Signs of the Times

November 28th, 2014 No comments

People & Messages From The People’s Climate March











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From Dred Scott to Ferguson

November 26th, 2014 No comments

“No Justice – No Peace”

I was stunned by this historical echo:

We also know that St. Louis, Missouri, was the city where the Dred Scott case was litigated in 1857. That case, you may recall, the United States Supreme Court suggested that black people had no rights that white people were bound to respect, and certainly was the verdict, if you like, coming out of this grand jury.(emphasis mine) ~~~ GERALD HORNE, CHAIR, HIST. AND AFR. AMER. STUDIES, UNIV. OF HOUSTON

I have no idea how intolerable that fact is to black people in America – none whatsoever.

If it can drive me to rage just reading it, I can’t begin to imagine what living that reality must mean to a black man.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

(A Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes)

And in the midst of this injustice, the best the Nobel Peace Prize winner can do is give out medals?

The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott case – which led to the civil war – was decided 100 years before I was born.

I had hoped that my life would be shaped more by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision – and I was alive for much of the civil rights movement.

[*But this is the State I live in: NJ’s Apartheid and Intensely Segregated Urban Schools]

A few years back, I decided to go south and try to trace some of that history.

Gave me the creeps -

But Ferguson is not a vestige of the deep south – it is everywhere in the US today.

Nowhere for people of good faith to hide – gotta call this out for the racist outrage that it is - ”by any and all means necessary”

Mississippie border, just east of Meridian, near Philadelphia where Schwerner, Chaney & Goodman were murdered by the Klan in 1964

Mississippi border, just east of Meridian, near Philadelphia where Schwerner, Chaney & Goodman were murdered by the Klan in 1964

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Burlington County Freeholders Join Gov. Christie’s Pinelands Pipeline Parade

November 26th, 2014 1 comment

Another Arrogant Abuse of Power on Pinelands Pipeline

The Pinelands deserve a Commissioner who would be a champion and advocate for the Pinelands, not just show up and vote as he’s told. ~~~ Carlton Montgomery, Executive Director,  Pinelands Preservation Alliance

In a remarkably sham move, today, at a special 11 am meeting the day before Thanksgiving (in the midst of a strong Nor’easter to boot), the Burlington County Freeholders rammed through a vote to re-appoint Pinelands Commissioner Sean Earlen (his “qualifications” are pretty clearly depicted here).

The Freeholders now join a long and growing list of corrupt decisions and victims of Gov. Christie’s strong armed tactics and dirty politics to force the Pinelands Commission to approve the South Jersey Gas pipeline.

[* Doug O’Malley of Environment NJ noted the irony that today was the 1 year anniversary of the Pinelands Commission’s public notice, an obvious attempt to minimize public review of the proposed MOA.]

It is clear that the Earlen appointment was political payback for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent refusal to approve Gov. Christie’s candidates for the Commission.

I spoke with the Freeholders’ public information officer at length yesterday to try to explain the context and the significance of this appointment and request that the matter be removed from the agenda or tabled. He specifically mentioned that he and other Freeholders found the Senate’s actions to reject the Gov.’s candidates ”reprehensible” (see this Star Ledger editorial that explains all that:

The Pinelands Commission deadlocked 7-7 in a January 10, 2014 vote that would have allowed the pipeline to proceed, despite the fact that it is inconsistent with the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP).

Because that vote was on a proposed Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to mitigate the conflict with the CMP, technically,  the SJG application has not been defeated or withdrawn and still remains before the Commission.

Additionally, South Jersey Gas appealed the Commission’s vote, thus the matter is before the Courts as well, who could remand the matter to the Commission for reconsideration.

So, the Freeholders’ nominee could determine the outcome of the controversial pipeline.

With the retaliatory replacement of Cumberland County’s representative, who opposed the pipeline – and Ocean County’s grossly disrespectful appointment of a reliable Christie yes man – the Gov. now has at least an 8-6 majority to approve the pipeline, should the Courts or SJG find a way to bring the matter back for another vote (which I think is in the works).

Earlen previously voted in favor of the pipeline, a vote some residents said should disqualify M. Earlen from re-appointment. In response to that, again showing political loyalty to Gov. Christie instead of his duties, Freeholder Donnelly complained about what he saw as a double standard – he chastised those who “praised Pinelands Commissioners who bucked the system and took on the Governor”, and ague that Earlen should be disqualified.

