Friday, September 10, 2010

Murder in San Francisco

A San Bruno resident says he has smelled natural gas in the area for weeks.Residents reported a strong smell of gas in the area pf that huge blast and fire in the Bay Area last night. Gas company authorities didn't do anything in response to the complaints about the smell of gas which were reported to them at least three weeks before the inferno erupted. One area resident told CNN the gas company just told him to close hid house up.

What happened here is murder. People and animals are dead and injured who didn't need to be...if only the company had checked out what was up and done something.

All the time people die as a result of corporate greed and no one goes to prison.

It posses me off.

The area has now been declared a crime scene "until authorities determine there was no foul play."

What's to determine?

San Bruno explosion, fire neighborhood now a crime scene
Mercury News

San Bruno police declared the area where an explosion and massive fire killed at least four people and injured more than 50 a crime scene this morning, a routine move that limits access to the area until authorities determine that no foul play was involved.
Police, who said one looter was arrested Thursday night, are patrolling the area to keep anyone not involved in the investigation away.
Firefighters, meanwhile, are continuing their grim search for more bodies in the neighborhood which one resident described as ''hell on earth'' last night. Thirty-eight homes were destroyed and at least seven more damaged in the inferno that burned.
The search for victims intensified at daylight as teams with 12 cadaver.dogs combed through rubble across 15 acres of Crestmoor Canyon. By late morning, fire officials reported that 75 percent of the burned properties have been searched. The rest were too hot for firefighters to check.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the cause of the Thursday night fire, while the California Public Utilities Commission is heading up the state investigation. Authorities have designated the site as a crime scene.
There were conflicting reports throughout the night and morning on the number of dead and houses destroyed.
Earlier today, the San Bruno fire chief said six people had died, according to ABC7-TV, but later the San Mateo County coroner said there were four confirmed dead. A coroner's office spokeswoman said both an odentologist and anthropologist have been called in to help with teeth and bone identification. She said none of the victims has been identified.
Officials this morning gave a grim assessment of the destruction.
"The sun is shining over here, but there is still a dark cloud hanging over the city,'' said Mayor Jim Ruane during a news conference, adding that the initial numbers of dead "will unfortunately get higher as the day progresses.''
He said the near future for those who have lost their homes will be one of distress and uncertainty.
At an 11:30 a.m. news conference at the Bothin Burn Center at St. Francis Memorial in San Francisco, Dr. Michael Kulick said he, another plastic surgeon and a team of 10 nurses worked throughout the night with the four burn victims who were transferred to the center Thursday evening.
He said the victims range in age from the their 20s to 50s and are all in critical condition. Three of the victims, whom he did not identify, are in critical condition with burns over 50 percent of their bodies. The fourth is in serious condition with burns over 40 percent. All of the burns, he said, are on the upper part of their bodies.

