Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mountain Creek: Unsafe at Any Age

This is a story of profit over people.

A couple of weekends ago I went with my girlfriend and her children for a day of skiing at Mountain Creek in Vernon, NJ. On our first run of the day my girlfriend was coming to a stop on the side of the slope when she was suddenly hit by an incoming snowboarder. After hitting her, the young snowboarder – who must have been in his 20s – proceeded to disentangle himself. When I told him to stop moving to avoid compounding her potential injuries he continued as if nothing was said. It was clear at that point that the guy had no regard for the safety and health of his victim and that all he was concerned with was getting away.

Before he could manage to get up, I decided to hold him to the ground in order to prevent him from fleeing the scene until a ski patrol showed up. Needless to say, a scuffle ensued as he kept trying to escape. As I held him to the ground I repeatedly told him that he had a responsibility to stay since he had most likely injured my girlfriend. Later on, in fact, we found that that was indeed the case: a couple of torn ligaments, a flipped meniscus and no more skiing for the season plus crutches, a knee brace, hours of physical therapy and possibly knee surgery.

The scuffle went on forever, or at least so it seemed to me. As none of the supposedly free and brave onlookers mustered the courage to intervene the snowboarder eventually managed to punch me in the face. Nevertheless, I kept holding him to the ground as I resisted the temptation to punch him back. It was then that, out of the blue, a friend of his showed up. He pulled me away thus allowing the perpetrator to get up and leave. Yet, rather than following them I decided to attend to my injured girlfriend and her children as we waited for ski patrol to show up. 

Eventually ski patrol managed to arrive and little by little there were five or six of them around us. They formed a semi-circle in order to prevent oncoming skiers and snowboarders from hitting us. I have to say it was a surreal scene. Young snowboarders and inexperienced skiers kept flying by with no regard for anybody but themselves. At one point one snowboarder came down the mountain flaunting a can of beer his hand. All the ski patrollers managed to do was to yell at him. None followed him. There was no accountability.

And here lies the crux of the matter and the reason why I wrote earlier that this is a story of profit over people: there is zero accountability for hazardous behavior at Mountain Creek. As a matter of fact, one of the ski patrols at the scene of the accident told me that they are not even allowed to touch skiers. "If they want to leave we cannot stop them," he said as he checked my jaw for injuries. Another ski patroller told my girlfriend that the most they can do is to expel someone from the premises but that it is a very rare thing for them to do. In fact, only once during his 8+ years as a ski patrol on the mountain he managed to follow someone down the slope to make sure he left the premises.

With this type of non-existent accountability it is understandable that the conditions on the mountain would be unsafe. When people realize that they are not held accountable for their hazardous or injurious behavior it is to be expected that the frequency with which people will engage in such behaviors will increase. The snowboarder who injured my girlfriend is a perfect case in point. He severely injured someone, fled the scene and suffered no consequences. What are the chances that 1. he would not return to Mountain Creek and 2. that he would be more careful in the future? Probably not many. In fact, I am willing to guess that as my girlfriend was being transported down the mountain on a stretcher he and his buddy were probably laughing at the incident over a cold one at Mountain Creek's outdoor bar.

The question that arises at this point is: why would Mountain Creek risk alienating those customers who end up injured because of the lack of safety control on the mountain? My guess is that the resort's accountants must have run their numbers and found that it is more profitable for them not to alienate their core customers – young snowboarders – by discouraging their behavior than to risk losing the few who get injured as a result. In fact, Mountain Creek makes sure to exempt itself from any liability occurring on its premises by making participants sign a liability waiver. One such waiver states:

I understand and EXPRESSLY AGREE to the fact that skiing in its various forms is an inherently hazardous sport that has many dangers and risks. I realize that injuries are a common and ordinary occurrence of this sport. I, or if skier is a minor, I individually and on behalf of said minor, EXPRESSLY AGREE, as a condition of being allowed to purchase a Season Pass or participate in the Student Ski & Ride Voucher Program and to use the ski area facility and premises, that I freely accept and voluntarily assume ALL RISKS of personal injury or death or property damage, and FULLY RELEASE Mountain Creek FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY for personal injury, death, or property damage arising out of or resulting from my participation in this sport... (emphasis added; source)

