Wednesday, November 23, 2011

OWS: Zuccotti in Tents + March to Brooklyn Bridge

The following photographs were taken on November 8 at Zuccotti Park and on November 17 at Foley Square.  The Zuccotti Park images record the days before the tents were removed by the police on the orders of Mayor Bloomberg.  They offer insights as to how the park was transformed once it was filled with tents.  The Foley Square images document about three-and-a-half hours, beginning ca. 4:00 pm, as people began to gather for what eventually would be a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Zuccotti Park, Nov. 8:

Zuccotti Park: Edwin

Zuccotti Park: Debora

Zuccotti Park: Faith

Zuccotti Park: Restaurant Chefs

Zuccotti Park: The Goddess

Zuccotti Park: Michael Cardacino (on left)
One can never predict who will be volunteering time at Zuccotti Park on any day or hour.  Among those participating around 2:00 pm on November 8 were Edwin, an expert on Chinese herbal medicines and gardens and who teaches about Chinese herbs as well as on fragrance at the NY Botanical Garden;   Debora, from Queens, holding a thesis board, almost as tall as she, that clearly lays out some basic reasons for these protests;  Faith, a Lutheran minister who volunteers several times a week and has watched the growth and organic change of the OWS movement first-hand;  two restaurant chefs with whom I did not talk but clearly are contributing their interest in organic and non-genetically modified foods to the OWS stew.

Then, someone painted and hung a large banner titled The Goddess, which appears to be inspired by certain early Renaissance images of the Virgin Mary--in particular aspects of the Maesta and the Madonna of Mercy.  Another artist, Michael Cardacino displays a wonderful piece that visually and powerfully portrays the greed of the 1%.  Creativity and commitment dominate in every corner of this tiny plot off Broadway.  Zuccotti Park has truly become an uplifting place, and, over my visits, I see more and more tourists who now consider it a must place to visit. 

For anyone curious about how this Zuccotti Park community operates, watch this 24-minute InFocus video by Danny Schechter.

Zuccotti Park: Joseph
Joseph, a Cree from Brooklyn, has occupied Zuccotti Park to represent the American Indian Nation, and brings his own agenda to the movement.  Material on display calls for a "decolonization of Wall Street," and he apparently is asking for the return of these (and other) lands to our native Indians.  However, Joseph, among all the OWS people I have met in my five visits, was unique in my experience in being the only person disinterested in engaging in a discussion of ideas.  I would have been interested, for example, how or whether he considers himself among the 99%.

Zuccotti Park: Tents

Zuccotti Park: Tents
The tents certainly changed the character of Zuccotti Park, in my estimation.  They closed it off from the public and made it more difficult to walk through and thus engage with the 24-hour occupiers.  Although tents and other structures have always been forbidden in Zuccotti Park, the authorities showed some leniency in allowing them to stay when the first few were pitched, the first being a sukkah tent erected for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The tents were removed in the early hours of Tuesday, November 15, after which Zuccotti Park was cleared.  Once tents, tarps, the library and everything else were carted away, the park was cleaned and the occupiers were allowed to return.

Zuccotti Park: Sustainability Sector
This final photograph from Zuccotti Park shows the sustainability sector containing composting, water filtration, and stationary bicycles which were used for the generation of electricity.  The Fire Department had confiscated the OWS gasoline generators, claiming they were a fire hazard, but the onset of cold weather and snow spurred the protesters to seek an alternative way to power their cel phones, laptops, lighting and even some electric heating.  They claim that six hours of pedaling will charge the batteries of their generator for close to 100 hours.

Foley Square, Nov. 17:

Foley Square: View south on Lafayette St. ca. 4:00 pm

Foley Square: You Cannot Evict an Idea
Having arrived early, before the OWS protesters had made their way from Union Square and other venues further north, I found Foley Square quite empty.  The police were already massing and the barriers were in place to keep the roads clear and the protesters and other pedestrians in the park and on the sidewalks.  This was "the calm before the storm," and one could sense a tremor of anticipation hovering in the air.

