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An Earth Day Yarn and The Real Deal

Earth Day is a time of celebration, recounting the past, assessing the present, and pointing the way forward. Those attending the April 21, 2018 Earth Day Mayor for the Day program in Naugatuck Connecticut were subjected to an alternate – read false – story having to do with the past.

Connecticut State Assemblyman David Labriola (R) claimed that the Bush family, namely Barbara Bush, was responsible for activities that led to the first Earth Day. We all enjoyed a tall tale in our youth but to pass off such a false narrative as true was both disingenuous and dangerous.

First, let’s get to the real Earth Day story.

In the fall of 1956, there was a meeting in Saint Louis, Missouri, about milk. The connection here was to strontium-90, a “fallout” radioactive material from nuclear weapons testing out west. Was this dangerous substance making its way into cow’s milk?

Eighteen women sent a letter to the U.S. Health Department and to the Saint Louis Health Department. Edna Gellhorn was one of the women. She had earlier led a similar campaign for pure milk. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union, led by Virginia Brodine, lent organizational help. Washington University scientists, including seminal work by Barry Commoner, aided with the science. (See The Closing Circle.)

It was also Commoner who had the idea of citizens and scientists working together to inform the broader public. This gave birth to the Greater Saint Louis Citizens Committee for Nuclear Information (CNI). Two women, Gloria Gordon and Judy Baumgarten, played important roles that kept CNI rolling for the next five years.

The Cold War atmosphere made none of this work easy. To question anything the U.S. government was doing, particularly military, would quickly bring out the “communist” charge. What helped to break down some of this toxic atmosphere was the civil rights movement then gaining momentum in the south. The exposure and censure by the U.S. Senate of arch-anticommunist Senator Joe McCarthy also helped.

To help spread the message and dangers of radioactive material finding its way into ecosystems, including humans, was a group of twenty scientists. The alliance of grassroots environmentalists, union, and scientists led to the publication of the magazine, Nuclear Information. In 1964 it became Scientist and Citizen. (See New Solutions 8:1:17-25 1998.)

It was around this time that a woman scientist became the talk of the country and world. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring burst on the scene. Carson combined the skills of a seasoned writer with her science background as a government biologist.

She cautioned about pesticides via a fictional silent spring when no birds sang. Carson followed this with real data and spoke on the Audubon circuit. She immediately drew venom from chemical companies and government bureaucrats. Former Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson, said “ . . .she was probably a communist.” (Lear, Linda.   1997.   Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature. 429).

Others picked up this vicious red-baiting. Here’s a period Letter to the Editor in the The New Yorker.

Miss Rachel Carson’s reference to the selfishness of insecticide manufacturers probably reflects her Communist sympathies, like a lot of our writers these days. We can live without birds and animals, but, as the current market slump shows, we cannot live without business. As for insects, isn’t it just like a woman to be scared to death of a few little bugs! As long as we have the H-bomb everything will be O.K. (Smith, Feminist Studies 2001, 27:741).

It would take another blog to unpack the anticommunist, anti-women venom here. You have to wonder whether the writer ever ate insect pollinated fruits e.g. an apple? Rachel Carson persevered these hateful attacks and is often cited as a key contributor to the origin of Earth Day and the modern environmental movement.

In the early 1960s, President Kennedy (D) sent the first U.S. troops to Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson (D) followed by President Richard Nixon (R) greatly expanded the U.S. War in Vietnam. Anticommunism was resulting in a bloodletting. In his 1968 famous Riverside speech, Martin Luther King, connected the devastation in Vietnam and killing of its people to the oppression of the poor and people of color at home.

Then came the revelations of the cruel and genocidal use by U.S. forces of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange. Dow Chemical and Monsanto reaped megaprofits from this chemical warfare. Uniroyal Chemical was also a producer. Environment, war, and human rights were all coming together. The demonstrations in Washington D.C in 1968, 1969 and 1971 grew in size and effectiveness.

In 1969, Scientist and Citizen changed its name to Environment and quickly became the most prestigious journal in its field.

It was at this time that Senator Gaylord Nelson (D) of Wisconsin took the initiative to pull together many of these struggles and movements. He wanted a grassroots approach similar to the anti-war “teach-ins” on college campuses. Nelson hired Denis Hayes, a former Stanford student president and now Harvard Law School student. Hayes smartly hired a team of activists steeped in civil rights, the Chicano movement, and the Robert Kennedy (1968) presidential campaign. The result was various grassroots gatherings of 20 million people on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day.

The action didn’t stop there. In 1971, word spread that the military was planning a nuclear weapons test on Amchitka Island in part of the Aleutian Archipelago off Alaska. A group of activists set off in an old fishing boat to stop the test. While initially unsuccessful, it led to the international organization Green Peace with 2.9 million supporters in 40 countries. Amchitka Island is now has a bird sanctuary*.

  • Dozens of Amchitka workers and Aleuts have died from leaking radiation from the 3 underground nuclear tests there.


Landmark legislation followed the first Earth Day such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

Soon after all this activity, there gained momentum to impeach President Richard Nixon for high crimes throughout his presidency. He was driven out of office in 1974. There are many lessons here as mass actions call for the impeachment of Donald Trump.


