Archive for July, 2008

Index of Posts for July 2008

July 31, 2008

Index of Posts for July 2008

Eco-terrorism, not

July 30, 2008


The photo, uncredited, was posted at GaMoonbat and shows the Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!) protest at Dominion Resources headquarters on June 30, the day Dominion started construction of its proposed new coal-fired plant in Wise County, Virginia.

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I wouldn’t have suspected the folks, pictured above, were considered eco-terrorists, had not Don Thieme at GaMoonbat linked to my June 30 blog post on their sit-in. Thieme, a self-described geologist, archaeologist, and college science teacher in Valdosta, Georgia, tagged his entry “eco-terrorism.”

As I noted in my post, opponents argue that the Wise plant would serve to accelerate mountaintop removal and its problems, so eloquently outlined by Jaculyn Hanrahan and other Wise County citizens in their testimony before the Air Board.

Before undertaking the sit-in, BREF! activists joined many of us throughout Virginia in signing petitions, testifying in state hearings, sending letters to the editor and to Governor Kaine to oppose the plant. In fact, the last time I heard from Marley Green, one of those arrested, was July 5, when he emailed all his contacts to ask that we sign another petition–this one in support of the wind power initiative started by folks in WV’s Coal River Mountain Watch. Coal River. (Coal River Mountain is another area being destroyed by MTR. Marley, Holly Garrett–another arrestee–and I were all among the first 16 signatures. This petition is so-mainstream that I received a second request to sign it last night from an anthropology research scholar.)

So what is mountaintop removal (MTR)? What is ecoterroism? And should the term apply to these folks?

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MTR, as practiced in Appalachia has been called, as I wrote for LLRX.com, “Strip Mining on Steroids.” Coal companies denude mountains of their trees and topsoil, drill holes to insert AMFO (ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil–a combination similar to that used in car bombs), and after detonation tear down the mountains, removing the coal and dumping the refuse to bury headwater streams. In the process, drinking water is poisoned, communities destroyed. And when folks who have lived in these mountains for years question the process, they receive threats to themselves and their families. For several examples of the latter, consider this description from the Washington Post about Larry Gibson and this piece from the Bristol Herald about Larry Bush. And many people tell me that complaining to the sheriff in rural counties does no good, and that in some cases deputies even serve as enforcers of the coal companies’ will.

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Eco-terrorism occurring within the U.S. is a subset of domestic terrorism. Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Pub. L. No. 107-52), according to the American Civil Liberties Union, [my emphasis added]

expanded the definition of terrorism to cover “domestic,” as opposed to international, terrorism. A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act “dangerous to human life” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States…

In testimony before Congress, the FBI defined ecoterrorism as [my emphasis added]

the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.

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The problem for our democracy comes with expanding the application of the term terrorism to embrace non-violent civic protest. Sourcewatch reports in an article I’d recommend reading, that Ron Arnold, the Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise has been instrumental. [my emphasis added]

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the word ‘terrorism’ has become a potent political weapon. Since the 1980s, Arnold has blurred the boundaries between nonviolent civil disobedience and more contentious tactics such as vandalism and sabotage – which have on the whole been rejected by mainstream environmentalists – and elevated property damage to equal terrorism as a societal threat. More recently, he has been joined by other prominent anti-environmentalists including self-styled “eco-terrorism expert” Barry Clausen and Nick Nichols, the now retired chair of PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall. (After Nichols retirement the company was renamed Dezenhall Resources).

The deliberate conflation of civil disobedience with terrorism by Arnold, Clausen and Nichols has paved the way for the introduction of draconian legislation, such as the so-called Ecoterrorism Prevention Act of 2004 , to ban or increase penalties for civil disobedience protests.

Apparently Arnold et. al’s efforts are succeeding. Take the definition of eco-terrorism promoted by the National Forum for State Legislatures, which has the slogan “The Forum for America’s Ideas.” NCSL’s annual legislative summit, which finished up last week in New Orleans is

an opportunity for state lawmakers from around the country to exchange ideas and debate issues being considered in Washington that will affect state public policies. The resolutions enacted will guide NCSL’s lobbying activity in Washington over the next several years.

