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Did You Ever Think Life Would Turn Out Like This?

April 17th, 2015 No comments

 A Different Kind of Emergency Fundraising Appeal

life

Look, I’m not going to write some perky upbeat Foundation formulated bullshit about seeking support for an informed, highly credible, expert, and independent voice that holds the powerful accountable, supports grassroots activism, shapes media and policy narratives, and tells the truth as he sees it (while being effective and influential at the same time).

My experience suggests a darker perspective.

Regular readers here know what I try to do. Hopefully, I’ve provided something of value to you. I think its unique and something that no other source provides.

If so, I am now asking that you give back a little to help me over a rough spot. Given the traffic at this site, a small contribution from just 25% of readers could provide funding to support my efforts.

So, readers have three choices at this point: 1) hit the delete button now; 2) go directly to my fundraising site and make a contribution; or 3) read on and decide how to proceed.

My current situation reminds me of a crushing scene from the 1978 movie “Deer Hunter” – a film I both love and hate for reasons too complex to discuss here – between Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro where Streep’s character says (watch the whole scene):

Did you ever think life would turn out like this?

And, as he pulls off in his old Cadillac, De Niro tersely responds:

No

Well neither did I.

That’s about where I’m at right now.

I never  thought that at 58 years old, I’d be broke and on the verge of homelessness.

I never thought –  in what should be the height of my professional career –  that after an Ivy League graduate school education, followed by a 13 year career in State government and 17 years in the non-profit sector as an environmental advocate, that I’d be unemployed – perhaps unemployable – and facing foreclosure and homelessness.

Guess you could say that I’m at my George Bailey moment.

This is the precarious position of many men of my age, skill set, and ideological disposition. The news calls it long term unemployment.

I call it expendable.

After being a whistleblower and working for PEER for a decade and mashing everyone’s toes, there’s not exactly a huge demand for my professional services – in the private or public sectors.

Whether I’m a victim of the modern age, whether I’m just a total failure as a human being and professional, or whether this is an opportunity to experience what Allan Watts called “the wisdom of insecurity” – remains to be seen.

So, that’s all a round about way to begin a very awkward and humiliating form of internet begging.

For many years, I’ve kept this website free of advertising and fund raising.

Since 2005, in my capacity as NJ PEER Director and blogger here, I’ve focused on the work and freely gave my time and expertise to numerous citizen groups – never asking for or expecting anything in return.

But now I am desperate. Here’s whats going on.

PEER is in financial crisis and they laid me off back in October 2014. I was unknowingly reclassified as an independent contractor and was denied unemployment benefits, a decision I am currently appealing.

I’m flat out broke, have not paid the mortgage, and am facing foreclosure.

Those that are be interested in financially supporting my work can make a contribution at this fundraising site.

I would love to be financially secure enough to write what I’d like to, whatever the consequences,  as I have done on this blog.

But that kind of truth telling gets many people pissed off.

As my friend Scott Olson recently tweeted, speaking truth to power is not free.

I formed the NJ Chapter of PEER in 2005. Since then, I’ve tried to support citizens across the state in their efforts to promote public health and protection of the environment.

I think I’ve provided information and analysis that has assisted grass roots activists and the professionals in well funded environmental groups.

I wish I could say that those NJ groups and the NJ based environmental grant making foundations supported my work.

But, over time, that support has withered from little to none – all while totally ineffective groups and campaigns have been well funded.

So, if you appreciate a different point of view that tries to support arguments with facts and distributes relevant information widely, then share the love – make a contribution.

If I can make this work, I’ll expand the Wolfenotes efforts and do this full time, providing more information and reporting on more issues.

Sorry to have to humiliate myself and grovel like this. Believe me, I do this as a last resort.

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DEP Budget Hearing – Martin Bobs & Weaves; No Blows Landed By Dems

April 16th, 2015 No comments

Senator Barnes Blasts Commissioner Martin on Exxon Settlement

Martin Refuses to Answer Exxon Questions or Provide Details on NRD Program

Budget Restores Damaging Deep Cuts Created By Open Space Ballot Question

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin testifies to Senate Budget Committee - (Asst. Commissioner for Financial Mgmt on left) (4/16/15)

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin testifies to Senate Budget Committee – Adrian Kreke (ph?) Chief Financial Officer (on left) Can someone please tell Martin not to use the water bottles? (4/16/15)

[Update below]

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin presented Governor Christie’s proposed FY’16 DEP budget today to the Senate Budget Committee.

