Irma and Harvey Exposed America Naked

Maria destroys Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria now ravaged Puerto Rico. The entire island is in dark. Curfew is on. This is United States of America. (Photo from SFGate dot com. For non-profit, one-time, academic use only.)

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August ended and September started in America with two humongous, historic hurricanes.

Those who do not live in USA cannot fathom the calamity that knocked down the doors of some of the poorest people here. People in India and elsewhere are not able to understand what is happening in USA – one of the richest nations on earth.

As I write this article, Hurricane Harvey has turned Houston into an ocean before leaving for new destruction. Many in the city famous for NASA have their lives literally under water. People have left their homes just like the time when Katrina had struck New Orleans.

Dailyreadlist dot comHurricane Harvey, Houston, America. Photo courtesy: Dailyreadlist dot com .

Just when Harvey left a trail of devastation, Irma struck the Caribbean islands. It left, but not before sinking Havana. After pummeling through South Florida and its many small keys, including Hemingway’s Key West, Hurricane Irma has destroyed lives in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Jacksonville in North Florida. People have died — more than a hundred from the effects of Harvey alone, and the counts of death from Irma are yet to be fully known.

News from the “savage” Cuban and Caribbean islands do not deserve space in “civilized” American media. One of my acquaintances had gone for a holiday on an island in the  Bahamas. She came back safe. But she noticed that all the media coverage there was focused on the imminent threat faced by the tourism industry of Miami, Tampa, and South Florida. None of the news channels did much to warn the people of these “God-forsaken,” out-of-the way islands about the danger lurking. People there were not prepared to face the storm: there was no serious evacuation plan for millions directly in the path of the hurricane’s eye.

Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Martin were destroyed for a lifetime. But, American media’s wisdom is, “It happens all the time.” Who in their right mind lives there? Only poor black and brown people. They will survive anyways. Why, haven’t the people of Sunderbans survived after Super-Cyclone Aila of 2009? Havana – oh yes, the communist den! It is because of them that there’s so much trouble in this world in the first place. It’s God’s will, can’t you see? No one dies here in God-believing America.

America is great! For the moment let us overlook that St. Croix, St. John, Virgin Islands – all American places – are destroyed. But, heck, the coasts of Florida with their bikini beaches, casinos, golf courses are safe. Mercy to God!

The problem, however, is that America is not really so great. Not anymore. Numerous people in Florida — white, black, brown — still have their lives in major peril. Their houses and apartments and mobile homes were washed away. Hurricane Sandy had drowned New York City a few years ago, and today, Florida and Texas are under water. Thousands of people have taken refuge in government shelters. Basketball stadiums were turned into refugee camps, along with public schools. Government is supporting the poor with food, clothes, medicines, water. Many Non-profit organizations are also helping.

Irma shelter Florida BBC

Hurricane Irma shelter in Florida, USA. Photo courtesy: BBC News.

In this age of rampant corporatization and privatization, and the naked euphoria for everything “private,” it is actually the government that is supporting the vulnerable – countless of them in this so-called First World. If you notice carefully, you will find that all the warnings were issued by the National Weather Service and NASA. The heavy task of evacuation was carried out by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is them who have relentlessly planned to save the poor children, men, women and elderly from danger, death and starvation. It was public transportation and roads and highways that made the evacuation possible. With government police, military, and other such agencies. Not for profit organizations and volunteers helped them enormously.

Ronald Reagan said, there is no need of a government, because “Government is the problem.” No Sir, Your Honor, government is not the problem. Unchecked, unprecedented privatization, and out-of-control greed of private corporations is the real problem. Their fossil fuel burning, big, gas-guzzling cars and SUVs, exploitation of Mother Nature for oil, natural gas, or coal, combined with massive deforestation and urbanization have destroyed all the ecological and environmental equilibrium. This disaster is due to the havoc it has played with never-in-history emission of carbon di-oxide and other toxic gases, forcing a massive global temperature rise, and a catastrophic climate change.

