Friday, July 5, 2019

Telling Our Story

I have dedicated much of the last twenty years to reclaiming and publishing the literature of working people. As a poet, the emphasis of my publishing efforts have been through the Blue Collar Review, Journal of Progressive Working Class Literature.” The reason I do this is because, by sharing our life experiences we recognize the value, commonality and legitimacy of those experiences. This is a literature that unites us based on what we share in times of cultivated division. It is also the shaping and reclaiming of culture, not in an attempt to manipulative it but to undo the damage of those who have done so. Culture defines how we see ourselves and the world and more importantly, how we relate to each other. Historically, prior to the last 60 or so years, our culture was more one of community and social responsibility than of hyper-individual materialism and militarism. I believe we need to return to that healthier culture.

Through most of our national history many were left out, ignored or denigrated. Particularly women and Black people. I was recently fascinated to read, in the Virginian Pilot, of the discovery of a hand written register from the 1820s naming the slaves who actually built Ft. Monroe. In some cases, not only were their names recorded, but their fates, such as Amos Henley who worked from sunrise to sunset on a barge crew and died in 1821 during an accident while hauling stone. It is rare to have records of the names of those who were trapped in the cruelty of lifetimes of slavery. This history is an invaluable treasure. These records are the subject of a recently published paper, “Humanizing the Enslaved of Fort Monroe’s Arc of Freedom,” written by Casemate Museum historian W. Robert Kelly. We do not know the names of the slaves who built our city's original City Hall – now the McArthur memorial – or of some of the period houses in the Freemason area.

Aside from the building of our country, the greatest contribution of African Americans has been to our national culture. I have long felt that Black culture, from language to music, is the essence and best of American culture and our finest contribution to humanity as a nation. It is also more appreciated around the world than it is at home. It isn't just our our constant threat, with nothing ever off the table, that people know us for but Jazz, Hip-hop, the richness of Black gospel and the profundity of Americans like Dr, King, Paul Robeson James Baldwin, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.

A stunning documentary on the life and work of Toni Morrison called The Pieces I Am will be showing at the Naro Cinema on Tuesday July 9th. Morisson's powerful novels, centering on Black characters and stories, broke ground because she did not write them to explain anything to white readers but, as stories in themselves – and powerful stories rich in the history, experience and cultural psychology of Black people living in the stifling social reality of our racist nation. What is important here, aside from what we can all feel and experience in reading her work, is that the often overlooked lives and experiences of regular people are rich, vital and legitimate subjects for literature. For many, reading of people like themselves as protagonists is empowering. We come to understand that we are not alone in our experiences and pain and that we matter. For the oppressed, shunned and devalued by larger society, this is an especially empowering revelation. Though Morrison's characters are Black and often women, it is also vital for the many of us who are not Black or female to read and understand the experiences of others in our society, to see through their eyes. In doing so, we come to a deeper understanding. Morrison and her readers kicked open the door of literary canon for more of us – more than just white men, to enter -- when she won the Nobel prize. This documentary includes commentary from Oprah Winfrey, Sonya Sanchez, Angela Davis, and others but is most profoundly Toni Morrison recounting her own story with depth and humor.

Morrison recounts the kind of stories that are especially rich in our own area and its history. Getting back to Ft. Monroe, it is a place of unique significance in our nation's story and especially in African-American history. As local writer Sheri Bailey reminds us, that in “August 1619 a group of African men and women arrived on the shores of what is today Hampton, where Fort Monroe is located. They were taken to Jamestown where many of them worked as indentured servants. 242 years later, in May 1861, about one month after the war started at Fort Sumter, three enslaved men, James Townsend, Frank Baker and Shepard Mallory, based in Norfolk, escaped in a rowboat, made their way to the Union camp and petitioned for their freedom. When the men's owner came to claim his property, Lincoln's general Benjamin Banneker cited a federal policy known as "contraband of war" that allowed confiscation of enemy property. Butler put Baker, Mallory and Townsend on the federal payroll in support of the war effort. This put the men on the path to citizenship.” So this location not only saw the arrival of Africans to our shores, was not only built with slave labor, but was place where the abolition of slavery began.

There are continuing efforts, against the plans of developers, to establish a unified national monument along the bayfront area of Ft. Monroe. As local activist on this issue, Steven T. Corneliussen states, “No one envisions a Fort Monroe with no new development at all. That will not happen, and in my view should not happen. The actual issue is the fake, limited, split national monument, a form of national park along the bayfront there. Fort Monroe is absolutely a leading historic landscape in Black history, the reasons for that make it a leading historic landscape for history in general – not just black history set off to the side in a token way. It is the preeminent historic landscape for national civic memory of the self-emancipation movement that transformed the Civil War into a freedom struggle. Historians today recognize that it was Black people, not white politicians, who forced the advent of emancipation once the fighting started.” More on this effort, including op-eds Mr. Corneliussen has had published in The Richmond Times-Dispatch are available on the website:www.fortmonroenationalpark.org. An upcoming event related to this history includes the Juneteenth Festival celebrating emancipation. This annual event has been the work of Sheri Bailey who has been bringing live, interactive, historical theater to our area in an effort to heal the still festering wounds of slavery and oppression without shame or blame. On June 19th this year, the Juneteenth Festival will be presenting “Junie Awards” for recognition of outstanding public service at the Ft. Monroe theater on 42 Tidball Rd. from 6pm to 9pm. Admission is free.

