Month: March 1999

Good News

I received two wonderful surprises in the mail today. Usually my mail is boring: bills, Bon Marche flyers, credit card solicitations, and junk-mail from Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, UNICEF, and a host of other large, national, “progressive” groups. There is, however, one national group that I give money to on a regular basis, and I look forward to receiving their bi-monthly newsletter: Resist.

Resist is a funding organization. Folks give them money, and they donate that money in the form of small grants to small, mostly local, progressive groups. In addition, their bi-monthly newsletter focuses on issues or groups that they’ve been supporting throughout the year. Every Feb./Mar. issue contains a roster of the groups they supported in the previous year. This issue made some fine reading.

It included groups like Fight Back Now! in Burlington, VT, which used its $2,000 grant to fund “The Powerhouse, a community center that provides a shared environment for activism, advocacy, community building and outreach efforts.” Great idea. Another group, the Land Loss Fund, also received $2,000 “for the Black Land Loss Summit and to develop a newsletter exploring land loss issues among Black farmers”–a topic that few of us know anything about.

Reading the Resist roster is like peeking into the lives of isolated activists around the nation: “$300 to help stabilize group organizing on behalf of victims of mixed chemical and chlorine spill after lead organizer’s husband was badly beaten under suspicious circumstances” (for the Alberton Community Coalition for Environmental Health in Missoula, Montana). It can also give us a more down-to-earth view of some highly-sensationalized events of the past year: “$300 to defray the expenses involved in organizing the local community to attend Matthew Shepard’s funderal in order to stand in solidarity with his family and to oppose the presence of homophobic protesters” (for the Lambda Community Center, Ft. Collins, Colorado).

There’s another reason why I like to donate to Resist: they don’t just make grants for special projects, they fund general operating expenses. From paying for computer upgrades to funding rent and staff salaries, they help with the nuts and bolts of organizing. For example: “$2,000 to fund bookkeeping assistance, the publication of the newsletter El Aviso, and filing for tax-exempt status.” Read that again. They give money to groups in spite of, and not because of, their tax status. Which means that all the little, community-based, ad-hoc groups who don’t have the knowledge or ability or time or inclination to petition the IRS for non-profit status can still find a source for funds. For those groups, $2,000 can mean a lot.

More importantly, after 31 years in existence, Resist is now big enough to start making multi-year grants. For decades here in the U.S., right-wing foundations have done what left-wing foundations refused to do: commit money to smaller, activist groups over long periods of time to nurture “The Movement.” So-called “progressive” foundations–often funded by rich individuals who want to have direct control of where the money goes–usually give one-year grants. As a consequence, many groups on the left are forced to spend time writing reports, holding the donor’s hand, and re-drafting grant applications every year. That time and effort can be better used on organizing work. The drift of the dominant political climate to the far right is a testament to how well the multi-year grant strategy works. It’s about time somebody on the left figured this out.

To get in touch with Resist, contact them at: 259 Elm Street, Suite 201, Somerville, MA 02144, (617) 623-5110, http://www.resistinc.org. (And congratulations to our friends at the Student Action Network here in Seattle, who received a $2,000 grant from Resist “to support Ruckus, a progressive student news journal at the University of Washington that examines political issues and trains new activists and journalists as part of building a forceful student movement.” Way to go!)

The other sweet surprise I got this week was buried inside the March 29th issue of The Nation. Now, I’m not what you’d call a Nation fan; I don’t do a back-flip every Thursday when I see it in my mail box. Usually, I just flip through and read Alex Cockburn, Katha Pollitt, the letters section (to see which of those two is beating up on Christopher Hitchens this week), and flip all the way to the back to devour Stuart Klawans’s movie critiques. Anyone who starts his column with: “Monday: Screening of Garry Marshall’s The Other Sister, which seems to be about a goldfish. Whenever the characters have to make a decision, the film cuts to a close-up of the cute little fella swimming in his bowl…” gets my attention immediately.

This week, somewhere on the way between Pollitt and Klawans–in fact, on the back of Katha’s column–is a new and wonderful feature: “The Nation Indicators,” by Doug Henwood. Henwood is the author of “Wall Street,” an irreverent examination of one of the pillars of the U.S. economy (and the World’s economy, for that matter). He also writes and edits a bi-monthly newsletter called The Left Business Observer (LBO), a must-read for anyone who wants to make sense of economic “news.”

