Hot Off The Press!!

Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories
by Julian Weldon Martin

Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories by Julian Weldon Martin

“Imagonna” takes readers to Africa with a young man in his twenties who is West Virginia’s first Peace Corps volunteer. Julian Martin taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria where he was confronted with unexpected racism.
You will take a third class train trip with him, be there as he faces into an automatic rifle and as he flees from a man weilding a machete. You will be surprised at who he brings home.

The author is the eighth generation of his family born in West Virginia's Big Coal River Valley. He has a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University and worked two years in the chemical industry. After one month training to make sidewinder missiles, he joined the Peace Corps. Since the Peace Corps Julian Martin worked as Foreign Student Adviser at West Virginia University, taught high school chemistry and physics in the San Francisco Bay area and in West Virginia, directed Urban Outreach for the Charleston, WV, YMCA, and was an organic farmer on his family homeplace.
The author is on the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Kanawha State Forest Foundation, the West Virginia Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association. In retirement, Julian Martin is active in the efforts to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in his beloved Appalachian Mountains.

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More About Julian

Julian Martin
Photo by: Mark Schmerling

In his own words...

Around 1800 Isaac Barker, the ancestor of most Barkers in southern West Virginia, settled at White Oak Creek on Big Coal River. Starting with Isaac and his wife Spicey Barker, eight generations of us have lived in the Coal River Valley. When I was born at Emmons in 1936 my Dad, Weldon “Pepper’ Martin, was a twenty year old underground coal miner, who was four years later blinded in one eye in a coal mine accident. He wore a coal tattoo in his left cheek just below his blinded eye for the rest of his life. My mother, Ruth (Barker)Martin, was a very smart nineteen year old housewife who years later was a leader in our Methodist Church and Practical Nursing activities and as a Little League baseball mother integrated the team picnic in 1955.

An early memory is of a United Mine Workers strike at a coal mine on Lens Creek Mountain when my mother and I and probably my sister Melanie took lunch to Dad while he was on the strike picket line. In those days when the miners went on strike they all went on strike and closed every coal mine which brought the companies to the bargaining table a lot faster than a later policy that targets individual companies and allows production to continue at other mines.

Dad told me of shoveling coal while standing on his knees in a foot of water. My mother told my son, on his way to becoming a surgeon, to always remember that his grandfather worked behind a mule in a coal mine.  My mother´s father, Charlie Barker, and his brother great uncle Kin Barker took part in the Battle of Blair Mountain. My grandpa Charlie told me that, "when they killed Sid Hatfield that was the last straw." Grandma said that a woman they called “Mother’ came to talk to the miners—she was speaking of the famous labor organizer, Mother Jones. Sid Hatfield, Bill Blizzard, Frank Keeney, Fred Mooney, Cesco Estep, Mother Jones and the Battle of Blair Mountain were never mentioned in twelve years of public school education.

Playing high school football, living and working in Nigeria as West Virginia´s first Peace Corps volunteer, working for racial justice, protecting academic freedom, protesting the Vietnam War and the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to protect our mountains from mountain top removal coal mining and enjoying the company of my children, grandchildren, one great grandchild and friends are among my best memories. (Some are still active efforts and not yet memories).

I have worked as a paper-boy, agent orange sprayer on telephone and power line right of ways(I was 17 and had no idea what that stuff was!), construction laborer, carpenter´s helper, telephone company employee, filling station attendant, trainee in a liquid oxygen plant, dish washer, waiter, lab assistant, chemical plant production foreman, rocket engineer (very briefly), Peace Corps Nigeria teacher and track coach, WVU Foreign Student Adviser (While on the WVU Student Affairs staff I helped organize the Student Action for Appalachian Progress, a tutoring and community action group). Director of Urban Outreach for the Charleston, West Virginia YMCA, organic farmer, and Duval High School chemistry, physics, general science, principles of technology, and environmental earth science teacher and girl´s junior high basketball coach.

For three summers I ran the Charleston YMCA organic gardening program which paid economically poor junior high age boys and girls to learn how to raise a garden. My title was Director of Urban Outreach. At the same time while I lived with my grandmother in Emmons, three friends and I raised an organic garden that included 1500 tomato plants. A blight paid no attention to our organic efforts.

Chemistry teacher Julian Martin of Duval High School

My twenty-two year tenure, 1977-1998, at Duval High School included:
Serving as building representative for the teacher´s union (the West Virginia Education Association)
Practicing a philosophy of student centered, hands-on classroom activities.
Three unsuccessful attempts by the “eat up with politics’ administration to fire me.
Seven stitches in my eyebrow as a result of an assault at a Lincoln County board of education meeting by the brother-in-law of the superintendent who now, April 2010, serves time in the state penitentiary for murder.
Being publicly called in one breath “a hippie, communist and outsider.’
During all that turmoil I received excellent evaluations as a teacher.

On my first day of retirement from teaching, my wife, Mae Ellen Wilson, and I traveled the summer of 1998 taking “Save Blackwater Canyon’ petitions to fairs and festivals throughout West Virginia. With the help of volunteers, we collected 5,000 signatures and 20,000 were collected by the end of the petition drive.In 1999, Larry Gibson and I walked across West Virginia carrying signs against mountain top removal. We met with media in towns along the way to get our issue publicized in newspapers and on television.

Mountain Top Removal:Dal-Tex Mine
Mountain Top Removal: Dal-Tex Mine

Wess Harris, a former underground coal miner and labor historian, and I lead labor history and mountain top removal tours for students and other groups from across the country.

I have retired after twelve years as a director of the Kanawha State Forest Foundation and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. Presently I am a director of the West Virginia Labor History Association, the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union.
I have been national vice-president of the Committee of Returned Volunteers (ex-Peace Corps volunteers committed to ending the war in Vietnam), president of the Lincoln Raiders midget football team, the Duval Little League and the Lincoln County Youth Association and a director of the Regional Council on International Education.

Peace Corps experience led to becoming WVU´s first full-time Foreign Student Advisor. There were 200 foreign students. Fifty were from East Africa on a USAID agriculture education program. The African students were housed in the same apartment building near the Medical School. These were students from Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (now Tanzania) and several language and ethnic groups who had no more in common than German, French, English and Russian students, except race. This segregation was in keeping with a housing policy that placed students in dormitory and apartments based on race and religion. The housing policy was changed and the barber shop union in Morgantown was persuaded to vote for a policy of racial integration of their services.

The West Virginia Environmental Council designated me their 1999 Grassroots Organizer of the Year Award and in 2009 the West Virginia Environmental Education Association gave me a placque “For Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Education’.

Some trips I have enjoyed:
A third class train journey in April, 1962 from Enugu, the Capital of Eastern Nigeria, to Kaduna the Capital of Northern Nigeria then on to Jos by Land Rover and back to Enugu by train.

An illegal visit in 1969 with other members of the Committee of Returned Volunteers to Cuba via Mexico City (to avoid U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba from the U.S.); returning from Cuba on a boat carrying sugar and members of the Weather Underground to Canada, followed by hitch-hiking from Canada to Washington, D.C. and flying cross country to San Francisco.

Hitch-hiking in 1971 from San Francisco to Vancouver and across Canada and down home to West Virginia. On that journey, in Minneapolis, I opened the door of a car and heard from the car radio for the first time John Denver´s words, “West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home…’

 

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Introduction

I don’t mean to sound arrogant in calling this a history. It is a history through one tiny peep hole. These op-eds and letters to the editor deal mainly with West Virginia and the threats to our environment. I started limiting my editorials to environmental issues because the mining method called mountain top removal coal mining concerns me more than any other issue and the newspapers aren’t going to give me a weekly column to discuss all of my other concerns. I wish I could have written more about the way children are raised and their “education”.

Racism has been a lifetime interest of mine as I have tried to work my way out of the osmosis-like absorption of my White culture’s prejudices —I imagine this has been easier to do in West Virginia than in the deep south states. War and the absence of peace in my lifetime has concentrated my attention and is a subject I would have liked to write more about—if I pause to list the wars, government overthrows and assassinations the United States has been a part of in my lifetime it goes like this: Second World War, Korean War, the invasions of Lebanon(twice), Vietnam, Cambodia, Granada, Panama, Dominican Republic, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and a proxy invasion of Cuba and a proxy war inside Nicaragua--missile attacks on the Sudan and Pakistan, bombing of Libya, Bosnia, Serbia and Cambodia. Add to those the overthrow of the governments of Iran, Chile(assassination of Allende), the Congo(assassination of Lumumba), South Vietnam(assassination of Diem) and Guatemala. I am sure I have left some out.

Mountain Man

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A Memoir and History in Letters to The Editor

Boy, Was I Naïve!

The Morgantown Post, January 18, 1964

I had just started as the first full-time foreign student advisor at West Virginia University. I was 26 years old and just back from two years in the Peace Corps. Looking back I am amazed at what must have been a lack of concern about losing my job.

I thought the stupid, near fascist philosophy of right wing extremism was beaten badly enough in the last election to negate the possibility of such asinine and uninformed editorials as have appeared in your paper recently. In one of those so-called editorials you admitted that not only did you not know where Indonesia is but that you didn’t care either. From this I gather that you probably never went to school since most schools find it rather anti-intellectual to ignore in their geography classes a country with one hundred million people. I didn’t write to you at the time you printed that confession of your ignorance because I didn’t want the one person in Morgantown from Indonesia to be offended by such a public discussion and I was also somewhat chagrined by your outburst. More recently you printed more of the same reactionary garbage in an article entitled “Back Home in Indiana.” In that article you assumed that the major reason for our foreign aid program was to protect the free world. Did it ever occur to you that it is moral and good to give milk to a child that gets no other protein or to give a shot of penicillin to a child suffering from yaws? The men, women and children who receive this aid need it badly and they have never heard of the “free world” and couldn’t care less who wins the struggle as long as they can live to see tomorrow. We give this aid because it is what our moral and religious heritage has taught us is good to do for our fellow suffering human. The next time you think of printing such inhumane opinions stop to consider if your God isn’t coming out more like John D. Rockefeller than like a Jesus or a Gandhi. Must you gain from everything? Can you sacrifice nothing?

Barry Goldwater was defeated by Lyndon Johnson because many of us were convinced Goldwater was too dangerous and that he would bomb North Vietnam back to some prehistoric condition. Johnson’s TV campaign ads pretty much said Goldwater was crazy enough to use atomic weapons. Well, to our surprise our man Lyndon let himself pretend to believe the invented report that there was an attack on some very big American ships by a few very small Vietnamese motor boats. He used that phantom attack as an excuse to destroy the oil storage facilities in North Vietnam. This bombing eventually reached its peak with the B-52 carpet bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. A Jew secretary of state ordered the massive Christmas Eve bombing of a Buddhist country’s capitol. Henry Kessinger was Ecumenical for sure.

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The Sheriff’s Bumper Stickers

The Morgantown Post, May 6, 1964

Dear Sirs,
As a private, tax-paying citizen, I would like to comment on a campaign tactic I have observed in Monongalia County. I notice that the Sheriff’s cars have stickers advertising the campaign of one of our gubernatorial candidates. The Sheriff told me when I called him that he saw nothing unethical about this. He said he owned those cars himself and even bought the sheriff’s emblems that are on the doors.

I asked him if it is unethical to use a sheriff’s car for campaigning during the day when the people driving them were on official duty and when the taxpayers of this county were paying their salaries and seven cents a mile. He replied that one cannot operate a car on seven cents a mile and that he did not consider it unethical to juxtaposition the official sheriff’s emblem and the campaign sign. He said, patronizingly, that the car was his and that he had the right to campaign for whomever he pleased.

It seems to me that during the normal duty hours of an elected public official it is quite unethical to use a vehicle for both official county matters and political campaigning, regardless of who owns the vehicle.

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The following two articles appeared side by side on the front page of the Daily Athenaeum, the student newspaper at West Virginia University. I was informed that the coach was going to write a column concerning the allegation that the Negro basketball players were told not to date White girls. I did not see the coach’s article in advance of publication.

This editor’s note preceded the two articles: In a sermon decrying campus apathy last Sunday, the Rev. Michael Paine mentioned Negro basketball players were warned against dating white girls. Here, the two sides of the issue are presented by Julian Martin as the source of Paine’s comments and by the head basketball coach.

Light Shed on Controversy

The Daily Athenaeum, November 4, 1966

On October 21, 1966, I sent a memo to some of my colleagues, including some of the campus ministers, in which I asked them if they would believe that the Negro basketball players had been told not to date white girls because it would be bad for the image.

Michael Paine included this information in his sermon after I confirmed to him that the information was true. I was informed that a group meeting had been called of Negro basketball players and that during that time it was made clear that the Negro basketball players should not date white girls.

It seems that this “understanding” was carried to the extent of calling in a Negro basketball player and asking him about the “white” girl he was seen with—ironically, the girl was white in color but Negro by our interesting method of classifying people.

This must make it difficult on the Negro student trying to figure out who is white and who isn’t, especially when about 85 % of southern “white” people have some Negro ancestry.

As this argument progresses don’t be surprised to hear such qualified statements as “the head coach didn’t make such a statement,” or “no one every said that to us.” But bear in mind that no one has accused anyone of making any particular statement. There are many ways to make a point clear without being direct—this is not to say that the Negro basketball players were not told directly, just that no one has made that accusation.

The sad part of the whole controversy is that in our concern with “image”, our culture is mainly concerned with how one dresses and how one behaves publicly rather than whether or not one is really spiritually and intellectually growing.

Why not encourage the Negro athletes to foster the “image” of the brotherhood of man across the state by being seen dating whomever they want to date without reference to race, color or creed?

Perhaps by copying the total “image” of the basketball team the youngsters of our state would not only learn to dress in a neat and clean manner but might also learn to grow up without harboring the subtle hate that prevents one race from dating or marrying another.

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The Coach Speaks

The Daily Athenaeum, November 4, 1966

It is with great disappointment that I reply to public accusations of the administration of our basketball program.

To publicly portray a lack of mutual respect between player and coach and imply an unwholesome rapport between any individuals in our program without the courage or slightest effort to substantiate the facts with me is of great concern.

The word “alleged” cannot vindicate the total irresponsibility of this act.

We do not always expect to be correct, but as long as we reside in the United States, we hope that our position will be accurately determined before being held up to public scorn. It is distressing to have to defend young men who need no defense and an issue that never existed, but it is apparent that I must clarify an injustice.

My position in regard to the social life of our athletes has been clearly defined—for them and for anyone else who wishes to know. Their areas of responsibility are as follows:

1) Strict adherence to the training regulations.

2) Their appearance will be exemplary because they have pride in themselves and our program.

3) Their conduct will always be that of a gentleman representing a God-fearing and wholesome organization and the youth of our state would do well to emulate them.

These are the only areas of their lives we try to influence.

We have complete confidence in their ability to manage their own personal lives as they have proven this without question to anyone who has had the pleasure of contact with our young men.

No university possesses a coaching staff or squad that strives harder than ours to attain success in our field of competition and we do not apologize for that. However, as long as I am directing the program, we will never lose sight of the important role we have in projecting the image of our University and state.

Millions of people will see, hear or read about our program. These same people may never see our campus, meet our president or speak with our students and faculty. They will probably not know how many volumes are in our library and, in fact, may never set foot in our state. To these people we are more than just individuals who play basketball—we represent a university and a state.

I confess that our program is guilty of being concerned with image and it has and will continue to bring pride to our school and our state both on and off the court.

Te preserve the dignity of our program, there will be no more statements or contributions to perpetuate this “alleged” controversy.

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Monongalia County, c1965

Unpublished

Today I saw the Humphrey mine belching large quantities of foul colored smoke into the air. It appears from their activities that coal companies in this area own the streams and the air. They are intent on destroying both the air and water and endangering those of us who drink and bathe in their acid mine water and breathe their smoke-filled air.

Perhaps the air was stolen at the same time they stole the once beautiful Monongahela and killed its fish and began to feed us the acid mine water. They even told us that we were lucky because the mine acid was killing the bacteria in the water. It was as if they dumped the acid into the river in a spasm of civic responsibility.

The coal interests take our coal almost free of taxes. They pollute our air and streams and seduce our politicians. Coal barons don’t build anything more lasting and beautiful than a rusted out coal tipple or a mountain top stripped bare of its natural beauty. They ask us to consider them our number one asset.

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Cecil Rhodes and
Economic Advancement in Rhodesia

Morgantown Post, November 16, 1965

Dear Editor
In your editorial of November 15 entitled “The Rhodesian Situation,” you indicate that a new deterrent will be created to keep advanced nations from going “…into the backward areas of the world to…take the lead in working for their economic and social advancement.” The advanced nation of Great Britain never went into Rhodesia in the first place. A charter company headed by Cecil Rhodes first went into Rhodesia without any intention of working for their economic and social advancement. Rhodes’ company was there for one reason—to get rich. The best land was forcibly taken from the Matabele and Mashona tribes. Rhodes’ company first expected to find gold and when this dream did not pan out they turned to land speculation. They encouraged immigration so as to sell the fertile land they expropriated from the Africans. The only economic advancement that has been worked for since that time has been the advancement of the white settlers at the expense and on the labor of the Africans.

The settlers worked so hard for their own economic advancement that by 1957 the average per capita annual income for a white person in Rhodesia was about $2,000 compared to $40 for the average African. And the whites, comprising 9% of the population, controlled 50% of the land (which happened to be the most fertile 50%) while the Africans, comprising 90% of the population, were confined to 22%. The whites were only cultivating 2.5% of the land they held—the rest was involved in land speculation by absentee landlords. Enough for the economic advancement of Rhodesia.

As for social advancement, the Europeans had done such a good job by 1958 that of three million Africans in Southern Rhodesia only about 1,695 could vote. The European Rhodesians were receiving fifteen times as much per capita for education than were the Africans.

Your editorial sounded as if you thought the Africans of Rhodesia ought to be more grateful for the way the white settlers have taken their land, exploited their labor at below subsistence wages, and robbed them of their dignity.

The part of Rhodesia now called Zimbabwe has descended into a hell that the former White settlers might point to with an “I told you so.” Mugabe’s government has taken revenge on the White settlers. He has turned the place into a police state dealing harshly with any opposition. By 2008 starvation and cholera were added to woes of the people of Zimbabwe.

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Aesthetic Idiots

The Daily Athenaeum, November 10, 1966

Dear Editor,
With little doubt in mind I believe that we have a bunch of aesthetic idiots destroying what physical beauty this university has. I bit my tongue when the horribly ugly physical plant building was set up on the Evansdale Campus, and when the bare asphalt parking lot at the Medical Center Apartments was enlarged. But today comes the revolution. A giant ugly asphalt parking lot has been place on the field in front of the Medical Center totally ruining the aesthetic quality of that building.

Parking lots can be built with proper landscaping that will be beautiful to look at, such as the original lot around the Medical Center. However the new one has no landscaping within the lot and don’t be surprised if there is none put around it.

Almost everyone to whom I talk about the subject of campus beauty is disgusted with what is happening. Students are disgusted because there is no place for recreation. There is plenty of asphalt for parking lots but none for outdoor basketball and tennis courts. We have 900 students in the Twin Towers and not one recreational facility—but baby we’ve got parking lots all over hell out there. We need large playing fields, parks, benches, sidewalks—but all we get are ugly parking lots that are fast chewing up the landscape. Towns-people are disgusted with how the beauty of their town is being ruined and they are wondering what horrors the University has in mind for the Morgantown Golf and Country Club property. If the University can do no better than this it ought to get out while there is still some semblance of beauty in Evansdale.

The Evansdale Campus had a chance of being beautiful when the Medical Center was built and then it was ruined with the totally graceless engineering building. Now we have the “tin can” there and asphalt strips everywhere—next we will probably let someone build a junkyard. I’m sure that if there was a river running through the Evansdale campus that we would pollute it and brag that we have the only polluted river on any campus in the United States. I fully expect to see a strip-mine operation most any day begin on what is left of all that grass and stuff on our campus.

Now [2010], the area around the WVU medical school is infested with gaudy fast food joints and a hodgepodge of cheaply built condos and apartments. The country club property mentioned in my letter now has a football stadium named for a man who gave the most money.

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Reply to Dr. Ryan

Sent to the Morgantown,West Virginia, Sunday Dominion-Post
(not published) March 3, 1967

This is in reply to Dr. Ralph Ryan´s letter of last Sunday. I disagree with Dr. Ryan on most of the opinions he expressed, but I am sure that he is, as I have observed in times past, a fair man and will welcome this expression of a different opinion with the sincerity that it is given.

We as free Americans have always prided ourselves that we were free from the spying and mistrust that seemed to prevail in communist countries. In our schools we have always deplored any limits on freedom of expression and have proudly pointed to our society as an open society. We were told that the communists spied on everyone and that we preferred freedom to the suspicion and distrust that spying can bring to a society. Now we find that for fifteen years our most trusted organizations have been infiltrated by a group of CIA spies who use the same methods as the communists. We bragged that we sent free men to international gatherings of students, labor unions, etc. and the communists always sent a bunch of spies. Now we wake up to find that we have been as guilty as they. If we continue to copy their tactics, we may become even more like them. One wonders if the CIA will try to infiltrate even the family and justify it by saying it is in the interest of freedom and democracy. Where will the CIA stop? Will they condone murder? Will they send dissenters to concentration camps and tell us all about it fifteen years later?

Everyone in the world now has the right to suspect that our spies are in every group that travels abroad and that no American can be trusted. We have wrecked trust in America for many years to come—everyone now knows that we are capable of monumental deceit. Do we teach truthfulness to the general public and practice lies in secret? If we are exactly like the communists, does it really matter what we claim to believe?

Ramparts magazine exposed the CIA activities and for this was labeled pro-communist. Ramparts is not pro-communist. Ramparts told the truth and to discredit this truth they are called pro-communist. Now if Ramparts really were pro-communist and revealed the truth, does being pro-communist make that truth any less true? Quite often people who dress in peculiar ways, wear long hair and beards are discredited in the same way. They may be telling the truth as plain as “the nose on a man´s face’ but because they look strange the truth is called a dangerous lie. Jesus received this kind of treatment. He had long hair, a beard and was probably quite dirty from his long dusty travels around the countryside. He and John the Baptist were the bearded beatniks of their day and they were treated in much the same way bearded beatniks [1] are treated today—their truths were called lies. If Jesus and John the Baptist were alive today, they would probably be called pro-communist to discredit their truths.

The University of California at Berkeley enters into almost every angry discussion of how the world is going to hell in wagon. It remains a fact that in spite of the criticism that Berkeley gets it is still one of the best universities in the world having more Nobel Prize winners than any other country. If they seek the truth at Berkeley and demonstrate for their beliefs, it is in the spirit of such great Americans as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson.

It was said that we should not allow our enemy´s opinion to appear in our newspapers. In a free society the news media should be allowed to give free expression to every side of every issue. If our viewpoint is so overwhelmingly right, we have nothing to fear from a free exchange of ideas. If our viewpoints cannot stand the test of free discussion, then we should form new ones.

It was implied that conscientious objectors are pro-communist. There is a law that allows a man [2] who does not believe in killing to register as a conscientious objector. There is no law against making sure that everyone who feels this way gets information on how to avoid killing other human beings. Is it pro-communist to be against killing?

It was said that race riots are communist inspired. Race riots have never been shown to be communist inspired. They are inspired by unemployment, rat-infested slums, inferior education, segregated housing, segregated barbershops, frustration with life as a second-class citizen and many other real dangers.

It has been said that the courts are too easy on suspects. However, there are many cases that can be documented where police brutality caused an innocent man to confess to crimes he never committed. There are cases where poor and ignorant men have been tried without a defense lawyer. The courts are here to protect the innocent as well as to punish the guilty. Every means must be taken to make sure that all innocent men are set free even if in the process a few guilty men go free. If one innocent man is punished, our system moves a step towards failure.

It was implied that anyone who is against the war in Vietnam is a communist. This is a dangerous implication. Many of America´s most outstanding citizens think that we have made a grotesque mistake in Vietnam. These people are not communists. I lost a classmate in Vietnam. He was killed when his helicopter was shot down and I fear he died in vain. He will never be able to contribute his warm humane concern for his fellow man to our society. His job was to shoot the enemy with a machine gun and yet he would not have harmed a flea in normal times. He is lost and no amount of patriotic speech making is going to bring him back.

Dr. Ry an and I do agree on the ineffective gift-basket approach to poverty—how can an eighty year old woman living on $55 a month in this county be helped by gift baskets? We also agree that there is a lack interest in the health and welfare of the mentally ill. These two areas of agreement are more immediate anyway and will, I hope, continue to form a common base for our future mutual interest.

[1] The word hippie had not been created.

[2] Not very gender liberated.

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Ode to President Jim

The Daily Athenaeum, 1967

Jim was a West Virginia University student body president who had trivialized the causes of long haired politically active students and warned of incipient violence. I used insipient as more descriptive of the potential violence.

