Category Archives: Opinion

Why I Don’t Attend Church

LENOIR, N.C. – If my memory serves me correctly, I managed to stay out of church for all of 2018 with two exceptions – attending the funeral of a family friend and briefly stepping into a church in Chapel Hill to run an errand.

That’s two more times than I planned. I do not attend church.

Not going to church in Caldwell County does not go unnoticed. Neighbors, aware that our car doesn’t leave the driveway on Sunday morning, express concern for my salvation. As a backslidden Catholic living in in the evangelical/fundamental Bible Belt, I am perceived as a heathen bound for hell.

I have no idea what will happen to me after I die because nobody has come back to tell me about it over a cup of coffee. Still, I do have beliefs that guide how I interact with other people and nature while I’m alive. I’m a follower of “The Way.” That is, Jesus. However, I do not claim exclusive entrance to a heavenly afterlife because of that belief. My beliefs simply inform how I live.

Which is why I don’t go to church. It contradicts the teachings of Jesus in two critical ways:

  1. It has forfeited its prophetic voice.
  2. Creeds and doctrines often interfere with loving concern for the poor, marginalized and vulnerable.

That’s it.

Where is the outrage from pulpits across the land over the way we are treating immigrants? And, why do the same people expressing concern for my salvation apparently have no problem with us detaining children and then allowing them to die in our “care”?

Because the church is irrelevant at best. Rather than condemn our government’s cruelty, many Christian leaders have abandoned their prophetic voice in exchange for the power – elusive and as temporary as it is – that comes with their alliance with Donald Trump, a pathological liar and architect of some of this nation’s cruelest policies and statements of my lifetime.

The “shepherds” have led the sheep astray. That is why the same people who express concern for my salvation also express disdain for the immigrants. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Church at Grandfather Mountain

So, my goal for 2019 is to skip church entirely. Even funerals are not reason enough to get me to church anymore. I can’t abide a preacher using the death of a person to terrify people about the flames of hell. In my view, the funeral should be about the deceased.

I know that I’m in the minority. So was Jesus in his time, hence the nailing to the cross. I will do as Jesus said to do. I will try to love my neighbor as I love myself. I will try to do onto others as I would have them do to me. And, I will never abandon my prophetic voice, knowing that we are to have nothing to do with fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11).

I do not need to be a member of a church, congregation or denomination to do those things. By abandoning its prophetic voice and allowing man-made creeds to interfere with concern and love for fellow human beings, organized Christianity has lost any claim on me.

In fact, it has my disdain. It is worse than ineffective. It is harmful.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Mountain church Photo by the author.

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The #MeToo Movement is Tone Deaf

Demanding ban of Christmas classic is a disturbing display of censorship

Musings from the Curmudgeon-in-Chief
MeToo mihai-surdu-415698-unsplash

LENOIR, N.C. – It was inevitable I suppose. While I generally support the #MeToo movement, I knew it was only a matter of time before the intolerant extremists that are part of it would turn the movement into thought police.

They have. They have proven to be tone deaf in demanding that radio stations ban the Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” as reported by NPR. The demand is based on the belief that the song encourages date rape. You can listen to a cover of it by James Taylor and Natalie Cole.

I guess you hear what you want to hear.

The censorship must stop here. Before long, classical poems such as Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (written in 1681) will be banned. Read it. You’ll find it incredibly offensive if this song bugs you.

So, I’ve got to oppose the #MeToo movement on this. Censorship seems totally inconsistent with the movement’s values. Perhaps not, but I am an ally because it is consistent with my values. Decades before the #MeToo movement was born – before most of those involved in it were born! – I was working hard in North Carolina in the second half of the 1970s to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. If the #MeToo movement cares about keeping its allies, it needs to avoid ridiculous debates such as this.

Courting METoo

Finally, I wish to remind the #MeToo movement that there are sometimes attractions between members of the opposite sex and persistence doesn’t always lead to rape; sometimes it leads to a lifetime of commitment and maybe even a family. It’s called courting and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

I wouldn’t today. I’d just be a committed bachelor. There was once excitement and joy in courting. If the #MeToo movement has its way, you’ll have to read about it in the history books. Or, you could read Marvell’s poem above. But prepare to be scandalized. It seems that for centuries, this desire has always existed. There is nothing desirable about being metaphorically stiff-armed before you get a chance to say, “Nice to meet you.”

Yes, courting is a delicate dance. But it is a dance. Sometimes, when you dance, you get too close. Other times, you get pulled closer. What do you do then? Keep dancing and take your chances.

Such is the life of a curmudgeon.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

My White. Male. Privileged. Life.

What happened to being judged by the content of our character?

FTR Confederate monumentLENOIR, N.C. – This past weekend, I had a long, enjoyable conversation with a dear friend. We make sort of an odd couple, which I love. We have the same general worldview, but we don’t have similar backgrounds. He is rational; I’m emotional.

So, it helps that he is patient and accepts that I get a bit passionate sometimes.

Like this weekend, when he hit me with all the benefits I enjoy from my White. Male. Privilege.

Confederate raiders in Lenoir

I did not and do not dispute that I am a beneficiary of my birth. I know of instances that I have enjoyed the benefit of the doubt from a police officer that a black person, for instance, would not enjoy.