The park in the lower photograph, with trees and the lone individual carrying a sign, is actually called Thomas Paine Park.  Foley Square can be seen in the distance, but the two are contiguous and essentially merge into one.

Foley Square:  Triumph of the Human Spirit
To the left, one can see three TV trucks parked on Centre Street, I counted at least twelve TV trucks and vans, each with a newscaster holding a microphone and making their introductory comments before the masses arrived.

Rising in the distance, and the apex of Foley Square, is an abstract sculpture of granite, seventy feet high by Lorenzo Pace titled Triumph of the Human Spirit.  Two interpretations intertwine to give meaning to its form.  One of them evokes the ships that brought African slaves (as well as other settlers) to America.  The other suggests that aspects of its form are inspired by certain Mali headdresses.  The colonnade across the street and to the left, by the way, is the base of the Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse, completed in 1936 and designed by Cass Gilbert.

Foley Square: Parade Marshalls Gathering

Foley square: Parade Marshalls, SEIU members
Just below and to the north of the Pace sculpture, the parade marshalls were gathering.  They are members of several different unions, and in the bottom photograph, we see a group from the powerful SEIU.  In the background is the pedimented NY County Supreme Court building, completed in 1927, designed by Guy Lowell with sculptures by Frederick Warren Allen; among those sculptures are personifications of Law, Equity and Truth--certainly appropriate figures to stand guard, as well as stand up for, the unspoken aims of the OWS protesters who soon will gather below them.

SEIU President, Mary Kay Henry, was arrested as she stepped onto the Brooklyn Bridge in what I have heard was part of a symbolic, prearranged agreement to arrest the first 99 people to enter onto the bridge.  She has said that “this is about our members being united in the belief that things are broken in this country, and we need to come together in numbers to help fix it. That means joining forces with students, neighbors, the unemployed, and working people in the encampments.   This is an act of solidarity with the 99% movement.”

Foley Square: Poetry Assembly
As people begin to assemble from all directions, the mood becomes more lively and the participants more diverse.  Who knew that OWS had a Poetry Assembly?  Yet, here are several of its representatives.  They meet regularly, even nightly.  They share poems, write poems as a group, and accept poems that relate to the OWS movement sent on-line from outside contributors.  They even have compiled a large and growing volume,  the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology

Foley square: Sandra
Just as one is assessing the role of poets in the gathering demonstration, along comes Sandra playing her ribaphone, a junk percussion assemblage of cans, cymbals, washboard and other devices.  A message painted on one can reads "divest...fossil fuels." The latter certainly an appropriate topic for New Yorkers, who enjoy some of the best tap water in the world--at least as long as they can hold off the oil and gas industry from fracking operations in the Marcellus shale. [See my post, "Our Water & Fracking," February 6, 2011]

Foley Square: Jacqueline

Foley Square: Matthew

Foley Square: Gwen

Foley Square: Adrienne
The diversity of participants are evident in these several photographs, taken while there still is space to isolate individuals from the growing crowd.  Jacqueline, who lives in Manhattan and teaches in Queens, makes a wonderfully ironic plea for the topic of her Friday class, the First Amendment.   Matthew, from Brooklyn, reminds the 1% of what they would rather not believe of the 99%:  they will multiply, not die.    Gwen, from the Queens, carries a sign with a similar sentiment that this movement is not going to disappear and which also stresses the need for jobs.    Adrienne provides an elegant statement as part of this, our, 99%.

Foley Square: This Is So Not Over
If there is a common attitude shared by the varied OWS participants, it is that they have no intention of going away or fading out.  This movement, vague and ill-defined as some conservative critics gleefully point out, is not likely to disappear.

Take that one sign above that calls for taxing the rich: when I came home from this march, I turned on MSNBC only to see several of America's wealthiest citizens asking Congress to reinstate the marginal tax rate of 39.6% that they had under President Clinton.  Some 200 of our millionaires have been discussing the need to raise their taxes for several years, but clearly the national Occupy movement influenced them to come forward publicly now.  And while we have known about Warren Buffett, one of the smartest businessmen in the world, independently criticizing his low tax rate, now we also have this group, Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, asking for higher taxes on the rich. 