Every time and for every
Little Cause?
War, student rights, civil rights
There is
Long hair everywhere
And that is bad
Long hair is no little cause
It is strength
But insipient violence
Lying not so deeply
Under the square-jawed
Short-haired
Light skinned
Protestant
Aryan
Fraternal sort of fellow
Is the violence of our freedom
Ah! He is our spirit
He is our salvation
Uncorrupted with variety
He is most qualified
To handle
Big causes
Like
Long Hair

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Project Emphasis

The Daily Athenaeum, October 17, 1967

Dear Editor
Because such programs as Project Emphasis carry so much hope for increasing the awareness of the students of this university, I write to suggest

some additions. In the section entitled, “Man in Relationship to His Creation”, I suggest that three of West Virginia’s worst problems cannot be overlooked and they are: strip mining, water pollution and air pollution. To miss these timely topics of such urgent importance in favor of automobile safety is an interesting choice of priorities.

In the section entitled, “Man in Relationship to Himself;” only officials from riot-torn cities are being invited to participate in a discussion on racial relations. That’s like having a program on the cowboys and Indians and only inviting the cowboys to speak and show their old movies. If the city officials hadn’t been out of touch with the realities of what caused the racial riots there would very possibly not have been any riots. Who has been invited to represent “the people” in this issue? How about Floyd McKissick or Father Groppi, to name just a few possibilities. Last year the racial issue wasn’t even included in the program and this year it appears that we might hear from city officials and police chief types that what caused the riots were hoodlums and subversives—we get enough of that from Senator Byrd.

And somewhere under some title there has to be a frank two-sided discussion of the war in Vietnam—this is hardly what Chet Huntley will give. And somewhere, somehow, it seems something on student activism and the “hippie” revolution would have been included.

Project Emphasis has the glorious but dangerous potential of awakening the long dull and slumbering WVU student. Let’s live dangerously for a change and make this a 20th century university.

Floyd McKissick was director of the Congress of Racial Equality known by the acronym CORE. Father Groppi was a priest at Marquette University who was active in anti-war and civil rights issues.

The reference to Senator Byrd was in honor of his habit of gratuitously entering into the Congressional record negative statistics about African-Americans living in the District of Columbia.

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Anti-Poverty Bill

To Senator Robert Byrd, November 29, 1967

I was astounded and depressed to learn that the House version of the anti-poverty bill would forbid anti-poverty workers or beneficiaries from taking part in any picketing or demonstrations whether legal or illegal. I cannot imagine how any part of a bill could be any more unconstitutional than that. Does this mean that picketing of unfair employers, etc., is prohibited of the beneficiaries of the anti-poverty program? It appears to me that this is a method of buying silence from the poor to demand that they not picket or demonstrate when they feel a grievance warrants this. I certainly hope that this part of the bill and the other amendments, as well, will be removed from the final version that is worked out of House-Senate Committee.

I hope you will agree that it is a dangerous business to use federal law to deny persons their rights.

Vista volunteers, Appalachian Volunteers and others were organizing poor people to seek redress of their grievances by among other activities, picketing and demonstrating. In Mingo County, West Virginia, these groups succeeded in purging 3,000 non-residents and dead people from the voting rolls. After such success the rules were changed. Vista volunteers were no longer assigned to community groups for the purpose of organizing for action. Vistas were to be assigned to do good works but not in community organizing. They could work in clinics, food pantries etc., but no politics allowed. The Vista threat to the local power structures was ended.

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Narragansett

Circa 1967 (This was never sent.)

Dear Editor,
A friend and I just spent a very wonderful vacation in Narragansett. It was our second year there and we intend to return many more times. We love the beach and the ocean and we delight in walking in the evening along the sea wall. We enjoy watching the surfers and it may surprise you to know we get a kick out of seeing the kids on their motorcycles, with their long hair and lovely dress, dancing and just hanging around—they seem to be of a free and refreshing spirit.

The ocean is new to us and so we still thrill in finding shells and stones as we walk along the beach. We had visited the beach after five o’clock everyday except the last day of our vacation. You might imagine the shock and disappointment when we were asked to pay a dollar each to walk on the beach that we had thought was free to meander about. The money wasn’t the problem. Two dollars wasn’t going to break us up. To us the ocean belonged to everyone. No person, government or corporation should be allowed to build a fence around it and charge to see it as if it had been captured in some faraway land and brought to Narragansett for exhibition.

If you come to the Appalachians you won’t have to pay to look at the mountains or to smell the flowers—they belong to everyone, as should the ocean. In order not to have to pay “filthy lucre” to visit our new friend and comforter, the ocean, we would even be willing to pay a recreation tax to Narragansett or Rhode Island or an additional gasoline tax or anything! One of our sanctuaries is now the ocean, please don’t make us pay to pray and meditate there.

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Pesticides and Patriotism

To The Appalachian Center at West Virginia University, January 17, 1968

This letter is in response to your cover letter of January 1966 to Mr. Lewis McLean’s speech on pesticides and fertilizers. I thought Mr. McLean had some sound arguments for the use of pesticides but am at a loss to understand why he chose to not so subtly associate those who are against the use of pesticides with hippies and insinuate that critics are un-American. This line of argument was not necessary to get his point across. I cannot understand why people choose to destroy the character of those who disagree with their point of view. It might be more intellectual and more worthy of a publication produced by the Appalachian Center to print speeches and reports that stick with the substance of issues and refrain from character assassination.

It appears that, perhaps, Mr. McLean did have an ax to grind for on the first page of the speech he seems to be addressing himself to fertilizer dealers which leads me to believe that he was seeking their approval.

I find it distasteful that you believe that it is important to recognize the “character” of those who are against pesticides or man-made synthetics. Character has nothing to do with an opinion on such subjects and whether a man is for or against pesticides has nothing to do with whether he is American or un-American, hippy or non-hippy.

I never in my wildest nightmares expected to see the American flag waved in a speech on pesticides and chemicals—unless of course, the speaker has a vested interest in promoting the sale of pesticides and chemicals.

I later learned that Mr. McLean was speaking under the sponsorship of Velsicol Chemical Corporation.

This was written three months before I resigned as Foreign Student Advisor and headed for San Francisco. My exodus was encouraged by the new WVU administration after I participated in a picket protest at the 1967 graduation ceremonies. We, me and members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), were objecting to the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Senator Robert Byrd. Besides bringing millions of dollars in pork to WVU, Byrd’s most memorable political action was to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942 and held the offices of Exalted Cyclops and Kleagle (recruiter).

In 1944, Byrd wrote to segregationist Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo: “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side... Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.” Byrd later wrote a letter to the Grand Wizard of the KKK saying, “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation.”

While running for the House of Representatives in 1952 Byrd said that he was no longer a member of the clan and was not interested in it. In 1956, I heard Byrd say, after a patriotic speech to a Baptist Church in Morgantown, that he was proud to have been a member of the Klan.

While on the house committee that oversaw the District of Columbia, Byrd made gratuitous and racist entries into the Congressional Record that were damaging to the African-American population of the District.

When it was no longer expedient for Byrd to be a racist he shifted gears and hired an African-American staff member.

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Labor Law Reform?

To a member of the Board of the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce
February 27, 1968

Dear Sir:
Knowing that you are a progressive member of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce, I am astounded to find in the Newsletter of the Chamber of Commerce of February 22, 1968, an article entitled “Your Stake in Labor Law Reform” by Allen Shivers, President, Chamber of Commerce of the United States.

In this article, Mr. Shivers is extremely biased against labor unions and the good that they have brought to this country. I would hope that you and the other progressive members of the Board of Directors would see to it that the other side of the issue concerning labor law reform is presented or that such articles cease to appear in the newsletter.I think you will agree that the many people in the labor unions in this area would appreciate your efforts on their behalf.

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The Institute of International Education

Sent to the New Republic, March 25, 1968

Gentlemen:
In light of some of your past articles, I think you will find the following of interest.

The Institute of International Education (IIE) conducts an annual census of foreign students in the United States. When finally analyzed and distributed to foreign student advisors and others, the information serves as a valuable source of statistics needed to help promote a clear picture of the foreign student in the U.S. to the general public.

In the past couple of years, a new item has been added to the census card that each foreign student fills out. The foreign student is now asked to provide not only his name but his exact home address. IIE claims that the student’s name and home address will not be released to anyone if the student marks an X in the appropriate box on the card. However, IIE still wants the student’s name and exact home address, both of which seem useless for merely statistical purposes. Just why does IIE want the name and address if they swear they aren’t going to release it and if it is of no statistical value? Surely they don’t need street numbers and first names to correlate their data.

IIE claims that listing of foreign students by name, country and home address “are prepared at the request of reputable corporations…” One wonders if the giant electric companies, whose officers were sentenced to jail for price-fixing, or the corporations recently brought to court for over-charging on drugs are among those so-called “reputable corporations”. One wonders if the great exploiters such as the United Fruit Company and the others aren’t at the top of this “reputable” list.

The helping hand that IIE claims to want to give to foreign students on their return home is a bit superfluous. Most foreign students have little trouble finding their way to the giant corporations who are interested in using them as fronts back home. WVU is certainly not a Harvard nor MIT, but the foreign student graduates from here have little trouble in finding jobs. They find them in the open market where the “reputable corporations”, who always trust in such free competition, must bid against the others.

Sincerely yours, Julian Martin

Coordinator of Foreign Student Programs, West Virginia University. Past chairman of Region IX of the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs

It later became clear that the information was also for the CIA.

 

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Health Care

January 6, 1977: This was sent to the Lincoln Journal but never published

I have always half way listened when folks talked of the high price of medical care. It was not until I got my bill from the Charleston Area Medical Center that I had reason to pay closer attention to the complaint.

I was in the hospital for fifteen days with a pinched nerve in my back. The last five days of my stay I went to physical therapy for two hours each day. For the first twenty minutes of therapy I laid on hot packs. The charge for the hot packs was $10.50 for each twenty minutes. That came to $31.50 an hour. After the hot packs there were ten minutes of exercises on my own except that the physical therapist held my feet down for ten sit-ups. The exercises that I did on my own cost $12.50 for the ten minutes which came to $75 per hour for my trouble. Then came a massage of about five minutes for which the charge was $10.50 or $126 per hour. For a massage that seems a bit stiff.

I took one valium the first night and woke up with a swollen tongue the next day and told the nurse that I would not be taking the four valiums prescribed daily nor the sleeping pill. The one pill made my tongue swell and I had no trouble sleeping except during the eleven pm staff shift change when they made so much noise going down the hall that they woke up all manner of suffering people. But lo and behold there on my bill, entitled “pharmacy”, was $131.25. I guess it was for the one valium I took.

The doctors saw me for about one minute a day—just long enough to raise each leg and tell me that I was improving. The charge was $8.50 per visit. That is a rate of $510 for an hour. By their manner they discourage questions and showed little concern for my concern. This behavior was true of almost every doctor who came into that room to see any of my roommates. A Doctor Glass was the only exception. He took time to explain to his patient what he did in surgery and what the patient could expect as he recovered. There were four of us in a room described on the bill as semi-private at a cost of $90 each per day, which seems cheap compared to $126 an hour for the massage.

I’ve looked over the medical profession and have decided that I’m not smart enough to be a surgeon but I think I can learn to give a mean massage for $125 an hour. My present teacher’s salary is less than $10,000 per year which is a little over $6 an hour.

 

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Cold Facts about Coal

The Highlands Voice, April, 1979

Only 3 percent to 10 percent of West Virginia’s coal “must” be obtained by the surface method. All the rest can be deep mined.

Strip mining is easier and cheaper and has much quicker return on initial investment than deep mining.

The overriding question of a landowner’s right to do with his land what he wants is an interesting one. The Air Pollution Control Commission can tell a man who lives outside the city limits if and when he can burn brush which pollutes the air. There are virtually thousands of city, county and federal police state laws like this one and there’s not much that can done about it. Yet, you can hardly breathe in the Kanawha Valley not because of burning trash but because of the chemical plant pollution. The only reason strip miners can do what they want when they want is because they are backed by powerful mineral and landowners who control some of the largest corporations in the U.S. and the world. This makes the question not one of working citizen pitted against blind environmentalist but one of unconscionable, multi-national, status and money loving conglomerate domination over every life-loving, creator-creation loving individual in the State.

The majority of West Virginia’s land is owned by out-of-state and out-of-country corporations. Their concern is with the profit they can make and for the most part they will tell you openly that they do not care what they do to the land to make their profit.

In many instances the mineral rights to the land or the land itself was obtained by false pretenses—phony unpaid tax assessments, fake deeds, outright lies—long, long ago when many of our ancestors could not read or write.

During the period July, 1967 through July, 1977, 206,626 acres were placed under surface mining permits and 17,859 acres under prospecting permits. There appears to be no record available anywhere in the Department of Mines or the Department of Natural Resources as to how many acres were stripped in West Virginia prior to 1967. However, a rough figure for the period 1939 to 1967 is 300,000 or more stripped. (At a minimum three times more surrounding land is disturbed than is actually stripped, not to mention the water pollution and erosion and sedimentation which ruins stream beds and kills water life for miles. That hurts everyone from fishermen and swimmers to taxpayers footing the bill for upkeep on sewage systems and millions of dollars in flood relief.) The minimal number of acres actually disturbed in West Virginia from 1939 to 1977 using the above figures is at least 2,000,000 acres. The total land area of West Virginia is 25,000,000 acres. (Source: Department of Natural Resources.)

If strip mining continues at its present pace, within 10 years all strip mine coal will have been stripped, all stripminers (the laborers) will be out of work, the fat cats will move out west or anywhere else they can get richer and will have fit place to live.[I was dead wrong about this. Huge mountain top removal equipment has made it possible to get at coal never before thought mineable.]

Damage done by active stripping should be considered a grave problem. The Charleston Gazette reported on April 9, 1977: “Governor Rockefeller said Friday during a news conference that there is no question that old, unreclaimed strip mines, ongoing strip operations, and those where reclamation hasn’t been completed substantially contributed to the flooding in southwest West Virginia.” Still he refuses to use his power to delete areas of the state from stripping.*

The usefulness of many federal reservoir projects has been severely limited by sedimentation and water pollution from stripping. The taxpayer is again paying for this. (Source—”Adverse Effects of Coal Mining on various Federal Reservoir Projects,” Sixteenth Report by the Committee on Governmental Operations, 93rd Congress, 2nd Session, House Report No. 93-1156, Union Calendar No. 5456, June 26, 1971.)

In West Virginia an average of $750 is spent on reclaiming an acre of stripped land. In West Germany, where strip mining is permitted only for special kinds of coal and then only on gently rolling and flat terrain, reclamation costs are $4,000 to $9,000 per acre. To reclaim the mountainous terrain in America would greatly reduce the amount of profit to coal companies. Money, not people or land, is the supreme consideration.

Blasting on Kayford Mountain

Mountain top removal obliterates our last resource of fresh pure surface water, mountain springs. The land is extremely unstable for years and while there has been much talk about building homes on mountaintop removal projects, so far talk is about all that’s happened.

While it is possible to grade steep slopes to something approximating original natural contour, it is frequently impossible even after re-vegetation growth to keep them from sliding.

Even when the best reclamation possible is completed and the operators are relieved of further responsibility, no one takes care of the site and the re-vegetation frequently dies, leaving the land barren.

While West Virginia has a better law than other states, it has not been properly enforced. Although the Federal strip mine bill passed recently, no amount of laws will prevent environmental damage from stripping no matter how strong and no matter how strictly enforced.

Appalachian deep mined coal employs approximately 10 times as many people as western surface mines for each million tons of coal produced.

Each year the stripper’s numbers grow larger. Their ranks have doubled since 1974. The coal is mined so quickly that the continuous opening of new mines is essential to support the dependence of the operator and his workers.

Since 8,031 surface miners produced 20,982,316 tons of coal in 1976 and 51,771 deep miners produced 87,811,278 tons of coal, the average surface miner produced 2613 tons and average deep miner produced 1673 tons, around 1000 tons less. 8031 strippers put 12,539 deep miners out of work. Surface mining, therefore is not favorable to maximum employment for extended periods. (Source: Department of Mines).

West Virginia coal operators shipped 108,944,000 tons of coal in 1976 as follows:
Within West Virginia 25,876,000
Within Continental U.S. 55,553,000
To Canada 8,800,000
Overseas 18,715,000

Martin, based in Lincoln County, is a member of Save Our Mountains

In 1968 I had fled Morgantown and my job of Foreign Student Advisor at West Virginia University. I drove to San Francisco with a girl friend and lived there for three years and then traveled via my thumb to Vancouver, across Canada and to West Virginia. It was wonderful to be back home. By 1979 I was living in Lincoln County and teaching at Duval High School. I was married to a lady with two children and we had a son on the way.

*Here are two revealing quotes from Rockefeller: December 20, 1970--”I will fight for the abolition of strip mining completely and forever.” John D. Rockefeller IV while running for governor of WV as a strip mine abolitionist.

March 12, 1977-- “...mountaintop removal should certainly be encouraged, if not specifically dictated.” Gov. Rockefeller’s testimony to the U. S. Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources, March 12, 1977.

More from Rockefeller--

Strip-mining must be abolished because of its effect on those who have given most to the cause—the many West Virginians who have suffered actual destruction of their homes; those who have put up with flooding, mud slides, cracked foundations, destruction of neighborhoods, decreases in property values, the loss of fishing and hunting, and the beauty of the hills…” Rockefeller in 1972 while running for Governor of West Virginia.

Rockefeller lost to Arch Moore in the 1972 election. Moore had the help of corrupt Democratic politicians in southern West Virginia and huge contributions from coal companies. I was told by Ken Hechler, former congressman and West Virginia Secretary of State, that Rockefeller followed the advice of his advisors and changed his mind on strip mining and on attacking corrupt politics in southern WV. He won the1976 election for Governor as an advocate of strip mining and mountain top removal and had shut up about corruption.

A Rockefeller aide told a group of us in his Senate office that Rockefeller was for mountain top removal, that his mind was made up and so there was little use in us talking to him about the issue.

When I confronted Governor Rockefeller in Lincoln County about strip mining he said, “Do you want to deny the people of southern WV the flat land necessary to build new homes?” A friend sitting next to me who was not politically active responded with, “Oh come on Jay!”

Rockefeller got his start as a sort of social worker in my birthplace of Emmons, WV. I had his campaign bumper sticker on my truck the first time he ran for Governor. I have not forgotten the betrayal. He sold out for a political career. Would that he had donated the over $24 million he has spent getting elected and re-elected and the $6 million he spent on his home in DC to environmental groups in WV. With that kind of money we would have already won the battle against mountain top removal.

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Germ Warfare

The Charleston Gazette
January 4, 1977

Several nights ago on the ABC Evening News it was mentioned that the Army admitted to conducting germ warfare experiments in the subways of New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

The Army said that the germs were of a non-disease carrying kind. Others have said that these Army germs cause heart valve infection and pneumonia. But, even if they are harmless germs, what right does the Army have to experiment on the people who ride those subways? And, since they only admit to what they get caught at, what other experiments are they conducting against the health of the American people? Perhaps swine flu and French polio are ‘army experiments.

These experiments shocked me so much that I called my friends and asked them to send a telegram to Jimmy Carter asking him to stop the Army germ warfare against the American people or any people for that matter. I ask everyone who reads this letter to do as I have done, send Jimmy Carter a telegram or letter and ask your friends to do the same and to pass the word along.

Remember, you and your family may already be part of a germ warfare experiment.

I called Ned Chilton, the inspired publisher of the Charleston Gazette daily newspaper. I told him that the Army released germs in several locations in the United States to find what the pattern of distribution would be as time went on. He said, “It was probably just an experiment.” I replied “You got it!” Soon after that a front page article in the Gazette by reporter Lawrence L. Knutson, revealed that this experiment had gone on for twenty years ending in 1969.

The Gazette article revealed that, “The Army secretly conducted simulated germ warfare attacks using live bacteria against 19 American civilian targets including the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the city of San Francisco and National Airport in Washington…Overall, the Army staged 239 open air tests….In 79 of the cases, disease-causing agents were used. The other 160 tests involved stimulants such as sulfur dioxide, fluorescent particles and soap bubbles. However, some critics have questioned whether some of these theoretically nontoxic bacteria may have caused pneumonia or other respiratory diseases.”

I recall reading of a family in San Francisco suing over the death of their father, which they claimed was caused by the Army’s germ warfare experiments.

More recently, June 2009, there was a TV documentary confirming once again the Army germ warfare experiments on U.S. citizens.

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Juries Must Be Respected

Lincoln Journal, July 1979

Dear Editor,
This letter is in response to the interview with Sgt. Andy Galford of the State Police which was in the Lincoln Journal on July 3. In that interview Sgt. Galford said police morale was low in Lincoln County because our juries are made up of people who do not take their duty seriously and who are irresponsible. He seemed to be saying that the police were unhappy about the way our citizens judge their fellow citizens and that police morale would go up if the people were sent to prison.

The morale of the police should come from a feeling of satisfaction that they are serving the people who pay their salaries. It is not the job of the police to tell the very people who employ them how to think when they are members of a jury. It is the duty of the police to honor and respect the decisions of the people who serve on juries—the police have no right to be granting interviews in which they criticize the entire population of Lincoln County for not seeing things their way. If a policeman wants to criticize juries then he should resign as a policeman and criticize his fellow citizens as a fellow citizen not as a public servant.

Police have rights to criticize their supervisors or even politicians but not juries. Juries are established to determine who is telling the truth—the police or the defendant. For the police to speak against juries is an attempt to control the whole legal process. The jury is there to protect the defendant against illegal investigations, police brutality and the very good chance that someone with political power was trying to railroad the defendant.

It isn’t surprising that a jury might let someone off for stealing a typewriter when they consider how much Nixon and Agnew stole. I wonder if the morale of the police would go up if more of our corrupt public officials were found guilty of their crimes.

Julian Martin
Griffithsville, WV

Not long after I wrote this letter Sgt. Galford parked his police cruiser within view of my home. I went out and talked to him. He told me he didn’t like the letter I wrote. I told him that was his right. He no doubt meant to intimidate me but it didn’t work. A couple of years later he was the state policeman who threw me in a chair and doubled his fist in my bloody face. I was there to file a complaint about being assaulted at a board of education meeting and ended up being assaulted and threatened by Sgt. Galford.

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State Police Review Board

The Lincoln Journal

Dear Editor,
Several years ago I was “sucker punched” after a Lincoln County Board of Education meeting. A few years later the man who threw the punch was sentenced to forty years in prison for murdering a teen-age boy. When he blindsided me, he was a big cog in the Democratic Party machine in Lincoln County and he was the director of transportation for the board of education. His brother in law was the superintendent of schools. Among other things, my wife and I had complained at the board meeting that he got a $2,000 raise and teachers got nothing. After the assault a board member called the State Police. My wife and I told the state policeman that we wanted to file a complaint against my attacker. When we got to the Hamlin state police headquarters he kept delaying us about filing the complaint. We told him more than once that we wanted to file a complaint. He would shuffle papers and say, “In due time”. Suddenly a pickup truck roared into the area in front of the door and two state policemen with assault rifles jumped out of the truck. “Let’s get out of here” I said to my wife and headed for the door. The state policeman we had been talking to ran from behind his desk, grabbed me from behind, threw me into a chair. He held me with one hand and doubled up his fist in my already bloodied face. He turned to the policeman standing in the door with the assault rifle and said, “He won’t listen to anybody”.

Up to that point we had had no confrontation with the policeman, we had discussed nothing that could lead him to believe I wouldn’t listen. We had come to the state police headquarters of our own free will to file a complaint of assault and battery.      Lucky for us the two armed state policemen needed help with a hostage-taking situation in another part of the county. The police had to leave and as you can imagine we got out of there, too. The policeman who had just had his fist in my face called to us to, “Come back tomorrow and file that complaint”. We looked at him in disbelief.

We talked to a lawyer in Hamlin about the situation. He told us the best thing we could do for the people of Lincoln County would be to get some publicity on the brutality of the state police. “Every time I have a teen-age client who has been arrested by the state police, either the teenager or an adult male relative has been beaten.”

An investigation was conducted into police brutality in Lincoln County. The investigator was another state policeman from northern West Virginia. He was driven to our house by Sgt. Galford, the same state cop who assaulted me at the Hamlin headquarters. Sgt. Galford sat in front of our house with his cruiser motor running while we were being interviewed inside. At one point the investigating officer defended the actions of the state policeman who assaulted me. I literally became speechless. When I recovered I told him that he could depend on one thing. I would never call the state police again. We were wasting our breath with this guy. Sgt. Galford was not punished as a result of the “impartial, in-house investigation”

Except for certain politicians, local citizens have no control over the state police. Local citizens do have some control over the Sheriff and deputies. The Sheriff is elected and if he or she or the deputies get too rough on too many people they can be thrown out of office by the voters. Sometimes it just takes an informal complaint to the Sheriff to rein in an abusive deputy. There is no such threat controlling the state police. When they get out of line and someone protests, they investigate themselves and they do not have to answer to the voters.

