneously cut corporate taxes by as much as ten percent, another stimulus package is unlikely.
Contrary to what politicians wearing the mandatory stars and stripes pendant, and those chanting USA at the World Trade Center may claim, the killing of the former al-Qaeda figure head at this stage in the game is not a victory for America. It does not provide a scrap of closure to the War on Terror, and only serves to highlight its absurdity. Let the big bad wolf's death be a moment for reflection on the past ten years, which has seen a deluge of new terms enter into the America's everyday lexicon such as “blacksite,” “waterboarding,” “full body scan” and “extraordinary rendition.”
Bush was perfectly willing to evoke bin Laden as an evil, America-hating, menace to the world to justify invading Afghanistan, only to attempt to withdraw bin Laden's bearded specter when the terrorist eluded capture. Bush told the nation two days after 9/11, "The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him." But by March 2002 after rejecting offers from the Taliban to hand bin Laden over, instead launching a full scale invasion of Afghanistan, giving bin Laden, through the ensuing chaos, an escape route into Pakistan, Bush changed his tune:
“We haven't heard from him in a long time. The idea of focusing on one person really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. He's just a person who's been marginalized.... I don't know where he is. I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.”
Obama told the nation Sunday we “went to war against Al Qaeda to protect our citizens, our friends, and our allies.” But approximately ten years after the catalyst of 9/11 the US is mired in three wars, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where Al Qaeda is far from a relevant force. Both the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya were sworn enemies of Al Qaeda. Upon taking office, Obama sent 50,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, all the while bin Laden was living in a mansion in a wealthy suburb of Islamabad. He had, as Bush put it, been “marginalized.” Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of civilians have died as a result of our post-9/11 military escapades, far dwarfing the civilian deaths in the twin towers, not to mention the millions that have been displaced.
The US's belligerent military response to 9/11 seems to have played directly into bin Laden's hand. In a taped message from 2004 the figure head said al Qaeda's policy is to bleed “America to the point of bankruptcy." He bragged only the smallest sign of al-Qaeda anywhere in the world makes “generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without... achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations."
Osama bin Laden died so that the War on Terror may continue.
Just as businesses need to expand to survive, so it is with the Pentagon. Unlike a company that has to coax you into buying their product, the Pentagon whose budget is 13 times that of the Department of State, doesn't need a celebrity endorsement for tax payers to reach into their wallets and feed it. Nor is it accountable to its shareholders, the American public. The same goes for the CIA and other intelligence apparatuses. The reason we are told, ...is for our safety. Now that the US and its allies have a monopoly on violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan, why not expand to new theatres, perhaps Somalia.
Long accused of being soft on terror, Obama's counter-terrorism credentials have been proved. Accolades have poured into the White House from both liberals and conservatives. Even John McCain who has accused Obama of “paling around with terrorists” gave the president kudos. The killing of bin Laden was a sort of right of passage for Obama, which he passed with flying colors.
Whether or not Obama and his inner circle believe the load of bull Rajiv Chandrasekaran in the Washington Post has attributed to a senior White House official remains to be seen; that bin Laden's death “presents an opportunity for reconciliation [with the Taliban] that didn't exist before.” Chandrasekaran writes the administration is hoping to "leverage the death into a spark that ignites peace talks."
First, Bin Laden was not a Taliban leader. Second, the Taliban's principle demand has always been the complete withdrawal of US and Nato forces from Afghanistan. With the US planning to linger in Afghanistan indefinitely, the Taliban, whose key recruitment tool is the US occupation, will continue fighting indefinitely.
Those who have used counter-terrorism as an excuse for cruelty and encroachments on civil liberties rushed to baptize themselves in the dead terrorist's blood. John Yoo, author of the Justice Departments memos attempting to legalize torture wrote on the National Review website last Monday, President Obama owes bin Laden's death “to tough decisions taken by the Bush administration.” If torture was so effective why did it take nine and half years to apprehend bin Laden?
Many in Israel look at bin Laden's killing as affirmation of its attitude toward Palestine. The Jerusalem Post ran a story explaining that the raid on bin Laden's compound shows that targeted killings operations, which Israel has frequently launched into densely populated Gaza as part of its policy of ethnic cleansing since the second intifada, are legitimate. If Israel only had better intel on Hamas in 2008, the piece argues, it wouldn't have had to launch its incursion into Gaza and commit the atrocities highlighted in Goldstone Report. The chairman of Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Shaul Mofaz warned the head of Hamas's the polit-bureau recently, unless he declared his organization's commitment to the conditions set by the International Quartet, including the recognition of Israel "he would become a target for assassination in the way that Bin Laden was dealt with."
Back on the Subcontinent analysts have noted Pakistan's condemnations of the Abbotabad raid, are being made with one eye on India, fearing an incursion from their neighbor following the Mumbai massacres.
The news of bin Laden's death overshadowed reports the day before that Nato, far exceeding its UN mandate to protect civilians, was directly targeting Libyan leader Maummar Gaddafi. Reportedly three of Gaddafi's grandchildren, two of whom were under twelve, were killed in an air strike. The extralegal killing of bin Laden will serve to further encourage such acts of imperial brute force in the absence of rule of law.