Kulick said all of the victims are sedated and are hooked up to machines to help them breathe. The most urgent concern for now, he said, is to prevent infection. In the coming days the patients will all be undergoing skin grafting. He said it could take a year or two for the victims to have full recovery. He said doctors will have a better idea of long-term prognosis later in the weekend.
Kulick said the families of the all victims have been at the hospital to see them.
At the scene of the fire, authorities are asking anyone who doesn't live in the affected areas to stay away.
The count of destroyed homes also changed -- initially, it appeared dozens were burned to the ground, then firefighters said 53 were destroyed or heavily damaged and 120 damaged. Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado declared the scene a state of emergency, and said 38 homes were destroyed and seven were significantly damaged. The latest damage estimate was determined by a flyover, followed by a walk-through of the area, officials said.
Google also is pitching in to help map the affected area.
"This is a horrific tragedy,'' Maldonado said at the same news conference. "Our hearts go out to those impacted by this horrible disaster. Without warning, many of these people's lives have been changed forever, and my deepest prayers go out to everyone.''
During the press conference, Millbrae and San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag praised the joint effort of state and local
"As devastating as this was, it could have been so much worse,'' he said, noting that four firefighters who had suffered smoke inhalation had already been released from the hospital.
Nevertheless, State Senator Leland Yee, (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) said, "There will be more heartache and difficult times ahead.''
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), who toured the site this morning, calling it "a very serious crisis,'' said her office is seeking aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and asking that the site be declared a national state of emergency. Weighing in the balance is the number of homes that were damaged or destroyed and how many homeowners were uninsured.
If granted, she said residents would benefit from an array of services, from housing to medical care to small business loans. Speier also asked for all state insurance companies to create a desk at the evacuation site and begin helping residents file insurance claims.
PG&E president Chris Johns also said the utility has been working closely with the Red Cross trying to help residents.
"I want to make sure everybody knows we are committed to do what is right and what is appropriate to help all the families and others who have been impacted by this tragedy,'' he said at the press conference.
Johns said crews worked through the night to make sure the area was safe and that all gas has been removed from the line that ruptured as well as related lines. He said the pipe that ruptured was 30 inches in diameter and about 40 to 50 years old.
"We haven't been able to get close enough to the actual source to be able to determine exactly why this happened, but we are trying to do that,'' he noted.
He said the company also was still looking into reports about residents smelling gas.
Officials said the most seriously damaged areas were the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Claremont Drive, the 900 block of Glenview Drive, the 1700 block of Earl Avenue, the 1100 block of Fairmont Drive and the 2700 block of Concord Way.
Meanwhile, all schools in the San Bruno Park School District are closed today due to the fire, according to the district's website.
Despite the devastation, city leaders stood strong.
"The mayor said there is a dark cloud over San Bruno,'' said city manager Connie Jackson. "But San Bruno is not only a wonderful community, it is a strong and resilient community. We are proud to live here and we will be proud to respond and restore the vitality and safety that San Bruno is known for.''
San Mateo County Supervisor Mark Church said the county's Health and Human Services department is providing help as well as counseling to San Bruno residents.
Overnight, the American Red Cross provided temporary shelter for 38 people, according to worker Kevin Hass, who was stationed at the Bayhill Shopping Center. Hass said many displaced residents and others who took part in the voluntary evacuation stayed in hotels or with family and friends.
The Red Cross truck at the Bayhill Shopping Center provided people with emergency medicine, food and water and directions to the two shelter locations. Hass added that the community responded with an outpouring of support, including businesses that provided cases of bottled water and dozens of pizzas.
At the city's senior center, where about 100 people had registered for services Thursday night, only 12 people slept in the dormitories, according to Jim Mallory with American Red Cross.
City Manager Jackson said that public safety personnel early this morning opened a formerly evacuated area east of Crestmoor Drive that she said is now safe for residents to return. Residents worried about rumors of looting were assured that the areas have been secured by authorities.
But she noted that city officials, worried about accounting for all residents, are asking residents to check in at the recreation center "to begin the process of assuring their accountability.''
Peninsula Humane Society spokesman Scott Delucchi said 15 animals, including dog and cats, have been reported missing; three have so far been reunited with their owners. He said seven animal control officers are going from door to door to try to locate any strays.
Two dogs, a German Shepherd and a Black lab, were taken to the shelter. While the Shepherd remains unclaimed, the Lab, named Lyla was reunited with her owners, who lived on Concord Way, just before noon today.
DeLucchi said the family was relieved, saying, "We've got our Lyla back so our family is complete now.''
