Meanwhile, in Berlin…

Busy days these past couple of months…too busy to spend any time up here really, which can happen when you’re setting up a job and a new apartment cross the country while closing out another job you’ve been working for three years – and at the same time, just for the fuck of it, planning a trip to Germany and Denmark immediately after the move.

And so I’ve moved.

And so I’ve been to Germany and Denmark.

And now I’m home again, back in Chicago.

And did you know, in Berlin, they have a Ramones Museum? They do…and inside this museum and cafe they have a wall which has been signed by hundreds of musicians who’ve been to the museum to pay their respects and on this wall, right in the middle of it all, I found this:

IMG_19800105_211049

Have a nice day…and see you soon.

– Drake

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A reaction to the reckless…

You still suck...
A horrible, no good, very bad “green” company…

 

Yesterday, Judge Carl Barbier ruled British Petroleum was guilty of gross negligence in the lead-up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, stating BP made “profit-driven decisions” during the drilling of the well and “these instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risk.” Barbier went on to say that due to the “egregious” nature of BP’s actions, if legal precedent had permitted, he would have found it appropriate to tack on punitive damages in the case.

British Petroleum, feeling justice had run its due course, nodded solemnly and agreed it was time to truly make things right by dropping any further legal proceedings and began to immediately pay claims again. They also issued a heart-felt apology to all it had harmed through it’s actions over the past years.

Right.

No…instead BP immediately threatened to appeal the ruling and called the decision “erroneous,” while insinuating the court isn’t being impartial.

Now that sounds more like the oil company we all know and loathe and so, a few reactions to these events:

1. The immediate would of course be to simply express towards BP, “Good. Deal with it you responsibility shirking, PR department hiding greed-merchants. You put profit first, ruined many and you get what you deserve.”

2. A more thoughtful response could simply be wonderment…is it possible that a mega-corporation is finally being held legally responsible for their actions, and in a way that actually helps those the company has harmed? The increased fines from this ruling will benefit coastal restoration projects, and coastal restoration is good for all in Louisiana. The oil spill did much, much damage to the coast, to the wildlife, to businesses and to people. British Petroleum made a lot of promises when this was headline news, but appears to be trying to extricate themselves from their mess as much as possible now that the media has gone. This ruling puts them financially back on the hook for their reckless behavior in a way that can make a strong impact in coastal restoration.

3. BP will appeal, of course. Why not? Nothing for them to lose here in an appeal process, nothing at all. Exxon dragged the whole Valdez thing out for how long, twenty years? So of course British Petroleum will do the same. And we haven’t even gotten to the legal arguments about how many barrels of oil were actually spilled, there being a vast difference between BP’s estimate and the government’s. With the fine potentially being $4,300 dollars a barrel, there will be a huge financial difference.

4. The government could respond to BP’s endless appeals by putting financial pressure on the company. As I wrote before, the government has some leverage, for while it is certainly BP’s right to fight each and every legal ruling with time consuming appeals while people go broke, the environment continues to degrade and the coast disappears, it is also the government’s right to step in and say, “You know what? That oil spill thing has become so contentious and we just don’t want to muddy the waters any further so, BP? Yeah, we’re just going to suspend your Gulf oil leases until this is all over, settled, until everybody’s happy and then we can move forward again as partners, in good faith.”

But for now, British Petroleum continues to drill in the Gulf while at the same time play the victim in the aftermath of their own, created destruction. They say the judge is not impartial, the people are demanding too much, we can’t be blamed for the decline in oyster harvest; there isn’t enough proof. And this goes on and on and on…all while they maintain how they’re a wonderful and even “green” company who is nothing more but your humble steward doing everything they can to right what’s wrong.

It’s bullshit…like BofA, like Chase: BP’s just another company doing some, but not enough to fix the problems they created when they put profit before all. British Petroleum should, and can do a lot more by dropping their appeals, the delay tactics and any pretense at being a victim and pay up, make good on their promises.

Much appreciation to Judge Carl Barbier for an important ruling, one that might go a ways in making sure this actually happens.

Have a nice day.

Nine…

katrinawaterlineplaque01I wasn’t living in New Orleans when the levees failed, I was one year in on my first time in San Francisco, watching it all unfold on television just like most people not in New Orleans…the anger is still clear, as is the disbelief.

Respect and remembering those who lost and those who struggled…still struggle. And a recognition of those who still have been unable to get home. I know someone out here in SF constantly torn between going back to a place that triggers so much trauma versus staying in a place that has never been home, no matter how much he tries to make it one…

Best to him, best to all, and may those still seeking resolution nine years later, find it.

Have a nice day.

Suspend British Petroleum’s Gulf Leases, again…

Nothing is over...
Nothing’s over…

It was over four years ago that British Petroleum unleashed their disaster in the Gulf Coast and for four years we’ve all been hearing about how BP will not rest until they “make it right” for the Gulf and all affected by the spilled oil from the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed eleven people and have harmed tens of thousands more. We hear it. We hear it all the time. To this day, the commercials play out across television, radio, on billboards and on the internet, yet what they say is still far from the truth.

Things in the Gulf are not all right.

Instead, they have become litigious and a company that’s reaped so much profit is now spending on so many lawyers to sift through their agreements for technicalities while disputing new environmental evidence, practices that though they may follow the letter of the law and allow those at BP to sleep at night, damages the spirit of their agreements with a region repeatedly violated, turning this four year old, ongoing disaster into nightmares for those across the Gulf Coast.

So, maybe it’s time for their leases to again be suspended by the EPA until they stop fighting, accept responsibility and truly make amends not only for the known damages, but for any succeeding damage to both people and the environment not yet uncovered. Suspend their leases until their following courses of action change:

The Supreme Court Appeal

In 2012, British Petroleum agreed to a settlement with people harmed by their oil spill, an arrangement with a complex methodology that takes into account a business’s location within certain zones along the Gulf Coast and a basic formula for lost revenues and recovery. Since this agreement, BP has been challenging that some of the methodology’s covered businesses couldn’t have been harmed by the spill and has argued, repeatedly in front of US District Court Judge Carl Barbier’s court that these businesses should not be paid. Barbier has consistently and repeatedly maintained that BP entered into an agreement and should abide, that BP agreed to pay businesses according to this formula as part of a compromise and it would be disingenuous to now try to pick apart the methodology they agreed to in his courtroom.

