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“WolfeNotes” blog launched – We aim to hold corporate polluters and government accountable

August 31st, 2009 1 comment

Below is the post that got my blog banned by the Star Ledger on June 10, 2009.

So I thought it would be a good first post to use to launch my new blog, “WolfeNotes.com” .

That banned post illustrates the reasons that I blog and some of what I hope to accomplish. I try to combine serious ideas, visual images, and analysis to call out the bullshit I see in government, politics, and media every day.

I will focus primarily on environmental issues, not only because I love the natural world, but because the same forces that are destroying the environment also are responsible for our current accelerating economic and political collapse.

Hopefully, I will remain too controversial for the Star Ledger. And perhaps someday we all will recall that I.F. Stone famously said, all governments lie. Yet our media institutions have lost touch with that fundamental truth and not only fail to hold government accountable, but often accept government spin at face value, which then becomes the dominant narrative (conventional wisdom, or propaganda) .

But, lets not blame government per se. Scratch the surface of almost any government lie and you find a cover for corporate power and economic interests.

As political scientist Sheldon Wolin wrote in “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” (excellent review here), our democratic institutions have been hijacked by corporate interests and our Republic transformed to a global empire.

And there is little indication that the Obama “change”  is anything more than rhetoric.

According to an interview with Wolin in Chris Hedges’s new book “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (Hedges interview here):

The basic systems are going to stay in place; they are too powerful to be challenged.” Wolin to me when I asked him about the Obama administration. “This is shown by the financial bailout. It does not bother with the structure at all. I don’t think Obama can take on the kid of military establishment we have developed. This is not to say that I do not admire him. …I think he is well meaning, but he inherits a system of constraints that make it very difficult to take on these major power configurations. I do not think he has the appetite for it in any ideological sense. The corporate structure is not going to be challenged. There has not been a word from him that would suggest an attempt to rethink the American imperium.”

So, this is the frame of reference I will try to apply to the more circumscribed world of NJ environmental issues and politics.

Let me know what you think – one of my aims is to spur dialogue.

Thrifty Individual Reducing Carbon FootPrint

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946
http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

Vacationing close to home – camping in public parks

(warning – graphic images on the flip)

Read more…

Camden Residents Left in the Dust

July 21st, 2009 No comments

Camden is NJ's poorest and most segregated city - ground zero for environmental injustice

Camden is NJ's poorest and most segregated city - ground zero for environmental injustice

 

NEW JERSEY ALTERS HEALTH STUDY UNDER INDUSTRY PRESSURE -  Industry Allowed Private Meetings to Lobby for Changes in Camden Study

Washington, DC – Facing a lawsuit, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has released documents outlining how an air polution study of Camden neighborhoods was re-written to allay industry objections. The released e-mails depict a clubby, closed door climate in which the state regulators seek to assuage industry concerns even while keeping the affected community in the dark, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

At issue is an October 6, 2008 study by DEP scientists in partnership with the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey entitled “Final Report: Contribution of Particle Emissions from a Cement Facility to Outdoor Dust in Surrounding Community”. It assesses how much dust is blowing from piles of granulated blast furnace slag at the St. Lawrence Cement Facility onto adjacent Camden neighborhoods. The report concluded that:

  • There was a significant impact on nearby homes: “The estimated contributions of cement dust to outdoor dust measured by deposition dust samplers ranged from 4.9% to 18.2% … and 5.6 to 21.8%”; and
  • Simple controls are available: “A cover over the piles would be a reasonable and well tested way to control these fugitive emissions.

After this final report was posted on the DEP website, industry consultants sent objections to Nancy Wittenberg, DEP Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Regulation and a former lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association. DEP removed the “final report” from its website and Wittenberg set up a closed-door June 2, 2009 meeting with industry consultants to review their concerns.

In response to an Open Public Records Act request filed by former DEP employee Bill Wolfe for the final report and agency communications with industry, the agency initially claimed that no documents could be released because they were “deliberative” in nature and covered by “attorney-client privilege”. After PEER informed DEP that it was preparing to file suit challenging the basis for non-disclosure as bogus, on July 17, 2009 DEP released the requested material “except for the revised study which is slated for publication later this week, according to an agency official.

“In New Jersey, even science is negotiable,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who helped prepare the lawsuit. “Notably left out of the loop are the people in Camden who have to breathe this stuff daily and get no say as to whether a tarp over the slag heaps would be a commonsense step.”

This also appears to be yet another recent instance where state political appointees inappropriately screen scientific work. In fact this June, DEP formalized its political review process for all technical reports.

“DEP has become a serial offender against government transparency and scientific integrity,” added Wolfe. “This is only one sample of DEP cooking the books and then violating OPRA to cover the smell.”