Before we discuss what went down, for those interested, here are the key documents:

Here are the key issues that were discussed today – I’ll be very brief because I’ve written about most of this stuff and folks that want a blow by blow they can listen to the tape (link above). Disappointed that very little press in attendance – only one!

  • Restoring Cuts Due to Open Space Ballot

For those who are either in denial about the chaos created by the Keep It Green (KIG) Open Space Ballot Question or legitimately still seem to not understand the dual problem effecting the DEP budget and the Open Space fund allocation, you no longer need to take my word for it, Commissioner Martin highlighted the problem at the outset of his testimony:

DEP FY'16

Get that? Is it sufficiently clear? If not, let me repeat:

… because the shift in CBT allocation as authorized by the voters, the Administration had to move money around to avoid damaging cuts to several environmental programs.

Martin’s oral testimony was even more stark, which I present in some detail:

Mr. Chairman, I want to address the challenges faced by DEP following the passage of the Constitutional amendment last year, which changed the dedication of the Corporate Business Tax (CBT) revenues.

As you know, the amendment shifted the allocation of a dedicated 4% CBT funding within the environmental categories.

It took money away from such vital programs as the publicly funded hazards waste site cleanups and from water resource management, shifting those funds to acquisition and stewardship of open space, farmland and historic preservation.

.. we do not want to lose money in these programs of water and publicly funded cleanups.

To prevent that from happening, the administration structured this budget proposal within the parameters of that [CBT] amendment. …

We accomplish this by using CBT funds designated for stewardship to fund the operation and management of our parks and wildlife management areas, as well as providing much needed resources for capital investments.

I believe that this is both fiscally responsible and consistent with  the language of the [CBT] amendment.

I’ve been saying this for many months, but if the Christie DEP – who seeks to downsize DEP – is complaining of “damaging cuts to environmental programs”, you can be damn sure those cuts are real.

Amazingly –  for those that still may not understand this – those “damaging cuts to environmental programs” – were caused by conservation and environmental groups, who never told the voters about any of that in their $1 million propaganda campaign in support of the open space ballot amendment.

Equally important is the fact that because DEP had to restore those cuts, that’s why there is significantly less money available for open space, historic preservation, and farmland preservation programs.

That is another fact and major strategic mistake that the KIG coalition refuses to own up to and take responsibility for. The public still knows very little about this and the press continues to fail to report it.

  • Climate Change Denial

Senator Greenstein chastised Martin for abolishing the DEP Office of Climate Change, abandoning work by prior Administrations on climate emission mitigation planning and adaptation, and noted that NJ was the only state on the Atlantic coast that does not have a Climate Adaptation Plan. She asked Martin point blank: what is the State doing to address sea level rise and climate change?

Martin immediately angrily shot back, in a totally inappropriate manner, attacking the questioner:

Well, can I guess who the question came from?

Yeah Bob, I’ve been writing about that for years now. So has the NJ and national press corps. It is a fact, dude.

But that did not stop Martin from spinning a response, that bordered on incoherent babble:

There is no Office closed around climate change, or whatever. We still have our Office of Sustainable Resources within DEP – part of that continues to look at and monitor everything from carbon emissions and everything that’s around that, so, we continue to do those activities.

Not really. The rest of his response was lame.

  • EXXON NRD Settlement
Senator Barnes blasts martin

Senator Barnes blasts Martin

Chairman Sarlo gently questioned Martin’s comparison of Exxon to other NRD cases and his claim that Exxon was the largest NRD settlement ever. He asked about why all the gas stations were included. And opposed diversion of the Passaic settlement.

Senator Barnes was much more aggressive and focused in his questioning and he absolutely blasted Martin (see Politicker NJ story: Barnes blisters Martin on Senate Budget Committee

Barnes gets an A for effort, but he really didn’t land a good punch on the merits.

Senator Greenstein noted the difference between restoration and remediation and pressed Martin about the work that will not get done because of receiving just $225 million of $8.9 billion in NR damage. She questioned Martin’s inclusion of the 860 gas stations.

Martin gets an F – he was highly evasive and got testy.

Martin used the excuse of pending litigation to avoid answering questions – that is pure bullshit, because he and the Attorney General issued a press release praising the deal and, as Senator Barnes noted, the Settlement is now open for public comment.

  • Regulatory Relief – 200 Cases Settled by DEP Office of Dispute Resolution
Senator Oroho (R-ALEC)

Senator Oroho (R-ALEC)

Senator Oroho (R-ALEC) asked Martin the typical red meat regulatory question.

Martin gave the administration’s stock spin on bureaucratic streamlining and cutting “job killing red tape” (Martin was able to steer clear of these slogans that have been used to support his policies).

But he did note something new of significance: Martin said 200 cases had been settled by his Alternate Dispute Resolution program.  That Office cuts deals on disputes involving DEP permit conditions and enforcement actions.

It is a back door for polluters to negotiate behind closed doors and cut sweetheart deals with DEP political appointees that they can’t get with DEP regulators and professionals.

We previously tried to find out what was going on in that Office, but DEP denied out OPRA request, see: DEP Dispute Resolution – Deals Done in the Dark

Perhaps an intrepid reporter might want to file and OPRA and see what those 200 deals look like – we’re sure there’s not another Exxon.

  • Van Drew Promotes Pinelands Pipeline & South Jersey Economic Development

Senator Greenstein asked Martin about his views on the Pinelands pipeline by South Jersey Gas.

Martin replied that he supported the pipeline and that he submitted a DEP letter in support of the pipeline.

I didn’t know this and find it very inappropriate for an Agency head to be lobbying on behalf of a regulated entity’s project before another regulatory agency.

Martin’s view is that the pipeline would be good for the environment – i.e. that the route was along existing ROW, only a handful of trees would be taken, re-powering BL England would provide air quality improvements, and there is a need for new energy source in South Jersey.  He sounded like the lobbyists for SJG!

He then supported fracking too.

Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May)

Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May)

Later, Senator Van Drew was smoking the crack pipe. He was pushing the SJG Pinelands pipeline, defending the Millville Durand tract deal, and supported all sorts of south jersey development and fisheries concerns. To his credit, he did seek more DEP resources and help on Delaware Bay.

DEP Commissioner Martin was very friendly in response. Martin knew more details about fishing pots and reefs than the Exxon deal.

  • Liberty State Park

 

Senator Cunningham

Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson)

Senator Cunningham presssed Martin on DEP’s Liberty State Park plans, and specifically asked when DEP would release the $120,000 consultant’s Report on privatization and commercialization of the park.

Martin refused to make a commitment about when he would release the Report, defended the Governor’s “Sustainable Parks Strategy”, and downplayed privatization concerns.

But Cunningham made it very clear that this was an important issue for her and her constituents.

  • Millville – Durand Tract

Senator Barnes asked a good question from Emile DeVito of NJCF about the Millville Durand tract Green Acres deal.

For details on that, see: Christie DEP Blasted For Open Space Land Diversion “Perversion”

Martin was unfamiliar with it and spoke in broad strokes about a “deal”.

Senator Van Drew jumped in to defend the deal and promote economic development.

Conclusion

Other than a few sparks from Senators Barnes and Greenstein, the hearing was just a song and dance, with little likely to come from it.

I got no sense that the Democrats would fight for any of the policy or budgetary issues they tepidly raised.

Other than Barnes, there was no umbrage taken by Martin’s multiple manipulations and spin – and very few followup questions to challenge him.

The OLS analysis and questions to DEP were not focused on the policy or performance of the DEP, so legislators were poorly prepared.

Environmentalists were present, but appeared to have little influence on the Democrats (other than Greenstein) and the Republicans were just AWOL (with the exception of Bucco, who jumped in to defend Martin on Exxon).

There was only one state press corps present, Phil Gregory, so I guess the DEP is just not on the political or policy radar of NJ media.

Sad.

(and it appears that KIG has had a bad influence on Barnes and Greenstein, in particular regarding the definition of “stewardship” and denial about the DEP program cuts caused by the ballot question).

[PS – a legislative insider told me this:

When Phil Gregory is the only press guy here, you know that you’re fucked ]

[Update: 4/17/15 –  NJ Spotlight drank the KIG Kool-aid. Or is it the Foundation grant money?

Spotlight used the DEP Senate budget hearing – where at least a dozen controversial and newsworthy issues were discussed – to write about just one issue: open space (read the story here).

They spun that issue as a “diversion” of open space funds, and framed the story exclusively from the perspective of the Keep It Green Coalition, providing no conflicting facts about how the open space ballot diverted existing CBT revenues for core DEP programs: State Parks; water resources; and toxic site cleanup.