DeLucchi said the society has received several offers of donations, but all it really wants is unopened pet food.
Thursday night, motorists from nearby Interstate 280 and eyewitnesses described the towering flames reaching as high as 60 feet into the air more than an hour after the huge fireball ignited with a sudden explosion in the packed residential community, a few miles from the San Francisco International Airport.
Yasmine Kury, who lives in an apartment complex near the fire's origin, saw black smoke drift over Interstate 280, after a thunderous explosion rocked the Crestmoor community in the area of Skyline Boulevard and Sneath Lane about 6:15 p.m.
"We heard it and felt it, and everyone ran out of the building," Kury said. "It was just a huge explosion."
The noise was so deafening that residents at first thought a plane had crashed, but Pacific Gas & Electric officials said one of its natural gas pipelines had erupted, fueling the flames that quickly began devouring homes and forced a wide-scale evacuation. PG&E, however, said the cause of the blaze had yet to be determined.
About 200 firefighters from across the Bay Area rushed to help control the huge fire that had already damaged 120 homes. As of 11 p.m. Thursday, fires continued to burn, turning the neighborhood into an apocalyptic scene. Only half of the fire had been contained.
Two brothers, Bob and Ed Pellegrini, live near the house at the center of the explosion, reported to have occurred at Claremont and Glenview drives. As the ground shook violently, they thought an earthquake had rattled the Bay Area. Then they saw the flames outside their window.
"It looked like hell on earth. I have never seen a ball of fire that huge," Bob Pellegrini said.
It was too hot to escape out the front door, so the brothers ran out the back and up the hill, the fire chasing them. It felt like a blowtorch on the back of their necks, they said. Then they saw that their house and four cars were destroyed in the fire.
"The house is gone," Ed said. "I have nothing. Everything is gone. We're homeless."
As helicopters dropped water and fire retardant on the leaping flames, San Mateo County opened emergency centers and a shelter at the San Bruno Recreation Center while activating a reverse 911 message system to alert residents. Many of the injured victims were taken to San Francisco and Daly City hospitals.
Fire officials confirmed one fatality, but there were late reports of two others dead. City officials declared the city a disaster area, as it seeks state and federal resources.
The California Public Utilities Commission, meanwhile, is investigating the cause of the explosion and fire, working with local officials and federal agencies as well as PG&E. Some residents in the neighborhood reported "a really strong smell of gas" last week, with PG&E responding at the time.
At Bayhill Shopping Center, residents huddled together in shock and tears as they watched the terrifying scene unfold on television.
Patty Blick, who lives on Claremont Drive, was driving home from work when she was suddenly met with flames and heat. "My house is gone. I'm just not really here right now," she said, sniffling. "I just don't want to leave even though I know nothing is there. I keep thinking I will find something."
John McGlothlin, who lives on the same street, was at home when the explosion happened.
"To me, it felt like an earthquake. Hearing rumbling, movement, stuff like that," said McGlothlin, who was buying a sweatshirt and other essentials at the shopping center where police initially directed many of the displaced residents.
In the San Bruno neighborhood where the explosion rattled the largely residential community, emergency vehicles blanketed the area.
Marilyn Siacotos, a neighbor who lives at the intersection of Fairmont Drive and Concord Way, drove by and picked up a family of four who lost their cat in the fire.
Siacotos, 76, escaped through the back door because the flames were licking down the front of her street.
"I didn't look back," she said. "I just got out before anybody (emergency responders) came."
Siacotos, and the family members, who did not want their names used, said the explosion originated at a home in the immediate vicinity of Fairmont Drive, a one-block road enclosed on both sides by Claremont Drive.
None of them had any time to grab any belongings before fleeing the scene.
Many described a chaotic scene, with residents scrambling for their lives, some suffering burns and cuts as they escaped the intense, radiating heat.
Retired San Bruno fire Battalion Chief Bob Hensel, who also had to evacuate, said it was the biggest fire he had seen in decades. When he left the house, with his two cats left behind, he saw his wife's car bumpers melt from the heat.
"I heard a big whooshing sound and there was a boom. Stuff started hitting the house and then it got yellow outside and then real warm," Hensel said.
Though Thursday's explosion may have resulted from a possible ruptured natural gas main, it brought reminders of a similar incident in the Bay Area.
In November 2004, a fuel pipeline killed five construction workers in Walnut Creek -- the deadliest gasoline pipeline explosion since one that killed six people in Texas in 1983.
"What makes this fire so devastating and so difficult is essentially it creates the equivalent of an eight-alarm fire in the heart of a residential neighborhood," retired Contra Costa fire Battalion Chief Dave George said. "It behaves differently than most other fires because it grows in all directions at the same time. Whatever it wants to do, it does."
George said the heat of the fire would be upward of 1,200 degrees, which could create radiant heat hot enough to burn a couch inside a brick home through the window.
"This is really a worst-case scenario," he said. "The closest thing to something like this is when a wildland fire hits a residential neighborhood."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


