Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Raising My Country’s Flag

Today is the 234th birthday of the United States of America and I’m struggling to articulate my feelings and concerns for my country.   This morning like millions of Americans I walked outside to hoist the flag to honor my country and convey support for its principles and ideals.  I still believe in those principles and ideals but I am having a tremendous crisis of faith on how those principles and ideals are put into action.

When I removed the flag from its draw my first thought was a tinge of personal shame because the flag was not properly folded in the requisite three star triangle.  This former Boy Scout knew of the proper way to fold the flag but when I lowered it after Memorial Day I had no one to assist me in the proper way to fold it.    It takes two people working in common purpose to accomplish the task.  One to fold while the other holds the flag taut.  It brought to mind my country’s ossified two party systems inability to administer effective governance.   Its time we call other care takers who have the conscience and maturity to sacrifice partisanship for the greater good of the country.

Holding the flag I was struck by its age.  I date the flag to the late 40’s.  The flag was given to me by my father and has only 48 stars.  When it was sewn Alaska and Hawaii had yet to join the grand union of states.  They would join in 59 four years after my birth. This flag boasts strong double stitches that holds the stars, stripes and blue field securely in place.  A united conglomeration of shapes, symbols and colors manufactured by top notch craftsmen guided in their work by care and skill to assure quality.  I surmise that  the workers who crafted this flag were inspired by a love of country and pride of workmanship now long gone.  Blue collar workers and the unions that represented them have been crushed by the immutable power of global capital.  In the greater cause of profits workplaces have been dismantled and livelihoods off shored to the outer regions of the global economy.  I wonder how the 11,000,000 people who are unemployed today perceive our flag this morning?  Surely most will  bless the grace of daily bread that is placed on their table today.  I  also wonder if the big time financiers who profit from grief will pause with a moment of reflection during their extravagant soirees on the source of their wealth and the price of their amusements.

My flag has but 48 stars.  In my short lifetime of 54 years my country granted statehood to two states.  Fifty states is a rounded number suggesting a divine hand that predetermined a Pax Americana halfway to a celestial century mark.   I worry that this glorious symbol of Federalism is at danger of unraveling again.    Texas, Alaska, Arizona and a few other stars  have expressed a desire to withdraw their stars from the sacred blue field of our flag.  Seditious murmurs from opportunistic politicians.  They eagerly dip their political cookies into the toxic brew stewed up by pissed off  Teabaggers and other deranged Falangists.  This new confederacy condemns them.  They complain that the rights of individual states are being trampled upon by an oppressive authoritarian government.  They shout  prayers from rooftops, wave hand guns, tote rifles and salute the Don’t Tread On Me flag.  They want the right to be left alone to create a personal version of a world unencumbered by responsibility to anything but a selfish self.  They damn the collective needs of the union and condemn its necessity to operate as an interconnected link in a world fraternity of nations.  The ability to express an  unencumbered will in the pursuit of self interest is their idea of citizenship.  They are prepared to defend it with guns and preemptive aggression to assert the right of the stronger.  They prefer barbarity to civility, selfishness to fraternity, personal affectation to civil rights, sameness to diversity, vigilante tribunals to social justice.

With care and reverence I wrapped the flag around my tree, envisioning flag draped coffins being off loaded from C-130 transport planes onto the impersonal gray tarmac of  a military airbase in Dover.  These selfless souls are reunited with the ground of the land they gave their last full measure of their devotion offered up to senseless conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The fallen will receive a reverence in death that our politicians failed to offer them in life by condemning them to a wasteful demise, wholly avoidable and absolutely unnecessary.  No these unfortunate patriots have not shed their blood in vain.  Their stars will forever burn bright on a blue field of valor as condemnation of the blasphemous  chicken hawks whose screaming squawks for war are nothing but hallow patriotic pronouncements spoken to secure political careers and profit financial backers.

Arranging the flag around the tree the bark of the Black Oak clings to the fabric of Old Glory.  It allows me to run a finger along the long red strip at the base of the flag.  The blood shed for the cause of this flag continues to flow.  When will it ebb?  In the cause of this flag seemingly righteous blood mixes with the awful blood of innocents.  Both stain the hands and conscience of our nation.  My two sons just entering young adulthood  are  proud members of the armed forces.  One in the Navy the other in the Army.  Their blood is my blood.  They speak of  deployment to the “Sand Box” a euphemism for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A future raising of this flag lays on my brain like a nightmare, praying that their blood doesn’t stain the grim crimson of our national symbol.

Stepping back to examine if the flag is properly hung I notice a paint stain on the field of stripes.  The splotch of beige paint now darkly blanched was splashed from a careless paintbrush I used to coat the walls of my boyhood bedroom.  I did not take the proper precaution of removing the flag from the wall before proceeding with the task of painting.  It was a small blotch about the size of a couple of 50 cent pieces lying on a dresser drawer.  It reminds me of the gushing oil spill flowing into the pristine Gulf of Mexico.  This catastrophe will forever alter the ecology and lives of the many social and ecological communities that comprise the Gulf.  This stain will remain on our flag for many generations.  The dimensions of this disaster are still beyond measure or comprehension.  It threatens to forever alter the colorful fabric of our culture, economy and political lives.  The inexorable march of corporate power in pursuit of profit threatens to crush a sustainable human habitat.  We the people alone can call them to account and require that human needs take precedence over corporate greed.