But BP is not backing down. They instead are asking the Supreme Court to protect them from their own decisions, from their own agreements and word will come down in October from the Supreme Court on whether they will hear this appeal. It’s four years after the spill. The national media is gone from the story. British Petroleum wants out of their agreement to “make things right.”

The Medical Settlements

When the Deepwater Horizon exploded, workers were hired by the thousandfold to clean up the oil, lay and replace boom, whatever was necessary to get as much of the oil out of the water as quickly as possible. Many of these clean-up workers didn’t have protective equipment and many non-oil clean-up workers also were affected by the toxins, just by living in the area or being on or near the water. This has understandably left a lot of people in the Gulf sick, and many more could become sick later. British Petroleum is now interpreting their medical settlements not by what will make people whole for these medical complaints, but by when they were diagnosed with their ailments…a calender date that has little to do with the severity of any medical consequences and everything to do with how much British Petroleum wants to pay to settle a bill for any possible medical care.

Again, it’s four years after the spill and the national media is gone from the story. British Petroleum wants to alter their agreement and it would seem, make things just right enough for their bottom line.

Ongoing Environmental Damage

And the oil is not gone, neither is the chemical dispersant they used. Environmental damage to the Gulf Coast continues with record dolphin and sea turtle deaths as well as extensive damage to coral that show the oil spill’s footprint is both deeper and wider than previously thought. Last year, beach monitors discovered more than 46,000 thousand tar balls and over one and a half tons of submerged tar mats, and there is also evidence that the “quickly evaporating” dispersant BP dumped all over the Gulf is still there, found in tests all over the region. In addition, the oyster situation is grim with thousands of acres of oyster beds producing less than a third of the pre-oil spill harvest. Also troubling is the complete lack of oyster larvae on all of these decimated reefs, places where the oil came ashore and would seem to forecast that the oyster yields will not improve any time soon.

When confronted with any of this evidence BP sticks to standard blame shifting, citing possible other causes or saying the evidence shows nothing conclusive, a shrug of the shoulders from the latest BP spokesman before moving on and really, why not? It would appear British Petroleum is counting on the nation no longer paying attention to how, or how not concerned BP really is with the Gulf and besides, didn’t you see the commercials, the bright and shining faces, the pastoral natural scenes of sunsets and water and birds and boats and…

BP is doing quite alright, thank you

Just ask their shareholders, who must be feeling pretty good about their investment these days, especially when BP recently came to an agreement with the EPA and are now resuming business with the Federal Government in the Gulf. In fact, at the most recent auction, British Petroleum was the “highest bidder on 24 offshore oil and gas blocks out of the 31 properties it pursued in auction.” This to go along with increased dividends for shareholders, several new oil rigs coming online and a 10% increased stock price projection based on their 2nd quarter earnings in 2014.

Bully.

So then…BP is fighting Deepwater Horizon business and medical settlements in court, is shifting blame on the environmental destruction they caused, the deaths to sea turtles, coral, dolphins and the decimation of thousands of oyster reefs all while minimizing the amount of oil and dispersant still in the Gulf and still washing ashore. In addition, they are again bidding on oil blocks for new oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, set to start reaping in even greater profits than before.

Again. Bully.

This is making someone right, yes…but not the Gulf.

This is seeking loopholes in settlement agreements to pay as little as possible to those they’ve harmed while laying the groundwork to make even more profit from the very region they’ve wrecked.

That’s not justice.

And in response, it would only seem fair to propose that until British Petroleum truly honors their words, they should not be permitted to continue in the Gulf. They should remain locked out from a region they’ve already harmed so much, at least until they truly account for themselves and follow the spirit of their agreements by sending their lawyers home. I understand this suggestion might seem extreme, but is it any less extreme than the belief that everyone impacted by their 2010 spill should receive complete restitution, that the coast should be rebuilt and that all medical bills should be paid, regardless of when the diagnosis occurred? I stand by those beliefs and for BP to meet this bar, it would be to keep their promises and their agreements. It would be to actually honor what they claimed they would do from the beginning: to make things right, because right now, every roadblock BP throws up in court dishonors their company, their promises and everyone affected who has to suffer, worry or leave their lives in the Gulf behind.

The EPA should suspend the leases until BP stops their squirming.

Suspend the leases and close BP’s wallets until they finally decide to open them for the purpose of paying for the damage they’ve done, without technicality, loophole or blame-shifting….and make them keep that wallet open as we continue to learn the extant of the damages they’ve caused as a result of their negligence.

Have a nice day.

And for continued coverage of Gulf Coast happenings, please continue to read:

Dambala at American Zombie.

David Hammer at WWL.

The shelters may not be the answer for all under the Pontchartrain Expressway…

Because this too, is what community looks like...
This too, is what community looks like…

Like many of you, I have been reading about the coming forced evacuations of the 120 plus homeless people who currently reside nightly underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway in downtown New Orleans. City officials began handing out 72 hour notices on Monday evening, citing health violations, safety concerns and drug use as parts of the problem which are necessitating this move. Outreach workers will be on hand to help steer people into the shelters, where resources and case management will be made available to assist people in finding more suitable, long term housing.

Sounds like a win-win on its surface: resources made available for people who need it and the city doesn’t have to worry about a growing health and safety problem…but you just know it’s not that simple.

People aren’t that simple, much as we might want them to be.

So then, why might somebody choose the streets of New Orleans, choose to live under an overpass instead of a shelter with resources?

1. Shelters have rules and curfews. Oftentimes, dismissive types claim homeless people don’t like shelters because the curfews and rules prevent people with addictions from getting drunk or high. And for some, that may very well be a part of it but that’s not the whole story. First off, not all homeless people are addicted to substances. Second, people also bristle at curfews and rules because homelessness doesn’t suddenly instill in people the desire to give up their freedoms. They are adults, and most adults don’t want to answer to strangers, be told what to do, when to eat, where and when to sleep, what time to be at the shelter and when it is too late for them to leave, or lose their bed. A loss of so many freedoms most of us take for granted can be a pretty demeaning feeling in an already often demeaning situation, feeling less than, stigmatized, not in control of your own situation…out on the streets, there’s still an element of control, of making independent choices most adults I know would be loathe to give up. Can’t sleep and want to go for a walk, have a smoke, make a phone call? Curfews and rules might say nope.