Here is Scott Olson’s comment on the Spotlight story, which says it better than I have:

Tom Gilbert’s statement “If the will is there, they could find it in another way’’ is completely disingenuous. The same could have been said about the open space funding…if there was a will, there was a way it could (and SHOULD) have been done without screwing over State Parks funding, historic preservation funding, or the numerous DEP clean water & public health programs that were robbed by a million-dollar disinformation campaign waged by ‘Keep It Green’ on the November ballot question. Well meaning people who are now finding out that when they voted ‘Yes’ on Open Space, they also voted to defund these programs are now enraged – while Gilbert and his merry band of thieve continue their attempts to raid the fund for ‘stewardship’ dollars for their own elitist organizations. Shame on them.

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Tax Day Note: Longstanding Efforts To Squelch The Commoners

April 15th, 2015 No comments

From The Magna Carta to Occupy Wall Street, Power Crushes Democracy

paine13

Today is Tax Day.

Just as I was having my coffee this morning to stimulate the juices for filing my taxes on time, I was thinking about a topic to write about, perhaps a variant of my prior “Tax Day Essay: On Civil Disobedience” or the themes outlined in “Taming Democracy”  – these are the kind of notes I like to post on big days.

Then along came today’s NJ Spotlight Daily Number to prompt a topic.

Spotlight’s Daily Number summarizes findings of a Stockton University report that polls show an abysmal lack of knowledge of the US Constitution and the Supreme Court. This one in particular caught my eye:

10 percent of adults could not name any of the rights of the first Amendment (speech, religion, assembly, and press).

Say what? No mention of the right to petition government for redress of grievances? (something I’ve done many times over many years!)

Shockingly, in a story complaining about the lack of knowledge of the US Constitution, the Spotlight story – and the Stockton University Report it was based on – left out a big piece of the First Amendment: the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances”.

But then I realized that I was shallow on knowledge of the history of that Right, so I did a quick Google to get a thumbnail  glimpse of the history and came across this gem, much of which I was not aware:

“The right of petition recognized by the First Amendment first came into prominence in the early 1830’s, when petitions against slavery in the District of Columbia began flowing into Congress in a constantly increasing stream, which reached its climax in the winter of 1835. Finally on January 28, 1840, the House adopted as a standing rule: “That no petition, memorial, resolution, or other paper praying the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, or any State or Territories of the United States in which it now exists, shall be received by this House, or entertained in any way whatever.” Because of efforts of John Quincy Adams, this rule was repealed five years later.213  For many years now the rules of the House of Representatives have provided that members having petitions to present may deliver them to the Clerk and the petitions, except such as in the judgment of the Speaker are of an obscene or insulting character, shall be entered on the Journal and the Clerk shall furnish a transcript of such record to the official reporters of debates for publication in the Record.214 Even so, petitions for the repeal of the espionage and sedition laws and against military measures for recruiting resulted, in World War I, in imprisonment.215 Processions for the presentation of petitions in the United States have not been particularly successful. In 1894 General Coxey of Ohio organized armies of unemployed to march on Washington and present petitions, only to see their leaders arrested for unlawfully walking on the grass of the Capitol. The march of the veterans on Washington in 1932 demanding bonus legislation was defended as an exercise of the right of petition. The Administration, however, regarded it as a threat against the Constitution and called out the army to expel the bonus marchers and burn their camps. Marches and encampments have become more common since, but the results have been mixed.

The powers that be have long sought to stifle the organizing and squelch the voices of the commoners and tame democracy.

The dissenters and commoners have struggled to resist. As this recent US Supreme Court case demonstrates, these are not stale historical matters, but lively raging current debates (see this for the Court’s decision which just so happens to deal with a public employee’s rights with respect to government’s retaliation for exercising those rights, something we have direct first hand experience with!)

So read the history here - it’s a far better investment of time than doing your taxes!

Then organize and petition your government!

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An Open Letter to the NJ Legal Community

April 14th, 2015 1 comment

People Are Harmed By Government’s Failure to Hold Powerful Corporations Accountable

Dear NJ Lawyers:

The Bergen Record reported today about a man who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident and won a $2.5 million lawsuit because the State Department of Transportation knew about the unsafe conditions for years and failed to act or warn the public about the problems, see:

Route 23 long known as a dangerous road

Smetana’s lawsuit proved what people in northern Passaic and Bergen counties have guessed for years: The northbound section of Route 23 in West Milford is dangerous. The S-curves there, just under two miles long, were the site of 470 accidents between 2004 and 2014, according to the West Milford police.

