Obsession with Russia is manipulative, voyeuristic, and distracting from vital issues
By Michael M. Barrick
OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY, U.S.A. – Here, where it is not Red Square or either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the spectacle playing out on our TV screens, computer devices and in the newspapers regarding alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is simply nauseating.
For God’s sake, enough already! You’ve lost me.
I’ve quit reading, listening and watching – that includes you John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, et al. That means I’ve abandoned my primary source of news – late night comedians who are really journalists; and, my secondary sources – the mainstream media and alternative media, who are clowns posing as journalists.
It is a topsy-turvy world, indeed.
Am I surprised that Russia probably meddled in our election? No. However, I think we’ve got that covered. Between the special prosecutor and congressional committees, plenty of investigating is occurring. That’s good. What we don’t need, however, is speculation. And, 99 percent of what I’ve seen, heard or read is exactly that.
… election-meddling is not exactly new to geo-politics; the United States is quite expert at regime change – we’re just not as subtle.
On the part of the media, it’s manipulative, voyeuristic, and ultimately rooted in a sick drive for profits. But it’s also distracting us from what is important. Let me pause here and say, yes, a foreign government interfering in our election is concerning. So, let the investigators investigate. And, yes, I would expect any editor or producer to assign a reporter or two to the story. However, we have far too many issues that are simply being ignored by The Fourth Estate. Additionally, election-meddling is not exactly new to geo-politics; the United States is quite expert at regime change – we’re just not as subtle.
Hence, the media needs to abandon the feigned outrage and get to work on covering what most of us living Outside the Beltway know are the vital topics of the day.
More about those in a moment; but first, a quick demand of Congress and the president – do your jobs! America and the world have multiple challenges – not the least of which is a scarcity of leadership.
Now, about those vital topics; following is just a quick, partial run down the list:
- Health Care: Polling shows that the majority of Americans support universal, single-payer health care. In short, Medicare for all. Only one in six support the current GOP proposal. Why? Because those of us living Outside the Beltway understand that the Medicare for all approach is the most humane; it provides for our most vulnerable citizens.
- North Korea, et al.: Even our own military strategists say that a war with North Korea would almost certainly kill millions, and perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands just on the first day. The Korean War, which is still technically exactly that since we have only a truce with North Korea, was caused by inept diplomacy – Harry Truman indicated to the Russians that the U.S. would not wage war over control of the Korean peninsula. Today, we have a president who is the opposite. All he does is issue threats. Every president in between has kicked this matter down the road. That simply won’t do anymore. What I believe we expect Outside the Beltway is that a peaceful solution be found. Yes, waging peace is harder than waging war. But hey, we sent men to the moon. We’ve sent enough of our youngest adults to die on foreign sands and distant hills. We can figure this out.
- Campaign Finance: Because of Citizens United, we are experiencing an age of crony capitalism like that of the Robber Barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is evident in many places, but currently most obvious in the health care debates. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are among the biggest obstacles to meaningful – and simple – reform (we’ve been doing Medicare a good while now). Gerrymandering has also altered the political landscape in a manner not consistent with voting patterns, accomplished through the buying of legislatures by the millionaire class. As a result, our most fundamental right – the right to choose our elected representatives – has been degraded or denied.
- Infrastructure – From aging school buildings to hospitals not equipped to handle modern telemetry, to collapsing bridges and pot hole-filled roads, we have simply been negligent. We have not maintained our infrastructure. We all know it. We all see it. We have allowed private companies to own and manage our water systems, diverting money that should be reinvested in those systems to far-away shareholders that care only about profit and nothing about the quality of the water you and I drink. Certainly, the country that intends to send people to Mars by 2040 can fix roads and sewer pipes.