2. The men and women who live under the overpass have formed a community, one that could be broken up in a shelter. No communities are perfect and some can be dangerous and certainly, with assaults and sexual exploitation that have been documented under the Pontchartrain Expressway, this community has its dangers, but it is a community. People there look out for each other, know each other, know when someone’s not doing well and sometimes even care for one another. That’s what people do. To many, this community is a known and it’s voluntary inasmuch as there is a choice on whether or not to be in that community. There are understandings there, and to go into the shelters is to give this up and put yourself at the mercy of the unknown. There may be someone in the shelter somebody has a past with, somebody that makes another feel threatened or unsafe. It can be a very hard choice.

3. What about their belongings? Most shelters, due to space restrictions, have set limits on how many belongings you can bring through their door. When you’re homeless, oftentimes the stuff you have with you is what you have left of your present and former identity. On the streets, there are no restrictions upon how much you can bring with you and to be told by strangers what is necessary for you to have and what is expendable, that anything outside of two bags is superfluous and to be told you need to go through your possessions and decide what to keep and what to throw away is extraordinarily difficult for anyone who has already lost so much.

4. In the shelters there may be issues with staff treatment. Let me say first that I can only believe the vast majority of people who work in the shelters do so because they care, because they really want to help and work very hard, but having myself worked in shelters it is a fact not everyone is like this. There are predators. There are abusive staff. In San Francisco, staff like this were called “jailers.” They exist, and they can do a number of things to shelter residents. Curse them out. Kick them out arbitrarily. Coerce favors for perks at the shelter…use your imagination. It isn’t a regular occurrence I’m sure, but it happens. And if you are a shelter resident it happens to, it can be extraordinarily damaging.

5. The shelters have time limits, and many of those time limits are short. Three weeks at the New Orleans Mission. Ten days at Ozanam. That is not enough time to fix the kind of problems that lead to homelessness. Now, at some shelters, people do have options for more time, up to a year if they are in mental health or substance abuse programs and for some that may be precisely what they need to right what needs righting, but not everybody is ready to accept that kind of help. Not everyone thinks they have a substance abuse problem and many with mental health issues may dislike the stigma that comes with treatment, adding to the stigma of being homeless or they may not think they need treatment at all, have a lack of insight or be against medications. Mental health and substance addiction are very complex issues and when combined they can be that much more so. And with these time limits, where do people go when they time out? Back to the shadows of the overpass? Maybe to a different neighborhood or city, or to jail?

6. Many of these shelters charge nightly, some upwards of ten dollars a night. One can go to various churches and get fee waivers, but it’s difficult to cart your belongings from one place to another to get a waiver, then back to the shelter at night and in the morning, have to leave the shelter all day, still carrying belongings. It’s more loss of autonomy and more answering to others. Either that or you can pay the ten dollars a night, money many don’t have so they are  then forced to panhandle to get. With all of this, it can be easier, freer, more autonomous and independent to stake out a spot on the streets and just stay there. Not ideal obviously, but for some it can seem a better choice.

Now, as a social worker for the past twenty plus years I do feel that some of the people who are forced out of the homeless encampment will get a chance to do something different, maybe get treatment or mental health help, maybe even housing and that is certainly a win for them, especially in the long run but I also feel some won’t be ready for these steps. Some have been on the streets so long to try to acculturate themselves back into a life away can be difficult. Mental illness can make it more difficult. Mental illness and addiction, even more so. Some just won’t be ready.

It should seem obvious the people living under the expressway are doing so for a reason. You may not understand what those reasons are or even disagree with them, but that makes these reasons no less real or valid. Rather than kicking them out, why not continue to provide outreach, outreach, outreach while helping them to be safe, right where they are until that outreach leads to a home, or until they are ready to face any problems they might have. If there are public health issues, clean it up, or provide incentive for the people staying there to clean it up themselves. Provide waste disposal, port-a-lets, whatever’s necessary. Bring the solutions to them and put in the time to make it work, take hold for real. If worried this might lead to people never wanting to leave, find out exactly why it is they want to live under an overpass rather than their own home and work towards solutions to these wants. Find the bigger and better deal and present it to them. It may cost more, but it sure will be more effective in the long run and isn’t helping people the point of all this? If not, it should be, unless this really is being done because of neighbor complaints, pending Saints games at the Superdome or because some consider their fellow citizens, people, to be eyesores.

Rather than the police just forcing them out, possibly traumatizing some and then fencing it all up, there should be a mixture of responses here. This is a community, and for now it has become their home. In social work, there is a oft-quoted phrase: “Meet people where they’re at,” which essentially means to provide the amount of help people are ready to accept and help motivate them over time to accept even more.

Forcing them out of their home with a 72 hour notice is not meeting people where they’re at and for some, not the right thing to do at all.

Have a nice day.

Tired of the shooting…

Really tired...
Really tired…

I was going to write this morning about Bobby Jindal. That was the plan, take the day off of work and just kind of fuck around with a silly idea I had that I found amusing, but as I read the news with my coffee I didn’t really feel like it anymore:

Drive-by shooting in Lower 9th Ward leaves 2 dead, 5 wounded, including 2 toddler boys

Clean up, calm Monday morning after violent night in Ferguson

Weekend shooting toll: 1 dead, at least 26 wounded across city

Three cities: New Orleans, Ferguson and Chicago. Just shooting and death, death and more death. Cops, gangs, cop-gangs and it just keeps going on and on and on and on…and too many people caught in all the crossfire.

And all the frustration with all this death and the feelings of powerlessness it gives suddenly made me think of an exchange I had on Saturday night in a bar here in San Francisco. I was shooting pool with a friend and having a beer or several when the friend I was with started talking about people in the neighborhood and just so casually, he says, “Well, that’s what happens around here with all the (n-bomb).”

I practically spit out my beer, “The fuck you say?”

He started turning red, “What?”