I spoke to Donnelly after the meeting about this comment, because I too said Earlen should be disqualified for re-appointment. I explained the fact that the pipeline was inconsistent with the CMP, so voting for the MOA to sidestep that inconsistency failed the test of leadership and “Pinelands Champion”. He knew all about the issue, calling the MOA “like a variance” and went on to basically confirm all my suspicions that this decision was political and not based on the merits.

[* Donnelly had no qualms telling me to my face that – I quote – “you know” that providing an opportunity for the public to participate would allow “your groups to organize 700 people to pack a public hearing”  - such is the state of democracy in Burlington County.]

  • The Process Stinks

The Freeholders agenda for today’s meeting was released on monday. It merely listed a “nominee” for the Pinelands Commission, but did not name that individual or indicate whether the nominee would be voted on and formally selected.

The Freeholders nominated and “selected”, i.e. voted to appoint, Earlen on the same day, despite strong public objections to the secretive process and lack of meaningful public notice

The public’s concerns about the lack of transparency and ability to participate were shared by Freeholders Belgard and Schwartz.

Belgard said she found out about the Nomination on Monday, but did not even know the name of the nominee, or that it would be Mr. Earlen, until she walked into the hearing room on Wednesday.

Freeholders Belgard and Schwartz twice offered Resolutions to table the nomination. Twice they lost 3-2 votes.

Belgard said she requested the name and resume of the nominee when she received the meeting agenda on Monday, but that information was not provided.

Several Burlington County residents objected to the fact that the Pinelands Nominee was not even named on the agenda, making it impossible to provide informed comments on his/her qualifications for this critical position.

Carleton Montgomery of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance noted that Mr. Earle was not a champion for the Pinelands and implored the Freeholders to appoint a champion who would advocate for the Pinelands “not just show up and vote as he’s told”.

Instead of responding to the public’s legitimate and well argued concerns, the Freeholders bickered like little children.

It was embarrassing.

After the vote, I told them they should be ashamed of themselves.

So, have a Happy Thanksgiving folks – and I hope you can find some time to get outside with your family.

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Christie DEP Promotes Huge Expansion of Tar Sand Oil Imports

November 25th, 2014 No comments

DEP issues “minor modification” of oil terminal air permit without public review

DEP denies jurisdiction to review climate impacts

It’s The Climate, Stupid!

People's Climate March, NYC (9/21/14)

People’s Climate March, NYC (9/21/14)

Scott Fallon at the Bergen Record has a very important story today on an outrageous move by the Christie NJ DEP to issue an air pollution permit that would allow the Buckeye oil terminal in Perth Amboy NJ to double its oil processing capacity, read the whole thing:

Unfortunately, Fallon, in a series of stories, has narrowly and poorly framed this issue as limited to rail transport safety.

As a result, he again shoehorns this broader story into that frame and thereby misses the far more important climate issue and DEP regulatory policy issues.

The narrow framing as a rail safety issue also allows DEP to deny jurisdiction.

This is stunning, because the DEP permit in question is an air pollution control permit.

Obviously, air pollution does not end “at the fence line” nor does NJ DEP’s jurisdiction.

Second, as Fallon notes, the DEP chose to define the Buckeye oil terminal air permit as a “minor modification” under NJ DEP rules.

But Fallon fails to note that DEP could have classified the permit as a modification that triggers public notice, comment and hearing procedures.

Additionally, US EPA, which has independent authority under the Clean Air Act and oversees the NJ DEP air pollution permit program could pressure NJ DEP to conduct public hearings on the proposed permit expansion or even decide to conduct their own public hearings.

So, by not objecting to the DEP’s “minor modification” classification of this permit, or invoking EPA’s own authority to review the permit, the US EPA is complicit in the decision.

In contrast to the Christie NJ DEP’s negligence, Fallon notes that environmental regulators in New York DEC have used the environmental permit process to review a similar operation in NY, while the Christie NJ DEP is in full denial mode. Fallon reports:

A spokesman for the DEP said the agency’s focus is on regulating only the plant and not the environmental risks associated with transporting hazardous materials like oil through the state. DEP officials say they lack the power to regulate beyond Buckeye’s property.

“Our authority begins and ends at the fence line,” said Larry Hajna, an agency spokesman. “We regulate emissions and have requirements for how materials are handled, stored or discharged, but we cannot limit how much is processed or how much is transported.”