  State police officials are opposed to a civilian review board. If the recent brutality by state policemen in McDowell County had not been recorded in a 911 call there is little doubt, based on my experience, that the in-house investigation would have another white-wash.      The state police are working for the people. The people should have some way to control abusive behavior. Everyone would benefit from a civilian review board. The good cops would not be tainted by a few renegades. They would have to answer to the people not their fellow employees. It may be just human nature for fellow policemen to want to take it easy on their comrades in arms. Reviews of complaints should always be done by independent agencies. Very few people trust an “in-house investigation”.

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John Raese*

John Raese’s insight into the school-to-work programs was refreshing. He could have omitted the gratuitous attack on David Hardesty**, but otherwise he was right on the mark.Raese is a Republican and a capitalist, two drawbacks I didn’t think leftmuch room for “human freedom and individuality”. My mouth was hanging open as I realized I was in agreement with someone far across the political spectrum.

The school-to-work programs and the schools that work program (the bureaucrats keep changing the names) seem to me to be a whole new way to give some marginally talented academic hustlers a good salary. They were proposing to change the whole educational system without adding one dollar to the process. They were going to shift the words around and suddenly everything would be better. It is a big wasteful paper chase to keep the departments of education busy.

When I was asked to teach a high school course called Principles of Technology I knew the course had a chance because with it came $8,000 for the equipment needed to teach the course. When they started talking about this schools-to-work concept that would revolutionize the whole educational system they said we could do it from a standing start without any increased funding. I knew they were kidding.

At my 1959 Chemical Engineering class reunion at WVU we were given a tour of the facilities. We passed bronze plaques honoring men who have decapitated the Appalachian range. An old thought came back that the university is a technical training school for industry. It also became clear that the university officials were so hamstrung by the need to cozy up to corporate money, to keep the technical training schools running, that they could never give a divergent opinion on critical issues like mountain top removal or global warming.

It is not imaginable that anyone who runs an educational institution could give moral leadership to the people of WV. There was not a chance ,for instance, that Wade Gilley, recently president of Marshall University and chairman of Governor Underwood’s task force on mountain top removal strip-mining,would suddenly gain insight into the total destruction of mountain top removal strip-mining and proclaim that he was against it. Even if he got the insight he had to keep the coal barons clearly in his vision, for after all, who really controls the colleges and universities? How many working class people are on the governing bodies of our secondary schools, colleges and universities? How many coal executives, other big business officials and corporate lawyers are on these governing bodies?

Big money not only controls our elections it controls the very words that our so-called educational leaders utter. There is a country saying that, “He wouldn’t say shit if it was in his mouth”. The whopping salaries paid to College and University presidents is whopping because they must be compensated for swallowing all that crap and never telling the truth if it damages the people who finance higher education. Most people have too much self-respect to swallow crap for less than $250,000 a year.

John Raese is right, higher education should teach the great literature, history, arts, philosophy, science, math...and let industry provide the training on top of that. We need to keep politics and big business out of education.

The money, you say, where will the money come from? Try the super tax credit. We have wasted billions of dollars on corporate welfare in tax giveaways.   Let’s make big business work for a living and pay taxes like the rest of us. They get out of taxes and then contribute to the institutions they want to control.

* John Raese was the unsuccessful Republican Party candidate for the United States Senate in 1984 and 2006.
**David Hardesty was West Virginia University President at the time

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Forests Are Helpless Without Foresters

The Charleston Gazette

Randy Dye* recently wrote of the glories of man controlling and subjugating the earth under the guise of “forest management.” Dye’s rhapsody carries one back to the days when West Virginia must have been a desert, only to be saved by foresters.

To Dye the forest is one big factory and wildlife is that big stuff you can see and hunt with a gun. Untold wildlife habitat is destroyed, fragmented and altered forever by the bulldozer blades, trucks and skidders that rip and tear the forest floor and creek beds in timbering jobs.

Dye claims that foresters have “…benefited the forest by learning how to improve it through scientific management practices.” On a recent trip to the Olympic National Park, I was so glad that foresters didn’t get an opportunity to “benefit and improve” the Olympic rain forest as they have “scientifically managed” the clear cutting just outside the park. Next to mountaintop removal, clear cutting on the Olympic peninsula or in Fayette County, West Virginia, is the worst environmental disaster I have ever seen.

The wonderful thing about old growth forests is that the foresters have been kept out and the woods can be enjoyed in their natural state. There are roads cut across every forest in West Virginia. Why can’t we preserve some that are left alone, unmanaged and natural?

Let’s leave our grandchildren the gift of state forests full of old growth trees. The problem isn’t where can we find more trees to cut. The problem is where can we save a few from the rapacious appetite of chip mills led by flag-waving foresters.

Dye brags that our state is more heavily covered with forest than it has been in more than one hundred years. I sure hope so. One hundred years ago the foresters of the day had been clear-cutting our virgin forests for 20 years.

It seems logical that if the whole state is covered with forests, we don’t need to be invading the state forests with chain saws and bulldozers. Do we cut it all down because it is so big and nice?

It seems that from the number of log trucks on the highways the foresters and timber industry are getting all they can haul from privately owned forests. Why do we give them the publically owned state forest trees?

The secret to Dye’s soaring praise of foresters is found near the end of the article where he shamelessly proclaims that in the state forests “…25 percent of the money generated from timber sales goes back into the forest where the logging occurred.” There is the dirty little devil that makes logging so tasteful to the state’s chief forester—his outfit gets a load of money from it. He claims this saves the taxpayers money. I will happily pay my share of taxes to keep logging out of state forests. Are timber industry tax breaks forcing us to cut the trees in state forests?

Once again the “We had to destroy the village to save it” illogically wiggles to the surface. It sounds similar to the mountaintop removal pleas that we must destroy the mountains to save the mountain state.

The foresters are busting a gut to get into Kanawha State Forest and cut trees. They are stopped by a law that says they can’t. They are going to try to get a law passed this next session to let them have at those trees. A law should be passed that they can’t cut trees in any state forest. Enough, already!

* Dye is director of the West Virginia Division of Forestry.

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Inheritance

The Lincoln Journal 4-29-87
We received the following from Duval science teacher and environmental activist Julian Martin.

Coal River runs foul today
As we see the black coal gob
Ruin our drinking water
We thank the coal industry
for being so good
As to destroy
278 Acres
With a strip mine
We happily trade our mountains
For thirty pieces of silver
The strippers will bruise the land
and expose the springs
Until it looks like a hog
Ready for slaughter
Oozing inner liquids onto
The shaved carcass
Then the coal will be gone
The jobs will be gone and
The mountains will be gone
and our grandchildren
will inherit
a wasted land.

287 acres is a very small strip-mine. There are strip-mines that cover 26,000 acres.

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China Strips

The Lincoln Journal 1988

To The Editor:
The biggest strip mine in the world is in communist China where they have no respect for private property nor the rights of small land owners and farmers.

This was written during an attempt by the Black Gold Coal Company to strip mine in Lincoln County. Local citizens raised so much hell that the attempt failed. Sandra Perry, a woman from Ohio, was the person who filed for the permit. Her allies were the owner of Black Gold Coal Company, a man from Kentucky, and another man who was a public official in the state of Montana. Ms. Perry had this to say to the Lincoln Journal: “…I really believe there is a communist group here that is against anything that brings change. I believe West Virginia may be seen as the last foothold for communism in the country…I am convinced this area has been infiltrated by communists. And if mining gets started here, they will no longer be able to control it….I mean all of us sitting here know what the problem is—its drugs….” And the existence of “sophisticated radio equipment and towers” She said the people who use the radio equipment were afraid of being discovered. It was rumored that she was implying that the equipment was being used to communicate with the Kremlin or perhaps to arrange drug deals. Ms. Perry claimed that some people in the area who oppose the strip mine and who she said were on welfare have had “big cashier’s checks deposited in their bank accounts.”

Mrs. Perry said she had researched communism’s presence in Lincoln County at the public library in Hamlin and that one book, “What You Should Know About Communism and Why”, was checked out by some well-known county residents. Not that it matters but it had been borrowed only five times between 1974 and 1988.

About the same time I was referred to by the Griffithsville,West Virginia, fire chief as a “Hippie, outsider and communist.” I let him know that if he didn’t back off on the communist part I would sue him. He claimed he did not say what the Lincoln Journal reported. The reporter was sitting right beside the chief as he uttered his frustration. I was born about 20 miles as the crow flies from where I lived in Lincoln County and grew up thirty miles away. I am related to people in Lincoln County and my great uncle settled near where I lived and married the daughter of Alexander Griffith the namesake for the town of Griffithsville. That leaves hippie, which is in the eye of the beholder.

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The News from Sam’s Branch

Sam’s Branch is the creek that ran beside my house in Griffithsville, West Virginia. In August it usually became almost dry with an occasional puddle of water with minnows darting about, probably with little notion that if it didn’t rain pretty soon they were goners. Sam’s Branch roared with dangerous volume in the spring and in the tailwind storms of summer and fall Hurricanes. The rushing waters that saved the minnows would have killed a man, woman, child, dog, cat or livestock if they got too close and fell in.

The Lincoln Independent arose as a Republican challenge to the long established Lincoln Journal. The Journal could hardly be called a proponent of liberal Democratic Party philosophy. It was plenty conservative but always supported the Democratic Party slate of also conservative candidates. The memory was lost as to why the Democrats swept the Republicans out with the coming of FDR. The average voter might have known that the Democrats were supposed to be for the working people but their candidates seldom mentioned it. Even in Lincoln County the local rich had retaken the Democratic Party and were not interested in any left wing ideas. There was no real need for a “Republican” paper except to back the Republican Party candidates. I never once saw any statement of political philosophy by candidates from either party in either paper. The political advertisements usually said nothing more complicated than vote for me. Since Democrats way outnumbered Republicans the ads only showed party affiliation of the Democratic Party candidates. It was a sure give away if a candidate’s political advertisement didn’t say Democrat on it somewhere. It was hard to understand who the Republican candidates thought they were fooling by not mentioning in their ads that they were Republicans.

If you voted for the Democrats and they knew it then your road might get fixed, you might get a government job, your driveway might get a load of government gravel and if your kid got in trouble with the law you could get a break before the justice of the peace. People who voted for the Republicans had trouble getting any favors from the Democratic machine unless they were willing to tuck their tail between their legs and change their voter registration. It was sort of like joining the church, total acceptance and inclusion and all past sins forgiven if you joined up. The Republicans didn’t seem to have any higher political belief than replacing the Democrats.

The editor of the new Lincoln Independent was Craig Headley an ornery young man who enjoyed stirring the local political shit. He admitted to having been saved from being a right wing fascist by a West Virginia University professor who had a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm. But he was still way over on the right. He asked me to submit a weekly column about anything I wanted and he would print it, and he did. He caught some flak from Republicans who recognized a hated liberal bias in my writing.

The Lincoln Independent lasted one year. Terry Headley is now Director of Communications for the West Virginia Coal Association and I am Vice-president for State Affairs of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. We are on opposite sides of the mountain top removal controversy.

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A Cobalt-Blue Sugar Bowl

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, 1995

There were two things that used to make Griffithsville, West Virginia, different from any other stretch of Route 3. There were those large, beautiful, silver maples that lined the road next to the old Osborne home tennis courts. Those trees were majestic and took a long time to get that way. Suddenly one day they were gone. When I saw the naked stretch that used to be so comforting I got an empty, sinking feeling almost like a friend had died.

You can destroy something if you own it, I guess. Beautiful old buildings, and even eucalyptus trees in San Francisco, have been declared state or national treasures and historic sites to shield against the I can do anything I want with my property attitude. A cheap looking Wal-Mart can’t replace a priceless piece of architectural history or a beautiful piece of unique nature with protections in place like in San Francisco. Graveyards, Native American burial grounds and Civil war battle sites all coupled with citizen outrage has sometimes been all that stopped some greedy “developer” or bull-dozer happy money grubbers from tearing up everything in sight. The love of money has no sense of reverence. It all looks like money to “developers.”

Like the trees, Osborne’s Store is now gone, burned to the ground by a troubled teen-ager. The spirit and soul of that store disappeared years ago. The new world order or “progress” in the form of convenience stores and franchised grocery stores made it impossible to turn a profit with an old fashioned country store. And Osborne’s was old fashioned.

Osborne’s was our favorite place when we move here twenty-one years ago. Harnesses, shotguns, plows, bulk nails, seeds, groceries and clothes were all available at Osborne’s. Tobacco farmers charged their purchases for a whole year until they sold their crop. It was normal to go into Osborne’s and take a half an hour buying four or five items and savor the time spent. Tuck and Mabel Roberts, Marita Thornton, Louise Janes, Janette Saul or Mrs. Dragoo took our order and got each item one at a time. They patiently wrote the orders in a little bill book and gave us a carbon copy.

While we were being waited on other people came in and we traded stories, joked, laughed and sympathized with one another. We discussed the weather, who was related to whom, who was getting married, who was sick, who died, what time was the funeral and county politics. We could get just about anything we needed at Osborne’s plus enjoy good company. People seemed warmer and happier there in Osborne’s, talking and remembering and laughing. We never went in expecting or wanting to get out in less than half an hour.

We found a house to rent on Sugar Tree Creek through the Osborne store high tech communication network. We had to move and mentioned that to Janette Saul, a clerk at the store. She told us that a family from up sugar Tree was just in thee getting boxes to pack their stuff in for moving.

Some older boys broke into Osborne’s. They did it the hard way. First they stole acetylene and oxygen tanks. They crawled under the floor dragging the tanks behind them. They connected stolen hoses and a torch to the tanks, cut a hole in the store floor and climbed in. They must have reconnoitered carefully because they came up in a part of the floor with nothing standing on it. They could have easily burned the building down burning a hole through a heavily oiled wooden floor. They mainly stole cigarettes, which couldn’t have equaled the value of the tanks, hoses and torch nor the time they put in on the job. Maybe it was for the adventure.

It is told that Huey Elwood Hager, my son’s great grandfather on his mother’s side, came over to Griffithsville in 1925 from Hewitt’s Creek in Boone County. He drove a wagon of corn to be ground at the mill. He slept the one night of the trip under the wagon with his dogs. Huey went down to Osborne’s and bought a pretty cobalt-blue sugar bowl for his wife. We had that bowl when Huey’s great grandson started his life three miles from Osborne’s. Osborne’s is gone now and the silver maples are cut down. What used to make Griffithsville pretty much different now leaves it looking like any other run-down stretch of country road.

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A Hidden Treasure

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, October 21, 1995

The consolidation fight has made it obvious that we need a recall and referendum amendment to the West Virginia Constitution. Right now we could and would recall and replace at least three board members and maybe a state senator. If we could put this thing to a vote of the people with a referendum it would be over in no time.

How is it that two unelected boards have so much control over our lives? How do you get rid of members of the State Board of Education and the School Building Authority if they go against the will of the people? I know we would get some losers on those boards if they were elected, but at least we could vote them out, as we did in the county commissioners’ race.

These two boards are now made up mostly of people who gave money to Caperton’s campaign. How can we expect justice and due process from people who bought their positions?

Vote buying is the School Building Authority’s specialty. They usually give about one-half the money a county needs to consolidate on the condition that the county pass a bond issue for the rest. If the people in a county vote the way the SBA says they get the money for their votes. Did they learn this from Lincoln County politicians.*

Consolidation is on us because the Legislature passed the Super Tax Credit so that coal companies and other large corporations like Wal-Mart, get close to one hundred million dollars per year in tax write-offs—in ten years that’s a billion dollars! With the Super Tax Credit the coal companies use the kick-back to buy long-wall machines** and put miners out of work. The intent of the law was to increase employment, but it is doing just the opposite. They ought to cancel the tax credit and tax the long-wall machines. If we had one-hundred million dollars per year for schools every community could have a new school.

The perfect school system for the SBA would be one giant school in Braxton County for the entire state—it would only be a three hour bus ride for most and rest could go to school in neighboring states. Actually, there would probably have to be two schools—one at Flatwoods in Braxton County and one on the Steele Farm…***

*This is no casual assumption. After this was written, Jerry Weaver, the Lincoln County Assessor, went to prison for vote buying as did, Craig Stowers, son of the late Democratic boss of Lincoln County.

**Long-wall machines are used in underground mining and require fewer workers than older methods. These machines take all the coal and then let the top collapse causing undulations on the surface which can make houses and barns shift and creeks to puddle.

***The Steele Farm was the proposed site for the new consolidated Lincoln County High School. The land was to be donated by Wiley Stowers, the political boss of Lincoln County. Wiley lived in the area and the school would be near a shopping mall that he owned.

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Liberals

The News From Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, October 28, 1995

Political commentary has shifted unchallenged so far to the right that liberals are made fun of as hare brained radicals of the far left. Liberals used to be considered moderate until Newt Gingrich redefined himself as a reasonable man and liberals as radicals.     I am at least a liberal. Being a liberal always meant to me that I was for free education for everyone for as far as they could go I have seen brilliant minds wasted because they could not afford the price of college while the idiot sons and daughters of the rich could play around in college for as long as daddy was willing to send the dollars.   As a liberal I am for free medical care for everyone from birth to the grave. Liberal means we are our brother’s keeper. Liberal, to me, means we care about poor children and think they should get the same opportunities as everyone else.     Liberal means that I accept everyone no matter what their color or their nationality or their income or their physical or mental disability and yes accept them if their sexual preference differs from mine.     Being a liberal does not mean I am for abortion. There is no doubt in my mind that life begins at conception--I don’t kid myself. I do wish the people who are the loudest against abortion would be equally loud in support of programs that care for children born into poverty.   Liberal means my daughters should get the same respect and the same opportunity as my sons and they should get the same pay if the work is the same.     And the cry goes up “but how do we pay for this” and the answer is easy. Tax the rich. The coal companies are getting a tax write-off of one hundred million dollars a year which they are using to buy machines that put miners out of work. On the national level rich people quit paying social security tax after their income reaches about $60,000. If this loophole for the rich were eliminated it would pay for half of the national deficit.   Newt Gingrich and his fellow travelers want to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. They are more worried about the capital gains tax and giving the rich a tax cut than the health of old people & lunches for school children. They want to turn their big business friends loose to foul the air, water and land and disguise it as getting the government off our backs. They want to get rid of all the good things for people and unleash the most selfish influences in our society.

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Beware of the Republicrats

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, November 4, 1995

I used to think that to be a Democrat meant that you were a liberal. But now we have two millionaire governors who are Democrats because that is what it takes to win.

Republicrats are rich people using the Democratic Party label to help their kind and hurt the working people.

Rather than blaming the companies that owe millions of dollars in Workers’ Compensation payments our Republicrat legislature decided to make it tougher on working people to get help when they get injured on the job.

And what about NAFTA? This idea was put together by rich Democrats and rich Republicans to provide cheap, non-union labor south of the border. Try buying something made in America.

The wealthy are traitors to their own country. For cheaper wages they don’t hesitate to move their factories to countries that have no child labor laws and no environmental laws—but they use the American flag in their advertisements.

A friend of mine told of visiting Korea and seeing ten-year olds making basketball shoes sold in America for over one hundred dollars a pair.

And get this! West Virginia style quilts are made in China with slave labor and sold in the Charleston Town Center Mall.

Think about the elected officials who claim to be Democrats and I think you will find that not very many are working people. The few that are not rich are usually controlled by the wealthy.

Take a look at who is giving large amounts of money to Senator Manchin. He is the candidate of big money. Senator Manchin is a Republicrat. A right-wing Republican dressed up as a Democrat.

Maybe we should quit kidding ourselves and form a third part that represents the people. And I don’t mean a party led by another rich man like Ross Perot.

Abraham Lincoln said God must love the common man because he made so many. We outnumber the rich, let’s take our government back from them.

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The Magnificent Golden Hills*

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, November 11, 1995

I was standing under a walnut tree. The sun had gone down below the mountain and darkened the holler. A slight wind blew up the creek and the last leaves were persuaded to fall from the walnut tree.

The leaves were magical as they spun down in a perfect spiral. The mountain ridge behind the spinning leaves was golden as the sun said goodbye to the holler and crowned the mountain tops.

I love this time of year, when the air gets brisk and exciting color warms my heart. Later, I wondered how anyone could take a bulldozer and destroy that beautiful ridge. I guess it was the money.

A woman from Missouri, whose husband worked on a strip-mine in Boone County, said that she didn’t like these mountains and thought they ought to be flattened out like most of Missouri. A teacher at Harts told me, “It breaks my heart to see what they’ve done—I see the destruction when I go hunting.”

People have to earn a living and the coal operators know this. The coal companies choose to strip-mine because it is a lot cheaper, requires fewer employees, and if they are clever they can avoid the so-called reclamation. Coal companies have closed deep mines and opened strip-mines, often non-union, with far fewer employees to pay. This is the same industry that gets nearly $100 million per year in super tax credits.

Strip mining is a “quick-buck” operation. There is enough underground coal that we could wait a hundred or more years before resorting to the destruction of strip-mining.

Somehow, that golden ridge in the Autumn** sunlight is worth more than money. I hope my grandchildren will enjoy that magic sight.

*I did not decide what the titles of my articles were. I would not have chosen this one.

**I understand that capitalizing Autumn is considered incorrect. But I think it represents too much beauty for a lower case beginning.

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Republicrats and Real Heroes

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, November 22, 1995

The Republicrats were at it again over the weekend. For only one thousand dollars you could have met with the Vice-President of the United States, Al Gore.

Actually, you would only get to be in the same room with Gore, a big room, with several hundred other small fry rich people. Imagine how rich you would have to be to talk to him one-on-one. And imagine how rich you would have to be to get him to listen to you.

Government of the people, by the people and for people—the rich people that is.

And on the other side, the Republicans in ‘Congress are trying to dole out to the rich a $245 billion tax break. Republicrats everywhere!

The real heroes in our fight to keep one-school consolidation out of Lincoln County are people like Vicki McCoy and Kitty McCallister.

They worked overtime on those transportation figures and they were tough with the political dogs.

It was an insult to the citizens committee and the people of Lincoln County that a secret meeting was called by members of the state board of education. Only two members of the citizens committee were present. No one from the Hamlin or Guyan Valley committees was included in the meeting.

It added insult to injury that the discredited Jackson-Stowers faction had more people there than did the citizens’ committee. Have a good long memory—every political dog has his day.

If we ever get those two schools where we want them, how about naming the Lloyd Stowers High School and the Wiley Jackson High School. * Or maybe we could call them the Economy of Scale High School ** East and West.

*This is a play on the names of the two most politically powerful people in Lincoln County both of whom wanted one school consolidation.

**Economy of scale was the mantra for consolidating four smaller schools into one huge school. “Hoss” Farley, a leader against the consolidation and a candidate for the board of education, joked that he and his wife were going to name their about to be born son Economy of Scale.

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The Secret of Politics—Bananas

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, November 29, 1995

Although I am a Democrat and I think Bill Clinton is much better for the working people than those stingy, mean-spirited Republican candidates, I am still saddened by how much the rich control the Democratic Party. Saturday night I saw a program called “A Presidential Gala”. One of the comedians asked why the man sitting behind Clinton in the second row was there. The answer from a Clinton aide was, “because of a lot of money.”

When asked what the man did for a living, Clinton replied that he was “in bananas!” I suspect that everyone in the audience was “in bananas” or better. Success at greed seems to be the only credential you need to get next to politicians of either party. Can you imagine what kind of wages that guy pays the people down in Central America who are really the ones in bananas? One percent of our population controls forty-percent of the wealth and near 100 percent of our politicians.

Getting back to consolidation—the politicians just don’t get it. I feel sure that they blame politics for the resistance to the one school plan. They probably can’t absorb the fact that this was a grass-roots uprising that they, nor any party or faction could control. They met democracy face-to-face and are such strangers to it that they didn’t recognize it.

Think of the money that would be available for schools if our Congress would quit building $5 billion submarines. The USS West Virginia, one of over 30 such $5 billion submarines, is doing us good in name only.

Bring the money home!

We hardly need any more of these boondoggles—one of these boats can destroy the entire former Soviet Union.

Combine the money spent on building submarines with the super-tax credits of $100 million per year given to big business and we could take care of all our money problems. We could reverse consolidation.

Newt Gingrich often refers with respect to Franklin Roosevelt. Newt would choke on this quote from Roosevelt. “Government has a final responsibility for the welfare of its citizens. If private cooperative effort fails to provide work for willing hands and relief for the unfortunate, those suffering hardships through no fault of their own have a right to call on the government for aid. And a government worthy of the name must make a fitting response.”

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We Can’t Afford the Rich

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, December 6, 1995

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men…But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray…” Jesus.

With this in mind, will someone please explain to me prayer before ball games, team prayers in front of thousands of people and prayer in school? To have prayer in school we would have to have a room for each student to pray as Jesus taught. Or is someone going to tell me that Jesus really didn’t mean what he said?

