Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Palisadoes Jamaica, Farewell


This opening scene of the 1962 James Bond film Dr. No starts where Mr. Bond is picked up at the airport in Kingston, Jamaica by Mr. Jones, the driver (Jamaican actor Reggie Carter – who was a good friend of my father.) Mr. Jones drives Mr. Bond along the 14 km Palisadoes strip towards the city. Every visitor who arrives in Jamaica at the Kingston airport is afforded this wonderful drive toward the city. In the background are the Blue Mountains that overlook Kingston. On one side of Palisadoes is the open Caribbean Sea, on the other the calm waters of Kingston Harbor, one of the best deep harbors in the world.
The Palisados strip holds good memories for me. As a child, I learned to swim at Morgan’s Harbor, in its sea water swimming pool enclosed by a boardwalk, boats bobbing in the background. My father used to take us to Port Royal at the end of the strip to eat curry lobster and learn about the “wickedest city on earth,” the haunt of pirates that sank in the earthquake of 1692. We would stop at the Giddy House, an abandoned old stone house that partially sank in the earthquake of 1907. Walking in the Giddy House would make you instantly dizzy and disoriented, which brought squeals of laughter from us kids. We would stop at the Plumb Point lighthouse and climb its steps for spectacular view of the city and the open sea. We would park the car at the end of the airport runway and watch the planes taking off and landing. And then there was nearby Cable Hut, a black sand beach just east of the Palisadoes strip at Bull Bay where my mother took me and my cousins every Sunday. My cousins surfed the wild waves that crashed onto Palisadoes from the Caribbean. In the distance you could see Lime Cay, a favorite spot for boaters on a Sunday. The rusted out old hull of a ship wrecked tanker gave an ominous sign that these waters were treacherous, however, Palisadoes in those days, offered a beautiful respite from the heat of Kingston. The wild Caribbean Sea side of the strip delivered constant sea breezes and sand dunes to explore. The quieter harbor side offered miles of mangroves and striking views of the city framed by the glorious Blue Mountains.
And now, it seems that the Palisadoes I knew is to be no more. Diana McCaulay, of the Jamaica Environment Trust has today written a disturbing blog post titled “The Destruction of the Palisadoes Spit” detailing the Jamaican government plans that include bulldozing the strip to make an expanded highway. Her post is well worth reading for all of the history she gives of this unique piece of land, as well as the more current events such as Hurricane Ivan that have affected the Palisadoes. A few highlights of her post:

On the doorstep to the city of Kingston in September 2010, you can see an environmental defeat. The Palisadoes spit, that jointed arm that holds Kingston Harbour in loose embrace, has been bulldozed by the National Works Agency (NWA), via their Chinese contractors and/or Jamaican sub contractors, led by the Minister of Transport and Works, with the willing and enthusiastic support of the National and Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). At this point, it appears that the entire spit will be denuded of all vegetation, its beaches compacted, sand dunes destroyed, the few struggling strands of mangroves obliterated in order to construct or expand (it’s not entirely clear which) an utterly unnecessary road. . . . And then I got the phone call – Diana, there are bulldozers on the Palisadoes, and I drove out there, and I really did not expect to see what I saw, because I suppose I remain resistant to the reality of the scale of the damage that can be done to a strip of coast in a few hours by three bulldozers. But there it was – a swathe of annihilation far beyond anything ever visited on the Palisadoes by nature, virtually everything living on the Big Sea side simply mown down.

Where are our institutions, I wondered, where are those agencies set up to protect our history and our land? They fall like dominoes every time, their mandates ever in revision. Where are the voices of the academy, those who study places like Palisadoes? And where is it, I ask myself, where is it that we will finally refuse to destroy? Will we go into debt to raze the Blue Mountains, flatten Cockpit Country, dam Dunns River, fill in Blue Lagoon, pave over Font Hill, build a water park in the Royal Palm Reserve? If not, why not? Where is the line to be drawn and who will draw it? 

What should have been done? radio interviewers ask me. The Palisadoes road had to be defended. We could have restored the groyne field after Ivan in 2004, I say, we could have graded the dunes and planted vegetation, we could have controlled the sand mining in Hope River to make sure sediment was replenishing the spit, we could have reafforested the watershed so that there was a steady release of silt to the sea, instead of silt and soil coming down in flood events in massive quantities, disrupting the currents. We could, in other words, have restored the same inexorable process that built the Palisadoes and will keep building it. But always, we prefer bulldozers. Read the full post here.

