March 12th, 2009 |
You want to sell something? I don’t know, hamburgers, soft drinks, a pair of athletic shoes, a newspaper—even religion—get a slogan.
Wendy’s got plenty of mileage from a tiny elderly lady who mouthed the words “Where’s the beef.” (Just for fun, check out a couple of those ads. Even if you’re a vegan, I’ll bet you’ll cough up a laugh http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aISkVvi5iI8).
“It’s the real thing.” You find it in a Coke machine, of course. So sprint over to the nearest vending machine in your new athletic shoes, and drop some money in the slot—like the Nike folks say—“just do it.”
As far as newspapers are concerned, or at least as long as they are still around, my New York Times arrives at my doorstep on Sunday morning with the familiar words: “All the news that’s fit to print.” Not bad for a motto, but it does make me wonder who makes the decisions about what’s fit.
Back in 1947 when I was twelve years old I heard seven words written by a guy named Al Scalpone, a professional commercial advertisement-writer. The slogan is stuck right up there in my memory alongside of the Lord’s Prayer. The words have garnered long-term mileage in the American psyche: “The family that prays together stays together.”
On the subject of religious advertisements, the Episcopal Church is now running a series of “Put Our Faith to Work” ads. They’re designed to move “the chosen frozen” out of “the comfortable pew.” One designed to get folks involved with a community feeding program for the poor or elderly reads: “Get closer to God—slice carrots.” My favorite goes like this: “Rolling up your sleeves is one way of getting down on your knees.”
My big question these days is simply this: What catchy slogan will the German-based company Bayer think up to convince me that they are not trying to gas me and my neighbors, like they gassed the people in Bhopal twenty years ago?
Slogan: “A Hand In Things To Come”
Most of us know Bayer as the company that makes aspirin. The brown and gold box, with the word Bayer superimposed upon the label in the shape of a cross, has dominated the medicine shelf since chemist Felix Hoffmann, at Bayer in Germany, chemically synthesized the necessary elements to relieve his father’s rheumatism.
I take an aspirin every morning because there seems to be good evidence that the bitter-tasting little pill helps prevent heart attacks.
What I may need now is a really big pill that will immunize me against methyl isocyanate (MIC) and phosgene. Let me explain.
The Bayer plant, located just down the road from where I live, used to be owned by Union Carbide. Carbide, once a flourishing corporate giant here in the valley is long gone. How long gone? Well, right now there’s an auction on e-Bay to determine who gets to push the button on March 28 that will implode the 11-story brick building that once housed Carbide’s corporate headquarters.
Years ago Union Carbide, along with DuPont and FMC, helped give this valley the name “Chemical Valley.” The plant may not have been, as is said today, environmentally green, but it did bring jobs and green dollars in the form of economic prosperity.
But things began going downhill on December 3, 1984, when the Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked 46.3 tons of MIC killing an estimated 8,000 people and injuring hundreds of thousands who lived in this impoverished community. It was then that people here discovered that MIC wasn’t only produced in India. MIC was stored in the Kanawha Valley Union Carbide plant.
Prior to the Bhopal disaster, Union Carbide ran an interesting advertisement. Entitled “Science helps build a new India,” it depicted a thin, dark-skinned man at the Ganges River, wearing a turban, plowing desert ground, behind a wooden plow pulled by skinny oxen yoked together with wood and rope. Two dark-skinned women wearing traditional saris watch while holding a parasol, one balancing a large basket or jug on her head.
Across the top of the advertisement is the hand of a white man. The hand is pouring a clear red fluid out of a chemist’s flask onto the agricultural scene below. Beneath the picture, is the Union Carbide logo and the slogan, “A hand in things to come.”
If ever there was an early-warning alert sounded inadvertently, “A hand in things to come is certainly one of them”
Like a flea market trinket destined to be sold more than once, the Carbide plant in our valley has been sold-off over the years to a string of buyers. What’s left is what Bayer now owns—Bayer Crop Science—a plant down the road that makes products for crop protection, pest control, seeds and plant biotechnology.
