Saturday, February 01, 2014

Two Voices That Made A Difference

American music lost two historic figures in January: first Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, and then Pete Seeger, whose performing career goes back to the 1940s.

Josh Marshall's appreciation of Seeger and one by Bruce Springsteen include a video previously featured on this site, of Seeger and Springsteen singing "This Land is Your Land" as part of President Obama's first Inaugural celebration.  Time Magazine has videos of his performances of some of his most famous songs.

Appreciations of Phil Everly that place him in musical and historical context by Linda Ronstadt and Paul Simon, among others are here and here.  Ronstadt wrote a neat three paragraphs for Time Magazine, which is buried behind their subscriber/registration wall.  But it's worth seeking out.

As these articles make clear, their legacies live not only in their own music but in musicians who came after them.  In Seeger's case, as Josh Marshall writes, his activism changed America in many ways. Helping to save the Hudson River from death by pollution is one of his greatest and least appreciated contrbutions.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pennsylvania: The Company Town

Once upon a time I did some work for the Pennsylvania governor's office which included writing a booklet to accompany the state budget summing up programs underway.  It was called The New Pennsylvania: A Commonwealth That Works.

Well apparently there's an even newer Pennsylvania: The Company Town. Or to be more specific, Fracksylvania.

In some ways it's like the old old Pennsylvania of my grandfather's day, bringing up his family in what was literally a company town for many years, owned and operated by a coal company.

Now the fossil fuel frackers apparently own not only big chunks of the state--and I mean own--and they evidently own the legislature and governor's office, no surprise there--but they also apparently own the law.

Here's the story that only a British newspaper appears to care about:

Vera Scroggins, an outspoken opponent of fracking, is legally barred from the new county hospital. Also off-limits, unless Scroggins wants to risk fines and arrest, are the Chinese restaurant where she takes her grandchildren, the supermarkets and drug stores where she shops, the animal shelter where she adopted her Yorkshire terrier, bowling alley, recycling centre, golf club, and lake shore.

In total, 312.5 sq miles are no-go areas for Scroggins under a sweeping court order granted by a local judge that bars her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest drillers in the Pennsylvania natural gas rush, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.

What is this woman's crime?  She's a political activist against fracking.  Not violent, and there's little evidence she's even disruptive. (Unless you count bringing celebrities in to see the fracking for themselves.)  She's just a heretic.

So two things here.  The law simply bans her from property owned or leased by this monstrous company, with the full knowledge of its extent, and that it includes what passes for public spaces in this town.  Which is totalitarian enough but in practical terms it is an order almost impossible to obey because this company pretty much owns or leases the town.

The court order didn't specify the actual places she can't go, that is, nobody told her exactly what the company owns or leases.
Montrose where Scroggins lives

The company is Cabot.  The story continues:

" Cabot turned up with four lawyers and nine witnesses, employees of the company and the firm it hired to provide security. Scroggins represented herself. She told the court she had been unable to find a lawyer as the hearing had been called on 72 hours' notice.

By the time the hearing was over, the judge had granted Cabot a temporary injunction barring Scroggins from all property owned or leased by the company. "It is hereby ordered that Ms Scroggins is restrained, enjoined and prohibited from entering upon property owned and/or leased by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation including but not limited to well sites, well pads and access roads," the injunction reads.

The effect of that ban is far broader than the dry legal language would suggest.  In court filings, Cabot said it holds leases on 200,000 acres of land, equivalent to 312.5 sq miles. That amounts to nearly 40% of the largely rural county in north-eastern Pennsylvania where Scroggins lives and where Cabot does most of its drilling."
coke oven in Mt. Pleasant past

This is hardly the only outrage to the rights of American citizens perpetrated by the law in Pennsylvania at the behest of its apparent masters, the fossil fuel frackers.  An earlier case arose in Mount Pleasant,  very near where my father was born and grew up.  It was coal and then coke country then.  Now it's a fracking motherlode.  From another Guardian story:

 "The Hallowich family had earlier accused oil and gas companies of destroying their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania and putting their children's health in danger. Their property was adjacent to major industrial operations: four gas wells, gas compressor stations, and a waste water pond, which the Hallowich family said contaminated their water supply and caused burning eyes, sore throats and headaches."

The family settled with the companies involved for $750,000 to move to a safer and healthier place.  But a condition of the 2011 settlement was recently revealed: no member of the family can ever, ever, ever talk about fracking, from any point of view, in any way, to anyone, until they die.  That includes the Hallowich children, who are 7 and 10 years old.  If they speak out of turn, the family loses the money, and at least one of the companies-- Range Resources-- said it will hold them to it.

This story was at least broken locally, by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  This story adds that confidentiality agreements usually don't apply to children, but there was some question about it in this case because of the specific court order.  What is it?  Well, who really knows?  Reporters were barred from hearings and the record sealed.  The companies involved (not just Range Resources) are so far adamant.

How sweeping is the ban on free speech?  It sounds like it goes far beyond commenting on the case itself.   But the law is apparently conspiring to keep even that much secret.

So in Pennsylvania, free speech is controlled by frackers, a power which the law seems only too happy to hand them.  You can talk about anything in PA except what the fossil fuel dictators say you can't talk about, unless you want to be banned from your grocery store, or have your children live in fear of saying the wrong thing.The U.S. Constitution apparently doesn't apply there anymore.

What's next for Pennsylvania-- the Iron and Coal police? Pinkertons and state police shooting down protestors?  As Pennsylvania becomes Fracksylvania it drills down into the muck of its own worst history.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Believe It

Gloomy poll numbers (the ones they choose to headline) and cynical analyzes, the time is out of joint, and so you might expect a defensive, awkward State of the Union.

Instead President Obama gave a confident, energized and forward-looking address, crisp and comprehensive, speaking over the heads of Washington to America, to history and to the future.

This is not a view you're likely to read elsewhere, at least not yet.  But it is what I saw and heard.  Last year President Obama urged Congress to act on a host of proposals that were eminently doable, both practically shovel-ready and politically mainstream.  They did nothing, bringing shame on themselves and a cloud of depression on the country.

This year he spoke of successes wrought usually by executive initiative and in partnership with coalitions of state and city governments, educational institutions and corporations, and he announced further initiatives to partner even more widely and deeply.  And he invited Congress to come along.

Rhetorically he did not use the word "progressive" but spoke several times of progress. One of his themes was citizenship--individual responsibility for the common good.  He spoke of opportunity, equality, justice and freedom--themes repeated from his famous speech after the New Hampshire primary that became mantras in the most famous campaign videos ever.

There are as usual hints of JFK especially in his final emphasis that progress is not easy, it takes time and effort.  The media says and will say that he said nothing new--that's right, he's been announcing these principles and goals, and ways to move towards them, while cautioning that it won't be easy and it will take time--from his 2008 campaign and especially his victory speech on election night in Chicago.

The speech transcript is here, the video of it with a second screen of facts and images is here.  I won't go through the themes of the speech, but simply reproduce some of the sentences that jumped out at me.

"After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth. The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress."

"But America does not stand still – and neither will I".

"Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise."

"Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did."

"A pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy. That’s what health insurance reform is all about – the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything."

"After all, that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward. It’s the spirit of citizenship – the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well."

"We have to remain vigilant. But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism. So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks – through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners – America must move off a permanent war footing."

"... working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world."

"But these negotiations [with Iran] do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today."

"Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.

 The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.

Believe it."

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote

"The absurdity of a life that may well end before one understands it does not relieve one of live through it as bravely and as generously as possible."

Peter Matthiessen
The Snow Leopard