The transgression of legality in killing bin Laden, terrorist numero uno, will open the floodgates to further legal transgressions by the US. Less then a week after bin Laden's corpse was chucked into the Arabian Sea, US Predator drones tried to kill radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. The Obama administration has authorized the CIA and the military to assassinate Awlaki even though he is a US citizen and is outside of an armed conflict zone.
Raids like the one carried out on the bin Laden compound are a typical occurrence in Afghanistan at night, though there are usually sleeping families inside the houses, not high value terrorists. Defenders of the practice will find fodder in the example of the bin Laden raid. Ironically, had the US followed rule of law in 2001 when Washington dismissed Taliban offers to extradite him, the bloody charade of the war against terrorism could have been prevented and bin Laden would have been brought to trial.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would merely be following the US's example if he ordered Iraqi commandos to storm the Bush compound in the suburbs of Dallas and chuck the terrorist president's bullet ridden corpse into the Gulf of Mexico.
Through bin Laden's death, the War on Terror has been born again. As Bush put it, “terror is bigger than one person” Both a supposed success and a reason to fear future attacks, the death has provided new life to the national security state.
A week prior to news of bin Laden's extinction Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano unveiled a new threat category system that consisted of just two levels “elevated’’ and “imminent.’’ “Low” is not a category on Homeland's scale, an indication the national emergency has been normalized. Like the war in Afghanistan, it has no end in sight. Post 9/11 encroachments on civil liberties, including warrant-less wiretapping and airport TSA groping are permanent fixtures in American life. Now, as the National Journal reports the FBI is “back on a post-9/11 war footing” and is expanding surveillance and monitoring operations. Suspected terrorists will be arrested on charges not related to terrorism to keep them off the streets. It might be a bit too soon to warn people not to jaywalk in a Che Guevera t-shirt, but the FBI will likely be picking up Muslims and activists on shady charges in sweeping arrests.
The FBI's Muslim profiling, so obscene one California mosque had to get a restraining order against a paid informant seeking to incriminate members of the congregation, serves to justify the paranoid fears of Islamophobes everywhere. A pilot with Atlantic Southeast Airlines kicked two imams off a flight recently “because they were wearing traditional Muslim attire.” The imams were traveling from Tennessee to Charlotte to attend a conference on Islamophobia. Imam Al-Amin Abdul Latif, president of The Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York who helped orchestrate strong Muslim participation in April 9th rallies in New York against US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya was prevented from flying by American Airlines on his way to the same conference. Dehumanizing Muslims at home helps Americans stomach news of Muslim civilian deaths abroad. However the myth that Muslims are bomb-toting fundamentalist who hate democracy was exploded this February by the people of Egypt who overthrew their US sponsored dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Despite the much lauded spontaneous outpouring of patriotism in front of the White House, in Times Square, at Shea stadium; the euphoria won't last forever. Shortly after 9/11 Bush's ratings were at their highest. By the time he left office. People had witnessed the consequences of what his policies had wrought, two endless wars and a financial meltdown. His ratings were dismal. When the patriotism buzz wears-off, American's will realize bin Laden's death will not heal the economy let alone end the costly wars we are entrenched in.
On May 1st, as Navy Seals were preparing for their deadly raid, another scene was taking place around the world. The streets of Istanbul, Seoul and Rabat were full of people gathered for International Worker's Day. In New York, members of the United National Anti-War Committee took part in Union and Immigrant's Right's rallies, calling for money to be spent on “jobs and education, not war and occupation.”
Rather than with armies, generals, weapons manufacturers, Democrats and Republicans, spy agencies and mercenaries, here is where hope for peace lies; with grassroots movements mobilizing in the US and around the world to end the wars the ruling class has proved itself too glutinous to halt. Our dream is larger than protecting ourselves from terrorists, who, in their marginalized desperate way, take up arms against US terror. Our dream is for a peace based on global egalitarian cooperation and is therefore more potent than the drums of war and nationalism. Only an international anti-war movement will achieve lasting peace.
The night is bathed in red light. Al-Jazeera's camera shows people milling around brandishing sticks, stones, and whatever blunt objects they can find, “drunk with fatigue” as Wilfred Owen might put it. The iconic bust of KFC's mascot, the good'ol boy colonel, looms ominously in the background of Tahrir Square. The fast-food place must have been abandoned days ago.
A rabid Jackal in a black tie refuses to lift his fat ass out of his pharaoh's thrown. Egyptians flood their streets while hoodlums, some in uniform, others indicating their allegiance to the law with id cards tucked in the pockets of their civilian costume, intimidate them and take advantage of the absence of authority to discredit the uprising by looting. The eyes of the world are on you Egypt, your demands echo in the hearts of all oppressed people.
Only a fat deranged jackal in a black tie does not see you, does not hear you. He hears only the reverberations of your chants against his walls, walls of torture prisons, of the blockade on Gaza he's been bribed to support, the walls on which his presidential palace is built. On the tv (not state tv, of course), insulated in his tomb, he sees only your faces, not your hearts. Mubarak the crown jewel of US empire in the Middle East.