Still, I will admit to becoming somewhat defensive at his remarks. I simply denied that my birth defined my character.

You can decide for yourself by reading on.

Confederate flagIn November 1998, I was elected to the Caldwell County Board of Education. I was sworn into office sometime in early December. My first act as a school board member was to use the bully pulpit of the Lenoir News-Topic. In that op-ed, I called for a ban of the Confederate flag on school grounds – t-shirts, hats, flags in trucks, it didn’t matter. My reason was simple. I knew that it was generally being used as a symbol of intimidation, if not outright hate.

The reaction to my essay was fast and furious. Had I written it a few days before Election Day, I would not have been elected. I heard the usual arguments – the flag is our heritage. The Civil War was about state’s rights, not slavery. While there are thin slivers of truth to the latter argument, it is not the motivating factor to fly the rebel flag in Caldwell County.

This is how I know. After that column was published in the newspaper, I attended my very first Caldwell County Republican Executive Committee meeting (for being a Republican, I plead temporary insanity). Anyway, the first order of business was for the party to present me with a Confederate flag with black letters emblazoned across it saying, “Hell No I Won’t Come Down.” Though I was initially stunned, I quickly recovered. I replied, “I accept this in the spirit in which it is offered.”

Frankly, I don’t think too many people there got what I meant so let me make it clear now. Hate. That flag was given to me in the spirit of hate.

Confederate flag on house

Then, after two-and-a-half years of sitting on the school board, I realized I was in the wrong place in the school system. I wanted to teach again. Fortunately, it worked out for me and I ended up at South Caldwell High School, where there were about 1,400 white students and one black student. There was also a small population of students from Mexico and Central America (and no, I didn’t check papers for ICE, nor would I ever).

From the first day, I would challenge the students that were wearing rebel flags on t-shirts as they walked into my classroom, asking them why they were doing so. To a person, I got the answer, “It’s our heritage.” So, I immediately peppered them with questions about their “heritage.” I would ask, among other things:

  1. What heritage are you celebrating?
  2. Who were the leaders of that heritage?
  3. What was the objective of that heritage?
  4. Do you know the context of that heritage in relationship to our nation’s founding and economic growth?
  5. Have you considered how that image might affect others in this school that recoil – maybe even in fear – at seeing you wear that shirt?

FTR confederate flag

And on the questions went until they slid into their seat, mute. I might have made them think, but now, as I look around Caldwell County, I kind of doubt it. At the end of the Civil War, Union soldiers called Lenoir “The damedest little rebel town.” I wasn’t here in 1865, but I’d be willing to bet there are as many – if not more – Confederate flags flying in Caldwell County right now, especially when one counts the license plates and bumper stickers.

Now, let me pause and say I believe the First Amendment offers protection to people who wish to fly the rebel flag on private property or affix a rebel flag on their truck bumper.

However, as a school board member and a teacher that wanted a safe classroom, civil discussion, and most importantly – an accurate portrayal of history – allowing that flag to fly in our schools was too much then and it’s too much now. It is an affront to education and terrifying to minority children.

I admit to being born White. Male. Privileged. However, I was raised to overcome that by a whole village of elders, teachers and neighbors.

Now then, how did a White. Privileged. Male. get to this point?

It’s how the hell I was raised. I was born in Harrison County, West Virginia. It was the hotbed of anti-secessionist movements when Virginia seceded from the Union. Eventually, many of West Virginia’s first leaders would come out of Harrison County.

Additionally, my great-great-great-great grandfather established the first Union newspaper in Morgantown in 1862, while it was still part of Virginia. That took gumption. That blood – or should I say ink – runs in my veins.

So, I admit to being born White. Male. Privileged. However, I was raised to overcome that by a whole village of elders, teachers and neighbors.

It is true, that when I was born, I had to be with my mom. She was white, as was my dad.

Martin Luther King JrBut you must also remember that it was Martin Luther King Jr. who challenged us to judge one another by our character. In fact, I developed a week-long study of the life and literature of Dr. King for my sophomore English students. As powerful as his “I Have a Dream” speech was for the students, what really started to challenge their outlook was reading his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Oh, and my wife just reminded me of some writing I did while at the News-Topic as a reporter in the mid-1990s. I met with elders in the black community about the many challenges facing it, and I was surprised to find many within the community critical of it; yes, they talked with hard experience of suffering under white, male, privilege. But they also argued that the generations behind them had to continue the battle to overcome it.

So yes, it’s a long struggle. But I, by my birth, did not contribute to it. I have, however, to the best of my ability, helped how I could through what talents I have, to counter it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. Top photo is part of the inscription on the Confederate Monument in Lenoir. Flags are on home near downtown Lenoir. Historical marker is in downtown Lenoir. Other Confederate flags in the public domain. Martin Luther King Jr. photo in the public domain.

Memo to W.Va. Governor’s Lawyers: Buy a Dictionary

‘Reside’ is not a new word in the English lexicon

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – According to West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “Lawyers for the governor of West Virginia have told the state Supreme Court the meaning of the word ‘reside’ is unclear in a case regarding his residency outside of Charleston.”

Reside definition

From my 1997 copy of Webster’s Universal College Dictionary.