One would think that Fallon would be curious about what legal authority NY DEC has that the Christie DEP says they don’t have.

First of  all, under current NJ DEP air pollution control regulations, greenhouse gases are defined as “air contaminants”, i.e. regulated air pollutants. See Gov. Christie’s own website:

Carbon Dioxide Classified as a Pollutant

In November 2005, the DEP adopted a new regulation under the authority of New Jersey’s Air Pollution Control Act to classify CO2 as an air contaminant. This rule enables NJ to implement its responsibilities under RGGI and to enact additional rules to control CO2 from other sectors as necessary.

The DEP could invoke that regulatory authority to review the lifecycle and cumulative climate change impacts of the huge expansion of oil terminal capacity.

This DEP air permit decision has nothing to do with a lack of jurisdiction for off site rail transportation risks.

Second, I do not know what regulatory authority NY DEC has invoked. I do know that NY has a broader “mini-NEPA” law than NJ, known as “SEQRA”, that requires environmental impacts statements as art of the permit process.

NY DEC could have relied on SEQRA.

But, for air pollution control permitting, I am certain that NY DEC has at least the same basic permit program regulatory authority under their State Clean Air Act permit program as NJ does.

However, in addition to that authority, on September 22, 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Community Risk and Resiliency Act”, which amends several provisions of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) to incorporate consideration of potential climate change impacts, including physical risks due to sea level rise, storm surges and/or flooding, when evaluating projects under a number of existing permit programs. 

The NJ Legislature has not even considered a similar law to put teeth in NJ’s Global Warming Response Act.

And for some reason, NJ’s vast array of environmental groups are not even trying to get that kind of law passed in NJ.

Now why is that?

They found over $700,000 to fund a PR campaign to steal money from DEP environmental programs.

Why No money or campaign for climate?

Good questions for followup coverage by the Record and advocacy efforts for NJ environmentalists to consider.

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The Price of Integrity

November 24th, 2014 No comments

BILL MOYERS: A good citizen driven to despair?

CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. And a good citizen driven to despair who will not remain apathetic and passive. And, you know, in every single place that we went to, Camden, West Virginia, Pine Ridge, we found these utterly magnificent human beings. I mean, this woman Lolly in Camden, African American woman, who you know, raised her own children. And I think by the time she was done, 19 others.

Her fiancé was shot and killed, one of her little seven-year-old daughters died of an asthma attack because they didn’t have the right medicine. And I said, “Lolly, how do you do it?” And she said, “I never ask why.” And when you spend time in the presence of people like that, and they were everywhere you know, they understood what they were up against.

It is deeply empowering. Because not to resist, not to fight back is on a very personal level to betray these people. And when you build relationships, as over the two years Joe and I did, with figures like that, it really, you know, almost comes down to something that simplistic. You can’t betray Lolly. You can’t betray any of these great figures who’ve stood up. Because their fight is our fight. And oftentimes they’ve endured far, far more– well, they have endured far, far more than I have endured or ever will endure.

Old news: I thought this superb interview by Bill Moyers of Chris Hedges  might help in thinking about our current situation and might embolden NJ journalists:

BILL MOYERS: But do you think taking sides marginalizes your journalism? I mean, when you were being arrested, and some businessman was quoted in the paper passing by and looking at those of you being carried away and said, “Bunch of idiots.” He needs to hear what you, read what you say. Do you think he will once he knows you’ve taken sides?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I think that in life we always have to take sides.

BILL MOYERS: Do journalists always have to take sides?

CHRIS HEDGES: Yes. Journalists always do take sides. You know, you’ve been a journalist a long time. The idea that there’s something objective and impartial is just a lie. We sell it. But I can take the same set of facts– I was a newspaper reporter for a long time, and I can spin that story one way or another. We manipulate facts. That’s what we do. And I think that the really great journalists–

BILL MOYERS: Not necessarily to deceive though. Some do, I know, but–

CHRIS HEDGES: Right, but we do.

BILL MOYERS: We choose the facts we want to organize–

CHRIS HEDGES: Of course, it’s selective. And it’s what facts we choose, how we place, where we put the quotes. And I think the really great journalists, like the great preachers, care fundamentally about truth. And truth and news are not the same thing.

And the really great reporters, and I’ve seen them, you know, in all sorts of news organizations, are management headaches because they care about truth at the expense of their own career.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean truth as opposed to news?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, let’s take the Israel occupation of Gaza. You know, if I had a dinner with any Middle East correspondent who covered Gaza, none of us would have any disagreements about the Israeli behavior in Gaza, which is a collective war crime. And yet to get up and write it and say it within American society is not a career enhancer.