When I left my work in Delaware with folks who put chicken on our tables, I thought Bayer was in my past. You see, Bayer, under their corporate division—Bayer Health Care—was a key provider of the antibiotics that get pumped into chickens (hogs and cattle as well) in order to keep them alive before slaughter. While working there, I was a part of a coalition that put pressure on Bayer to stop the agricultural sale of Baytril to poultry companies because this potent fluoquinolone, fed to people in their chicken, could make a person resistant to antibiotics when they really needed medication to ward off sickness—ironically, sickness like the food-based salmonella.
Since then, I have seen some changes in meat production, particularly as consumers get smart about their immune systems and what they eat. Wendy’s and McDonalds, for example, have refused to purchase chicken pumped full of antibiotics.
So here I am, a long way from the Chesapeake Bay and Bayer is once again, in my backyard. This leads me to tell you about a fire and explosion that killed two workers at that Bayer Plant this past August 28. Union Carbide has moved on but the MIC is still here—240,000 pounds of it stored right next to the spot where that explosion took place.
Motto: “Science For A Better Life”
If you go up on the web and click on the Bayer page and view their company video, you will be greeted with a cheery message with a background song. Dancing, playing, exuberant people, young and old alike, embody the Bayer motto, “Science for a Better Life.” And the music?—Elton John’s “Your Song”—which begins with the words, “It’s a little bit funny this feeling inside. I’m not one of those who can easily hide.”
Well, let me tell you something. In that old radio show Fibber McGee and Molly, whenever Fibber McGee would tell a bad joke to Molly, she would reply, “T’ain’t funny McGee.” Likewise, it t’ain’t funny Bayer, so stop hiding the facts from the people who live here.
Chemical leaks are quite common in this valley. You can smell them and see a telltale fog blow up the river when a leak occurs. The night of the Bayer leak, folks were frozen in place because no word was forthcoming about what dangers might have been unleashed by the accident. To make a long story short, Bayer ignored community safety, and then refused to attend a meeting called by community people in search of answers from Bayer. The company has played hide-and-seek, and folks are getting tired of the game.
An old Bayer motto reads, “Expertise with Responsibility.” For me, that translates: Come clean with the facts about the explosion, and get the MIC out of this valley—the MIC that we do know was stored right next to the spot where the explosion occurred.
Oh, and while you’re at it, remove the 19,000 pounds of phosgene stored at the plant. The phosgene that when mixed with chlorine (the Bayer facility has 1.4 million pounds of chlorine on-site) produced the gas used by Germany to kill enemy troops in World War I.
Now let’s get to those two pet phrases bandied about these days—“homeland security” and “terrorism.”
Pet Phrases: “Homeland Security” & “Terrorism”
Bayer was scheduled to come clean with the community on March19 at a public hearing with the Chemical Safety and Hazard Board (CSB) and community folks. But that won’t happen because, according to the Chemical and Engineering News, Bayer has notified CSB that homeland security and terrorism issues are involved. What in God’s name is that mean?
Bayer attorneys cite “the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, an antiterrorism law that requires companies with plants on waterways to develop security plans to minimize the threat of a terrorist attack. Part of the plans can be designated as “sensitive security information” that can be disseminated only on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.”
Obviously, those of us who live here in the valley aren’t on Bayer’s “need-to-know” list.
Look, I understand security issues and the fact that not everyone can or should know everything about everything. But I also know, particularly after all the flack about the public’s right to read The Pentagon Papers back in the Vietnam War days, and the past eight years of Bush’s cover-up-and-conceal, that organizations—public and private—hide information from the very people who do need to know.
I understand that phosgene, according to experts, “has the potential to function as a weapon of mass destruction by any group with simple chemical synthetic capabilities or with the means to sabotage an existing industrial phosgene source.”
That said, I believe that the Chemical and Engineering News smells the same bad smell I do when it says: “Among the 49 investigations that the board has completed, this is the first public meeting canceled for security reasons or due to company pressure. It raises questions about whether terrorism fears can be used to blunt CSB accident investigations.”
Those of us living here in Kanawha Valley, close to the Bayer facility, are left to wonder who we should be wary of—Al Qaeda in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan, or should we fear Bayer, operating out of Germany and West Virginia?
The good news in all of this is the fact that we have a grass-roots organization here in the valley, People Concerned About MIC, that has been around since the Bhopal tragedy. The Bayer plant contains weapons of mass destruction and you can be sure that our need-to-know will prevail over Bayer’s need-to-hide.