Isaac Sponaugle, a Democratic Delegate who represents parts of Hardy and Pendleton County in the state’s lower eastern panhandle, has asked the court to require Gov. Justice to do as the West Virginia Constitution requires and “reside at the seat of government,” – in the state capital of Charleston. Presently, Justice lives at his resort in Lewisburg.

Webster's DictionaryGood grief, Charlie Brown!

Those who wrote the West Virginia Constitution did not need to define “reside” because they had dictionaries – regular old ones that average people can use. Indeed, “reside” is hardly a new word in the lexicon. It is late Middle English with roots in French and Latin.

My copy of Webster’s Universal College Dictionary” from long ago offers the following definitions:

  1. “To dwell permanently or for a considerable time; live”
  2. “To be present habitually”

The word games the governor’s lawyers are using – and the arrogant taunt to the people to “impeach him” if they don’t like it – is why average people have had it with politicians.

While we’re struggling to live paycheck to paycheck, or on fixed incomes, or affording to have our gallbladders removed or ruptured disc repaired or replace the old tires, mincing words is insulting and pathetically self-serving.

Move the Mission

This is how the poor and vulnerable are greeted in Clarksburg, W.Va. by some merchants.

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Jim Justice

So, Governor Justice, if you think the mansion overlooking the Kanawha River is beneath your lifestyle, go visit some of the struggling in the hills and hollows or the homeless in Charleston, Huntington, Clarksburg or Richwood. Then, get back to the “People’s Capitol” and get about their business. It’s what you signed up to do – “To dwell … and be present habitually.” Anyone that can read a dictionary understands that.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

N.C. Gerrymandering No Laughing Matter

Rep. Destin Hall’s vigorous defense of Republican gerrymandering causes stunned laughter from audience at NAACP forum in Lenoir

LENOIR, N.C. – Destin Hall, Caldwell County’s representative in the North Carolina General Assembly, was greeted with stunning, uproarious laughter from the audience at the NAACP candidate forum on Oct. 6 when he vigorously defended the Republican legislature’s gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative districts.

Despite repeated court rulings that the gerrymandering is unconstitutional, Hall said otherwise. Fortunately, his remarks were recorded on video, which you can see here.

And I can tell you that the way the maps are drawn now are much, much, much more fair than they ever were.” – Destin Hall

He was asked by an audience member, “What would you do to fix the gerrymandering problem in this state?”

Hall responds, “So in my opinion, partisan redistricting is what the Constitution calls for.”

NC Nothing comparesHe then continues speaking, making unsupported claims of gerrymandering being historically constitutional, and essentially arguing that those opposing the GOP’s efforts in Raleigh are sore losers.

He also proudly states, “This is actually a topic I know something about.”

That’s because he, no doubt, like every Republican member of the General Assembly, saw no problem with drawing maps to exclude minorities and members of the opposition party. Hall’s comments that gerrymandering is legal is laughable, as you will obviously see in the video. More chilling though, is that Hall did what the GOP is becoming expert at. Telling the big lie.

He concluded his remarks by saying, “And I can tell you that the way the maps are drawn now are much, much, much more fair than they ever were.”

The audience wasn’t buying it, as they responded with uproarious, spontaneous laughter.

Unfortunately, it’s no laughing matter, but one can understand why the audience laughed in his face; it’s better than crying. Ironically, he smiles in response, either clueless or arrogant. The latter wouldn’t be surprising, as shortly after Republicans took control of the N.C. General Assembly in 2011, courts ruled they gerrymandered districts along racial lines. Then, earlier this year, by their own admission, Republicans were again found to have gerrymandered districts unconstitutionally, this time along party lines. Indeed, if you will look up the phrase North Carolina unconstitutional gerrymandering on the Internet, you will discover at least 86 articles written about these and other cases since the 2010 takeover of the North Carolina General Assembly by Republicans, including this one that ranks our state just above Cuba as a “deeply flawed democracy.”

NC State MottoThis can be reversed though. Early voting begins next Wednesday, Oct. 17. It is time for our state’s leaders to live by its motto – “To be, rather than to seem.” The Republican Party in North Carolina clearly doesn’t believe that.

I think our people do though. If you agree, you might want to take a look at Hall’s challenger, teacher Amanda Bregel.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Monday Musings from the Curmudgeon-in-Chief

Rants on relevant stuff by an old coot

LENOIR, N.C. – I try not to write on the weekends. Generally, I don’t. The problem with that, however, is that by Monday I have notes on various topics stuck all over and around my desk. So, I’m trying something new. Every Monday (more or less) I’ll be offering brief musings on a variety of relevant stuff. So, here we go …

Is Critical Thinking on Sabbatical at NPR?

In a story published today on NPR, “The American Dream is Harder to Find in Some Neighborhoods,” writer John Ydstie accepts as fact that the so-called American Dream is something to which we all aspire. In at least two places, he refers to the American Dream without any critical thought. In short, he has assumed that everyone knows what it is (probably, in a vague sense) and aspires to it (wrong!). He also quotes a source that doesn’t critically question the concept of the American Dream.