Yet today is not the day for a recitation of what I believe to be wrong with my country.  Readers of this blog can click  any subject on the cloud tag a get my doubled barreled critique of America’s behavior in a rapidly changing world.  But I have been struggling for the past few days about a theme for today’s post.  And it finally came to me when I was dutifully hanging the flag on this meaningful day.  I really want to believe in the correctness and goodness of my country and its people.  Its my country warts and all.  The warts are growing big and uglier everyday.  My country and countrymen have lost their way.  Two seemingly endless and pointless wars, the economic debasement of  “The Great Recession”, the egregious assault on the delicate ecological communities of the Gulf of Mexico, a voracious Falangist movement, the juggernaut of corporatism, the continual erosion of civil liberties, careless concern for social justice and rapidly accelerating slide into an aggressive self seeking raises my sense of outrage.

As a boy growing up this flag hung on the wall of my room for many years.  I put it up on my wall when I was an adolescent still playing with toy soldiers.  I was enamored with national pride by America’s WWII triumphs, John Wayne war heroics and Victory at Sea news reels.  I was a staunch Cold Warrior.  During grammar school I imagined myself dying a hero’s death as I fell in the victory over the USSR’s Red Army at the decisive battle of Washington School.  That patriotic zeal would continue throughout most of the Vietnam War springing to attention at Sargent Barry Sadler’s Ballad of the Green Berets.  On Saturday evenings I would watch the  Channel 5 News.  I can still hear the solemn grimness of the haunting trumpet dirge as the weekly Honor Roll scrolled the names of the fallen from the conflict in Southeast Asia.

As we grow the meanings of symbols change.  Symbols can never remain immutably fixed because its subject changes.  Failure to understand  this the symbol becomes a fiction of stale dogma unconnected to a living reality of real living things in an ever changing world.   Inane nationalists content to swaddle themselves in the flag believe their fervor and force of statement is the test of love of country.   But in fact these unfortunates  trod a dangerous path and in fact pose the greatest risk to the continued wellness of our nations ideals.

As the Sixties gave way to the Seventies the meaning of my flag  evolved.  It became a symbol of  imperial power and distrusted authority as the Vietnam war  droned on.  It became a symbol of naked repression as it quelled urban rebellions.  It became a symbol of  reaction when assassins silenced beloved reform leaders.  It became a symbol of deadly suppression when the Ohio National Guard murdered students at Kent State.   this flag would evolve into the sacrilege of a Warholian commercial symbol.  To my horror this flag became a  weapon in the hands of white racists threatening to use it to impale an African American man during a school busing demonstration in Landsmark in Boston.  During college as my political activism grew, Peace flags, Earth Day flags, Liberation flags, Rainbow flags all captured my imagination and had profound personal meaning but they would never replace the preeminent position the American flag holds in my heart.

I wish my countrymen well on this July 4th.  I behold my incomplete, paint stained, 48 starred Old Glory.  Its in a proper place on a good and proper day.   The white colors tinged in a yellow fade its getting on in age.  But I have hope.  I take consolation from  a voice  resonating in my ear.  As a slight breeze ripples the posted colors I recognize the not so distant call of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas.  He’s whispering “agitate, agitate, agitate”……..

You Tube Music Video: Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA

Risk: democracy, civil liberties, country, culture

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July 5, 2010 Posted by | class, culture, democracy, ecological, Federalism, LGBT, manufacturing, psychology, seasons, unions, war | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Drill Baby Drill: The Bill Comes Due

Louisiana has declared an emergency shrimping season for the off shore beds at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The emergency harvest of shrimp, oysters and stone crabs is a desperate attempt to grab a final yield from a once bountiful aquaculture that sustained and defined the regional Cajun identity for many generations. The spreading oil slick gushing from a toppled offshore oil platform threatens to bury that life as it covers the delicate ecology with a toxic cloak that may spell a death blow to a regions way of life.

It is estimated that 210,000 gallons of crude oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day following the explosion and collapse of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform that killed 11 workers. The Transocean rig was reportedly not equipped with a special safety devise that should have capped the well with the collapse of the oil platform. This assertion is being denied by Transocean stating that the well was equipped with the devise but unfortunately it failed to work. The use of the safety devise is a regulatory requirement for any offshore drill platforms in Europe but in the United States this safety devise is not required and is considered an optional operational risk devise. Like the recent coal miner disaster at Massey Mines, and word today that two more miners have died in Kentucky, occupational wages sometimes result in death. We need to understand that preservation of life and environmental safety are critical components of a cost of doing business that must be factored into ROI calculations and risk assessment scenarios.