As the other signs exhibited by this group in the bottom photograph read, "This is SO not over."

Foley Square: Gil & Devon

Foley Square: Pierre & Elise

Foley Square: Casey & Bill
The OWS movement continues to embrace the diversity of issues so evident when it first began [for examples of this diversity, see my post, "Wall Street, September 17: Notes & Observations," dated September 21, 2011].    Gil and his friend Devon (who came down from Boston) carry a free Mumia banner.  Mumia Abu Jamal, an activist and radio journalist, was accused of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer and is among the world's best known death-row inmates.  The glass fa├žade in the background is the United States Court of International Trade, by the way.

Pierre & Elise remind us of the insanity of our Supreme Court decision, giving corporations the same rights as people,  while also reminding us of an event that recently occurred at the APEC world leaders meeting in Honolulu in the sign that reads, "Occupy with Aloha."   This is a reference to the musical entertainer who performed at the APEC formal dinner, Hawaiian slack guitarist Makana.  He very innocently sang subversive songs before our world leaders, including a new one with lyrics such as these:  "You enforce your monopolies with guns/ While sacrificing our daughters and sons/ But certain things belong to everyone/ Your thievery has left the people none."  He then opened his suit jacket to display a tee shirt that read, "Occupy with Aloha."  

Makana dedicated his performance to those who would speak truth to power but were not allowed the opportunity.  He clearly is part of the 99% and is contributing to nudging our country and the world to a better direction.

Casey & Bill make a plea to save our middle class, which is disappearing with the increasing disparity in the distribution of wealth in our country.  They also point out the fact that corruption has not only permeated the operations of Wall Street bankers, but also our Congress.  Of course, these two issues are related.  The income of middle class families has dropped by 21% while, as a CBO study released in October reveals, the top 1% of earners enjoyed an income growth of 275% between 1979 and 2007.  In the meantime, the 1% and their corporate lobbyists have insured that most laws are written in their favor, and they often help members of Congress by writing the laws themselves.

Foley Square: Christian
I just love this sign being displayed by Christian, who lives in Queens.  Our children represent the future of this country. If only  everyone, the 1% included, modified their actions and behavior in relationship to the world that they were leaving for the next generations, our country would certainly be a much better place.

Foley Square: Lisa

Foley Square: Musician Solidarity Council
I encountered a large group of musicians from local 802, the first of which was Lisa, a pianist from Manhattan.  Her sign, "Musicians will not be Silent," conveys the obvious fact that music is about sound and auditory experience.  But when extended into the political sphere, the issue of silence reminds us of the dangers of complacency and remaining silent.  This is one of the major tenets of holocaust teaching.  It also is a constant among the major figures of social justice, whether Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King or Elie Wiesel, who stated, "to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all."

The blue sign in the lower photograph is taken from a speech Barack Obama gave on August 2, 2008:  "When special interests put their thumb on the scale, and distort the free market, the people who compete by the rules come in last."  The Musicians Solidarity Council has participated in order to support the goals of OWS as well as "to defend the rights and livelihoods of all."

Foley Square: Quoting Martin Luther King

As 6:00 pm approaches, Foley Square has filled up.  There were around 32,500 people according to police estimates.

The white sign visible in the center of the lower photograph quotes Martin Luther King in a speech titled "Beyond Vietnam," which he gave at the Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967.  The quotation reads, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

Ignoring the wisdom of MLK, Congressional Republicans have been attempting to cut social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  Now that their latest ploy, the "supercommittee," failed to come up with ways to pare $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, as they were charged, automatic spending cuts will kick in; these cuts are to be evenly divided between domestic (social) programs and defense.  Of course, now Republicans like John McCain (R, AZ), Lindsey Graham (R, SC) and Buck McKeon (R, CA) are talking of reneging on any cuts to defense spending.  No surprise here:  most reasonable and clear-minded people are painfully aware that conservative Republicans began suffering a spiritual death more than a decade ago.