What’s more, internal documents and emails uncovered by Smetana’s lawsuit show that transportation department officials knew about the danger since at least 2001, but did nothing to address it until after his accident. Since then, the agency has installed dozens of signs warning motorists to slow down through the curves. …

In depositions and internal documents, DOT officials including William Day, who in 2011 was acting manager of the DOT’s Bureau of Safety Programs, and Frank Basek, a maintenance crew supervisor, said they knew about dangerous conditions along the road. The department did little to fix those conditions due to its limited budget, Day said. …

The improvements did not change the fact that officials appeared to have known about Route 23’s problems years before Smetana’s accident, but did little to address them, court records show. Smetana sued on those grounds, and won.

“When hundreds and hundreds of people are getting hurt and they don’t fix it for years, it’s outrageous,” said Jack Hoyt, the attorney in Morristown who represented Smetana.

Yes, that certainly is outrageous and I am pleased that Mr. Smetana was compensated for some of the harm he suffered as a result of government’s failure to act or warn the public about known risks that were causing accidents for many years.

But Mr. Smetana’s case is hardly unique.

There are similar conditions and far worse risks present in hundreds of communities across New Jersey, where scientists and EPA/DEP regulators are aware of known risks and injuries due to the presence of toxic chemicals.

And the more troubling failures are when government failures involve the regulation of private corporations, as opposed to the far simpler case where government owns and is responsible for transportation infrastructure.

One case in particular is Pompton Lakes, where residents of approximately 450 homes have been poisoned by chemicals seeping into their basements and homes from the Dupont site.

See this timeline prepared by NJ DEP regarding who knew what and when they knew it.

The timeline was obtained by Edison Wetlands Association staff during a file review at DEP under OPRA.

I am baffled by the fact that there are no lawsuits for that assault and government’s failure to warn the residents of those homes for many years, just like the NJ DoT failed to act.

There also is potential fraud and deception involved, see: F is for Fraud

Here is an LTE to the Record that makes the point which I post here in the event that Record editors do not publish it:

Dear Editor:

Reporter Chris Maag did a fine job on your Rt. 23 story – an excellent example of real journalism

One thing I was struck by was the fact that government (DoT) knew about the problem and failed to act or warn the public about it.

Your reporters might want to talk to residents of Pompton Lakes, who are outraged by the fact that US EPA and NJ DEP knew, since 2001, of “vapor intrusion” toxic pollution migrating into their basements and not only failed to warn them about it, but actively worked with Dupont to keep the problem below the public’s radar. I have an EPA email that reveals that.

It gets worse: the residents only found out about the vapor intrusion risks AFTER they signed a settlement agreement with Dupont that surrendered their legal rights to sue Dupont.

A few months after the ink was dry on that settlement agreement, Dupont, EPA and DEP disclosed the existence of the vapor intrusion problems to residents – about 450 homes are impacted.

I guess it’s a lot easier to see the harm from an amputated leg than to observe the various cancers and other illnesses the people of Pompton Lakes have suffered due to their exposure to cancer causing chemicals seeping into their homes for decades from the Dupont site.

Where is the justice in that? Where is the lawsuit? Where is the investigative journalism?

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CRUCIFYING SOCIETY, AND NATURE, ON A 19TH CENTURY CROSS OF MARKET AUSTERITY

April 13th, 2015 No comments

The Right Is Trying To Build A Bridge To The 19th Century

Today, we go with a guest post from good friend, citizen, and superb writer, conservationist, and historian, Bill Neil. Bill frequently writes on issues in political economy and intellectual history, an entire field of thought that is virtually ignored by our media, political debates, and anemic civic institutions.

For those that don’t know Bill, he was once director of Conservation at NJ Audubon – before Audubon went corporate and entrepreneurial –  when they had a leading voice in the land use and conservation debate. Bill is now retired and lives in Frostburg Maryland (contact info provided upon request).