The Coast Guard is in charge of emergency response to this growing disaster. The Coast Guard is skimming surface oil and using containment booms to control the growing oil slick. The Coast Guard is also considering igniting controlled burns of the surface oil which would release toxicity into the air. Another strategy being considered is the injection of chemicals into the spill to coagulate the oil. This strategy has never been attempted at such an extreme 5,000 foot depth and would also release additional toxins into the water. Technological solutions like the drilling of a relief well or the construction of a containment vessel would take months to accomplish. Man made solutions to cap the environmental disasters of their making always seem to pale in comparison to the scale and fury unleashed by the unrestrained power of nature.

This event marks yet another example of making an honest assessment of the true costs of our behavior and choices. Like the global economic meltdown that was the result of the unfettered credit orgy the bill for risky behavior always comes due. The continued focus on the exploitation and extraction of fossil fuels at the expense of alternative sources of energy comes at a great cost. This disaster may indeed be the death blow to an aqua industry that nurtured a region for many generations and informed a cuisine and culture respected and treasured by throughout  the world.   And like any excursion to a fine NOLA restaurant, someones always got to pick up the tab.

The bill always comes due. We want to gorge ourselves at the well of cheap energy only to discover how dear the price of this devil’s bargain really is. Environmental degradation is the most obvious tip of a precarious iceberg that threatens to tip as it melts into an ocean of unsustainability. A destroyed eco-culture of marshlands and animals, abandoned hamlets and townships no longer able to extract a living from the land are the immediate visible signs of the cost of this deal with the devil gone bad. We must begin to realize that the cost of cheap energy also requires our nation to continually engage in wars and military actions to protect this vital resource.

Cheap oil has badly skewed our economic infrastructure. It has encouraged our businesses to produce inefficient cars that led to the decline of a strategic industry and destruction of cities like Detroit and Gary Indiana. It caused the terrible moniker of rust belt cities to be pinned on a region of our country that was once the source of our nations wealth. Cheap energy help turn our prized manufacturing centers into economic anachronisms. Cheap oil has forestalled commitment to developing innovative green technologies that continues us to cede our position as a global manufacturing power. As we watch China and Brazil march forward with massive commitments to the development of energy innovation industries that will serve future needs of an energy dependent global economy, America is engaged in a bloody rear guard action to defend the ways of an old dying world too protect depleting trickles of oil.

Tonight as Americans go to sleep in their energy inefficient homes it is hoped that they may pause to consider that drill baby drill is a rallying cry for an unsustainable dying future. Think of the villages along the Louisiana bayous and how their way of life is coming to an end. Its time to consider the real costs of a Drill Baby Drill economy and begin to chart a course to a sustainable future.

You tube Music Video: Cajun Music: DL Menard and Louisiana Aces, Out My Backdoor

Risk: economic, environmental, culture

April 30, 2010 Posted by | culture, disaster planning, ecological, environment, politics, regulatory | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eco and Econ Hardship of the Iowa Floods

Just when the price of corn was hitting $7 a bushel, Iowa’s farmers were counting on making a killing this year. The rise in the price of agricultural products due to increased global demand was one of this years few favorable economic developments that farmers were looking to capitalize on. Unfortunately Mother Nature threw them an awful curve ball and wiped out many farms that abutted the angry rivers of the Midwest. The loss of 10% of the states corn yields, has also hurt soybeans and other crops. Though it will certainly drive prices even higher, for the farmers whose fields are underwater , this year will bring financial hardship not abundance as some have thought only a week or two ago.

Longer term the floods destruction may also significantly damage soil and water quality due to the spread of toxins, hazardous waste, dead farm animals and other industrial pollutants rippling through the farmlands as the flood spreads. If 10% of the areas farmland is affected this will command a premium on agricultural futures for years to come.

Eventually, the flood waters will drain off from the once rich arable soil, carrying with it all the fertilizers, petroleum by products and other effluents into the Mississippi River. As it passes New Orleans it won’t be far from its final destination where it can cause considerable damage to the waters of The Gulf of Mexico and its struggling aquaculture and fishing industries.

The Army Corps of Engineers has issued 13 million sandbags. Those sandbags will have to be hand filled. The amount of labor, energy and resources expended to fill those bags in a valiant struggle to buttress failing levee systems is a testament to the American spirit to endure.

As we tally the awful cost of this catastrophic event lets be mindful that investment in our infrastructure is a critical issue that is central to our national defense. I can’t help but think what a wise decision a $2 billion investment in levees would have returned to this country in saved expense and opportunity cost. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is sure sage advice that unfortunately we always seem to dismiss as a meaningless cliche.

We’ll close this post with a favorite from the old Granges of the Midwest.

Let’s listen to Woody Guthrie sing “This land is Your Land.”

Risk: infrastructure, agriculture, aquaculture, water, Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico, inflation, arable land, crop yields

June 18, 2008 Posted by | environment, folk, homelessness, infrastructure, risk management | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment