Category Archives: Politics & Government

Where are the Courageous and Visionary Leaders?

These are times when those in power must act for the welfare of those they serve

By Michael M. Barrick

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

In paragraph 57 of his ecological encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis asked, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” Published nearly two years ago, that question is even more valid and pressing today.

Point in case: The failure of President Trump and the Republican-led Congress to hold even a vote on a health care bill is an abject failure of leadership. Actually, considering how bad the bill was, for that we can be thankful. However, at this stage in our history, at this stage in incalculable threats to world peace, we simply can’t afford a complete void of leadership.

For my 61years on this planet, I have witnessed presidential administrations and congressional leaders reach compromises on vital issues despite deep differences. Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill had severe policy disagreements. But they were civil with one another. Indeed, they were friends.

More importantly, they led. You need not agree with their politics to understand that had to have been strong leaders, otherwise, nothing would have been accomplished while they were in Washington together. Forging relationships is an essential leadership trait. Out of those relationships come a deeper respect for and understanding of one another. It causes people to look for common ground – especially when the general welfare is at stake.

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President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill

Now, though, the Republican Party has a problem. It is like a dog chasing a car. Now that they’ve caught it, they can’t do much with it except bite into the tire. This is what happens when one is mindlessly seeking power for power’s sake.

The Democratic Party, I might add, is not much better. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi responded, “Let’s just for a moment breathe a sigh of relief for the American people that the Affordable Care Act was not repealed.”

No, let’s not. This is not the time to pause; it is a time to act.

I am not breathing a sigh of relief. Obamacare is a total disaster. It is crony capitalism at its worst. Far too many people still can’t access affordable health care; insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and even hospital corporations now have more control over an individual’s health care than the patient and his or her family doctor.

But as others have said, there may be a silver lining in this dark cloud. The American people are finally realizing that a single-payer, universal health care law is the only viable option to provide adequate medical care for all Americans. Why do they know this? Because we’re already doing it. It’s called Medicare. So, it is time to do what the majority of American people want, including Trump-voting Appalachia – pass a single payer, universal health care bill. In short, provide Medicare for all.

This will require cooperation. The days of a political leader saying that his sole purpose is to obstruct the efforts of a political opponent must be put behind us now if we are to solve the problems facing our communities, state and nation. Sadly, “leaders” in both major parties now resort to obstructionism rather than doing the tough work of negotiating.

Pulse trace

That simply won’t do. Consider your own experiences or those of your friends and family. Do you know anybody that says going to the doctor has gotten easier? Have you seen your doctor beat her head against the wall when a flunky on the other end of the phone is deciding whether or not her diagnosis of you is accurate? Do you think getting prescriptions filled is easier? Do you think life-saving prescriptions should be priced so high that CEOs make $20 million a year while patients die?

For now, we continue to ignore these questions for a simple reason – in the USA, might trumps right. This is not the recipe for “making America great again.”

© Michael M. Barrick, 2017

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The Fake Compromise of N.C. House Bill 2

Cooper and the General Assembly make a mockery of the state motto

By Michael M. Barrick 

Roy Cooper

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper

RALEIGH, N.C. – The bill passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Roy Cooper on March 30 to repeal the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” is nothing less than shameful. It is a fake compromise; it is certainly not a repeal, which was what is needed. In this case, a return to the status quo before the Charlotte City Council passed its local ordinance that precipitated the HB2 madness is the only option that will allow cooler heads to prevail and allow us to have an honest debate in this state about this issue.

That means no more rushing bills through with little or no transparency, as the first one was done during special session and this replacement was done last week.

Sadly, the only thing it accomplished is to demonstrate that both political parties are woefully lacking in leadership. That is because this new law changes nothing for now; the GOP-controlled General Assembly ensured that the bill includes a provision that still prevents local municipalities from passing ordinances “regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations” until Dec. 1, 2020.

Understandably, those seeking repeal of HB2 are beyond disappointed by Governor Roy Cooper; they feel betrayed. And well they should. This so-called compromise is an attack up the LGBTQ community, workers’ rights, and local control. That is not a legacy consistent with Democratic Party values.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party claims to be the party that believes in local control. They even believe in nullification of federal laws with which they disagree. For them to handcuff local municipalities is a cynical betrayal of their fundamental principles – simply for political gain, regardless of the harm it does to the people and state they are elected to represent.