The dishonesty of a false narrative of Earth Day origins by a state legislator is easy to explain but why dangerous? I say this because if we don’t paint accurate pictures of how such a momentous event as how the first Earth Day emerged in April 1970, attempts of other needed social/political changes e.g. renewable energy, will lead to dead ends. Such changes have some shared, distinguishable characteristics.

Attempts to rewrite history, and grossly distort it, are legion. The movie Rebirth of a Nation (1915) is good example. When the film came out, President Woodrow Wilson (D) had a viewing of it in the White House. It gave this racist movie an unfortunate legitimacy.

This skewed view of U.S. history included vicious stereotyping of slaves and black people generally. Wilson was also responsible for resegregating Washington D.C. and disastrously led the USA into WWI after running on a peace platform. (See Dead Wake, Larson).

President Trump is a chief follower of those who rewrite history to fit their fancy. Having a picture of President Jackson prominently displayed in the White House is symbolic of his white nationalist ways. President Jackson was a slave owner and instigator of genocide against native peoples. The promulgating of his image along with praising Jackson’s presidency speaks volumes about Trump’s ideology and the politics that follow in its train.

Trump’s policies and approach to politics is to disunite our people and country. Misogyny, male chauvinism, and anti-immigrant ideas have a present currency. Oliver North’s recent anti-youth statements pointed at the students of South Park Florida, who are leading the struggle against gun violence, are a recent example. Racism and anticommunism are often the ideological bulwarks behind disunity.

The 2020 50th anniversary of Earth day will be here in a blink of an eye. It is also a presidential election year. There is a need to bring this true history forward versus those who would rewrite it with a false narrative. Unity of people with different political persuasions and with all people regardless of color and sexual orientation is a must to win back our country of the United States of America.



The below blog is my essay that was published by the Maine Writers & Publishers Association.  I highly recommend the U-Tube video near the end of the essay. Per usual, let me know your thoughts. The journal, The Peavey, is named after a tool used by loggers in days of old.



I enjoy The Peavey. How could anyone who enjoys writing and reading not enjoy The Peavey. One reads about all kinds of writers. They are retirees. They are young like Tracy K. Smith. Then there are all those scribblers in-between.

Scribblers. Yes. Scribblers all. I say it with the very best of intentions. Trying to reach people with the written and spoken word. How important is that? Very important. It is at the essence of culture. It is one of the activities that we do and the content reflects all the other doings of humans.

Still that word surfaces. Detachment.

The genre is all over the place. That’s a healthy thing. Right? Do you agree? Mystery, memoir, fantasy, and sci-fi are there. There are the broadest of categories e.g. fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Still, that feisty, somewhat ugly word reappears. Detachment. It’s just around the corner. It won’t go away.

The Peavey celebrates success. How important is that? Extremely important. The big time publishers narrow their production to those who make them the most money. Profit was always part of their motivation. Now it is everything. They celebrate profit. Wealth has concentrated everywhere.

Celebrating the successes, big and small, of the 99% of the rest of us takes on added importance. This applies not only to writers but also to independent publishers as Sophia Khan pointed out.

When you ponder it, none of what is going on in publishing is that surprising. Now you have to be among the 1% to run for political office or at a minimum, have the backing of sectors of that group. Maybe the 0.1% would be more accurate as one climbs the political ladder to “success”. That usually means the fossil fuel boys.

Those last two paragraphs may seem like a digression. They are not. It scares me. Politics is about power. There is a whole bunch of power rapped up in who gets published and who doesn’t. Power is deciding not only who gets published but also what gets published. They go together like the old horse and carriage. It’s about content.

It is also why detachment scares me. It goes far beyond the writing and reading world. But, I fear, we can be participants in separating ourselves so far from this moment in time.

Are we separating ourselves from our readers? Alienation, or is it estrangement, is bad for any relationship.

Detachment. It haunts mind, body, and soul.

And this moment in time is dark, and getting darker. Citizens, rising to protect our youth, Muslim in this case, are slashed to death. African Americans are gunned down in a church. An LGBQ bar is a target.

The President-to-be mocks a handicapped reporter. A Congressional candidate in Montana attacks a reporter. The candidates are elected. What?

Ever wonder where terrorists come from? Ideology? Of course, but what is the material basis for this gobbledygook to stick to ribs? Foreign troops and bombs will do just fine. A President more than willing to stoke racist embers adds to the mix.

“ . . .when you are being attacked, when bombs are falling around you, planes are hovering over your head, when your life is in danger and you are scared, it is so easy to look up to the sky and feel abject, boiling hatred for the people doing this to you, and you curse them out.” (Looking For Palestine, Najla Said, 2013)

Courageous Mainers demonstrate at Bath Iron Works. Their protest is aimed at the product, not the hands that do the work. Aegis Destroyers carry missiles that destroy lives in the Middle East. The President says bombs away. Lives taken. More terrorists created.

A Maine artist objects to it all. He demonstrates and is arrested. He painstakingly explains it all, including the damage to sea life these destroyers wrought through sonic waves. He shows his anguish through his sculpting:

Mainers are resisting, marching, demonstrating. Do we know it? Do we hear it? Do we see it? Do we write it? Do we feel it? Do we publish it?

It is time to end the detachment. No more aping the big time book sellers and publishing houses. Detachment must be replaced. By what?


Resist what you might say? The content. Resist war, misogyny, racism, white nationalism, and terrorism, especially the homegrown variety. Resist violence, whether at a ball field, in a train, mall, or church. Resist militarism.