Scientists have warned many times over, but the rulers in USA, China and India have not taken any heed. The environment is in the face of a major calamity today. The great scientist Stephen Hawking said that this world as we know it today would be completely uninhabitable in the coming hundred years. Environment disaster will bring forth new violence, unbelievable misery, and refugee crises for the people in all corners of earth. USA, India will not be spared.

And here in America, the far right president and his anti-people ruling class still deny climate change. They don’t believe in science, and honestly, this is the only developed country in the world that has so much science-ignorance and illiteracy. Again, you have to live and work on the ground in America to know how miserable the situation truly is.

There is no doubt that recent, major hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, Sandy and Katrina have left America naked to the world, exposing its poverty and illiteracy. It exposed its unpreparedness to major disasters. Its science-ignorance. Its rulers’ total apathy about the ordinary people and their misery. The question, however is, will a neoliberal, USA-modeled India learn from these catastrophes, or resist this system that punishes the poor, and keeps them in perennial dark? Will they look for the truth? Accept the truth?

My wishful thinking is – the sooner we do it, the better.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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Stephen Hawking ecowatch dot com

The Little Magician on E Train

It is spectacular!

Well, you might think I am using a metaphor or something.

Some of you might think, especially after you’re through with this article, that I’m actually using the magician metaphor for something else. Knowing me and having read my tons of blog posts so far, some others might think the E Train is actually a metaphor too: maybe, it means the Economy train, or perhaps, Employment train. Or, perhaps…Energy train. Something…or something else…imaginations could run wild.

But, believe me, I am not using any metaphor. I am actually talking about a little magician on the E subway train here in New York City. The only creative liberty I’m taking as the author is with the word “little,” only because, as they always say, ordinary people are little people.

This magician I’m going to talk about is a no-name magician, I’m sure; otherwise, he would not play his magic in front of a reluctant, tired New York subway audience, and jump from car to car to make a living. I tend to believe this is not even his primary job; who can live and feed mouths in Bloomberg’s only-for-rich New York on enchanting a few, sleepy subway commuters late in the evening — with their magic or music?

I’m only telling you this story because it was so exceptional. I’ve never seen anything like it in my un-magical life. I even gave him a dollar — an exceptional act of benevolence if you knew my miserly middle-class Indian-Bengali upbringing. My sense of charity and benevolence could easily match up Shylock of the Merchant of Venice!

Ah, well…getting back on with the story.

I was tired and trying hard not to doze off on the train — I became extra careful to stay alert since a few months ago, a bunch of kids tried to pull a prank on a sleepy me on the G-train. I taught myself about the necessity to stay up especially in these difficult times. Phone snatching, pickpocketing and other such untoward things here in Bloomberg’s only-for-rich New York has now become commonplace.

I was tired and trying hard not to doze off on the train, and contemplating on the mundane-ness of a commuter’s life…or something philosophical like it. Or, maybe, I was just thinking nothing. Something like it. Then, this guy got on the train and things changed in a few seconds…like magic!

He was a tallish, whitish, middle-age’ish guy who showed visible signs of lifelong strife and struggle. Maybe, he is a loner. Maybe, his wife and children left him and his inability to make a decent living. Seeing his manners and magic, I remembered Satyajit Ray’s short story on the little Bengali magician Mr. Tripura Mullick who said to his one-and-only student: “Look, I know all these tricks, but the only trick I don’t know is how to make money.” And that little magician in Ray’s magical story was also a loner, with nowhere to go and no place to live.

Satyajit Ray’s Magical Stories

This little magician’s tricks — unthinkable and quite unbelievable — also reminded me of Ray’s little magician: they were all done without any use of pomp, grandeur or big stage or footlights, or without the help of any glittery woman assistant — or for that matter, without the typical, non-stop patters magicians often use to distract the viewers. He didn’t do any of the above. In fact, all the tricks this guy did were so right front of my eyes that unless I knew he was pulling tricks, I wouldn’t believe he was pulling tricks. That’s how magical they were!