- Failed War on Drugs: Billions of dollars have been spent, and tens of thousands of people sent to prison, simply to restrict the use of a naturally growing plant – marijuana. Our treatment of it – legal here, illegal there – is more schizophrenic than any alleged side effect of it. Three years ago, when interviewing John Buckley, the Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia, this is what he had to say about the War on Drugs: “What makes drugs a threat to society is the drug gangs pushing them because there is a hefty profit in pushing it. We have not stopped the war on drugs. We have not accomplished the goal. We have spent money. We’ve jailed people, yet we still see an increase in crime. We haven’t made a dent. We have set horrible legal precedents in rigorous law enforcement. When you add them all up, and say we haven’t made a dent in drug abuse, it cries out, ‘Is there a new approach?’ If you eliminate the profit, you eliminate the gangs and the terrorists profiting from it. If we will take a new approach, then it allows us to address it as a medical issue, not a criminal issue.” He was right then, and has been proven to be right repeatedly since that interview.
- Education: We’ve known for years that educators reaching retirement age hit the door the first minute they can; what is more disturbing is that our best and brightest young teachers are leaving also. Why? They have lost control of their classrooms to everything from bureaucratic interference to children not ready for school because of poor living conditions. Virtually our entire society makes its way through our public schools. If we do not address society’s problems, every day in the classroom becomes more difficult. And, there are systemic problems as well. This is an example where a political party – in this case, the Democrats – must challenge a sacred cow. Yes, public education is essential; that, however, does not mean we refuse to take a critical look at its failures and alternatives. Additionally, the cost of college (and textbooks) must be addressed. Having to go into debt for years to earn a degree is counter-intuitive. Once educated, one cannot contribute to society unless unencumbered with unnecessary debt.
- Ecology: Last, but certainly not least, is how we approach the management of the ecology – that is, our interaction with the natural world. Presently, human health and the environment are in great distress for a number of reasons. Mountaintop removal, fracking, clear-cutting and other practices that support the fossil fuel industry are harming people and the land, air and water which give us life. Climate change is real. Responsible reporters, for example, should not be asking politicians if they believe in climate change; rather, they should be asking what they know about it and how they intend to address it.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’m sure you can certainly add to it. My prescriptions to the vital topics of the day may be different than yours. In fact, they likely are. That doesn’t matter nearly as much as this: that we agree that politicians of all stripes and the media need to be taking a critical look at these issues and working together to solve them rather than obsessing over Russia. In time, conclusions by the Authorities Having Jurisdiction regarding Russia will be reached. That will be news. For now, all the talk inside the beltway and TV studios is simply commentary that rivals the Tower of Babel.
We expect action, not talk. Sure, there are political purists (or opportunists) who will refuse to work with others, but they are in the minority. We know that because in our families and communities, we have to work together.
At least, that’s how it is Outside the Beltway.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
Incubator Farm Program set up at historic Patterson School
By Michael M. Barrick
HAPPY VALLEY, N.C. – With the grays and browns of winter having surrendered to the rainbow of colors that heralds the arrival of Spring, a new farming program is being launched at the historic Patterson School in this historic Upper Yadkin River Valley community.
The Patterson School Foundation has started a new Incubator Farmer Program, having taken the first, vital step – hiring a full time farm manager. In addition to helping oversee the incubator program, Ian Driscoll, a 2014 graduate of Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C. will manage the 1,400 acre property.
The Incubator Farm Program will invite new and experienced organic farmers to lease up to half an acre to farm at Patterson, with the availability of farm equipment and mentorship, and with access to farm-related workshops through the farming season.
Driscoll, 24, is from Chicago and graduated with majors in history and political science. So, on paper, he might not seem like the person you’d expect to revel in plowing up an acre of land and working his hands until they have the unmistakable coarse feel of a working man. Yet, he lives and farms in Happy Valley, just three miles from the Patterson School campus, and is experienced in many of the necessary aspects of farming – compost production, planting / tending / harvesting crops, greenhouse building, fencing, animal husbandry, swine and poultry production, grazing systems, mowing and operation of farm implements, haymaking, water drainage systems, lumber grading and general farm maintenance.