What Mountain Creek doesn't say in the waiver is that the resort does not have any meaningful safety and accountability systems in place for those who engage in hazardous behavior towards others. In so many words and as my girlfriend's incident clearly shows, it would not be unthinkable for someone to literally kill or cripple someone else on their property and get away with it. Ski patrol will not stop them (which is why I believe "Ski Patrol" to be a misnomer that should be changed to "Ski EMS"). If you think I am exaggerating read the liability waiver in its entirety. Mountain Creek has no incentive in discouraging hazardous behavior because it has totally insulated itself from all liabilities by making people sign such waiver. After being injured, customers cannot successfully sue Mountain Creek for damages and, if the person who injured them does not take responsibility, victims are left to fend for themselves.

Given the ever increasing amount of young snowboarders on their slopes – itself a much more dangerous sport for both practitioners and others than skiing – Mountain Creek's owners must have decided that it is more profitable for them to let these kids run wild and undisturbed in order to keep them coming in greater and greater numbers. This view is supported by the fact that starting this year Mountain Creek has dropped the previously mandatory safety training – the Park Pass – for all skiers who wished to enter the terrain park at South. Or, alternatively, they may simply have decided to maximize the resort's profitability by minimizing safety to the bare minimum – i.e. to the minimum level that allows them to maintain the perception of safety while counting on the fact that most people won't realize that they are entering the wild west of skiing until it's too late. And when they do, these people will realize like my girlfriend and I that they have no meaningful way of redress.

Either way, I believe it is crucial for people to distinguish reality from fantasy. In the case of Mountain Creek the reality is that people are dealing with an operation that is unsafe at any age.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday, December 22, 2014

Is Cuba Detente a Diversion to Protect Bush II & Co.?

Here are, in my opinion, the two most important words which may help explain the timing of the White House’s “new course” on Cuba: Torture Report. Yes, while the announcement was a very welcome, long overdue and not far reaching enough development, its timing is what makes me wonder most. It is likely no coincidence that Obama announced this historic policy correction within less than two weeks of the release of the US Senate report on CIA torture during its “global war on terror.”

As it became clear that the progressive left was not going to let it blow off and, instead, the calls for prosecution of Bush II & Co. were getting louder, particularly on the world stage, Obama and his advisers must have felt they had to go nuclear and bring something out with enough impact that would hopefully short-circuit the moral revulsion that has been ensuing in civil society. And thus comes Cuba to the rescue, the proverbial ace up the President's sleeve and perhaps the oldest, most indefensible and longest standing policy of the US government since WWII. In short, the timing of the policy shift on Cuba might be seen as a diversionary tactic aimed at deflecting the mounting outrage over the release of the US Senate Torture Report.

In this light, it is possible that despite the protestations of the usual suspects, Senators Menendez (NJ) and Rubio (FL), the incoming Republican congress might not end up fighting the White House on Cuba as much as they say they will as they may be getting some pressure from above to let this one go. Although Obama was supposedly working on this for quite some time, chances are that he would not have unveiled this important policy shift right before an incoming Republican congress without some kind of assurance from Republican quarters. It is the conjuncture of the damning Torture Report that perhaps made this policy shift finally a reality.

Given how long Obama had been working on this deal, it is clear that he intended it to be a major part of his legacy along with the ACA. And just like with the ACA – when he basically gave away the barn to get assurances from Big Pharma, Big Health and Big Insurance that they would not stand in the way – he must have sought assurance from high Republican echelons (Bush II?, Rove?) that they would not stand in the way of the Cuba deal. The perfect bargaining chip was the Torture Report: let the wolves do their work on Bush & Co. or throw them a bone to try to placate them.

Let me be clear on this. While Bush & Co. may be perfectly ok with what they did, they must also understand that the only thing that stands between them and the pitchforks is Obama. It is he who stands in the way of fulfilling US treaty and US law obligations to prosecute these egregious crimes by saying that we must look forward and not backward and thus it is he who is getting now the most pressure to drop this hypocritical and no longer tenable stance. Thus, it is not far fetched to think that after the Senate revelations he may have brokered some kind of deal with Bush II & Co. so that they could help him help them.