Watching college and professional football I realized, in light of recent personal experience, that those playing are the ones who didn’t get seriously injured at the previous level. As much as I love to watch football and as crazy as I get as a fan, I wonder if it is really worth it in the long run. I have arthritis in the neck and both knees from high school football injuries and I only played one year. My son has three broken bones and a severed tendon in four years of football.*

Four years ago, as junior high players, this year’s Duval team had five players out with broken bones. As my friends know, even at the height of my enthusiasm as a Duval fan, I have said it is a crazy “game” and ought to be outlawed. If OSHA inspected a football game or practice they would close it down as an unsafe workplace.

There is and should be education about all the cultures in our nation. This is called multi-cultural education. It is not an “ism” like communism or capitalism. Multi-cultural education is not a sinister plot of the tri-lateral commission. Multi-cultural education means that we face the reality that there are lots of different kinds of people in this country and the more we respect our differences the better. Wanting everyone to be of the same culture sounds a lot like consolidation. One culture, one religion, one political party, one school, one way of thinking—Stalin or Hitler?

As a culture we get insulted practically every day in the media—I wish they taught about our Appalachian culture in schools outside West Virginia. I’ll bet there are a lot of people in Bosnia who wish they had learned respect for one another’s cultures instead of all insisting that theirs should be the mega-culture. Does mega-culture mean more Wal-Marts?

Did you know that the average pay of the chief executives of corporations is 187 times more than the average worker?

The average pay of the bosses is now $3.7 million per year. The Congress is now trying to give the wealthy a capital gains tax cut that would cost $25 billion each year. And to save money we are told we must consolidate our children into two-hour bus rides to huge impersonal crime-ridden schools.

The rich get richer and take it out on our children.

We can’t afford the rich.

*That increased to five broken bones, a separated shoulder and an injured vertebrae by the time he finished playing college football.

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There Sure Are a Lot of Communists Around Here

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, December 13, 1995

Buck Harless, millionaire Republican, is backing Joe Manchin for Governor, what does that tell you about Manchin? Republicrats everywhere!

In this very paper last week was an editorial that implied that Bill Clinton was a communist for opposing the war in Vietnam. Most of us who opposed that terrible war were trying to save the lives and souls of our friends and relatives. I lost two good friends in Vietnam. One friend, Tom Bennett, got the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery after he was killed. Two of my cousins left part of their spirits over there. Cousin John* came back from Vietnam addicted and was shot by a drugstore owner while attempting a holdup.

Robert McNamara, who was responsible for sending our young friends and relatives to an early physical or spiritual death, just confessed that those of us who opposed the war were right after all. He was too late to save John and Tom.

We were not traitors for opposing that war and neither was President Clinton. According to the man who masterminded the killing of two million Vietnamese and destruction of their environment, we were right and the government was wrong.

Six months after the end of the Vietnam War, American oil companies were drilling for oil for the communist government—so who was the communist?

The rich can work for the communists and not be called traitors, but if ordinary people try to get our government to stop killing our friends and relatives and two million Vietnamese, we are call communists—go figure.

Calling people traitors who opposed our government’s policies is trashy journalism and, I had hoped, beneath the dignity of this newspaper.

If you are a communist for standing up to your government then there are a bunch of communists in Lincoln County—wasn’t it the government that wanted to put everybody in one school?

Communist governments don’t allow back talk. We live in America where you can talk back, where it is your duty to talk back if you think the government is wrong, and where patriots have the right to speak against anything. Long live the freedom of speech!

I was once called a communist, a hippy and an outsider all in one sentence and quoted in a rival paper. My relatives settled on Sugar Tree Creek in the early 1800s, and one even married the daughter of Alexander Griffith**. I have never been a communist, although as an American it is my right to be a communist, or join the flat earth society, or heaven forbid—even be a Republican.

The most consistent definition of a hippie that I hear is someone who doesn’t wash and has long hair. I bathe on a daily—and sometimes twice daily—basis. My hair does get long sometimes, which probably does make me a communist. ***

I finally went to “The Wall” in D.C. and found war hero Tom Bennett’s name. I cried my heart out.

Tom was a brilliant, sensitive, dedicated boy who would no doubt be giving corrupt politicians a frit right now. West Virginia University named Bennett hall in his memory.

Thanks to Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and others, Tom is now just a memory. We lost so much good over there.

I wonder whose boy is going to come home in a box from Bosnia.

*John’s brother Bill also came back hooked on drugs. John was addicted to heroin and Bill to opium. Both spent ten years in prison for holding up drug stores.

**After whose family Griffithsville was named. Griffithsville is where Duval High School was located.

***In 1969 I visited Cuba with a group of former Peace Corps Volunteers and found that communists there did not like long hair nor beards on anyone but the original revolutionary hero

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It Won’t Be Apples They Smell

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, December 20, 1995

The pulp mill proposed for Apple Grove on the Ohio River about 28 miles from Hamlin will release 1.3 million cubic feet of “rotten egg” gas each year. Guess what it smells like.

One student in my chemistry class can send this hydrogen sulfide smell all over the school with one small test-tube reaction. It’s the same gas that comes from “sulfur water”. Some say you will be able to smell the rotten eggs in Hamlin. Some say you already can on board meeting nights.

Hydrogen sulfide is more poisonous than cyanide gas. Lucky for us, humans call smell small amounts better than any detector made. But small amounts will gag a maggot. The amount of “rotten eggs” gas emitted will be five and one-half times stronger than the amount needed for the human nose to detect.

Every day, twenty-four hours a day, Apple Grove will smell like rotten eggs. But it will bring 600 non-union jobs. Why does West Virginia seem to get these choices between no jobs or hell on earth?

If we let them tear up our mountains with strip-mining they throw a few jobs our way. Dump out-of-state garbage in our hollers and get a few more jobs. Poison our air and water and we can work. Destroy our beautiful hardwood forests and we can stay off welfare. Guard criminals and you can earn a living. Moorefield sold out to the chicken people and now that sweet little town smells like several million dead chickens. Progress?

Do we have to commit suicide to survive? Is suicide survival?

But that is not all on Apple Grove. What a beautiful name for what is going to happen to it. Every year they will foul our air and rain with 66 million cubic feet of poisonous carbon monoxide, 6.5 million cubic feet of sulfur dioxide which turns to sulfuric acid in the clouds, 41 million cubic feet of nitrogen oxides which also come back as acid rain, 400,000 cubic feet of hydrochloric acid and over a million pounds of unnamed volatile organic compounds.

The state is about to give the pulp mill an air pollution permit that will dump around 13 million pounds of pollution into the air every year. That’s about 36,000 pounds of pollution every day! Every day! Besides the 600 scab jobs it will create a bunch more in the health care industry. Imagine the occupational diseases the workers are going to get along with their pay checks.

Where will the pulp mill get the stuff to mall all that mess? They are going to cut down all our trees for as far as you can see and replace the hardwoods with quick-growing evergreens and do away with the spring and fall color. There is a Weyerhauser plant going up in Flatwoods (site of my proposed one school for all of West Virginia) that will take care of gutting the forests in that area. There is another wood products operation going in near Fayetteville which will rob the beauty of that area. The middle of West Virginia is going to be destroyed unless strict timbering laws are passed. And like coal companies they will contract out the cutting so that local boys will get the jobs and the blame for destroying the woods. The companies know it is hard for us to want our neighbors to lose out on jobs, so they bank on us silently watching the destruction.

Hypocrites pray in public, says the Man from Galilee—it was suggested last week that there should be voluntary prayer time in school, that there should be a moment of silence every morning for voluntary prayer. What do you do if someone doesn’t want to be silent, but would like to sing rock and rolls songs during that time? Do we punish them for not being quiet while others pray? Should punishment and prayer be linked together? Do you have the right to pray and make everyone else be quiet while you do it? I think you do in church, but not in everybody’s school. Voluntary prayer is possible all day long, every day, and no one needs to show off like the hypocrites to do it.

I pray when I want to pray and when I think I need it. And I don’t need the prayer police telling me I have to pray every morning at 7:30. State religion would be a disaster! Imagine the local political bosses telling everybody when to pray or to pray at all. The so-called religious right-wing claims they want the government off our backs but they want the government to tell us when and where to pray.

Some good news for a change. The U. S. Congress passed a bill banning gifts from lobbyists to congressmen. This was done over the objections of the Republican leadership! Bob Dole, Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell all wanted those free vacations from the friends of good government who try for the best Congress money can buy. Do you ever get the feeling that the national government is just a big version of Lincoln County? A group call Common Cause is still working to shut down the political action committees that pour tons of money into the campaigns of those politicians who are for sale. Are there other kinds? I am president of the Lincoln County Education Association Political Action Committee and I say get rid of them all. We can’t match the money the rich pour into the campaigns.

Ugly politicians—I used to see pictures of all those ugly, sour-looking men standing on Lenin’s tomb in Moscow and would then turn to the local paper and see the same guys shaking hands with Rockefeller in Hamlin. If it wasn’t for the language difference you could switch their guys for ours and no one would know the difference. I concluded that the Soviet Union was just a bunch of Lincoln Counties back to back.

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Republicrats Are Locking Our Children
Out Of College

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, January 27, 1995

Quote from the Charleston Gazette: “No one paid any attention to accounts that were delinquent.” This was said by Ed Staats, chief financial officer for West Virginia’s Worker’s Compensation Fund. And so there is a man named Ted Osbourne, down in McDowell County, who owes $10.1 million to the Worker’s Compensation Fund. Our own Lloyd Jackson* helped push through a so-called reform bill that would punish injured workers when the real problem is people like Ted Osbourne.

Osbourne is also spending weekends in jail for cheating the federals out of $150,000 in mine reclamation fees. Another example of what the coal industry is doing to us. The Republicrats in Congress and our state legislature do their best to “take government off our backs” and let thieves like Osbourne do weekends in jail.

Imagine if some poor kid from Lincoln County held up a bank for what Osborne has stolen from us with paperwork!** Lloyd Jackson and his fellow Republicrats chose to punish the worker whose back doesn’t work right anymore because a mine roof dell on it. Medicare and Medicaid have been broken by outrageous hospital and doctor’s fees. Guess who it is the Republicrats have chosen to punish. Punish the victim is the battle cry of the big money politicians. And once again, are there very many politicians other than big money politicians?

An old high school friend, who is a doctor, once told me that he got himself through medical school by hard work and sacrifice. People on welfare could do what he did. “Anyone who wants to get ahead can do it because I did and I was as poor as you could get,” he said. I reminded him that the taxpayers of West Virginia built the schools that he attended, including the WVU Medical School. We built the roads he drove on, we provided the mail service and we provided the GI Bill of Rights that paid him to go to school. He didn’t do it alone, nor only by his hard work and grit. A combination of social services provided by the dreaded government and his extreme smarts made him a doctor. I am glad we made it possible for him to become a doctor and I hope we continue to make it possible for poor kids to become all they can be.

I have students right now who have the ability to be anything they want to be except for the damn money—that isn’t fair, no sir! People will tell you there is money for college education if you want it badly enough. There is some money if you have excellent grades, but there is almost no money for the B-average student**.

It is the old Jackie Robinson syndrome—he had to be the best player in baseball to get a chance at the white big leagues. There were all kinds of average players who never got a chance because they were Black. For a long time, most of the average players in any sport, college or pro, were white. The same applies to poor students, white and black. If you are in the top5-10 percent of your class you have a chance at some college money.

Rich kids don’t have to be near as qualified as poor kids to go to college. The Republicrats are trying to make it even harder for poor kid to go to college. And don’t forget the $100 million Super Tax Credit going to those “poor” coal operators.

Now to important stuff.

Marshall lost the national championship because of character. Two late hits out of bounds, one roughing the punter and a taunting penalty probably cost them a couple of touchdowns. It is a physically violent sport and without coaches with a firm grip on discipline, it gets spiritually violent.

While on the all-important subject of football—Marshall had four players from West Virginia on the starting offense and defense. Four players out of twenty-two from West Virginia. WVU’s football team is also overloaded with out-of-state players. Both bought the best professional players that were left over after the big money got through recruiting. Land we proudly call these foreign mercenaries, “our team.”

L. T. Anderson, who once wrote for the Charleston Gazette and now*** for the Daily Mail (My grandpa Charlie Barker used to call the Charleston Daily Mail a scab paper, but the Gazette has since joined them in union-busting) once proposed that WVU schedule football games with Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cornell and other Ivy League types. Every game those teams play is covered in the New York Times. WVU would probably go undefeated every year and get nation publicity in the Times. Anderson then suggested that WVU wisely turn down any bowl bids. Football fans like to win, they don’t care much who it is they beat.

I would like to amend Anderson’s suggestions and propose that only West Virginia high school graduates be allowed to play sports at WVU, Marshall and other state colleges. There would be no athletic scholarships, and all games would be with teams within a bus drive who adopted the same rules. In other words, we would de-criminalize college sports. Our kids would get to play for their home state schools.

Close to half of the students and almost all of the athletes at West Virginia University are from out of state. Out-of-state tuition doesn’t come near paying for the cost of education. We pay the taxes, a lot of their costs and they have all the fun! Let’s take our schools back. Make the out-of-state students pay the full cost of their education. It is crazy that a state as poor as West Virginia is subsidizing out-of-state students.

A friend of mine says that when I thought I was being called a communist I was really being called a columnist.

I hope you had a nice Christmas and do have a Happy New Year.

*Lloyd Jackson was a state senator representing Lincoln County

**Promise scholarships

***Now deceased

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Black Gold Speech

Appalachian Journal
Spring 1989

Paul Salstrom included my extemporaneous speech in an article he wrote for the Appalachian Journal. The speech was my comment given at a public hearing held by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in Lincoln County on June 28, 1988 regarding an application by Black Gold Coal Co. and Mountain Black Diamond Coal Co. to strip mine at Six Mile Creek in Lincoln County. This strip mine permit is one of the two that we stopped in Lincoln County.

It seems real important in Lincoln County to establish where your're from and who you are A lot of people laugh at you if they think you're from New York or someplace.

I've been a citizen of this state for fifty-two years I've lived in this county for thirteen years And I've taught at Duval High School for twelve years I have to admit I was out of the country a couple of years in Africa And I was in California a couple of years Except for that, I've lived here the whole time.

My daddy was a coal miner--lost his eye in the coal mines He wasn't a communist. He wasn't an outsider And he didn't deal in drugs--though he did drink a lot of coffee.

It amazes me at times that we can be so up-tight about "outsiders". And what we have here is a case of a man from Montana threatening to bulldoze--to personally bulldoze another man's fence down if he finds out the property is on his side of the line And a man from Kentucky who threatened to kill the same man And we have a woman from Indianapolis who says we're a bunch of drug dealers and communists.

Now, all three of those people qualify to me as outsiders I've lived here fifty-two years I've got the accent, you know I can speak the language, okay? I'm not a foreigner, okay?

All my life I've watched the destruction of my native state I watched Bull Creek disappear When I was a little boy forty years ago, I used to walk up Bull Creek over on Coal River Bull Creek's not there anymore Any of you guys that have ever worked on stripmines know it's not there anymore It's gone My Uncle Kin used to work timber up in the head of that hollow with a mule, and he did the least amount of destruction you could possibly do That place was beautiful. It's not there anymore It's simply gone It's been destroyed by a strip mine.

My home place over on Coal River--coal companies offered us $250,000 for thirty-two acres And we turned them down, okay? We don't need the money--by golly--not that bad.

With me, this is a spiritual thing I've always loved the land I've always loved to walk in the mountains And the first time I saw a strip mine it absolutely stunned me into silence I was sad and I was sick I couldn't believe what people could do with a bulldozer to a piece of land that used to be beautiful.

Is it wrong to love beauty, is it wrong to love nature? Is it wrong to say that we only have one earth and it will never be reclaimed--you can't reclaim a destroyed mountain--you can put something back there but you can't put that topsoil back on--just try it You never, never can walk through that little glade where the ferns are growing, and enjoy those cliffs the way they were--the way they were meant to be.

All I see happening is greed, it's money, and where's it going to end? When they get to your back door? They're already at some people's back doors right now Can you strip mine right up to the edge of city hall? Do the people who own strip mines have strip mines in their back yards? Do they want dynamiting going on where they live? I don't think so I think they're going to retreat to their air-conditioned apartments And I think they're going to send their kids to fine schools out of state.

And if you think strip mining is going to bring jobs, look where they've got strip mining in West Virginia and look where they've got the most unemployment Mingo county McDowell County You go to the counties where they have strip mining--that's where they have the worst of everything They've got the worst roads, they've got the worst schools, they've got the highest unemployment rate Everything is wrong with those counties Is that what we want this beautiful place to become?

My daddy was a coal miner and I understand being out of work, okay? I've been down that road myself And I know you've got to provide for your family But I'm saying they're only giving us two options. They're saying, "Either starve--or destroy West Virginia." And surely to God there must be another option.

 

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The Arabs Are Coming To Duval High School

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, January 17, 1996

This is a true story. It happened a long time ago at Duval High School. For three weeks representatives of an oil-rich Arab Sheik telephoned Duval High School to make arrangements for the Arab’s two sons to attend Duval. The Sheik was moving to West Virginia to get into the coal business. He didn’t want his teen-aged sons going to school in Charleston. He wanted them away from the drugs and violence of big city schools. One Wednesday near the end of school the principal announced to the teachers over the p.a. system that there would be an emergency faulty meeting immediately after school. So far the faculty didn’t know about the negotiations to enroll the Arab students at Duval.

The principal solemnly informed us at the beginning of the meeting that everything we heard during the meeting was to stay in that room. This was a serious matter and if not handled right could have international implications. We were brought up to date on the negotiations, the Arabs were coming tomorrow. The Sheik was a very important man, a wealthy man and we must handle this situation with kid gloves. The students must understand that there could be no making fun of these two distinguished, well connected Arab students. The principal beamed at the coaches as he informed them that one of the boys averaged 17 points a game in basketball and the other was a quarterback.

The place was buzzing the next day. Someone didn’t leave the news in that faculty meeting room. One girl turned around and went home and got all dressed up for the occasion, this could be a short-cut to riches. The sheriff met the new students at the Alum Creek bridge and gave them a light flashing police escort to Duval. The Sheik’s sons were driving an old blue VW bug.

At Duval a pep assembly was in progress when the Arabs arrived. They were introduced to the entire student body between cheers. The cheerleaders’ eyes were sparkling at the tall handsome boys. One was blond haired and they were both light skinned. They explained that their mother was a white American.

After being shown around the school they were taken to Hamlin for a personal audience with the superintendent of schools. The superintendent welcomed them to Lincoln County and made it clear he was there to help them in any way he could.

The boys were brought back to Duval where the coaches took them out on the football field and into the gym to see what they had. State championships were flowing in all directions. The quarterback couldn’t throw and the basketball star dribbled like he had a hand full of thumbs. It was the altitude difference between West Virginia and Saudi Arabia that accounted for the poor performance. The Arabs should have left before the sports tryouts. They had blown their cover.

These Arabs were from the far-off exotic Arab land of South Charleston, they were very creative, red-blooded American boys, students at South Charleston High School. Their dad was American, too. They had pulled the whole thing off themselves. I was never sure if the Arabs were put in jail overnight because the authorities had no sense of humor or because they did. The boys should have gotten an Oscar. The whole thing was hushed up and never made the papers. It finally has. I wonder where those Arabs are now.

**My grandpa Charlie Barker said that rich people stole with a pen.

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Multiculturalism, Long-Hair and Mountain People

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, January 3, 1996

Three cheers for Cecil Roberts, new president of the United Mine Workers. In his inaugural speech he sounded like my grandfather, UMW member and veteran of Blair Mountain, Charlie Barker. Roberts said, “I am here to tell you that I am militant. I’m going to stay militant and I will make every one of you who will be militant as militant as I am…” We need a militant leader of the UMW. We all depend on the UMW to keep the big money from running over us. If the UMW wins the rest of us win. They keep the Caperton-Jackson Republicrats in line. The UMW made a big mistake under Trumka in resorting to selective strikes instead of being more militant and shutting the whole coal industry down.

Roberts condemns the Pharisees and so-called Christian right wing Republicans (and Republicrats) with “How can you be living the way the Bible tells you to live when you are working cut off your mom and dad’s health care…that same Bible tells us that it is harder for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle.”

After Charlotte Pritt’s* eight years let us put Cecil Roberts in the Governor’s office.

As I have told the editor of this newspaper before, there is no such thing as multi-culturalism. Using the multi-cultural approach in schools is not an ism. It is not a religion nor a political philosophy. Multi-cultural education simply recognizes that there are different kinds of people in this country and that we should honor and respect their culture and background. Multi-cultural education is Christian and is an attempt to fight the racism of the right-wingers who would make everyone exactly like them.

We mountain people, of all people, should want other cultures to respect us and not turn us down for jobs because we speak a different accent of English. Outside these mountains there is a widespread prejudice against us. On TV they can still make fun of two groups—mountain people and midgets.

We should unite with other cultures and make sure our culture is taught to students all over this country. Do we all have to talk like we are from Indiana? What is it with these right-wing republicans who claim they want less government but want the government telling us we can’t honor or ancestral culture? Wasn’t it Hitler who wanted to get rid of everyone different? Anyway, worrying about multi-cultural education is just what the right-wing Republicans want us to do while they give away the store to the rich.

Speaking of tolerance and wise judgment—three more cheers to Coach David Kiser for not making a big issue out of hair style on his basketball team. Right wing Republicans and small-minded coaches want everyone to look alike—diversity threatens them and they need to lighten up.

My first run-in with the Board of Education was over the all-important moral issue of hair length. It was my first semester teaching at Duval. It was track season and the coach kicked a boy off the team for having long hair. He needed to be part of a group. He needed acceptance. He had had enough rejection already. I confronted the coach about it and told him my oldest son had long hair and wanted to be an athlete. He told me that he was boss and that my son wouldn’t play for him if his hair was long.

My wife and I wrote a letter to the Superintendent of Lincoln County Schools. We wrote as parents about the long hair policy of the coach. A week later I saw a copy posted in the men’s lounge at Duval High School. It was also posted in the coach’s office and in the field house. Our confidential personal letter was in rest rooms and offices. No doubt it was being used to ridicule and humiliate our oldest son, who by the way was a darned good athlete. (The coach is not one of our present coaches.)

Jesus could never play basketball for some coaches with all that long hair and those radical ideas.

And speaking of wise coaches, Kim Matthews and Richard McCallister are among the wisest and most compassionate coaches I have ever witnessed. They rank with the truly legendary Sammy LeRose, my football coach at St. Albans. Like LeRose, they are always positive, never blame, humiliate, curse or scream at anyone. When a kid made a mistake it was, “Hey, don’t worry about it and you’ll do better next time” or “Good try, way to hustle.” On the rare occasions when their teams lost they didn’t whine and blame the referees. I am so grateful that my son had them for his first coaches in football and I am grateful for Sammy LeRose.

*Charlotte Pritt was the first woman to run for Governor on either the Democrat or Republican tickets. She was betrayed by some Democrat leaders who supported her Republican opponent. The present (2009) Governor Joe Manchin was one of those Democrats who supported the Republican Cecil Underwood. They called themselves Democrats for Underwood.

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Raising Dogs and Raising Kids:
Which Do Politicians Care More About

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, January 24, 1996

According to Fanny Sieler in the Gazette, Earl Ray Tomblin’s mother got over $160,000 the past two years for raising racing dogs. The state gave her that money. We the people gave her that money to raise dogs! How about giving money to people who raise gamecocks. I shouldn’t have suggested that. Earl Ray might be in that business, too.

Where do we get these senators? As the state cuts back on medical care for the poor, Earl Ray’s family gets money to raise dogs. As we are asked to bus our children four hours a day, the Tomblins get rich for contributing to the gambling industry. Perhaps that money could be given to people who have a hard time finding enough money to raise a human being. Seiler says the Tomblin dog money was “earned” right here in Lincoln County, at a puppy farm in Harts. Just trying to contribute to the local economy, I guess. A vote earl Ray is a vote for the dogs. Bark for Earl Ray.

*Marshall beat WVU in basketball. Most of the players on both squads were from out of state. My proposal again: Only West Virginia residents be allowed to play sports or coach at our colleges and universities. Play teams that are a short bus ride away and give no athletic scholarships. Our kids are being cheated when we hire these mercenaries from out of state. We have a history of letting outside interests ruin our fun. Look who owns most of our mineral rights and destroys our state with strip mining, pulp mills, clear-cutting and such. Perhaps we should all commit suicide and let the out-of-state rich have it. Maybe we already have.

*What is that rotten smell? Could it be the smell of the Mason County pulp mill? Or is it the smell of the tax write-offs Parsons and Whitmore will get? Caperton* has assured them that they qualify for over $700 million in super tax credits, and up to 41.1 billion in total corporate welfare. Add to that the $1 billion in tax write-offs West Virginia is already giving to big business in ten years. Why don’t we just give them the state Capitol? Maybe we already have. It appears to be for sale. What we have here is welfare for the rich. The Republicrats are at it again. There is no end to their trickery.

