Monday, March 29, 2010

Personal Danger

How many Problems of American Democracy can you identify in this cartoon?

If I can get out of the way, if I can be pure enough, if I can be selfless enough, and if I can be generous and loving and caring enough to abandon what I have and my own preconceived, silly notions of what I think I am---and become truly who in fact I am, which is really just another child of God---then the music can really use me. And therein lies my fulfillment. That's when the music starts to happen.

---John McLaughlin

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.

---Soren Kierkegaard

Never let your sense of morals keep you from doing what's right.

---Isaac Asimov

I was walking past a church in my town last evening, getting ready to go inside for a meeting. A time in our history suddenly crossed my mind in which church meetings were firebombed. I was not going to a political or social change meeting, so why would I think of such a thing? Nor have I heard of meetings being attacked like that in America now---yet. I haven't been personally confronted by a Teabagger, but I'm starting to hear stories from friends and relatives. It's getting close.

On Saturday, a friend of mine told a story about his daughter, who like my Ilona also is in her first year of college. She had traveled to Washington, DC, with other students earlier in the month to attend her first demonstration, which was in favor of healthcare legislation. There were people there in opposition. The DC police had separated the 2 groups, and were standing between. The people opposed were shouting at the students, calling them names. The young women were called whores. She telephoned her dad to tell him what was happening. She said a cop had come over to her to ask how she was doing. She replied she hadn't expected it would be so hard to stand up for what you believe. The policeman said people need a lot of courage now to do what's right.

On Friday my wife was listening to the Stephanie Miller talk radio program. A woman had called in to say she had been concerned about a local Republican representative whose office had had a brick thrown through a window or been shot at or something. Although a Democrat herself, she phoned the office to ask if there were anything she could do to help. The person suggested she call John Boehner's office, the House Minority Leader, for any directions there might be about party policy. She did that, but when asked decided to identify herself as a Republican in case that made a difference. She told the receptionist she was disturbed by the lack of civil discourse in politics now, and requested advice. The receptionist said, "You're disturbed by the lack of civil discourse? Then the Republican Party has no need for your participation," and hung up. (See blog comment #137 )

My son posted a reminder on Saturday about Earth Hour at his Facebook page. A longtime Internet friend did so too. I guess people were supposed to turn off their lights and electric sometime that evening. I hadn't heard about it and we weren't home anyway, but we had participated in such an event a year or so ago. It was supposed to be an observance in appreciation both of the convenience of such power and the importance of conservation. Yesterday I saw on Google News that a group had been formed in opposition to Earth Hour. Maybe the brainstorm of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, their observance was called the Human Achievement Hour---or HAH! They urged people to turn ON all their lights and electric to honor American ingenuity. They said there's darkness every night in Communist North Korea, so why don't the Earth Hour people go over there and sit around in the dark with the other Communists? Another response took it a step further, remarking Earth Hour was connected with the Spring Equinox and represented the Demonic Power of Darkness worshipped by the Pagans. Should my son be more careful at Facebook?

The Christian Science Monitor this morning has a story titled "Sarah Palin's gun-imagery takes aim at political targets," and shows her receiving a custom Henry rifle on behalf of the Republican Party of Arkansas. The article talks about an image at Palin's Facebook page of 20 Democrat opponents she encourages her followers to defeat in November: "In the battle, set your sights on next season’s targets! From the shot across the bow – the first second’s tip-off – your leaders will be in the enemy’s crosshairs, so you must execute strong defensive tactics. You won’t win only playing defense, so get on offense! The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons – your Big Guns – to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win." Each Democrat is pictured on the map with the district in a rifle's crosshairs. There's a hyperlink at the Monitor story.

Yesterday it was no holds barred at Frank Rich's New York Times column. He expressed some heat I'm not used to feeling so intensely from him. It was upsetting...and maybe partially responsible for my thought of a firebombing later in the day. I'm not sure what is happening to my country, but I'm positive I am not alone in alarm. I'll post his whole article here for posterity~~~

The New York Times
March 28, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
The Rage Is Not About Health Care

THERE were times when last Sunday’s great G.O.P. health care implosion threatened to bring the thrill back to reality television. On ABC’s “This Week,” a frothing and filibustering Karl Rove all but lost it in a debate with the Obama strategist David Plouffe. A few hours later, the perennially copper-faced Republican leader John Boehner revved up his “Hell no, you can’t!” incantation in the House chamber — instant fodder for a new viral video remixing his rap with’s “Yes, we can!” classic from the campaign. Boehner, having previously likened the health care bill to Armageddon, was now so apoplectic you had to wonder if he had just discovered one of its more obscure revenue-generating provisions, a tax on indoor tanning salons.