In regard to Cuba we must also be clear about what this policy shift really amounts to. What we are dealing with is simply a change in tactic, not strategy. Regime change is still the operative word in Washington. When Obama said that the embargo had failed it is because it failed to accomplish the intended goal which is the overthrow of the Cuban revolutionary government. Thus, in a example of realpolitik brinkmanship, Obama decided to try a different approach: substitute economic strangulation for economic persuasion – to put it euphemistically – and hopefully all the NGOs that come along with economic cooperation (see Ukraine).

In conclusion, it is likely that the Cuba announcement was a bone thrown not only to the US left, but at world civil society which has been consistently and overwhelmingly voting against the US embargo for decades. In particular, it is an acknowledgement or the growing isolation of the US in the Western hemisphere – the recent invitation of Cuba to the OAS being an example. And so the Faustian bargain may be that the US left and world civil and political society got Cuba in exchange for leaving Bush II & Co. alone, at least for a while, while Obama gets to look good on the world stage after the black eye of the Torture Report and yet another disappointing Climate Summit. Given that the Pope was in on the Cuban deal – it was another Pope also with cultural credentials who spearheaded the Warsaw Pact – it is clear that the brokering was done at the highest geopolitical levels. Will it work? Possibly. So far at least Obama managed to shift the media discourse and next week is Christmas and then new year. Happy holidays.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We Are Ruled by Fear

Today a majority of the people in the US supports strikes in Iraq and Syria. After weeks of propaganda from all sides of the spectrum the bamboozled and frightened populace capitulated in its resolve to the demands of the deep state.

Perhaps if the corporate media showed Saudi Arabia's hundreds of public executions by beheading and sometimes by stoning, the people in the US would support the bombing of that country as well. But of course we don't air our friend's dirty laundry.

The tribalism and groupthink of our supposed free press is mind boggling and it will be an object of study for future scholars, if there are to be any given the current corporate attack on education and the destruction of the ecosystem.

Such articles, and these polls are thus simply self-congratulatory PR as if to say: look how well we have done to con the people in the US into supporting yet another murderous and destabilizing military action. The contempt for democracy in the elite is almost palpable. The fact is that, hand in hand with the corporate media, the ruling oligarchs keep manipulating our emotional responses by manufacturing one crisis after another.

Yet, the disconnect in popular consciousness is also visible in the poll. Obama's ratings are nearing his all-time low. Perhaps it's a message from the true consciousness of the people saying to Obama: "You have frightened us into doing something hateful yet again and we hate you for bringing out the worse in us."

Perhaps the reason why we keep telling ourselves that this is the "home of the brave" and the "land of the free" is because we are not willing to accept the reality: that we are a fearful and frightened nation ruled by fear and that we are willingly renouncing our freedom for the false promise of protection from the very people who have taken us to the brink of extinction.

This is what happens to a nation that is raised from cradle to grave to pledge allegiance, follow orders and, of course, shop.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

1866: The Birth of the Eight-Hour Working Day

From the Resolution of the Working Men of Dunkirk, State of New York, 1866:
We, the workers of Dunkirk, declare that the length of time of labour required under the present system is too great, and that, far from leaving the worker time for rest and education, it plunges him into a condition of servitude but little better than slavery. That is why we decide that eight hours are enough for a working day, and ought to be legally recognized as enough; why we call to our help that powerful lever, the press; .. and why we shall consider all those that refuse us this help as enemies of the reform of labour and of the rights of the labourer.
Source: Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 ( Penguin Books) 414n63

At the same time (the beginning of September 1866), the Congress of the International Working Men’s Association, held at Geneva, passed the following resolution, proposed by the London General Council: ‘We declare that the limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation must prove abortive… the Congress proposes eight hours as the legal limit of the working day.’
Source: Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 ( Penguin Books) 414-5

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Welcome to the United States: Land of the Free

A small correction on the caption: America is a continent, the United States is the country in question. The fact that people living in the United States calls themselves Americans says a lot about the type of hubris existing within the dominant culture. Call me pedantic, but words are all that matters these days in the propaganda wars.