A welder has tools. So have we. We’re writers. We’re booksellers. We’re publishers. We’re printers. We’re storytellers.

Unite. Organize.

Detachment haunts.


Generals, billionaires, along with the Alt-Right, are marching into the administration of our country. Smelling the political air, this essay made its way to the surface.

Running With Iron Heels

This past spring I was camping and hiking in the Taconic range with a good friend. We walked and talked while soaking in the beautiful terrain of those green mountains.

Such excursions are important. They transport us physically. They also transport us mentally. The humdrum of everyday life fades as rolling hills and valleys come into view.

We are lucky in Connecticut. Beautiful, green woodlands, rivers, and an ocean surround us. We can choose the company of beautiful, caring people.

What can slip by almost unnoticed is that others are out there. They have a different view of what surrounds us. They see ugly everywhere.

African Americans are shot down, with regularity, in our streets. Some see injustice, others see genetics. Some see the continuance of hundreds of years of oppression and struggle. Others let fear consume them.

Fossil fuel pipelines ram through lands, from New England to Indian sacred spaces. Some see centuries of stealing land, religious violations, environmental degradation, and fight-back. Others see maintaining a lifestyle. More dangerously, the 0.1% sees major profits threatened with protests of the former.

Bombs are dropped an ocean away. People migrate. Some see state terror, a humanitarian disaster, and struggle. Some hear only “terrorists” and seek revenge.

People see, and maybe feel, these differences. The “others” handle them in different ways. A peek into our family’s 20th century histories may elucidate some of this. Let’s try mine.

In 1907, two sets of people made there way from the Apennine mountain range above Naples, Italy, to the USA. One, the Ciarlone’s, had a business orientation. The other, the Iannielli’s, was among the vast peasantry of those times. In relative order, the Scarpitti’s and Summa’s completed each set of the pairings. Children arrived, eight to be exact, from each pairing. Included among those offspring were my parents.

Why did my grandparents leave their homeland? After all, it’s not an easy do. Ever get that uncomfortable feeling when away from the familiarity of home? That sense of place comes into play. No. Not easy.

As a youngster, I asked that question. My maternal grandmother gave me a hint with a wonderful Italian inflection and waving an open hand in the air. It consisted of two words. “The Kaiser!”

That two-word answer and the move across the big pond took a bit of time to grasp in any full way. My experiences on the home front during the U.S. War in Vietnam helped. (For more on those experiences see


Later I got an assist from famed biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Here’s what I learned.

Before World War I (1914-1918), Vernon L. Kellogg was an entomologist (insects) at Stanford University, California, a pacifist; he became an official in Belgian relief work. In this capacity, he somehow ended up being among the German high command, including the Kaiser. Wilhelm II was the last Emperor (Kaiser) of Germany and King of Prussia (Parts of Germany and much land heading eastward).

Many of the German officers were involved in higher education before the war. They saw the war as a natural outgrowth of human behavior. These officers saw natural selection, a la Charles Darwin and evolution, as dictating violent competition among peoples.

The group of people representing the highest evolutionary stage, in their minds Germans, would prevail. Kellogg was so sufficiently horrified that he abandoned pacifism and supported the war against Germany as the only way, in his considered opinion, to stop them.

What Kellogg stumbled on here is one of the best examples of the perversion of evolutionary theory. It resulted in a crude form of social Darwinism. In other words, war erupts from our DNA.

We now know that redivision of the world for colonial plunder was a driving force for both sides of those wretched trenches. In other words follow the money, or better, the profits. When normal politics could not settle differences, war followed.

History had more to unfold, especially in Germany. In the years following World War I, much of the above crude social Darwinism became incorporated into Nazi ideology with a vengeance. That ideology, mixed with racism, ran amuck with extreme nationalism.

The Nazi Party actually started in the mountains of Germany in the 1920s. They nurtured a crude form of nationalism born of the disaster of WWI, social Darwinism, and with a questing religious fervor. The crash of 1929, unemployment and disgust with “big” government brought them into the cities and looking for a savior. They found Adolf Hitler and bankers willing to solve problems with an iron heel. WWII followed.


There is a fundamental difference in the mindset of the groupings of people mentioned at the beginning of this writing. Some hope to peacefully and thoughtfully grabble with war, racism, environmental degradation, and the injustice of it all. Others? They run with iron heels.

Politically, one outlook says let’s protest nonviolently, dialogue, and peacefully negotiate. The others say let’s protest violently, take people off voter roles, and stomp on those fighting injustice with that iron heel, including the use police/military force.

The iron heels, the fascist axis that took state power in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, were defeated in WWII. Its cost was 60 million lives and many fragmented ones. But hints that the outlook guiding those iron heel states had penetrated the USA were around us. The twin ideological weapons of fascism were at work.

The Soviet Union, an ally and friend during WWII, quickly became labeled an enemy, then later an evil empire. Anyone remotely associated with the recent ally was considered part of the “red menace” and a spy. U.S. State institutions pursued communists with a vengeance as well as others interested in peace and social justice.

Japanese living in the USA, and Japanese Americans, were treated differently from German and Italian immigrants. Internment camps were set up. (Don’t miss this! ) African Americans remained under intense segregation, with lynchings and other violence visited upon them.