But the laughs evaporated soon enough. There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

No less curious is how disproportionate this red-hot anger is to its proximate cause. The historic Obama-Pelosi health care victory is a big deal, all right, so much so it doesn’t need Joe Biden’s adjective to hype it. But the bill does not erect a huge New Deal-Great Society-style government program. In lieu of a public option, it delivers 32 million newly insured Americans to private insurers. As no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.

Yet it’s this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti-abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.

When Social Security was passed by Congress in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, there was indeed heated opposition. As Dana Milbank wrote in The Washington Post, Alf Landon built his catastrophic 1936 presidential campaign on a call for repealing Social Security. (Democrats can only pray that the G.O.P. will “go for it” again in 2010, as Obama goaded them on Thursday, and keep demanding repeal of a bill that by September will shower benefits on the elderly and children alike.) When L.B.J. scored his Medicare coup, there were the inevitable cries of “socialism” along with ultimately empty rumblings of a boycott from the American Medical Association.

But there was nothing like this. To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both laws passed by similar majorities in Congress; the Civil Rights Act received even more votes in the Senate (73) than Medicare (70). But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

The apocalyptic predictions then, like those about health care now, were all framed in constitutional pieties, of course. Barry Goldwater, running for president in ’64, drew on the counsel of two young legal allies, William Rehnquist and Robert Bork, to characterize the bill as a “threat to the very essence of our basic system” and a “usurpation” of states’ rights that “would force you to admit drunks, a known murderer or an insane person into your place of business.” Richard Russell, the segregationist Democratic senator from Georgia, said the bill “would destroy the free enterprise system.” David Lawrence, a widely syndicated conservative columnist, bemoaned the establishment of “a federal dictatorship.” Meanwhile, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Miss.

That a tsunami of anger is gathering today is illogical, given that what the right calls “Obamacare” is less provocative than either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Medicare, an epic entitlement that actually did precipitate a government takeover of a sizable chunk of American health care. But the explanation is plain: the health care bill is not the main source of this anger and never has been. It’s merely a handy excuse. The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964.

In fact, the current surge of anger — and the accompanying rise in right-wing extremism — predates the entire health care debate. The first signs were the shrieks of “traitor” and “off with his head” at Palin rallies as Obama’s election became more likely in October 2008. Those passions have spiraled ever since — from Gov. Rick Perry’s kowtowing to secessionists at a Tea Party rally in Texas to the gratuitous brandishing of assault weapons at Obama health care rallies last summer to “You lie!” piercing the president’s address to Congress last fall like an ominous shot.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

They can’t. Demographics are avatars of a change bigger than any bill contemplated by Obama or Congress. The week before the health care vote, The Times reported that births to Asian, black and Hispanic women accounted for 48 percent of all births in America in the 12 months ending in July 2008. By 2012, the next presidential election year, non-Hispanic white births will be in the minority. The Tea Party movement is virtually all white. The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded.

If Congressional Republicans want to maintain a politburo-like homogeneity in opposition to the Democrats, that’s their right. If they want to replay the petulant Gingrich government shutdown of 1995 by boycotting hearings and, as John McCain has vowed, refusing to cooperate on any legislation, that’s their right too (and a political gift to the Democrats). But they can’t emulate the 1995 G.O.P. by remaining silent as mass hysteria, some of it encompassing armed militias, runs amok in their own precincts. We know the end of that story. And they can’t pretend that we’re talking about “isolated incidents” or a “fringe” utterly divorced from the G.O.P. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 74 percent of Tea Party members identify themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents, while only 16 percent are aligned with Democrats.

After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, some responsible leaders in both parties spoke out to try to put a lid on the resistance and violence. The arch-segregationist Russell of Georgia, concerned about what might happen in his own backyard, declared flatly that the law is “now on the books.” Yet no Republican or conservative leader of stature has taken on Palin, Perry, Boehner or any of the others who have been stoking these fires for a good 17 months now. Last week McCain even endorsed Palin’s “reload” rhetoric.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Friday, March 19, 2010

Springtime On Coal Sludge Pond

Children play in a playground in Racine, Ohio, across the Ohio River from American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009.
Photo: Loeb/AFP/Getty

Try and be a sheet of paper with nothing on it. Be a spot of ground where nothing is growing, where something might be planted, a seed, possibly, from the Absolute.


A general may establish peace, but it is not for the general to seek peace.

---Zen saying

This matter is like a great mass of fire; when you approach it your face is sure to be scorched. It is again like a sword about to be drawn; when it is once out of the scabbard, someone is sure to lose his life. But if you neither fling away the scabbard nor approach the fire, you are no better than a piece of rock or wood. Coming to this pass one has to be quite a resolute character full of spirit.


Type "coal sludge" into a Google Image Search, and see the photos that come up. If you live in the humanly created ugliness known as Coal Country, you know these images well. You may not have seen a sludge pond or strip mine up close because the corporations hide them...but you know they're there. If you don't live in Coal Country but only flip switches and push buttons all day, then we need to remind you. That coal-fired electricity comes from where we live, and this is the mess.