Maybe it’s because I write about the health care industry, public health and the environment so much that I always look for a root cause to any problem. I certainly do my best to not make assumptions. In this case, Mr. Ydstie has demonstrated that critical thinking is on sabbatical at NPR. If people are no longer able to aspire to the American Dream as reported in the article, perhaps it wasn’t a dream at all. Maybe it’s a nightmare.

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I know what is implied with the term American Dream. It boils down to essentially working ourselves to death to stockpile toys and gadgets that we don’t need – and indeed interfere with our interaction with other people and the environment in which we live. That is not my dream. Mine is to live simply, consume only what I need, be self-sufficient, limit my ecological footprint, and live in harmony with others.

It seems to me that our sad state of affairs today – acrimony, incivility and mass shootings just to name a few – would have us at least questioning the root causes of these problems. If we were, we would quickly find that one of the root causes is our obsession with “achieving” the American Dream. As we all reach across the table for our share of the pie, we compete for power and we exclude the most vulnerable – always.

So, is it a dream or is it a nightmare? You will have to answer that for yourself, but NPR should at least be asking the question, as should all journalists. But, as usual, the artists are ahead of elected officials and the so-called “Fourth Estate.” Check out this music video, “American Dream,” by the Christian contemporary rock group, Casting Crowns. Notably, this song was released in 2003 on the group’s self-titled debut album. They got it – 15 years ago!

Trump Insults all Korean War Veterans with His Revolting New Love Affair with Kim Jong Un

George Barrick

Lt. George M. Barrick Jr.

Speaking in my home state of West Virginia in the northern panhandle city of Wheeling on Sept. 29, Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jun Un, “He wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

I don’t know who disgusts me more – Trump or the West Virginians that fall for that line of crap. I suggest they all pay a visit to Charleston, the state capital, and visit the monument to fallen veterans from West Virginia in our 20th Century wars. Among the hundreds of names of those killed in Korea is my Uncle George. He was killed in a delaying action in the first days of the war – as were many West Virginians. You can read about him here.

What you won’t read in that article are the circumstances of my uncle’s death. I’ve never printed them out of respect for my father, who did not want to know the horror of how his brother met his end on the battlefield. Dad died three years ago, so here’s a brief account of my uncle’s murder at the hands of the North Koreans:

Lt. George M. Barrick was reported killed in the Chockiwon area of South Korea on July 12, 1950, while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. Decades later, R. E. Culbertson, a member of Barrick’s company, recalled that Lt. Wadie Roundtree, also a member of that company, stated that he had seen George lying beside the road. His head was bleeding, and he appeared mortally wounded. Although a prisoner and unable to stop, Lt. Roundtree was able to ask George if the North Koreans were responsible for his injuries. The reply was ‘yes.’ Culbertson later saw Barrick’s body in the same place and reported that he looked as though he had been run over by a tank.” (Source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History).

You say that was a long time ago? Yes, it was. However, we know the regime has not changed its human rights abuses.

WV State sealNorth Korea is our enemy. At one time, every red-blooded Mountaineer knew that Communists were our enemies. So, I am stunned. I reckon many of my fellow West Virginians only understand Trumpese Twitter shorthand. So, here’s what you need to know: Communists Bad. Lovers of Communists are traitors. I think you can figure out the rest. Still, I have to ask, what happened to “Mountaineers Are Always Free”?

Lindsey Graham the Poster Child of GOP Hypocrisy

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), said to Democrats during the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, “Y’all want power really bad.”

Good grief, Charlie Brown! That’s exactly what politics is all about, especially in a Republic where we get to choose our representatives. So of course, in a nation of 330 million people and nearly as many tribes, the stakes will always be high. So when one considers that the Republican Party refused to even have hearings for Merrick Garland, Graham’s words ring hollow, self-serving and of course, ironic. Sadly, that is today’s GOP (though Democrats don’t exactly have halos over their heads).

Easier is not Always Better

This little rant is minor in comparison to the other topics, but it is still a systemic problem in our nation, so its relevant. It is rooted (there’s that word again) in our dependence upon the internet. I am constantly refusing to bank or conduct business online. Why? Because billions of dollars have been stolen that way, not to mention personal data. And, I reckon because my writings upset a few people, attempts to hack into my email have occurred several times. In any event, an ongoing exchange with our auto insurer illustrates this conundrum. They want us to do everything online. I refuse. I hear the programmed response from what I think is a real person, but can’t say for sure: “But it’s easier.” I ask in return, “But is it better?” Dead silence. 

“Just mail me the bill,” I conclude. “Well, OK, but that will increase your rates.” I didn’t ask the programmed person what immediately came to mind, “What the hell does me not using the internet have to do with my insurance rates?” The only legitimate reason for higher rates is because I’m a lousy driver, not stubborn. 

But, such is the life of a curmudgeon. Talk to you again next Monday – but only if I feel like it.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.

Catholic Committee of Appalachia Calls for Full Investigation of West Virginia Diocese

In wake of Bishop Michael Bransfield scandal, group calls for ‘specific, achievable actions’

CCA also claims that Archbishop Lori cannot be trusted to be an impartial investigator

By Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael J. Iafrate

WHEELING, W.Va. – As the Roman Catholic Church reels from new revelations of the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, thousands of Catholics from various corners of the church have loudly demanded the mass resignation and/or dismissal of U.S. bishops in order to “clean house.” In the midst of this turmoil, Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston offered his resignation to Pope Francis, not as penance, but in the manner customary for bishops who have reached the age of 75. (Bransfield turned 75 on September 8th.)

Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in a matter of days and appointed Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore as temporary administrator of the Diocese. Further, the Vatican charged Lori with the task of conducting an investigation of Bransfield’s alleged sexual harassment of adults.

Jeannie headshot

Jeannie Kirkhope

The swift acceptance of Bransfield’s resignation and subsequent investigation is not surprising. Abuse allegations have haunted Bransfield, resurfacing most recently during the criminal trial of Catholic priests in Philadelphia in 2012. But more, Bransfield’s lavish lifestyle and flaunted political allegiances marked his episcopacy with signs of clerical privilege and entitlement that are the root cause of abuse by members of the priesthood, including sexual misconduct.

As lay leaders who represent many Catholics in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia, we certainly welcome a full investigation into any alleged sexual harassment of adults by Bransfield, both during and before his time as Bishop. We also urge an investigation into the unresolved allegations of past behavior while working in a Philadelphia high school and into his time serving as a senior cleric in Washington D.C. under the leadership of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including any knowledge Bransfield had of McCarrick’s abusive behavior.

Nevertheless, we have serious reservations as to whether Archbishop Lori would be an impartial party to head up such an investigation, having been Bransfield’s guest at a “Red Mass” celebrated for lawyers and government officials in January 2017. Ordinary lay Catholics and women religious from the state should be an integral part of any internal church investigation. Most importantly, beyond a church investigation, all files related to allegations against Bransfield must be turned over to the proper civil authorities.

Michael Iafrate headshot

Michael J. Iafrate

Those familiar with sex abuse in the Catholic Church know that Bransfield’s alleged actions are likely the tip of the iceberg. Last week, Catholics gathered at St. Michael’s Parish in Wheeling to discuss the abuse crisis. Comments given there by diocesan spokespeople (including diocesan attorney James Gardill) signaled deeply entrenched defensiveness, denial, and an accusatory posture toward “the media” as supposed “persecutors” of the Catholic Church. The claim was repeatedly made that this diocese has not been affected by sexual abuse as “other dioceses” have. Claims that minimize abuse have almost always been proven false, most recently in the Diocese of Buffalo where the opening of diocesan secret archives revealed over double the previously self-reported number.

Church and civil investigations must go beyond Bransfield and open the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston itself to deeper scrutiny. In the strongest terms possible, we urge the Diocese to implement the following specific, achievable actions:

  • publish the names of credibly accused abuser priests, religious, and lay pastoral workers on the diocesan website (dwc.org);
  • willingly open diocesan records related to sex abuse to State and/or Federal authorities before any inevitable forced investigation takes place;
  • apologize for the past statements of diocesan spokespeople which accuse secular media of inventing and/or exaggerating the severity of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church;
  • denounce the continued scapegoating of gay priests relative to sexual abuse; and,
  • establish a permanent system for diocesan staff and clergy to speak up without retaliation.

The legacy Bransfield leaves to West Virginia is uncertain, and ambiguous at best. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s handling of the allegations against Michael Bransfield will shape the church’s legacy as well, speaking volumes about what kind of church we want to be and whether we really want to break with the destructive and abusive clericalism of the past. Together with other concerned Catholics, we raise our voices in faith and in hope for truth, transparency and accountability in the church we love, and for the justice and healing of her abuse survivors.

© Catholic Committee of Appalachia, 2018. Jeannie Kirkhope and Michael J. Iafrate are the Co-Coordinators, Catholic Committee of Appalachia

 

 

North Carolina Law Enforcement Wrong to Target Pipeline Opponents

It is Duke, Dominion and EQT that are terrorizing people

By Michael M. Barrick

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Myra Bonhage-Hale, then of Alum Bridge, W.Va. holds signs with questions she had for Console about pipelines. This “activist” eventually moved out of state.

RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina’s surveillance and counter-terrorism unit has conducted a “threat assessment” of opponents to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), which is scheduled to be built in eastern North Carolina, according to North Carolina Policy Watch: “State Bureau of Investigation unit prepared “threat assessment” of Atlantic Coast Pipeline protestors.”

According to the article, “The state’s surveillance and counter-terrorism unit, the Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAAC), warned law enforcement officials that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline could attract “violent extremists” who are opposed to the natural gas project in North Carolina … .” If approved, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will run more than 170 miles through North Carolina roughly parallel with I-95 east of Raleigh.

The law enforcement analysis could not be more misguided.

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Joao Barroso makes a point with neighbors in Randolph County, W.Va. He became an “activist” to protect hundreds of acres of his pristine land.

There are terrorists involved in fracking and related pipeline development – if that’s the word the law enforcement wishes to use – but they are not the opponents to the pipeline; rather the ones terrorizing people and the environment are the corporations building the pipelines. These include Duke Energy of Charlotte, Dominion Resources of Richmond, and EQT of Pittsburgh. The latter company is the primary developer of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), another controversial pipeline being built through West Virginia and Virginia.