His games were also not something I’ve never seen; in fact, I’ve seen them many times. I’ve seen the cut rope trick where the magician pulls out a piece of white rope, asks someone in the audience to hold the two ends tight spreading it apart, and cuts it in the middle. He then measures the two halves and shows that they are indeed much shorter than the original length. He then gives one half to a member of the audience and keeps the other half. He does an abracadabra on the half he has, rubs his fingers a little magically, and snaps it! Walla, suddenly the half length of the rope becomes a full length again!

(At this point, YOU — some of my longtime readers, now familiar with my way of pulling my own writing tricks, would say: “Okay, wait a minute, we know what you’re up to. You’re trying to say that these little, no-name people are the ones who are constantly pulling the broken pieces of the economy back together with their unsung heroism — acts like magic that nobody knows and nobody cares about: magical acts that behind the scene put the world back together especially in times of serious crisis — like the crisis the American society is now going through, or especially at this difficult time after Hurricane Sandy. You’re telling us to compare the incredible, magic-like work of these small, low-wage workers — electrical workers, plumbers, construction workers, subway workers and so many more — that New York Times or CNN would not talk about. Right?” — Well, I could easily have said that and used this whole article as a metaphor; but really, I’m not doing it because repeating something over and over again is the last thing an intelligent author would do because it drives even his ardent, admiring readers crazy and totally disinterested. You are welcome to judge using your own judgement. I leave that up to you.)

So, on with the story (I hope not to be interrupted again…please).

The little magician went on to show a few little tricks — the usual stuff we see on TV or in a theater — like changing the color of handkerchiefs and all. Remember, all of it is happening just over six or so minutes on an express stop between Forest Hills and Jackson Heights; he would hop on to the next car as soon as the train stops. Now, the final game — with some small amount of cheerful talk from a not-so-cheerful-looking magician: the card trick.

He pulls out a pack of cards and juggles with all fifty two of them in a way that I could only imagine in my dream! Up and down, side to side, inside out, and outside in. He takes the pack in his lifted right palm and throws them down on his left — in a never-ending chain with no cards misbehaving. He then obviously asks one of the subway commuters to pull a card of her choice — and the poor magician had a hard time finding a volunteer because everybody was so reluctant to do it for the fear that they’d probably have to show some gesture of charity which they would not want to do. He then turns his eye away from the woman who volunteered; she now put the card back in the pack the magician was holding out. The rest of the game we all know: he does some more abracadabra, walks his long, uncanny fingers on the pack of cards, and wallah, he pulls out the right card the woman chose!

Finally, in the last thirty seconds or so, the magician shows us something I’ve never seen before in my life. He pulls out a number of cards from the pack and starts spinning them horizontally in the air — halfway between the train floor and ceiling, and the cards floated and danced and circled around in an incredibly synchronous movement, and it appeared they would never stop, as if they were all held together by an invisible string.

It was even better, much better, than this!

Again, it reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s little magician Mullick who trained a coin to come out of his wallet, walk to another coin on the floor, and walk it back together into the wallet. Our little, no-name magician on the E-train also instructed his cards to stop their wild dance and come together quietly into the pack. It was time for him to pack up and hop on to the next car on the E-train. Jackson Heights had arrived and the train had stopped. He collected a few dollar bills — one from a totally inspired and woke-up me, without saying even a word of thanks.

He was not one of the talkative, patterful magicians. He was not David Copperfield of America or P. C. Sircar of Calcutta. He didn’t know the tricks to make a decent living. He never learned that magic.

I hope to see him again some day — on my way back from work on the E Train. He certainly deserves an extra dollar from me…or two.

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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November 6: Mundane, Memorable (and Obama Reelection Too)

This is exactly where I was!

11.45 P.M.

Congratulations, President Obama. And more congratulations to Elizabeth Warren.

I hope your second term is pro-people and radically different from your first term. Make Warren the Wall Street watchperson. Bring back Glass-Stegall. Pass Employee Free Choice Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Bring back the New Deal economy. Reward work and workers. Stop all wars and bombing and droning.