I echo Diana’s lamentations for Jamaica’s special places of natural beauty and the alarm at the lack of environmental consideration given to these places that are the heritage of all Jamaicans. If you would like to voice your concern for Palisadoes, please note the following email addresses:

letters@gleanerjm.com
maraghg@jamaicaobserver.com
peter.knight@nepa.gov.jm
ps@opm.gov.jm

Update Sept.16:
Please see comment from Diana McCaulay below where she is asking that anyone who has memories they would like to share about Palisadoes, to please do so as she will be collecting them. Please share anonymously if you would rather your name not be used.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

John Perkins: Mr. CEO, Can You Spare A Job or a Free Lunch?

John Perkins is one of those rare individuals who has traversed the worst landscapes of the corporatocracy from the inside and come out with his heart and soul intact. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of spending time with John at a few of his week-long workshops at the Omega Institute in New York. This was before the publication of his incredible best-seller Confessions of an Economic Hit Man where he exposed details of the corporatocracry’s greedy tentacles spreading globalization and empire-building at the expense of poverty-stricken peoples across the world. Recruited by the National Security Agency in his 20’s, Perkins had worked as a consultant for multi-national corporations who benefited from World Bank and IMF policies that were supposed to benefit places like Jamaica, Ecuador, Indonesia and Panama, but instead were really elaborate schemes to profit the multi-nationals. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is a riveting personal memoir and I remember John talking about his decision to publish this book. He had been warned not to do it. Publishers had rejected his manuscript out of fear of the repercussions. But his conscience won out and he went ahead and found a publisher and the book became a best-seller. If you read that book, then the economic melt-down of 2008, the corrupt BP’s actions with the oil disaster in the Gulf this year and the legislative impasse in this country is no surprise. Since then, he has written The Secret History of the American Empire and Hoodwinked. His website is at JohnPerkins.org. His latest essay in The Huffington Post takes on the issue of excessive CEO pay and is another clarion call from this great voice:

"An economic policy which does not consider the well-being of all will not serve the purposes of peace and the growth of well-being among the people of all nations."(Eleanor Roosevelt)

In case you are tempted to feel sorry during these troubled times for the corporatocracy... this just in:

The CEOs who fired the most workers during the current economic recession also rewarded themselves with the highest pay. Top managers at the fifty corporations with the greatest number of layoffs were paid an average of $12 million in salary, bonuses and other perks -- 42 percent more than the average for the Standard & Poor's 500. To make matters worst, at most of these companies -- a whopping 72 percent in fact -- layoffs were announced at a time when earnings were increasing. This according to a study by the Institute for Policy Studies that covered the period from November 2008 to April 2010.

Isn't it comforting to know that while you and I are experiencing the worst economy we've seen in our life-times, with jobless claims rising to 500,000, the CEOs are thriving? They are purchasing luxury cars, yachts, new homes, and even buying off foreclosed properties at fire-sale prices. Perhaps we should sleep better at night knowing that they are working so hard to offset their ruthless firings of employees by trying to revive the Rolls Royce dealerships and mortgage companies!

Not only are some of the world's richest CEOs getting richer off the backs of laid off employees, but they're doing it at the same time profits rise and shareholder cigars are lit with martinis in hand celebrating the companies continued reign of predatory capitalism. These same 50 top layoff leaders' companies also enjoyed a 44% average profit increase in 2009. And many of them paid little or no taxes (e.g. Exxon, with over $45 billion in profits, recorded no U.S. income taxes and GE generated $10 billion in pretax income and took a tax BENEFIT of $1.1 billion).

I have to admit that I was never terribly enamored with Karl Marx. When I was a young man, many of my peers called on his writings to justify taking to the streets against the Vietnam war, but I -- a business student -- saw that war more as an excuse for the military-industrial complex to get rich than as a class struggle. Now, however, I have to suspect that Marx was wiser than I used to believe. In fact, the Institute for Policy Studies report estimates that CEOs in the U.S.'s largest publicly traded corporations earn an average compensation 263 times higher than the typical American production worker. Sounds like the exact situation Marx warned us about!