Returning to Toni Morrison, summer is reading season and her books, including “The Bluest Eye,” “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved” are literary soul food at the heart of our authentic American culture; a culture in desperate need of reclaiming from the poisons of commercialization and the corporate/state manipulation that promotes division, empty materialism and war. Culture is not a commodity for the elite, it is something that belongs to and includes all of us, not divided by identity but the totality of our shared story and perspective. It is our treasure.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mothers Out Front!

The Original Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."

Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

-- Julia Ward Howe

Most of us should certainly appreciate the sacrifice and efforts our mothers made to raise us. Motherhood is the most essential and unrecognized work there is and it's good that we have one day set aside to show appreciation. Mothers' Day however, was not founded on the idea of buying cards and flowers for our mothers. In fact, it was started by mothers in 1870, as our nation was still mourning the losses of the civil war, and was called Mother's Peace Day. This was an anti-war action by mothers who demanded an end to the sacrifice of sons and husbands to the maw of needless war. Like many such holidays born of political movements and demands, Mothers' Day has been commercialized and stripped of its original meaning. Though flowers and well-earned sentiment mark this holiday, mothers are still at it, continuing to care for us, to fight for our welfare and our future. One such effort is an activist group called Mothers Out Front. Kim Williams of the local Catholic Worker is a member of this group who was in the news last year in the effort to stop the dangerous gas transmission pipeline which threatens our community. She was shown sitting atop a digging machine with a banner against the project. She was kind enough to agree to an interview to tell us about it.

What is Mothers Out Front, how and when did it come together and what is it about?

Mothers Out Front is a movement of mothers, grandmothers and others who are caretakers of children. Our mission is to build our power to ensure a livable climate for all children. We are a member-led movement, helping each other to realize our individual and collective power through trainings, networking, and developing campaigns. We value inclusiveness, and the moral voice of mothers so that the lives of all children will be put front and center to influence the decision makers that we elect. We also value climate justice, and focus resources to build power in those communities who suffer the injustices of climate change and fossil fuel use today and who have been historically marginalized. Mothers Out Front started in 2013 with two moms in Massachusetts who realized they shared a deep despair over scientific projections of a dismal climate future if we don’t begin to rapidly reduce our global dependence on fossil fuels. They started with House Parties, talking about climate change and ways to build people power. Teams formed and spread across MA, and then into NY state. Thanks to a suggestion of a local chapter of Virginia Organizing, a grassroots organization building people power around concerns for sea level rise in Hampton Roads, MOF moved to this area in 2016.

How and why did you got involved in this effort?

I was invited by Virginia Organizing friends to attend the very first MOF House Party in Norfolk. I went to that party mainly to be supportive of the friends holding it. I told myself I was too busy to get involved, and that climate change was still far off and far away. Plus, I recycle and compost to do my bit for the earth, right? However, at that meeting a young woman asked me “so how has your life been impacted by sea level rise in Hampton Roads?” That question in that setting caused a light bulb go off in my mind. I realized my family had damaged 3 automobiles in recent years, driving in floods that occurred in rapidly developing ordinary (ie, non-hurricane, non-nor'easter) storms. I was so busy getting cars fixed or replaced, plus taking care of job and family responsibilities requiring the incapacitated cars, that I never took the time to connect the dots...that the floods we experience more and more frequently today in Hampton Roads happen because of melting polar ice caps and increasing temperatures due to rising greenhouse gases, which cause bigger, more intense storms! I started to feel “Katrina” breathing down my neck. I began to realize, that as a “sandwich generation” person, with my kids and non-driving elders dependent upon me, I'd better face the fact that climate change is right here, right now!

Mothers Out Front has given me a way to do something about this problem. Enough people have gotten interested that we now have at least 4 teams in VA, and nationally we are now in about 14 states. It won’t be too long until we are in all 50. In Hampton Roads we have helped shine the spotlight on new pipeline infrastructure that will carry gas from fracking fields in West Virginia. The local pipeline is under construction in neighborhoods that have been historically marginalized. We have tried to spotlight that injustice, plus build awareness that the fossil fuel monopolies that we pay bills to every month give big bucks to candidates and elected officials at every government level. This makes it very hard for the decision makers to put our children first. They won’t put transitioning our energy grid to clean energy first unless we make them. We have to organize together to help them understand that the time is now to de-carbonize and to stop fracking. On the hyper-local scale, we have an ongoing energy efficiency campaign. We can bring a one-hour workshop to interested civic groups or houses of worship sharing tips and supplies for DIY home energy efficiency improvements.

How can others get involved or support this work?