So, once again, both of our major political parties have failed us on this issue that is an absolute embarrassment and betrayal of the legacy of bi-partisanship for which North Carolina was once known.

State sealIn short, they’ve betrayed our state motto – Esse Quam Videri, which is Latin for “To be rather than to seem.”

© The Lenoir Voice, 2017. 

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Pipeline Proposal Raises Questions that Beg for Answers

Just three days remain to submit comments to FERC about the ACP

By April Pierson-Keating

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – The comment period on the 42” Atlantic Coast Pipeline comes to a close this Thursday. Anyone who made comments during the pre-filing period MUST submit those comments again, since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has essentially tossed those into a pile of “old business.”

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Meathouse Fork in Doddridge County with heavy sediment resulting from the Stonewall Momentum pipeline construction in the summer of 2015. This would be the fate of thousands of miles of watershed should the ACP be built. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

If you are a landowner, you may have already commented. If you are not a landowner along the route, perhaps you are an abutter (one next to property on the pipeline). If you are neither of these things, perhaps you are still concerned about threats to water, safety, and public health, or future economic development. All of these are valid concerns. You should write to the FERC.

Abutters will face most of the same risks as affected landowners, without the offers of money for the use of their property – water contamination, stream degradation, soil contamination, danger of fire or explosion, lowered property value among them. You have a right to have your concerns heard.

Even those not directly abutting could be negatively affected. The incineration zone is 3600 feet from the pipeline center. Our high school sits within the incineration zone, as does our state police barracks.

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A convoy of fracking industry gas trucks rumble through downtown Weston, W.Va. at lunchtime. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

The evacuation zone a pipeline this size is 2 miles.  If you are wondering if your property is in the evacuation zone, you can consult the GIS layered maps at http://www.pipelineupdate.org. Does your community have an evacuation plan? If not, you might consider asking your county commission, local emergency planning commission, or office of emergency management to develop one. Better yet, consider joining one of these organizations, or even creating a planning commission in your community to address issues that are receiving short shrift.

This project has many more costs than benefits, though you may have only heard about the benefits. Some of the drawbacks include millions in foregone economic development (who wants to start a small business in an incineration zone?), reduced property value (try selling your house when you tell prospective buyers they may be caught in a gas fire), and stream degradation (siltation during construction kills stream life). We have seen this happen with the Stonewall-Momentum gathering line.

The 75-foot permanent easement will be sprayed with herbicides that will runoff into streams, and you can’t put anything but a flower garden on it. The 42” monstrosity will cross the Buckhannon River, our water source, and tributaries nine times, and cross over miles of underground mines.

The pipeline is buried only feet below the surface, but how far below our streams will it be built? This question has been posed to Dominion by city officials and has yet to be answered. Will it be deep enough to protect the stream bed from going under, or will it be deep enough to connect with underground mines? Either way, our drinking water source is at risk.

What about jobs? Looking at the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for this project (bear in mind this is info given to the FERC by Dominion) there could be 384 temporary jobs and only 22 permanent jobs. What is temporary? The DEIS says the work tours will be 6-12 weeks long. Is it worth risking our water, safety, public health for a few temporary jobs?

How many employees will be locally hired? Not many, if you consider what happened with the Stonewall Momentum gathering line. Very few will be from West Virginia; most of them will be from the south and west. Skilled workers are moved from site to site, not hired locally.

Who will pay for the $5billion project? Why, the ratepayers, of course, in the form of higher energy rates. Will it provide gas to our area? Nope. All of it is being sent out of state and offshore, so the companies owning it can make money selling it on the world market (where the going rate is higher than domestic). When that happens, our energy prices will rise.

What about tax revenue? Whatever money might come from this project will go to the state coffers, and they will dole it out as they please. Will it go for roads, schools, and other community projects? That is anyone’s guess, but the company has no stated plans to pay for roads or loss of life or property. The fact that they are a limited liability corporation means they won’t be liable for damages.