The ISAAC would be well served to listen to this excellent interview of Ellen M. Gilmer, a legal reporter with E&E News by West Virginia Public Radio. Gilmer offers an analysis of the court battles involving both pipelines. One listening to it will see that pipeline opponents don’t have to resort to “terrorism.” Why? They are enjoying many victories in state and federal courts. Victories, in fact, that for now have shut construction of the pipelines down.

Opponents are not wide-eyed radicals and Gilmer knows it. How do I know? In 2015, I gave her a tour of the area in northern West Virginia where both pipelines originate. While living and reporting from there, I was covering construction of the Stonewall Gas Gathering line, a 36” diameter, 55-mile pipeline. Because it did not cross state boundaries, it did not need federal approval. Nevertheless, the pipeline’s builders were terrorizing people along the entire route.

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Justin McClain (L) listens as his father, Robert talks about the damage to their crops done by the Stonewall Gas Gathering Pipeline

As I took Ms. Gilmer around, I introduced her to the people most impacted by that project and introduced her to others whose land is threatened by the ACP and/or MVP. You’d have to ask her yourself, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t meet anyone that could be construed as a terrorist.

But, this is what she did see (or hear about because of time constraints):

  • A farmer in Doddridge County whose crops were destroyed because of improper erosion controls upstream during pipeline construction
  • Sick people throughout Doddridge County
  • The local newspaper is owned, literally, by gas and oil company owners
  • Citizens injured and killed by industry trucks
  • Residents leaving the state

These are just but a few examples. There are several more links at the end of this article. However, one moment stands out for me. It was at an event where the fossil fuel industry and law enforcement teamed up to intimidate local citizens simply curious about the pipelines as they were first announced. It was then that I knew the fix was in. The corporations got to the legislators, who then pressured law enforcement. Now it’s happening in North Carolina. It is beyond unnecessary – it is chilling.

What is fracking?
Fracking is a slang word for hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting a fluid consisting of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale. This fractures the rock, releasing natural gas, which is then extracted. In West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania the Marcellus shale, a layer of rock 3,500 – 8,000 feet below the surface, is the object of fracking. The vertical depth of the formation is about 150 feet. Whether recovered or left behind, the frack fluid presents problems. The wastewater contains not only the chemicals added to the water, but also leaving minerals and radioactive materials recovered as part of the extraction process.

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Failed erosion control on construction of Stonewall Gas Gathering pipeline in West Virginia Photo by Autumn Bryson

Pipeline construction

Fracking and pipeline construction are inexorably linked. Without fracking, there is no need for a pipeline. With fracking, all the risks associated with pipeline construction serve only to aggravate the impact of the process. So, there are many good reasons (see next section below) for people to oppose the ACP and MVP. The ACP is the longest, at more than 600 miles, terminating in Robeson County, N.C.

The companies seeking approval to build the ACP have harassed land owners wishing to protect their land from the devastation that would be caused by the ACP construction, not to mention the potential danger it poses for those living alongside of it. Having learned of what the people along the proposed ACP route have endured in West Virginia and Virginia, it is clear that the people of North Carolina need political leaders who will defend them, not consider them threats.

Fracking impacts and risks (Or ‘A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking’)

Dead and injured workers (here and here), explosions on fracking pads (here), dead and injured motorists (here and here), destroyed wells and streams (here), dead livestock (here) and sickened residents (here) are just some of the public health and safety risks associated with fracking. Indeed, the list is rather long. The negative by-products of fracking include:

  1. Public Health Issues
  2. Water Use and Contamination
  3. Radioactivity
  4. Air Pollution
  5. Waste Disposal
  6. Site Development and Well Pad Activity
  7. Misuse of Eminent Domain
  8. Climate Change
  9. Traffic Congestion
  10. Potential Earthquakes
  11. Industry Instability

The people experiencing these events and tactics do not sound like terrorists. They sound like people who are being terrorized.

IMAG0894

A convoy of gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime.

Crony capitalism

This is not new to the fossil fuel industry. A century ago, during the West Virginia Mine Wars, as the coal companies worked to keep the unions out of the coal fields, they hired Baldwin-Felts detectives to brutalize the miners and their families. The companies also ensured that local law enforcement did their bidding.

Perhaps the most famous of these “lawmen” was Don Chafin, the sheriff of Logan County, W.Va., during the Mine Wars. According to the West Virginia Archives and History website, “In 1921, he mobilized a small army of deputies – later formally organized into the militia by order of the governor – which met the union organizers in skirmishes at Blair Mountain on the Boone – Logan county border and in the Crooked Creek section. Thousands of shots were fired and much blood shed but there were relatively few casualties. Once source says 47 were killed and more than 100 injured.

“Mingo County then the center of organizing activity, was under martial law. Union miners in Kanawha heard rumors that their comrades to the south were being mistreated. That started their march south through Boone and Logan. On their way they planned to break down Chafin’s non-union stronghold. Their favorite marching song was “Hang Don Chafin to a Sour Apple Tree.’”

ISAAC’s snooping proves beyond any doubt that efforts by the fossil fuel industry to get the likes of Don Chafin to do their bidding here and now remains alive and well. 