I would encourage everybody to get involved. We are the last generation that can do anything about the rising global average temperature caused by that blanket of greenhouse gases holding in the heat. Global food supply is already affected by this – Nebraska cornfields were devastated last month by floods. The migrant caravans are walking to our border to some extent, because of climate change impacts on growing food in Central America. Our children are sent to kill and be killed in wars begin because of climate change impacts on agriculture and water supplies. Our own citizens on the west coast are internally displaced by fires. And the water is rising around our feet, right here, right now. The situation is urgent, but we can do something about this! To inspire in this effort, MOF Team Norfolk will host a free screening of “Paris to Pittsburgh” on Saturday, June 1, 10 am at Naro Cinema. The movie details how people-power groups across the country are organizing to deal with this huge problem. Join us for conversation on how we can be part of the solution. There is a role for each one of us!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Confronting the Crisis of our Times

We are living in a time of crises. Many of them are self-made and a few are based on conspiracy theories with inadequate evidence reflecting ulterior agendas. Examples include the “border crisis” of illegal immigration. In reality, crossings of our southern border are lower than they have been in 18 years. Even then, those risking their lives to come here are refugees of the more verifiable crises that our policies have fostered in their home countries. Another crisis of our making and based in lies, is our escalating aggression toward Venezuela. It didn't start with Nicol├ís Maduro but with the election of President Hugo Chavez and his initiation of Bolivarian socialism which broke from US corporate dominance with the radical notion that funds from nationalized oil should be shared by all Venezuelans. President Bush attempted a coup to remove Chavez, which failed. Since then our government has worked to undermine their economy in a successful attempt to create desperation.

This is in no way a new tactic. The history of the U.S. in Latin America is a long and brutal one of orchestrated upheavals against popular governments which dared to defy US corporate hegemony followed by the installing of unelected brutal regimes to serve as reliable pawns. Victims of our aggression include Cuba, Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, and El Salvador to name only a few – and always with the support of our corporate press.

The “Russiagate” crisis is also a questionable one on weak ground. In reality, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel meddled far more than Russia in the last election. They continue to dictate Trump's foreign policy, especially where Iran, Syria and Venezuela are concerned. The hypocrisy of our furor over the possibility that another country dared to influence our elections is all the more laughable with Trump deciding who the unelected president of Venezuela should be, as he strengthens and expands the embargo on that country, seizes assets and threatens military intervention.

Real crises that affect us include the disaster of neo-liberal economics pushed by Wall Street which results in record economic disparity and poverty, the mounting student debt that cripples futures, and the lack of access to medical coverage affecting about 44 million of us. A more complete list here.

The most important actual crisis of our making is the growing climate catastrophe. Even as oceans warm with glaciers and polar icecaps melting faster than predicted, recent peer-reviewed global measurements show that 2018 saw record increases of carbon emitted into our atmosphere. Researchers based in Potsdam, Germany report in the journal Nature Communications that they and colleagues in the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost monitored and measured soil temperatures in boreholes at 154 locations. The most dramatic warming was in the Arctic where soils that were more than 90% permafrost increased in temperature by 0.3°C or to just above freezing. In Siberia, temperatures rose by 0.9°C or more. Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that permafrost stores vast amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, which is released as the soil thaws. Alaskan permafrost melt is now emitting more greenhouse gases than the entire state is storing in tundra and forest ecosystems, according to findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This wasn’t supposed to happen before the end of the century.

In the last year we witnessed firestorms in the west and catastrophic deluges and flooding on the Gulf and East Coasts. Record hurricanes and heat happened in the Pacific and elsewhere. As the climate disaster unfolds, our corporate leadership, under the misguidance of a stubborn climate denier, continues to erase even inadequate fossil-fuel regulations like the burning off of methane released via fracking. Trump has cynically nominated coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to head the EPA and oil lobbyist David Bernhardt to head the Interior Department.

I know some are thinking that this has been an especially cold winter. As the atmosphere and oceans warm, the effect is climate destabilization. The polar vortex, a large expanse of swirling, cold air, is usually limited to the polar regions. Now, more frequently due to human-caused climate disruption, the vortex expands and moves southward bringing arctic temperatures with it. The jet stream and oceanic currents that have driven and defined our weather for most of the last 10,000 years are being altered by the carbon our fossil fuel burning continues to emit.

Though politicians and parties beholden to fossil-fuel corporate interests do everything possible to sow confusion, cynicism and doubt about the peer-reviewed evidence and science regarding the growing climate catastrophe, the effects continue to mount. Military leaders understand the real costs of climate change in expanded wars, refugee migrations based on food and water shortages and temperature extremes, as well as the direct effects on military bases around the world. A Department of Defense report dated January 2019 “provides an assessment of the significant vulnerabilities from climate-related events in order to identify high risks to mission effectiveness on installations and to operations.” According to the report, “about two thirds of the 79 installations addressed are vulnerable to current or recurrent flooding and more than half are vulnerable to current or future drought. About half are vulnerable to wildfires and may then experience mudslides or erosion when rains follow fires.”

Of course the Norfolk Naval facilities are on that list. The report states, “The greater Hampton Roads area is very vulnerable to flooding caused by rising sea levels and land subsidence. Navy Region Mid-Atlantic is working with several academic, local community non-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies to increase understanding of current and future risks to inform discussions on possible adaptation strategies for communities and military bases. In addition, the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach are currently engaged in a Joint Land Use Study to identify specific conditions, including recurrent flooding, coastal storms, and erosion, outside of the military footprint that have the potential to impact Navy operations in the Hampton Roads area.” Our area is one of the most vulnerable to rising seas and extreme hurricanes. Studies by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science predict that water levels in our area will increase by more than a foot in the next 30 years. Some areas already experience regular flooding even when it doesn't rain.

The fossil record demonstrates the longevity of the geological time scale. The sinking of our region called “land subsidence” is due to the effect of the northern parts of our geological plate rising in recovery from being weighed down by glaciers during the Ice Age which ended 10,000 years ago. During that time, coastlines were miles out to what is now sea. The carbon we've put into the air, the poisons we are pumping into deep aquifers and the plastics and toxins we are leaving behind will be here for many thousands of years. We are already locked in, assuming we do nothing different, for a 3 to 7 degree rise in temperature averages in this century. But it doesn't stop there. This may not sound like much, but even 1.5 degrees have resulted in the disastrous effects of more deadly storms and climate disruption. These models, while accurate so far, fail in assuming a steady gradual temperature rise. The geological record demonstrates that this is not accurate and doesn't account for the added feedback accumulation coming from deforestation, methane release and die-offs. In fact, climate change is exponential which accounts for the more rapid than predicted increase in changes we are witnessing.

On the positive side, it isn't just the climate that is heating up. We are seeing massive protests around the world demanding policy changes to address the problem. These include non-violent direct action from a growing group called “Extinction Rebellion” and lawsuits by younger people like “Julia vs US,” a major lawsuit filed by young people against the US government for failing to limit the effects of climate change. This suit is headed for the Supreme Court. With the ascendance of younger social-democrats to Congress we are also seeing calls for a “Green New Deal.” This idea, originally pushed by the Green Party and picked up by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would boost the economy by converting power grids to sustainable energy, funding de-carbonized sustainable agriculture, and creating jobs through needed infrastructure adaptation. Younger people have much more at stake than older folks like myself. Committed as I am to the issue, I won't live long enough to experience the worst. Younger people will. Along with Medicare for All, a commitment to the Green New Deal will have to be a defining qualification for any democratic candidate running in the next election.

The frustrating part is that we are facing an actual threat greater than any we've ever confronted and more damaging than anything any other country can inflict short of nuclear war. We know what needs to be done to minimize the damage already locked in and prevent worse and yet we are crippled from doing what we know needs to be done. Only one thing is holding us back. It isn't the misinformation and denial or even partisan politics. Even the Green New Deal is being stymied by corporate Democrats. The crippling obstacle that threatens our survival as a nation and as a species is the rule of money -- the undue corporate influence on public policy which includes both our official political parties.

What can we do? Getting involved is a good cure for hopeless depression and cynicism. You can make a difference! Organizations working to address climate policy in the Tidewater, Virginia area include: The Sierra Club. The local branch can be found at the Sierra Club There is also CCAN, or the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Climate Hope Action Network and the Green Party of Virginia with a Facebook presence. If we are to survive this dangerous time, we need to focus on the real, dual crises of money in politics and the unfolding climate disaster.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Obituary for the Virginian Pilot and for Local Independent News

I was glad to be invited to participate in a local gathering of poets and writers sponsored by The Muse, our local writers center, as part of a larger effort to stand in defense of freedom of the press. I found myself in good company with many of our areas finest poets including Robert Arthur, Rene Olander, Luisa Igloria and others. The focus was primarily on the murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi and on the constant assault on the mainstream media by Donald Trump. Expecting some heated reaction, I read from an article of mine (“What's Happening”) published in this magazine a few months ago in which I wrote about the differences between our corporate, embedded mainstream media and the actual free press we have in media watchdog sites and in non-mainstream investigative journalism. I reminded listeners that our country too has targeted journalists and threatens truth tellers. Examples include the banishing of award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh from US media, our targeting and murder of journalists in Iraq and other parts of the world, the exile of Edward Snowden and the ongoing threats to Julian Assange. The problem of the free press, I noted, went far beyond Trump. As I have described in previous articles, posted here, the erosion of our mainstream media has been going on for decades, especially since the 1980s. Key players in this effort were George Bush Sr. and Roger Ailes. Obama prosecuted more journalists than any President before him. I was expecting some animosity and rejection for my reading but was surprised by how much agreement I found.

What wasn't mentioned was the shrinking and death throes of our once local paper. It hadn't been a great paper for some time. Though some good local investigative journalism did happen, there were issues of censorship by the owners in investigating the connections between Virginia Beach leaders and banks a few years back. Mostly, as a friend of mine humorously noted, what it offered was the best of yesterday's news today. This was before it was sold to “TRONC” or the Tribune Publishing Company, based in Chicago. Since then, tenured local journalists have been offered “buy outs” or retired. The Pilot has been joined to the Hampton newspaper, the Daily Press. Marisa Porto, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the Daily Press has been named executive editor of The Virginian-Pilot as well.

One of the things I had enjoyed about the Pilot for many years is that articles, editorials and letters were open to public commentary. This served an important purpose as a local “village square” where issues of the day, related to articles, could be discussed. This has long been my morning ritual and brain boost. The moderating of the commentary section has been sadly lax for a few years and it had become rife with racists and partisan attack trolls using fake and even ridiculous names, but still, it was a community – even of those who regularly disagreed.

All of this ended abruptly on December 24th – our Christmas present from the new owners. The commentary option was ended with the stated intent of resuming on January 2nd under more restrictive limitations. Erica Smith, who has moderated the commentary and who “oversees digital strategy” stated that the owners have decided that they will limit commentary to editorials and letters. Where commenters were previously free to post informative links on issues being discussed, these would be limited to a list drawn up in advance by the editors as they decide what are a “legitimate sources.” The new posted rules also indicate that any comments which veer from the narrow confines of the editorial or letter being discussed may be removed. OSadky, even a month later, the libelous trolls have not been banished. Some of the commenters have begun another discussion forum at the Tidewater News and Opinion Forum But for any single press to decide what news or news sources are legitimate and what subjects can be discussed is an attack on freedom of the press and on legitimate freedom of speech.