Anyway, this new feature is a snazzy, two-color compilation of graphs reprinted from the LBO, including a comparison of wage growth over 30 years for the poorest 20% of Americans vs. the middle 20% vs. the richest 5%. Needless to say, the graphed lines denoting the poor and the middle-class are flat, while the richest 5% climbs off the chart. Even more fun is his graph entitled How Long It Takes the Average Worker to Buy a “Share” of the S&P 500 (1890-1998), wherein we see that our great-grandparents living in 1920 had to work about 5 times less than we do to become members of the stock-owning class. That’s based on wages paid for industrial jobs, which pay far better than the average service-sector, fast-food, retail sales, bicycle messenger, part-time, temp job.

I’m happy to see Doug Henwood’s material in a magazine where he’ll get more exposure. Now, it’d be really wonderful if The Nation would run some of his articles, too …

You can contact Doug Henwood at: The Left Business Observer, 250 West 85th Street, New York, NY 10024-3217, 212-874-4020, dhenwood@panix.com, or http://www.panix.com/~dhenwood/LBO_home.html.

Bombs Away

I can’t be the only one who’s noticed this fiasco. I’m talking about the U.S. Air Force farting bombs all over northern and southern Iraq … and, oh yeah, British fighter planes–we can’t forget them–tagging along like puppy dogs.

Back on Dec. 16, you’ll remember, on the same day Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, he gave the order to bomb the shit out of Iraq–only four days before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Air Force lobbed 90 Cruise missiles ($1 million each) at Iraq, thereby exhausting 40% of its inventory. Not to be upstaged, the Navy fired at least 300 Tomahawk missiles (also $1 million apiece) and succeeded in killing Iraq’s leading female poet, but not Saddam Hussein. The total cost to us of the four-day war, precipitated by Iraq’s refusal to allow CIA agents (posing as UNSCOM inspectors) to enter the Ba’ath Party headquarters in Baghdad, will be around $1 billion. That’s just for the four day bombing spree in December, and not for the current, escalating situation.

A look back at the last two months reveals a terrible pattern. In late December and early January, U.S. pilots were instructed to fire only when fired upon. By mid-January, U.S. planes were firing on any radar site or plane that “targeted” a U.S. plane. On Jan. 25, a precision-guided bomb “went astray” and fell on a suburb of Basra, killing 17 women and children and injuring over 40 more. Yet on Jan. 29, Clinton gave the okay for Air Force pilots to target any military site in the two no-fly zones, regardless of whether a clear provocation exists. Since then, daily bombing runs have become the norm. On Feb. 25, U.S. jets attacked a missile site just 30 miles outside of Baghdad, possibly crossing the boundary of the southern no-fly zone in the process. On Sunday, Feb. 28, U.S. planes bombed several communications sites in northern Iraq and damaged a control center for the oil pipeline that delivers oil under the U.N.’s Oil For Food Program. Disabling the pipeline cuts off the only major source of imported food and medicines for the Iraqi people–the ultimate targets in this war.

The no-fly zones are not sanctioned by the U.N., but were created unilaterally by the U.S., Great Britain, and France in 1991 under the pretext of protecting the Kurds in the north of Iraq and the Shiites in the south. But in 1996, France pulled out of the coalition, citing its belief that the U.S. ultimately has no humanitarian intentions in enforcing the no-fly zones. Recently, our staunch ally, Turkey–which is allowing us to use its runways and air bases–has also criticized the daily bombing runs. Even the New York Times admits that the no-fly zones are a sham: “In fact, no U.N. resolution created the restricted zones.” (NYT 2/25/99) Further, the U.S. Air Force has a clear policy of not allowing its pilots to come under significant danger of attack in the no-fly zones: whenever a plane is targeted by radar, U.S. fighter jets immediately and thoroughly destroy the suspected radar site–and numerous other targets–in a retaliation that’s completely out of proportion to the “crime.”

Not only should we end the economic sanctions against Iraq, but also this farce that’s called “enforcement of the no-fly zones.” It’s unilateral warfare, pure and simple.

One Big Fucking Mess

Like the axe-murderer in a Wes Craven film, the New Carissa just keeps coming back–it’s the ship that refuses to sink. Most of the fault for that–and for the accident in the first place–lies not with the weather (as the local media would have you think). In fact, the blame belongs to a lot of different folks.