Let’s go back to bucolic Connecticut. We bathe in the suave of greenness. We need the caressing arms of nature. We need the company of caring people. The point here is that we can’t get lost in it.

We have to engage other outlooks. Some don’t want the iron heel approach to solve problems but don’t see the danger. We need to revisit the 1920s and 1930s, and shake out the causes, and lessons, of WWII.

There is hope all around us. We do have to take the time to see it. I met a welder recently who had drawn healthy lessons from her work experiences. She adamantly opposed Trump.

A fisherman once told me, “they make you not want to care.” This woman went in the opposite direction. She cares. My hiking friend ventured to Ohio to block Trump mania. We have to find bits of caring among our people and help develop a willingness to fight for caring core values.

We are going to need to put that caring into action. Too many times we didn’t do that when the Obama Administration, and also peoples’ movements, made forward-looking decisions e.g. halting the X-L Pipeline. When that same administration brought backward proposals to the table, as they did in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, a confusion and paralysis followed.

Ask yourself, “What do I care about?” Then ask yourself, “How do I show it?” It means getting outside of our comfort zone.

Here’s two ways. Go out and talk to those who did not vote, those who voted for Trump, and those coming of voting age. Use history, especially intertwined with personal stories, in a calm explanatory way. Then gather with like-minded friends and those who are learning.

We need to walk the talk.

P.S. My Grandmother (Scarpitti/Ciarlone) didn’t totally escape the discrimination meted out during WWII. More on that with the next blog.

This is my shortest blog (450 words) to date and maybe the most important. Having trouble discerning fact from fiction regarding the wars in the Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy? Read on.

Civilians/Killers and the Middle East

News Flash – A Doctors Without Borders facility bombed by Saudi Jets in Yemen. Nineteen people killed. It was the fourth such facility bombed. The medical group had given the Saudis the coordinates of the medical facilities to avoid such events. The doctors are pulling out of Yemen. A school was also hit.

The NY Times wrote that they were “botched airstrikes.” Really? You don’t even have to read between the lines to get at the truth. Listen to Saudi military spokesman, General Ahmad Asiri. “We would have hoped (that Doctors without borders) would take measures to stop the recruitment of children to fight in wars instead of crying over them in the media.” Really? That is the job of a medical team?

This is the same Saudi Military that the Obama Administration wants to reward with a $1.5 Billion sale of military weapons. Think of all this while some in the USA ask, “Why are they so angry?” How many family and friends of the dead Yemeni want to take up guns against the USA now?

Let’s go back to the Saudi General’s statement above. Is that much different than those by General Curtis LeMay of the U.S. military of the mid-twentieth century? He once said, “There are no innocent civilians.” Could there be a better recipe for state terrorism?

Let’s go to Syria. Have you heard of the so-called NGO White Helmets of Syria? As reported by Vanessa Beeley of 21st Century Wire,

“The White Helmets have been demonstrated to be a primarily US and NATO funded organization embedded in Al Nusra and ISIS held areas exclusively.

This is an alleged “non-governmental” organization, the definition of an NGO, that thus far has received funding from at least three major NATO governments, including $23 million from the US Government and $29 million (£19.7 million) from the UK Government, $4.5 million (€4 million) from the Dutch Government.”

So the White Helmets are hardly a non-governmental organization. And look who they are supporting – the terrorists! It gets worse by the minute. A leader of this so-called humanitarian outfit, Raed Saleh was deported from Dulles airport on April 18th, 2016. Why? He appeared on a terrorist watch list. What?!

Are you tired of the ex-CIA, ex-FBI, and retired generals marched across your screen on CNN and other major networks? Want some relief from all that. Here is a UN August 9th press conference by peace activists and independent journalists who visited Syria a few weeks ago. They were in Damascus and two villages. They interviewed President Assad. Click and make your own assessment of what is really going down.





It Can Happen Here


In 1935, Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can’t Happen Here. It was a warning that fascism can happen in the USA. Jack London presaged the fascist upsurge of the 1930s and 1940s with his seminal book, The Iron Heel (1908). The underbelly of our country has always had these stirrings, with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) being the historic example of fascistic terror.

Do recent events and voices in the electoral arena indicate a qualitative turn to the barbaric happenings of the mid-20th century? Let’s probe.

The “West’s Weimar Moment” by German editor Jochen Bittner (NYTimes 5/31/2016) raised some of the above. He made four good points about Germany before fascism and compared them to present-day realities.

  1. Economic depression (1929) and the 2008 financial crisis.
  2. Loss of trust in institutions e.g. banks, governments, media.
  3. Social humiliation e.g. job loss, homes foreclosed.
  4. Political blunder. You pick ‘em for the present e.g. lack of legislative relief, bailing out banks, immigration, the gun imbroglio etc.

What scares me is what he left out. Where is the continual push toward militarism and never ending war(s)? The Priorities Project says military spending is over 50% of the federal budget’s discretionary spending while federal spending for schools is at 5%. One candidate suggested carpet-bombing areas in ISIS held territory. Another candidate stated that there should be a no fly zone in Syria. All spell out war.

Bittner also say we should set “aside the debate about whether the rise of Nazism was built into German DNA.” What? Was fascism in Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan due to DNA too? The fact that this is being raised as a “debate” is a danger signal in itself. It was settled long ago that fascism grows out of the economic and social factors, not biology.

