Archive for the ‘Disaster Relief’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am


Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.


World Bank, Caribbean Nations to Discuss Natural Disaster Insurance Fund

In Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Hurricane Katrina, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Land rights, US Politics on February 27, 2007 at 4:00 pm

The World Bank and Caribbean nations are exploring the creation of a new fund to insure island nations against hurricanes and other natural disasters. Representatives from 18 Caribbean countries gathered Monday in Washington to discuss the bank’s first program to offer the insurance, which would provide countries with immediate liquidity in the event of a natural disaster. Each participating country will pay $1 million (euro760,000) annually in exchange for up to $30 million (euro22.8 million) in coverage, according to World Bank officials.

The World Bank hopes to collect some $50 million (euro38 million) from donors, including the European Union, France and Canada, which will send representatives to the conference. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz [1] [2] will preside over the talks. The bank aims to make the insurance available for the upcoming hurricane season, which starts in June.

UN: Pro-poor mortgages to curb growth of slums

In Children and Youth, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Environment, Housing, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Land rights, Laws & Regulation, Progressive Politics, Technology, Urban Planning / Space on November 14, 2006 at 2:24 pm

From the UN late last month:

Mortgages that allow poor people to buy housing will soon be needed to curb the worldwide growth of slums and improve living standards, the head of the United Nations agency charged with promoting socially and environmentally sustainable housing has warned, saying that her organization has already begun testing various financing methods… But she said that there were some signs of progress, noting in particular that new rules, effective since August, meant that UN-HABITAT could finally act as a catalyst, enabling countries to meet the slum upgrading and water and sanitation targets of 2015.

First off, has there been a sudden crisis in the world’s urban slumdwelling population that is in such an emergent need for an innovative tool, but only in need of this tool “soon?” I guess the living standards are deteriorating, but at a slowth enough speed that they’re not needed now… soon will do.

I agree that the expansion “pro-poor” financing options will be useful to the “poor,” but enforcing contracts/mortgages can also be a dangerous tool.

Let’s pull this string through:

Living in a slum, oftentimes on squatted land, and then, as this articles alludes to, water and utility infrastructure improvements shift people off squatted land and onto land where they will be formally recorded and deeded. If they’re not shifted, they are at the very least recorded and deeded. (Here’s a post about utility work and land displacement.)

This deed is then exchanged for a mortgage, be it a “pro-poor” mortgage or what seems under this framework to be an “anti-poor” or perhaps “pro-wealthy” mortgage. Times get tough though because, say, unfair subsidies artificially deflate the prices of the goods these “pro-poor” borrowers can get for their crops. These “pro-poor” homeowners fall behind on their mortgage and while they are unable to sell their goods in an open economy (due to maladjusted subsidies) they are certainly going to tossed from their home, which will then be sold on an open market.

“Pro-poor” mortgage means nothing unless the strongest protections are reserved for the homeowner, not the lender. Shift the “pro” in “pro-poor” to be short for “protection.”

And don’t think this call for protection is paternalistic… it’s actually self-serving.

We all need protections brought back a bit more to the borrowers of the world; the scales are tipped too far in favor of “investors’ rights” at the expense of human rights, in my not-so-modest opinion.
If this were in fact for the urban poor the alarm for this innovative tool would have sounded to have it developed NOW; the call was made for this tool to be developed “soon.” This is for investors, not for the world’s “pro-poor” urban slumdwellers.

Where they reaaally belong…

In Disaster Relief, Environment, Hurricane Katrina, Misc., Urban Planning / Space on November 10, 2006 at 10:28 pm

Thanks again, Matt Wuerker!

World Health Org Gets New Head Honcho

In Disaster Relief, Environment, Freedom of Speech, HIV/SIDA, International politics, International Public Health on November 10, 2006 at 12:12 am

Dr Margaret Chan is the new head of the WHO. The Chinese health expert, who came to prominence during the Bird Flu and SARS scares in China, says she will butt heads with her native country if need be. One bio is available on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (it’s English).

Amish Non-Violence: A reason to turn off the tv?

In civil, Disaster Relief, Education, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Progressive Politics, religion & politics, Terrorism on October 12, 2006 at 3:56 pm

I posted on the Amish just yesterday, but another post is in order. I didn’t offer a description of the incident then, so I’ve included one here, followed by a comment that makes you wonder: how would I feel if I turned off the tv?