First, there’s the ship’s captain. When the New Carissa ran aground in a storm on Feb. 4th, it was anchored in a shallow part of Coos Bay which is off-limits to ships that don’t have state-licensed pilots on board (as the New Carissa didn’t). Instead of pulling the anchor and turning out to sea when the storm first hit, the ship remained anchored in an unsafe area, awaiting the arrival of a pilot to take it into port. Two hours after dropping anchor, it ran aground on the beach and began to leak some of its 400,000 gallons of fuel. Testifying at a Coast Guard hearing on Feb. 24th, crew member Conrado Carlos said that the crew was never alerted to any danger and no alarm was sounded. A Coos Bay bar pilot also testified that if the New Carissa’s captain, Benjamin Morgado, had radioed in to ask for advice, they would have told him to head out to sea. When called to testify, Capt. Morgado pleaded the Fifth.

As well he might, since he probably was unfamiliar with both the area and Oregon state law. Even worse, he might also have been consulting a guidebook published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The book, entitled “The United States Coast Pilot” recommends that large ships anchor in the very area where the New Carissa went aground, calling it a “good holding ground.” Coos Bay pilots, on the other hand, routinely warn ships away from the area, especially when bad weather conditions prevail. One veteran Coos Bay pilot said: “We usually have one or two ships every winter that have difficulties in the same spot … and all had the potential of following the New Carissa scenario.”

The ship’s owners are also a target of the Coast Guard investigation. The New Carissa was operating under a Panamanian flag–a flag of convenience–and Panama is notorious for allowing inexperienced crews to operate sub-standard ships. The Coast Guard routinely boards ships registered under the flags of certain countries with lax standards (Panama, China, Liberia, Cyprus, Russia, and others) to inspect for safety violations. Last year inspectors detained 364 ships (including 8 in Oregon) for gross safety violations; they were all later declared unfit for the sea. Such violations included: leaking oil and sewage, having a poorly trained crew, crew and officers flunking basic fire drills, unlicensed or unqualified officers running the ship, lack of the required number of crew members and officers to man the ship, and horrible living conditions for the crew (including nonpayment of wages and food infested with cockroaches and other vermin). Many ships are cited for lesser safety violations and put on a program of inspections every six months–although many of those ships fall through the cracks. The New Carissa was cited for three safety violations during an inspection in Seattle seven months ago, and the ship was due for its next inspection right after docking in Coos Bay. The New Carissa is not a rarity: of 2,000 ships that entered Oregon ports last year, the Coast Guard boarded 450 of them to run safety inspections–roughly 23% of the total ship traffic.

The Columbia River Bar Pilots also get some of the blame. At least one pilot noticed that the New Carissa was anchored in a dangerous area, but no one radioed out to the ship to tell Margado to leave. Yet another pilot claims that the bar pilots should–but don’t–keep a helicopter ready to take licensed pilots out to ships during storms, as many ports in Australia and Europe do. Of course, the expense would be passed on to docking ships, and West Coast ports are engaged in a fierce competition to keep docking fees low to attract more ship traffic.

Aside from all that, the whole month-long saga has been a comedy of errors. First the ship beached, then it leaked, then some wise guys got the idea to blow it up in hopes that its heavy fuel oil would burn off. Needless to say, only the lighter stuff floating at the top of the fuel tanks burned; the other half remained, and the whole ship split into two pieces, disgorging 70,000 gallons of oil into the water and onto the beach. Then they tried to pump the oil out, but since it’s winter and it’s cold, the oil had congealed into the consistency of play-dough. So, seeing that the season’s worst storm was going to blow in, some idiots decided to tow the bow section of the ship out to sea directly into the approaching hurricane, hoping to sink the damn thing 200 miles off the coast. But the cable, “an extra-tough, 10-inch thick, 1,100 yard tow rope flown in from the Netherlands,” snapped in the storm–probably from rubbing against twisted metal on the New Carissa’s bulkhead. We’ll never know why they didn’t use a chain, instead.

Free of its fetters, the amputated Carissa lurched northward and washed up on the beach at Waldport, 80 miles north of Coos Bay. About an hour after its arrival, sticky balls of tar began to wash up on the beach. About 130,000 gallons of fuel remain in the ship’s tanks, ready to spill into the fragile Alsea Bay estuary.