When politics fail to untie the socioeconomic knots, fascist ideology finds fertile ground. Denigrating women, xenophobia, and great power chauvinism – Make America Great Again – appeal to ignoble ways. Who does that sound like?

There are other historical signposts. Ruling circles in 1930s Germany thought they could contain Hitler and the fascist movement. So is the ultra right in our country, represented by Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R), now willing to go with the neofascist Trump and the “containment” idea?

Donald Trump’s racist and super-nationalist statements about Mexicans and Muslims are not new to politics. Dividing people, especially white workers against people of color, were the hallmark of Republicans running for the presidency in the 20th century. Examples abound.

In the 1960s, violence was mainly aimed at civil rights and peace activists during the U.S. War in Vietnam. Rebellions in black communities occurred with the assassination of Martin Luther King. President Richard Nixon (R) turned these happenings into a “law and order” campaign in the 1968. It was aimed, ideologically and practically, at white democratic voters in the south. It worked.

President Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign gave this racist approach a new twist. He implicitly attacked black males as purchasers of steaks with food stamps while whites ate hamburgers. This, along with megadoses of anticommunism, allowed for the massive increases in the military budget and deep cuts in social spending that hurt everyone, black, white, and brown. It worked.

The 1988 electoral campaign of President George Bush Sr. gave this yet another racist twist. The Willie Horton T.V. ad showed a black man, who escaped jail while on a work furlough and raped and killed a white woman. Bush blamed the Democratic candidate. The criminalization of the black male began in earnest. It worked. He gave us the first oil war in Iraq. Remember “Slam Saddam”?

In 2003, Bush’s son “W” continued the war in Iraq claiming a connection to 9/11 events. He lied. It worked. He was reelected in 2004. Combined with the inability to solve the Palestine / Israeli conflict, this proved to be a deadly combination and a watershed happening. It further enraged an already enraged Muslim world.

Threats against the Presidency escalated with the election of Barak Obama. Militia groups quadrupled, like the one that occupied the wildlife refuge in Oregon. Police violence in black communities has been exposed for all to see.

The racism, brutal trade policies, and never-ending wars have had a qualitative effect. Along with the economic factors outlined above, Donald Trump (R) organized these sentiments into a successful, primary bid for the Presidency. It has worked . . .so far.

Neofascism is knocking on our door. It will be up to the peoples’ movements to prevent that door from opening. The Sanders campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement will be important components. A record 27 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote. All these give indications of a potential mass base to put a collective shoulder against a neofascist toehold on our democracy. Can we build that unity in time? Let’s discuss this here and now. Join in. We need everyone.


One of my favorite little pieces of awareness is, “The challenge in organizing is to keep a healthy outrage at injustice while maintaining an inner peace.” Merrilee Milstein, who wrote those wonderful words of wisdom, was pulling from experiences in a lifetime dedicated to the labor movement. Thank you Merrilee.

We lose activists on both sides of that sentence because they forget it makes one interconnected whole. Some let their outrage consume them and recovery is never in full. Others get lost in seeking an inner peace that eludes them as outrage at injustice fades.

My “outrage “ side has been working overtime lately. Battling foes of passive open space and struggling with an onslaught of dirty fossil fuel initiatives involving a methane based power plant and new pipelines, head the list. Toping it off are the truly outrageous political events and politicians in the electoral arena.

Republican candidate Donald Trump’s clear racist incendiary statements on Mexicans and Muslims, with Senator Cruz joining him here, are much more than irritants. They are dangerous. The sight of white Trump supporters attacking African American protesters is down right scary. I can remember a veteran of progressive movements telling me long ago that if fascism comes to the USA, it will be on the backs of African Americans. Clearly we don’t have fascism or I wouldn’t be freely writing these words for a blog post. The question is, are we seeing its rolling thunder gathering steam? (More of this on another blog day.)

To take a break from all this, and in concert with Merrilee’s sage advise, I took a walk on Naugatuck section of the bridle trail. For those not familiar, this is a long woodland trail that was formerly a railroad bed stretching from Waterbury to Southbury, Connecticut and beyond. My approach to these outdoor walks is simple. Try to stay in the moment. If my thoughts drifted to the above challenges, I would reorient to be in the present.

While on this little nature excursion, I stumbled upon one of those small but truly magical moments. In the distance I saw what turned out to be a mid-sized bird seemly stuck to the side of a rock-like cliff covered with moss. It bobbed this way and that way while occasionally shaking its head. As I neared, the bird flew off into the surrounding treetops. Then I realized what it was doing there.

Thanks to the I-Phone on my hip, I can share it with you with a 35 second U-Tube video. I call it nature’s sounds of silence

Apparently, that bird was taking a shower, shaking the water off as we do in a shower, and getting a drink of water at the same time. Whatever competing thoughts I had melted away.

Ecosystem is a flexible concept. It can be as large as a biome like trundra or small as a knothole in the tree. I was transfixed and enraptured by this micro ecosystem consisting of a bird, moss, water, and rock. It put a smile on my face, accompanied by a satisfying sigh. How basic is that?

Now science has given us data to substantiate what we feel in such instances. In the July 14th, 2015 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was reported that morbid rumination is strongly associated with increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. What’s the big deal? Here’s the punch line. Excursions in natural settings quieted that portion of the brain. The outdoors literally improved mood.