The study cites some very telling specific examples. Among them:

- Wal-Mart's CEO Michael Duke laid off 13,350 workers and earned almost 20 million for his trouble;

- The now disgraced Mark Hurd of HP managed to reduce his work force by 6400 and still earn $24.2 million;

- AMEX's Kenneth Chenault earned $16.8 million while American Express laid off 4,000 employees accepted $3.39 billion in TARP funding;

- Intel Corp's Paul Otellini trimmed about 5,000 jobs and received $14.4 million in compensation.


The report notes, "The $598 million combined compensation of the top 50 CEOs in our layoff leader survey could provide average unemployment benefits to 37,579 workers for an entire year -- or nearly a month of benefits for each of the 531,363 workers their companies laid off."

As I wrote in Hoodwinked, "When we examine the state of our economy -- the shortage of businesses that produce real things that people need, the huge gap between rich and poor, the current national debt, and the exploitation of the many by a very few -- we see a profile similar to that in the Third World."

Our overall standards may be higher than in the Third Word; however, in relative terms the similarities are shocking. And each year, in fact each quarter, with every new report, the situation grows worse. The sad fact is that the rich get richer and the middle class is disappearing.

Some of the most shocking statistics that highlight the discrepancies are those around hunger. While the CEOs feast on caviar, nearly 17 million, or almost 1 in 4, American children are at risk of hunger. Those hungry children are the victims of bloated, unregulated, corporate Robber Barons who lay off workers (parents) for bottom line greed.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

You and I can change the future for the better by taking action now. Demanding accountability and regulations that protect workers and stop the excessive payouts, golden parachutes and layoffs. A list of the companies is available here.

Please send emails to every company on this list that you patronize or are tempted to patronize and tell them the you will NOT buy from them until they change their ways, until their executives are willing to reduce their compensation and hire back those fired workers. Only through expressing our discontent will we make a difference!

We must demand a completely new economic policy that benefits all not just the wealthiest in our country. It is up to you and me! ~ John Perkins

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
The Secret History of the American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World
Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded--and What We Need to Do to Remake Them

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Power of One: Celebrating Our Diversity


The news seems to be dominated the last few weeks with stories of hate, racism, bigotry and religious intolerance. I don't know about you, but I know that all of this talk is far out of the realm of my understanding as to how, at this time in humanity's history, we are still cycling through these ridiculous fear-based and completely ignorant impulses. In the spirit of rising above all of this nonsense which is tearing people apart, let's instead celebrate our diversity, the beauty of all of our different traditions that serve to enliven and enrich our collective experience on earth. This little video was made by some friends of mine over at Corelight.org. This was their intention in making it:
We have the power to change the world. Whether it is one extraordinary individual, or a group of individuals of one heart and one mind, never doubt that we can. An inspiring, uplifting 5-minute music video, The Power of One touches the heart and delivers a message of hope and peace for the world in these troubled times.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Our Warm, Lonely World

If all the animals were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit. ~ Chief Seattle

As our hottest summer ever draws to a close and scientists confirm that 2010 is the hottest year ever recorded in history, we are left with the searing images from floods in Pakistan, wildfires in Russia and news of a giant arctic iceberg breaking off from Greenland.  All symptoms of global warming.  Our feckless, short-sighted and corrupted politicians in Washington (and around the world), who failed miserably at the U.N. Climate Talks in Copenhagen to come to a Global Warming agreement, should be hanging their heads in shame.   Mark Lynas comments in The Independent on what we can look forward to with the rise in temperatures:
Sea levels are creeping higher, polar bears are history and tropical storms of undreamt-of ferocity batter the world's coastlines.

Welcome to the world bequeathed to us by negotiators at Copenhagen last year, whose timid proposals for cutting back on carbon emissions will do little to turn the tide of global warming. A world 3.5C hotter will be well outside the safety zone, currently estimated as between 1.5 and C by scientists.

Once global temperatures pass 3C, several crucial tipping points in the Earth's climate system are likely to have been crossed. Firstly, the ice cap over the North Pole will have disappeared entirely during the summer months, changing the planet's energy balance and weather patterns. Secondly, melting permafrost in Siberia and other high-latitude areas will be releasing millions of tonnes of the extra-powerful greenhouse gas methane, and there will be nothing we can do to stop it. And lastly, the world's most important and biodiverse tropical forest, the Amazon region, will be burning up and transforming into desert.