The proper response – A moratorium on fracking

Clearly, despite industry claims, it has much to prove before we can consider fracking and related pipeline development safe. So, the only option is to operate according to the Precautionary Principle. The Science & Environmental Health Network says about the Precautionary Principle: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”

Based on this definition, the only proper response is a moratorium on fracking. A moratorium remains in place only so long as the burden of proof has not been met. Should the industry, as some point in the future, demonstrate that fracking does not pose a threat to public health and the environment, the moratorium could be lifted.

OVEC child with bloody nose

Children suffering nosebleeds is just one public health hazard in fracking zones

Add me to the list

I’m a pipeline opponent. I’ve never pretended otherwise. My writing has been focused on holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for the death and destruction it has caused in Appalachia and beyond. But, I’ve never touched a soul, never issued a threat, never trespassed, never polluted streams or any of the other numerous horrors the fracking industry has done.

What I have done is exercise my First Amendment rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Motivated and informed by my understanding of liberation theology, I have spoken and written against fracking and related pipeline development. I’ve been part of demonstrations of assembly. In short, I’ve been one of thousands of pipeline opponents who have legally and appropriately petitioned the Government.

So, if that puts me on a threat assessment watch list, then add me to the list and watch away. I’m quite familiar with the fossil fuel industry’s tactics. The ISAAC list is one I’d be proud to be on. But it won’t stop me or any other pipeline opponents. Why? Because we understand that it is time that the people – not crony capitalists – run our state and nation.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018

Curry Hedge and Johnson at conference

About 50 pipeline activists gathered peacably at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia gathering in April 2015 in Charleston, W.Va. Here, Tierra Curry (L), Susan Hedge and Allen Johnson lead a discussion on the sacredness of Appalachia. Photo by Keely Kernan

Other articles I’ve written about the Fossil Fuel Extraction Industry

ACP Would Require Extensive Mountaintop Removal

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Costs Outweigh Benefits, Claims Independent Study

Breaking Ground, Breaking Hearts

Citizen Groups Organizing in Response to Fracking

Citizen Groups to Unite for Water Justice in West Virginia and Beyond

Clarksburg Newspaper Editorial an Affront to West Virginians

Dominion is a Bully, not a Community Builder

Ecological Monitoring Group Challenges Virginia Governor to be Transparent about Pipeline Deliberations

Environmental Scientists, Activist Applaud Mountain Valley Pipeline Ruling

EQT Letter Characterized as Misleading and Bullying

Factual Reporting is not Always Balanced

Feeding the Military Monster

FERC Independence Challenged by Nonprofits

Fracking Forum a Time to Learn, Unify and Act

Groups Work to Bring the Public Voice into Gas Pipeline Projects

Health and Well-Being of Residents Being Subordinated to Fracking Industry

Incompetence and Complacency Increase Dangers from Fracking

Is This Fair?

Jury in Pennsylvania Fracking Case Sees Clear Value in Lives and Property

Learning by Listening

Lewis County Resident Issues a Plea: Wake up West Virginia

Natural Gas Industry Moves from the Absurd to the Profane

Natural Gas Pipelines, the Drumbeats of War and Our Sense of Entitlement

OVEC Publishes Newspaper to Reach 29,000 West Virginians

Pipeline Proposal Raises Questions that Beg for Answers

Pipeline Monitoring Group: FERC Not Doing Job on ACP

Poor Emergency Planning in West Virginia Puts Citizens at Risk

Proposed ‘New” Route for Atlantic Coast Pipeline no Better than One Rejected, Say Opponents

Putting Liberation Theology to Practice in Appalachia

Reluctant Activist

Seeking Dominion over His Own Land

Standing Their Ground

The ‘Deceived God’

Unity the Theme at ‘Preserving Sacred Appalachia’ Conference

Virginia Officials Agree to Demands from Advocacy Group about Pipeline Deliberations

Voices out of the Wilderness

West Virginia: The Rodney Dangerfield of the USA

West Virginia Residents in Heart of Fracking Field Join in National Action

West Virginians and Pennsylvanians Standing in Solidarity Against Natural Gas Industry

West Virginia’s Top Story in 2015: People and Land under Assault

Why People Deny Global Warming Clues

WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman Acknowledges Political and Business Climate in Charleston Limits Agency’s Effectiveness

‘You Make Us Want To Leave’

Cheers to Our Right to Vote!

Don’t bitch; vote instead, then toast to your freedom

Vote ftr

LENOIR, N.C. — Early (One-stop) voting started today in North Carolina. When I voted at about 2 in the afternoon in Lenoir at one of our county’s two early voting locations, about 75 people had voted. Two hours later when I went back to check the count, is was only about 85. While I await official numbers from the local Board of Elections office, it was reported to me that only about two dozen people had voted at the other early voting location in Granite Falls, in the densely populated southern end of the county.

These numbers are pathetic!

I have heard every excuse from people — still, after 2016 — in the last weeks as why they are not going to vote in the primary. I have yet to hear a good excuse. It’s simply a cop out. A lack of followership. Yes, that’s my new word. Not only do we suffer from a horrendous lack of political leadership, we have a lack of followership. Far too many people are still apathetic about a human right few have enjoyed throughout history.

But they don’t mind bitching. Allow me a quick digression to address that.

