Thursday, August 23, 2012

Any Given Sunday: Honoring the Dead in Santa Monica

Arlington West in Santa Monica
For the past nine years, Arlington West has been a fixture every Sunday on Santa Monica beach next to the amusement park on the pier. The memorial honoring American casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the work of Veterans For Peace and other volunteers. Each week they set out red, white and blue crosses, stars of David and crescent moons.The white markers represent one dead soldier; the red ones, ten. Blue markers signify the most recent casualties. In August a symbolic tombstone was added, commemorating the seven soldiers who take their own lives each week. In the  week ending August 19th, 11  American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. On Sunday, two symbolic coffins were carried out and 11 pairs of boots were placed in front of 11 blue crosses to honor them. 

I asked Arlington West volunteer Linda Marasa what changes she has noticed over the years. She told me the tone of visitors has changed. She seldom meets any passerby who is offended by the memorial. People seem to feel the need to bring the soldiers home more than ever. Veteran and antiwar activist S. Brian Willson, who lost his legs while protesting an arms shipment to the Nicaraguan Contras, thinks the memorial's visual statement is a powerful reminder of the cost of war. He believes since there is no direct taxation for funding war and no draft, it is easy for most Americans to detach themselves from what is going on. But the memorial is a constant reminder that we are still at war. Willson thinks the memorial should be much bigger than it is, with markers for each dead Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani killed too.

The Veterans for Peace plan to continue setting up the memorial every Sunday until the war is over. They hope another war isn't started before this one ends.

 To see more images and read more about Arlington West check out my set on flickr from years past.

Carrying out coffin

Bringing Attention to Military Suicides
Santa Monic Beach on Sunday

Visitor book
Adam J Crumpler

Anti War activist S. Ryan Wilson, who lost his legs trying to stop a train carrying weapons, visits Arlington West.

Visitor at Arlington West

Vietnam veteran Kenny White writing the weeks dead count 

Red crosses signify  ten dead; white signify one. Among the crosses are  stars of David and crescent moons.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Raw Deal Offered to Louisiana Fishermen in Aftermath of BP Oil Spill

Dean Blanchard breaks open a tar ball on Grand Isle
GO FISH, Gulf Organized Fisheries in Solidarity and Hope, held a conference on August 4 at the Alario Center in New Orleans, bringing together over 700 people including lawyers, scientists and fishermen to discuss the settlement of a class action suit against BP. Earlier this year, BP agreed to pay out $7.8 billion, to be divided among those affected by the oil spill. Each party that signs on to the class action suit will receive an equal share. The settlement covers economic loss and health problems.Lawyers warned that signing on now would make it impossible to collect additional benefits if business does not pick up or a spill-related illness later emerges. Some of those in dire need have accepted the settlement. Boat captains and business owners can get a one time payment of $25,000 and deck hands, $5,000 -- payments that hardly compensate them for losses they've already incurred, and won't help them in the future if the seafood industry collapses of if they get sick. Dean Blanchard, the largest shrimp wholesaler in Louisiana, described the settlement as a joke. He asked the audience "Why should a Florida fisherman get the same amount of money that I would get?" His business is still losing money every day. He wonders if the lawyers who represented Louisiana's interests in the case had been bought off by BP. Blanchard points out that Louisiana is getting more BP money set aside for coastal restoration than other states, but the people are getting the same amounts as those in states less affected. "Why are the politicians not fighting for the people?" he asks. Settlement payments will be subjected to tax, while settlement monies from 9/11 and Agent Orange claims were tax free, another point of contention. People should hang tight, he warned, until they can get a settlement that will feed their families for the rest of their lives since Barataria Bay,and other fishing grounds may never come back to what they were. "Look at Alaska and Mexico" he warns.

The scientist, Dr Richard Condrey, retired LSU coastal ecologist, explained how things could go from bad to worse. Some species of fish may never recover. Some crabs have shown changes in their reproductive organs which could lead to the eradication of species in the area. Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, was in attendance. He worries about the after effects of dispersants on people, plants and animals, and he's concerned that the coastal restoration plan overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers is problematic. The planners aren't talking to the local population, the people who know the area best. No-one is officially checking for oil anymore, although fishermen spot oil almost daily, Nungesser says. Rithy Om, a Cambodian shrimper from Buras part of Plaquemines Parish, says he often loses money when he goes out shrimping. With his overhead more then wiping out his profit since his catch is off. The Buras Cambodian community of about 50 families is helping each other through hard times, Om's daughter Lynda tells me. She doesn't know how long they can last but she can't imagine them moving. That area is all those families know and shrimping is what they do.
Signs on Seafood Inc. on Grand Isle

 The day after the conference I took a trip to Grand Isle to meet with Dean Blanchard to see first hand the tar balls he said are still washing up on the beach. It didn't take long to spot them.  Blanchard's business is way off. He loses money daily by staying open, but he can't see himself staying home. If he were to close his shrimp processing center, local fishermen would suffer even more, forced to take their catch miles away. Tuna Phan's boat came in to process his shrimp. After paying all his expenses for the trip and paying his deck hands, he will make $400 for nine days work. At least he'll be able to feed his family he tells me. His catch of the day included tiger shrimp, an invasive species threatening Gulf shrimp along with the chemicals in the water. Blanchard can't stay on the beach very long. He has to head to Biloxi where he will meet with the team of lawyers working on his case. He will not stay quiet about what is happening nor will he settle for less than what he believes BP owes him. No one will buy him off. If anything, he would like to buy off the state officials to fight BP, but Governor Jindal, who denied taking BP money, shrugged him off when he inquired, "What would it cost to bring you over to the people's side?"

 BP commercials rub salt in the wounds of Louisiana fishermen. "Making Us Whole," the BP slogan, is a running joke. No wonder BP declined an invitation to send representatives to the GO FISH conference. 

Billy Nungesser with Dean Blanchard at the GO FISH conference

GO FISH conference in the Alario Center in Westwego
Diagram of health isues found in female crabs
Rithy Om, Cambodian shrimper from Buras

Dead dolphin on Elmer's Island
Tourism Down on Elmer's Island and Grand Isle

Open Tar ball

Tiger Shrimp- Invasive speices

Crabber on Grand Isle with small catch

My coverage of  the BP oil spill is  on my website- and my books ( 2 on the oil spill) can be previewed and/or purchased on Blurb's site. 

Monday, August 06, 2012

Chick-fil-A During the National Kiss-in on August 3rd in Metairie Louisiana

Whosoever Believeth,  a 43 year old father, came to the Metairie, LA Chick-fil-A after hearing about the National Kiss-Iplanned for Chick fil-A franchises across America.  He wasn't there to kiss anyone, but to spread the word about what he believes  the to-do is all about. "This is not about free speech or freedom of religion," Whosever Believeth said. "This is about Chick-Fil-A giving money to the Family Research Council who actively oppose gay rights." Hundreds packed the Metairie Chick-fil-A on Wednesday's Appreciation Day to show support for the chain, but only two gay couples showed up for Thursday's National Kiss-In. The couples entered the store, kissed and left.

Clay, who wouldn't give his last name, was not impressed. "This is New Orleans," he said, "or close enough. Everyone has a gay family member or friend, everyone!." The Kiss-In couples seemed tame to him, so, with his girlfriend Rosy he demonstrated what a real kiss looks like for reporters on the scene. To

The two same sex couple kisses seemed authentic to me. All three kisses are posted here and a link to video of Whosever Beleiveth speaking about the issue that has many people  boycotting Chick-fil-A.

 To see/read my story on the Atlantic's website site on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day also photographed in Metairie Louisiana click here.