We need these green redoubts in today’s world and in our country with their topsy-turvy events. At the same time, or rather after these wonderful excursions in the outdoors, we need to pay close attention to what is going on around us. The reason is the necessary third ingredient to the outrage/inner peace package. That is action.

Activity is where we put our outrage and inner peace to good use. Outrage can eat our insides. Inner peace is an eternal search. Activity is what makes us whole. Win, lose or draw, it is where our humanity is practiced.

Journeys . . . And Getting Organized

While researching my book Hurry Down Gunntown, fascinating parallels emerged between the 18th century American Revolution and a 20th/21st century battle, both here in Connecticut. The organizing features had almost spooky connections. Let’s explore.

For those in the area, I’m speaking about all this at the Naugatuck Historical Society, Sunday, March 6, 2016, 1 PM, 171 Church Street. Check out their facebook page for my 4-minute video on this very topic.

Journeys can be taken in a number of ways. Aaron Sachs’s wonderful book, The Humboldt Current, makes this point well. “Rootedness and deracination go hand in hand.” Sachs had me running for my dictionary with that one. Of course, I didn’t have to “run” too far as dictionaries are just a click away on a cell phone these days. Deracination means to tear up by the roots.

Sachs said this in a number of ways. “To me, the history of Humboldtian exploration suggests that there is a need for balance between cosmos and hearth.” The good Baron traveled the world but also returned to his “hearth” to write many books, including his ground breaking Cosmos. Sachs then goes on to use Henry David Thoreau as an example. I don’t think Thoreau is a good example. He certainly was not the international traveler of Alexander von Humboldt fame.

Henry David Thoreau had an incredible sense of place. His “journeys”, with exception, were mostly in New England and mainly around his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. Yet he certainly had that Humboldtian sense of making connections to issues and places far removed from his home base. War, peace, natural history, and abolitionism were all fair game to this intrepid traveler. Not all these travels were of the intellectual variety. He didn’t hesitate to take action in his bailiwick. When John Brown was killed, Henry ran to the center of Concord and rang the church bells. It was time to organize.

I had similar feelings of connectedness when researching and writing about the colonial 18th century and emerging into the new millennium. I lived through that last part. The two intertwined stories happened, for the most part, right here in the Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut. It’s the pattern that surfaced as I took these two journeys that I want to share.

As the short video mentioned above explains, in March of 1780 Rebel trackers, also known as minute men, came galloping into a section of old Waterbury now Naugatuck, Connecticut. They were hot on the trail of a secret British agent and a young Tory gang he led on a raid. Danger lurked around every bend.

The marauders were heading to the Gunntown community with a distinct purpose. They knew it had more than its share of royalists. They could find sustenance there.

To put the cart before the horse, a favorite idiom from the 16th century, the Rebel trackers win the day. Let’s put this under a historical microscope. How did common people in the mists of war, boycotts, and civil strife, manage to pull this off?

The answer starts with organization, and plenty of it. There were vigilance committees. Their task was to make sure local business people in their town adhered to the various boycotts issued by the Continental Congress. Not buying indigo for ink from other British colonies was high on the list. The Committees of Defense and Correspondence made sure all the colonies were kept up to date in all matters practical and political concerning the revolutionary movement. Lastly, the Rebel trackers themselves, who could in a minutes notice, muster a fast response to any enemy activity in their town’s borders and beyond.

Of course, it all comes down to people. Who rose to the occasion to thwart the hand of the British secret agent? It was the young people in the Tory gang itself who stopped the killing of a young kidnapped victim. It was, incredibly, the Royalist mother of one of the Tory gang who gathered the courage to confront the secret agent. At the Oxford Inn, it was a house slave, Tobiah, who temporarily stayed the hand of sure death of the young colonial captive.

There was a patchwork of people who rose to the occasion. Dr. Jesse Carrington rode out of Bethany to help track down the thugs. There were Judd family members of the kidnapped boy. Toward the end of the saga there were sea-orientated people like Captain Steele of Derby Landing, which was a deep-sea port in colonial times. Any differences were put aside. Unity was their by-word.

How does this match up with the struggle that flowed into the new millennium?

Young people, mostly young women who were also girl scouts, led the grassroots committee that emerged to fight for the preservation of the Gunntown land where key events of the 18th century struggle took place. Their den mother, and a diverse group of 1960s/70s activists, rounded out the group. The young leader of the group was of Panamanian African American, and Portuguese descent. A Mexican played important roles, especially speaking at town hall meetings. There was no treasury and thus no treasurer. The group was quick on its feet as the minutemen of yore.

The comparisons don’t end there. Coalition building and networking was their by-word. Veteran labor organizers addressed the group and organized directly with the committee. Networking occurred with other environmentalists such as river groups and land trusts. Experiences of the local Pollution Extermination Group – gotta love that name – were a key ingredient in eventually winning the Gunntown Passive Park & Nature Preserve for all citizens to enjoy.

There is a message here for the present. For a just transition to renewable energy, E- Coops, community supported agriculture, and community gardens, we need a transformational movement. It would add the political clout to make the transition happen. Needless-to-say unity will be needed among environmental, peace, labor, and social justice movements to do this.

Maximum unity will be needed to prevent those frenzied people that are paraded across our T.V. screens every night from entering the White House. The electoral movement to prevent that, and advance the transition so necessary environmentally, is represented mostly in Senator Sanders campaign. Feel the Bern!