These dictates are most certainly coming down from the owners in Chicago and are not limited to the Pilot. We are seeing similar censorship and imposed limitations across the media spectrum. As I wrote in a previous piece, it isn't just Trump that is attempting to limit and control what we see or to define what is authentic news. There are also attempts at censorship by government and big media because of the Russia-gate frenzy as we're seeing on Facebook and Google in their attempts to identify and shut down what they decide constitutes "fake news." Power, whether here or anywhere, always strives to control information to protect itself from challenges. This was easier prior to the digital age. At best governments today can impose a cast iron colander on information. Our country is unique in now being owned and run by corporate interests but with lingering constitutional rights. Unlike some oppressive countries we can have private media but it has been so undermined and state-embedded that it has become the propaganda tool of power and its partisan factions in their struggles to shape and control narratives. What is most striking to me is what is omitted from the “news.” American military involvements and related power struggles, atrocities, popular uprisings and wars may be raging around the planet but turn on the news and you mostly get feel-good stories and a splash of sensational tabloid fodder mixed with partisan attacks and pentagon narratives promoting neocon agendas. What has changed recently was a an apparent decision to finally cover the growing climate catastrophe.

The slow and escalating demise of papers like the Pilot create a vacuum for local news. Magazines like this one may provide some news not covered in monopolized corporate venues but they focus more on culture than on issues. This has not stopped the owners of the Pilot from making a concerted effort to kill Veer by undermining advertising efforts. To quote Elizabeth Warren, still we persist. Together with a few other people, I had considered starting a non-commercial, cooperative alternative paper or magazine focusing on issues, with an emphasis on truth and on non-partisan thought-provoking writing but the obstacles to creating a printed product are daunting. We may yet need to work on this but it takes money, time and energy as well as a number journalists and writers. I remain open to ideas on how we can create and sustain a local paper not subservient to advertisers, government or controlling media monopolies.

Beyond our moribund local paper, the larger issue is the corporate consolidation of the press. A year ago the FCC voted to allow a single company to own a newspaper, television and radio stations in the same town, reversing a decades-old rule aimed at preventing any individual or company from having too much power over local coverage. This lead to increasing media mergers and consolidation. Six or so companies now own our major media. The corporations that own our local commercial TV stations are TRONC affiliate, Tribune Broadcasting - WTKR (channel 3), NEXTAR Media - WAVY, (channel 10), Tegna Inc - WVEC (channel 3) and Sinclair - WTVZ (channel 33). None are local with the exception of our public TV station, WHRO (channel 15) which is hooked into a national service increasingly embedded and dependent on corporate funding. The elimination of net neutrality is a part of the attempt to control what is available to us. If they cannot constitutionally eliminate alternatives to the official press, they can block or choke them off by letting the company you get your internet access from decide what sites are available to you – just like Google or the Pilot editors deciding what is “legitimate.” Thus Americans remain the least informed people on the planet, divided over partisan nonsense and largely ignorant about global events and issues that affect us.

As much as I was glad to participate with local poets in a national effort in defense of the ideal of a free press, the most profound exhortations make little difference by themselves. We get what we allow ourselves to get. If we actually want a free and independent press, if we actually want to know what is happening, we need to demand it rather than being passive consumers. We need to stand against the corruption of the FCC by major media corporations. We need to demand a press that is not embedded with the State Department and National Security State. We need to demand a return of the fairness doctrine and a break-up of media monopolies, and maybe we need to work together to recreate and support a truly independent locally owned newspaper.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Coming Together to Prevent Disaster

Our city council has dealt with many issues in the past, but few present more danger to us than the “Southside Connecter” gas pipeline project. For months this project has been publicly promoted as a distribution line supplying needed natural gas to our area with the promise of added jobs. Neither claim is true. This is a high-pressure transmission pipeline carrying methane, produced by geologically destructive and polluting fracking, through highly populated neighborhoods in Chesapeake and Norfolk. This gas is for export rather than for local use.

I learned a great deal about this project from experts at a public forum hosted by a large citizen's group calling itself the 757 Pipeline Safety Coalition. Participating groups in this coalition are Collana's Shipyard and groups including, the Sunrise Hill Civic League, Mothers Out Front, Southside Taskforce, Chesapeake Pipeline Resistance and the Hampton Roads Green Party. I was particularly impressed by the detailed information provided by pipeline expert, Richard B. Kuprewicz. Mr. Kuprewicz's resume includes being an engineer with decades of experience on pipelines. He has worked for ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Co.), the Four Corners Pipeline Company, and has served on an executive committee advising Congress on a report culminating in new rules concerning pipeline safety. As President of Accufacts, Inc. he is a pipeline regulatory adviser, incident investigator, and expert witness on all matters related to gas and liquid pipeline design, operation, maintenance, risk analysis, and management. Given his expertise, I thought he was in a good position to clarify the issue for us. I asked him the following questions which he generously answered.

How did you hear about and become involved with the 757 Pipeline Safety Coalition?
An attorney for Colonna Shipyard called me around mid-October of this year seeking specialized pipeline technical experience and expertise. I believe he got my name from the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nationally recognized pipeline safety organization, headquartered in Bellingham, WA. I usually am contacted via word of mouth as I don’t advertise and don’t need additional business, given the many pipeline failure investigations and other matters I have been involved with. I’m not part of the Pipeline Safety Trust but I have much respect for that organization. I take my obligations to remain neutral and objective in pipeline matters very seriously.