I’m more at peace here. I haven’t given it that much thought. It’s just seems natural for me.” – Ian Driscoll
Indeed, upon meeting Driscoll, one would think he grew up in this fertile valley that has been farmed since at least the 1700s, when the first European settlers planted themselves in this mystical and majestic river valley, an area once vital as a food source to the Cherokee. He walks the grounds as if his feet have been rooted in the valley soil his whole life. Baseball cap slightly askew on his head, his blue eyes sparkling, even on a drizzly day, surveying the land he has plowed for the incubator farm and the first raised bed he was working on, he said, “I’m more at peace here. I haven’t given it that much thought. It’s just seems natural for me.” Pausing, gazing across the broad, greening valley, he added, “I don’t have reasons. I can’t explain why.”
He did share one reason he could explain. He met his very soon-to-be bride at college. Her home is Happy Valley. In talking with him, it sounds as if he fell in love with the valley almost as quickly as he did with the lady he is marrying on – appropriately – Earth Day.
Still, he is certainly not the first person in this valley to arrive from a distant home, feeling embraced by its ridges, woods and the meandering Yadkin River, still not able to explain the attraction beyond a sacred connection to the land. It was fertile ground for crops then, and is today. As Driscoll stood alongside his recently plowed field, he observed that the soil is so rich that it does not need fertilizer.
Comparing the valley he now calls home to Chicago, Driscoll offered, “I thought people were rude. There was too much commotion. There was no privacy, and nothing to do if you don’t have money.” In fact, he says he gets bored when he visits home. “There’s something missing,” he observed.
That something might be connection to the earth that he first experienced on a family farm in Wisconsin. He also mentioned that as a Catholic school student, he went on a trip to eastern Kentucky. He noted that while the region was impoverished, there was a sense of community – and perhaps, counter-intuitively – isolation that he found attractive.
And while eastern Kentucky is more isolated than Caldwell County, both are in Appalachia, so there are tribal similarities. Happy Valley has families that are descended from those original settlers. Some still have farms; even more have small family gardens.
Indeed the region has played a critical role in the history of the state’s rich agricultural tradition. Samuel Legerwood Patterson, the first elected Commissioner of Agriculture in North Carolina, was born in 1850 at Palmyra, the family home on the historic property. It, too, is being methodically restored.
We are alive and breathing.” – Liza Plaster
Despite that rich history though, farming is not as common as it once was. So Driscoll is determined to see that the incubator program helps folks in Happy Valley – and beyond – return to the region’s rich farming roots.
Explaining why he initially came to North Carolina from his home in Chicago, Driscoll said “I moved to North Carolina because I had received a flier from Warren Wilson College and was interested in the area. Although I grew up in Chicago, I did not like the city and was eager to leave. It didn’t take much for me to want to move here after visiting.”
He continued, “I had ties to farming growing up through friends and family members; my parents owned an 80 acre farm at one time that we lived on part time. I like to work and provide for myself; farming is hard work and you see your reward with what you grow and eat. Reviving the farm at Patterson School will be good for the community. Working there will be a good opportunity for new and old generations to get involved with the community and learn about farming.”
My mentality is that I’m to work hard. I’ve busted my butt since I’ve been here. Part of it is to prove to myself that I can do it.” – Ian Driscoll
He said that once the incubator program is running successfully, he hopes to hold workshops at Patterson that get the community, especially school children, involved in farming.
Indeed, collaborating with the Caldwell County Schools is an important part of the foundation’s activities now, said Liza Plaster, the foundation’s publicist. In fact, on each of the visits to the farm, this reporter observed numerous school buses and children on the property.
In fact, said Plaster, the restoration of Palmyra, the strong relationship with the school system and the incubator program all send one message: “We are alive and breathing.”
Clearly, the most visible example of that is the incubator farm. “We want to create a way for people to have an occupation that was, at one time, a major occupation in this valley,” said Driscoll. He emphasized, though, that the program is open to anyone. “This is an opportunity for anybody to strike out on their own and save money too.”
