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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Libertarian Party supports legislation that would benefit craft breweries and economic diversity in Appalachian region of North Carolina
By David Ulmer
RALEIGH – Most people believe if you start your own business, work hard and build it into something, you should have the right to reap the rewards. That is the American dream. However, in North Carolina some local brewers are being denied that right.
North Carolina has a prosperous and booming craft brewery industry. This economic boon was the direct result of a grassroots effort ten years ago called “Pop-the-Cap.” The reform lifted unnecessary rules and regulations on the craft brewers. It allowed the free-market to respond.
Dozens of hard working entrepreneurs started making local beer for consumers across the state. They brought in $1.2 million dollars and created more than 10,000 jobs, according to N.C. Craft Brewers Guild estimates. State community colleges even have programs to prepare young people to work in this fast growing industry.
For some politicians and special interests groups, success is a problem. Large, established distributors, with government-granted monopolies on transporting alcoholic products, lobbied for laws requiring any brewery producing more than 25,000 barrels per year to use their services. Distributors then gain total control over where craft beers may be sold.
Distributors want government to give them a cut of a business they didn’t help build.
Now, 25,000 barrels sounds like a lot of beer, but it isn’t. Local Breweries like Olde Mecklenburg, NoDa and Red Oak are now producing near this cap. These successful local businesses have to decide whether to keep growing – and hand over 30 percent of their revenue to someone else – or remain small.
Using government to force one business to give up the fruits of their labor to another strikes most people in North Carolina as just flat wrong. Distributors do serve a role in our beer industry, but craft breweries should only rely on them voluntarily. Amazon chooses to use FedEx or UPS, but the government doesn’t tell them who should deliver their orders. Some states, notably California and Colorado, don’t have a barrel limit. It should be no surprise that the brewers who have gone national like Sierra Nevada are based in these states.
Using government to force one business to give up the fruits of their labor to another strikes most people in North Carolina as just flat wrong.”
This isn’t a complicated or socially divisive issue. There’s simply no reason the law should lock craft breweries into relationships with distributors. We can’t allow special interests and big beer industry players based in places like Belgium to keep our local North Carolina beer industry from growing. Local businesses want to expand their sales forces and distribution networks to meet the demand they are seeing for their product across the state. Why shouldn’t they?
House Bill 67 would raise the barrel limit from 25,000 to 100,000 barrels. It’s supported by Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. This is at least an improvement.
But the beer and wine lobby stands in the way. Distributors in North Carolina cling to a business model dependent on using government and politicians to keep their businesses profitable. The opponents of HB 67 won’t get out of the way until the people of North Carolina make it clear we still believe in the American dream.
How can you help? Go to CraftFreedom.org and sign their petition, and like their Facebook page. Let your representatives in the General Assembly know how you feel. And the next time you are in your favorite watering hole, tell the owner or manager that you support craft beer and ask them what they are doing to help.
The Libertarian Party of North Carolina supports passage of HB 67 and the efforts of CraftFreedom.org to maintain control over the businesses they built.
David Ulmer has worked in the Wake information technology sector since 2000, and is a craft beer aficionado. He was the 2016 Libertarian candidate for state House 49.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest editorial. We welcome diverse points-of-view on any manner of topics so long as they are expressed in a civil manner that is suitable for a family publication, is relevant to our audience, and does not require extensive editing. Publication does not imply endorsement. We reserve the right to refuse publication of submissions.
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West Virginia Sierra Club groups host forum Monday on WVU campus
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Sierra Student Coalition and the Mon Group of the West Virginia Sierra Club will host a public forum featuring the newly appointed West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) Secretary Austin Caperton.
Notably, the WVDEP’s new Environmental Advocate, Edward Maguire II, will also be in attendance. He was recently appointed to the position by Caperton after the recent firing of Maquire’s predecessor by Caperton, former WVDEP Advocate Wendy Radcliff. That decision was roundly criticized by environmental and public health advocates, as well as journalists, as Radcliff was widely viewed among open-government advocates as among one of the most transparent officials at the WVDEP, working in a hostile political environment.
The forum is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Shenandoah Room of the Mountainlair, on the downtown campus of WVU at 1550 University Ave. This event is free and open to the public.
According to a news release from the Mon Group of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club Chair, Autumn Long, “Caperton will comment on the WVDEP’s responsibilities as well as his priorities and vision for the agency’s future. Maguire will comment upon the role of the WVDEP Environmental Advocate Office in assisting citizens with environmental concerns and fostering communication with the public.”