Life for humans will be getting increasingly hot and sticky. Saharan-type temperatures, well over 50C, will be striking regularly in summertime continental interiors, from the southern United States to the south Asian subcontinent to the Middle East. Around the Mediterranean, forests will be tinder-dry and devastating wildfires an annual occurrence – Australia and California can expect much of the same.

Deadly heatwaves, such as that which struck Europe in 2003 and Moscow in 2010, will be a normal summer. Global warming means more energy is available to drive the hydrological cycle, and in addition a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour. These two factors are already behind an intensification in heavy rainfall events from England's recent Cumbrian floods to the flooding disaster in Pakistan.

In the 3.5C world, the oscillation between drought and flood will be even more profound: in Africa and India the rains may fail one year, only to be replaced by topsoil-stripping monsoons the following season. Global food supplies will be stretched by the unpredictability of weather extremes, and the return of dustbowl conditions to the world's major breadbaskets such as the US corn belt.

Sea levels by the end of the century will be heading towards two metres above today's high tide mark, dooming low-lying nations such as the Maldives and endangering coastal megacities like Shanghai and Bangkok – not to mention New York and London. Most of the additional water will be sluicing off the Greenland ice-cap – now in irreversible melt – and the rapidly-diminishing remains of Himalayan and Andean glaciers. The warmer oceans will be stagnant in many areas, spreading low-oxygen "dead zones" over vast areas and ruining fisheries the world over.

Just as distressing will be a devastating extinction event in what remains of the natural world: perhaps as much as half of all the world's plants and animals may be heading for extinction. Humans may survive, but our warmer world will be increasingly lonely. ~ Mark Lynas

To join in the global work party for climate solutions on 10/10/10 go to 350.org.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bill McKibben on David Letterman


The indomitable Bill McKibben was on David Letterman's The Late Show last night making the case for re-installing solar panels on the White House and engaging the planet in a work party for climate solutions on 10/10/10.
If you're not familiar with his work, read his essay, "Get Mad. Then Get Busy" here.
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future [Deep Economy]
The End of Nature
To join in the global work party for climate solutions on 10/10/10 go to 350.org.

Tell the truth about safety of Gulf of Mexico Seafood

I thought it was weird and strangely pollyanna-ish  when the U.S. Govt. and President Obama came out and declared that Gulf seafood was now safe to eat, only weeks after the oilspill had been pummeling the Gulf of Mexico with oil, and after the huge amount of highly toxic Corexit that BP was pouring into the Gulf to disperse the oil. If we blindly believed them, we would naively think that the smell tests being used to determine the safety of the seafood was sufficient. Come on. Nothing felt right about this to me. And I am sure that I am not the only one who had doubts. I love seafood as much as the next person. I want the Gulf of Mexico to be restored as quickly as possible and the fishermen of the Gulf to regain their livelihood as quickly as possible. But common sense alone told me that these early declarations of the seafood being safe were really off. And now, here we go with the evidence - this in today from Laura Parker on the AOL News website:

Lab Results Raise New Concerns Over Gulf Seafood
(Aug. 31) -- A Boston lab hired by the United Commercial Fishermen's Association to analyze coastal fishing waters says findings suggest the government's claim that Gulf of Mexico seafood is safe to eat may be premature.

The lab, Boston Chemical Data Corp., said it found dispersant in a sample taken near Biloxi, Miss., almost a month after BP said it had stopped using the toxic chemical to break up the record amounts of crude spewed by the Gulf oil spill. The leak was finally capped on July 15.

The lab posted its data today on the website of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network in a move that could fuel the debate over the status of the cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico.

Parts of the gulf have been reopened to fishing and shrimping after the federal government declared the waters safe.
The lab's findings "again point to evidence that the 'all clear' is being sounded way too early," said Stuart Smith, attorney for both the fishermen's union and LEAN, which is suing BP on their behalf. "I do not believe a robust statistical sampling has occurred to prove that it's safe."

Water samples analyzed by Boston Chemical show oil and toxins in crab. But the key finding, according to Marco Kaltofen, the lab's president, is the presence of the Corexit dispersant used to break up the oil in coastal water near Horn Island, off Biloxi.