As much as he loves the land, he is ultimately motivated by challenging himself to work as hard as he possibly can. “My mentality is that I’m to work hard. I’ve busted my butt since I’ve been here. Part of it is to prove to myself that I can do it.”
Driscoll can be contacted for more information about the Incubator Farm Program and about raised bed gardening opportunities for children on campus during the growing season at email@example.com
Note: All photos courtesy of the Patterson School Foundation.
© The Lenoir Voice, 2017.
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Mess with the Muppets, and you mess with my family
By Michael M. Barrick
Donald Trump’s determination to build the military-industrial complex and a stupid wall (that just ain’t gonna happen folks!) is so important that he must kill off Big Bird. Public Broadcasting, which is the home of “Sesame Street,” Big Bird, Kermit and their many ethnically and racially diverse family and friends, is targeted for elimination from the federal budget.
So, I’m seriously peeved. You mess with the Muppets and you mess with my family.
And you don’t mess with my family ‘cause I’m from Wild, Wonderful, Almost Heaven, West-by-God-Virginia, and we are obligated to stand up for our children – and their friends.
Well, when our children were growing up, the Muppets were their only friends on television. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, we were poor; rumors of us having dozens of Chock full o’ Nuts cans buried in the back yard full of cash were simply unfounded. Our children discovered that to their disappointment only after they and their friends had spent a day digging up our yard to no avail, other than to aerate it for me. And, secondly, if we could have afforded cable, we wouldn’t have let them watch the crap on it anyway.
You see, the theory was that the airwaves belonged to the public. So, we could get a PBS station in rural, central West Virginia – and later, more urban North Carolina. Wherever we took our children to live or visit, we knew that this sound programming, full of nothing more than lovely parables about living with one another in harmony – and of course many great lessons in the humanities and sciences – was available.
Anyway, our children – now 34 and 32 – managed to get through their early childhood by watching only – and learning from – the Muppets and the many lessons they learned on Sesame Street.
We did not miss a Muppet movie. It was from watching “The Muppets Take Manhattan” that we learned from the wise owner of a restaurant that “Peoples is peoples.” That simply profound statement of tolerance, understanding and ultimately acceptance is a critical life lesson, and that phrase – in the context of the plot – could be understood by a child.
Unfortunately, it isn’t understood by Donald Trump. I believe he suffers from arrested development and probably has the outlook of an eight-year-old that never benefited from watching “Sesame Street.”
So, as I said earlier, I’m seriously peeved. Unfortunately, short of writing letters and holding up signs in protest, the best chance we had to prevent this has passed. And for that, we can thank the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and in particular Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who as DNC chair last year, did all she could to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination. Since she was quite competent at her job, she and her compatriots among the Democratic Party’s shrinking (but wealthy) elite have ironically caused us to find ourselves at this point. For those thinking it’s unfair to pick on the DNC, I will simply note that it is that defensive, head-in-the-sand attitude that will ensure defeat in the next election cycle. By the way, I’m not a Democrat, so I’m not advocating; just stating the obvious.
So now, the Republicans are in control, doing exactly what they said they would do.
How, then, do we respond? We do our best. We let our voices be heard in Washington. We can support our local PBS and/or NPR stations.
As you consider that and other options, a brief story from about 30 years ago will illustrate the importance of the Muppets to our family – and, truly, to our nation.
We were at the mall. That itself was rare. There was a store there that had something I needed, but I don’t recall the details. But what happened with my wife, Sarah, and our children is quite memorable.
You see, Sarah has a rare ability to mimic perfectly the voices of the Muppets. They told bed-time stories at our home. They had “conversations” with the children through the stuffed versions we had at the house (I still have a small 6”-tall figurine of Kermit as a journalist – in trench coat, pen and pad).