Two billion dollars is only three words, but how much is that? It is two thousand million! If you spent one thousand dollars a day and started when Jesus was born, you would finish spending the money in 5476! And we are so poor we have to consolidate schools to save money? Parsons and Whitmore will be the biggest welfare queen ever.

No wonder Caperton tried to stop the release of documents about the deals made with the stinking pulp mill people. One of his people wrote that the “Governor must support non-union activity…must get law enforcement people. Get local judge’s enforcement to ascertain if injunction can be implemented.” They are already planning to bust any union activity and hire scabs. How did we get this Republicrat, union-busting, air-polluting rich man as governor? Who was his campaign manager? **

*Tell me it is not true that the UMWA is backing John Perdue for state treasurer! Weren’t he and Lloyd Jackson Caperton’s boys in getting the so-called workers compensation reform through the legislature?

*Governor Caperton
**Reference to Lloyd Jackson of Lincoln County who was Caperton’s campaign manager

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Missiles Just Sit There

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, January 31, 1996

Fanny Seiler reports in the Charleston Gazette that the dog owners* got $654,824 from us generous taxpayers Must be the origin of the expression, “Well I be dog owned.” Is Earl Ray Tomblin** going to the dogs? Stop me somebody!

The Republicans do not care if they balance the budget a balanced budget is

being used as a smokescreen to hide what they are really doing. They are trying to erase all the reforms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. They want to destroy Medicare and Medicaid. They will go after Social Security if they get a Republican president. The environment means nothing to them but a roadblock to more profit. School lunch programs and other programs benefiting children are on their hit list. They want all that money for themselves. A tax cut for the rich shows how badly they want to balance the budget. If they really want to balance the budget, why are they giving the military $7 billion more than they wanted?

It was under Republican presidents that the budget deficit boomed to three hundred trillion dollars—mind you they had plenty of help from Republicrats in the Democrat-controlled Congress. Our money went down the bottomless pit called the military. Of the money Congress can allocate at its own discretion the military gets more than all the others combined. We have over thirty nuclear submarines that can each destroy all of the former Soviet Union. They cost five billion dollars to build and ten billion to arm—each!

Five billion dollars is enough money to solve all the financial problems of all the school districts in the country. One nuclear submarine less and all of our school financial problems are solved. Less a couple of more submarines and you have free medical care for everyone! We could still have twenty-seven submarines capable of destroying the former Soviet Union. Military spending has been a big boondoggle for military contractors.

When we spend our money on the military we don’t spend it on other things like hungry children and old people. Military spending is a dead-end street, it doesn’t generate any more money. A missile just sits there after it’s built. The same money spent on education causes individuals to earn more money, contribute to society, maybe employ other people, and buy groceries, cars, houses, gasoline. A missile just sits there. We’ve got a zillion of them just sitting there. Spending on peaceful items generates more money in the economy. Missiles just sit there.

If Hillbilly, Dickie and Snake*** get too cute on this one-school garbage they may end up with no high schools in Lincoln County. If the board doesn’t place the two schools in the areas we, the citizens, agreed to, the bond issue doesn’t stand a chance. If Hillbilly succeeds in sabotaging the bond issue election, the state just might send all of our kids out of the county. Chapmanville, Huntington, Hurricane, George Washington, South Charleston, St. Albans and Scott all make more sense than one school in Wiley world.****Lincoln County would become no-man’s land. Our children would become strangers in a strange land.

Is it possible for our board members to outsmart themselves? Can a snake swallow itself?

*Racing dog breeders.

** Earl Ray Tomblin was and is (2009) president of the West Virginia Senate. His mother was one of the dog breeders who got a huge subsidy from the state.

***Hillbilly, Dickie and Snake were nicknames of members of the Board of Education.

****Wiley world refers to land near political boss Wiley Stowers’ shopping mall.

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Sharing the Trough with Senator Tomblin

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, February 7, 1996

Two weeks ago, it was mentioned in an article by Jerry Alford that the two-school plan now being considered for Lincoln County was not the plan proposed by the Facilities Planning Committee. He said the committee plan called for two schools of grades seven through twelve. No one on the committee wanted seven through twelve high schools. We knew it was a mistake to put seventh and eighth graders in with high school students. But we were told that the two high schools had to meet the “economy of scale” or it would be back to the one-school plan.

The only way two high schools would meet the “economy of scale” would be as grades seven through twelve high schools. The politicians called a secret meeting in Charleston minus eighteen of the Citizens’ Facilities Planning Committee. It turns out they were just kidding about “economy of scale.” It must have been kind of a joke to watch the Citizens’ Facilities Planning Committee squirm. They approved the 1990 idea of two nine-thru-twelve high schools with nary a word about “economy of scale.” “Economy of scale” was another one of those rules that only applied if it could be use as a roadblock to our efforts to stop one-school consolidation. They never really cared how many grades we had as long as they got the one-school at Wiley World. All of those meetings, trying to make the figures work were just a big hoax. They figured we couldn’t pull it off and they would win by default. When they saw they were beaten they had another of secret meetings, minus eighteen of the Citizens’ Facilities Planning Committee members, and did however they wanted.

Why must they do everything in secret? And the answer is: Republicrats don’t trust people. For the big shots, democracy is a messy business. They didn’t want us to taste victory. We might have gotten out of control and decided we didn’t need them. I was told their secret meeting allowed them to save face. To hell with their face. They should have been forced to come, hat in hand, before the people of Lincoln County and tell us they were wrong. They put us through a lot of agony. They just want to stay in power. They know that if we find out we can beat them they won’t be in power very long. I do want to thank them for uniting us and giving us the opportunity to find out we have real power if we stick together.

I am very glad we aren’t, sorry, they aren’t going to build two high schools with junior high students mixed with senior high students. I still think we should have complete vocational schools at the two high schools.

Having two giant middle schools is a mistake. Those young children are still going to be on the buses for a long time, and they will be going to unnecessarily large schools far removed from their communities. And don’t tell me it is because of the “economy of scale” that we must have two middle schools. Economy of scale lives with the tooth fairy. And don’t tell me it is because we don’t have enough money—millions are going to coal companies for laying off coal miners, to pulp mills who will terrorize our forests, to politicians who raise racing dogs, and on and on. How about a super tax credit for people to build schools.

Maybe we can get in the back door on some of that money. How about a giant greyhound puppy farm at the vocational school. The school system could suck from the same trough as Earl Ray Tomblin.*

* According to Fanny Sieler in the Gazette, Earl Ray Tomblin’s mother got over $160,000 the past two years for raising racing dogs. Earl Ray Tomblin is (2009) President of the State Senate.

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Seven Girls Pregnant at School

The News From Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, February 14, 1996

Once when Larry Wilkerson was principal at Duval High School, he got a phone call from an irate citizen who told Larry that he had heard that there were “seven girls pregnant down there at Duval.” Larry told him to back up just a little bit. Those girls aren’t pregnant at Duval, those girls are pregnant, period. Larry informed him that to the best of his knowledge, they didn’t get pregnant at Duval.

It is a common practice to blame the schools for whatever is wrong with our children. If the students at schools are “violent” it is not because of the schools. The kids don’t learn violence at school. The few that are violent were violent when we got them. Schools don’t cause societies problems, rather, we have the difficult job of trying to correct those problems, and it ain’t easy. Any situational ethics they have they already had when we got them. It is as silly to blame the schools for society’s problems as it is to blame the churches. Many of the students with behavior problems go to church, play football or belong to other groups, none of which should be singled out as causing the behavior problem. The churches, schools and other institutions aren’t to blame. In most cases, the problem is at home where parent or sibling abuse has planted the seed of violent behavior. If children are abused they will abuse others. They learn that abuse is normal before they have anything to compare. Abuse seems normal to the abused child. A person is pretty well determined by age five, and that time is spent at home, not at church or school.

No more than two to five percent of the students at Duval have problems that are so serious they can’t function within the expected school behavior. Most parents have done a good job with their kids. If we teachers are firm, fair and present a class that is interesting, we will have few problems. The students want reasonable limits on their class behavior, and they want us to help them to learn.

However, those children who seem to have been raised by wolves, create for more problems than their numbers warrant. If the class size is reduced to no more than fifteen students, most behavior problems disappear. It is hard for the abused child to abuse others if they can’t hide in a crowd. With smaller classes, it is easier for the teacher to minister to the needs of the individual student. It is especially important to have small classes in the lower grades so that healthy patterns of behavior can get started early. Younger students are less mature, and more inclined to disruption if they already have serious problems like home abuse.

Up to a certain point the main indicator of success in school is family income. Families that don’t have to worry about where the money is going to come from to pay for school clothes, medical bills and other necessities of life are less frustrated and less angry and abusive.

So what are our rulers trying to do? That’s right, they are trying to make it harder on poor families and easier for the rich. In general, children from low-income families score lower on standardized tests.

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Thoughts on a Friend’s Life

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, February 21, 1996

John Maxwell died two days ago. John was an old friend of mine. He was a professor of history at West Virginia University. John was a nice guy. He was popular with his students, and a very effective and demanding teacher. One student commented that he didn’t like to take notes in John’s class because he enjoyed the lectures so much he just wanted to listen. John was one of those warm souled people that everybody liked. He always took interest in what you had to say, and seemed to exude a love for people.

I called John’s wife, and during the conversation, I told her of one of the most incredible coincidences that I ever experienced. It involved John many years ago.

When President Kennedy announced he was forming a Peace Corps, I was a chemical engineer at American Cyanamid in Wallingford, Connecticut. A bunch of us had been transferred from Willow Island, West Virginia, to help start a new plant making socially useless melamine plastic. The day after Kennedy’s announcement, I called Washington and volunteered. My application went unanswered for five months. I figured they didn’t want me so I headed to Washington, D.C. got a job in the Naval Propellants plant near there and got accepted to Georgetown Law School for night classes. After a month of being trained to supervise the making of Sidewinder missiles I heard from the Peace Corps—I was in.

We trained at UCLA for three months, and were then sent to Nigeria in West Africa. In Nigeria I taught in a high school. We had three-month terms with a month vacation between each term. During one of those monthly vacations, my seven-month pregnant wife and I along with another couple who were also seven months pregnant, decided to go to the Cameroon Republic, next door to Nigeria.

Crammed in our Volkswagen bug the school gave us, we headed for the border. On the way, still on a hardtop road, we passed a bearded white man hitchhiking. We had four adults and two almost in the tiny bug, so we couldn’t help. Later that evening, after a day on deeply rutted dusty roads, we arrived in the city of Bamenda. Bamenda had an old German fort on top of a plateau overlooking the city in the valley.

The Cameroons were captive to the Germans until they lost all of their colonies after World War I to Britain and France. Britain and France each took half of the former German colony. This kind of colony loss brought Hitler to the rescue. The Cameroons had a split personality. They had grown accustomed to the rule of the Germans and their language, and suddenly half of the people had to learn French and the other half English.

At the border between the British half and the French half, the rules suddenly changed. In the British part you drove on the left side of the road, and abruptly at the border you had better get used to driving on the right side with the French. Adjustment to that sudden lane change caused more than one head-on collision.

In Bamenda, we stayed at a government rest-house, which was similar to a motel but much nicer. The next morning, we met the bearded hitchhiker at breakfast. He was an American. He had recently been discharged from an Army Intelligence unit in Germany. A buddy of his drove him down to Gibraltar and waved goodbye as he crossed the straits to Africa. His goal was to hitchhike around the perimeter of Africa.

We finished our vacation, which included having a machine gun pointed into our car window right at my face by a soldier who thought we might be members of a rebel group they were after. Anyway, we got back to our school, welcomed our daughter into the world and headed home. We detoured through Egypt, Greece, Russia and France. The trip to Russia is another story—John Kennedy, who sent us to Africa, was murdered while we were on our roundabout way home. We were on a Russian ship going from Greece to Odessa, Russia, when we learned of Kennedy’s murder.

Back home in West Virginia I got a job as foreign student advisor at West Virginia University. John Maxwell got a job teaching history there at about the same time. We had been freshmen at WVU together in 1954. I went to see him. We talked all night and finished off a fifth of bourbon. While I was telling John about Africa, he suddenly said, “About the time you were in Africa, I had a buddy who went to Africa. When he got discharged from our Army Intelligence unit in Germany, I took him down to Gibraltar and saw him off on a hitchhiking trip. His goal was to hitchhike around the perimeter of Africa.”

I loved John Maxwell. I am very sorry he is gone. He was magic.

[Editors note: Maxwell was an excellent teacher and a good man. I can attest that he helped at least one freshman make it through. TLH]

In the Cameroons we met a despicable old German who gave a group of local people a large bag of salt if they would perform a dance for us. I felt shame watching those poor, hapless people go through the motions of drumming and dancing for us American tourists.

I was driving in Lagos. It was the capital of Nigeria at that time. It suddenly appeared that I was going to have a head-on collision with a Nigerian taxi. In former British colony Nigeria, cars drove on the left side. It suddenly appeared that I was going to have a head-on collision with a Nigerian taxi. I instinctively swerved to the right to avoid the collision. That is the way I would have swerved had I been in the U.S., driving on the right side of the road. The taxi driver swerved to his left which was right towards me. We both stopped in time. In the nearby formerly French colony of Dahomey, they drove on the right side of the road. The taxi driver assuming I was from Dahomey, yelled angrily out the window of his car, “French!”

In government rest houses we were awakened for coffee around 6 am and later for hot tea. This was something the British colonists introduced for their servants to treat them to comfort and pleasure. This was not something they experienced at home where they had no dark skinned people.

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Censorship

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, February 28, 1996

I don’t like censorship. I don’t like giving anyone else the right to decide what I read, write, say or view. Yet, I also know that I was very concerned about the covers of magazines that were at eye level when my son was a little guy. At Kroger’s, the magazine rack showed gruesome scenes of women being brutalized on the covers of detective magazines. I complained to the manager. A week later when the brutal murder of women was still depicted at children’s eye level in Kroger’s tore the covers off the magazines. I figured they could put them there and I could remove them. I became a censor.

The stuff on television is awful for children to be watching. The cartoons are full of horrible characters doing horrible things to other horrible characters. What happened to sweet, innocent stories for sweet innocent children? Why should children be subjected to such harsh scenes? What kind of people are deciding to send such negative images into innocent minds? What companies are sponsoring such fearful stuff? Why?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure highly possible connections between things like smoking and lung diseases, heavy drinking and liver diseases, violence and mental disease….

To preserve our freedoms I don’t think there should be any censorship of anything for adults. Adults should be allowed to do anything they want to do if it does not harm anyone else or their property. I don’t like the idea of crimes with no victim. If an adult wants to destroy their mind and body with alcohol they have the right. Outlawing alcohol didn’t work and outlawing other drugs isn’t working. A certain number of people will be alcoholics no matter what the law. A certain number of people are addicted to drugs no matter what the laws. You just can’t stop people from putting things in their mouths or veins or lungs—it is an impossible police job to watch everyone all the time.*

Love will cure most need for self-destruction. The most effective love is a parent for a child. Love them when they are young and they can survive most anything. Help them feel important and worthwhile when they are babies, and they usually don’t want to destroy themselves. I see happy looks on the faces of teenagers that are the result of happy childhoods.

Good-looking people are often not really good looking, if you take away the sparkle in their eyes. Elizabeth Taylor never seemed good looking to me because there didn’t seem to be any twinkle of happiness in her eyes. But short, strange looking Danny Devito is beautiful. I see physically unattractive people who are beautiful because they radiate happiness. That is very attractive no matter where it is coming from. Those happy looks are usually a result of loving parents early in life.

Adults should be free to destroy themselves, but somehow we have to protect the delicate minds and emotions of children. The difficult problem is how to protect children without putting adults in chains. If the V-Chip bans violence from television, will it mean that Shakespeare’s great works of art will be censored? Would the Vietnam War reporting have been censored as too violent if the V-Chip had been around then?

Who will decide what gets a violent rating. Is the answer to allow anything to be on television and Internet, and put the responsibility on parent to regulate what their children see? Or do we introduce the very dangerous idea of censorship because some parents won’t do their job? Do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Do we give up our freedoms to censors because some cannot be responsible parents? Are we so helpless that we must delegate our moral responsibility to government censors? Is the V-Chip more or less government on our backs?

* Such laws cannot be enforced against every violator. Selective enforcement has been used to imprison people who are “trouble makers.” A young African-American at Texas Southern University was a leader in civil rights and anti-war activities. He was sentenced to thirty years in prison for possession of one joint of marijuana.

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Buchanan, Wallace and other Populists

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, March 6, 1996

Pat Buchanan reminds me of George Wallace. George Wallace started out as a racist and ended up getting elected, in Alabama, with what were called the “negro” votes in his day. Wallace was a populist. He really did believe in the people. At first, he had a very narrow definition of who “the people” were—they were white. I think he really liked being around people and one-on-one he was probably not a racist. But in front of a mob of “his people” he would out-seg the best of them. He was angry at the establishment for being the establishment, for being rich and not having a clue as to what the people needed or wanted. He brought his racial bias into the fray and his populism got clouded. He was easy to dismiss as a “redneck racist.”

Be proud to be a redneck. Red-neck started back in the coal mine wars on Cabin and Paint Creeks, when the union miners wore red bandanas around their necks so they could recognize each other. I was started by a wonderful, far-left union called the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as the Wobblys. The Charleston Gazette—then the Republican businessman’s friend—denounced the “rednecks” as ignorant hillbillies. I like to think of my twenty-year old grandfather Charlie Barker and his brother Kin being rednecks in the coal mine wars.

Dole, Alexander and Forbes are all in touch with the rich, but way out of touch with the working people. As a demagogue will do, Buchanan has grabbed hold of the real issue in our country—jobs here and now. A right-wing Republican has made the rest of them talk about our unpatriotic corporations going overseas for slave labor and right to destroy the air and water. What we need here in West Virginia is someone who will galvanize the same anger toward the super tax credits or Republicrat legislature give to large corporations.

Buchanan has just fired a guy who loves the militia stuff, and another who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. KKK wizard David Duke is a Buchanan supporter and says that if Buchanan becomes president the KKK will have to get some of the credit. Buchanan lamely claims that he can’t check everyone who wanders into hi campaign. But why are these sleazebags that “wander in’ attracted to Buchanan? Buchanan attracts haters with his own hateful attitude.

If we had a Democrat Congress to moderate him, Buchanan might be fun to have in the White House. With the radical right-wing Republican Congress we have now he would be free to the racist, Nazi dogmatist that he seems to be. National columnist Molly Ivins figures Buchanan would be a lot more fun “to have a beer with” than Dole or Gramm, and I add Alexander and Forbes. Those other guys are stuffy and afraid to be who they really are. They wouldn’t say poop if it was in their mouths, to paraphrase my aunt. They are such stiff, predictable nerds—no one to have a good time with at all. Very uptight, Clinton isn’t able to reveal his real self either, but I see him as our only chance to block the total destruction this country by the Republicans.

Buchanan is right on the money when he rails at companies that move their plants overseas to avoid paying Americans a living wage. But I’ll bet my ‘79 Chevy that Buchanan used to blame union wages for forcing companies overseas. So I wonder if he believes what he is saying, or just wants to use the American worker’s fears to get in power. Maybe he just enjoys a good fight. Buchanan used to be for free trade, and drove around in a foreign-made car. How does he explain that Mercedes to the autoworkers? His conversion to a popular cause, a cause that politicians on both sides choose to ignore, is indeed suspicious. I think he is a demagogue. He feeds on the people’s fears for his own power.

If Buchanan is a populist he has to take the rest of it. He must be for a higher minimum wage, for unions, collective bargaining, expanded Medicare and Medicaid, strict environmental laws, women’s rights, minority rights, and education for working class kids. I suspect he will gag on most of these. The working class isn’t going to cheer him for bringing the factories home at a dollar an hour wage. He won’t be supported for allowing industry to choke our air and poison our water.

As Molly Ivins points out that it isn’t the immigrants and homosexuals who send the factories overseas, it is the greedy American business people. Minorities are easy to pick on and blame, Hitler understood that very well. Buchanan also knows how to scapegoat.

Suddenly someone has pointed out that the American people are far more worried about how they are going to feed their families than they are about the budget. The rest of the candidates, who like Buchanan, are for whatever will get them elected, will jump on his bandwagon, condemn him and rework his ideas into their speeches.

Buchanan is a God-send for the Democrats. He will be easy to beat. He has been too crazy in the past, and it will effectively be used against him. Some of his advisors are racist kooks who would love to bomb a courthouse, and there is the embrace of David Duke. Buchanan even suggested selling nuclear weapons to South Korea. Boy, that’s all we need, more bombs in the hands of crazies. Buchanan makes fun of Mexicans by referring to immigrants from Mexico as all being name “Jose.” He exaggerates the pronunciation of Jewish last names and he speaks to white supremacists in code words they understand. The minorities he dislikes might constitute a majority of the voters. Haters never know when to stop.

Like George Wallace, Buchanan has a good chance of getting shot—so far, just about everyone who has aroused the emotions of the working class on a national scale has been shot. The rich may not let Buchanan live if he gets too close.

In a letter to the editor last week, Lyle Stowers made much of being a Democrat. I offer this column to Mr. Stowers to tell the people of Lincoln County what the difference is between a Republican and a Democrat in Lincoln County. Mr. Stowers’ ideas will be printed without negative editorial comment from this writer.

Lyle Stowers’ brother Greg, County Clerk of Lincoln County, was sent to prison for buying votes. One rumor was afloat that he gave 230 of his employees a thousand dollar bonus and they in turn signed the checks back to his campaign. Stowers copped a plea and turned evidence on his fellow criminals with the government concession that he didn’t have to testify against his relatives.

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A Mother’s Place is in the Home

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, March 13, 1996

The Charleston Gazette ran a headline this week that read, “Appalachians are fat smokers who refuse to wear seat belts.” This headline was based on a study that showed Appalachian people are a couple of percentage points worse off than the rest of the country in eating, smoking and car safety belts. The headline could have read, “75 percent of the Appalachian people aren’t fat, don’t smoke and do buckle-up.

A man in Charleston was sentenced to life in prison for being a habitual criminal. He was a pimp. So far, none of his customers have been judged habitual criminals.

On Sunday, the Charleston Gazette printed an article from the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. The article was about parenting. It said that since a book called “Parent Effectiveness Training” was published in the early 1970s that the bottom has dropped out of child behavior. Author John Rosemond points out that since that book and some so-called left-wing parenting ideas “…every single indicator of positive mental health in children has been in a state of precipitous decline.” This book evidently advised parents to be democratic in their child rearing. Rosemond cites this as “a sharp turn to the left in parenting practices.” Obviously it was the book and those left-wing parenting ideas that caused all our problems with children. What logic! I have never heard of the book and I doubt if one percent of the parents in this country ever read it.

In most families both parents have got work to make ends meet. The children get left with someone else to raise them. Mothers feel this awful pressure to go back to work and leave babies without their mommies. Economic disruption of the American family is causing our problems, not some book hardly anyone has read. The right-wing Republicans want to blame everything but their own greed for our problems.

Mothers should be paid to stay home and raise their own children—it would save us a lot of money in the long run. Raising children is the world’s most important job, and should be done by parents and not strangers. The most important job in the world deserves an important salary. When I was growing up (dinosaurs were three for a dollar back then) every home in our neighborhood had a parent home with the kids. The jobs then paid a living wage. Teenage or child crimes of robbery, murder, rape or mugging were unheard of among the thousand or so kids who lived in that large government housing development called Ordnance Park in St. Albans in the 1940s. We were free to roam and play happily without fear because our mothers were home and our dads were making a living wage.

The radical right-wing of the Republican Party claims to be pro-family, but I hear nothing from them about the low wages that are destroying the American family. If they are pro-family, how about universal health coverage for all families? Or will that cost the rich too much? Or how about extending free education beyond high school level so that poor families with bright kids can get out of the cycle of poverty. How about a children’s Bill of Rights that promises education for as far as your talents will take you and health care when you need it? The G.I Bill of Rights after the Second World War turned this country around. My uncle got a college degree on the G.I. Bill, and went on to become a plant manager for Ford Motor Company. Without the G.I. Bill he would probably have been a casualty of the coal industry.

A belated public thanks to Greg Collard for having the courage to expose the conspiracy by our beloved Republicrats to put our children in one giant concentration camp. There is a statue of Chuck Yeager for his courage and the hope he gives to young Lincoln County people that they too can conquer the world. I propose a statue of Greg Collard for showing the young people of Lincoln County (and us older ones too) a courage of spirit. It’s too bad he ran into a judge name of Joe Bob, who was good ol’ boys with our Republicrat rulers. Greg can always count his worth as directly proportional to the scum-like character of his enemies.

It took fifteen years but the four high schools in Lincoln County were consolidated into one school but without the people’s permission. Bond issues to consolidate were voted down several times because the voters didn’t want their children sitting on buses for sometimes three hours a day. Parents also understood the importance to the community to have a local school. Because the people voted down bond issues for the one consolidated school, the state board of education had to pay the entire cost of the school construction. To accomplish the consolidation the state took over the Lincoln County school system.