Emily McDougal, WVU Sierra Student Coalition member and executive committee member of the Mon Group of the WV Sierra Club, said, “This event promotes community involvement on environmental issues and allows the public to directly communicate their environmental concerns to the WVDEP leadership.” She continued, “We hope this session will mutually inform and inspire Secretary Caperton and attendees to kick-start solutions to environmental problems in the state.”
Long added that audience members can submit written questions to pose to Secretary Caperton and Mr. Maguire via a moderator.
According to Long, the Mon Group of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club operates in a five-county region of North Central West Virginia – Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, and Taylor counties. It works to increase awareness of environmental issues and opportunities for active participation in this area. For more information and to find out about upcoming Mon Group activities, visit www.sierraclub.org/west-virginia. Questions? Contact Mon Group Chair Autumn Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The WVU Sierra Student Coalition aims to protect the environment through political advocacy, education, and outings. Activities are planned during weekly meetings and vary from trips to the state Capitol and environmental conferences to recreational outings. Find out more at http://sierra.studentorgs.wvu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter @WVUSSC.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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On behalf of all West Virginians, I challenge you to serve the people, not your cronies in the fossil fuel industry
By S. Tom Bond
Note: I have penned the following Open Letter to Governor Jim Justice and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Austin Caperton; I encourage you to do the same or join us in signing this by contacting the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance at MLPAWV@gmail.com or use the contact page.
Editor’s note: Both Justice and Caperton have long careers as energy company executives and have records’ – including recent firings at WV DEP – that the state’s environmental groups find counter to the DEP mission as does the Charleston Gazette-Mail. To get a sense of how things operate in Charleston, read this admission by former DEP Secretary Randy Huffman that the DEP is compromised by crony capitalism.
Dear Governor Justice and Secretary Caperton:
How is the air down there in Charleston? Still clean? Do you plan to move out into the country near some of the new Marcellus drilling industry? Maybe near a compressor station with eleven of those big engines, roaring and belching 24 hours a day?
Or perhaps near a well pad where there is 24 hour light and noise and chemicals and diesel smoke with lots of PM-2.5 coming out the exhaust. Particulate matter 2.5 microns or less is now known as a cause of Alzheimer’s-like effects, you know. Going to bring along your grandchildren and your Mom along? Families like that live out here, and the young and the old are particularly susceptible to toxic chemicals, smoke, fumes, and dust.
Maybe you are like the famous story on Rex Tillerson, who has inflicted that kind of misery on many thousands of people. Then he complained when a water tower to enable fracking was erected in sight of his own piece of earth.
Do you think those who drink water without the taste of chlorine shouldn’t complain when their well is poisoned with a complex mixture of water slickers, detergents, and anti-oxidants, antibacterial compounds, and God-only-knows what else? Maybe they deserve car-busting roads and interminable delays when they use public roads too?
I can see you demurring all the way from here. I think that you are like Rex Tillerson, the ultimate not-in-my-back-yard guy!
So you are going to govern the state for all the people. For all the people of West Virginia – like John J. Cornwell was governing West Virginia for all the people, including the miners, at the time of the battle of Matewan? Oh yes! Those corporations provided good living for officers and investors, but not miners. It’s been like that since West Virginia was established. Wealth carried off, mostly north and east, but occasionally to build a motel in Florida.
So I’m being a little hard on you. You are just doing it to bring jobs, jobs, jobs, you say? You do realize gas and oil extraction are capital intensive and labor weak, don’t you? That once the drilling is done by those fellows brought in from elsewhere, they will go away and leave few permanent jobs? You certainly know several companies are developing automated drilling, so drilling labor will go the way of coal labor, too.
Oh yes! Obama killed coal the fable says. You really know better than that, don’t you? Coal companies, going to more mechanization, especially long wall and surface mining that can use huge equipment, killed coal jobs. That Obama fable was a tool, using prejudice and diversion of the truth, to affect voters who were slow to catch on.
What moral code do you have that allows collateral damage to rural residents in peacetime to profit private industry? Forget for the moment all the externalized costs, the true cost of the extraction, the damage to other industries, global warming, destruction of surface value for farming and timber, recreation and hunting. What justifies forest destruction, land disturbances, public annoyances, and public health for fossil fuel extraction? Especially when last year 39 percent of new electrical capacity was solar and 29 percent was wind power. (Coal has been showing a decrease for the last two years.) There is no CO2 from the renewable resources!