“I can’t believe you just said that,” I said, shaking my head.

Long silence…

“So, you hate me now?”

“No man,” I responded, “I don’t hate you, but if you want to have those kind of idiot thoughts in your head, that’s your business. Just don’t be saying that shit around me.”

And we finished the game of pool, any remaining conversation kind of ended and I made my excuses and went home, turning down his offer of a ride back to my apartment. This is a guy I’ve known for two plus years now, who I met at work, at a social work gig in the oh-so-supposedly-liberal city of San Francisco and even sitting here now I wonder about what he said and I ask myself, is there something about me that made him think that was okay to say? Maybe he’s become more relaxed as we’ve hung out here and there and that’s a previously hidden, but normal part of his vocabulary, and it just came out?

I don’t know for sure, and I don’t know if we’ll ever hang out again for me to ask him.

But I do know all of this got me thinking about a few other things…about the guy the NYPD killed a couple of weeks back with a choke-hold or about all the black men the police have killed nationwide. I think about gang violence in Chicago and New Orleans. I think about Paul Ryan doing a “poverty tour” where at one point he blamed poverty on “inner-city” culture. I think a lot about loaded language, both coded and not used to describe Barack Obama. I think about all the pundits on national news programs, both broadcast and cable who make the rounds making outrageous statements about race, violence, poverty, “real” Americans, statements that would cause an eye-roll from any semi-skilled fact-checker. I think about this violence in our cities, about the dismissal of those less fortunate, the brutality of the police and how all of this links up to the words from your Ann Coulters and Sarah Palins, your Rushes and Seans and Bills and Mitt Romney percentages.

I think back to an interview where Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel tried laying the blame for all the shootings in Chicago at the feet of families and the community while ignoring and thus absolving himself of the fact that he closed schools, mental health clinics and disproportionately laid off city workers all over the West and South side (read largely African American and Hispanic) while at the same time, doing very, very little to get jobs into these neighborhoods that might instill more hope of finding a better way of making it for the largely unemployed youth in the city.

I think of the coming budget to the city of New Orleans and how Mayor Mitch Landrieu is already sounding the typical warning bells of austerity and what that might mean to those being left behind by the new New Orleans. I think of the arguments about Orleans Parish Prison, about how many people it will jail there and what messages the potential size of this place sends to anyone who has to live in it’s shadow.

I think about the murder of Michael Brown and the riots in Ferguson, the drive by shooting in the 9th Ward or the 19 shot on Mother’s Day or the weekend body counts in Chicago and way too many other murders and riots and frustrations and angers and loss…always loss, no matter who shoots or who dies.

I think a lot, maybe too much…but I do believe there’s a direct link between the words we use and the world we see. As coded racial statements or even not so coded racial statements again become increasingly normalized in mainstream media outlets, spoken by supposedly mainstream pundits, politicians or just your average asshole, a climate is perpetuated and this climate is having definite affects…dehumanizing affects to race, to economic class, to anyone else who’s living on the margins:

Maybe these words make it a little bit easier for a mayor to ignore the needs of whole sections of his city.

Maybe it makes it a little easier for a governor to refuse an expansion of health care.

Maybe it makes a police officer just a bit more at ease in pulling his gun.

Maybe it makes that drive by shooter a bit more ready to get into the car.

And yes, I understand this is a simplistic way of explaining a complex argument, but nevertheless, dismissive words entering the popular consciousness on a regular basis will, over time, dehumanize people and cultures, both internally and externally and the results of this are never good. The results of this can contribute to the deadliest of scenarios. And all of this bullshit has to stop, the words, the violence, the perception of the communities that make up our cities as separate and distinct. They’re not. They’re as connected as words and actions.

I remember going to a conference a few months back on race where an attendee asked the speaker, an expert on gang violence, why gang members were so willing to kill each other over such small slights. The speaker responded that when you’ve grown up never getting afforded any respect by those around you, when you do finally get it, you’ll be damned if you let anyone take it away again.

Yeah…it’s all connected.

And I certainly don’t have all the answers.

But I can start with simple respect, and include in this the respect the demand that elected politicians not just serve a portion of the community. And I can also start with language and send a message to those with the mouthpieces that though they may enjoy using racial and otherwise volatile words with an angry sneer or a knowing wink, these words have social consequences, and perhaps a consequence should be a timeline on how long they get to hold that fucking microphone…or stay in elected office. And no, this isn’t any sort of attack on free speech. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to say whatever they like without the government imprisoning them for doing so…but a social cost? Well, of course, that’s what makes us a society. If I go into work tomorrow at my housing non-profit and start talking to clients about how poor people are leeches on the system, I’d probably get fired. As I should be. Prison? No. The unemployment line? Uh-huh, that’s a social cost.

And in my opinion, too many police, politicians and pundits no longer pay a social cost for expressing ignorance and this leads to a domino affect of dehumanization over time and the costs of this, they’re huge. They can even contribute to the death in our streets.

Just a thought, nothing groundbreaking, but it’s what’s on my mind today…

Also, I think I need to call my friend from Saturday night, maybe invite him to lunch over the coming weekend so I can really talk to him about why what he said is not okay with me, and why I think he should stop saying that kind of shit for good.

Have a nice day.

Thanks to BP, Rahm and the Kochs, Chicago Developing a Serious Petcoke Problem…

The not-so-secret stash...BP makes it, The Koch Brothers deal it, Mayor Rahm still not ready to go inpatient...
The not-so-secret stash…BP makes it, the Koch Brothers deal it, but Mayor Rahm still not ready to go inpatient…

Directly across the Illinois border from Chicago stands British Petroleum’s Whiting Oil Refinery in Whiting, Indiana and this huge facility creates petcoke, which in turn creates a bunch of problems in Chicago, problems that only get magnified by the involvement of the Koch Brothers and the lack of involvement by Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel…

Yeah – BP, Rahm and the Kochs.

What a clusterfuck of a combination and what a typical addition to the horrible legacy of British Petroleum.