fidel and goldberg.jpg
Fidel fresh from the LL Bean Outlet store
Che's daughter is the young blond in the back row

Okay, continung on with the Fidel show. Today, amongst other things, Fidel disses the old Soviet economic model, reveals himself to be a bit of a card, talks about dolphins...We also dislcover that Che's daughter is now...well, you'll have to read this to find out what she is up to.

I will point out that I am not a 
fan of dolphin shows as I figure they've better things to do with their time than perform for us. While Fidel seems to enjoy the show, at this point, I'm sure he is up to being educated on the subject.

It is fascinating watching Fidel these days. Have we ever seen anything quite like this before?


Fidel: 'Cuban Model Doesn't Even Work For Us Anymore'

By Jeffrey Goldberg

There were many odd things about my recent Havana stopover (apart from the dolphin show, which I'll get to shortly), but one of the most unusual was Fidel Castro's level of self-reflection. I only have limited experience with Communist autocrats (I have more experience with non-Communist autocrats) but it seemed truly striking that Castro was willing to admit that he misplayed his hand at a crucial moment in the Cuban Missile Crisis (you can read about what he saidtoward the end of my previous post - but he said, in so many words, that he regrets asking Khruschev to nuke the U.S.).

Even more striking was something he said at lunch on the day of our first meeting. We were seated around a smallish table; Castro, his wife, Dalia, his son; Antonio; Randy Alonso, a major figure in the government-run media; and Julia Sweig, the friend I brought with me to make sure, among other things, that I didn't say anything too stupid (Julia is a leading Latin American scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations). I initially was mainly interested in watching Fidel eat - it was a combination of digestive problems that conspired to nearly kill him, and so I thought I would do a bit of gastrointestinal Kremlinology and keep a careful eye on what he took in (for the record, he ingested small amounts of fish and salad, and quite a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, as well as a glass of red wine). But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

"The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, "Never mind"?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, "He wasn't rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under 'the Cuban model' the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country."

Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy.  Raul Castro is already loosening the state's hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate. (The joke of this new announcement, of course, is that Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, not because of Cuban policy, but because of American policy. In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government's hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy. We'll regret this, of course, when Cubans partner with Europeans and Brazilians to buy up all the best hotels).

But I digress. Toward the end of this long, relaxed lunch, Fidel proved to us that he was truly semi-retired. The next day was Monday, when maximum leaders are expected to be busy single-handedly managing their economies, throwing dissidents into prison, and the like. But Fidel's calendar was open. He asked us, "Would you like to go the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?"

I wasn't sure I heard him correctly. (This happened a number of times during my visit). "The dolphin show?"

"The dolphins are very intelligent animals," Castro said.

I noted that we had a meeting scheduled for the next morning, with Adela Dworin, the president of Cuba's Jewish community.

"Bring her," Fidel said.

Someone at the table mentioned that the aquarium was closed on Mondays. Fidel said, "It will be open tomorrow."

And so it was.

Late the next morning, after collecting Adela at the synagogue, we met Fidel on the steps of the dolphin house. He kissed Dworin, not incidentally in front of the cameras (another message for Ahmadinejad, perhaps). We went together into a large, blue-lit room that faces a massive, glass-enclosed dolphin tank. Fidel explained, at length, that the Havana Aquarium's dolphin show was the best dolphin show in the world, "completely unique," in fact, because it is an underwater show. Three human divers enter the water, without breathing equipment, and perform intricate acrobatics with the dolphins. "Do you like dolphins?" Fidel asked me.

"I like dolphins a lot," I said.

Fidel called over Guillermo Garcia, the director of the aquarium (every employee of the aquarium, of course, showed up for work -- "voluntarily," I was told) and told him to sit with us.

"Goldberg," Fidel said, "ask him questions about dolphins."

"What kind of questions?" I asked.

"You're a journalist, ask good questions," he said, and then interrupted himself. "He doesn't know much about dolphins anyway," he said, pointing to Garcia. He's actually a nuclear physicist."

"You are?" I asked.

"Yes," Garcia said, somewhat apologetically.

"Why are you running the aquarium?" I asked.

"We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!" Fidel said, and then cracked-up laughing.

"In Cuba, we would only use nuclear power for peaceful means," Garcia said, earnestly.

"I didn't think I was in Iran," I answered.

Fidel pointed to the small rug under the special swivel chair his bodyguards bring along for him.

"It's Persian!" he said, and laughed again. Then he said, "Goldberg, ask your questions about dolphins."