Because there’s a powerful Israeli lobby, and it’s a lobby that I don’t think represents Israel, it represents the right wing of Israel. And you know it. But, the great reporters don’t care. And they’re there.

But you know, large institutions like “The New York Times” attract huge numbers of careerists like any other large institutions, the Church of course, being no exception. And those are the people who are willing to take moral shortcuts to promote themselves within that institution.

And when somebody becomes a headache, even if they may agree with them, even if they may know that they are speaking a truth, and it puts their career in jeopardy– they will push them out or silence them.

So I think that one can take sides, and Orwell becomes the kind of model for this. But one can never not tell the truth. And I’ve often written stories that are not particularly flattering. And there’s much in this book about people in Pine Ridge or Camden, you know, that is not flattering. I mean, we’re interviewing people that are drug addicts and this kind of stuff. And–

BILL MOYERS: Drug dealers–

CHRIS HEDGES: –prostitutes and–

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, drug dealers–


BILL MOYERS: –prostitutes.

CHRIS HEDGES: So we’re not, you know, the lie of omission is still a lie. But I don’t think any foreign correspondent who covers war, whether it was in Bosnia or whether it was in Sarajevo can be indifferent to the tremendous human suffering before them and not want that human suffering to stop.

BILL MOYERS: But there is a price, as you have said, to be paid for stepping outside of the system that enabled your name and reputation and becoming a critic of that system. I mean, what price do you think you’ve paid?

CHRIS HEDGES: I don’t think I paid a price, I think I would’ve paid a price for staying in. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. You know, I was pushed out of “The New York Times” because I was publicly denouncing the invasion of Iraq. And again, it comes down to that necessity to speak a truth, or at least the truth as far as you can discern it.

I’ve spent months of my life in Iraq. I knew the instrument of war. I understood in all the ways that this was going be a disaster– including upsetting the power balance in the Middle East. It’s one of the great strategic blunders of the United States, it’s empowered Iran. And to remain silent would’ve been the price. Was it good for my career? Well, of course not.

But my career was never the point. I didn’t drive down Mount Igman into Sarajevo when it was being hit with 2,000 shells a day because it was good for my career. I went there because what was happening was a crime against humanity. And as a reporter, I wanted to be there to chronicle it.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you should. But, so you don’t think journalism is futile?

CHRIS HEDGES: I think journalism is essential. I think it’s essential. And we’re watching its destruction. You know, journalism, the power of journalism is that it is rooted in verifiable fact. You go out as a reporter, you seek to find out what is factually correct. You crosscheck it with other sources. It’s sent to an editor. It’s fact-checked, you put it out. That’s all vanishing.

That’s what we’re really losing with journalism. Yes, you know, commercial journalism, there were things they wouldn’t write about. You know, as Schanberg says, “The power of great newspapers like “The Times” is that at least it’s stopped things from getting worse.” I think that’s right.

BILL MOYERS: But can it make things better? I mean, do you think you can accomplish more as a dissenter, and I look up on you now, when I ask you what’s your faith, I think your faith is in dissent, if I may say so. It’s in “This far and no further.” But do you think you can accomplish as much as a dissenter than as a journalist?

CHRIS HEDGES: Yeah, it’s not a question that I’ve asked. Because the question is, “What do you have to do?” I certainly knew after 15 years at “The New York Times” that running around on national television shows denouncing the war in Iraq was, as a news reporter, tantamount to career suicide. I mean, I was aware of that.

And yet, you know, as Paul Tillich writes about, you know, “Institutions are always inherently demonic, including the Church.” And you cannot finally serve the interests of those institutions. That for those who seek the moral life, there will always come a time in which they have to defy even institutions they care about if they are able to retain that moral core. And in essence, what, you know, “The New York Times,” or other institutions were asking is that I muzzle myself.

BILL MOYERS: But all institutions do that, don’t they?

CHRIS HEDGES: All institutions do.

BILL MOYERS: Intuitively or explicitly.

CHRIS HEDGES: That’s right. And I think for those of us who care about speaking, you know, the truth, you know, or if you want to call it dissent, we are going to have to accept that at one day, there’s going probably mean a clash with the very institutions that have nurtured and supported us. And I have been nurtured and supported by these institutions.

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