The American people have kept faith in you. You show us how pro-people you are. It’s time to sever ties with the same-old iron-walled elitist politics.

Come down to earth. This is where God is.

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This is what I wrote this evening, before Obama’s re-election. I want to remember it, for reflection and posterity.

November 6, 2012. Election Day. Barack Obama wants to be re-elected today. He knows it’s not easy this time. Well…we’ve talked about it over and over again. It’s not my fault if he loses.

But I do hope he wins. ONLY because I never want extremists and war mongers to win.

Anyway…it’s too early for politics.

5 A.M. — Alarm rang. It’s too early. Too dark. Had to wake up. Got stuff to do.

5.30 A.M. — Started that old car and warmed it up for a while. That sucker may not run in this cold. Man, it looks like freezing chill in the backyard.

5.45 A.M. — Drove a sleepy wife to the polling station. She works there every time there’s an election. She is really the helping type. Always helps. Wants to help. Just a couple of days ago, she went to a shelter at Brooklyn Armory where hundreds of people began spending nights since that hurricane Sandy struck. She distributed food. She cooked food. She took a whole bunch of blankets and sweaters and shirts and pants, without asking me, and gave them away. Ah, well…I did my part too. Calcutta, Bengal, flood, drought, collecting rice and dal and clothes…campaigning by car…announcing with a hand-held microphone…truckloads of donated supplies…some money…completely honestly handing it all over to Ramakrishna Mission…yeah…I did it all!

A shelter for hurricane victims.

6 A.M. — Did not go back home. Normally, after dropping her off, I go back and take an extra hour to sleep. Not this time. Got stuff to do.

6.15 A.M. — Drove up to a gas station where my friend Sinha works as the head mechanic. He said last night they were going to pump gasoline at 4 A.M. today. Had to be there. Sandy sucked New York and New Jersey dry of gas.

Oh God, the line was already so long! Cops were managing the long line of cars and people. Stood behind the line. Turned off the engine. Waited…waited…

Drove up one inch at a start. This stupid, old car is gonna quit soon with so many starts and stops.

Moving…slowly…slowly…like a metallic snail…

America. Energy Crisis. Inevitable.

7.15 A.M. — Finally I can see the gas station. It’s still not totally morning yet. Even though, just two nights ago, they turned the clock back to end the daylight saving time. Without it, it would now be really dark. At least, I can see the gas station and the people lining up long lines…with containers, big water jars, whatever they got…to get petrol.

I kept thinking of my old Calcutta school days when I would stand up behind long lines to get kerosene, or coal, or bread…remembered those war-torn days in the sixties…

7.30 A.M. — Got gas. Filled up the tank. Paid by credit card. Off I go…

I’m not returning home. Let’s go straight to work. Had to work from home yesterday. No gas, no subway. And I can’t fly to work!

8.05 A.M. — Work. Office. Yesss! Turned on my office computer. Turned on my personal laptop too.

Worked. Had tea. Somebody’s class had extra bagels. Picked up a couple. Not bad. Didn’t have time for any breakfast in that hurry.

11.30 A.M. — 12.30 P.M. — My colleague cum director asked us to come out help load some trucks with bags full of supplies for the hurricane victims. That was not bad, doing it like they do it in an army supply line…pick up bags, throw bags to the next person…like passing the baton in a relay race…catching bags…throwing it to the next person over…bags get loaded…trucks full of bags of supplies…not bad…not bad…did something good…worthwhile…

Worked more…putting together materials for classes…labor workshop for next year…other classes…writing reports for past classes…not bad…not bad…

4.30 P.M. — Had to leave. Didn’t have lunch. Hungry. Got a piece of Sicilian pizza and some coffee. Off to the road…back on Jackie Robinson Parkway…Pennsylvania Avenue…Atlantic Avenue…home.