Now on the spot, I turned to Garcia and asked, "How much do the dolphins weigh?"

They weigh between 100 and 150 kilograms, he said.

"How do you train the dolphins to do what they do?"  I asked.

"That's a good question," Fidel said.

Garcia called over one of the aquarium's veterinarians to help answer the question. Her name was Celia. A few minutes later, Antonio Castro told me her last name: Guevara.

"You're Che's daughter?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"And you're a dolphin veterinarian?"

"I take care of all the inhabitants of the aquarium," she said.

"Che liked animals very much," Antonio Castro said.

It was time for the show to start. The lights dimmed, and the divers entered the water. Without describing it overly much, I will say that once again, and to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with Fidel: The aquarium in Havana puts on a fantastic dolphin show, the best I've ever seen, and as the father of three children, I've seen a lot of dolphin shows. I will also say this: I've never seen someone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro enjoyed the dolphin show.


The Islamic Republic is a capitalist one and mining is big business there.  The Tehran times reports just yesterday in fact:

" 1.15 billion dollars has been invested in Iran's mining sector between 2006 and 2009, the deputy industry minister stated.

The investment has been made in exploration and extraction activities, Mohammad-Masoud Samieinejad added, the government's website reported.

The economic reform plan has envisaged supportive plans for 23 industrial energy-intensive industries such as cement, steel and aluminum, he said.

The country's annual crude steel output was 12 million tons in the year to March 2009, he said and added that there are plans to raise this figure to 20 million tons in the current year."

Now, keep in mind true to the capitalist spirit, the Iranian government and their big business supporters really don't give a hoot about workers or mining conditions.


The following is from Iran Labor Report.