Cuba Journal #2

Some readers wanted more on Cuba in the December Blog. Okay. What is critical to understand is that there is no separating Cuba, peace, and anti-imperialism. Thus the connections to Syria, the media “terrorizing” our people, the imperative to stop any and all military intervention in the Middle East and MLK Day. Here’s more.


No sprawl. That was the first impression I had, as the U.S. delegation to the World Peace Council meeting and Foreign Military Bases Conference made its way for hundreds of miles by bus from Guantanamo to Havana. What a relief! We emerged out of urban areas to verdant hills, mountains in some cases, agricultural areas, and forests. In particular, surrounding Guantanamo are three large national parks and seven protected areas. The largest park is named after famed German explorer, Alexander von Humboldt.

Alejandro de Humboldt National Park is the largest in the Caribbean at 69,341 ha or 171,272 acres of forested, mountain and ocean ecosystem. How big is that? Central Park in NYC is 843 acres. Cuba’s largest river, the Toa, rises in the mountains here and its waters are teeming with biodiversity as is the area generally. The unique toxicity of some underlying rocks led to many endemic (evolved here and found only here) flora and fauna. This is where the controversial Ivory Billed Woodpecker was spotted.

All this raises an interesting question. Why would socialist Cuba honor an 18th-19th century German naturalist? Von Humboldt visited the Island in 1800-01. While he falls into the explorer category that we associate with some of the worst transgressions against Native Americans, it is a good lesson in that there is no “one size fits all” here.

In Cuba, Humboldt noted that the Spanish colonizers stripped the forests for sugar plantations, which rapidly replaced nutritious crops. He saw it leading to dependency, poverty and injustice. He reserved special venom for slavery. In his Personal Narrative, he described a slave market where slave owners examined the slaves’ teeth, “ . . . forcing open their mouths as we do those of horses.”

Along with his anti-colony, anti-slavery views, Humboldt was a dedicated naturalist/scientist who took a holistic approach to the environment and people. He noted that where there was more human suffering, there was also devastation of the environment. Humboldt was a considerable influence on Charles Darwin. He told Darwin at the one epic meeting they had, “You write a book so someone can write a better one.” The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism by Aaron Sachs

One benefit of the peace conferences in Cuba was updates from around the world. Some countries are following the bad example of Israel and the USA and building “walls” to keep people out. With the election of a progressive woman and communist in Nepal to its presidency, India is closing its border with Nepal. India is also closing its border with Bangladesh fearing climate migrants from rising sea-waters there. Ugh.

Climate and war migrants are coming to the USA. It will take awhile for them to reach our shores because of the stringent criteria now. How will they be greeted? The reaction of some to the events in San Bernardino, California was not good. Frenzied, reactionary Presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) has added venom to the mix. The Portuguese Delegate to the World Peace Council (WPC) Conference pointed out that the negative portrayals of those desperate to escape deteriorating conditions in their home countries due to war/climate change are being used to fan the flames of racism and xenophobia. It will take much work and vigilance in our communities to see that all are welcomed.

The Foreign Military Bases Conference that followed the WPC gathering was a real eye-opener. The Cuban peace group held an art contest for posters to represent our conference. They lined the walls of our meeting rooms. The below poster was selected to advertise and represent the Foreign Military Bases Conference.

About ten countries have an average of two military bases outside their borders. Unfortunately, the USA is the leader of the pack. The Japanese delegate reported that there were 131 US bases in Japan alone. Further pressure from the Obama Administration has led Japan to “reinterpret” article nine of its constitution enacted after WWII. That law prevented Japan from using military force outside its borders. It’s being scrapped. Dangerous stuff.

An Australian delegate and former railroad worker, who lives in Cuba, reported that there are 300 U.S. military bases in the Pacific. He reported there were 20 joint military facilities in Australia with the ‘joint” mostly a euphemism. They are under USA command. Later others mentioned that the resistance to these occupations was not limited to Okinawa. The fierce resistance of the people of Jeju Island in South Korea was highlighted.

These moves by the USA administration and Japan appear to be part of the military arm of the Transpacific Partnership (TPP). Much of it seems to be encircling China with military bases as NATO, with the USA its largest component, is encircling Russia in Europe.

Thomas Friedman, NYTimes writer and ideologue of the fossil fuel industry and militarization, summed up this direction best in 1999. “The hidden hand of the market will not work without a hidden fist” (of the military). So, according to Friedman, nuclear threats, occupations, and war should be accepted not only in the USA but by the world. No thanks. But what to do?

We can get direction from none other than Martin Luther King. In the second paragraph of his famous Riverside Church speech, he refers to the prophetic “words” of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam and “the time has come to break the silence.”

So it is time to “break the silence” as Martin Luther King advised us in 1967 addressing the U.S. War in Vietnam. We must “move on” to oppose the so-called war on terror. War has not been the solution to individual terrorism. While criminal elements must be brought to justice, the 90% civilian casualty rate alone is good reason to oppose the state terror of NATO and the U.S. The bombing must stop.

American Rhetoric: Martin Luther King, Jr: A Time to Break …


What better day to bring this message forth than MLK day or week starting on Monday, January 18th, 2016.