5.30 P.M. — Parked that old car in the garage. It’s cold, man. Chilly! Need to go pick up wifey very late. She says long voter lines. She might be working until 11 P.M. or midnight!

Mundane. Not exciting this time. Not at all!

6 P.M. — Walked to vote at our usual school building. Long line again. Man, this is a day for lines. Lines. Lines. Spiral lines. So many people are voting…Why? What do they think? Next four years will be different from the last four? Sheesh!!

6.30 P.M. — Voted. Filled up the scan sheet. Scanned through the machine. DONE!

Voted. Because I am a completely nonviolent person. Nonviolent thinker. Activist. Writer. My middle name is nonviolence. My second middle name is mainstream.

Regardless of how many vote. Regardless of how many can stay nonviolent.

P.S. — 1 A.M. — I drove my wife back home from the polling center where she worked since 5.45 A.M. (yesterday). She will make a few hundred dollars. Peanuts…compared to what the people who just got elected would make.

That’s the ultimate irony of this so-called democracy!

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Obama and the Huge Hurricane

Note: This is my last blog post before the November 6 elections.

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Hurricane Sandy just left us.

The superstorm left behind a huge trail of devastation. Here in New York, millions of people are without power. Many homes and neighborhoods are flooded. Many people are spending nights in local shelters. Some forty people have perished in the storm.

I want to say a word of prayer for all those who suffered.

New York’s mayor Bloomberg graciously toured the devastated areas in his God’ly helicopter. On the other hand, New Jersey’s governor and some other city mayors and elected council members worked with affected people and brave rescue workers, standing in knee-deep water, shoulder to shoulder. Thousands of construction workers, electrical workers, plumbers, pipe fitters, sanitation workers, subway workers, glass workers, carpenters, health care workers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers, firefighters, National Guard volunteers, and numerous other professionals are working 24/7 to pull America out of this incredible mess.

I want to say a word of prayer for these brave souls too. These workers are our unsung heroes.

I wish Barack Obama left all his campaign stops over the next few days, and did just the same, round the clock. But who am I to say it? He has his privileged, elite professional aides to direct him. (I was happy to see he spent some time on the ground to help the victims; I wish he did much more. That is the real campaign: campaign to work for the poor and vulnerable.)

In just a week, United States of America is going to elect its president. Chances are, Barack Obama will be unseated by Mitt Romney. I had predicted this outcome — however sad and unfortunate and undesirable — in early August through an article on this blog. You can read it here.

Some of my friends — a large majority of them Democrats — got upset at my prediction and sent me messages expressing their disapproval and anger. Some of them un-friended me from their Facebook. I am deeply sorry that I made them so unhappy. As someone who worked very hard and with high energy and hopes for Obama’s victory in 2008, a looming Obama defeat in 2012, and that too, at the hands of Mitt Romney — someone most Americans never heard of and a super-rich, elitist politician even his Republican Party was not excited about just three months ago — was not something I had envisioned. But it is now a real possibility.

The entire scenario has made me extremely tired. I don’t want to write much more. In fact, I expressed my terrible frustration in a post I called My Last Letter to President Obama. You can read that here too.

In this post, I’m only quoting a few messages myself and some of my friends have wrote on my Facebook page over the past couple of days — since Hurricane Sandy hit the Eastern Seaboard. I hope some people notice and think about it. I have no money, no media power, and no pedigree. Even though some of my friends blame me (at least partially) for my so-called “anti-Obama” blogs for an Obama defeat next week, I really I have no such power to make or break anything — especially something of this grand magnitude.

Republicans on women and government

I still want Obama to win over Romney. I shall never vote for Romney and Ryan.

You can be upset with me, but honestly, your blame is misplaced. You should have been upset with Obama, his administration and the Democratic Party that simply failed to deliver. Plus, you have the right-wing media such as Fox TV or Rush Limbaugh radio show who slandered Obama and punched him below the belt; on the other hand, the so-called liberal media neither exposed the real criminals behind the economic crisis on one hand (because of their own ties with some of them) nor did they chastise the Obama government on their terribly wrong moves and horrible choices of top executives who failed the ordinary, working Americans the second time over.