Denver staff member L. Cheryl Runyon (email) wrote a piece posted at the group’s site entitled “Eco-terrorism-A New Kind of Sabotage”which ranks towards the top of a Google search on the word “eco-terrorism.” Her second sentence is:

Eco-terrorists commit arson and burglary, trespass, issue death threats, and engage in malicious destruction of property and vandalism-usually against farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, researchers, manufacturers or home builders.

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I find conflating trespass and death threats alarming, especially in an official paper by a group that lobbies Congress. How are a misdemeanor involving civil disobedience and death threats in the same category? And, if Runyon prevails, how will that affect legislation and thus our civil liberties?

In re-defining terrorism so broadly, we risk losing the First Amendment rights so important for a democracy.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In the most recent legislative iteration concerning eco-terorrism, Jane Harman’s (D-CA) H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passed the House by a vote of 204 to 6, on October 23, 2007. The measure would have amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to

add a new section concerning the prevention of violent radicalization (an extremist belief system for facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change) and homegrown terrorism (violence by a group or individual within the United States to coerce the U.S. government, the civilian population, or a segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives).

One wonders, just exactly violent radicalization might be identified and what measures will be allowed to prevent it. The only six voting against the measure were: Abercrombie, Costello, Duncan, Flake, Kucinich and Rohrabacher. The Senate has not acted on the measure to date.

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There was no violence in Richmond, nor even property damage, in any of the other activities by BREF!, who have done things like sing Christmas carols w. new lyrics protesting coal investments by the Bank of America. This time, seven had been standing with a sign “No New Coal Plant in Wise County” or a banner “It’s Up to Us Virginia. No Nukes. No New Coal. Renewables Now! No Dominion Over Our Democracy.” The seven were arrested despite disbanding upon request. The prosecutor told their attorneys that if all of them did not accept the plea bargain, she would withdraw it for everyone. Five accepted the plea, to allow the blockaders to avoid trial. But, when two women refused, the prosecutor allowed them go to trial separately on September 18, while accepting the other pleas, despite her threats to do otherwise.

The sign holders and the blockaders who accepted the plea bargain are willing to work in Richmond, VA for 200 hours with no pay. That’s five weeks, if they can find a full-time assignment, which will require a temporary move across state. Marley, who was hanging from the bridge, was originally to have been required to work an additional 50 hours with the option to go to jail for the weekend and reduce his hours to 200. Without a guilty plea, that seemed legally problematic and thus the prosecutor changed her offer to 25 extra hours. I find it exceptional that the community service would be required to take place in Richmond, entailing an extended period of work without pay, necessitating travel expenses and/or housing costs for a second location.

I ran a community service order program for 17 years in Virginia, supervising both misdemeanants and felons–including one man transfered to my caseload after being found guilty of major drug possession in another area. The current sentences, based on my experience, appear to be more severe than for many felonies and thus may have been invoked against expressive speech based on the viewpoint of the speakers.

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The Richmond Times Dispatch story of July 1 quoted Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael N. Herring as saying,

I have no doubt that the city will be asking to recover the money, whether by criminal penalties or civil action remains to be seen.

Then on July 2, that paper quoted Richmond police spokeswoman Karla Peters as saying there were no estimates of their costs and that police and fire departments would not pursue recovery because,

We don’t want to give them that much credit.

After the plea agreement, the Richmond Times Dispatch coverage yesterday cited Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Toni M. Randall as saying the arrangement respected the activists’ right to protest but required community service because of the disruption they caused.

And, yet, although the amount of community service is on a par with that assigned to felons, s
ome of those who hold BREF! in contempt have commented at the paper’s website with vitriol, one saying that allowing community service would somehow lead to riots.

I’d ask such critics to remember that the founders of our nation embodied in the spirit of our Constitution the notion that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ” They designed a government based on free speech, a free press and access to the courts. Thomas Jefferson wrote James Madison from Paris in 1787, saying,

A little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

He also wrote in 1808

The liberty of speaking and writing guards our other liberties.

There are so many communities besides ours here in Appalachia who have had to fight for the health and welfare of their families and their neighborhoods. Whether at Love Canal or or in Times Beach, Missouri, they would not have been able to do so, without free speech and access to the courts.

Yet, in both of those cases, the affected area was relatively small, the remedy evacuation. Here we face almost 1,000,000 acres of mountains leveled, half of them in West Virginia, alone. In a single 2001 case, 1,500 homes were lost in a flood and the courts have held the coal, landholding, and timber companies liable.

When I think of domestic terrorism, the Oklahoma City Bombing comes to mind, or the Ku Klux Klan or the Army of God. For eco-terrorism, maybe the Earth Liberation Front, although its targets have not been as widespread and have involved serious property damage rather than human lives.

But Blue Ridge Earth First! activists as eco-terrorists? Five folks who blockaded Dominion Resources for a couple of hours on June 30 after that company had succeeded in convincing the State to let it build a new coal fired electric plant, which will serve to accelerate the blowing of of mountains? Another five who held signs and banners and disbanded upon request and still got arrested and have agreed to performing 200 hours each of unpaid labor for the City of Richmond hundreds of miles from their homes? Another two, who did who held the signs and disbanded, but are asking for a trial?

Just who are the eco-terrorists here? Those who engage in civil disobedience and are willing to take their punishment or those who perpetrate the destruction of our mountains and our way of life?

Artic Ice Crack

July 30, 2008

According to the AP, Derek Mueller, a researcher at Ontario’s Trent University says a seven-square-mile ice chunk broke off the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf last week,on the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada’s arctic region.

Hardball: Fox commentators and their White House Talking Points

July 29, 2008

According to the July 25 transcript posted 7/28, Scott McClellan admitted to Hardball host Chris Matthews that the Bush White House issued “talking points” to “commentators and other, pundits at FOX News, that were useful to the White House.

MATTHEWS: So, you wouldn’t use Brit Hume to sell stuff for them, but you’d use some of the nighttime guys?

MCCLELLAN: Yeah, I would separate that out, and certainly I, you know, they’ll say, that’s because they agree with those views in the White House.

MATTHEWS: Well, they didn’t need a script though, did they?

MCCLELLAN: No, well, probably not.

For more, see the discussion at Think Progress.

Domestic Terrorism in Knoxville

July 28, 2008

Photo from the News-Sentinel shows folks before the start of a candle light service at the outside Second Presbyterian Church Monday in response to the previous day’s shooting at the Unitarian Church next door.

The congregation of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was enjoying a children’s musical Sunday, when Jim David Adkisson allegedly attacked, murdering two and wounding six others. According to court records, he wanted to kill liberals “who are ruining the country.”

Hayes Hickman (contact form), Don Jacobs (contact form) of the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported on the results of a police search in their July 28 story, “Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity on accused shooter’s reading list: 4-page letter outlines frustration, hatred of ‘liberal movement’ ” In addition to right-wing political books, they found

brass knuckles, empty shotgun shell boxes and a handgun.

If Mememorandum is accurate, I have where’s the coverage of this hate crime in the right wing media? There seems to be only Michele Malkin (quoting Confederate Yankee, who emphasized it was an attack on churchgoers, not liberals) and one oddball, I’ll not link to, who opined at Calvinists 4 Conservatism,

If he really hated liberals and gays, he would have gone to either a college campus or an Abercrombie & Fitch store, respectfully. However, he went to a church. This leads me to believe that the note about hating liberals and gays was forged, perhaps by some Marxist wanting attention.

McCain and the Timetable

July 27, 2008

After saying that Obama and other Democrats were accepting defeat in calling for a timetable for removal of troops from Iraq, McCain has apparently reversed himself. You can read about how he tries to extricate himself from this apparent reversal in this transcript of his 7/27/08 conversation with George Stephanopoulos on This Week. For coverage, see Memeorandum.

Sharon Olds

July 26, 2008

Photograph by Eamonn McCabe accompanied the July 26 Guardian article, “Olds’ worlds” by Marianne Macdonald.

I like Olds’s poems quite a lot, ever since reading the Gold Cell (Knopf, 1987), especially the chilling poem, “I Go Back to May 1937 which I’ve reprinted below. A measure of that poem’s impact can be found in the use of an image from that poem for the title of her collected works through 2002, Strike Sparks(Knopf, 2004).

You can find other of Olds’s poems online at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s terrific resource, Modern American Poetry, as well as at her exhibit at the Adademy of American Poets. Olds had wanted to come to Split This Rock Poetry Festival, but ill health at the time prevented her.