Cheers to Dad

In the photo above where I am cheering my right to vote, I am also saluting my father, who would have been 92 today. He would have been the first in line to vote today. That’s only one of a million reasons I miss him. The other is what a friend had to say when I texted the photo to her: “He always told things as he saw them.”

So, true to his legacy, I have three words for the non-voters: Don’t bitch, vote! That’s what Dad would have said. So, cheers to him, and cheers to our right to vote!

© Michael M. Barrick, 2018. “We the People” photo by Anthony Garand on Unsplash

 

Privatization of the VA Would Make Mockery of its Mission

Party of Lincoln forgets that the VA was inspired by the 16th president

By Art Sherwood

LENOIR, N.C. – David Shulkin, who was fired by President Trump last week as head of the Veterans Administration (VA), told several national news outlets that he was fired because he stood in the way of efforts by Trump and the GOP to privatize the VA (read more at NPR and CBS).

While the VA was not established until 1930, it seems that the GOP has forgotten that the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, provided the foundational spirit of the VA as noted in the Mission Statement on the VA’s website: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

While Trump’s removal of Shulkin is not surprising from the “You’re Fired!” president, privatization would be disastrous for the men and women served by the VA. Yet, it is consistent with the goals of the Republican Party. This is not a new agenda item. It’s been going on a long time. It is the “Starve the Beast” mentality. To ensure its failure, the GOP-led Congress intentionally underfunds the VA so performance is not where it should be. Then the agency and those running it – rather than Congress – are blamed for failures due to inadequate funding.

While the GOP may have forgotten Lincoln’s intentions, I have not. I worked with and for the VA for more than a decade. It was an honor to serve those who gave all for our country.

We have a sacred obligation to honor the mission of the VA and should not farm it out to profiteers who will put making money ahead of caring for our veterans. There are nearly one million veterans in North Carolina, making up over nine percent of our population. They deserve better than having their treatment transferred to a private provider looking to cut corners to increase profits.

The VA system is clearly better equipped and more knowledgeable about the needs and care of veterans than private providers scattered across the nation that have little or no experience dealing with the specialized care veterans need – and deserve. My experience in the largest VA hospital in the system in Houston showed me that the variety of comprehensive services that veterans get through the system could in no way be provided by private providers. The VA provides mental care and physical, comprehensive treatment of complex injuries such as those to the spinal cord. The VA’s knowledge and treatment of these injuries is among the best in the world.

To ensure its failure, the GOP-led Congress intentionally underfunds the VA so performance is not where it should be. Then the agency and those running it – rather than Congress – are blamed for failures due to inadequate funding.

Is the VA perfect? Of course not. But it does provide quality care. When the VA has appropriate stable leadership at the top that is committed to the mission of the VA, it succeeds. The employees are loyal civil servants who will follow leadership dedicated to the mission of the VA as articulated by President Lincoln following the Civil War. My personal experience is that when civil servants are given a fair chance to compete against the private sector, they win. They provide better, more efficient care. Still, we must remain vigilant. We should fix any problems that occur. It’s a large system, so of course it has potential for problems.

Additionally, let us not forget that the VA’s case load has increased dramatically in the last few decades because of the wars we are fighting around the world. It is now commonly agreed that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was precipitated on lies. We would have far less veterans to care for if we quit fighting unnecessary wars.

Also, the military deserves credit for improving its trauma care in battle zones. There are many more soldiers coming home alive than in previous wars. In addition, many veterans return home with the invisible wound of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This puts additional stress on already underfunded social and mental health services for our veterans. The VA is uniquely qualified to provide the required care – again, assuming it is properly funded.

Only the VA can provide the specialized, seamless care that these veterans deserve. In the rare cases where a veteran may live far away from the nearest VA hospital, a referral to a local provider might be necessary, but those are rare instances.

It is noteworthy, that as I talk to veterans in Caldwell County, that they’ve told me of the excellent care they have received at VA hospitals in the area, whether in Asheville, Salisbury or over the mountain in Tennessee. Their testimonies are encouraging. (There are also VA hospitals in Durham and Fayetteville, as well as Outpatient Clinics scattered across the state).

So, as a North Carolina State Senator, I will vigorously defend the VA and work closely with our congressional delegation to protect it and challenge them to properly fund the system. I will also challenge the GOP to quit the saber-rattling than can lead to only more young Americans dying and being maimed on foreign soil.

It is clear, that when it comes to waging wars and caring for those who do the actual fighting, the GOP’s hypocrisy knows no bounds.

We can do better. I will do better, given the opportunity. So, I would appreciate your vote in November. There are nearly a million veterans in North Carolina counting on the VA. Let’s not let them down.

© Citizens for Art, 2018. American flags photo by Cal Engel and dog tags photo by Holly Mindrup on Unsplash

Note: Art Sherwood is the Democratic candidate for North Carolina Senate District 46, which includes 3 Appalachian counties – Avery, Burke and Caldwell.  I am serving as Campaign / Communications Director for him. Impartiality is no longer an option for me. While it’s not news, 2016 reminded us that elections matter. How we care for the poor and vulnerable, how we protect the sacred earth which sustains us, how we protect human rights, how we care for the alien among us, how we defend voting rights, and how we treat each other in the body politic and the “public square” of social media, requires that I choose a side. – MB