Friday, August 1, 2014

U.S. Weapons Exports to Israel

Here are two pie charts showing U.S. weapons exports to Israel in 2013 and 2014 courtesy of Ken Klippenstein and Paul Gottinger. Needless to say, these weapons are in large part subsidized by U.S. taxpayers through the yearly $3 billion in aid that the state of Israel receives from the U.S. government. In fact, the aid is contingent to Israel's purchasing of weapons manufactured in the U.S.. In so many words, the Palestinians are being slaughtered in order to pump up the stock prices of U.S. weapon manufacturers; perhaps one of the most perverse examples of how the capitalist system conceals exploitation and thrives on the literal destruction of humanity.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Realism Vs. Utopianism

While reading Alfie Kohn's No Contest: The Case Against Competition I came across these two interesting quotes:

We should not be afraid of the Utopian in our thinking, for it is only belief in the possibility of what has not yet been attained which makes progress even conceivable. A willingness to rethink all of our aims and to throw the whole system into question will prevent our painting the walls when we ought to be getting rid of the termites and strengthening the foundations. 
– Hazel Barnes, An Existentialist Ethics 

What is ‘practical’ and what is ‘utopian’? Does not utopian mean merely: whatever acknowledges other values as relevant and possibly even as sovereign? But in truth, are not those who in the name of realism act like crackpots, are they not the Utopians? Are we not now in a situation in which the only practical, realistic down-to-earth thinking and acting is just what these crackpot realists call ‘utopian’?

– C. Wright Mills, Power, Politics, and People

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Are the Palestinians Israel's Native Americans?

As I looked at the map posted on Juan Cole's The Map: A Palestinian Nation Thwarted & Speaking Truth to Power I was reminded of the infamous 1996 statement by Netanyahu’s spokesperson David Bar-Illan; when asked if Israel was opposed to a Palestinian state he replied: "Semantics don’t matter. If Palestinian sovereignty is limited enough so that we feel safe, call it fried chicken." Indeed, as of 2000, the state of the occupied territories, particularly the West Bank, has started to resemble scattered pieces of flesh on the ground. Here is the map chronicling the Palestinian loss of land from 1946 to 2000:

My guess is that today, 14 years later, the pieces may look even smaller – fried quail perhaps? In addition to Bar-Illan's comment I was also reminded of a picture I purchased many years ago when I visited Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico. Similarly to the map above, the picture shows a timeline of the conquest of Native American land by European settlers:

The last map (1890) looks very similar to the 2000 map of Palestinian land: scattered pieces of small enclaves.

A few months ago I wrote a post titled The Problem With BDS where I argued that the comparison of Israel with with South Africa may not be appropriate and perhaps counterproductive to the interests of the Palestinians. My position in not an original one and is primarily derived from Chomsky's assessment of the circumstances. Since then, Chomsky has published an essay in The Nation explaining his position in detail. Predictably, Chomsky's essay has been selectively quoted by the likes of Fred Lazin who, in a recent appearance on CrossTalk, conveniently omitted the fact that Chomsky's criticism of the analogy between Israel and South Africa is due to the fact that, in his view, "the road ahead is not toward South Africa, as commonly alleged, but toward something much worse."

The "much worse" is the slow and steady elimination, as Chomsky puts it, of Israel's "Palestinian burden." As he explains, unlike South Africa – where the black population was the white's workforce –  Israel doesn't need the Palestinians. It is for this reason that, in my opinion, the genocide of Native Americans by European settlers seems a more apt comparison. If so, the belief of some that the Israeli government will eventually have to reckon with the Palestinian burden – as Miko Peled stated in the same episode of CrossTalk – may also be misplaced less some major geopolitical shift.

Of course the analogy between Palestinians and Native Americans is not new. In fact, as I was pondering such parallel I came across an essay by Ron Jacobs discussing this very notion. In US and Israeli Exceptionalism Jacobs writes that