Greg Collard was editor of The Lincoln Journal and was fired for uncovering and editorializing about the conspiracy to consolidate schools behind the backs of the citizens of Lincoln County.

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The Stowers Faction’s Amazing Transformation

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent March 20, 1996

I’ve been told that the Board of Education candidates being supported by the Wylie Stowers faction of the so-called Democrat Party are campaigning for keeping four high schools! Let me get this straight. Wasn’t it the Stowers-Jackson faction that wanted one big concentration camp down by Wylie World? Now they are acting like they want four schools? Sure. I am for four schools too, but it ain’t going to happen. If the Stowers faction wins the school board election the bond issue of two schools will lose at the same time. The state will then move in and build one high school right where the Republicrat factions want it—two hours away from some students.

Not in our lifetime is the State Board of Education nor the School Building Authority going to build four high schools in Lincoln County. If the four-school candidates backed by the evil empire win, we might just get no high schools with students bused out of the county in all directions. Or still worse, the county board will be forced to consolidate the present Duval and Hamlin buildings. One would be the high school and the other the junior high. In this last nightmare, Harts and Guyan Valley would probably be put together at Guyan valley or bused out of the county.

My votes go for the Bowman-Farley combination. Both these men worked long and hard to defeat the one-school plan. They deserve a chance to see if they can straighten this mess.

Just a reminder—this whole consolidation mess is with us because of the super tax credit. Our Republicrat lawmakers give one hundred million dollars a year to big coal companies, Wal-Mart and others. This is one billion dollars every ten years. The Republicrat solution is to take it out of the hi8des of our children. Coal operator Gary White is on the State Board of Education. I am told he is Buck Harless’* boy. I don’t guess we can expect Gary White to see the problem.

The State Chamber of Commerce is ecstatic that more people are moving into Putnam and Jefferson counties. Two more places that are being ruined and trashed by over-population and concrete everywhere. In a world that is being ruined by over-population, why does anyone want more?

What about that stock market? It goes up when AT&T lays off forty thousand people and it goes down when employment goes up. Rich people get richer when working people lose their jobs and rich people lose money when working people get jobs. The stock market is just a big gambling casino for the rich. It has no connection to the welfare of the people. Decisions that control the stock market are not based on what is best for the country. Short-term profit controls the stock market and the stock market controls the country. A bunch of rich gamblers decide who gets what and how much and they aren’t on our side.

I am really upset with the non-story about violence being a growing problem in our schools. Duval High School is a very peaceful school. The students are happy and fun to be around. There is no gang violence. Our biggest problem is the opposite of violence. They want to get a bit too familiar with their sweethearts and often have to be reminded to back off a little. In the spring of the year there are usually a couple of fights between boys with raging testosterone levels.

Duval was raided by the State Police a couple of years ago, with dogs and all. No drugs were found. The police missed the chance to presume innocence and congratulate our students. Instead, they said that the drugs were there but they didn’t find them. So our students were guilty no matter what the search showed.

Duval is the last place on earth that needs cameras to spy on students. I hate those cameras. They insult my dignity and they are a waste of money

And what about that $313,000 bridge in Griffithsville? Somebody has some pull.

*Buck Harless is a Mingo County coal and timber tycoon.

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The State Giveth

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent March 27, 1996

I read the dreaded words “open up southern West Virginia.” A proposed airport would do that. Southern West Virginia has been opened up many times by outside hucksters who stole our mineral rights and then raped the land as the John Prine song says “al in the name of progress.” When they say “open” up they mean exploit, make profit, get rich and get out, pollute the air and water and destroy the land. Watch as corridor G gets “developed”—that Southridge thing looks like a painted whore. The pimps who call themselves “developers” will trash it all if given the chance. They would have back to back mass the world over. They are like locusts and they are legion.

Jobs is the war cry. Open up for jobs, develop for jobs—yet jobs at McDonalds for minimum wage and no medical care. The so-called developers always use jobs to get their foot in the door and then they make our beautiful land ugly and give us starvation wages. Why make rural West Virginia like South Charleston or Nitro or Institute—that’s development, that’s what you get when you “open up” an area. You get short future. A bit of prosperity for permanent ruin. It is another form of strip mining. Quick profits, foul air and water and devastated countryside.

A cousin, who had the misfortune if living next to a strip-mine on Coal River, said that strip-mine companies are like cats—What they don’t tear up they poop all over—only she didn’t say poop. So-called developers are the same. They promise jobs and prosperity and in a few years we all live on the longest street in the country. It runs coast to coast and it is just one big neon sign with fast-food joints. “Development” wipes out small business and trashes the environment. It has become almost unpatriotic to talk like this. We have to figure a way to have jobs for people without destroying the future.

Let’s give everybody forty acres and start over. We could get the forty acres from out-of-state land owners who own 90 percent of some counties. In the land of the free and the brave it is the land of the rich and the slave.

The board of education got way behind and spent a whole lot more money than they have. Their solution is to cut supplemental contracts. Athletic trainers will be expected to be at every senior and junior high football game, both home and away. They will be paid nothing. The best speech and debate program in the state will be ended. Is the superintendent taking a pay cut? Not likely.

When it was suggested that the superintendent take a cut equal to the one he is asking of principals and assistant principals, he laughed. And how about the board members donating their pay to the cause—after all, they were on guard when the budget went down the tubes. Is their only job to terrorize us with one-school concentration camps and mismanage money? Remember when you vote this is the Stowers-Jackson faction at your service—not exactly first class service.

What the state giveth the county taketh away. I will get about $800 in salary increase from the state next year. The county is taking away $500. I end up with a $300 pay raise. About a dollar a day take-home pay. Factor in inflation and I took a pay cut. I don’t mind giving up the $500 for being the science department head. I wish those who have led us in such a miserable fashion would find the humility and generosity to share some of the burden and cut their own pay. Hell hasn’t frozen over, has it?

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Mindless Destruction

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, April 3, 1996

We are engulfed in a mindless destruction of our home, the earth. The problems we leave our children in unbalanced budgets are nothing compared to the awful and permanent destruction of this planet earth. Look at the trash along the road. I’m like the Sundance Kid in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”—who are these people? I would like to be inside their heads at the moment they roll the window down and throw out the pop can or fast food debris. I don’t understand people who do that. Are they that stupid, or do they see this lace as worthless—so what difference does it make? Maybe they are like James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary, who said that Jesus is returning in this generation, so it doesn’t matter what we do to the earth. Go ahead and tear it up because it ain’t going to be here long. But the litter people, whose work the beauty of spring will cover as it did with the snows of winter, are no problem compared to what Hobet is about to do to Upper Mud River.

Hobet is going to destroy two thousand acres of West Virginia hills, forever. They will do their so-called “reclamation”, but neither oaks nor hickories will ever grow on that land again. With the rock strata below the surface destroyed the long tap roots of hardwoods can’t find water. Trees that have shallow roots and drink surface water might grow on land that the soil has been turned upside down. We have about three inches of top soil in these mountains; there is no way the topsoil can be skimmed off and put back as it was. The so-called “reclaimed land” is hard as concrete. They have these plants that make it appear the soil is healthy, but when you get close the soil looks barren and rocky in between the plants.

This is the only planet we have to live on, and it is being destroyed at an alarming rate. Our grandchildren are going to inherit a stinking cinder. I would like to inside the head of the people who can permanently destroy these hills. I would like to know what they are thinking about when they push those hardwoods over and gut the land until it bleeds like a stuck pig. Jobs? Money? We got to eat. But what about the future> Will our grandchildren eat? Will they have jobs when the coal is gone? We get the electricity, the miners get a wage, the companies get millions of dollars and a super tax credit and the mountains are gone. The coal is gone, the jobs will be gone, the electricity will be use dup, and what do we have but a stinking cinder for an earth. The stink will be provided by the pulp mill in nearby Mason County, or the chemical plants in the Kanawha Valley; take your choice.

If we think coal is the answer to our problems, take a look at McDowell County…and Mingo…and Logan….Coal has ruined those places. They have the worst of everything--the worst roads, the worst schools, the worst environment, and the worst poverty. If coal is so great how come places that have it are so awful? I wouldn’t live in those counties for all the tea in China.

When the coal companies get through with us they will return to their mansions and beautiful scenery, nice roads, and good schools, and leave us with a stinking cinder. Our children will inherit the gom. With their technology, the coal industry provides few jobs anymore. No jobs, no mountains, and no hope--they get it all.

Jerry Alford tells me he resigned from the board so that he could feel free to campaign for the bond issue and BOE candidates. Alford is willing to speak to any PTO or other organization about the bond issue.

The two board of education candidates who seem aligned with the Stowers-Jackson gang are nice people, I just think they are being use to get one large high school. Kim McCoy was my student, and I coached her in basketball. She is a good person, and I don’t think that will ever change.

On the Make A Difference endorsement committee I was strongly opposed to endorsing Charles McCann. McCann spoke for the one high school consolidation plan in Hamlin and in Charleston. His campaign signs appear with those of the Jackson-Stowers faction. McCann does a good job as principal of a school. I found it easy to work for him at Duval. I just don’t agree with his politics.

Pennzoil is trying to destroy the union by selling out to another company. The buyer will probably lay people off and contract work out to non-union companies. Some of those non-union contractors are big-time Democrat party leaders. How do those guys have the nerve to call themselves Democrats? They are Republicrats. If you want to help the Pennzoil workers, call the Public Service Commission in Charleston and tell them not to allow the sale. The toll-free number is 1(800)344-5113. Ask for the Consumer Advocates Office and/or the Chairman’s office.

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The Perfect School

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, April 10, 1996

I’m not outraged about anything right this minute. I’m going to visit my grandchildren in California and Arizona during Spring break. I would love to be those little hillbillies to come home and let me spoil them. Oops! An outrage just came to mind.

It costs as much to fly from here to Columbus as it does to fly to California from Columbus. A friend says this is because U.S. Air has no competition out of Charleston. Competition is about all that makes capitalism work for the average person.

Let’s talk about schools! Schools are backward and upside down. The way schools are set up now the superintendent tells the principals if they are doing a good job or not. The principals drop into our classes once or twice and tell us how we are doing. We give students tests and tell them how they are doing. It is an upside down pyramid. In the rest of life whoever is using something tells how well it works. The customer decides if the product is any good. The customers in the school system are the students and parents. Students should be grading teachers, teachers should be grading principals, and the principals should be grading the superintendent.

The students are there every day. They know if they are learning. They know if the teacher is trying to do a good job. The students with a committee of parents should interview prospective teachers and decide on the hiring. The teachers should interview applicants for the principal and assistant principal and hire the best they can find. The principals should hire the superintendent. The user would do all the deciding, not the other way around. The user of the product would decide if it is any good. As it is now teachers are told how well they are doing by someone who is in their class a few times a year. It is a political system with the few controlling the many.

After a student learns to read, write and cipher, all classes should be electives. Schools should have the money to offer courses for everyone. Everyone is interested in learning something.* If we don’t provide the opportunity for all types of interests we are just a boring, babysitting service. Without the super tax credit of $100,000,000 a year to large corporations the money would be no problem. With that money we could have labs in every school for woodworking, metal working, ceramics, computers, physics, chemistry, biology, visual arts, dramatic arts, dance, music, electronics, building construction, physical education, language, radio and TV communication, and on and on. There would be something of hands-on nature for everyone. Students could choose what they wanted to study and what teacher they wanted. Teachers would have to be good.

Teachers’ salaries would have to double to fill the highly technical positions in this wonder school. Many highly-skilled people would like to teach but they can’t raise a family on a teacher’s salary. To be effective class size would have to be cut in half—to no more than 15 students in a class. Teachers and students would be tested to see if learning can and is taking place. You can’t have teacher competency testing if you pay low salaries. If you fire a teacher who fails a competency test who will be seeking the job? There are some exceptions, but most highly-skilled people want more than what teachers are paid.

To make a long story short, we can have it all, if we are willing to pay for it. But we can’t pay for it if we continue to let the rich rob us. Down with the super tax credit.

* A teacher told me about losing patients with students and telling them that they should just put on jump suits and go out and help someone fix their roof or build on a room. The students exclaimed that they would love to do that.

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“The City” and Phoenix

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, April 17, 1996

I just got back from California and Arizona. Hugged those grandchildren and tried to keep my mind off troubles in Lincoln County. Except for being so far from my children and grandchildren I’d rather be here than in most of where I was last week.

Columbus, Ohio was the first stop. You can save $300 in airfare by driving down there and staying with your aunt. My parent’s siblings all fled to Ohio in the first hillbilly migration in the early fifties. Jobs! It is always jobs. Times were rough here and jobs looked more plentiful over in Ohio. So four of mother’s sisters moved with their families to the land of the Shawnee. I’m like the guy from Kentucky when it comes to Ohio. I would rather be dead in West Virginia than alive in Ohio.

Where my Columbus aunt lives there are wall-to-wall malls. They’ve got every franchised, fast food outlet I ever heard of and then some, in triplicate. The place is lit up like a strip-mine at night. They waste more light in one night than we use all year in West Virginia. You can’t see the stars. Family warmth and generosity hasn’t been destroyed by the mega-culture. Somehow my aunt and uncle have held on to their humanity and family is always welcome.

Bernoulli’s Principle explains why an airplane flies. It is easy to demonstrate. Hold a piece of paper by two corners and blow across the top. The other end of the paper will rise. Air goes across the top of the airplane wing faster than the bottom, which decreases the pressure on top of the wing. The pressure on the bottom then pushed the wing up. I know that, many times my students have done that and other activities that prove Bernoulli’s Principle. Air goes across the top of an airplane wing faster than the bottom, which decreases the pressure on top of the wing. The pressure on the bottom then pushed the wing up. But when I sit in a huge metal airplane I am still amazed that it floats through the air. And it floats so smoothly that at over 500 miles per hour you can’t tell you are moving. Anyway Bernoulli’s Principle got me to San Francisco, one of two cities I love. The other is Vancouver, British Columbia.

San Francisco is another word for tolerance. There you are free and at peace to be however you really are or want to be. All types of individuals and groups co-exist in the city by the Bay. San Francisco is so special that it is simply referred to in northern California as “The City.” It is no accident that San Francisco was the center of that great cultural revolution that I call the hippie wars. In San Francisco they cherish diversity and individual expression. New, good ideas find fertile soil there. The City is only seven miles by seven miles, which is 49 square miles, which fits nicely with the Forty-Niners. You can travel all over the city in buses, trolleys and cable cars. You don’t need a car. With all the beautiful parks and ethnic restaurants to discover, walking is the best way to get around.

It is expensive to live there but cheap to visit if you are lucky enough to have a daughter just fifty miles to the north. I can get to my daughter’s home from here for about $300 round trip. It is four dollars by bus and ferry from my daughter’s place to the city and for six bucks you can ride public transportation all day. There are a zillion great and cheap restaurants. Golden State Park is fifty blocks long, stopping at the ocean. You don’t have to buy anything to have a great time in the city. People watching is artful there and the average annual temperature is sixty-eight degrees.

I was walking from a cable car stop to a trolley stop when a large crowd of people in a suddenly dingy, dirty neighborhood feared me around that block rather than test my love of diversity. San Francisco is so small that you can go from an almost heaven of beautiful houses and views of the Bay to hell itself just two or three blocks away. The good and the bad stand close together there. In one or two blocks you can change from wealth to poverty. Like all big cities they pay a big price for their prosperity. It reminds me of what the late great Eddie Gillenwater said to me one time—”Martin, prosperity isn’t worth the price you have to pay.” The beauty of the city was built by working people for the rich. So no matter how much I enjoy San Francisco I know it was stolen from the labor of the working people and few of them can afford to live here. And I know I am lucky to be able to save enough money to make an annual trip out there and enjoy what my people built for the rich.

Next to Phoenix. My daughter-in-law said people shouldn’t be living there. It is a desert. The temperature is over 110 degrees in June. No one but mad-dogs and I are ever seen of foot in that environment. People go from air-conditioned houses to air-conditioned cars to air conditioned work places. April there is a mild 85 to 90 degrees. It is a dry heat but in June and July, when it stays above 110 degrees, dry doesn’t matter, it is just too hot to live. In the old days the natural environment probably supported a thousand native people along the river. Now there is a population of millions. The Salt River was dammed up under Teddy Roosevelt. The water no longer flows through Phoenix. There is just a dry riverbed. The Salt River is diverted for irrigation and some electricity. Without the dam, Phoenix would not be there. Flash floods during the brief rainy season would destroy the “progress”. They just made one of the dams higher to allow for more “progress”. My daughter-in-law says that Phoenix is a labor camp. People live in miles and miles of expensive adobe brick look-a-likes ten feet apart. It is a fancy work camp with parks and malls. Company-owned towns of West Virginia come to mind except in Phoenix you own your own house. But you really don’t ever quite own it or you are too old by the time you do that you really rented all your life. Mankind doesn’t live very well on small postage stamp pieces of territory.

My grandchildren go to a beautiful, well-equipped school. Parents and family were treated to a musical program at the school that celebrated the cultural diversity of the students in the school. Brown and White and Black sang together of the land we all love and that we all came from somewhere else. I was impressed.

Despite a continent separating us we have managed to remain a family. I wish my California and Arizona branches were here in relatively undeveloped West Virginia. It would be nice to see my little hillbillies running and playing in the woods.

Stay tuned for an article on the American flag—I went to an art exhibit in Phoenix that featured the flag in art and on some people’s underwear.

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1884 Tax Commission Report

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, April 24, 1996

“The wealth of this state is immense; the development of this wealth will earn vast private fortunes…The question is, whether this vast wealth shall belong to persons who live here and who are permanently identified with the future of West Virginia, or whether it shall pass into the hands of persons who do not live here and who care nothing for our state except to pocket its treasures which lie buried in our hills.

“If the people of West Virginia can be roused to an appreciation of the situation, we ourselves will gather this harvest now ripe on the land inherited from our ancestors. On the other hand, if people are not roused…the vast wealth will have passed from our population into the hands of non-residents and West Virginia will be almost like Ireland and her history will be like that of Poland.”

Those two paragraphs were written in 1884 in a West Virginia Tax Commission report. Back then the tax collectors appear to have been on our side. Today they let the coal companies have it all and give them nearly $100 million a year in super tax credits.

Hobet’s* boss said that they like to reclaim the land they destroy and leave it in better condition than they found it—rather God-like arrogance. Try to grow hardwoods on those so-called reclaimed mountains. Dense forests of hickory and oak with ginseng, mayapple, bloodroot and molly-moochers will never grace the ruins of a strip-mine. Reclaimed ground will bounce a steel pick. Hobet can put it back looking better than God made it. Almighty Hobet.

Every mountain that is destroyed will give us some temporary electrical pleasure and the mountain will then be gone forever. They can’t put it back anywhere near what it was and definitely they can’t make it better than it was.

The first stage of destruction of the land and culture of upper Mud River was the watershed dam. It is now obvious that it will serve as a secondary settling pond for Hobet’s destruction. If they had their way they would destroy every mountain and write it all down as the progress of man. If there were no restrictions just where would they stop? As Eddie Gillenwater said, “Prosperity isn’t worth the price you have to pay.”

Candidate for Governor Joe Manchin tried to make doctors and hospitals richer and state employees poorer. In 1989 he led the fight to make us pay the doctors and hospitals all they wanted to charge. State employees insurance says they will pay only so much for each procedure and that is all the doctors and hospitals are allowed to charge. Joe Manchin was going to let them charge us for the balance above what our insurance said was a fair price. Guess who gives him money? Why is it I think he is against minimum wage increases? Is he the candidate of the rich or what? Look who supports him in Lincoln County? Pick up your free gift if you guess the Jackson-Stowers gang.

It is spring and the spring green is again amazing but probably not as amazing as Hobet can make it. My neighbor has tilled his garden and mowed his forty-five degree yard and will probably be repairing his roof again—it takes three ladders to get up there. Not unusual except Rome Hale is in his ninety-sixth year. His hair is not as gray as mine, his mind is clear as April sunshine and his eyes twinkle like a man in love with life.

In about four weeks I am going to cry at graduation. I have never understood crying at graduation. It was silly to me. Now I feel why people cry when their kid graduates. I don’t know why they cry but I feel why they cry. My roommate, friend and son will graduate and go on to college and he won’t be around much after that. I’ll miss him a whole bunch.

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.” Ralph Waldo Emerson goes on to point out in his essay “Self Reliance” that if you believe something deeply others probably believe it as well and you should not be shy about expressing your thoughts, “Else, tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.” I think Emerson is telling us to speak our opinion because it is probably better than we think.

The election draws near—a vote for four schools is a vote for one giant concentration camp in WileyWorld.** Look who is backing the four-school plan—the very people who brought you the one school scam. We need to cooperate, compromise and recognize our common enemy.

*Hobet is a coal mining company engaged in mountain top removal mining.


The view from Twisted Gun Golf Couse: Mingo County, West Virginia

**WileyWorld refers to a long time political boss in Lincoln County who owned a shopping mall near the proposed consolidated school site. Wiley never went to prison for illegal political activities but one of his sons did. The son plea bargained that he would testify against others as long as he didn’t have to testify against family members.

Eventually the four schools were consolidated into one. It took fifteen years. The West Virginia Board of Education took over the Lincoln County schools and forced the issue. County citizens voted down bond issues for consolidating the four high schools. They knew it meant long bus rides and parent alienation from school involvement. The state had to foot the whole bill to get their way.

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Communist-Hippy-Outsider

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, May 3, 1996

In a recent letter to the editor I graduated from communist-hippy-outsider to hypocrite. The charge was that I am a hypocrite if I use electricity and wood products and criticize the damage done in their production. The writer also suggested that since my salary comes from taxes I shouldn’t criticize strip-mining.

Years ago a prominent citizen of Griffithsville called me a communist, hippy and outsider and then denied it in spite of the fact that the newspaper reporter who quoted him was sitting beside him at the time. Instead of saying why he disagreed with my opinions about the corrupt political system we have in Lincoln County he called me names. The writer of the letter to the editor, in which I am called a hypocrite, is no coward. She signed her opinions and gave reasons for them.

The communists have fallen in much of the world partly because they too don’t believe in the freedom of speech. When you disagreed with the Soviet communists they would call you an enemy of the state and send you to Siberia. Until it became unfashionable you could be called a communist if you disagreed with the political system in this country. The Chinese call you capitalist-roader if you disagree with them. In every system people are scape-goated to avoid a rational discussion of their ideas.

Ibsen wrote a great play called An Enemy of the People. There is a resort that attracts large numbers of people seeking the benefits of the natural mineral water springs. The water is reputed to have healing powers. It is discovered that the water is contaminated. Of course the person who wants to make this information public is called names and shunned by his fellows. You can’t tell the truth it will cost us our jobs! We depend on this foul water to attract tourists and make a living!

Hypocrite or not, I think strip-mining is the worst thing that has ever happened to West Virginia right after the law separated mineral rights from surface rights. If we must have electricity and if we must mine we can deep mine for two hundred more years before we have to face the decision of whether it is necessary to destroy the mountains with strip-mining. Strip-mines have replaced deep mines because it is cheaper and hires fewer miners.

Is a person not free to criticize the coal industry because his salary comes from taxes? Must one bow to the almighty dollar? Would it be prostitution to say the opposite to what you believe if you did it for money? Money for education comes mainly from property taxes that the coal industry tries mightily to avoid. If you buy advertising in a newspaper should the paper be bought off by those ads or should the paper be free to say the truth as it sees it? Do the people who have the money get to say what the truth is? Is everything for sale?

Coal mining cost my dad his eye and my father-in-law his lungs. As a little boy I stood on a UMW picket line with my dad. As a young man my grandpa fought the union-busters at Blair Mountain. It was from my grandpa and grandma that I learned of Mother Jones, Sid Hatfield and Bill Blizzard. Back then those names did not appear in school textbooks. It was word of mouth history. My family was a coal mining family. My sympathies are with the miners. People have to make a living and strip-mine jobs are often all the rich will offer.

It is not the miners; it is the mine owners who have brought this plague on us. They want quick cheap coal and they don’t care about our future. The coal companies certainly don’t care about the miners—they fight every pay raise and every benefit. Look how they have fought against black lung benefits and worker’s compensation. Look who they support for governor, Mexico Joe. Manchin had campaign t-shirts made in Mexico after saying he was against bringing out-of-state workers into West Virginia. I guess he meant that he wanted out-of-country workers. Now there is a hypocrite for you.

When I was very young we did not have electricity at Emmons on Big

Coal River. It seemed like a wonderful life to me. My Uncle Kin was a logger with a mule team on Bull Creek. Kin logged before bulldozers were used to torture the woods. Now we have electricity at Emmons but Bull Creek was destroyed by strip-mines to make that electricity. How much of the country do we destroy so the rest can have electricity and jobs? Where does it stop if profit is the only consideration? Is electricity eating us alive as it lulls us to sleep with its conveniences?