BP has said repeatedly the last day it used any dispersant was July 19. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Alicia Johnson confirmed the agency believes that to be the case.

But Kaltofen said the time frame raises a question.

"Why on Aug. 9 did we find on a relatively concentrated pool of dispersant on the surface, well outside where the dispersant was going to be sprayed? It shouldn't have been there," Kaltofen told AOL News. He added that the high concentration in the sample suggested the dispersant was not carried inland from open water.

"What person or process got this dispersant with such a high concentration into inshore waters?" Kaltofen said.

Fishermen working the gulf say flatly they don't believe that BP actually stopped using the dispersant. But Kaltofen said he has talked to scientists who are searching for a more scientifically sound reason. One possibility: Could the dispersant have reconstituted itself on the surface?

"We just don't know enough about this yet," he said.

In all, Boston Chem has taken 250 samples from western Louisiana to the Florida Keys. The EPA has taken 300 water samples near shore, and found one "indication of a possible dispersant constituent near Louisiana," according to an e-mail from the agency.

"The location was sampled several other times with no other detection," the agency said, adding that it is continuing to monitor the region for "any possible safety and health threats."

Between June 27 and July 20, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sampled 153 fish in the area reopened to fishing and is continuing to test samples of fish caught throughout the gulf. NOAA scientists have found no oil in the area reopened for fishing since early July, according to a report by the agency.

The Food and Drug Administration said in a statement that seafood samples from reopened fishing waters have passed sensory testing for contamination with oil and dispersant.

Scientific data gathered by the government "indicate that the dispersants used in the Deepwater Horizon response are unlikely to build up in the flesh of the fish," the FDA said. "This is primarily based on the assessment of their physical properties, which indicate that these compounds do not penetrate the gills or bodies of fish, and will not be concentrated in edible tissues of seafood."

The credibility of an analysis by a firm hired by attorneys suing BP will inevitably be challenged in court by the oil giant. Yet there is so much suspicion about the government's conclusion that much of the oil had disappeared that any report justifying those fears carries added weight.

Anecdotally, fishermen recount episodes where fishermen and cleanup crews have worked the same waters.

"My cousin was working in Grand Isle. He told me they had people who were shrimping alongside people who were skimming oil," said Louis Molero, a Louisiana oysterman.

"Everybody believes the government is sugar-coating this," he said. "If we get one person sick due to oil, our business is really going to be in a mess."

Here is another very disturbing piece of evidence from the Alternet website:

Mississippi Shrimpers Find Oil Throughout Waters, Refuse To Trawl
They tied an absorbent rag to a weighted hook, dropped it overboard, then pulled it up to find it covered in a mix of BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.
August 30, 2010 |The U.S. state of Mississippi recently reopened all of its fishing areas. The problem is that commercial shrimpers refuse to trawl because they fear the toxicity of the waters and marine life due to the BP oil disaster.
On Aug. 6, Mississippi's Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ordered the reopening of all Mississippi territorial waters to all commercial and recreational finfish and shrimp fishing activities that were part of the precautionary closures following the BP oil rig disaster in April. At least five million barrels flowed into the Gulf before the well was shut earlier this month.
But Miller, along with many other commercial shrimpers, refuses to trawl.
Miller took this reporter out on his shrimp boat, along with commercial shrimper Mark Stewart, and Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group working to document and alleviate the effects of BP's oil disaster.
The goal was to prove to the public that their fishing grounds are contaminated with both oil and dispersants. Their method was simple – they tied an absorbent rag to a weighted hook, dropped it overboard for a short duration of time, then pulled it up to find the results. The rags were covered in a brown oily substance that the fishermen identified as a mix of BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.
Miller and Stewart, who were both in BP's Vessels of Opportunity programme and were trained in identifying oil and dispersants, have been accused by some members of Mississippi's state government of lying about their findings.
"Why would we lie about oil and dispersant in our waters, when our livelihoods depend on our being able to fish here?" Miller asked IPS. "I want this to be cleaned up so we can get back to how we used to live. But it doesn't make sense for us or anyone else to fish if our waters are toxified. I don't know why people are angry at us for speaking the truth. We're not the ones who put the oil in the water."  Read the full article here.

For recommendations on safe seafood, read the new Smart Seafood Guide from Food and Water Watch.