A description, from the Chicago Tribune:

On Oct. 2, a deranged gunman burst into a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa. He lined up 11 young girls and shot each of them, killing five, before taking his own life.

Witnesses say the oldest girl, 13-year-old Marian Fisher, bravely said, “Shoot me first” in an attempt to buy time for the younger students.

Then, her 11-year-old sister, Barbie, who would survive with wounds in her shoulder, hand and leg, said, “Shoot me next.”

Comment from Axis of Logic:

Vengeance and punishment are celebrated by the media – from the corporate newsrooms to evening television shows and Hollywood movies. Into this culture comes a shocking message of forgiveness from a gentle oasis where compassion, forgiveness and peace still reign – an Amish community that does not know television, Hollywood movies or the mainstream news media and where acts of violence are not seen and talk of retribution is not heard.

If you don’t know about the Amish community’s acts of forgiveness in response, read here.

Another (completely different!) way of approaching things…

In Afghanistan, civil, Disaster Relief, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Progressive Politics, religion & politics, Terrorism on October 11, 2006 at 8:02 pm

From Diane Butler Bass’ post, ‘What if the Amish Were in Charge of The War on Terror?’, on Jim Wallis’ blog, God’s Politics.

Their practice of forgiveness unfolded in four public acts over the course of a week. First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own children’s funerals. Next, they requested that all relief monies intended for Amish families be shared with Roberts and her children. And, finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, more than 30 members of the Amish community attended the funeral of the killer.

Mos Def’s Run in With the Law

In Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Hurricane Katrina, Race, US Politics on September 6, 2006 at 11:53 pm

mos def

I’m a little late on this one (even though i did see it on the news after it happened) but Mos Def got arrested outside of the VMAs last week for putting on an unauthorized public performance.  Apparently he had requested to perform at the award show, got denied, and decided to set up his own stage outside.  The song he performed was called “Katrina Clap” and has to do with Hurricane katrina and the racism, economics, and politics surrounding it.

Here’s a video of the performace and the arrest.   Here’s an actual music video for the song.  Both are a must see.

I think Mos Def deserves an award for “person of the week” or something like that.

Here are some of the lyrics as shown on mosdef.funky4u.com

Listen homie, It’s dollar day in New Orleans,
It’s where there water everywhere and people dead in the street (eet eets),
And Mr. President he ‘bout that cash,
He got a policy for handlin’ the bruthas and trash,
And if you poor you black,
I laugh a laugh, they won’t give when you ask,
You betta off on crack, dead or in jail, or with a gun in Iraq (a aq),
And it’s as simple as that,
No opinion my man it’s mathematical fact,
Listen, a million poor since 2004,
And they got illions and killions to waste on the War,
And make you question what the taxes is for,
Or the cost to reinforce the broke levee wall,
Tell the boss he shouldn’t be the boss anymore

South Africa Faces “Grave Constitutional Crisis;” Minister of Health Continues Breaking the Law

In Children and Youth, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, HIV/SIDA, Housing, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., New York City, Race, Sexuality, The War On Drugs on August 30, 2006 at 6:40 pm

[Lucio Verani is a volunteer for Friends of TAC-North America and works as an administrative assistant at The Rockefeller University. Previously, Lucio volunteered for TAC in South Africa, interned with the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center and worked for the National School of Public Health in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He can be contacted at lucio_verani@yahoo.com.]

Two developments this week have highlighted the serious incompetence of the South African government’s response to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

First, the South African government is illegally withholding AIDS treatment from its prisoners. The South African Constitution states that healthcare is a right, and based on this, the South African government was ordered on June 26th, to implement emergency treatment programs in Durban’s Westville Prison. The government then appealed this judgment, but the judge, agreeing with the Treatment Action Campaign(TAC) and the AIDS Law Project, handed an interim-order (valid until the government’s original appeal could be ruled upon), which forced government to begin implementing an emergency treatment plan by August 14. The government then illegally appealed this interim-order, and on Monday, August 28th, the courts once again ruled against the government, saying:

If the refusal to comply does not result from instruction from the first respondent, the Government of the Republic of South Africa, then the remaining respondents must be disciplined, either administratively or in an employment context, for their delinquency. If the Government of the Republic of South Africa has given such an instruction then we face a grave constitutional crisis involving a serious threat to the doctrine of the separation of powers. Should that continue the members of the judiciary will have to consider whether their oath of office requires them to continue on the bench.”