It could be days or weeks before the New Carissa, whose stern section still remains in Coos Bay, can be hauled back out to sea. In the meantime, it continues to spill oil, doing incalculable damage to the Oregon coastline. The costs of the salvage and cleanup effort so far are $10 million and climbing. The federal government and the Oregon state government are paying the bill (i.e., it’s coming out of our pockets), and they hope to get reimbursed by the ship’s owners or their insurance company later. The record on such reimbursements, however, is not good: the government usually collects only 60 cents of every dollar spent on oil spill cleanups. And if the government can’t prove the ship’s owners and crew were at fault, then it will remain a “mystery spill,” and the taxpayers will foot the whole bill.

ETS! Farmer’s Almanac

I went to the Seattle Art Museum in December to see the exhibit of Egyptian artifacts. Naturally, what impressed me most were all the animal images and references to animal gods–some gods were half-animal and half-human. Women with snake-heads, men with the heads of jackals, cat gods, and bird goddesses all made me think about how much closer the Egyptians lived to the natural world than we do today.

And then I saw the stone cow goddess. She looked distinctly friendly, with a smile, half-lidded eyes, and forward-cocked ears. And I immediately thought: Jennie.

If there was one cow on the farm that I could have elevated to deity status, it would have been Jennie. She was an old, reddish-orange Guernsey cow with a white tummy. Her genealogy wasn’t particularly distinguished and she wasn’t beautiful, nor was she the type of cow that produced lots and lots of milk. In all of those respects she was about average. But it was the force of her character–her obvious status in the herd–that set her apart. She was also ageless.

It was hard to know exactly how old Jennie really was. She’d been around for so long, we had all lost count of how many years had gone by since she’d had her first calf. As she grew older, the hair around her muzzle darkened, and this gave her a look of toughness. But she wasn’t mean and often enjoyed being petted–although she never came begging for it like many cows. She had a certain aloofness that you see in some animals which hints at a perfect, self-contained independence–a general indifference to all things human. She was cat-like.

But Jennie was also very much a part of the herd, which she seemed to rule by sheer virtue of experience. She was small, but the other cows always moved out of her way or made room for her at the feed stanchions. (Whenever one didn’t–usually a younger cow, or one that was particularly dim–Jennie would dig in with her short, powerful legs, flex her strong shoulders, butt with her broad head, and send the other cow flying. Cows do fly. I’ve seen it. It would be safe to say that The Cow didn’t jump over the Moon–Jennie pushed her.)

As cows age, their backs sag a little, their bellies protrude more, and they develop enormous wrinkles around their eyes (heavy folds of skin that make our wrinkles look miniscule by comparison). Jennie had enough of them to make her look like a bovine Buddha. I always got the impression that she couldn’t be surprised, because she had already seen everything. And when the other cows would stampede from fright, Jennie would just jog along behind them, as if she were keeping an eye on the kids.

There was one annual stampede, however, where Jennie always took the lead. Every winter, the cows would spend several months living entirely in the barns while the lowland pastures languished under several inches of accumulated rainwater. For those few months, the pastures became wetlands and belonged to ducks, geese, rabbits, field mice, and other local wildlife. But come spring when the water receded, it was the cows’ turn to stretch their legs, eat grass, and play. And Jennie was always the first one out of the barn.

Watching a hundred cows jog run a muddy lane, then burst into a green field, kick up their heels, and chase each other is a lot of fun to watch. But among all the chaos and fun, there was always serious business going on–and that’s what Jennie and the other senior cows would be doing. Like bulls, they would stake out separate territories in the field, kneel down, and rub their heads in the grass until they dug up some of it. Then they would use their foreheads like scoops and toss the dirt high in the air until it covered their necks and shoulders. And if any other cows approached them while they were at it, it was prime time to fight. I think herd status was determined by how dirty each of the senior cows was at the end of the day; Jennie invariably beat them all, with dirt caked in her eye wrinkles, wadded on her shoulders and back, and forming haloes around her ears and nose. She would even have black snot–a sight that would make the other cows shudder for months afterward.

Each year Jennie had a calf. Like most cows, she must have had about a 50-50 ratio of male vs. female calves, so there must have been a lot of her daughters in the herd. It was hard to tell, though, because none of them ever looked like her or came close to having the same character. Jennie was unique, a real cow goddess. Every herd has one, and she was ours.

Jennie last roamed our farm over 15 years ago. It was comforting for me to see her immortalized in stone…and in the hoity-toity Seattle Art Museum, of all places.

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