The Southside Connector Project is being sold to the public as a distribution pipeline which will augment local gas supplies, create jobs, and boost our local economy. What is the reality and what issues most concern you about this project?
The Southside Connector is being sold as a distribution pipeline and it wasn’t until representatives for VNG (Virginia Natural Gas) under oath testified to the real nature of the operation. It will be a high pressure natural gas transmission pipeline. The VNG presentations as a distribution pipeline are very deceiving and in all probability violate federal pipeline safety regulations in this important area. Transmission pipelines, unlike distribution pipelines, are easily capable of rupture resulting in large multi-explosion fireballs that can affect a very large area, especially in a high occupancy area like Norfolk. The continued deceptions, PR spin and failure to be straight and completely truthful on specific technical pipeline safety matters concerning the Southside Connector Project by VNG and its representatives raises serious red flags about this company and the project if rupture is to be avoided. Based on my extensive experience with gas transmission pipelines across the country, the need for this pipeline to meet consumer gas demands within Norfolk and Chesapeake are being gravely misrepresented and overstated. When I see such technical misstatements and inability to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about a transmission pipeline, it does not speak well about the future safe operation of this pipeline, and significantly raises the risk. I don’t make this statement lightly!

What are the dangers posed by this pipeline and its planned route through heavily populated areas of Chesapeake and Norfolk?
Transmission pipelines unlike lower pressure distribution pipelines can rupture with very large blast and heat impact zones. First Responders will not be able to enter such large rupture impact zones for quite some time. The impact of rupture in these highly populated cities will result in many billions of dollars of loss as well as much loss of life. The spin I keep hearing from VNG does not instill confidence with me that they really know what they are doing. The rush to finish a project should not justify doing such an effort recklessly.

What actions do you, and the 757 Pipeline Safety Coalition, feel local city leaders should take to protect public safety?
Have a properly scheduled technical meeting of all parties with no lawyers or PR folks, and with people who can answer specific technical questions about this Project. Commit to possible technical changes that may be warranted to assure proper routing, placement, and operator control of this system if it goes into operation as a transmission pipeline. Otherwise, drop the proposed Project to distribution pipeline pressures (something well below 500 psi) though that needs to be confirmed with VNG given all the misleading information they have been putting out on this Project.

I'm thankful to Mr. Kuprewicz for helping us understand the facts. He is not the only expert wary of this dangerous pipeline. Jim Hall, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board with nearly 20 years experience as a safety consultant stated recently in the Virginian Pilot, “In the case of the Southside Connector, the high-pressure pipeline that Virginia Natural Gas wants to build right through the middle of the city of Norfolk, it's unusual that the pipeline and all its risks, will be introduced into a community that already exists. In fact, I have never seen a similar case. If allowed to be completed, the pipeline will transmit up to 1,250 pounds of pressure per square inch of natural gas right down Norfolk streets. I have driven the route of the pipeline, and I can see that it passes just a few feet in front of churches and schools.”

And pipelines like this do explode. Examples include Moundsville, W. Virginia, Heston, KS, San Bruno, CA, Madison WI, Paradis, LA, Midland County, TX and many, many others – just in the last year. And we are talking about major, devastating fireball explosions with multiple casualties.

The Southside Connector leaves much of our city and downtown within the blast zone. It runs close to schools, churches and homes. It is planned to run through Collana's shipyard at only 3 feet below ground, endangering Navy ships being worked on and presenting us with an imminent danger. It is no surprise that, like other dangerous and polluting projects, it runs primarily through Black and poor areas.

I was glad to see an overflow crowd at the City Council meeting on November 20th and to see so many concerned citizens coming together. Many Berkeley residents spoke of having been misinformed, having water and power cut off without warning and being concerned about the danger of inadvertent explosive pipeline breaches from sewer repairs or roadwork. At one point, former NTSP chairman Jim Hall stated that he did not believe the city council would have made the decision to proceed if they had the needed information. Councilman Riddick proposed that the project be put on hold before being cut off by City Attorney Bernard Pishko who stated that they had sought the advice of experts assuring the safety of the pipeline. Apparently, he was referring to the “independent expert” he personally hired who, as it turned out, had done work for Virginia Natural Gas. Mayor Alexander has since stated that “It’s clear he should not have done that. He wasn’t neutral and detached as he should have been so the council could get an unbiased opinion.”

As I said to our city leaders that evening, the presence of this pipeline and the imminent danger it presents will have a negative impact on the property values upon which city revenue depend and will harm efforts to attract business to our area. Responsible leadership requires that they put public safety first. In spite of denials, they have the power, as spelled out in the easement agreement they signed, to put a stop to this project for public safety reasons. What the 757 Pipeline Safety Coalition is asking for is a 1 year stoppage pending independent studies on technical safety, routing issues and public safety. Given the concerns voiced by experts and the level of danger this pipeline presents, it would be gross irresponsibility to do less.

At the end of that council meeting, Mayor Alexander chastised VNG, stating that they need to be more forthcoming and honest about the nature of this pipeline. On November 27, the Pilot reported that due to the conflict of interests of the “independent expert” City Attorney Pishko hired, they will seek further analysis and advice. One hopes they listen to the actual, independent experts I've quoted.