Secondly, on Tuesday, August 29th, South Africa’s Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala Msimang (commonly known as Manto), was condemned by the South African Medical Association for making illegal and unscientific pronouncements. Manto is a lunatic that deserves to be fired. She is equivocating on the supposed “issue” of proper nutrition versus access to timely HIV medications. Manto highlights the side-effects of antiretrovirals (for treating AIDS), talks about the benefits of nutrition and then says it is each person’s democratic right to choose if they will maintain a healthy diet or try to get on antiretrovirals. Recently, US Senator Barack Obama met with members of TAC in the Khayeltisha township of Cape Town and afterwards declared that “[O]n the treatment side the information being provided by the minister of health is not accurate… It is not an issue of Western science versus African science, it is just science and it’s not right [what Manto is doing].” In addition to offering her poorly informed sisters and brothers this “false-choice” between proper nutrition and HIV treatment, the Minister has refused to distance herself from HIV/AIDS denialists and people who sell multivitamins or traditional remedies as cures for AIDS.

TAC recently held an international Day of Action calling for the Health Minister to be fired and for prisoners to receive treatment. TAC’s explanation of their demands can be found here. The document provides a brief overview of why Minister Manto must be fired and then tried in court for the culpable homicide of one of the Westville prisoners, who died after receiving treatment far too late. According to TAC and the AIDS Law Project, at least four of the 14 remaining plaintiffs in prison are in critical condition, and their lawyers have been denied access to them for the past two weeks. Please e-mail, news-subscribe@tac.org.za in order to sign-up for the TAC Newsletter, the source of most of this information. This newsletter will help you support the most credible HIV/AIDS advocacy organization in the world. Until South Africa’s politicians take the lead on this issue, it will be up to international civil society to support South African civil society in leading the way. Your help is desperately needed.

Finally, I would like people to read the below chart on HIV treatment rates in Africa and the accompanying explanation. This conclusively shows that the South African government is lying when they claim to run the world’s most comprehensive AIDS program.


UNAIDS/WHO estimates

People receiving
treatment in
December 2005

People needing
treatment in 2005

Treatment coverage

Under 25% coverage: RED

Under 50% coverage: YELLOW

Above 50% coverage: GREEN




















Burkina Faso












Cape Verde


Central African Republic












Côte d’Ivoire




Democratic Republic
of the Congo












Equatorial Guinea




























Guinea Bissau
















Libyan Arab Jamahiriya














































Sao Tome and Principe








Sierra Leone







South Africa
























United Republic of Tanzania












“[Gregg Gonsalves from the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa used UNAIDS/WHO statistics to code] countries with greater than 50% coverage in GREEN (i.e. Namibia, Botswana and Uganda); countries with less than 50% (but more than 25%) coverage in YELLOW (i.e. Algeria, Benin, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia, and Zambia) and those with less than 25% coverage in RED (i.e. South Africa and all the rest).  So when the Health Minister of South Africa says her country is treating more people than any other country in the region, she is correct in terms of absolute numbers, but South Africa is not out of the RED yet-it is behind all the countries in YELLOW AND GREEN and even within those countries with less than 25% coverage, still Kenya, Gabon, Cameroon, Burkina Faso are ahead of South Africa!  That means 19 countries in the region are doing better than South Africa in terms of the percentage of people on ART who are in need of it. Finally, South Africa has the greatest absolute number of people in need of treatment (i.e. 983,000 people), dwarfing any other countries' number waiting for treatment with the closest rival being Nigeria with 636,000 people still in need of ART.” –posted by Gregg on the Health GAP list-serve, August 26, 2006.
To subscribe to the Health GAP list-serve, send an email to info@healthgap.org

Privatization of Disaster

In Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2006, Election 2008, Environment, Housing, Hurricane Katrina, International Public Health, Labor, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on August 30, 2006 at 10:37 am

“The Red Cross has just announced a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. When the next hurricane hits, it will be a co-production of Big Aid and Big Box. This, apparently, is the lesson learned from the government’s calamitous response to Hurricane Katrina: Businesses do disaster better.”