In any event, while waiting on me, they were just inside the entrance to a department store where there was a large Muppet display. To occupy their time, Sarah started bringing the Muppets to life through her various voices. In time, an audience had gathered, enjoying the show as much as Lindsay and Allyn, who gazed at their “talking” Muppet friends, enraptured.
When the time to rendezvous came, Sarah told the children it was time to go. They protested. “We don’t want to go! We want to keep talking to Big Bird!” Sarah insisted. “No, we must go. It’s time to meet Daddy.”
Their response was classic. “We don’t want to meet Daddy. He’s a meanie!” I still wonder what the others watching this show thought. Nevertheless, I dispute that assertion and claim that they didn’t quite know how to express their objections appropriately. (Though they keep saying that).
I learned something very important that day. Do not get between Big Bird and my children. I had senselessly forgotten that the Muppets were part of our family. I learned my lesson that day though, and will always remember it.
So, Republicans, look out. Sesame Street might go through rough times for the next few years because of you. It might come to resemble Detroit even. In time, though, the family and friends of the Muppets will have the day. Why? Because we yearn for community far more than we desire war.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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Trump won; get over it and keep fighting for justice
By Michael M. Barrick
Oh my. It appears some college students (and professors) were so distraught over the election of Donald Trump as president that some of the nation’s supposedly most prestigious Ivy League institutions cancelled classes and exams the day following the election. You can read about it here.
According to the report, a Yale administrator told faculty “to be sensitive to students at this moment …” Hurry, somebody please pass the smelling salts. I hear a collective moan of, “I believe I have the vapors!”
Penn, too, cancelled classes, exams and heard from distraught students. I hope somebody in a position of authority told them to “get over it.” However, I haven’t read anywhere where anyone of authority came remotely close to challenging them to react and live as adults. Instead, the coddling began.
If the election of Donald Trump is enough to put “leaders” of universities and their students into a spiral of despondency, our adversaries – such as North Korea – will rightfully determine we are a hopelessly weak society. Indeed, one student said, “Putting exams after elections is irresponsible. If the University wants students to be involved in politics they shouldn’t force them to study instead.”
Please tell me I’m not alone in shaking my head in disbelief at that point-of-view. You have to study in college? Jesus Christ, whose idea was that? You still have to be part of society and vote? Oh no! The masters of multitasking can’t study, research and take an hour or so to go vote? Bless their hearts.
Perhaps some in academia need a refresher course of the example set by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who returned to Nazi Germany from the safety of the U.S., only to die in a concentration camp.
Instead, they are creating a Generation Whine that just wants to grab their electronic devices, curl up on the bed, and use social media to whine to one another. Never mind that social and digital media gives them the power to change the world. First, they must be aware of the world beyond their concerns. This reaction to Trump’s election shows they are not. This song by Chicago might help with that.
Or, consider a brief story. While working for six years right out of high school, I met my wife, Sarah. Then, I went to college while she worked. It was in my junior year of college that she became pregnant with our first child. Lindsay happened to arrive on the same day that a major paper was due to my history professor. A weekend came between Lindsay’s arrival and my return to campus. In short, my paper was about four days late, and the grade reflected it. I was upset and told the professor I thought he was being unfair to penalize me. His response: “You have to choose priorities. You want to make a life for your daughter? Then attend class and turn in your work. That’s how you graduate.”
He accepted no excuses. To this day, I admire him for it. You see, I knew that paper was due. I had it done. Though I commuted 35 miles one-way over a West Virginia mountain road every day, it was the professor’s argument that I could have sent the paper with a friend when it was due (this was before email). He was right. He did not expect me to miss my baby’s birth, but he was trying to teach me that sometimes in life, we have multiple, simultaneous responsibilities.
In other words, life is hard and quite complicated much of the time.
As a grandfather, father and retired teacher, I know some folks think I should be extending a little sympathy to our young college friends. Well, I simply can’t. It’s not good for them, as it is time they grow up.