###

Read the withdrawn Camden dust study “final report”

Look at the e-mail exchanges between DEP officials and industry

View the court-house steps OPRA reversal by DEP

See the industry comments on the dust study

Examine how DEP political appointees vet scientific and technical reports

Art and Freedom

September 12th, 2008 1 comment

“He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”
Ben Franklin http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin
As a poet, I would have to say that 9/11 changed the language itself … 9/11 is a big abstraction. … In the name of 9/11 and in the name of the war on terror, phrases like “weapons of mass destruction” and “enhanced interrogation” have entered our political vocabulary. These phrases, for me, divorce language from meaning, and thus divorce action from consequence. If you’re engaged in enhanced interrogation you’re not engaged in torture, and thus, we in society come to embrace torture in the name of security. I think we have to do whatever we can to combat this tendency in the language. The fact is that this language is used to foster a culture of fear so that in turn people will act against their own interests. And that’s why we’re now embroiled in two wars
Martin Espada. Poet and Professor, University of Massachusetts
PBS Newhour – 9/11/08 MP3 http://www-tc.pbs.org/newshour/rss/media/2008/09/11/20080911_sevenyears28.mp3
Espada’s website:http://www.martinespada.net/
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”
George Orwell – “Politics and the English Language” 1946
http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm
On the shoulders of these giants, I share my pedestrian experience.
Yesterday, I went to US District Court in Newark to listen to oral argument in a case filed by Edison Wetlands Association seeking to force a toxic polluter to stop discharging toxic chemicals to the Raritan River. A long and disgraceful story.
But, as I approached the Federal Square complex, a beautiful piece of sculpture caught my eye. Of course – since a core part of my mission is amateur photojournalism – I moved to take a picture.

In response, US Federal marshall Gerald Mauriello aggressively swooped in, sternly advised that I was on “federal property”, and “taking pictures of federal buildings is prohibited”. He demanded personal identification. I asked on what legal basis he did so, under the impression that we have both Constitutional and inalienable rights, and there is no US citizen identification card (at least not yet).
To which he angrily replied: “Don’t you know what f-cking day it is!”

US Marshall Mauriello rushes to avert terrorism because – as the Leader and Decider has repeated – the terrorists hate our freedom.

Feel safer now?

Thomas Paine – patriot and truth teller
“Don’t tread on Me”

Hey Mr. US Marshall Mauriello – is it now illegal to photo these federal buildings? Just askin’.

US Supreme Court – note the couple kneeling in prayer on the steps

Obama -good image – positive frame

July 14th, 2008 26 comments

I just read an important article about a disturbing pattern of how right wing conservatives use visual and verbal “frames” to manipulate media and politics. In this case, Obama is the target of the latest racist swiftboat operation.

Because I have posted images and criticism of Obama here that could be manipulated or misinterpreted as discussed in this article, I’d like to distinguish my work from the racist attack that is now underway.

See below – The images I’ve posted (under the headline”Obama Rocks Harrisburg“) are dignified positive frames of the Obama Harrisburg Pa. primary rally. They show Obama against a backdrop of the Capitol building (symbolic power); an enthusiastic audience; and inspirational supporters and speakers (black and white folks).

The criticism I’ve offered is principled – regarding the AIPAC speech, Iran, and the disappointing position to support the FISA “compromise”. But the headlines I have used (“caving”) could be distorted and do (unintentionally) reinforce a bad frame.

I strongly urge folks to read this article.

The Bad Frame: Why Are the New Yorker, Salon and Other Liberal Media Doing the Right’s Dirty Work?

This week’s New Yorker cover image of the Obamas is shocking in the racism and gross stereotyping that is built into its supposed satire.
http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/91355/?page=entire&ses=57a3bafcab043fa51b657c026fe992b7

Polluted land and urban schools – A photo essay

June 22nd, 2008 No comments

This news article powerfully tells the story -
New Jersey Program Bought Polluted Lands for Low-income Schools
by Megan Tady
In what critics consider one of the more blatant examples of environmental racism, a fund supposedly intended to give a leg up to impoverished pupils of color was used to put them at risk while favoring private developers. http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/3800
But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are photos of controversial school sites across NJ where toxic contamination forced community outrage. This photo sketch is just the tip of the iceberg – hundreds of schools and day care centers are involved. Sites are listed in the following order, with a brief narrative caption: 1) Trenton; 2) Neptune, 3) Camden, 4) Garfield, 5) Paramus, 6) Passaic City school; 7) Passaic City day care, 8) Clifton and 9) Gloucester City

Trenton Martin Luther King Jr. school site – toxic soil was imported and used as “clean fill” sparking community outrage that forced demolition of the partially built school at a $27 million loss
Neptune – growth of toxic mold due to shoddy construction and mismanagement forced partial demolition and reconstruction at a loss of millions of dollars
Camden Early Childhood Development Center – being built on old landfill.
Garfield – Middle school was built on toxic industrial site. Cleanup of toxic vapors in soil and groundwater was ongoing when school opened – parents were notified just weeks before school started.
Garfield – early child center is co-located on contaminated former industrial site.
Paramus Middle School – school officials failed to notify parents about a small pile of pesticide contaminated soils. Outraged parents convinced the Mayor to order the school closed and the Superintendent was fired.
Passaic City school sits directly adjacent to toxic old industrial site – DEP and City officials have dragged their feet for years on cleanup.
Passaic City day care center located next to contaminated site. The School Construction Corporation demolished the hospital previously located at the site but have yet to build the school due to contamination discovered after demolition started.
Passaic City day care – trailers and play ground exposed directly to site.
Clifton – proposed new High SChool proposed to be located in covnerted industrial building. Soil and groundwater are contaminated. Polluting industries are located on three sides of building in an industrial zone.
Clifton HS site
Clifton HS site
Gloucester City – middle school to be built on Superfund site. Millions waste on cleanup and relocation of residents
Gloucester City – Polluting industry located directly across street from proposed school on Superfund site.
Gloucester City – school located in an industrial zone on a Superfund site