Foley Square: 3 sections of a line of silent protesters sponsored by South Asia Solidarity and War Resisters
On the topic of war spending, the most powerful statement came from a line-up of over twenty people.  Standing in silence, mouths sealed by either an American flag sticker or a Chase bank sticker, they commanded attention while creating separation from the milling crowd.  Each held a sign indicating the place and date of a different deployment of US armed troops around the world.  A shocking statistic in support of their statement is that, since 9/11, the United States has spent at least $4.4 trillion on military operations abroad.

The War Resisters League has been active since 1923 and today is among the leading voices of the global anti-war movement.  It allied with the South Asia Solidarity Initiative in mid-October of this year to participate in OWS actions.  They call on the people of the world to resist empire, rebuild our world and recreate solidarity.

Foley Square: United Auto Workers Union representatives

Foley Square: Schools Not Wars

Foley Square: CUNY representatives

Foley Square: Let's Be Realists
UAW, School teachers, CUNY faculty and staff, and Verizon workers were among other groups that had gathered for the march into Brooklyn.

Foley Square: Crowd Massing in Preparation of Marching to the Bridge

Foley Square: Crowd Begins Moving South Towards the Bridge
These two photographs give a sense of the density of people.  It took me an hour to walk from the south end of Foley Square to City Hall Park, usually a two-minute walk.  As much as I would have liked to document the crossing of the Brooklyn Bridge, cold, wind, hunger and the fact that I already had been there for four hours lured me to take the subway home to the Bronx.

Foley Square: Death as Retirement Plan
Several people climbed onto the parapets and ledges of buildings to watch the procession, much as this young fellow has done.  His sign reads:  "Thanks to Wall Street the only retirement plan left is DEATH!!!"

Foley Square: Police Barrier & Mounted Police Reserves
As we approach City Hall Park and near the Bridge entrance, we can see mounted police on the side street and in the background. But they were restrained, and many of the police at the barriers were willing to engage in conversation and answer questions, which has not always been the case in NYC street demonstrations.  And this is as it ought to be.  After all, New York's finest are part of the 99%.

Foley Square: Proud to be an American

Foley Square: Vox Clamantis In Tenebris

Foley Square: Make This Nation One Again

I offer three final photographs of the day:  A man wrapping himself in the flag--it's just a wonderful photo;   a cry from the darkness that all progressives and liberals hope will happen--will the candidate they supported three years ago finally pay attention to them and their needs?;   and the hope of so many--that we can become a single, unified nation once more--that we become the 100%, not merely the 99%.

To quote Cornel West's article in the November, 2011 issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal, "Our movement--leaderless and leaderful--is a soulful expression of a moral outrage at the ugly corporate greed that pushes our society and world to the brink of catastrophe....we intend to sustain our order to create a better world through a deep democratic revolution."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

David Brooks and Fracking: Marketplace Trumps Environment

On November 3, 2011, David Brooks wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Shale Gas Revolution.”  Brooks begins this argument for large-scale fracking by championing George P. Mitchell, who “fought through waves of skepticism and opposition to extract natural gas from shale.”  Having softened his readers by appealing to their pride in American individualism and ingenuity with this reference to one of the inventors of the process of hydraulic fracturing, Brooks boldly claims that “the fracking innovation is game-changing.  It transforms the energy marketplace.”

However, since Brooks is not among those many Republicans who are in denial about global warming, he must take pains to assure us that natural gas “is the cleanest of the fossil fuels” and that enabling more fracking operations will provide “hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”   In other words, he views fracking as a  panacea for much of America’s present difficulties, and Brooks’ leaves no doubt about the importance of extracting natural gas from our shale deposits: “It would be a crime if we squandered this blessing,” he writes in his concluding sentence.

But, I get ahead of myself and of Brooks’ argument.  Before this conclusion, he is compelled to acknowledge today’s acrimonious political climate.   In his words, “the U.S. is polarized between ‘drill, baby, drill’ conservatives, who seem suspicious of most regulation, and some environmentalists, who seem to regard fossil fuels as morally corrupt and imagine we can switch to wind and solar overnight.”  Although this statement appears to offer a balanced assessment of the two sides, I suggest that a closer reading reveals a subtly biased skewing.