Don’t take my word for it; have a look at the DEIS yourself: https://www.ferc.gov/industries/gas/enviro/eis/2016/12-30-16-DEIS.asp

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In this standard operating procedure for the natural gas industry, pipeline construction passed within 100 feet of this home in Big Issac, W.Va., creating a permanent safety risk and a long season of no sleep for residents during construction. The stream nearby was also compromised. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

This project would have about 1,000 miles of access roads, effectively tripling its length. It will cross almost 2,000 waterways and affect the delicate Karst cavern and water filtration system. Moreover, we know that fracking is going to increase as soon as these projects get their certificate from the FERC. And we know what this means for our region: more water consumed, toxified, and injected, causing earthquakes, water and air contamination, and an exacerbated health crisis.

New York and Maryland have banned fracking. Have they done this because they want to live in the dark ages again? No, it is because they have looked at the evidence and wish to protect their communities. Surely, they want to develop energy and create jobs, but in a healthy, ethical, and sustainable way.

The only way to protect our water, safety, and public health and provide safe jobs is to invest in other types of energy – clean, green energy. Solar power provided more jobs in 2015 than coal, oil and gas combined. Companies like Coalfield Development Corporation are using federal dollars from programs like the Power Plus Plan to train former coalfield workers to do the new jobs that are part of a sustainable future: installing solar panels, sustainable construction, reclamation and remediation are just the tip of the iceberg. Talk about providing jobs – there it is! And guess what – we don’t have to live in the dark.

The deadline for comments is April 6 at 4:59p.m. Comments can be submitted on paper or electronically, at www.ferc.gov. Search for 556-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, click on the link for the DEIS, and choose the docket # for the project you wish to comment upon. Most people use the pipeline itself (CP15-554), but the 37-mile Supply Header Project in Marshall, Wetzel, and Doddridge are also part of the picture.

© April Pierson-Keating, 2017. Pierson-Keating is with the Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance. To view their gallery of photos from pipeline construction and fracking operations, visit here.

Why People Deny Global Warming Clues

Five reasons why people refuse to accept global warming

By S. Tom Bond

When 97 percent of the scientists (that is, the people that are trained to study the problem) agree that global warming is happening and will continue to happen, why do people deny it is going on? As the poet says, “Let me count (some of) the ways.”

Clues of climate change NASA

Clues of Climate Change – NASA

Reliance on the mainstream media

Many simply follow the news. With its “On the one hand, and then on the other hand” approach to coverage (to avoid driving off advertisers and readers), the mainstream media do not adequately report the facts that are substantiated by scientific research. Reporting on science takes a special type of reporter, as well as producers and editors with patience and understanding. Lacking those, as we do, the facts get lost in the “she-said, he-said” approach. The facts are indisputable however: melting glaciers, decline of arctic ice, average world temperatures rising year after year, range inhabited by many species moving north, changes in weather, melting permafrost, famine, and drought among the obvious symptoms of global warming.

Refusal to accept new ideas

Many folks don’t have a view that extends beyond their home, job and family. They have difficulty accepting a new paradigm, and new framework of understanding.”

Even when the news about global warming is reported fully and accurately, there is still the problem of humanity’s tendency to resist change. Many people are unwilling to accept new ideas. Many folks don’t have a view that extends beyond their home, job and family. They have difficulty accepting a new paradigm, and new framework of understanding.

One thinks of the change when the earth was thought flat, then was recognized to be a very large sphere, or when the sun was thought to cross the earth, then it was recognized the earth went around the sun. When new ideas are incorporated into the public discourse, it takes a while for most folks to adapt. Today there are a few people dedicated to older ideas, such as the earth is cooling, or that a warming earth produces higher carbon dioxide content in the earth’s atmosphere, rather than the other way around. If someone has ideas based on earlier science, it may be hard to accept global warming.

Religious dogma

Some think God wouldn’t allow global warming. It is his creation and it will end in fire when He is good and ready. Global warming – ironically – does not fit their apocalyptic vision. Don’t argue with them.

Greed

Perhaps the most basic cause of global warming is as old as mankind: cupidity. The petroleum industry is an elite sector because of its wealth, which purchases political power. What it covets, it gets – all while it spends billions on advertising to implicitly and explicitly discredit global warming and those studying it. There is extensive information on situations where the business elite have interests that gives them an advantage that is contrary to the long-term interest of the society. The business elite persists until the society no longer has some resource it needs to continue, so it crashes. One of the most famous of these is the deforestation of Easter Island, which caused a population crash and an abrupt change in culture.