How do you decide people are unworthy of protection? Simply because of rural residence? Those who can’t afford to move elsewhere, or too attached to the family plot?
Hey guys, people out here are probably more astute than you think. Some of us don’t think very far ahead, and few are articulate, but, given time, it all becomes too clear.
West Virginia has the highest rate at losing population in the nation. We have the lowest ratio of employment to employable people in the nation. College kids have been heading for the door, and so are a lot of high school grads.
Is corrupting the environment and allowing the wealth of our state to be carted off by favored industries your best game? That is the past, present (and future?) of Almost Heaven! We country folks keep hoping for better!
S. Thomas Bond is an eighth generation West Virginian writing from his farm in Jane Lew, W.Va. He is a farmer and retired chemistry professor. He is interviewed in Keely Kernan’s Documentary Film, “In the Hills and Hollows,” which is about the impacts of the fossil fuel industry in West Virginia.
Postscript: Please note the irony of the slide show of beautiful West Virginia scenery on the governor’s website. Let’s not let him have a pass on using the state’s natural beauty to disguise the extreme damage he has done to the people, environment and legal system of West Virginia. – M.B.
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Recent activities reveal not much has changed for decades
By Michael M. Barrick
(Note: Caldwell County, N.C. is in Northwestern North Carolina, along the southernmost border of Appalachia as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission. It is on the eastern slope of the Eastern Continental Divide, with the Blue Ride Escarpment stretching into the county. About half of it is mountainous, though the county and Appalachian region end at the Catawba River, at the southern end of the county. The mountains run southwest to northeast roughly parallel with N.C. Hwy. 18. North of that line, mountain ways still prevail; to the south, the urban Piedmont has infiltrated into what was once rich farm land – and, in places, still is – along the Catawba River. Based upon my travels throughout Appalachia, the observations in this essay apply to many regions of Appalachia trying to recover from its dependence upon a mono-economy).
LENOIR, N.C. – Any essay or discussion about religion and politics is full of risks, even more so during the sacred seasons of Hanukkah and Christmas and the time of the African-American Kwanzaa celebration. Add in that we just completed the most contentious election season in memory, and we’ve got frayed nerves. So, first some disclaimers about what this essay is not about.
- This is not a criticism of the Caldwell County schools or anyone working for them. I support public education. I have taught at South Caldwell High School, served on the School Board, was a Community in Schools mentor, and our children attended and graduated from the county schools.
- This is not about the “right” to say “Merry Christmas.” I’m 60-years-old. Nobody has ever told me I couldn’t say Merry Christmas. If I’ve ever offended anyone saying it, I am not aware of it.
- This is not about ensuring that we have a Christian nation. We are not a Christian nation. We have never been a Christian nation. I hope to goodness we never have a theocracy. If Donald Trump moves in that direction, you can be sure it’s for political purposes, not because of firmly-held values. I respect other faiths. I respect no faith. In fact, while it’s nobody’s business what faith I hold (or don’t), I can say that I sure do respect my many friends who are agnostic or atheist. Based on the way Christianity is lived out in this country, it’s amazing anyone claims the faith.
Which brings me to what this essay is about: Caldwell County’s contradictory natures. I’ve been traveling here since I was a young child and we’ve lived here the better part of 25 years. History and geography essentially divide the county in half; that it’s a bit contradictory is not surprising. However, our granddaughter’s recent Christmas concert at the school she attends here in the county – combined with the overwhelming support received by Donald Trump in Caldwell – revealed just how ironic and nuanced this county can be.
The Christmas concert was very well done, sweet and well-received. The staff, teachers and administrators are to be commended for the hard work put into it. However, I did not hear one Christmas song that was remotely sacred. That bothers me, because, well, for God’s sake, it’s Christmas! I may have missed it, and if I did, I apologize. Maybe they were given legal advice that prevented them from using sacred music. If so, such advice is questionable, because in the past, choirs have chosen to sing sacred songs; it was done at South Caldwell and courts have allowed them.
In any event, at the end, I imagined that somebody would get up, Jimmy Stewart-like, humbly grasp the microphone and say, “Well, uh … that was sweet, but I fear we have forgotten why we gather.” He or she would then start singing, “Joy to the World” and all in the room would join in.
I suggested it to my wife. She quickly nixed the idea. Plus, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.