Brooks’ Republican Heart [read my post, “David Brooks and Dr. Strangelove,” July 26, 2011], through careful word choice, makes the conservatives seem more reasonable and the (liberal) environmentalists more radical.   In truth, however, those “‘drill, baby, drill’ conservatives” are hardly so accommodating as to be “suspicious of most regulation;” they reflexively rail against any and all regulation.   Meanwhile, nobody is saying that fossil fuels are “morally corrupt.”  They are saying that the continued reliance on fossil fuels for energy is endangering our world and contributing enormously to global warming, and we need to find other solutions before we pass the tipping point.

The proponents for oil and gas drilling may be greedy and complacent, but not “morally corrupt.”   This term is normally bandied about by members of the religious right, not the progressive left or, in Brooks’ words “some environmentalists.”  If the progressive left were to use the term “moral corruption,” their most likely target would be the 1% that our various Occupy Wall Street groups are bringing to the forefront of our nation’s awareness.   Interestingly, even a more conservative commentator like Jim Cramer of CNBC admitted enormous corruption among those in control of our financial system (in an August 21, 2008 video that is no longer viewable).   Another target might be Alan Greenspan, and after reading Chapter 2 of Matt Taibbi’s book, Griftopia, I can hardly see Greenspan as anything other than “morally corrupt.”   Then, of course, among the biggest targets are Bush and Cheney, who got us into a deadly war through deception and lies--the height of moral corruption.

But, again, I diverge from the topic of hydraulic fracturing. Fracking has poisoned water supplies, killed livestock where its toxic chemicals have percolated to the surface, destabilized the landscape, created more greenhouse emissions than burning coal, and undermined investment in renewable technologies.   As a concession to its recorded dangers (think of those surreal videos of flaming tap water), Brooks seems to blame a few bad apples. He bemoans the fact that “rogue companies have screwed up and there have been instances of contamination,” and that “a few sloppy companies could discredit the whole sector.”

Igniting Kitchen Tap Water Contaminated with Fracking Fluids

Haven’t we heard this argument before? “A few sloppy companies” is the corporate equivalent of “a few bad apples,” the words used to isolate the lowly soldiers at Abu Ghraib in Iraq from the larger military system.  Today we remember the privates and specialists who were sentenced, Lynndie England and Charles Graner, but forget the colonels and generals, their military superiors who remained insulated.

But when it comes to oil drilling, there are no “rogue companies,” as Brooks would have us believe, unless maybe all the drilling companies are “rogue!” After all, who were the “rogue companies,” the “few sloppy companies” responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?    British Petroleum, which is the fourth largest corporation of any sort in the world today? Transocean Ltd., owner of the world’s largest fleet of offshore deepwater drilling rigs?    Halliburton, the world’s second largest oilfield services corporation?  You can’t get any bigger that this.

These are the “generals” of the oil production system, and clearly not even they can be trusted to do their job properly.   Maybe the entire oil extraction industry is “rogue.” It is very possible that they all are “sloppy companies” who cut corners in order to save money. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the report issued by the White House oil spill commission stated that "the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur." It concluded that BP, Transocean and Halliburton all were responsible, albeit in different ways.

Since the presence of major corporations such as BP and Halliburton is hardly a guarantee of safe practices, David Brooks’ implication that a very few “rogue companies” are to blame for past fracking accidents should not assuage the public’s distrust of the companies or of the fracking process and its environmental hazards.   To put it as simply as possible, a region that loses its safe water supply has lost its viability.

There are so many environmental and health hazards to fracking, and David Brooks doesn’t so much as allude to any of them. Besides the toxic mix of chemicals injected into the earth along with the water [see my post, “Our Water and Fracking,” Sunday, February 6, 2011], shale deposits are rich in radium, so the fracking fluids will also absorb and leak uranium;  they also will leak radon that is present in the shale;  then, too, carbon dioxide and methane emissions for natural gas is claimed to be at least as dangerous as that for coal (the dirtiest of the fossil fuels).  In fact, because carbon dioxide emissions from the production of shale oil and shale gas are so high, the European Union is warning against any oil shale development.