We used to have electricity without strip-mining. We used to have 125,000 coal mining jobs in West Virginia. Automation and strip-mining have reduced us to 22,000 coal mining jobs. Production has increased and the jobs have disappeared.

Flipping the light switch doesn’t cause strip-mining. They don’t have

To use strip-mined coal to make electricity. Hypocrisy would be publicly criticizing strip-mining and secretly owning stock in a strip-mine company. Hypocrisy is Joe Manchin buying Mexican t-shirts for his campaign.

I have hated strip-mining since I saw it for the first time as I rounded a curve on the way home from WVU in the mid-fifties. I couldn’t believe what they were doing to our mountains. Is it hypocritical to call ourselves Mountaineers and sing of “O Those Beautiful Hills” and tear the tops off of them at the same time? Is West Virginia like the Vietnam village that “Had to be destroyed to be saved?”

Remember on Election Day that it was Bryant Bowman and Hoss

Farley who led the fight to stop the one-school consolidation. The Stowers-Jackson-McCann faction did everything they could to get the one giant concentration camp. They now claim to be for four schools. You would have to be dumb as a sled track to fall for that. Charles McCann has been for one school, two schools, three schools and now he claims he has always been for four schools. Vote for Con Hoke!

The Jackson-Stowers-McCann faction supports Joe Manchin for governor and so do the rich business people in the state. The unions support Charlotte Pritt. Whose side are you on? I see Cecil Underwood as the back-up candidate for the rich—they will support him if Pritt gets the nomination.

For the Supreme Court the people’s candidates are Joe Albright, Arthur Recht and Danny Staggers.

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Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, May 10,1996

The middle 1950’s were golden years in athletics for West Virginia University. For forty-seven dollars tuition a semester we lucky hillbilly children got those for free and from fifty yard line seats and saw Bruce Bosley knock Jim Brown backwards from the two yard line and Bosley didn’t even see him coming. He just ran into him accidently and knocked Brown backwards and on his butt. There was a picture in a Milwaukee newspaper showing Bosley holding two Marquette blockers and a running back. The picture caption referred to Bosley as a “Giant Mountaineer.” Bosley’s 225 pounds of solid, natural, Little Abner muscle was a giant in 1954 before steroids, fast food joints and weight rooms.

Sam Huff was on that team and Joe Marconi and a freshman named Chuck Howley. They played both ways then and had no facemask. At the beginning of the second quarter West Virginia would often put a whole new team on the field that was almost as good as the first team. Chuck Howley was so good that he got MVP in a Dallas-Miami Super Bowl. He played middle linebacker for Dallas, the losing team, and still got the MVP. That is the only time a defensive player for the losing team ever got MVP in a Super Bowl.

Hot Rod Hundley was a joy to watch play basketball. I was there when he ran the famous football play. Clayce Kishbaugh got the ball and put it on the floor as the center. Hundley was the quarter-back. Lined up behind were the other three players in T-formation. Hundley smoothed Kishbaugh’s duck tail hairdo, took the snap, faked a handoff and threw a pass to the man in motion who was in the corner, the shot missed but it was a hoot anyway. In a Southern Conference tournament game Hundley once made a shot behind his back from the corner, but as one wag in the crowd yelled, it was his second try. Hundley did a hook shot for a foul shot and missed. He was within one point of breaking the Southern Conference tournament scoring record. “I wouldn’t have anything to shot for next year,” was his reply to a reporter in a post game interview that was broadcast throughout the gym’s public address speakers. A fan from New York University in Madison Square Garden got such a kick out of Hundley’s play that near the end of a NYU-WVU game he went on the floor and gave Hot Rod a bear hug. He was a one man Harlem Globe Trotter—one of a kind in the history of college basketball. The last time I saw Hot Rod as a broadcaster for the Utah Jazz he was as serious as Ted Koppel.

Hot Rod was by far the most fun to watch but Jerry West was the best and he could make you very proud to be a WVU fan. Yale University was winding its way back north during the Christmas break. They had just come from finishing last in the Dixie Classic in Alabama. West guarded their best player. West would give him ten or fifteen feet and still block his shoots. I’m not sure the boy even scored. Those poor Ivy League boys were out of their league, at least in basketball.

Against St. Boneventure on national TV the Mountaineers were behind fifteen points at the half. WVU had one of the best records in the country and they were being humiliated in front of the whole nation and on their home court. West moved under the basket at a mighty six foot two or three and completely dominated the rest of the game and WVU won going away. I have seen West get the defensive rebound throw it out for the fast break and score the lay up at the other end of the court.

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The American Family is not Falling Apart

The News from Sam’s Branch
May 24, 1996

You hear a lot these days that the American family is falling apart. Well our family is falling together. We visit children and grandchildren clear across the continent, we go to weddings and family reunions, comfort one another at wakes and send presents to nephews and nieces. A whole bunch of families are not falling apart. My Barker clan, descended from Ethyl and Charlie Barker, will get together July 4 for a reunion of relatives from as far away as California, Florida and Texas. We will get together on the farm in Emmons that narrowly escaped becoming a coal processing plant. The more we get together at the farm the harder it is going to be for the dogs of the coal industry to get hold of it. I hope those little nieces and nephews grow fond of our piece of the earth.

Labor Secretary Robert Reich spoke out against the war between the states. This new war between the states is an economic war. If we give Toyota more tax breaks than Kentucky we get the new plant. If we let the pulp mill people pollute our water, smell up our air and get a million dollars * for every job they promise they will be nice enough to cut down all our hardwood forests for as far as you can drive in a day. If we cooperate they will rape us rather than some other state. We give away the store.

My brother was a plant manager for Bell and Howell. Puerto Rico offered them all kinds of tax breaks if they would move their plant down there. After the tax breaks expired they closed the plant and left Puerto Rico. When Toyota’s tax robbery expires you can bet they will threaten to move their plant to Ohio or Kentucky if we don’t kiss their butt. Everything we get from these companies is short-term. They really don’t care about us unless we are cheap. Is this the welfare state that Terry Headley ** was writing about last week? Welfare for the rich is a zillion times greater than welfare for the poor, yet a lot of people gag on the gnat and swallow the camel.

I am very concerned about the gripe-line that I hear about in the Lincoln Journal. It appears that vicious rumors can be called in by anyone and it will be printed as is. I would be embarrassed and ashamed to be a part of that. The callers are obviously cowards because they will not own up to their opinions. The publishers and editors who allow such damaging poison-pen trash to be printed are obviously of low character or of low intelligence or both. Do Lloyd Jackson, Wiley Stowers and Charles McCann *** endorse this social McCarthyism. It is obviously their paper—does it reflect their character?

Trashy journalism makes me think of ice hockey. Man, what a sport! It is as brutal and hateful as any bunch of Lincoln County Republicrats. In Phoenix recently, my son, his family and I went to a minor-league hockey match. Hockey in Phoenix is ice in hell. What must it cost to keep that water frozen when it is one hundred and ten in the shade? Hockey is like so-called professional wrestling except hockey is for real—they ain’t faking.

In hockey there is no pretense at sportsmanship. In football, as violent as it is, you will often see an opposing player help his downed foe get up. In Hockey if the referee isn’t looking and your opponent is on his knees you knock him on his ass. The fans boo every opposing player as they are introduced, they sing dirty little songs about how much the goalie sucks if he lets a puck get by him. There is not a Black or Mexican face in the audience. People are lined up two hundred deep to get an autographed pair of boxer shorts of the county sheriff who brutalizes prisoners by housing them outside in tents in the desert heat.

Trashy journalism and violent hockey make me think of blatant politics. I loved the Lloyd Jackson quote in last week’s paper. Lloyd allowed that it was nice having Earl Ray Tomblin **** speak for airport locations in Lincoln County cause by golly the chairman of the Port Authority, Fred Van Kirk is also commissioner of highways “and often has to go to Earl Ray for funding.” Buddy he tells it like it is.

* Incentives offered by the state of West Virginia to the proposed pulp mill would have amounted to one million dollars for each job that was promised.
** Terry Headley was the editor of the Lincoln Independent. He editorialized about the welfare state as if only poor people received welfare.
*** Lloyd Jackson, the late Wiley Stowers and Charles McCann were powerful Democratic Party politicians.
**** Earl Ray Thomblin was and is(2010) West Virginia Senate president.

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Burn the Flag

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, June 5, 1996

In Phoenix, Arizona, during spring break I went to the art museum and saw the exhibit on the American flag. It was an excellent exhibit, by most anyone’s standards, until the end. One of the last pieces was a new American flag draped in a new toilet commode. The flag was clean and toilet had never been used. It qualified as art if art is supposed to arouse emotion. At the very end of the show was a book on a podium where people could write comments. But to write comments you would have to stand on an American flag that was on the floor in front of the podium. I couldn’t do that. I stood to the side and made my comments in the book.

Since birth we are taught to respect the flag almost as if it is a living god. Is the act of saluting the flag a form of worship? The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persecuted, imprisoned and even tortured because they will not salute the flag. They see saluting the flag as worshipping a false god. They put God above country. Do they have the right to refuse to salute the flag?

Is a person’s flag their property? Can they do anything they want to something they bought with their own money? Should you respect an American flag that says “made in Taiwan” on the label? Is it desecration to draw a flag with crayons and then burn it? What if you just imagine burning a flag—should that be punished?

Can you wrap your garbage in a flag? Many people have done worse on an old newspaper that used the flag in an advertisement. If it is patriotic blasphemy to put the flag in a toilet commode is it also desecration to use the flag to sell toilet paper? Is it desecration of the flag to burn a newspaper that has the flag printed on its George Washington day advertisement? In the sixties it gagged self-proclaimed patriots to see irreverent young people wear the flag sewn to the rear end of their blue jeans. Not too long ago a group of veterans presented the man who dresses as Uncle Sam with a pair of underwear that the American flag on it.

Does saluting the flag make you a patriot? Has there ever been a corrupt politician who didn’t very publicly salute the flag at every opportunity? I think it was H. L. Mencken (5), a noted journalist, who said that the first thing a scoundrel does is wrap himself in the American flag. Crooks from Richard Nixon to Dan Rostenkowski(6) have always made sure that the American flag was on the screen in their TV speeches. When dishonest, thieving politicians have their prayer breakfasts in violation of the Biblical injunction to pray in secret they make sure the American flag is on display. The money hungry TV evangelists usually connect what they are doing with the flag and patriotism. Are Christianity and American patriotism the same thing? Can you be a Christian and not a patriot?

If I wouldn’t stand on an American flag would I also not stand on a flag of Britain, France, Mexico, Canada, China, and Vietnam? If you had been raise in Nazi Germany would you have saluted the swastika? If you had been raised a loyal citizen of the Soviet Union would you have respected the hammer and sickle?

Our flag is a symbol of freedom to us but to millions of Vietnamese it must be a symbol of terror. Was the American flag on the uniforms of the soldiers at the Mai Lay massacre? Did the soldiers carry the flag when they slaughtered the Indians at Wounded Knee? Did the police have the American flag on their sleeves when they were beating Rodney King? There is a famous picture of a White man trying to spear a Black man in Boston with the sharp end of an American flag pole.

Why does the flag seem to represent war? Does the flag represent Food for Peace, the Peace Corps and disaster aid around the globe as much as it does the carpet bombing of Hanoi? Would it be appropriate to have children walking with the flag spreading flowers in parades? Does the flag need an armed guard in its own land? Does the flag represent those who believe in the freedom of speech or those who want everybody to speak the same party line?

The American flag has been a welcome sight to millions of people all over the world. The prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps must have loved the sight of our flag as our soldiers liberated them from a living hell. The starving people who have received food with the American flag on the box will no doubt be forever grateful to us.

Is our flag strong enough to stand for all freedom, even the freedom to desecrate the flag?

The principles the flag represents deserve allegiance, not the flag itself. I like the last line of the pledge, “with liberty and justice for all.”

The American flag has been a welcome sight to millions of people all over the world. The prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps must have loved the sight of our flag as our soldiers liberated them from a living hell. The starving people who have received food with the American flag on the box will, no doubt, be forever grateful to us.”

It has been pointed out by other writers that flag burning is offensive to almost everyone but so are KKK parades and Louis Farrakhan’s racist speeches. The first amendment protects everyone’s right to outrageous opinions, no matter how offensive. If everything that is offensive loses constitutional protection there will be a long list of behaviors that will become unconstitutional.

What the flag symbolizes is strong enough to keep us free. You can’t destroy the meaning of the American flag by burning it. So burn away if you choose—it is a free country and no fire can destroy liberty and justice for all.

“I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag” Craig Washington. “If you have a weak candidate and a weak platform, wrap yourself up in the American flag and talk about the Constitution” Matthew Stanley Quay

(5) Samuel Johnson said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Mencken did say that patriotism is a “…favorite device of persons with something to sell.”
(6) Rostenkowski was a Chicago Democratic congressman of doubtful integrity.

 

This paragraph was left out of my last article. I think it was an important part of what I had to say about the flag:
The American flag has been a welcome sight to millions of people all over the world. The prisoners in the Nazi concentrations camps must have loved the sight of our flag as our soldiers liberated them from a living hell. The starving people who have received food with the American flag on the box will, no doubt, be forever grateful to us.

Why is it the right wing politicians condemn big government, government regulations, government control over our lives and yet they want to force school children to pray all at the same time and out loud. They want to enforce patriotism by forcing a pledge to that effect every day, at the same time and out loud. I think what they really want is to be able to dump toxic waste in our air, water and land without big government telling them to stop. As demagogues will do, they use religion and patriotism to hide their real intent. Doctors wave the same red flag when they preach against government control of your choice of doctors when what they really don’t want is for the government to lower their fees to some reasonable level.

Doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies killed the Clinton health plan claiming there would be no choice in doctors. The health insurance companies spent $100 million trashing universal health care. Clinton lost, the medical and insurance professions won and now people are stuck with HMO’s that force them to go to a primary care doctor to get permission to go to a specialist. The HMOs make it worthwhile to the primary care doctor to refer as few as possible to specialists. With less referral to specialists the HMOs make more money and can pass some on to the primary care doctors. It’s the old kick-back scam. The defeat of Clinton’s plan left us with nearly forty million people without health insurance.

I don’t understand why we need the insurance companies in the health business. Let’s eliminate the middle man and have a single-payer system. By putting health insurance under the government, we eliminate the profit the insurance companies and the HMOs make. Some HMO presidents are making over a million dollars a year at our expense. Do they own the politicians, or what?

Since 1979 health insurance companies have given $180 million to congressional campaigns. It is nothing more than a bribe to keep them on the gravy train.

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School Prayer, HMOs and Big Government

The News from Sam’s Branch June 9, 1996

Why is it the right wing politicians condemn big government, government regulations and government control over our lives and yet want to force school children to pray all at the same time and outloud every day. I think what they really want is to be able to dump toxic waste in our air, water and land, clear-cut our hardwoods and strip our mountains without big government telling them to stop. As demagogues will do, they use religion and patriotism to hide their real intent. The medical profession and health insurance companies wave the same red flag when they preach against government control of your choice of doctors when what they really want is more money.

Doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies killed the Clinton health plan claiming there would be no choice of doctors. The health insurance companies spent $100 million trashing universal health care. Clinton lost, the medical and insurance professionals won. Now people are stuck with HMOs that force them to go to a primary care doctor tyo get permission to go to a specialist. The HMOs make it worthwhile to the doctor to refer as few as possible to specialists. With less referrals to specialists the HMOs make more money and can pass some on to the primary care doctors. The old kick-back scam. The defeat of Clinton’s plan left us with nearly forty million people without health insurance.

I don’t understand why we need the insurance companies in the health business. Let’s eliminate the middle man and have a single-payer system. By ptting health insurance under the government we eliminate the insurance company and HMO profit. Some HMO presidents are making over a million dollars a year at out expense. Do they own the politicians, or what? It is alarming that our health care programs are run by people who just want to get rich.

Since 1979 health insurance companies have given $180 million to congressional campaigns. Nothing more than a bribe to keep them on the gravy train.

Medicare, Social Security and the Military

The News from Sam’s Branch
June 16, 1996

They say Medicare will be bankrupt by 2001 (7) and that Social Security will go under by 2029. The Republicans immediately call for cutting benefits. The answer to both these problems is simple. Force price controls on doctors and hospitals and bring prices down. Put all medical services on a non-profit basis. Let no one get rich off the health of our people. Get health insurance companies clear out of the picture. Adopt a single-payer system like they have had in Canada for decades. (8) Then grab the military budget by the throat and cut it in half—we would still have the strongest military in the world. Put that money from the military into health care and social security. Anyone who has ever been in the service knows that you could do the job with half the money. The military budget is to the country what the super tax credit is to West Virginia—the answer to all our money problems. (9)

The Republican Congress voted to give the military $7 billion more than the military requested. If they had given them $7 billion less than they requested that could be $14 billion available for Medicare and social security every year! If that isn’t enough cut the military even more. At $7 billion less the military would still have $251 billion. If you could spend a thousand dollars a day it would take a million days to spend just one billion dollars. That is about 2700 years!! To spend $251 billion at one thousand dollars a day would take you over 680,000 years. And the Republicans have the nerve to suggest cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits. Throw the rascals out! But be careful not to replace them with Republicrats.

Of the money that Congress can dole out (called discretionary spending) the military gets more than all other categories combined. The military gets over $250 billion, veteran benefits and services get $19 billion and education gets $27 billion.

The rich pay social security taxes on only their first $62,000. If that loophole were closed it would pay off half the national debt or it could be used to save Medicare and Social Security.

We might be able to solve the whole problem by making doctors and hospitals donate one month’s earnings. They could go to Watoga State Park instead of the Bahamas this year.

The cartoon in the Lincoln Advertiser received on June 7 was a tasteless piece of racist trash. You don’t need to be spreading and encouraging hateful stereotypes of other races be they liberal, conservative or Hare Krishna. That cartoon was way beneath the dignity of the Lincoln Independent, I had hoped.

(7) As this is being transcribed in 2010 it is obvious that Medicare did not collapse in 2001.
(8) If Canadians didn’t like their health care system they would have already been rid of it.
(9) The super tax credit started as a gimmick to attract the first Saturn automobile plant to West Virginia. Saturn went to Tennessee and now (2010) Saturn cars are no longer made. The coal industry persuaded the legislature to extend the super tax credit to them. They were supposed to get credits for creating jobs. All kinds of scams ensued. They used the tax credits to buy long wall mining machines which replaced coal mining jobs. They also closed underground mines and later opened mountain top removal strip mines thus reducing jobs—but they counted the jobs on the strip mines as created to satisfy the super tax credit stipulation that jobs must be created to get the credit.

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Progressland

The News from Sam’s Branch
June 21, 1996

I just got back from two weeks in Progressland. Progressland is that solution to all of our problems. Progressland is about everywhere you go outside West Virginia. Some of the soldiers of progressland have invaded West Virginia—take a look at how much of Jefferson County in the eastern panhandle doesn’t look like West Virginia anymore. The hucksters don’t even call it the eastern panhandle—it is now the “Eastern Gateway”. Gateway to “open up” West Virginia so that it is no longer unique, no longer any different from the rest of yuppie land.

Progressland all looks alike. It is four lane highways that have destroyed small business in small town America. There are trashy stretches of fast food joints and filling stations on both sides of every little town. The little main streets are boarded up and wasting away. People in the country are locking their houses now that the four-lanes bring criminals right to their doors. (10)

Progress and development have made “guard house” communities seem necessary to scared populations. It was eerie to pass through guard houses manned by people who can’t afford to live in the fortress communities—Black uniformed guards watching over mostly white communities in the deep south. In the more upscale walled-in communities the houses have that fake instant antique look. They were built new to look old and comfortable like farm houses in freer country. In the North Carolina Appalachians there was a sign by the road advertising cabins for sale that read “New Rustic Cabins”. Like a new old friend—instant roots.

“Progress” brings big money for a few and part-time jobs for the rest. So-called progress “opens up” an area for “development”. Development means bright lights, noise, crowding, pollution and tourists looking for the happiness they can’t see to find at home.

(10) A man drove on Interstate Highway 64 from Virginia almost all the way across West Virginia and took a random exit and drove into a random driveway, knocked on the door and shot the woman who answered the knock. A campus guard at Emory and Henry University in western Virginia told me she is armed because Interstate 81 runs right past the campus. And an author and doctor in Johnstown, Tennessee writes that interstate highways are a conduit that brings AIDS from the metropolitan areas to more rural communities by way of truck drivers and local truck stop male and female prostitutes. The interstate highways are also conduits for invasive exotic plant species and plant diseases.

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More on Progressland

The News from Sam’s Branch
June 28, 1996

More on Progressland and development. When coming into West Virginia from Ohio on Interstate 77 cross the lovely Ohio River into Wild Wonderful West Virginia. Do you see beautiful tree-filled mountains? You see giant billboards covering what are probably beautiful mountains. Of course they are notifications that can’t wait. Instead of looking at those pesky mountains, McDonalds and their ilk let you know immediately where you can find quaint Appalachian hamburgers. It is the same on the Virginia border coming into West Virginia from the south. McDonalds gets you on both ends. Who needs mountains when you can come to West Virginia for hamburgers? The song will have to be changed from “Those Beautiful West Virginia Hills” to “Those beautiful West Virginia hamburgers”, and don’t forget the cappuccino. Pretty soon all our mountains will be either strip-mined or covered with billboards or both.

Speaking of strip-mining—ask Hobet or any strip-mining company if they would strip every mountain in West Virginia if they had the mineral rights. If they are hones they will say yes. Does anyone really think they care about us and our silly mountains? Must we strip all of West Virginia to have jobs? Must we destroy West Virginia to save it?

In the mountains of North Carolina at the very western tip of that state lives Martha Owen and David Liden and their three beautiful children. They lived briefly in Lincoln County. David did the West Virginia Land Study and found out that West Virginia is owned mainly by out of state rich people who love taking the tops of mountains off without being taxed very much.

They moved to the mountains of North Carolina to be near their kin. Martha still raises sheep and rabbits. She processes the wool and fur from conception to lovely handmade sweaters and hats.11They built, with their own hands, a sturdy home with large natural beams. They do their best to preserve the mountain stories and music by performing for school groups and camps. They try to hold back the tide of tacky development and wanton disregard for what is unique about our mountains. They win a few and lose a few.

Since I was there last McDonalds has installed an arch taller than the church spire across the road in downtown Murphy. A new development has gone in down the road from David and Martha’s place that would make a nature-lover vomit.

Some favorite quotes (paraphrased as best as I remember them): “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” All attributed to Jesus. And attributed to J. Paul Getty—”Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth but not the minerals rights.” From my favorite book of Ecclesiastes--”Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you shall die.” “The rich man forgets when he was poor and the King forgets when he was a prisoner.” From J. Weldon Martin—”The corporations are now taxing the government.”

(11) I have one of her wool sweaters with worn out elbows from maybe forty years ago.

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Somerset Oil Company

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, June 26, 1996

Pennzoil is trying to sell its West Virginia utilities operations to a company recently formed called Somerset Oil and Gas. Somerset is going to keep only sixteen of seventy employees statewide. There is some serious doubt that Somerset is a real company. It smells like it was thrown together just for this deal. Somerset was put together in September of last year and is owned by people from New York and Greece. Welcome to the world of multi-national rip-offs.

Somerset smells even more like one of those union-busting scams that are going on all over the nation. The sixteen employees will be non-union, which means their wages and benefits will probably be too low to support their families. The sales agreement between Pennzoil and Somerset reads, “None of the employees who are members of a union, or subject to any collective bargaining agreement or obligation, have any rights to continue their employment”. Is Lincoln County’s own Boyce Griffith, head of the Public Service Commission going to let working people of Lincoln County take a beating like this? Is Boyce a Democrat or a Republicrat—we shall see?

“Since Somerset has no employees in West Virginia, they will hire bands of scab contractors to do repair and to respond to emergency situations. These contractors will be people with no knowledge of the gas lines and customers in our area. They will pay low wages and probably no benefits. They will be far away and hard to find when you need them.

By laying off about sixty employees, Somerset will be able to reward themselves with higher management salaries. The game is lay off union workers, hire cheap contract labor and make more profit for the stockholders and the company managers.

There is a good chance we will all be switched over to propane before it is over. Gas companies don’t want to fool with providing gas to homes when they can sell their gas in bulk to Carbide, DuPont and other large companies. We are just a bother to them, as are their employees.

The hearing on the Pennzoil sale in Griffithsville on Saturday had a feeling similar to those board of education meetings. It seemed like a big fix, and that the hearing was just a going through-the-motions shell game to make it all legal. The law is on the side of big business and seldom do we get our way. This is the real issue in America today. It is a class war started by the rich against the poor. The rich own the law and the law-makers.

I might have missed someone, but I didn’t see any of Lincoln County’s elected officials at the hearing. Republicrats don’t care about the working people.

The only politician there on Saturday was Charlotte Lane, who was the lawyer for Somerset and is running for Secretary of State on the Republican ticket. Darrell McGraw is running for re-election as Secretary of State—guess who I am voting for. Darrell is one of the few Democrat office-holders who is not a Republicrat.