But still, I imagined it. Of course, it would have been inappropriate. It would have upset the children, disrupted the work of school personnel, and potentially escalated into something quite unpleasant. Still, it seemed like the reaction I expect from people who fiercely defend Christianity and all things Christmas.
It seems all the spunk has been taken out of them. That’s what happens when you can’t find work and your communities are slowly shuttered.
Caldwell’s economic decline because of its past dependence upon the furniture mono-economy has left many unemployed and underemployed people. Finding themselves unable to find new work, they have quietly receded into the decaying neighborhoods of our small towns or small homesteads scattered among our mountain regions. Meanwhile, a slow but growing influx of artists, musicians and craftsman offers hope.
Geography is a challenge for us also. Northlakes is nothing like Edgemont. The booming south end of the county is more aligned with Hickory. Meanwhile, farmers in Collettsville, Kings Creek, Dudley Shoals, Buffalo Cove and elsewhere struggle to maintain family homesteads as retirees move into the mountain townships like Globe and Patterson. The artisans moving into Lenoir are adding a flavor to the town not seen since Doc Watson was playing downtown.
So, we do seem to have two Caldwells – the conservative descendants of the county’s settlers and the new settlers, looking to convert Lenoir into an art and music destination or live out their retirement years here.
The best description I’ve heard of Caldwell County was from then-Mayor Robert A. Gibbons Sr. roughly 20 years ago. I was working as a reporter at the News-Topic. My beat included the Lenoir City Council. It led to some interesting exchanges with Mayor Gibbons. When he retired, he called and asked that I tell the story of his roughly 25 years as mayor. In an exhaustive and entertaining interview in our conference room, a very relaxed Mayor Gibbons provided an excellent history of Lenoir and insight into the backroom deals not previously disclosed. Not every comment was printed.
However, one thing he said about Caldwell County was so characteristically descriptive and politically incorrect – not to mention arguably accurate – that I had to print it. I’m going from memory here, but I am confident that this is an accurate paraphrase if not exact quote. As we were concluding the interview, the mayor leaned closer to me across the table and volunteered, “You know, there are two kinds of people in Caldwell County. You have the folks living in the mountains that don’t give a happy damn about anything, and then you’ve got those folks who like that dancing on your tiptoes like they do at the Civic Center.”
That sounds like Caldwell County, circa 2016, to me.
With feet in both camps – a Mountaineer, but also a writer – I get it. As a mountain person, I just want to be left the hell alone. As a writer, I am compelled to seek avenues for my craft, avenues which often include me sticking my nose in the business of others. Obviously, these goals can sometimes be at odds.
The artists and musicians are in the minority. Their venues are limited. The existence of the Caldwell Arts Council and other robust efforts in the area are encouraging. Still, the question is, can the two Caldwells coexist? Can the young people filling Lenoir’s restaurants and bars in the evenings lives alongside those folks whose parents and grandparents filled the furniture plants once humming along 321-A? Election Day makes me wonder. Early Voting revealed a very divided community; for 17 days people screamed at one another as the Board of Elections failed to do its job. The school concert, though, brought folks together. For a short time, for our children, we set apart our differences.
That means we can do it in other ways too. So, wherever you fit in the spectrum, let’s remember we’re all neighbors. Feel free to celebrate your faith. But please be kind enough to let others choose not to. That will be a big first step in healing the wounds caused by a very contentious election season. Only then can we move together to help our community continue its recovery.
Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! A Festive Kwanzaa! Cheers!
© The Lenoir Voice, 2016
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If legislators will not honor their oath to uphold the U.S. and N.C. constitutions, we need a deterrence to prevent the total erosion of our rights to an emerging police state
By Michael M. Barrick
RALEIGH, N.C. – As I write this, the Republican leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have had citizens and reporters thrown out of the gallery and arrested, in clear violation of the First Amendment and North Carolina’s Open Meetings law.
And, as Chris Fitzsimon of North Carolina Policy Watch writes today, GOP leadership promises of transparency when they gathered here earlier this week for a special session are, “ … simply put, a lie.”
Welcome to Donald Trump’s America, where the Republican Party is emboldened enough to disregard the Constitution and the Rule of Law, and use law enforcement as their own personal army. This kind of nonsense understandably led to a revolution a couple of centuries ago.
