Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

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 amoral 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.