Miners' Working Conditions in Iran

ILR staff writer Morad Mansouri in Tehran
There are only a few who can fathom the kind of grueling work required by miners. Long hours, confined space, unsanitary conditions and above all, suffocating atmosphere make mining one of the most unattractive occupations in the world.
The fear of death weighs constantly on a miner’s mind. Many times, the distance between working in a mine and losing your life is indeed just a hairline as we are seeing in the recent Chilean mine disaster.
Accidents such as cave-ins, gas accumulation, suffocation and explosions are daily realities confronting miners although their likelihood is much higher in the developing world. Never mind that in the case of these countries, progress and development are the excuse for such practices. Last year, one such accident occurred to the miners of Baab Nizoo in the city of Zarand, in Kerman province. Due to accumulation of methane gas many miners lost consciousness and were unable to escape. And then came the blast. Not only did the explosion cause the mine itself to blow up, it blew up the miners themselves from inside due to accumulation of gas in their lungs; a scene that even a horror-fiction writer can not describe. No monument stands anywhere to honor the fallen workers since miners have no unions of their own in the Islamic Republic of Iran. News coverage of the incident was rare and far in between. Those who lost their lives were heroes only to their children who were waiting for them at home.
This was not the first time Baab Nizoo mine had exploded. It had happened twice before. There had also been other accidents reported to the authorities. These incidents were supposed to have been too frequent, too recent for people to forget about. In the two previous explosions, some other miners had lost their lives as well. This coal mine, due to high concentration of methane gas, had been deemed as dangerous and was prevented from any further excavations. However, in order to maximize the owners’ profit margin, and of course with the knowledge of the safety inspectors (because such inspectors are sometimes in the pockets of the owners), the mine continued its work without any safety measures being implemented. In the days leading up to the deadly explosion, safety equipments showed methane gas levels upwards of 5 times the acceptable levels but the owners kept open the mines and miners continued mining because they needed to feed their families.
The working conditions of other mines in Iran, though not as ghastly as the one in Baab Nizoo, are only slightly better. Although such explosions have not occurred recently, workers face myriad safety issues, low wages (which is often at the minimum-wage level), and chronic illnesses which often prevents them from pursuing other employment opportunities later on in life. Depending on the type of mine, miners are faced with lung cancer, different types of poisoning, gradual loss of pulmonary function, M.S., impotence, and other illnesses. In addition, they are faced with uncertain job markets working as contractual workers. Below is a short sampling of Iran’s better-known mines:
1- Zarreh Shooran Gold Mine
This is one of the largest gold mines in the Middle East. It only started excavation about 9 months ago but already the miners are crying out for help. Rather than using the usual material in order to purify the mined gold, the owners are using some sort of chemical fertilizer which has resulted in physical damages to miners. The environmental damage is also horrendous. The high level of profitability has led the authorities to completely ignore the consequences to workers and the environment.
2- Agh Darreh Gold Mine
1. The Mine’s Conditions: this is the second largest gold mine in Iran which is located near the Zarreh Shooran mine in the city of Tekaab. Around 600 miners work there in three shifts round the clock. The owners are two former members of the Revolutionary Guards. Again, due to lack of proper oversight, and in order to maximize profits, this mine uses the same chemical fertilizer to purify the mined gold. The fertilizer is bought illegally from the government itself. Inhaling the fertilizer in and of itself leads to a myriad of health issues. However, the problem is exacerbated by lack of safety masks and safety hats which is commonly denied to miners. Most of the miners are local people who work on a contractual basis. They lack any job security and for any day spent working in the mine, many more days are probably taken off their lives. Any major illness requiring medical care will directly lead to their dismissal. Last year, one of the miners who had to use cyanide during 4 years of work at the mine fell ill. Upon requesting help from the owners, he was fired on the spot while his repeated requests to welfare agencies for disability compensations were ignored. He consequently lost his life. Other miners at this mine have similar fates. Many have reported chronic fatigue and impotency.
2. The Miners’ Efforts for their Rights: according to one of the miners working in this mine, the labor rights are printed and secretly distributed by underground labor groups. Dissatisfaction is rampant among the locals at the village of Tekaab where most miners live and where mining is their only means of subsistence. Many workers have decided to form underground unions which have resulted in the mine operators’ severe punishment. In several instances, organizers and protesters have been fired on the spot.
3- Tabass Coal Mine
Following the economic downturn in 2007, and Isfahan Steel’s inability to purchase required coal to run its foundry, many workers of this mine were denied their wages and benefits for a long period of time. Delayed wages led many workers to consider a company-wide strike. However, the management (which consists of many influential members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran) took the upper hand by firing some 1000 miners in 2008. The situation for the remaining miners continued without any resolution which led to a company-wide strike in 2010. Despite many threats by miners to stage sit-ins and strikes there is as yet no definite resolution to this problem.
4- Sangrood Coal Mine in Roodbar
Many of the miners in this mine staged a one-month strike after not receiving their wages and benefits for a period of a year and a half. The mine’s 800 miners are under severe pressure and despite the total absence of any organized work force, they were recently successful in receiving most of their delayed wages.
5- Rahvar Mine in Kerman
There are two groups of miners working in this mine, both on a contractual basis. Any protest by the workers for improvements in wages and safety issues, equipment and workers’ insurance has been met with severe responses by the management. Among contractual miners during 2009, there were those who made about $90 per month, which is equivalent to 1/3 of the minimum wage. Those who suffer injuries are continuously denied any compensation. During last year alone, 4 miners lost their lives in this mine. Recalcitrant miners are routinely forced to transfer to harder jobs. Ironically, this is the best that could happen to a protesting miner! Worse-case scenarios include dismissals or outright lay offs by contractors who run the mine.
Working conditions in other mines
Below is a general overview of working conditions in other mines:
- About half of the entire miners, about 50 workers, in Azbast Hajaat in Birjand are suffering from severe emphysema. This mine is about 35-years-old but some of the equipment used there is about 55-years-old!!
- Last year 4 miners suffocated in Kerman’s Hazhdak Coal Mine. There was a complete news blackout about these deaths.
- The miners strike in Azad Shahr’s Zemestan Yurt Mine ended in 2009, with 7 of the miners being arrested. The strike was due to non-payment of wages and benefits.
- 150 of the 500 miners in Ghaleh Zari’s Copper Mine were laid off recently.
- The future of Angooran Mine, one of the biggest in Iran is shrouded in uncertainty. Production at this mine is in limbo because of the disputes between the Revolutionary Guards which illegally grabbed the mine’s assets and the parliament which has been trying to block the transfer. The mine has had a sordid history. Previously, this mine was sold illegally to some relatives of a few MP’s. Of course the miners are on the verge of being laid off and they cannot fathom their fate or future.
Even though the bulk of the working class in Iran is suffering discrimination and illegality, a look at the miners’ status shows the abysmally inhumane and unbearable working condition they must face. This is due to the fact that historically mines have the highest level of profitability. Another factor affecting their condition is a complete absence of transparent laws and regulations regarding the ownership of mines. (Most mines in Iran are owned by influential members of the elite and/or military and paramilitary organizations which can afford the high rents associated with mining practices.)
Clearly, under these circumstances, the government oversight over operation of the mines has been reduced substantially. Such a blatant lack of oversight has led to severe exploitation of miners by the mine operators without barely spending a dime on their safety and general health. In addition, because of their close ties to the government, mine operators are able to subdue any and all workers’ protests in the most brutal and severe ways imaginable.
In smaller mines whose owners are not necessarily influential members of the elite, conditions are only minutely better. Even though wages are paid on time and working conditions are incrementally better, miners are routinely faced with lay offs due to small fluctuations in the company’s financial stability. Most mines are operated by independent contractors hired by government-owned or privately-owned mines. There is hardly anyone in the business world in Iran who does not know mines are the best place to exploit contractual labor.
Significantly, one should keep in mind the very nature of work in mines which requires the population of a specific locality often with closely-knit family links to work in close proximity to where they reside. Therefore, through educating themselves, miners could quickly organize themselves and demand their legal rights. We have witnessed that miners throughout the world have been pioneers of workers’ struggle in their respective countries. We saw that in South Africa under Apartheid. We also saw that in the United States in early twentieth century. The American UMWA that was formed in 1890 in Columbus, Ohio, provided the prototype for other labor organizations in that country for the repeal of Jim Crow laws and for workers’ solidarity.
There is every indication to witness the replay of such a historic role in the case of Iran’s miners.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Fidel seems to be enjoying his "retirement."  It is like he suddenly has the time to think, say and write whatever he really feels.  It's like he's saying I'm an old goat now, I can say what I want.  And, of course, he is Fidel Castro, so in Cuba he really can say what he wants.  Last week Fidel talked about errors he and his government made regarding the persecution of Cuban gays.  This week he goes out of his way and gives a pretty succinct rap on anti-semitism, Israel and Iran...not to mention nuclear war.