Although the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl considered his philosophy to be a secular one, there has always been a religious element. Indeed, Israel’s “Declaration of Independence,” opens with the declaration “Eretz Israel [Hebrew: The Land of Israel] was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.” In making this claim, the founders of Israel linked their nation to the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition. Further on in the same document, those founders refer to the British colonial mandate Balfour Declaration to establish their legal right to the land they were stealing. By acknowledging the biblical land of Israel and the colonial mandate for Palestine, Israel’s founders made clear their allegiance to the western colonialist tradition. More importantly, and disastrously, they paved the way for their ongoing occupation of Palestine and the neverending war against its people. 
Israel’s founding documents (and the utterings of many of its politicians during its earlier years) insist on the nation’s allegiance to principles of freedom and fairness for all of its inhabitants. Likewise, a call for peace and cooperation with its neighbors was issued. However, a nation founded by the theft of others’ lands, homes and places of worship is bound to find adhering to those principles to be impossible. This will certainly be the case if actions of the new nation display little intention to follow its stated principles. Like the young nation called the United States, the nation of Israel was founded by stealing land and the spilling of blood. Also, like the young United States, Israel quickly proved that its lofty principles of its founding documents applied only to certain inhabitants of the newly created nation.

Given such similarity, one is left to wonder if the Palestinians will meet a destiny similar to that of Native Americans. The maps above speak clearly: that is indeed the direction and, most likely, the goal of the Israeli government. Some Israeli politicians say just as much: Ayelet Shaked, for example, recently declared on her Facebook that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy ... including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

Having stated the problem, the pressing question is: how can the people of the world stop yet another neocolonial land grab by one of Washington's client states resulting in the immense suffering and likely erasure of an entire people from their native land? The proponents of BDS say: boycott and divest (BD) from Israel (as Chomsky rightfully points out in his essay, there haven't been any credible calls for international sanctions). Yet, given the acquiescence of Western media to the Israeli narrative – with the notable exception of Jon Snow and a few others – it doesn't seem likely that people in the West will have the type of awareness required for demanding any kind of meaningful condemnation of Israeli policy from their own governments.

This is not surprising since these governments, and the media which are owned by the corporate interests which shape public policy, are the very colonial powers who participated in the genocide of American indigenous populations and after which Israel is modeling itself. In addition, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out some time ago, it would be hypocritical in the least for Obama to criticize Israel for doing exactly what his administration has been doing all over the world for some time; namely, assassinating people extrajudicially. Finally, Western military contractors are making a lot of money selling weapons to the Israeli government and thus they don't want the billions of dollars in subsidies that Israel's military machine receives from US taxpayers to stop.

Given that for the most part Israel doesn't move a finger without Washington saying so, regardless of the occasional theatrics, it follows that the latter is the real obstacle to peace in the Middle East. This, incidentally, is clearly understood by the people in the region. A recent poll, for example, found that most Arabs "believe that the United States is not even-handed in its approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making" and "have very little confidence that the United States is committed to an independent Palestinian state." This truism is also understood by the Israeli elites and their counterparts in the US, who devote considerable resources in order to shape public opinion in the US in favor of Israel.

Ultimately, the only way to avert the erasure of the Palestinians and their heritage is by diminishing the hegemony of the world's sole superpower. It is perhaps for this reason that the BRICS countries have finally established a New Development Bank as an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF. The recent effort of Washington to impose sanctions on Russia because of the Ukrainian crisis has also backfired as it helped seal a $400 billion gas deal between Russia and China. In addition, Washington's European partners have been reluctant to impose any serious sanctions on Russia despite the boisterous claims to the contrary by Obama and Kerry. Predictably, the more the USE (United States Empire) tightens its hegemonic grip on the world, the more countries will slip through its fingers:

Thus, while this may seem counterintuitive, it is in the weakening of "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," the US government, that the best hope of ending the multi-decade suffering of the Palestinians resides.

In a recent column, Danny Schechter asked: Is It Time To “Boycott” The USA?  Apparently, many are starting to believe so. In his column Schechter cites examples such as the fact that "international technology companies, angered at NSA spying and attempts to manipulate the internet are refusing to do business with their American counterparts" and that "Russia is spearheading an anti-dollar alliance built around the BRICS States." And while it may take some time for Washington's hegemony to recede from the foreground, these are signs that the process is well on its way and will continue unless Washington chooses a more cooperative approach in its dealings with the rest of the world. When that happens, the state of Israel will no longer have the world's big bully to hide behind and will also have to choose a more cooperative path with the Palestinians.

Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi once wrote that “everybody is somebody’s Jew and today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis." In light of this essay, a more appropriate analogy may be that today the Palestinians are the Native Americans of the Israelis.