I mean, it was just this week that BP, the “Make it Right in the Gulf” company filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court to try and weasel out of the Deepwater Horizon settlements, agreed to quite some time ago down on the Gulf Coast and like theose shenanigans down there, up here in Chicago, BP continues with in its irresponsibe ways. After a 3.6 billion dollar expansion that tripled the refining capacity for Whiting, BP’s begun buying up property in Marktown, a 130 year old town originally built to house steel workers’ families and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And whereas BP says they are just trying to increase the green space around the massive refinery (green space, really) others say BP is trying to shield itself from future liabilities the refinery could pose to town residents, living so close and all. Then there was that oil spill into Lake Michigan back in March, occurring  just seven miles from the intake valve that supplies seven million Chicago residents with drinking water. BP initially low-balled their estimate of spilled oil, but they later doubled the actual figure (doesn’t that sound fucking familiar) and in response to the spill, Congressman yelled, BP placated and guys in white suits laid boom and cleaned (again, so very familiar).

But really, the latter two were just the warm-up for the big petroleum coke problem, which of course begs the question for those unfamiliar, what the hell is petcoke?

Well, petroleum coke is a byproduct of the process that removes heavy crude from those ever-famous Canadian tar sands, and petcoke can be burned as fuel. It’s high in heavy metals and has been compared to coal, “only dirtier,” and thanks to British Petroleum’s refinery there are mountains of this shit in Southeast Chicago, right in the city, right by residential neighborhoods, parks and schools and when the wind blows, this stuff gets blown all over said neighborhoods.

And it turns out British Petroleum is the preeminent petcoke dealer in the greater Chicagoland area and their main buyer? Why that’s a corporation called KCBX Terminals, a company owned by none other than the Koch Brothers.

That’s right, British Petroleum and the Koch Brothers…what could possible go wrong?

According to the people who live around KCBX Terminals, much is going wrong and they are understandably upset. They report having to keep windows closed against petcoke dust and particles, about finding picnics covered with the black stuff on windy days, or on their hanging clothes, or on windows and outside walls…or their lungs, and there are quite a few concerns about asthma and other breathing problems this petcoke could be causing.

A member of National Nurses United, Rolanda Watson-Clark had this to say:

“Petcoke contains a mix of chemicals including heavy metals, sulfur, carbon and volatiles, but even if you set the chemical aside — the dust particle size is also a killer…the small particles can get deep into the lungs and possibly the bloodstream, leading to problems like aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, non-fatal heart attacks and other negative health effects…while we are glad that the city council took some measures to curb the effects of these petcoke piles, we believe that our patients and communities can’t afford to wait two years for the relief.”

Yeah…they can’t wait two years.

Wait, what does she mean by that…two years?

Well, when Chicago residents in the affected neighborhoods started to tell their stories back in February, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago came out big, he came out swinging, all declarative statements and such, pointed at the likes of the Koch Brothers KCBX Terminals. He said things like:

“Through the regulations we’re going to put in, it’s going to be very expensive to operate here and therefore they are going to choose to leave…we’re going to make sure the ordinance puts up a ‘not wanted’ sign in the City of Chicago as it relates to pet coke.”

Oh yes, he did…how definitive.

He then went on to propose an ordinance to the city council that would prohibit new petcoke and coal facilities from Chicago while at the same time, banning the expansion of existing facilities. This would have applied to any operations that processed, transported, stored or handled the stuff.

Oh yes, he did again…how declarative.

And it was this ordinance the council was supposed to vote on last March, but then the ordinance got delayed, and then in April the ordinance was simply replaced. Yes replaced…at the last minute, John Pope, Alderman of the 10th Ward (where the offending companies are located) replaced the definitive, declarative ordinance with a substitute nobody had seen before and this one wasn’t quite so ironclad as the one Rahm had been touting a few months prior. The new ordinance permits companies that use petcoke to set up shop and/or expand the places they already have, which means that larger facilities that burn petcoke and coal are free to go on as before, which of course means neighborhood residents are free to go on breathing this shit, also, as before. And when it comes to big storage facilities like KCBX Terminals, even though they have been ordered to enclose their huge piles of this poison, the ordinance gives them two full years to do it…

Two years, that’s what Rolanda Watson-Clark meant, two more years of this shit blowing across playgrounds, schools and residential neighborhoods. Rahm has apparently realized none of the people in these neighborhoods were going to vote for him anyway and for that matter, neither will the Koch Brothers. Turns out they’re upset about the two years too, among other restrictions and are now contemplating a lawsuit against the city. If they absolutely have to enclose these mountains of toxins, they want four years to do it. Oh, and the thirty foot height limit for the piles of petcoke? Too low, way too low, they want 45 feet, because why not?

So this is where we are in Chicago right now:

British Petroleum tripled the capacity of their Whiting Oil Refinery, is spilling oil into Lake Michigan, is buying out a historic town for “green space” all while producing enormous amounts of petcoke, a dusty toxic byproduct that is even dirtier to burn for fuel than coal. To the Koch Brothers, petcoke is not merely pollution, it is a product to buy en masse and store in residential neighborhoods while looking to sell it for profit. Other factories on the south side of Chicago are planning to use it to fuel their operations, leading to more pollution and more storage and the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel though originally all definitive and declarative, saying he was going to run these companies out of business by way of expensive regulation for the sake of his constituents’ health, switched the bill at the last minute, gutting the ordinance’s effectiveness and giving the Koch Brothers two more years to poison the south side of Chicago, while the Koch Brothers…well, they feel two is not nearly enough time and want four.

Oh, and British Petroleum just keeps making this shit, because hey, who fucking cares about people and their families, right right?

Right, now that the news cameras have long since gone, BP doesn’t seem to care about those on the Gulf Coast anymore, so why should Chicago families be any different? Did I mention that also this week, a new study came out pointing to evidence that shows the damage to the Gulf is likely far worse than previously thought? Uh-huh, researchers found partially dead, deep sea coral reefs further and deeper than any other damaged reefs previously discovered…though BP was quick to point out that there is not conclusive proof…though the researchers were then quick to point out that oil found on the dead reef was the same oil from the spill…to which BP yelled “Mulligan!” and grabbed the next plane for Russia…which might suggest they are not properly concerned with the general welfare of, anything but their bottom line and certainly not with what others are doing with the petroleum coke they sell, and certainly, certainly not where these people might be storing it in Chicago.

It would in fact seem, none of these parties are properly concerned about any of this shit and after all, I’m sure that both BP and the Koch Brothers have well paid scientists who will claim (the world is flat) that not only is petroleum coke not toxic, but that it isn’t spreading anywhere.

Of course not.

And all that leads to just one conclusion for this writer, which would be to agree completely with the initial push by residents, nurses and activists after the mountains of petcoke first started climbing on the city’s South Side: petcoke needs to be banned from inside the Chicago city limits. For BP and the Kochs, it would appear petcoke is mostly about profit and rationalizations, and if Rahm Emanuel really wants to stand for something bigger than that, if he really decides to care about the residents of Chicago’s Southeast side, he would do something about all of this, something meaningful, something now. Fuck your two years. Chicago needs more than empty words and bullshit rhetoric from a failed mayor. Chicago deserves more. Rahm should do what’s right for the city and stop the Koch Brothers and British Petroleum at the Illinois border.

Have a nice day.

A Few Rats…and Benjamin Booker…

The steel slats from the bench dig into my legs, and we’re all damp in the air. A thicker layer of water combusts with a breezy diesel, filtering through the odor of overheated trash from the garbage can to my right…and I’m thinking about a few friends who died down here, and the sun’s going low behind down here and I lean back, facing the Mississippi’s crawl towards the Connection, and no matter how I shift, the slats still dig into my legs, my back.

I’m waiting for for the show, that exact moment of darkness when the brown lumps begin their scatter through the grass, humping up the levee to cross the Moon Walk, a run on the sunset when the really big rats exit the stony banks of the river to race towards the Quarter.

One of them used to live in the bar, when I bartended graveyard on Chartres.

And this is just one more shade of the city, the back of the bench digging at my elbows as I listen to the muddy river, as I listen to a rat left behind inside that nearby garbage can, scrambling for traction. It’s pretty close, but I don’t mind too much…a rat’s gotta eat, it’s what they do and the digging, frantic sound reminds me a little of:

Benjamin Booker – Violent Shiver

Have a nice day.

The Deadbeat Dad of New Orleans…

Family night? Oh uh, sorry, I got a thing....
Family night? Oh uh, sorry, I got a thing…

We’ve all heard the term. Typically it’ll refer to a parent who ignores his children, leaves them behind, is aware of, but does little to nothing to care for those in his charge, regardless of consequence. Well, the city of New Orleans has one of the worst deadbeat dads in history and his name is Sheriff Marlin N Gusman and his charges all occupy New Orleans Parish Prison. By his title of Sheriff, it is his responsibility to ensure the inmates at OPP have their basic needs met, have medical and mental health care and are safe from abuse by both other prisoners and the prison staff and for that matter, his prison staff too should not meet with extraneous violence as a result of the Sheriff’s actions or more presciently, what appears to be his inaction.

By any standard, Gusman is a failure, a deadbeat dad who, federal consent decree or not, seems perfectly (content) unwilling to live up to his parental responsibilities.

From an article in the Advocate by Jim Mustian:

“The outside expert monitoring a court-ordered plan to reform Orleans Parish Prison offered a blistering critique Tuesday of Sheriff Marlin Gusman, blaming the sluggish pace of change at the jail on a lack of leadership and initiative within the Sheriff’s Office.

The expert, Susan W. McCampbell, said she has rejected Gusman’s repeated excuse that city officials haven’t given him enough money to implement a federal consent decree intended to reverse deplorable conditions at OPP that have festered for years.

“The question has been posed to me several times whether it’s an issue of leadership or resources that continues to result in the Sheriff’s Office not moving forward with significant changes,” McCampbell said by phone during a status conference in U.S. District Court. “I really am now believing it’s a leadership issue — not a resource issue.””

Really, well, come on now, how bad could it actually be?

McCampbell added, “The jail is not safe…this isn’t a philosophical conversation about how to move forward. This is an in-your-face, happening, bad, everyday thing going on in the jail.”

So it’s bad then…but that’s just one expert right? I mean there are still in this day and age a couple scientists claiming climate change isn’t happening too. Course, when McCampbell went on to apologize for her frustrations, the US District Judge Lance Africk both empathized and agreed with her and this is the guy in charge of overseeing the consent decree.

Right…bad.

But still, that’s only two people and even deadbeat dads have their defenders which is why I’m sure that Katie Schwartzman, an attorney from the McCarthur Justice Center will correct all of this information, give us the real facts on the case, put us all firmly back in the no-spin zone…and this is precisely what she did when she said in her statement, “The sheriff has been called upon to fix the jail for years…in that time, there have been countless stabbings, sexual assaults and mental-health crises. The violence in our jail spills over into our streets and touches thousands of members of our community. This is not theoretical, it is not hyperbole or academic — people have died in our jail.”

Well, fuck me then.

So that’s three…but Sheriff Gusman, he must have a reasonable explanation for all this, some sort of detailed response with maybe a side of slight contrition to the court for what appears to be a horrible lack of progress in essentially, doing his job. What say you Sheriff types? Let us have it! Tell these bleeding hearts how wrong they are!

“The Sheriff’s Office is committed to moving forward and working with the monitors,” said Sheriff’s spokesman Philip Stelly.

Okay.

That was underwhelming.

Fuck me twice, I guess…

And allow me to be skeptical, because from what I read this department seems best at stalling, then blaming Landrieu, claiming a lack of funds while at the same time refusing to be transparent about the funds already received. Then Gusman offers up expensive solutions to problems of his own creation…case in point, you know how that new jail is supposed to solve so much when it comes to the consent decree? Debatable, but it appears his plans are already creating new ones, like how is it the jail wasn’t designed to house acutely mentally ill inmates? Bit of a design flaw there, and for a $145 million dollar price tag it seems reasonable to expect Gusman’s new jail to have zero design flaws. What gives? I’m assuming Marlin Gusman pays attention to trends which might affect his job, his jail and his responsibilities but maybe not…because if he did, he should be aware that as funds have dried up nationwide for mental health services, jails and prisons are unfortunately becoming the new inpatient hospitals in our current mental health system. Maybe this is something Gusman should have accounted for when spending $145 million dollars for his new fucking jail. And then back to Gusman’s bullshit solution: just relocate mentally ill inmates to a state prison in St. Gabriel. Right, because that’s obviously far less expensive (in transportation costs alone) than just designing your new jail to suit the needs of your own city and department.

Also mentioned in Mustian’s article: this month three jail deputies were stabbed by an acutely mentally ill inmate who was not even housed in the current jail’s psychiatric tier.

Yep.

And that’s not the only problem with this jail, and with the snails pace at complying with the decree. The high incident of violence and poor treatment of inmates is a really bad fucking way to go about rehabilitation, if anything because inmates are people and deserving of certain basic rights and met needs, even in jail…safety being one of the most important. Some on the outside though, politicians especially might disagree with this, instead opting to go all tough on crime and dismissing the prisoners’ humanity, dismissing the violence and making jokes about rape…jokes, all of which are nothing more than easy bumper-stickers and platitudes that crumble in the face of real blood spilled on a concrete floor or the painful reality of distraught loved ones on the outside reacting to the abuse or death of their child, father, husband or other member of their family. Furthermore, another real truth the tough on crime types should consider is that all those inmates thrown into the Thunderdome before they turn their back, those inmates do eventually get released back into the city, traumatized and with few options. But let’s say you really don’t care about those incarcerated at all. Do you do care about the prison staff? A dangerous jail is also dangerous to guards and as I said before, everyone eventually gets back to their community, both inmates and staff and the community gets impacted directly or indirectly by this violence. Nobody gets to live in a bubble. A mentally ill individual who is further terrorized can struggle far more reintegrating into society, especially with substandard treatment and no resources, than one who is treated humanely. Also, when outside divisions get brought to life inside the jail by way of violence, that violence will often then perpetuate on the outside. When the very concept of humanity is disregarded, when inmates feel under siege, unsafe and are shown by the system how little control they have over their life, or may ever have, this doesn’t bode well for the inmates, their families and anyone who helps them try to pick up the pieces upon release. The staff too has to live with what they’ve seen and experienced, and that is a hard life, with consequences.

And all of the inaction leading to this, all of this chaos is squarely on the plate of the person hired to prevent it: Marlin Gusman.

Even with a consent decree hanging over his head, it seems Gusman’s best skill set is making excuses about why he hasn’t done much of anything to resolve this mess. He needs to take more responsibility, start being present, start taking care of the inmates and the prison staff. This is his job. He ran for this job. His staff, the inmates, all of their families and the community at large are owed more than just another deadbeat dad, ducking the decree and looking the other way while blaming everyone else for why he isn’t handling his own fucking business. Stop fighting with Landrieu. If you don’t have the funds as you say, open the books and show everyone where the money’s going. Hire people who know how to run a jail and fully staff your department, because an understaffed jail is really fucking dangerous for both the inmates and the staff you do have. Recognize that inmate safety and resources upon discharge are keys in the fight against recidivism. Start acting like you’re taking this seriously and recognize an overall, basic truth: the safer the jail, the safer the city of New Orleans.

Read the article:

Jail Monitor Blasts Gusman for Lack of Progress at OPP

Have a nice day.

On Leaving San Francisco…Converse All Stars, High Rents and the Fillmore Jazz Fest

Um, yeah...right.
Um, yeah…right.

I was standing outside the Converse All Star Store on Market Street in San Francisco when it became clear to me it was again, time to leave this city.  The sign in the store window yelled, “SHOES ARE BORING! WEAR SNEAKERS!” in large, capitalized letters and behind this sign stood an equally loud, colorful scream of red sneakers, white sneakers and blue, all arranged on the wall to form a huge American flag of Converse, Chuck Taylor All Stars. It was a catching display, big and bright and then further inside the store, large banners did their turn, celebrating the rebelliousness of the shoes themselves, of the purchasing, owning and living in these shoes (or…sneakers) and what doing so might say about you and your lifestyle, about who you really are and hey…you know, you can step right inside and go to the “Create lab” and with the able help of a “Maestro,” actually design your own sneakers while playing “loud raucous tunes” to further express your unique individuality in their biggest store ever for the low, low price of $75.00! Yes-sir! Express all that you are, and can be:

With. Fucking. Footwear.

Yes sir, time to fucking go…Converse told me so, reminding me clearly of the power held in reputations and the potential emptiness existing below their surface. Them All Star’s got a reputation, an individuality image and so does San Francisco, often defined round here as: “Kook City,” and that is only one example. Some also consider it the land of gay rights, gay marriage and the Castro, or maybe it’s the hippies in the Haight (smaller in number, but still there). It’s known as a liberal playground of civil rights, of compassion and care, as the land of a truly progressive politics that tries to see the big picture for the benefit of everybody. Good lord, by reputation alone this is clearly not a city in America, it’s a nation unto itself, a utopian peninsula where the best of American liberalism has taken it upon itself to finally shine from the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay.

Yeah. Okay…right.

Honestly, if any of that was ever really true, it’s bullshit level has been increasing exponentially the past five years or so, leaving a lot of longtime residents disillusioned about the myths they chose to believe in, kinda like the people who buy into that All Star reputation as some sort of independent status symbol only to later discover the black death of child factory footwear, Nike, bought out the whole chain years ago. Oops.

And who bought San Francisco?

Well, the San Francisco of today is real estate developers and speculators flipping properties and evicting people to work around rent control. It is tech companies getting tax breaks to stay in town while they make money hand over fist. It is the gearing of an entire city towards a luxury class while our compassionate citizens, lead by story after story in the Chronicle demonizing panhandlers and the homeless, help enact a set of brutal homeless laws that make it a crime to sleep in a park or sit down on a sidewalk. It is a wealth gap forming like a canyon between the quite well off and those unable to afford even the most basic needs, continuing an ever-increasing homelessness while the city also cuts shelter beds and mental health support in the same shelters. It is a glut of tech workers moving in and greedy landlords going batshit insane, raising rents to a place where the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco is around $2400 dollars and at those prices, now left out of the new San Francisco are such mainstream salaries as teachers, nurses, cops, social workers and city employees (just to name a few) all being forced out by these high rents, forced to commute in from the East Bay or go away altogether. Right now, I pay $1000 a month for a tiny studio in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. The only reason my rent has stayed so low over the past couple of years is rent control. New rentals in my building now go for $1,450 dollars, and by market rates this is still pretty cheap. If I were to be evicted I would have to leave this city, no longer able to afford it and I work a professional job, and that’s a fucking powerless feeling, and Jesus Christ, what if you were dumb enough to be here with fucking children? How do you put down roots knowing if your landlord decides he’s had enough of owning his building and sells to the speculators constantly knocking on his door with ever increasing offers, you would have to abandon everything?