I was glad to see “Olds’ worlds” in The Guardian (see link accompanying her picture above) , but Mcdonald’s introduction strikes me as odd, starting with the hype that “many regard” Olds as “America’s greatest living poet.” Why let the knowledgeable reader debate the list of “greatest living” rather than concentrate on Olds. I’m not sure about which Marianne Macdonald wrote this piece, as it’s a common name and there might be several candidates.

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Laurie Anderson’s Homeland

July 25, 2008

Reuters photograph with photographer uncredited, as it appeared with the The Independent‘s art and media correspondent Ciar Byrne’s “Laurie Anderson’s anti-American attitude sparks walkouttour” on May 3, 2008.

Oddly, the art correspondent for The Independent concentrated on the walkout and some gossip about Anderson, covering the show as it closed.

It may be three decades since Laurie Anderson reached No. 2 in the UK singles chart with her eight-minute experimental epic “O, Superman”– which was a haunting indictment of Cold War American foreign policy – but the New Yorker reminded British audiences this week that she has lost none of her radical fire.

A performance of her latest show, Homeland, at the Barbican in London on Thursday prompted a walkout by some audience members who were enraged at her criticism of her fellow Americans and over her condemnation of the US invasion of Iraq.

I say oddly because Joy Godwin at the conservative New York Sun (a paper which called Iraq protesters treasonous) concentrated on the show and wrote a rave 7/24.

Laurie Anderson calls it a “concert poem.” Depending on your point of view, you might categorize it as an art-rock song cycle or a spoken-word performance set to music.

But whatever you term it, Ms. Anderson’s “Homeland,” which opened on Tuesday in its Lincoln Center Festival incarnation, is the work of a consummate artist at the highest level of her craft.


This is one of those times when I wished I lived in NYC for the show, which continues through July 26. Youu casn read a transcript of a 7/23 interview with Anderson at Democracy Now.

By the way, Anderson awarded the lifetime achievement Webby to David Byrne. His five word speech:

Mr. DJ, can you play another song?

The Telluride Film Festival has selected Anderson to design its poster this year, shown below.

Obama’s speech at the Victory Column in Berlin

July 24, 2008


Cartoon 7/24/08 by the Toronto Star‘s Patrick Corrigan (email, website, bio) of Obama’s Thursday speech (transcript, video and what others are saying about it, via Memeorandum.

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Oddly, some Germans seem to be more sure of the outcome of the election than even U.S. Democrats. Gerhard Spörl, chief editor of Der Spiegel‘s foreign desk, enthuses in “No. 44 Has Spoken.”

Europe is witnessing the 44th president of the United States during this trip.

I’m not sure his opinion will serve to win Obama favor in the U.S.

Spörl assessment interests me, given arguments that Obama’s naivety in foreign policy bodes poorly for international respect (a Clinton meme since adopted by McCain and others such as Townhall’s Dennis Prager):

hard-nosed Europeans will hope and pray that the future President Obama isn’t really all that serious about the saving the world of tomorrow, the polar caps, Darfur and the poppy harvest over in Afghanistan….we will have to quickly get used to Barack Obama, the new leader of a lofty democracy that loves those big nice words — words that warm our hearts and alarm our minds.

Elaine Chao, "Friend" of the Worker on Toxins

July 23, 2008

Anyone doubting the industry tilt of the Department of Labor under the Bush administration should read the WaPo’s Carol D. Leonnig 7/23/08. In “U.S. Rushes to Change Workplace Toxin Rules,” she reports of a proposed toxin rule that

The agency did not disclose the proposal, as required, in public notices of regulatory plans that it filed in December and May. Instead, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao’s intention to push for the rule first surfaced on July 7, when the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) posted on its Web site that it was reviewing the proposal, identified only by its nine-word title.

The text of the proposed rule has not been made public, but according to sources briefed on the change and to an early draft obtained by The Washington Post, it would call for reexamining the methods used to measure risks posed by workplace exposure to toxins. The change would address long-standing complaints from businesses that the government overestimates the risk posed by job exposure to chemicals.

The rule would also require the agency to take an extra step before setting new limits on chemicals in the workplace by allowing an additional round of challenges to agency risk assessments.