So, here is something I am sure the Republican leadership will understand since they are such guardians of the U.S. Constitution: with you folks in office, the Second Amendment has never been more important. You have undeniably demonstrated you pose a clear and present danger to our fundamental rights and institutions. In fact, you have done so repeatedly to suppress votes as numerous courts have ruled.
You violate our most basic liberties in broad daylight, under the glare of television lights, in our hallowed buildings to undermine the will of the people as expressed on Election Day. If you are brazen enough to do that, you are certainly not beyond bullying your opposition in ways once considered unimaginable in this country.
The founders of this nation understood that and, in due course, determined that they had to throw off their oppressors. They had learned that life without liberty is no life at all (Ironic, in light of slavery). Still, in 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
We hope, of course, that we can transition through these rough waters peacefully. Isn’t that what Christ taught? (I only ask because the GOP claims exclusive ownership of the faith). Also, I can’t imagine Jesus throwing out his followers. He was a little more hospitable than that and was pretty big on making sure his message was heard loud and clear, not hidden. Clearly, the GOP’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. The watchful eye of the people and the press does not presently deter the GOP. Maybe they just don’t get the First Amendment. But we all know they have the Second Amendment memorized.
So, here’s a suggestion to the North Carolina Republican Party: show us you can be trusted with the First Amendment. It says, “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.”
If you can’t be trusted to do that – to honor your oath of office – you can be sure that your constituents will take the Second Amendment quite seriously should your coup-d’etat extend into our homes. And do us a favor. Do not feign outrage at our disgust with you. You – the leaders of the North Carolina Republican Party and your puppeteers – have gone beyond the pale in violating our rights. That’s how revolutions begin – with arrogant leaders disregarding the law and basic human rights. You have done so. It is up to you to admit your error and back us from the brink. Failure to do so will make for a very harrowing 2017 in Raleigh and elsewhere.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2016
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His life of service to West Virginia is an inspiration for all those seeking justice
By Janet Keating
SLANESVILLE, W.Va. – West Virginia and the nation has lost a true hero and people’s champion. Former Congressman Ken Hechler died at his home in Slanesville on Dec. 10. He was 102.
There are politicians, public servants and then there was Ken Hechler, a man in a class all of his own – military man, historian, educator, politician, activist and, my personal favorite, “hell raiser.” Those who knew him are familiar with his uncompromising commitment to justice and the betterment of all people in West Virginia, but especially for his advocacy of the health and safety of our nation’s coal miners. OVEC (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) members may know him best for his passion for democracy and our iconic mountains. As a lifetime member of OVEC, Ken was often a speaker at rallies to end mountaintop removal where he sang “Almost Level, West Virginia” his parody of the popular John Denver song, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.”
I came to know Ken in the late 80s during my first-ever plunge into environmental issues as a member of the Huntington Tri-State Audubon Society – working to “save” the Green Bottom wetlands, the third largest wetlands in West Virginia near Huntington, where the pre-Civil War home of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins still stands. Ken, as a Jenkin’s historian and then Secretary of State of West Virginia, was familiar with Jenkin’s history and so joined with our coalition urging the state and federal government to consider managing the former plantation home, its wetlands and its significant Native American archaeology for a higher use beyond simply a hunting ground. Not surprisingly, the media portrayed the issue as hunting vs non-hunting (though some folks were very concerned about birds of prey which frequented the area like Bald Eagles as well as the historic Jenkin’s home).
After several years of butting heads with both state and federal agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to hold a public hearing where Ken and others faced off. Despite a room full of several hundred angry, shouting hunters, Ken stood his ground and voiced his concerns. In the end, a reasonable compromise was reached where the wetlands were expanded, the Jenkin’s home underwent renovations (and was managed for a brief time by West Virginia Division of Culture and History), signs were posted to alert hunters to the presence of protected birds of prey and native species were planted to provide wildlife habitat. Undoubtedly, Ken’s involvement garnered greater media attention and raised public awareness to the issue, than we otherwise would have had, a valuable contribution. Presently, Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area has become a well-known location for bird watching and hunting, although the Jenkin’s home, despite the millions spent on its overhaul, is boarded up and no longer open to the public. Nevertheless, every time I visit Green Bottom, I am thankful that Ken lent his time, energy and “notoriety” to this unique site.