This is how Naomi Klein starts a piece she wrote earlier this week on disaster relief. But she goes on to show that just because Wal-Mart may do disaster relief better, the end result isn’t better for taxpayers and the country as a whole.

She describes privatization of disaster relief as follows:

Largely under the public radar, billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction of a privatized disaster-response infrastructure…

I call it the Disaster Capitalism Complex. Whatever you might need in a serious crunch, these contractors can provide it: generators, water tanks, cots, port-a-potties, mobile homes, communications systems, helicopters, medicine, men with guns.

This state-within-a-state has been built almost exclusively with money from public contracts, including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers). Yet it is all privately owned; taxpayers have absolutely no control over it or claim to it. So far, that reality hasn’t sunk in because when these companies are getting their bills paid by government contracts, the Disaster Capitalism Complex provides its services to the public free of charge.

But here’s the catch: The U.S. government is going broke, in no small part thanks to this kind of loony spending. The national debt is $8-trillion; the federal budget deficit is at least $260-billion. That means that sooner rather than later, the contracts are going to dry up. And no one knows this better than the companies themselves. Ralph Sheridan, chief executive of Good Harbor Partners, one of hundreds of new counter-terrorism companies, explains that “expenditures by governments are episodic and come in bubbles.” Insiders call it the “homeland security bubble.”

When it bursts, firms such as Bechtel, Fluor and Blackwater will lose their primary revenue stream. They will still have all their high-tech gear giving them the ability to respond to disasters — while the government will have let that precious skill whither away — but now they will rent back the tax-funded infrastructure at whatever price they choose.

Does this mean that the next time a disaster hits, we will be even less equipped to handle it? It looks like that may be the case.

Meanwhile, in other disaster relief funding news, the Washington Post reports today that FEMA is trying to cut corners and hold back funding on some of the repair and renewal projects in New Orleans and other areas damaged by Katrina. They report:

Someone had to pay to remove 3,000 dead trees in New Orleans. The trees, insisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency, couldn’t have been killed by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters because they weren’t toppled to a certain angle. New Orleans would have to pay…

Through hundreds of such disputes large and small, the most costly disaster in U.S. history is fast becoming its most contentious, with appeals and disputes worth nearly a billion dollars bogging down repairs of critical public systems and delaying the return of residents.

Current and former officials at all levels blame FEMA workers’ inexperience with eligibility rules, weaknesses in U.S. disaster laws and inconsistent treatment by Congress for much of the wrangling.

But why are the workers inexperienced? Well, that sort of leads us back to Naomi Klein’s article. The WaPo article describes the situation as follows:

Elsewhere [outisde of New Orleans] local officials say a parade of new FEMA officials — the overstretched agency rotates workers every 90 days or so and relies on temporary employees as well — leads to constantly changing decisions on project approvals and paperwork.

One reason for mistakes is that FEMA has suffered a “brain drain” of top officials familiar with the complex rules to retirements and agency upheaval in recent years, said David Fukutomi, a FEMA consultant who is serving as a spokesman….

The state of Louisiana had only 14 disaster recovery employees before the storm and is relying on 173 contract workers provided by James Lee Witt Associates, the firm headed by the Clinton administration FEMA director, to help it manage the process, Jones said. FEMA has more than 700 people in the Gulf states working on the program, about 90 percent of them interim or contract workers, Fukutomi said.

So in summary, privatization leads to debt, unskilled workers, chaos, disputes, and a dependency on private companies to save us when something bad happens again. And when something does happen, the best services will go to people who can pay the most.

To top it off, disaster relief isn’t the only industry that is being sold off by the government to private companies. You can add border patrol, healthcare, homeland security, and more to the list. Naomi Klein puts it best when she says:

The model, of course, is the U.S. healthcare system, in which the wealthy can access best-in-class treatment in spa-like environments while 46-million Americans lack health insurance. As emergency-response, the model is already at work in the global AIDS pandemic: private-sector prowess helped produce lifesaving drugs (with heavy public subsidies), then set prices so high that the vast majority of the world’s infected cannot afford treatment.

If that is the corporate world’s track record on slow-motion disasters, why should we expect different values to govern fast-moving disasters, like hurricanes or even terrorist attacks?