Fidel is making it clear, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, he ain't gone until he's gone.

The following fascinating piece if from The Atlantic.


(This is Part I of a report on my recent visit to Havana. I hope to post Part II tomorrow. And I also hope to be publishing a more comprehensive article about this subject in a forthcoming print edition of The Atlantic.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was on vacation, my cell phone rang; it was Jorge Bolanos, the head of the Cuban Interest Section (we of course don't have diplomatic relations with Cuba) in Washington. "I have a message for you from Fidel," he said. This made me sit up straight. "He has read your
Atlantic article about Iran and Israel. He invites you to Havana on Sunday to discuss the article." I am always eager, of course, to interact with readers of The Atlantic, so I called a friend at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig, who is a preeminent expert on Cuba and Latin America: "Road trip," I said.

I quickly departed the People's Republic of Martha's Vineyard for Fidel's more tropical socialist island paradise. Despite the self-defeating American ban on travel to Cuba, both Julia and I, as journalists and researchers, qualified for a State Department exemption. The charter flight from Miami was bursting with Cuban-Americans carrying flat-screen televisions and computers for their technologically-bereft families. Fifty minutes after take-off, we arrived at the mostly-empty Jose Marti International Airport. Fidel's people met us on the tarmac (despite giving up his formal role as
commandante en jefe after falling ill several years ago, Fidel still has many people). We were soon deposited at a "protocol house" in a government compound whose architecture reminded me of the gated communities of Boca Raton. The only other guest in this vast enclosure was the president of Guinea-Bissau.

I was aware that Castro had become preoccupied with the threat of a military confrontation in the Middle East between Iran and the U.S. (and Israel, the country he calls its Middle East "gendarme"). Since emerging from his medically induced, four-year purdah early this summer (various gastrointestinal maladies had combined to nearly kill him), the 84-year-old Castro has spoken mainly about the catastrophic threat of what he sees as an inevitable war.