When the issue of mountaintop removal reared its ugly head, Dr. Hechler eagerly joined with community members and environmental activists hoping to end the destructive mining technique. He was a member of Congress during the catastrophic failure of the Buffalo Creek sludge-dam in 1972 that killed 125 West Virginians, a tragedy which eventually led to the passage of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act in 1977 (SMCRA). This bill, however, continues to be a failed attempt by the state and federal government to regulate surface mining by the coal industry. Ken was greatly concerned when the final version of the bill legitimized mountaintop removal (MTR) which was supposed to be an exception rather than the rule when it came to strip-mining; MTR was only to be used when a flattened mountain provided land for authentic economic development. While coal companies by law are supposed to return the former mountains to “approximate original contour,” unfortunately, states regularly issue permits with variances to that provision. As it turns out, Ken foresaw the destruction that would follow the passage of SMCRA – hundreds of thousands of acres of denuded, flattened mountains along with more than 2,000 miles of annihilated streams and disappeared communities. A favorite phase of Ken’s, “Akin to putting lipstick on a corpse,” was how he referred to strip-mine reclamation.
A notable event in Ken’s effort to stop MTR was his participation in 1999, while WV Secretary of State, in a re-enactment of the historic Miners’ March on Blair Mountain that preceded the 1921 Mine Wars. In 1997, the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection had issued what would have been the largest ever mountaintop removal permit in the state. At risk were not only the mountains and the small community of Blair, but also one of the most historic labor/history sites in the nation, where about 7,000 miners determined to organize a union were met with great resistance and after five days, halted by 3,000 armed “militiamen” organized by Logan County Sheriff Don Chaffin. This was the largest battle on U.S. soil since the Civil War where eventually the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Corps were called in.
A courageous Dr. Hechler, 84 at the time, joined the reenactment with a number of others (OVEC’s Laura Forman, Carol Jackson, CRMW’s Judy Bonds, Larry Gibson, Jimmy Weekly, and Cindy Rank to name a few) supported by several organizations including OVEC. For many people, the application and issuance of a mountaintop removal permit at historic Blair Mountain, which could literally erase the dark history of mining, underscored the sheer arrogance of coal companies as well as the complicity of government agencies. While the reenactors were not met with guns and soldiers, they were, however, harassed every day by miners and others who pelted them with eggs, and much to everyone’s horror, also shoved and kicked Ken.
From a story about the confrontation during the re-enactment by reporter Rick Steelhammer, Ken stated: “I tried to think about Gandhi and Martin Luther King and how they would react. It’s important to retain your cool, but it’s difficult when people begin to wade in and rip up all your signs, throw eggs at the back of your head, grab away your West Virginia flag, and trip and kick you.”
That incident led to warrants and arrests of those who committed violence and eventually landed some people in court, though not in jail. One of the Logan County perpetrators of the harassment eventually ended up serving in Governor Bob Wise’s administration. I still smile when I think about Ken holding a sign at a protest that said: “Kick me and get a job with Bob Wise.” And recently, the D.C. District court upheld the U.S. EPA’s decision to rescind the permit for mountaintop removal on Blair Mountain, another people’s victory in which Ken participated in a major way.
Ken Hechler’s legacy though far-reaching (and incalculable) was also at times very personal. In particular, his influence on Larry Gibson, another mountain hero, was very special. Ken often traveled with Larry to colleges and universities throughout the country to talk about the impacts of mountaintop removal on land and people of Central Appalachia. Because of Ken’s encouragement, Larry went back to school to improve his reading and writing skills. Having become quite a duo, both Ken and Larry were interviewed by “60 Minute’s” Mike Wallace, who came to West Virginia to produce a segment on mountaintop removal.
Through nearly two decades, Dr. Hechler, admired by so many, continued to answer the call, showing up at events, protests and rallies – the most notable one, a rally and protest at the Marsh Fork Elementary School, in Raleigh County, where he, along with actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, were arrested in a non-violent, direct action to draw attention to the great need for a new elementary school. A massive and dangerous coal waste impoundment loomed above Marsh Fork Elementary School adjacent to a coal silo, a coal processing facility and a mountaintop removal site. Coal River Mountain Watch’s Ed Wiley began urging state officials to build a new elementary school after he picked up his ill grand-daughter who told him, “Granddaddy, this school is making us kids sick.” After 6 years of tenacious organizing and advocacy, a new school was opened where Ken Hechler had, once again, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those most impacted.