Perhaps the Canis aureus doesn't even watch tv. Perhaps his vice president/intelligence chief, and evil twin of Jacques Clouseau whispers in his ear, “there's over a million in Tahrir square, chanting “Down Mubarak.” But I doubt Omar Suleiman can decipher what Obama meant by the ambiguous dribble about orderly transition that came out of his mouth this week. For that Mubarak would have to turn to Noam Chomsky who put it bluntly, “Obama, very carefully, said nothing.”
Possibly Obama was more direct in his private phone chat with the autocrat, but we'll have to wait on Wikileaks to tell us that, that is unless Assange isn't in an electric bathtub or on his way to Guantanamo as I write this.
For all the US rhetoric about democracy, what has the US government done? Looking at two fledgling states America's hands have been molding, any self respecting Afghan or Iraqi must have to resist the urge to vomit every time a US official mentions the word democracy. Without widespread corruption, brutality and US backing neither Nuri al-Malik or Hamid Karzai would last a week in power. The word Karzai all over the Islamic world has become interchangeable with corruption. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reported this week Iraqi 'security' forces were actually torturing detainees within the US's blessed sanctuary in the hell hole that is Baghdad, the green-zone.
The gag reflex must also percolate in Yemenite, Jordanian, Saudi and Algerian throats and the guts of all true seekers of democracy at the stark contrast between the US's democratic babble and what its war and oil politics have wrought on the world. The US wasn't so hyper -concerned for democracy as it gave Mubarak that sixty billion in military aid over the years. The argument that the US was using Mubarak to combat extremism in the region is obscene when you look at Mubarak's human rights record. If that’s not extreme I don't know what is. Autocracy or democracy what matters to the US is that foreign governments are managed by elites with US business and military interests at heart.
Obama might be beating round the Bush, but the Egyptian people couldn't be making themselves clearer. After thirty years of dictatorship, they want democracy. A democracy that addresses the wide spread economic inequality that has crippled the nation. They want Mubarak out now. Never mind your orderly transition. There is no turning back. As one demonstrator put it, either Mubarak steps down or “I disappear behind the sun.”
Switching channels from Al-Jazeera to an aged Harry Potter on meth, named Glenn Beck is like watching the tv set go from Jekyll to Hyde. Beck's been sent into a tizzy over the 'riots' in Egypt. He is not alone. Despite the networks sycophantic coverage of the Bush agenda which claimed to want to spread democracy throughout the world, the second Egyptians stood up and demanded their rights Fox News wet themselves. One Fox commentator warns what is happening in Egypt could one day happen in the US of... of...(pardon me, while I wipe a sugary tear from my eye) of A. Well, is it possible? Are we, as Beck would have it, clasping for normalcy, while the end of the republic looms?
America is marked by poverty, at least fifty million people struggle with it, high unemployment particularly among the youth, and is ruled by millionaires who have plunged this country into a recession with the laws they drafted. Sound familiar? These factors sparked the uprising in Egypt, the revolt that toppled Tunisia's dictator, and are threatening regimes across the mid-east and north Africa. But things aren't just going down over there, you better believe trade union militants in countries hit by the economic crisis (which is the entire world) are watching the uprising in Egypt like Ray Charles’ back up singers going “uh-huh, uh-huh, the right stuff.”
On a nearly daily basis, while standing outside INN on my cigarette break, I give directions to people looking for the welfare office. I can see them coming, they wear a look of bewilderment on their faces, and usually clutch a piece of paper, glancing from the sheet in their hands to the addresses hung on the buildings down Walker street. The doorknob of our building has been stolen twice since Christmas time. Presumably to resell it to new customers hoping to keep thieves out. Only someone impoverished would commit such a petty crime.
In January's Harpers, Thomas Frank asserts that despite all America's talk of liberty, we are a nation of servants who have bent over backwards for the rich. He writes, we have?spent the past thirty years doing everything?we could to transfer the wealth of the nation into the bank accounts of the affluent, to send them?victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us.”
Frank recommends a twenty-four hour refusal to fawn. “Let doormen do their jobs without smiling. Let waiters at suburban restaurants leave their flare at home....” A well meaning but petty call for protest, indicating the impoverishment of the American left. Based on the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, I think we in the land of liberty can do a little better.
Thinking peoples dedicated to social change in the US ought to avoid the stance third-worldist academics in the West took during the 1980's that went something like, the revolution is happening over there in Latin America, here everything is normal. The notion that people in the US are bought off with i-phones doesn't hold up when you look at the way Egyptians have used technology to mobilize their revolution. Nobody helps anybody by allowing themselves to be reigned over, whether it is by a jackel in a black tie or by a coterie of well connected businessmen who call themselves lawmakers. What better way to show solidarity with the people of Egypt than to organize in our communities against unemployment, austerity and militarism. While it might provoke urine to spew from bladders at Fox, the Egyptian uprising illustrates to the world that there is power in the people. We are far swifter agents for change than those in the government would like us to believe.
Mass demonstrations and a general strike, when the day comes that the populace is sufficiently galvanized, could go a long way in creating a democracy that addresses the needs and demands of the people, instead of sending them behind the sun to the welfare office.