I was curious to know why he saw conflict as unavoidable, and I wondered, of course, if personal experience - the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 that nearly caused the annihilation of most of humanity - informed his belief that a conflict between America and Iran would escalate into nuclear war.  I was even more curious, however, to get a glimpse of the great man. Few people had seen him since he fell ill in 2006, and the state of his health has been a subject of much speculation. There were questions, too, about the role he plays now in governing Cuba; he formally handed off power to his younger brother, Raul, two years ago, but it was not clear how many strings Fidel still pulled.

The morning after our arrival in Havana, Julia and I were driven to a nearby convention center, and escorted upstairs, to a large and spare office. A frail and aged Fidel stood to greet us. He was wearing a red shirt, sweatpants, and black New Balance sneakers. The room was crowded with officials and family: His wife, Dalia, and son Antonio, as well as an Interior Ministry general, a translator, a doctor and several bodyguards, all of whom appeared to have been recruited from the Cuban national wrestling team. Two of these bodyguards held Castro at the elbow.

We shook hands, and he greeted Julia warmly; they have known each other for more than twenty years. Fidel lowered himself gently into his seat, and we began a conversation that would continue, in fits and starts, for three days. His body may be frail, but his mind is acute, his energy level is high, and not only that: the late-stage Fidel Castro turns out to possess something of a self-deprecating sense of humor. When I asked him, over lunch, to answer what I've come to think of as the
Christopher Hitchens question - has your illness caused you to change your mind about the existence of God? - he answered, "Sorry, I'm still a dialectical materialist." (This is funnier if you are, like me, an ex-self-defined socialist.) At another point, he showed us a series of recent photographs taken of him, one of which portrayed him with a fierce expression. "This was how my face looked when I was angry with Khruschev," he said.

Castro opened our initial meeting by telling me that he read the recent 
Atlantic article carefully, and that it confirmed his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran. This interpretation was not surprising, of course: Castro is the grandfather of global anti-Americanism, and he has been a severe critic of Israel. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he said, was simple: Israel will only have security if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the rest of the world's nuclear powers will only have security if they, too, give up their weapons. Global and simultaneous nuclear disarmament is, of course, a worthy goal, but it is not, in the short term, realistic. 

Castro's message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the "unique" history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. "I remember when I was a boy - a long time ago - when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside," he said, "and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.' God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.' They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?"

He went on, "Well, I didn't know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a 'Jew,' and so for me the Jews were those birds.  These birds had big noses. I don't even know why they were called that. That's what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was."

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. "This went on for maybe two thousand years," he said. "I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything." The Iranian government should understand that the Jews "were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here's what happened to them: Reverse selection. What's reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation." He continued: "The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust." I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. "I am saying this so you can communicate it," he answered.

Castro went on to analyze the conflict between Israel and Iran. He said he understood Iranian fears of Israeli-American aggression and he added that, in his view, American sanctions and Israeli threats will not dissuade the Iranian leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons. "This problem is not going to get resolved, because the Iranians are not going to back down in the face of threats. That's my opinion," he said. He then noted that, unlike Cuba, Iran is a "profoundly religious country," and he said that religious leaders are less apt to compromise. He noted that even secular Cuba has resisted various American demands over the past 50 years.

We returned repeatedly in this first conversation to Castro's fear that a confrontation between the West and Iran could escalate into a nuclear conflict. "The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated," he said. "Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war." I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. "That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense," Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, "At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?" He answered: "After I've seen what I've seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn't worth it all."

I was surprised to hear Castro express such doubts about his own behavior in the missile crisis - and I was, I admit, also surprised to hear him express such sympathy for Jews, and for Israel's right to exist (which he endorsed unequivocally). 

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro's invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. "Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him," she said. "Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he's really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn't expect to have. And he's revisiting history, and revisiting his own history."

There is a great deal more to report from this conversation, and from subsequent conversations, which I will do in posts to follow. But I will begin the next post on this subject by describing one of the stranger days I have experienced, a day which began with a simple question from Fidel: "Would you like to go to the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?"

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. Author of the book Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, he has reported from the Middle East and Africa. He also writes the magazine's advice column.