Yeah, even childless, I say fuck that.

And that’s a big part of the problem, a lot of people are saying “fuck that.” People like…the aforementioned teachers and nurses, but also the musicians, artists, designers and writers. So many are leaving, and though many have tried Oakland…Oakland is now going the way of San Francisco and as their rents keep climbing, it too is being abandoned. The cultural center of San Francisco is hollowing out, leaving behind a shell of wealthy techies and other higher paying professionals who run around this playground trying hard not to get bored while people commute in from all over the Bay Area to serve them doing retail, restaurant, hotel and other service jobs.

Let them have tips. Let them eat cake.

That’s not a city.

It’s a pretty fiefdom of entitled, dull dilettantes wearing Google Glass and buying eight dollar cups of coffee. It’s a place that hosts the America’s Cup boat races. It’s the land of foodies and food snobs, and so many of the (new and old) wealthy entitled. Now, this doesn’t mean the city’s all bad, and not even bad for me. I love my job, the Bay, the views and the movie houses. I enjoy how most bands on tour stop here, the hills, the never-ending series of taquerias (I have a favorite in every neighborhood in the city and can recite them like poetry). These are all good things, but it’s not enough anymore. Not for me and not for many others, and certainly not when you have other options because everything I like about this town is also available somewhere else. Even one of the strongest reputations San Francisco is known for is losing it’s luster; the city may still be a gay mecca of sorts, but the country’s changing and is it really anymore of a Mecca than many other cities? Even the famed Castro neighborhood is now filled with families complaining about the noise of a scene they once were a part of, back before they decided to get married and adopt kids. It’s all changing. The reputation has expired. One hanging dick from some naked guy on Folsom street no longer makes you “Kook City” when your city council actually went to the trouble to outlaw nudity. Little by little, the unique character of the city gets stripped away. Hell, they even kicked the chess players off of Market Street, stating they (were homeless) attracted crime. The Castro Halloween party? Gone. The Lusty Lady? Gone too. The long trite phrase “Only in San Francisco” becomes vain and rather pointless when there’s far crazier and far friendlier shenanigans happening in Austin, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Denver, Pittsburg and Seattle…just to name a few. Oh, and with the exception of New York, I can actually afford to live in all of those other cities (and many more) and much more comfortably, and with a much cleaner conscience, especially when I know that the guy who got my coffee or made my tacos or helped me find that book in the bookstore is actually living in the same city I am…maybe more difficultly than in the past but he or she is still there.

But not in San Francisco, here they would need several roommates in their studio to try it, and even then they still couldn’t afford a pair of fucking All Stars.

One more example: a couple of weeks ago, they had the Filmore Jazz Festival. The Fillmore District in San Francisco is a legendary neighborhood once known as the “Harlem of the West.” It was where Louis Armstrong played, where Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday performed in the clubs and shopped at many black owned businesses, historically important and culturally iconic. Every year, they still hold the Fillmore Street Jazz Festival in the district, but today Fillmore Street is a fucking joke, a collection of high end shops, pricy eateries and a Starbucks on every block. The only reason one might ever know the history of the neighborhood is by spotting a banner that hangs off a light pole when you walk out of the Mac cosmetic store or the cute little homemade organic soap shop. They might call it the “Jazz District,” but that’s about as accurate as referring to the famed Cable Cars as anything but a tourist trap. In truth, the Fillmore is nothing but  a series of cosmetic stores and clothing boutiques punctuated by the occasional artisan cafe all tailored to the new gentry of yuppies and other assorted professionals who can somehow afford the exorbitant rents.

And this is your new San Francisco.

Many people like it. These people often own and work in tech companies and/or own a lot of property, or maybe they own high end restaurants or shops that sell five hundred dollar handbags, three hundred dollar pairs of sunglasses or expensive organic food. The CEO of Apple? He fucking loves San Francisco but the people who work at the Apple Store…not so much. They all live in fucking Pleasanton or with their three roommates in Oakland or in their rent controlled studio hoping the owner of the building doesn’t decide to Ellis Act their ass and kick them to the streets so he can flip the building and double or triple the rent on new tenants. Cities change. I get it. I can accept that, and sometimes you roll with that change or you decide that the dissonance between what a city claims to be is too great from what it actually is and you get the fuck out. Sometimes you take a look around you and just get disappointed, and then maybe you even get bitter and start doing your research and realize how places do exist in this country that actually are what San Francisco (still) claims to be…

Growing up I used to wear Converse All Stars. Great fucking shoes…I mean, sneakers, but then they got bought out by Nike and the prices for them tripled over time and their reputation became only that to me, a reputation and I moved on…to shoes that didn’t define me, but were authentic and affordable and they’re fucking shoes! Who fucking cares! It’s not a lifestyle.

It’s. Fucking. Footwear.

And San Francisco is just a city, just another city, not really all that special anymore and sometimes, it even feels kind of ugly being here so very soon, it’s off to Chicago again and yes, I understand it suffers from many of the same problems as San Francisco but it’s way better off for a few reasons: hell 0f a lot more room to maneuver, it’s still affordable, there’s a real chance they might kick Rahm Emanuel the fuck out of there and maybe most important of all…it’s a hell of a lot easier to get to New Orleans from Chicago than it is from San Francisco. And I really love New Orleans too, despite what’s happening in the Bywater, and you know? Maybe because of what’s happening in the Bywater, you can bet your ass I’ll be watching for any sign of a Converse store on Canal or Magazine and if that should start to happen, I’ll be ready…

It’s only fifteen hours by car from Chicago to NOLA and even though I don’t smoke anymore, I seem to always have a lighter around and I’m betting that shoes burn a lot easier than a reputation, no matter how empty.

Have a nice day.