Feel free to skip this intro and scroll down to read bill’s piece. But if you’re interested, Bill’s old “Green Gram” columns are still on line at the Audubon site – but here’s a taste of Bill’s work: an assessment of a 2001 controversial hearing on Liberty State Park – 15 years later, things actually seem to have gotten worse (an all to frequent story of effective grass roots activism that is either ignored, co-opted, or betrayed by the Foundation funded State groups – emphasis mine):

The Future of Liberty State Park’s Interior

An estimated 600 or more citizens turned out on Saturday, January 27, 2001 for a NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) hearing on the future of the interior of Liberty State Park, held at the theatre of the Liberty Science Center. NJAS staff, board and members were among the hundreds in attendance. The hearing was triggered by a NJDEP committee process (over NJAS protests) which allowed a commercial waterpark option back out on a policy table we thought had been already cleared and restricted to a quiet recreational and environmentally secure green park. Prominent among the early promoters of the commercial waterpark proposal were Jersey City Mayor and gubernatorial hopeful Bret Schundler and Liberty State Park Development Corporation head Peter Ylvisaker. Mayor Schundler, who seems to have badly misread the mood of his hometown base, conceded his proposal’s defeat well before the public hearing – but had to endure hearty booing from the ever vocal Jersey City residents, residents who have become very protective of the great potential of their beloved Liberty State Park. We would say that opponents of the waterpark outnumbered supporters by about 3-1. Some of the loudest cheers were reserved for calls for the abolition of the Development Corporation. NJAS was particularly moved by the standing ovation given to Sam Pesin, President of Friends of Liberty State Park, who delivered the speech of his life to defend the “free and green” park – a park whose genesis lay in the vision of Sam’s father, Morris Pesin. [...]

We only wish that the state-wide environmental community could come together to fight for a State Plan with teeth with just a quarter of the spirit, energy and vision that the Jersey City folks have displayed time and time again in defense of their urban oasis. In a political world where environmentalists seem to have been outflanked by big money and the subtle straight-jackets of non-profit politics, and are taken for granted and easily managed by both major parties, it’s nice for once to see the power of direct, outspoken democracy deliver a message: face-to-face, on stage, prime time. When we dare again to dream of an truly environmentally invigorated citizenry, and fully democratic institutions, we will have in mind the two animated, out-spoken public hearings in Jersey City that have helped saved this wonderful park from a commercial golf and water park.

So, with that overly long introduction, here is Bill’s piece – he was responding to this Letter attacking the concept of social justice and government’s role in promoting it, see: Government’s role is to serve, not to create chaos

Dear Editors of the Cumberland Times-News:

Jim Hinebaugh’s Letter to the Editor of April 7 ought to worry every high school and college history teacher in our region, and every citizen as well. It sets out a vast, distorted and simplistic equation that government today is bad, undermining the individual’s “moral compass,” and, by its pursuit of “distributive or social justice,” creating instead general moral and social chaos. Filling in the rest of the equation, it vastly idealizes the 19th century’s small government and entirely virtuous private sector. Given this allegedly “moral” equation, it must therefore demonize the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the 1960’s War on Poverty.

I write as a green New Deal social democrat, and my first response is to ask, “whose government is this?” that Mr.Hinebaugh hates so much, because I am as unwelcome in today’s Democratic Party as I am in the party of the Republican Right and Libertarians. I’ve been no fan of former Governor O’Malley (or of Bill Clinton) who gave the green light to fracking, which can’t be made safe by even the toughest of regulations. He also thinks families can survive at Maryland prices on $10.10 per hour. Both parties are floated by the secular “Great Flood” of corporate money, and they listen to Wall Street’s and Silicon Valley’s fables more than to the vastly diminished voices of labor and the middle class. For the bottom 60% of us, there is no economic ark in sight.

Which 19th century is Mr. Hinebaugh referring to, the Antebellum society of Lincoln’s boyhood, where 80% of the citizens were farmers, the rest small business owners or craftsmen – or the vast industrial and financial trusts of Mark Twain’s Gilded Age, the late 19th century, when government of, by and for “the people,” and presumably the “public interest,” turned into government of, by and for the predatory capitalism that literally bought governments from Charleston to Harrisburg to Washington, DC. By 1896, Lincoln’s virtuous small producers were not so happy with the exercise of the property rights of the railroads and banks, or the golden monetary system. It led William Jennings Bryan to demand that these powers not “crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Today the average citizen, in Annapolis and Athens, is again being crucified upon the cross of fiscal Austerity preached by the banks and practiced in every state capital – the true secular religion of Gov. Larry Hogan as well as Ronald Reagan.