Note – In my last blog, I mentioned that the Palestinian delegate to the conferences lives in Latin America. I was wrong. The other Palestinian attending the conferences, who was actually the official delegate, resides in the West Bank.

I’m writing this blog on Thursday, December 10th 2015. It’s Peace As A Human Right Day. It took two peace gatherings in Cuba this November to remind me that without justice there is no peace. There are presently fifteen countries lobbing bombs and shooting missiles into Syria. Are we on the brink of WWIII or has it already started? Are we so “terrorized” that we can’t see the forest for the trees? Please join the conversation. We need everyone.


The Museum of the Revolution in Havana was one of our first stops (11/18/2015) before the Peace Conferences would dominate our stay in Cuba. I was impressed with the resistance of the Cuban People to many regimes from 1925 up to the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. The March of the Mothers in the 1930s was one example. Many family members had disappeared during the Machado regime (1925-1933). Machado was a young general during the Spanish American War (1898). He became very wealthy. Uncovered during the 1930s was systematic torture of community/labor/socialist/communist leaders, with dead bodies thrown to the sharks. It continued into the 1950s.

The Cubans venerate the leaders of their revolution as we do George Washington & others. That is understandable. I thought more emphasis on the almost 35 years of resistance leading up to the armed struggle and socialist revolution would help put events in a healthy perspective. Come to think of it, we need more backstory to properly understand our own revolutionary period from 1750s through the 1790s. I hope Hurry Down Gunntown on CT history is helping a bit in this regard.

It was the Platt Amendment of 1903 that gave the U.S. Navy a base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, via a lease. Cubans see the base as an insult to their independence, an expression of the U.S. imperial project, and a torture center. The present Cuban government has never cashed the yearly checks for the lease.

The first meeting(s) in Guantanamo, Cuba were reports from World Peace Council (WPC) representatives. The Canadian delegate pointed out that Islamophobia is closely related to racism. It causes mistrust and suspicion. Returning to the USA and hearing Donald Trump spew out backward policies brought this to life quickly. It was like a new Cold War. The damage of the first Cold War has never been fully presented and that hurts in this new situation.

The continual airing of individual, violent acts on major media outlets have “terrorized” people, especially in the USA. Combined with the government continually using “bad” guy scenarios e.g. Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Gaddafi (Libya), and Assad now in Syria, it has demobilized and confused peace forces. Never ending invasions and warfare has to be stopped. The danger of two nuclear powers e.g. USA and Russia, colliding is real. The shooting down of the Russian plane on the Turkey/Syrian border highlights this danger.

The WPC Palestinian delegate pointed out that there were 8 million Palestinians living outside Palestine. He lives in Panama. Five hundred thirty one Palestinian towns have been destroyed. Understanding the Mid-East requires this constant reminder. It helped put the present migrations into perspective. Solutions have to include the two-state, Israel/Palestine creation and diplomatic, peaceful approaches to Syria, Afghanistan. Declaring nuclear free zones everywhere can help get a handle to many of these issues.

I was invited by the U.S. Peace Council and presented a paper at the Foreign Military Bases Conference (11/23-25/2015), also in Guantanamo, on the connections between climate change and threats to peace. I emphasized understanding that the hatred of the U.S. Military/NATO and explaining it to our people, especially in the USA, was our special responsibility. I used the following quote from Najla Said. She was in Lebanon when it was bombed by Israel in 2006.


You can spend your life being a humanist, a pacifist, a thoughtful person who does not even think about hating, or does not even know what it is to hate – that is to say, you can really and truly be a human being who is tolerant and open-minded and humane, judging people by how they behave toward you, and treating them the way you wish to be treated, but when you are being attacked, when bombs are falling around you, planes are hovering over your head, when your life is in danger and you are scared, it is easy to look up to the sky and feel abject, boiling hatred for the people doing this to you, and you curse them out.


The civilian casualties with these and similar bombings now are in the 90% range <>. Clearly stopping the military/bombing/missile/drone “solution” is imperative. It doesn’t work and is just creating more hatred. IT MUST END.

The connection between climate change, civil strife, and war are easily shown concerning Syria. The weakening of moisture-laden winds from the Mediterranean, and more evaporation due to elevated temperatures, were beyond natural climate variability. It was anthropogenic climate change that caused the extreme drought in Syria from 2006 to 2009. The resulting civil war, which is now an international conflict, has led to at least 200,000 deaths. The United Nations estimates that half the country’s 22 million people have been impacted with six million internally displaced.

I am old enough to remember the riveting speech by Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, when he connected ending the U.S. War in Vietnam and moving civil rights forward at home. American Rhetoric: Martin Luther King, Jr: A Time to Break …

Weapons tried and tested in the Middle East are now making their way back to our communities, particularly impacting communities of color. As the celebration of MLK Day approaches (Monday, January 18th), we need to help our people make the connections between climate change, our communities, and war.


I’m aware some blog readers couldn’t access my T.V. interview with Bruce Gagnon, Maine, about revolutionary Connecticut. Here it is. My latest radio interview with Richard Hill on a similar topic is also below.

This Issue with Bruce Gagnon – Len Yannielli
Host Bruce Gagnon talks with Len Yannielli about his new book about revolutionary history.

November 2015 Radio Interview with Richard Hill, WPKN, Bridgeport, CT.

my latest book, Hurry Down Gunntown, on colonial history and the environment.