I, too, had to put up with the hate hurled by Trump supporters as I campaigned and worked the polls during early voting. We saw first-hand just what kind of jerks support Donald Trump. We have seen the administration he’s putting together. It is too bad we don’t teach history anymore, or these college students really would be terrified.
And that is Trump’s hope: that he can terrorize everyone just as he did through the election. He is also hoping college-aged kids will become so disillusioned that they’ll not fight the forces within the Democratic Party that put their thumbs on the scale in their successful – but ultimately disastrous – attempt to hand the Democratic nomination to Hillary. He is counting on them to not look to third parties and improved ballot access.
I’m feeling old (no, 60 is not the “new 40”). I’m tired. I’m not well physically. But hell will freeze over before I give in to the forces of evil such as Donald Trump. That’s the lesson college kids need to learn. So, shame on those administrators, professors and students that felt the need to hit the pause button the day after the election. It was exactly opposite of what should have happened.
So, here’s my two cents worth to the students and others distraught about the election of Donald Trump. As the Eagles sang, “Get Over It.” And, then do something about it, like fight for justice, for what it’s worth.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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Practical – and unsolicited – insight from a father and grandpa wanting to keep the revolution alive
By Michael M. Barrick
Update, July 11, 2016: Readers, please disregard my advise in Lesson 4. It is this simple: Hillary just won’t do. An inspiring campaign slogan is not, “The F.B.I. Director says I am incompetent and dangerous, but at least I’m not under indictment!” If this requires further explanation, do an internet search on Richard Nixon and Watergate. Or Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra. Or Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
Bernie Sanders has shown respect to young people and their concerns, and that is why they so enthusiastically support him. But that’s not the whole story. As is always the case, timing is everything in politics. Bernie’s rise has coincided with the coming of age of the No Child Left Behind generation.
Millennials, subjected to an ill-conceived reliance upon standardized testing that stifles the individuality of the human, will not – now that they’ve escaped from the system – allow themselves to be pawns again.
So, though Bernie’s campaign may soon be ending, the revolution his candidacy sparked will not.
First though, the revolution must overcome the disappointment felt by Bernie’s supporters. Otherwise, they will drop out of the movement to end the injustices caused by crony capitalism just as they did from school, whether literally or figuratively.
So, it being Father’s Day, I am exercising my personal privilege as a father and grandfather to offer a brief civics lesson, because my millennial children and friends know they didn’t learn it in school because they were too damn busy taking pointless tests (with apologies to the many extraordinary teachers we all know).
In any event…
Lesson 1: Politics is the art of compromise. If that bothers your idealistic sensibilities, remember…
Lesson 2: Politics is war without bullets (usually). So, if we are not willing to compromise – to seek to understand before seeking to be understood – then violence is the inevitable outcome.
Lesson 3: Hence, we who are part of that revolution to return control of our government to the people – who refuse to take our “Feel the Bern” bumper stickers off of our cars just yet – must accept that the revolution will advance only in baby steps for now. It will advance – but it is essential that it do so peacefully.
Lesson 4: We can’t abandon the ballot box. The fact is that Bernie’s not going to be on the ballot in November, barring something totally unexpected. So, the question is, of those on the ballot, who will advance the revolution, or at least not destroy it? Hillary. I know Gary Johnson is tempting; like Samantha Bee I agree with every other thing Libertarians believe. Ultimately, though, Libertarian philosophy is not good for the most vulnerable among us, and that is not in keeping with our national character. In addition, there are thousands of capable local candidates who are willing to advance the revolution. Elect them now, and in a few years, they will be advancing in rank and influence.
Lesson 5: Our republic allows free association. So, be civically engaged. Join a social/environmental justice group or use your art to make your statement. Volunteer for a campaign, learn about politics and put you name on the ballot the next time around.
In short, as the bumper sticker says, “Be the change you want to see.” You might want to start with the politicians that created and sustain that education system that screwed you over.
© The Lenoir Voice, 2016
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