As someone who was deeply concerned about the state of our country’s democracy, Ken became active in campaign finance reform issues, especially when “Granny D”’s (Doris Haddock) began her epic 3,200 mile journey/walk from California to Washington, D.C. to elevate the need for supporting the federal McCain-Feingold bill. If passed, this legislation would help reduce spending on political campaigns. Ken walked more than 500 miles with Doris who turned 90 years old by the time she arrived in the nation’s Capital. When Doris arrived in Marietta, Ohio, Ken Hechler was on hand to greet and welcome her as she made her way across the Ohio River to Parkersburg, W.Va., to speak to supporters.
In 2006, Granny D and Ken spoke at a regional mountaintop removal summit dubbed “Healing Mountains,” that OVEC and Heartwood (a regional organization that works to protect public lands from abusive practices) organized. Doris and Ken reminded us that if we want to win our issues, we needed to be more inclusive and supportive of people of color. You may recall that Ken was the only member of Congress that participated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights march in Selma. Union supporter, environmentalist, statesman, writer, historian, teacher, husband, father and add one more label – civil rights activist.
If you still need convincing about what an amazing man that Ken was, he had the most incredible memory of anyone I’ve ever met. My hunch is that Ken spent his remarkable life making really good memories.
Dear Ken, we know that you, of all people, have earned your eternal rest. Well done. You will be sorely missed.
This article originally was published on the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition website. It is reprinted with permission.
Janet Keating is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (www.ohvec.org) who retired September 2016 after 24 years with the organization. Her latest endeavor, Green Shepherd, LLC, offers consulting and other services to environmental and social justice non-profits.
People’s independent watchdog group releases video slamming effort of lame-duck governor
By Michael M. Barrick
RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina Republican Party under lame-duck Governor Pat McCrory is apparently not done with its shenanigans before Democrat Roy Cooper becomes the state’s 75th governor. At least that is what one prominent people’s independent watchdog group based here says in a hard-hitting video just released.
In the video, Common Cause North Carolina asserts that the special session that Governor McCrory has called for Dec. 13 is a back-door attempt to pack the state Supreme Court, even though the session is supposed to be about providing relief to victims of Hurricane Matthew and wildfires in Appalachian counties of Western North Carolina. However, the group asserts in the video that since Democrat Mike Morgan’s election provided the Democrats with the 4-3 majority on the court, the Republicans would also use the session to add two seats to the state Supreme Court, essentially “packing” it so that Republicans would regain a majority of 5-4 with McCrory getting to make the two appointments before he leaves office.
On their website, Common Cause stated, “On Tuesday the NC legislature is returning for what is supposed to be a special session focused on providing relief to victims of Hurricane Matthew. But lawmakers might use the session to radically alter our state’s highest court.
“After the Republican-endorsed candidate for the NC Supreme Court lost his election in November, reports have swirled around Raleigh that the GOP-controlled legislature might use the special session to add seats to the court – effectively overturning the impact of the election’s result and installing a Republican-backed majority of justices.”
It continued, “It would be outrageous if the legislature uses what is supposed to be a special session intended to help victims of natural disasters to instead cynically play partisan games with our state’s highest court.
“Such a move would threaten the independence of the judiciary, undermine the integrity of the legislature and it would be an attack on the right of North Carolina voters to directly elect our state’s Supreme Court justices.”
The assertion is based on language in the governor’s resolution that allows for the General Assembly to address “any other matters” it would wish to in the upcoming special session. That language and the refusal of state Republican leaders to discount the possibility of the court-packing scheme, prompted Common Cause North Carolina to call the attempt “disgraceful.” It also called upon the state’s citizens to call their legislators to say “enough of the rigged games.” Indeed, Common Cause released this petition to oppose adding seats to the N.C. Supreme Court.
Morgan, a Democrat, beat long-time Associate Justice Bob Edmunds to turn control of the court back to the Democrats. If the GOP leadership should decide to push through a bill adding two justices, the move would change the balance of the court from a 4-3 majority for Democrats to a 5-4 majority for Republicans. That, says Common Cause, undermines the will of the people.
Calling for action, Common Cause asked, “Let state leaders know you do not support such a brazen attempt to undermine the independence of the N.C. Supreme Court. Tell them you oppose any court-packing scheme. Call House Speaker Tim Moore at 919-733-3451 and tell lawmakers not to play partisan games.”
Art Sherwood, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Senate District 45, said, “I have heard the rumors about adding two seats to the Supreme Court. If they move in this direction, it would be a gross abuse of the legislative authority, and a continuation of the Republican legislative attack on the courts.” He continued, “The people of Western North Carolina deserve to be spared Raleigh games as they try to put their lives back together.”