And finally, there is the water itself.   Fracking uses enormous quantities of fresh water, usually taken from nearby streams, ponds and rivers. With every well fracked, 4 to 9 million gallons of water are injected into the ground (along with a toxic mix of chemicals). Since a single well can be fracked up to 12 separate times, it could consume 100 million gallons of fresh water in its lifetime.   An average person drinks ca. 79,000 gallons of water in a lifetime. Therefore, the 100 million gallons of freshwater that a single well could consume over its operational life would supply a lifetime of water to 5,050 people.  Multiply this by the 400,000 new fracking wells that are planned in the next decade, and we could supply a lifetime of water to over 2.02 billion people.

Which, I ask, is the better use of our diminishing supply of this crucial resource? Do we continue to waste precious resources on non-renewable forms of energy, or do we work towards a renewable energy future?

As an antidote to David Brooks’ flawed examination of fracking as a way to mine natural gas from our shale deposits, watch the very brief video trailer from Gasland, the movie by Josh Fox.   Also, watch the video titled “Fracking Hell: The Untold Story,” a report on our Marcellus shale produced by Earth Focus, a British ecology group.   Only then should you make up your mind about which direction would be the wisest to embrace.

This brief appendix summarizes a random sampling of the hundreds of accidents that have occurred as a result of fracking in America. These examples came from the study by Craig Michaels, "Fractured Communities: Case Studies of the Environmental Impacts of Industrial Gas Drilling," Riverkeeper, September 2010, which one can download as a pdf document.

1). On June 3, 2010, improper well control procedures led to a gas well blowout in Clearfield County, PA, leading to the release of nearly a million gallons of toxic wastewater that polluted two high quality waters, the Alex Branch and the Little Laurel Run . The company, EOG Resources, from Midland, TX, has been on Fortune’s list of 100 best companies to work for for five consecutive years.

2). On April 1, 2010, a tank and an open pit containing fracking fluid caught fire in Hopewell Township, PA, shooting flames at least 100 feet high. For days earlier, residents complained of foul odors and a 480-acre farm suffered soil and water contamination. The company, Atlas Energy, has since become Chevron-Atlas Energy, Inc. with a merger in February, 2011.

3). On December 15, 2007, fracking in the Clinton sandstone formation caused natural gas to migrate through fractures and into a private house in Bainbridge, OH, causing a major explosion inside the house. The drilling also led to extensive water contamination in the region. The company, Ohio Valley Energy Systems, is part of Hoovers (a D&B Company)

Another Example of Polluted Water Igniting
4). In January, 2009, methane gas was migrating to the surface in Dimock, PA. One water well exploded, and at least nine other wells reported elevated levels of methane, four of these with a threat of explosion. Elsewhere, the same company was cited for spills that polluted a wetland and caused a fish kill in Stevens Creek.  The same company also trucked 44,000 barrels of wastewater to a facility in the suburbs of Philadlphia, and this water was discharged into a creek that provided drinking water to 17 municipalities serving over 300,000 residents.  The company, Cabot Oil & Gas, is based in Houston, TX. On Dimock, see also this revealing video at the bottom of the 4th page of the Vanity Fair article, "A Colossal Fracking Mess."

5). In 2010, in Louisiana, seventeen head of cattle died a painful death, bellowing, bleeding and foaming at the mouth after drinking water that had flowed from a natural gas well.  The company, Chesapeake Energy, based in Oklahoma City OK, is the second largest producer of natural gas in the United States.  Chesapeake Energy also caused this fracking fluid spill in Bradford County, PA.

6).  Between June and July, 2009, the city of Cleburne, TX suffered at least seven earthquakes; it had not registered an earthquake ever before in its 142-year history. The cause has been linked to the injection of wastewater from fracking operations. The company, again, was Chesapeake Energy.

Containers of Fracking Fluid