Slogan & Motto Rolled Into A Pet Phrase: “Support The Troops”
Speaking of chemicals, the word is out now that some of our troops are coming home from Iraq poisoned by hexavelent chromium—the same chemical featured in the movie “Erin Brockovich.” This substance has been used by defense contactor Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR). You know those boys, don’t you? That was Dick Cheney’s old company back before Halliburton fled KBR like rats fleeing from a burning vessel.
As if it weren’t bad enough that troops are coming home from this war without legs, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injuries. Now we have to look for the KBR syndrome. The West Virginia National Guard is now trying to locate 25 troops who might have been exposed to this chemical. And here I’ve been concerned about how we folks at home can locate jobs for folks, many of them veterans.
I remind my readers that the dreaded agent orange, the chemical that poisoned, killed and disabled Vietnamese, as well as our own troops in the Vietnam War, was made right here in Nitro, West Virginia. The dioxin in that poisonous defoliant sprayed all over Vietnam still lives in the residue here and in Vietnam.
March 19, the day the now postponed Bayer hearing was to be held here, is the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War. For the past six years I, along with others, have mouthed the words, “Support the Troops.” Strange as it may be, those words have been the slogan, motto and pet phrase of folks who supported the war, as well as those who protested the war. People like me bent over backwards not to repeat any of the misguided stupidity of Vietnam War protestors who cursed and taunted returning Vietnam War veterans.
But those days are over for me—six years after George Bush, and a congress no better than an impotent and mute bystander, marched our nation off to war.
I shall no longer say the words “support our troops.” And I shall not look kindly on anyone who wants to support our troops by organizing efforts to send stuff like food, phone cards, or “Personal Comfort Kits” full of toiletries. Deodorant, soap and hand lotion will not purge them, or us, from this filthy war. Get this: one group even warns people to check on peanut butter items they send so that the troops don’t get salmonella.
Instead of packing stuff to be sent to the troops, how about turning that energy loose on a major effort to keep President Obama from sending troops to Afghanistan, and bringing those who are already there, and in Iraq, home? How about a massive effort by parents and loved ones to encourage and support men and women unwilling to go to war—unwilling to fight be shipped to Afghanistan?
You insist that you still want to send something? Send gas masks and chemical suits. Hey, that’s what KBR officials wear when they tour potentially dangerous sites—sites which these officials say the residue is only slightly more dangerous than baby powder— sites where our troops have neither gas masks nor chemical suits.
If we, the president and congress, our military leadership, and our troops haven’t learned a lesson from the Iraq War, then shame on them. It was a senseless and unnecessary war—just like the Vietnam War—and no amount of medals or parades will cover up the lies that led us into Iraq, or the quest to make this war an occasion where our troops would not die in vain. Think of the vanity of such an effort, not to mention the cost.
George Steinbrenner, the irascible owner of the New York Yankee baseball team, fired a very fine manager named Joe Torre. Sports writer Roger Angell says “The Steinbrenner obsession to win infects the Torre story like arsenic in a tenement flat.”
If we send troops to Afghanistan, it will be like pouring arsenic into the Kabul River. Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda says “At least half the country is deeply suspicious of the new troops. Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai has offered us this advice: “Send us 30,000 scholars instead (of 30,000 troops). Or 30,000 engineers. But don’t send more troops—it will just bring more violence.”
The New York Times has reported that America’s Special Operations forces have ordered a halt to most commando missions in Afghanistan “reflecting a growing concern that civilian deaths caused by American firepower are jeopardizing broader goals there. The halt, which lasted about two weeks, came after a series of nighttime raids by Special Operations troops in recent months killed women and children, and after months of mounting outrage in Afghanistan about civilians killed in air and ground strikes.”
The slippery path we are on must not lead us to send troops where they are not wanted, supporting a government which is corrupt and drug-money infested, and where men and women equipped to fight become fish in a barrel being shot at by an enemy they cannot pursue. And, I might add, which they shouldn’t pursue because they shouldn’t be there.
The news that President Obama is interested in diplomatic conversation with leaders of the Taliban—seen as the enemy in this fight—is good news. Don’t send a phone card to one of our troops. Instead, send this message to our president: “Right on, Barack!”
Entry Filed under: Fig Tree Notes Archives