You too can get involved by going to the 757 Pipeline Safety Coalition website and signing the petition. You can also call Mayor Alexander at (757) 664-4679. Together, we can stop this dangerous, unneeded pipeline and protect ourselves and our city.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Divided and Conquered? Roger and Us

Beyond the midterms, we have reached a dangerous divide in our country. People live in fear of voicing opinions in public. Family ties are damaged by political differences and, as recent events demonstrate, violence and hate-based terror are on the rise. We are headed down a dangerous path that can devolve into the deadly chaos we've witnessed in places like Sarajevo or Syria. Much blame can be laid on the racist opportunism and hyper-nationalism of the Trump administration but the reality is that Trump is the product more than the cause.

So how did we, a nation whose citizens share common ground on many issues that effect us, get to this point? Much of this can be laid at the feet of a very few individuals. Individuals who understood the power of culture to shape our identity and our perceptions. Individuals who understand media. Individuals with an agenda. One such individual – and no doubt, the person most responsible for the divide rending our social fabric and national politics – is Roger Ailes. I've said many times, to the chagrin of like-minded friends, that Ailes, the most successful propagandist in our history, was a genius. Admittedly, as a writer who does my best to inspire critical thought, and, through my publishing efforts with the Blue Collar Review and my Veer column to influence our cultural perspective, I admire the talent, insight and success of Roger Ailes. At the same time, I realize what an evil monster he was and tremble at the damage he has wrought.

Roger Ailes was a master of propaganda who advised and helped elect, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, Donald Trump and many Congressional Republicans. He was central in reshaping the GOP, moving it to the extreme right. But his biggest and most influential role came in linking up with Rupert Murdoch to found and expand FOX “news.” FOX is directly connected with corporate think tanks and lobbying groups like “The Franklin Center” funded by the Koch brothers and the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In consistently dispensing divisive partisan misinformation, Ailes managed to warp the minds of a significant number of Americans. His biggest triumph was the tribalization of politics beyond issues, based on fear, xenophobia and hate, echoing the racist, paranoiac John Birch Society of a previous era, (founded not coincidentally by Charles Koch, father of the Koch brothers). The steady stream of propaganda emanating from right-wing media diverts real resentments based in failed neoliberal economic policy, twisting righteous anger from solutions to the nurturing of xenophobic scapegoating and misplaced, self-defeating rage. The right-wing linkage with TV Evangelists and the partisan distortinng of fundamentalist Christianity have been central to the building of an extremist base as well. This hearkens back to the church-state unity of the old world which fostered bloody pogroms and internecine oppression and is inseparable from the anti-Semitism that is endemic to our country. This is an old ruse with a bloody historic trail which leads to sociopathic, often violent behavior, massive human rights abuses and eventually, genocide. We are witness to the growing results in recent events.

Trump, with the help of FOX, which had preened his rise, and the backing of a global billionaire cabal including the Saudis, the UAE, Israel, Russia and domestic extremists, tapped into the misinformed tribal base cultivated by Roger Ailes’ FOX project and related talk-radio. Trump is the inevitable product of this project to empower a neo-fascist, corporate-dominant autocracy. Long after he is gone from the political scene, the ugly division Ailes has empowered will still be with us and will have to be dealt with unless the broadcasting of blatant misinformation and the rise in violent racist terror isn't confronted soon.

The resulting rise in the popularity of FOX and the right-wing disinformation machine shaped mainstream corporate media as well. In response to partisan attacks, NPR moved to the center-right. CNN and especially MSNBC, while closer than FOX to facts, are the Democratic party equivalents, pushing neo-liberal policy and neo-con aggressions as well as attacks on Trump in a similar divisive and tribalizing manor. They too have fallen under the influence of Roger Ailes in technique. Even the hit ads in the recent midterm elections – from both parties – echo Ailes. For example, when Mitch McConnell was first running for office, Roger Ailes made a commercial for him in which he was fishing which helped get him elected. In the recent midterms a commercial showed Elaine Luria fishing in a remake of this Ailes piece. Though Democrats have somewhat better social priorities, both corporate parties serve big business interests. Keeping us divided disempowers us as citizens, protecting moneyed interests that would otherwise be challenged for doing things that would not be popular to an informed and more united majority.

Beyond the growing, essentially phony partisan divide cultivated at our mutual expense, there are the rest of us. As I have written before, we as citizens have far more common ground than we have disagreement. We all want basic security, economic opportunity, good schools, safe food and water, freedom and real representation. We all oppose corruption and public thievery at our expense. Beyond promoted fears, we need to accept that there is no “them,” just us. We are all dependent on each other, on a livable environment and a functional civilization. Those who seek to divide us do so for their own agendas which are never in our mutual interest.

Ultimately, responsible citizenship requires our being informed, not just about our country but about the world around us. It means not getting our news from Facebook memes, or partisan sources that confirm our beliefs. We have to accept that there are facts and that solutions to problems can be argued about rationally. It means being willing to talk with and listen to people we disagree with about issues and events without seeing them as our enemies. Civilization, freedom, and the survival of a representative Republic depend on it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

What's Happening?