In Southeast Ohio we're getting---er---fired up for a public hearing in Belmont County about the creation of a new and huge sludge pond. The biggest coal company around here is Murray...and sludge also is called slurry, so this is Murray Slurry. Sierra Club in these parts is encouraging openly as many folks as possible to turn out for the hearing on March 30th. We already know there'll be tons of coal people there, and hearings around here on this subject can get pretty intense. Nachy Kanfer, out of Columbus, is Sierra's point man in its Beyond Coal campaign, and here's a message he sent out last week~~~

Tell Governor Strickland and Ohio's EPA Director You Want Clean Water, Not Toxic Coal Slurry for Ohio

Several years ago, Ohio's biggest coal mining company asked for permission to drain a pristine stream and fill it instead with coal slurry, a mixture of water, chemicals, and coal mining waste. In 2008, Ohio EPA rightly told Murray Energy to go back to the drawing board.

So what's Murray Energy's "new" plan for 2010? Drain a pristine stream and fill it with dirty coal slurry -- again. And this time, the company threatens to start firing people if it doesn't get its way.

Tell Governor Strickland and Ohio EPA Director Chris Korleski that job creation and environmental protection aren't competing issues -- they're the SAME issue.

We can't allow corporations to bully our elected officials who are trying to do the right thing. The Ohio EPA stood strong in 2008. Now, Ohio EPA must stand strong again.

Thank the Governor for his courage back in 2008 -- and urge him not to abandon that courage now.

The choice between decent jobs and clean water is false; in order to regain its economic edge, Ohio must move beyond coal to clean energy in the coming years and decades. Turning a pure freshwater stream into a huge toxic coal slurry impoundment is a giant step in the wrong direction.

As always, thanks for everything that you do to protect the environment and create new clean energy jobs in Ohio.

Nachy Kanfer
Sierra Club

P.S. There's an important public hearing in St. Clairsville on March 30, 6 p.m. on this issue. Find more information and RSVP here!

People who think of Appalachia as a sleepy, even lazy, pile of poverty may be surprised by the energy of conflict here. People are desperate for jobs, but cling to the old ways. "Dig a new mine" rings more bells in memory than "Learn to install a solar panel," and that's what the shouting's about. Coal yells louder than solar, and has lots of money for people are surprised when they learn there are jobs just waiting for trained people in renewable energy.

Yesterday Jeff Goodell posted a new article on Coal's Toxic Sludge to Rolling Stone online. It's also in the new issue, dated April 1st, on the stands now. Plunk down $4.99 to support the magazine if you're not a subscriber already. The piece starts like this~~~

Big coal has spent millions of dollars over the past year touting the virtues of what the industry calls "clean coal," but it's no secret that coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. When you burn it, coal releases monstrous quantities of deadly compounds and gases — and it all has to go somewhere. The worst of the waste — heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium and mercury, all of which are highly toxic — are concentrated in the ash that's left over after coal is burned or in the dirty sludge that's scrubbed from smokestacks. Each year, coal plants in the U.S. churn out nearly 140 million tons of coal ash — more than 900 pounds for every American — generating the country's second-largest stream of industrial waste, surpassed only by mining. If you piled all the coal ash on a single football field, it would create a toxic mountain more than 20 miles high.

For decades, the industry has gotten away with dumping coal ash pretty much wherever it wants. It poured the stuff into vast lagoons, dumped it into mines, used it to pave roads, spread it on crops as fertilizer, even mixed it into everyday items like concrete, wallboard, vinyl flooring, bowling balls, potting soil and toothpaste. There are no federal regulations to speak of. Many states have minimal restrictions on where and how coal ash can be dumped, but the coal industry has a long history of buying off state regulators with a junket to Vegas and a few rounds of golf. In short, the industry had it made. Nearly 300 billion pounds of coal ash simply vanished from view each year, with less oversight than household garbage.

But all that changed just before 1 a.m. on December 22nd, 2008, when an earthen dam collapsed at a storage pond brimming with coal waste near Kingston, Tennessee. Within hours, a billion gallons of gray-black sludge had oozed into the once-lovely Emory River, destroying nearby homes and poisoning the water. It was the largest industrial disaster in American history, a flood of waste 100 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. The cleanup of the river, which will take years to complete, is expected to cost as much as $1 billion.

Jeff's new book is called "How To Cool The Planet: Geoengineering And The Audacious Quest To Fix Earth's Climate." The Columbus Dispatch has a news story today about Ohio's coal-fired electric plants and how they rank in pumping out mercury into the nation's polluted air. Gavin, just down the River from the plant pictured above, ranks #12, and there's a photo of it.