Sherwood, too, encouraged folks to take action. “I have gotten requests to sign petitions against these actions and have signed such, and would encourage others to do the same. Perhaps joining with groups like Moral Monday and encouraging them to address these issues would be a way to help.”
© The Lenoir Voice, 2016
On Twitter: @lenoirvoice
Focus to be on identifying priorities for upcoming legislative session
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The inaugural West Virginia Solar Congress is scheduled for Dec. 10, according to Autumn Long, the WV Sun Co-op Coordinator. She said, “I am pleased to announce this special upcoming event and cordially invite folks to attend. It is free and open to the public.”
It will be held at the West Virginia University College of Law from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., said Long. Click here to register and find out more.
Long explained, “The Solar Congress is an open and collaborative event that will bring together West Virginia’s community of solar supporters to discuss the status of solar in our state. The Solar Congress will include breakout sessions on a variety of solar topics as well as a participatory forum discussion about the development of West Virginia’s solar landscape.”
She noted, “The focus of the event will be policy, particularly identifying priorities for the upcoming legislative session and building strategies to grow access to renewable energy in West Virginia. The West Virginia Solar Congress is sponsored by WV SUN, the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
Breakout session topics and speakers:
- Value of Solar (Dan Conant, Solar Holler)
- Power Purchase Agreements (Colin Williams, Mountain View Solar)
- Community solar (James van Nostrand, Center for Energy and Sustainable Development)
- Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships (Emmett Pepper, Energy Efficient West Virginia)
- Citizen lobbying (Karan Ireland, WV SUN)
- Renewable Portfolio Standards (James Kotcon, West Virginia Sierra Club)
10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.: Registration and networking
10:30 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.: Welcoming remarks
11 a.m. – 11:50 a.m.: Breakout sessions
12 p.m. – 12:50 p.m.: Lunch (informal networking hour)
1 p.m. – 1:50 p.m.: Breakout sessions
2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.: Solar forum (moderated by Anya Schoolman, Community Power Network Executive Director)
3:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.: Solar Happy Hour Reception
Long concluded, “More information is available on the WV Sun website. Be sure to check back often for updates. Please RSVP if you plan to attend and share widely with your social networks. To learn more, call 304-608-3539 or email email@example.com.
© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016.
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Experts say scaling back program puts North Carolina red wolves ‘on a swifter path toward extinction’
WASHINGTON— Thirty prominent scientists with expertise in ecology, genetics and other areas relevant to wolf conservation submitted a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Nov. 30 expressing concerns over the agency’s plans to dramatically curtail its recovery program for red wolves, the nation’s most imperiled wolf population.
Joseph Hinton, David Rabon, John Vucetich and other scientists urged the Service to identify additional red wolf reintroduction sites rather than remove wolves from the wild and drastically curtail the size of the recovery area in North Carolina, as the agency recently proposed.
“The Service has once again allowed politics instead of science to drive decisions on red wolf recovery – and the science is clear that scaling back this recovery program only puts these animals on a swifter path toward extinction,” said Jamie Pang, endangered species campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Service needs to listen to these experts and take the actions necessary to recover red wolves in the wild before it’s too late.”
In September the Service proposed to confine red wolf recovery to federal public lands, shrinking the animals’ recovery area from five counties in North Carolina to just one bombing range and one wildlife refuge in a single county. In the past couple of years, the agency has allowed the wild population of red wolves to drop to as few as 45, down from its peak of 130. Shootings and nonlethal removals threaten the wolves by disturbing pack dynamics and promoting hybridization with coyotes.
“Wild red wolves now face a perilously high risk of extinction. The Service’s recent actions seem consistent with abandoning red wolves rather than recovering them,” said Dr. John Vucetich, a professor and scientist at Michigan Technological University. “The Service has not adequately justified shifting resources away from the wild population. The most prudent action, by far, would be to protect the existing red wolf population in North Carolina and identifying new reintroduction sites elsewhere in the Southeast.”
“Red wolf recovery has been a testing ground for notable conservation strategies and innovation,” said Dr. Joseph Hinton, a postdoctoral researcher at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. “The science shows that the red wolf can be saved, and that the Service should re-implement those previous management practices to ensure the long-term viability of the wild population in eastern North Carolina.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.