The American voters who were raped by the Bush administration for eight years were raped all over again by these sinister people and their policies over the past four years. And knowingly or not, Obama did not do much to stop them. Republicans took advantage of it.

Then came Obama’s disastrous first debate that tipped the election — so far on Obama’s side — to Romney’s favor. Obama squandered a golden opportunity the Mother Jones “47-percent” undercover exposé landed on his lap.

I wrote a number of articles to show how we expected Obama to work differently — away from the elite-iron-walled Democratic mode, and drastically away from the Republican path. I am citing one of those posts here too, in case you are interested to read.

So, here’ the final few passages from my Facebook page — in the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. Hope you read them once and perhaps, if you please, read them twice.

I wrote as my status update during and post-Hurricane Sandy:

1. WE ARE OKAY here in mid-Brooklyn. Thank God. New Jersey, Manhattan and Long Island were not so lucky. Many of my labor union colleagues and immigrant friends are having a hard time right now. This unprecedented late-October mega-storm off the Atlantic Ocean is big-time proof of drastic climate change and global warming. ALSO, I keep wondering how Americans still can’t see the important role of the government especially at such difficult times. Just think if there were no FEMA, OSHA or EPA (and private companies ran their jobs!). Government, in restraint, is a friend and not a foe. Ronald Reagan was wrong.

Beware of the Bain’s!

2. IF I WERE OBAMA. – I would just show the enormous, massive work American workers are doing right now to pull the country out of this huge environmental calamity. I would show the important role the [restrained] government is playing with help from FEMA, EPA or OSHA. I would just show the president providing leadership to the rescue operation. Not like Bloomberg flying on a helicopter, but standing in knee-deep water, shoulder to shoulder with the ordinary, suffering men and women. There would be no need for any more campaign blitz. (But who am I? They have all the power, and I don’t. They have their media and machinery and money, and they must be more intelligent than I am.)

3. MY FIVE POINTS FOR REAL CHANGE. — (1) A pro-working people coalition of moderate left and right that believes in true equal opportunity (class, race and gender-wise) for upward social mobility, (2) A Keynesian economic system that rewards labor, helps the poor, and regulates-restricts corporations (including war and prison corporations), (3) Refrain from too much power for the government ensuring rights, justice, liberty and freedom, (4) Find alternative environment, energy and peace policies, and (5) Do not promote or sustain a global, violent hegemonic power and economic aggression. For whatever its worth, this must be the future education for our children. It’s a start.

Hurricane Sandy in Cuba

4. HURRICANE IN NEW YORK. — It was a new experience for us here in Brooklyn to go through this big storm. We survived, except for some power cuts, broken trees and small house damage. Yet, can’t help thinking how people all over the world — in Bangladesh, Orissa, Cuba, Haiti, Indonesia, etc. deal with it ALL THE TIME, and we take their lifelong suffering for granted. Maybe, we need to wake up. Or, will we, ever? I doubt it.

5. THIS ELECTION AND MY PREDICTION. — Who cares if predictions I made over two months ago turned out to be correct? Nobody is going to give me any money, fame or award (and some people are pretty upset at me, as if I am partially responsible for the outcome). Plus, I’d be terrified, petrified myself that fascists, racists and bigots came back to power, that Obama squandered an historic opportunity, and that the world is back on the doom and destruction track again. Don’t blame me. Blame them!

Think about it.

Sorry about the somewhat incoherent way to put it all together. But I hope you can find the underlying messages I tried to send across. I hope we can engage in an honest and sincere, urgently necessary conversation — NOW and also after the November 6 elections.

I still hope Obama wins and Romney loses. Just because I would NEVER want racists, sexists, war mongers, supremacists and bigots come back to power.

But our conversation and grassroots bridge-building will go on, regardless of the election outcome.

Sincerely writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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Obama didn’t deliver. But Republicans didn’t want him to deliver, either!