The news, and what passes for news is an increasingly contentious subject in our divided country. Cries of “fake news” fly regularly from the white house and its sycophants like parrots in a panic. Though Obama had increased suppression of news and prosecuted whistle-blowers, he did so in support of a murderous global neocon agenda that has continued unabated across many administrations. Trump's attempts, including threats against major media companies, are more about defending his own megalomaniacal ego, his dictatorial fantasies, his never-ending campaign and his well-founded fears of the Mueller investigations.

It isn't just Trump that is attempting to limit and control what we see or to define what is authentic news. There are also attempts at censorship by big media because of the Russia-gate frenzy as we're seeing on Facebook and Google in their attempts to identify and shut down "fake news" and memes feared to be of Russian origin. Though the goal seems worthy, censorship is never unbiased and anything beyond the officially designated narrative is subject to being repressed. Beyond the outright libelous incitement of bigoted public hate-speech or graphic pornography, censorship of any kind is dangerous and an anathema to our freedom. Meanwhile, FOX and talk radio continue unabated in spreading blatant misinformation, often the opposite of truth. This continues the desired effect of tribalizing information and what is accepted as actual fact. As Hanna Arendt observed, when a fact cannot be denied outright, it can be converted to a mere opinion through the creation of false, ulterior “facts.” As she further wrote, “What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.” Uncompromising tribal division and the crippling passivity of citizen cynicism leave power unchecked, undermining any chance of a truly representative, much less functional democratic republic.

This is not to agree that our corporate mainstream media steadily lies to us or creates “fake news” though the CIA has been known to plant lies via news wire services and the “expert sources” they provide are hardly trustworthy. In the case of the corporate media, the problem is more of omission – the news we do not hear or read. Samples of things you probably haven't read about or seen on TV include the toll of civilians, including children, killed in Yemen or Gaza with US weaponry, the real numbers of those killed by our drones, the behind the scenes stacking of our courts with right-wing ideologues, the ongoing strike against slave labor in our prisons, our growing military presence in Africa, the massive violent repression happening in India or the torture and narrow escape to our own country for medical help of Ugandan politician and musician Bobbi Wine. As a group of scientists recently complained, the true extent and speed of our growing climate disaster is under-reported. I'll bet you haven't heard of the "U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This is a treaty to ban the use, possession or development of nuclear weapons. As of last July, 122 counties have voted to adopt the Treaty. Since then, 60 have signed it and 15 ratified it. When 50 ratify, it officially goes into effect. California recently approved it by resolution as well. Nuclear weapons can never be used without setting off a chain reaction that destroys life on earth. They are ridiculously expensive to maintain. Our government has begun a 30 year, $1.7 trillion overhaul of its entire nuclear weapons complex. Having and maintaining, much less upgrading such an arsenal only encourages proliferation by others in self defense, yet this gets no coverage in our mainstream media.

I recently attended a meeting with a representative from Tim Kaine's office, organized by the local Catholic Worker, at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Ghent, to encourage his support of the UN treaty and to his working toward nuclear disarmament. While his representative was friendly and seemed interested, she admitted that Sen. Kaine was more concerned with “deterrence” and in an election year may not be voicing support for such a treaty. At present I am reading The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg, one-time RAND employee involved in the inner circles of nuclear planning. Later, in partnership with Suffolk resident Tony Russo, he released the Pentagon Papers which exposed and helped end the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon's Presidency. The book describes how “deterrence” was a hoax. The plan was to strike first. It details an insane, insecure system and the many flaws and close calls with annihilation we have already had with nuclear weapons. We are closer to a nuclear exchange today, due to short-sighted, dangerous and unnecessary tensions including regional NATO expansion, poor back-channel communication, an unstable leadership, nuclear proliferation and threats of hacking, than any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. You won't read about that in the New York Times or hear it on CNN.

So do we have a free press? Yes, we do – not the embedded corporate mainstream media but the reality that we have alternatives and institutions that monitor, fact check and correct them. Those of us who want to be informed know that it takes a little digging but, because we have a free press, the truth is available to us. The shrinking of coverage and news is evident to us locally in the withering away of our local paper. A good article explaining the Tronc effect (they bought the Pilot) can be found at one of the better media monitoring sites called the Columbia Journalism Review. That article is called A Tale of Two Companies.

Other places to find news, and I like to look at differing opinions in the search for what is true, are: The Intercept, The Guardian, The American Conservative, Mint News, Reveal, Duetche Welle, Al Jezeera, Common Dreams, Truth Out, The Real News, DemocracyNow!, Project Censored, FAIR, Consortium News and The Institute for Public Accuracy, among others, including this humble local culture magazine.

Ultimately, responsible citizenship requires being informed, not just about our country but about the world around us. This means not getting our news from Facebook memes or relying on a few sources that confirm our beliefs. It means questioning and double checking everything rather than censoring opinion or news foreign or domestic. It means being willing to talk with and listen to people we disagree with about issues and events. A free society and the survival of a representative Republic depend on this. A poem by Cliff Fyman, recently published in the Blue Collar Review, regarding a partisan gathering reads, If your name isn't on the table, you're probably on the menu. Whatever “side” you think you are on, it is vital that we explore all legitimate perspectives in our search for what is true. Competing partisan narratives, feel-good cathartic memes and news limited to diversion and twisted to absurdity only deepens our crisis and feeds the worst possibilities. In the search for what actually is, beyond ideology and illusory partisan loyalties, we cannot help but find common ground.