Perhaps, Mr. Hinebaugh, we should all take pride in our international banks and corporations having raised up millions of Chinese peasants out of poverty while sinking our own “rustbelt.” That’s the polite cover story of both parties to the reality: that they wanted to chase the mystical “China Market,” like the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, to clamp American labor into the chains of wage penury and vast credit card debt. What a virtuous crew! But they had noble ancestors, didn’t they, in that glorious late 19th century?

We all must ask where your “demon” big government came from, what caused it to rise from its weaker role in the 19 century, a role which still saw the need for large public works to get those small producers’ products to the ever expanding markets, via canals and “national highways,” like Route 40 in the heart of our area? Could a larger role for government have possibly been generated by the failures and power abuses of the private sector economy, the one that produced the Panics of 1819, 1825, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1884, 1893 and 1907, the last resulting, at banker urging, in the creation of the Federal Reserve?

These panics did not stand alone: they were accompanied by years of recession and even depression, and the hard times that followed the one in 1873 led to the great railroad strikes and violence of 1877, after wages were repeatedly cut, yet dividends raised, on the B&O Railroad, our region’s very own, no less.  The strike went national and viral, and blood was shed in Martinsburg, WVA, Baltimore, MD and Pittsburgh, PA and great turmoil erupted in Cumberland, MD as well.  And relevant to the question of private property and “whose government is it?” the Governor of Maryland in 1877, a famous Carroll family member, John Carroll, was intimately connected to the railroad, committing his own money as well as the public’s to build it. “Ditto” for the City of Baltimore, although I’ve never heard that from “Rush.” No surprise then, when Carroll called Maryland state troops out to defend the “railroad’s” property.

Only the government is sowing moral chaos? The world of MAD Men, of private corporate advertising doesn’t, and doesn’t track us down now through every alleyway of life, from cradle to grave, a private sector version of 1984, worthy of the old Kremlin itself? And when we walk through the doors of our virtuous private sector employers, we can kiss any notion of our Bill of Rights goodbye, just as the coal miners had to in that wonderful 19th century of yours.

What do you suppose President Woodrow Wilson meant when he said in a speech in the 1912 campaign, that “‘the truth is, we are all caught in a great economic system which is heartless’”? He went on to write that small entrepreneurs would come to him and tell him privately about the aggressive, predatory tactics the robber barons would use to drive them out of business. Wilson said he couldn’t publicly broach the methods, good defender of capitalism that he was, but he didn’t like what he heard. And no one has ever said Wilson wasn’t a grand “moralist.”

And what do you think the great conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter meant by his term the “creative destruction” of capitalism? He at least knew that private economic power could turn existing moral and social fabrics inside out, create great turmoil, leave whole industries, regions, depressed even as others sometimes boomed.

Karl Polanyi, the other great economist from 1944, wrote The Great Transformation about the rise of industrialism and the character of the 19th century, and then its collapse in the 1930’s. He saw the growth of government as the direct response to the fact that no one, businesses or average citizens, or even nature itself, could survive the workings of the “pure” free market system as presented in the 1830’s and 1840’s in England, birthplace of classical economics, and its demands of “hands off sacred private property, no interventions.”

Finally, Jim, you paint an entirely benign picture of the workings of private property, as if giant economic powers have not grown out of its premises, and dumped their industrial and chemical wastes into the citizen’s commons of the air, the water and into the very food we eat, as well as trying to, under their religiously repeated, ritual calls for deregulation, to make the public pay for the cleanup, if we get any at all. “Deregulate, will you, even as we ‘consolidate.’”

So where do you want to take us back to Jim? I think Polanyi has a great description of where you want to go, that idealized 19thcentury world, on the very opening page of his book:

“Our thesis is that the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness. Inevitably, society took measures to protect itself but whatever measures it took impaired the self-regulation of the market, disorganized industrial life and thus endangered society in yet another way. It was this dilemma which forced the development of the market system into a definite groove and finally disrupted the social organization based upon it.”

Under the sway of conservative economic and environmental theology, we’re well on our way again to the catastrophes foreseen by Polanyi in those first two sentences, written well before there was an organized “environmentalism.” Thus it was an early introduction by him to our day’s Austerity, Global Warming and Fracking. He liked the New Deal, the one that the Right and corporate Democrats have buried and distorted. You too.   I left in Polanyi’s concluding sentences above to show that he knew that government interventions were not all good, that they could be problematic in a complex world: an honorable concession to a fair historical summary. He reminds us to always ask: “whose government is it?”

Maybe I “Better call Saul” for help.

Sincerely,

Bill Neil, Frostburg Maryland

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