Archives for posts with tag: Connecticut

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.

 

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The Many Faces of Systemic Breakdown

It was a Sunday morning. Going out to get the morning newspaper is a daily routine of mine. In early morning reverie, I forgot that I dropped my subscription to the Sunday regional paper. It did not matter. What I saw did.

There were waves of water lapping at the foot of my home’s cement stairs. You read that right. Waves. I blinked. There they were. Not living along the Connecticut shore, or any other body of water, you can imagine my stunned amazement.

By the end of the day, the water main break under our street was mended, damage to the land and my cellar totaled, and life continued. My family was experiencing an example of the crumbling infrastructure in our country.* Donald Trump says he has the answer.

What’s Trump’s solution to crumbling infrastructure? Like so much attempted by his Administration, it involves a bait and switch.

The time-honored deal for large construction projects was 80 percent federal dollars matched by 20 percent local monies. The infrastructure trick here would turn that on its head by forcing state and local governments to come up with 80 percent of the cost to win 20 percent from the feds.

My town of Naugatuck, Connecticut had to take $480,000 from reserve funds just to cover the present shortfall of state funding. How could my “distressed” town, with 11.4 % unemployment, ever hope to participate in such an upside down arrangement?

Recent events in Naugatuck are very much related to this overarching topic of systemic breakdown. There have been four pollution episodes in the Naugatuck River in the last 10 months. Three events involved sewage spills from the Waterbury Sewage Treatment plant. The largest of those killed 100s of fish and other living beings in the river.

In addition to these, on January 20th, 2018, there was an oil spill by Somers Thin Strip brass plant in Waterbury. Thousands of gallons of hydraulic oil made its way to the river. Pictures of the sheen (less than 0.01mm) moving across different sections of the river can be seen here.

https://youtu.be/AU_p_cTtGHQ

As part of the Clean Water Act, the Oil Spill Pollution Act (1990, 1994) asserts that a company must have a detailed containment plan to mitigate a spill. It must also have a cleanup plan. Did Somers have these in place? Trump has promised and has been implementing cutbacks to the same Clean Water Act.

My first wage-paying job was delivering grocery orders. In the early 1960s, I delivered such orders to the same Somers family that owned this plant. Global Brass and Copper Holdings Inc. of Kentucky now owns the Somers plant.

Were there periodic checks of the Somers plant by the Ct Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP)?

When motivated to do “periodic checks”, our country marshals the wherewithal to do them. There’s an historical example from our constitutional history. Let’s see if there are any connections to another example of breakdown of a different nature.

Systemic breakdown has many faces. Direct violence has always been part of the scene in the USA. School shootings are another horrific form of that violence. The killings of students and teachers in Florida are the latest example.

Three of the largest mass shootings in USA history have happened in the last five months (as of March 2018). There have been 300 school shootings since Newtown, Ct.

An historical framework always helps. This is what has been mostly absent in news reporting and discussions of young people with state and federal representatives.

The Constitution of the USA was ratified on September 17, 1787. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, wasn’t ratified until December 15, 1791. It took considerable compromises to get them passed by Congress.

The framers of all this used the term “Country” in the Bill of Rights. But when it came to the 2nd amendment that did not happen. Why?

The reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country”, was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states. (The Second Amendment Was Ratified to Preserve Slavery by Thom Hartmann, 1/15/2013 www.truth-out.org

A crumbling infrastructure, pollution episodes out of the 1950s, and killings in our schools are all part of systemic breakdown.

Contained in what appears to be a local story along the Naugatuck River, is the kernel of another symptom of systemic problems. That holdings Co. mentioned above is also into munitions.

Whether those munitions end up in the Mid-East, the encirclement of China / Russia, or on our streets/schools will need further research. The killer in the Florida high school shootings had Nazi swastikas etched into the munitions he used. A mental health problem, maybe. A political problem, definitely.

Cutting the military budget, restoring personnel cuts to DEEP, releasing funds for the Clean Water Act and beyond are demands all movements must bring forward in some way. The proposal for solar panels, with federal and state help, on a superfund site in Naugatuck would add much needed jobs, reduce energy bills, and help local budget woes.

Making these connections of systemic breakdown and organizing fight-backs/solutions locally are the order of the day. It will take unity of all movements going into the 2018, 2019 (local) and 2020 elections.

* The same water main burst again, in a different place in front of my home, two years later.

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

https://www.createspace.com/4330714

 

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! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc ) 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.

It was a disastrous election. There’s no doubt about it. We need to make sense out of the mess in order to move forward. Here’s just a beginning.

The Rs pursued a classic tactic. As soon as Barack Obama was elected in 2008, they declared noncooperation. Massive gridlock followed. These reactionary forces then pointed to Washington D.C. and said, “See. It isn’t working.”

The Rs pursued more antidemocratic approaches. They set up the American Legislative Action Committee (ALEC) and moved at the grassroots and state-level. Taking people of color off voting roles was a major weapon nationally.

There are names that go along with all this. John Piscopo, State assemblyman from Thomaston, Ct, is a former president of ALEC. Assemblywoman Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck, Ct, scrupulously followed the ALEC agenda to the tune of a 55% voting record on the environment.

The political agenda had ideological components. Talk radio led the way. A visiting nurse from Watertown, Ct, told me that, “Obama lives in a black house.” Anyone supporting the environment was called an “elite.” And on and on the racism and anti-environmentalism went.

T.V. supplied Donald Trump with ample exposure, no matter how negative. A CNN executive admitted that Trump was good for “ratings.” Ex CIA, ex FBI, and retired generals supplied an analysis that justified every USA invasion and bombing run. Talk radio supplied vile Islamophobia and anti-Mexican rhetoric.

While Hilary won Ct, Trump’s vote total here was 2% higher than Romney’s in 2012. That kind of erosion probably cost State Senator Dante Bartolomeo her election to reactionary Leonard Suzio (R) by 300 votes. Bartolomeo had a 100% voting record on the environment and was very good on union issues.

Now, some rays of sunshine. Myrna Watanabe (D) challenged reactionary John Piscopo (R) for his State Assembly seat. She lost but in the process raised a very progressive agenda, including on the environment.

Maine won ranked choice voting. For example, you could vote for the Green Party. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, in a second round of voting your second candidate choice comes into play with the two top vote-getters. LePage (R), the Tea Party Governor, would never have been elected under this system. (See http://www.fairvotemaine.org)

Lastly, all us gray hairs have to pass on to the Millennials what happened in those rock & roll years of the early 1970s. Richard Nixon (R) won reelection by a landside in 1972. I well remember the impeachment march through downtown Waterbury, Ct, in 1973. Nixon was driven out of office in August of 1974.

Pass it on.