… all of us need to recognize our limitations and trust experts.”

Of course, training in a science does little to help in business. So this peculiarity of omission of understanding of other areas is not one-sided. My point is that all of us need to recognize our limitations and trust experts. It must be a much greater temptation for a businessman with millions at his disposal to ignore or deny science that will hinder his success than for a scientist with almost no disposable wealth to ignore business ideas opposed to his success. But the future of the earth depends on future climate, not someone’s ego or financial success. That future should be determined by those with data and training who take time to think about it.

City Climate Change NASA

NASA Graphic

Modern society’s disconnect from the land

Finally, there is another reason that is a bit abstruse, but vital. This is the separation of modern man from the biological world of which he is a part. Primitive man was close to his environment. Getting food was a daily preoccupation. If times were good, this took two or three hours a day. If times were bad, 24 hours weren’t enough. He/she was subject to danger from animals, floods, droughts, disease, the next village over and much other uncertainty. Everything including trees, rocks, or storms had a spirit. Many of these had to be appeased. But this religion was his connection to survival.

… our industry is so linked together and powerful it is possible to destroy civilization. The supremacist attitude toward the biological world is that our environment is not viable. This is not sustainable.”

Domination of earth and nature became a way of life. Increasingly, urban man became separated from the biological world from which he came. Dominion over others became increasingly important. And man was dominant over things, apparently supreme. That included the biological world, reverence for which was eliminated from his culture and religion.

Now the whole earth is occupied, and our industry is so linked together and powerful it is possible to destroy civilization. The supremacist attitude toward the biological world is that our environment is not viable. This is not sustainable. To avoid planetary destruction because of global warming, atomic warfare, over population, or resource exhaustion seems like an insurmountable problem. Ignoring these threats to our survival, though, will only work to ensure that the unthinkable becomes reality.

Conclusion

These are but a few of the reasons that we refuse to acknowledge – let alone tackle – the existential threat from global warming. It has been said that we are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

Well, the facts are in. We have a rational understanding of our natural world; we know how we are negatively impacting it; and, we have debated and adopted plans to reverse global warming. We simply choose to ignore them. That won’t make them go away. However, the same can’t be said for human life – or life in any form – if we continue to argue over facts as if they are opinions.

CO2 levels

© S. Tom Bond, 2017. 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. Michael Barrick contributed to this article.  

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Climate Change info from NASA here.

A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change

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Now I’m Seriously Peeved at Donald Trump

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.

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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.

Sesame_Street_sign.svgAnyway, 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.

Pbs-logo-800How, 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).

BigbirdnewversionI 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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N.C. Craft Beer Industry Needs Room to Grow

Libertarian Party supports legislation that would benefit craft breweries and economic diversity in Appalachian region of North Carolina

Beer 1.jpg

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.

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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.

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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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WVDEP Secretary Austin Caperton to Speak at Public Forum

West Virginia Sierra Club groups host forum Monday on WVU campus

austin-caperton

Austin Caperton

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.

wv-dep-logoAccording 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.

Sierra ClubAccording 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 autumnlong11@gmail.com.

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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An Open Letter to W.Va. Governor Justice and DEP Secretary Caperton

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.

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Lewis County Farmer Tom Bond tells his story in the Documentary Film ‘In the Hills and Hollows’ by Keely Kernan

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?

jim-justice-3-mug

Jim Justice

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!

austin-caperton

Austin Caperton

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!

HAOL DCWA

West Virginia residents stand in solidarity against fracking at the first “Hands Across Our Land” fracking protest iin 2015. Photo courtesy of Doddridge County Watershed Association

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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Two Caldwells: N.C. County Exemplifies the Appalachian Divide

Recent activities reveal not much has changed for decades

By Michael M. Barrick

 

caldwell-county-map(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.

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The L. C. Hudspeth Store – also known as ‘The Blue Store’ along NC 90 near Collettsville. For decades it served the people of the isolated mountain community. Courtesy of Bill Tate.

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.

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Caldwell County is blessed with natural beauty. Wilson Creek is just on example. It drops thousands of feet in Caldwell County. Photo by MB

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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N.C. General Assembly Underscores Need for the Second Amendment

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.

NC outline and flagSo, 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.

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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.

jefferson-quoteIf 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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