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How Many Companies Do You Own?

The News from Sam’s Branch
July 15, 1996

Headline in the Charleston Gazette—”Jobless figures best in six years.” And right below that in a sub-headline—”News has negative effect on Wall Street.” The working people do better, the rich panic and sell their stock. The stock market is a gambling casino for the rich that has no relation to the needs of the rest of the country.

If you want to help put Newt Gingrich back under the rock he slithered from send a contribution to the Georgia Democratic Party, P.O. Box 1616, Atlanta, Georgia 30301-1616. Tell them it is to be used to send Newt back to Georgia.

Do you know how many companies you own? Can you work for nothing? Well the main man, O’Neil by name, in the Somerset Oil and Gas scam to buy the Pennzoil customer gas service, has that problem. He couldn’t remember how many companies he owned and claimed he would be paid no salary as president and our new owner. He and the other out of state robber barons put all the stock for Somerset in their daughter’s names. So their daughters will make the profit on firing Pennzoil workers. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Once again none of Lincoln County’s elected officials were present at the Public Service Commission hearing on July 8 to defend the interests of the Pennzoil workers—whose side are they on? Perhaps Caperton’s (12) best buddy (13) in Lincoln County should have intervened on behalf of the teamsters union at Pennzoil. Maybe he doesn’t like unions. Maybe he is the rich man’s boy. Maybe he is too mixed up with the oil and gas crowd to spit in their soup. (14)

Maybe we need to let Pennzoil tax the government as did Columbia Gas. Columbia Gas Transmission taxed our state government $4,000,000. For this price they promised not to leave Charleston. But they said they may still lay off 150 workers.

It could be worse—the state of Alabama had a corporate welfare law, since repealed, that would allow companies to keep the state payroll deduction from their employees. Eliminate the middle man and let the corporations tax us directly!

Where can we save money? Listen to former CIA Director William Colby who stated that we could cut $40 billion from the defense budget and still have the world’s best military.

According to Paul Nyden of the Charleston Gazette, Buck Harless (15) has contributed to North Carolina Senator Jesse Helm’s campaign. Helms is a blatant racist who supported the death squad leaders in Guatemala—the people who raped and killed nuns and assassinated the arch-bishop of the Catholic Church as he was saying mass. Several of the soldiers involved in the murders were trained at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Helm’s is also in favor of right to work laws which are just a union busting strategy and which really “right to work for less”. Buck Harless is also a big supporter of Cecil Underwood. (16) Buck Harless is rich.

Books I like—Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene published by Fawcett Columbine. It is the well written true story of McIntosh County, Georgia as the African descendents struggle with the White sheriff who runs the county. There are some similarities to Lincoln County. And Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver and published by Harper Perennial. Kingsolver is a native of Kentucky who move to Tucson and liked it (something I can’t grasp). Heaven is a town in Oklahoma. Her Kentucky characters sound a lot like us. It is fun to read. Every West Virginian needs to read Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth by Denise Giardinia. They are novels based on our coal-miners’ struggles in southern West Virginia. Denise wrote part of her first novel, Good King Hank in Griffithsville.

Simple pleasures—my two year old grandson at the Barker reunion waving a sparkler back and forth in front of his face. Thinking the sparkler was too close to little Patrick’s face, his father said “Straighten you arm out.” Patrick obeyed immediately by extending straight out the hand that was empty.

(11) I have one of her wool sweaters with worn out elbows from maybe forty years ago.
(12) Gaston Caperton, governor of West Virginia
(13) State senator Lloyd Jackson who managed Caperton’s campaign.
(14) Lloyd Jackson runs a gas well drilling company started by his father.
(15) Buck Harless is a timber baron who has timbered in the Appalachians and the Brazil rain forest.
(16) Cecil Underwood was a Republican governor. ?? ?? ?? ??

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Krushchev Was a Communist

The News From Sam’s Branch
July 17, 1996

So how do you like your new board members so far? Raise your hand if you think all votes on the board of education will be five to nothing. Does the same master pull all the puppet hands up at once? It reminds me of the votes in the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union—Khrushchev would lower his head and all hands would go up in favor of whatever he said. Khrushchev was a communist.

In their first major act the new members voted to use money needed for education to hire a political hack from another county. Is this to protect them from what they are planning to do to the children of this county? They have a $300,000 deficit and they throw money down a political rat hole.

It is ironic that if Charlotte Pritt gets elected she may save this board of education from having to consolidate our kids into one concentration camp. I have been told she plans to stop forced, unpopular consolidation. However, since the Jackson-Stowers gang ran on a four school platform we don’t have to worry. But then they hired that lawyer.

About the time I decide that the Republicans are worthless I remember that all five of those board members call themselves Democrats. Republicrats, maybe? As George Wallace said there ain’t a dimes worth of difference between Republican bosses and Democrat bosses. And we have another rich man trying to start a third party. We need a labor party which makes no apologies for being in the hip pocket of the working people.

The Republicans in Congress are trying to destroy the strip-mine regulations so their buddies won’t even have to act like they are cleaning up after themselves. And the Democrat leadership in West Virginia (read Lloyd Jackson’s buddy Gaston Caperton) is doing its best to let that proposed pulp mill over in Mason County dump dioxin in the Ohio River. The fish in the Ohio River already contain way above the safe limits. They say you might be able to smell that mill in Hamlin.

If that mill gets built your introduction to West Virginia as you come in from the northeast will be billboards on the mountains and rotten eggs in the air. There is a song title; “Billboards on the Mountains, Rotten Eggs in the Air—Almost Hell, West Virginia.”

See if you can guess whether the following quote came from the Christian Coalition or a Roman Catholic Cardinal: “American corporations are endangering capitalism by treating workers as commodities that can be eliminated to produce more profits for stockholders…unless we find a way to show respect for the worker as a worker, then I think the whole system is going to go. I think that if capitalism doesn’t correct itself from within, capitalism as we know it is going to be in jeopardy.”

More favorite quotes: “The love of money is the root of all evil.”--Paul the apostle; “Prosperity isn’t worth the price you have to pay.”—Eddie Gillenwater; “These Temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the almighty dollar.”—John Muir.

Simple pleasures—Standing on top of Wilkerson’s knob and seeing mountains three ridges deep.

Scary visions—Seeing the strip-mine lights in the distance from Sumerco.

Shirley Mullens was at the Pennzoil hearings in support of the Pennzoil workers. As far as I know she was the only elected official present.

Some simple pleasures: Orange butterfly weed, sweet pea blossoms, elder blow and all the beautiful people at the Barker reunion. Glory!

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In Defense of Hillary: A Great First Lady

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, August 14, 1996

Terry Headley, our editor, has finally provoked me to defend Hillary Clinton. It is silly to call the Clinton’s common criminals as Headley did. Of course I have been fooled before by folks like Arch Moore * , who indeed was a common criminal. And there was Wally Barron ** , who was sent to prison for bribing a juror in a jury bribery trial. Ol’ Wally was sure creative now.

Bill Clinton, who could hold on for twelve years as governor of a state more corrupt than West Virginia (God, is that possible?), has made many a deal and his closet is full of trash, for sure. But I would rather have a slick, waffling Bill Clinton in the White House than a Republican any day.

When Governor Marland was being run out of the state for trying to put a severance tax on the coal companies, he turned to the bottle and was reputed to be a drunk. My first vote ever for governor was for Cecil Underwood. I only knew of Marland’s drinking habits, and had no idea that he was so far ahead of his time on the severance tax issue. The coal operators fooled us and they got us to vote for their man—Cecil Underwood. I argued with my grandpa about Marland and Underwood **** . “How could you vote for a drunk”, I wailed. Grandpa replied, “I’d rather vote for a drunk Democrat than a Republican any day.” After seeing the damage that a Republican Congress can do to the working people of this nation I now know what he meant. In Lincoln County it will be hard to know who the Democrats and Republicans are. The Jackson-Stowers faction is not supporting the Democrat nominee for Governor. *** They are really Republicans or Republicrats—they will probably support Dole for president.

Calling the Clintons names is a diversion that Republicans want us to follow and ignore the real issues. The real issues in this country are the rescuing of our environment, universal health care, Medicare, Medicaid, quality day care for working people, school lunch programs, a decent minimum wage, defense spending verses domestic spending, etc. On all these issues the Clintons have been on the side of the working people. The Republicans have always been against the welfare of the working people.

It sheds no light on the issues to personally attack Mrs. Clinton. Her personality and personal life aren’t important. It is important that she cares about such things as the welfare of children, about quality education and about medical care.

Mrs. Clinton gets attacked because she is a threat to the Republicans. She is smart and unafraid to speak out. The Republicans like to paint her as an uppity woman. The Republicans don’t want their rich buddies to have to pay equal wages for equal work, and they know a first lady like Mrs. Clinton will fight for such equality. The Republicans want women to be Uncle Toms and stay in their so-called place. If Republicans can keep women down they can keep costs down for big business. The attacks on Mrs. Clinton are designed to save the rich a lot of money. Mrs. Clinton scares the hell out of the rich Republicans.

It has been a long time since we have had a first lady who cared so much for the working people. Mrs. Bush was a nice lady who was in favor of abortion. Mrs. Reagan was a mean-spirited woman who was downright catty towards highly educated and cultured Mrs. Gorbachev. Mrs. Ford was an alcoholic who was drunk on TV during a Barbara Walters interview. Rosalynn Carter was an outstanding intellect who had compassion for the poor people of this country. Richard Nixon’s wife was a nice lady who seemed to wish her husband was in some other line of work. Lady Bird Johnson was an effective wheeler-dealer. I’m not sure what Mrs. Kennedy was. Mrs. Eisenhower was also an alcoholic. Mrs. Truman was another nice lady who was a good mother. And Mrs. Roosevelt was a spiritual giant among men and women.

With the exception of Mrs. Roosevelt, Mrs. Clinton may be the greatest first lady of all.

* Republican Arch Moore was a three term West Virginia governor from 1969 to 1977 and again from 1985 to 1989. He pled guilty to five felony charges and went to prison for lying and stealing. A good friend of mine in high school was one of his bag men. After taking out some for himself, he delivered bribes to Moore. A briber snitched and the feds found out my friend had not reported his income to the IRS. To get a light sentence, my friend ratted on Governor Moore.

** Democrat Wally Barron served as governor of West Virginia from 1961-65. His administration was riddled with corruption, as was he. He was being tried for bribing a jury when his wife offered $25,000 to the wife of the head juror. Wally, ever the gentleman, took the fall for his wife.

*** Charlotte Pritt was the first woman running for governor on either the Democratic or Republican parties. She was betrayed by the Democratic Party leadership who supported republican Cecil Underwood. The present Democrat Governor Joe Manchin (2009) was a Democrat for Underwood.

**** Some of this is wrong. Underwood was running against Congressman Bob Mollohan. A week before the election, it was discovered that while Mollohan was superintendent of the reform school at Pruntytown he had received bribes of $20,000 and two cars from a coal operator for the right to strip mine on the reform school property. In the same election former Governor Marland ran for the U.S. Senate and lost to Republican Chapman Rivercomb. I voted for Rivercomb only because Marland was a drunk. My conversation with my grandfather was about the Marland-Rivercomb election. I did vote for Underwood over Mollohan. My Dad’s best friend was a close friend of Mollohan and was involved in counting the absentee ballots. He told my father how I had voted. Neither my dad nor his friend could understand the idealism that rejected a drunk and a corrupt politician. Since then, seeing what the Republicans really have in mind and what mean spirited people they are, I have come to agree with my grandfather Charlie Barker that if the choice is between a Democrat and a Republican, I too would vote for a drunk Democrat before I would vote for a Republican. Of course, I would prefer a liberal, left wing choice over either one. I figure we have one party with two factions. The Republicans believe beating the slaves will make them work harder while the Democrats offer health care and retirement benefits to the slaves—but they both believe in slavery.

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We Cannot Afford the Rich II

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, August 26, 1996

I watched Bill Clinton speak in Ashland on television. I loved what he said. I wanted to believe him, but I don’t trust him anymore than I do Bob Dole. They are both controlled by the bankers and the other big money people. Dole is so sold out to the tobacco money that he says tobacco isn’t addictive. Tobacco addicts know they are addicted. Smokers know that they are addicted when they will drive twenty miles at eleven o’clock at night to get a pack of cigarettes. Dole is paid to say the opposite to the obvious truth.

In light of Dole’s foolish statement, Clinton cynically declares that nicotine is an addictive drug for the political advantage it might give him. Clinton signed a welfare bill that is awful, just for the votes. That mean-spirited welfare bill was designed by Newt Gingrich and Clinton is going to get credit for it. Tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee.

Big business paid for the Republican convention and they will pay for the Democratic convention. The two parties ought to merge into one. As George Wallace suggested, there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the rich Democrats and rich Republicans.

The Christian Coalition and the Ross Perot Reform Party are symptoms that the people feel left out by both parties. Maybe we ought to do like the Russians and get rid of this one-party system. The Republicrats run the country for the rich and the rest of us suck hind teat.

I want a Green-Labor Party. This party would develop jobs that are kind to the environment. As Lyndon Johnson said, “Don’t spit in the soup, we all gotta eat!” The environment is our soup. We have to have clean air and water, and we have to preserve our land or die.

A Green-Labor Party would recognize that if we continue with capitalism we will have to have welfare for the unemployed to function smoothly. We can’t blame the unemployed for not having jobs. How do you get a job if there are no jobs? Did you ever notice that no candidate runs on the platform of full employment? There can be no full employment in our system. Full employment causes inflation and raises wages to high for the rich to afford their luxuries.

The obscenity in this country isn’t about sex. The obscenity in this country is that one percent of the people control 40 percent of the wealth. We cannot afford the rich.

This was during the 1996 Clinton-Dole campaign. I remember Clinton making a grand entrance into Ashland, Kentucky on a train. It looked regal, elegant and powerful

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Memories of Roger

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, September 4, 1996

The death of Roger Lovejoy was shocking. It was hard to believe. Without thinking about it I just assumed he would always be around. Yet, suddenly he was gone.

Jesus taught that to love people was to love God. He said, “I was a stranger and you took me in,” and “If you have done it to the least of these you have done it to me.” About fifteen years ago we had moved to Sam’s Branch from Sugar Tree. I was not exactly an L.L. Bean model back then. I had the biggest and maybe the only “Afro” in Lincoln County. Roger Lovejoy didn’t let differences bother him. He was kind to me. He was friendly to me. He invited me into his home. I was a stranger and he took me in.

Roger was a Republican, worked for a strip mine company, and fought in Vietnam, but he had the grace to ignore those big differences between us. He drew a circle that took me in. I will miss him because he always had a smile for me, and always wanted to know what I was thinking about.

Roger’s funeral was a time when a community came together to honor his memory, to comfort his family, and to comfort one another. I felt sad, but I also felt the meaning of community. There is a community of people in this area. They care about one another. This community is probably present in all rural areas where the real family values have a chance to be practiced. This sense of community is above politics, above religion, and above economics. It is spiritual.

It is a strange connection, but this feeling of community at Roger’s funeral made me want to be with this community even more that day. Contrary to my previous plans, I went to the Van and Duval football game that night, just to be with our people again. Roger’s sparkling eyes were absent from the sidelines, but he was deep in our feelings, memories and conversations that evening. Roger would have loved to have seen Blaine* call fifteen pass plays the first half.

It was a bittersweet day….

*Blaine Wilkerson was the conservative Duval High School football coach.

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Babbitt and Strip Mines

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, September 11, 1996

Good news for the Pennzoil workers! The judge ruled against the sale of Pennzoil to a bogus company called Somerset. Somerset was going to fire most of the workers and hire non-union, scab contractors.

*******

The Republican platform in the State of Mississippi commits the party to outlaw “…certain environmental terrorists that oppose every business development or industrial project on the grounds of environmental protection.” So now you are a terrorist if you oppose a new business because you think it will hurt the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live on. Sure is a broad definition of terrorism. It ranks environmentalists right there with the World Trade Center bombers, airplane hijackers and hostage takers.

Maybe we would not seem so extreme if so many of the proposed uses of our land, air and water weren’t so extremely awful. We have learned the hard way that industry will not willingly regulate themselves. If it weren’t for the protests, demonstrations, and lobbying of environmentalists there would be no protection at all for the general public against the gross greed of business and industry.

Don’t think for a minute that there would be anything but high walls, spoil banks and gashed mountain sides all over southern West Virginia, if it had not been for the environmentalists. The coal operators have been dragged kicking and screaming. They have resisted every reasonable environmental protection. The coal, oil, gas, timber and chemical companies are the real terrorists in this picture. They have terrorized us and our land for years.

And so, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the strip mine legislation, guess where Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt chose to mark the occasion? He stood on a strip mine in Boone County behind a podium with Hobet Mining written across the front, spoke into a microphone provided by Hobet, and bragged on how strip mining is doing such a nice job of turning our hardwood forests into savannah forest lands. He even mouthed the coal industry’s favorite absurdity that it was now “better than before.” I suppose that compared with Babbitt’s native Arizona deserts, anything looks better. It reminded me of the time County Commissioner Duncan said he liked the way strip mining made our mountains look like the semi-desert scenes of Utah. West Virginia mountains—love ‘em or leave ‘em!

Babbitt chose to stand with the very industry that has helped the Republican Congress gut the strip mine legislation. Babbitt doesn’t stand alone—that paragon of virtue, Nick Joe Rahall grinned at the cameras too. If it weren’t an election year maybe they would have honored all the environmentalists who made the legislation possible.

Babbitt’s honoring the fox at the henhouse is in keeping with the way the coal industry has taken over Earth Day to make it look like they care about the environment. The only thing the coal industry cares about is money.

Now comes the newest terrorist threat to our environment. West Virginia woods are on the verge of being clear-cut. West Virginia will be clear-cut to supply wood chips to Weyerhauser in Braxton County, Georgia-Pacific in Mount Hope and Tru-jois McMillian in Buckhannon. West Virginia was savagely clear-cut ninety years ago, and the trees are ready to be “harvested” again. The timber industry doesn’t cut trees down, they “harvest” them. They hire the same type of amoral public relations liars who created the term surface mining to clean up the sound of strip-mining. It’s called a euphemism.

There are virtually no regulations on the timber industry. They bulldoze all over the place, destroying wildlife habitat and causing massive erosion. They claim that they will regulate themselves. Where have we heard that before? We need legislation at least as tough as the strip mine legislation or we are going to look up in a few years and our woods are going to be destroyed. According to Ken Ward, in the Charleston Gazette, the timber industry will be cutting an area the size of Putnam County every five years. Without regulations, West Virginia will look like a moonscape.

One of the reason the big coal and timber operators are supporting Cecil Underwood for Governor is that he will make it easier to moonscape West Virginia.**

*High walls are huge rock cliffs left behind by strip mine operations when they blow a gash in the side of a mountain. Spoil banks are the blasted rocks and earth than are dumped over the hillside by strip mine operators.

**This is the same Cecil Underwood whom I voted for when he was elected the youngest governor of West Virginia. This time around he was elected a second time as the oldest governor ever.

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Entrapment

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, October 16, 1996

I have read every word I could find about the FBI arrests of the “militiamen” in Clarksburg. The Gazette headlines made it seem like these men were about ready to blow up the FBI fingerprint headquarters in Bridgeport. The story didn’t match the headlines. It appears that this is what happened: An undercover FBI agent offered $50,000 to Floyd Looker, who calls himself the commander of the West Virginia “Mountaineer Militia.” In return, they wanted Looker to give them blueprints and pictures of the FBI fingerprint headquarters. The FBI agent was posing as a go-between for a Mideast terrorist organization. The FBI knew that another member of the Mountaineer Militia, James Rogers, had access to the less than secret blueprints and pictures. The stuff was on file at the Clarksburg fire department where Rogers has been a fireman for seventeen years. It doesn’t sound like the blueprints and pictures were kept under any “top secret” security. It sounds like most anybody working for the fire department would have access to the information since it was there to help the firemen in case of an emergency at the FBI headquarters.

So Looker must have figured that, heck yes, we can make $50,000 off some Arabs we consider inferior anyway. We can sell them something they could probably get for free without much trouble. So Looker gets the man what he wants and the man arrests him for being part of a conspiracy. Looker was offered the opportunity to participate in what the FBI considered a crime, but the offer wasn’t possible without the FBI first inventing the crime.

The militiamen are way over the other side of insanity as far as I am concerned. But the crime they are being charged with couldn’t happen without the FBI. No FBI, no crime. The FBI informant helped Floyd Looker put the blueprint and photo package together for the ‘FBI agent posing as a Middle Eastern terrorist contact. This whole caper reminds me of how the FBI infiltrated groups that opposed the war in Vietnam. The FBI agent would suggest a violent action that the group could take. If the group took those actions the FBI arrested them. If they didn’t take the actions they would be arrested for conspiring or plotting the violent actions. It is called entrapment—suggest a crime and then arrest them for it.

The FBI said in a curious statement that, “…actions taken by the defendants did not pose an immediate threat to the FBI facility.” Explosives were bought by the FBI informant for the Mountaineer Militia. The FBI claims that Looker ordered the purchase. In another curious statement, the FBI said “…all the explosives were under the control of the FBI at all times.” I am beginning to wonder if everyone involved in this scam were FBI agents. Maybe Looker is an FBI man. The crime was suggested by the FBI. The FBI bought the explosives and had them under its control at all times.

I feel less than comfortable agreeing with William Pierce, the pro-Nazi over in Pocahontas County. He says the FBI may be putting on a show at the expense of some poor, naïve guys. Pierce is quoted in the Charleston Gazette that, “the government responds to disasters like Oklahoma City by entrapping individuals so they can say to the people they’re fighting terrorism.” It reminds me of those pictures of Republican Mayor Mike Roark in the Charleston Gazette holding marijuana plants to show how tough he was on drugs. The mayor was decked out in camouflage fatigues and wore a sidearm. Later that evening, the mayor could be seen snorting cocaine right off the bar in a local tavern.*

These militia types leave little doubt that they are a brick shy of a load. They think the United Nations has troops in the United States along with Russian tanks ready to take over the country in the name of the “New World Order.” They are so ignorant they don’t realize that the UN is controlled by the United States, not the other way around.

My concern is the government entrapping its own citizens. The government creates the opportunity for a crime, and whoever bites gets arrested. It is downright tacky for the government to tempt its weaker-minded citizens into a crime. In the case of the Mountaineer Militia, entrapment meant that people got arrested for that they would have done if the FBI agent had really been a Middle Eastern terrorist agent. They got jail for what they would have done if….Seems like there is enough real crime without the government creating more opportunities.

*Mayor Roark’s code name in these raids was “Mad Dog Mike.” He was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to one day less than six months. Pictures had revealed him white water rafting with big time drug dealers from Florida. After prison, Roark studied to be an Episcopal Priest but died before that was completed.

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Clinton and Iraq

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, September 18, 1996

President Clinton is playing macho with Iraq. Bob Dole said Clinton was a sissy if he didn’t hurt somebody bad and quickly. Clinton, looking through the rear-view mirror at Dole trying to catch up, figured he had to drop some bombs. The US can’t control Iraq with airplanes and bombs, and it would bankrupt us to invade and occupy. * It would take a million troops. Those troops would have to be rotated and replaced every year or so, and it is already starting to sound like Vietnam. The Arabs would learn to hate us even more, as have people in Okinawa ** , when our soldiers abuse and offend.

From the TV it appears that Saddam Hussein is indeed a mad man and I don’t have the answer for how to deal with him. We will do something to warn him to back off, and for a time he will back off. We will then bring our planes and soldiers home, and then he will do something else. We can’t play cat-and mouse- with him forever. Bush decided to stop short of putting Saddam Hussein out of power. I think that might have been done to keep Iran form moving into Iraq and becoming even more powerful and difficult.

The question really boils down to: can we police the world. The answer is no. The world is too big and it’s problems too out of control for one country to solve it all. We can get our young soldiers killed, kill their young soldiers and civilians, and still not solve the world’s problems. In the meantime, our own problems go unsolved.

Imagine what we could do about school consolidation with what it took to fly just one of those B-52s and the missiles it fired. How much money has been already spent trying to put the stops to Iraq? Several billion dollars have been poured down that rat hole.

Clinton and Dole are not statesmen when they act like two schoolyard bullies daring each other to make a move. Some people in Iraq died because these two played political games. And Saddam Hussein is still in power.

*As I write this footnote in 2009 it appears the country has been bankrupted by a combination of two wars and greedy, lawless bankers.

**There was a case of American soldiers raping an Okinawa woman.

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Gay Rights

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, September 25, 1996

I was visiting in a home the other day and the woman of the house was showing me pictures of her children. She said, “Tammy, our oldest, is gay.” She expressed her love for Tammy and what a joy she had been as a child. She didn’t understand Tammy’s sexual orientation, but she loved her and was not about to reject her. The mother told me, “Tammy’s partner is such a wonderful person. I never dreamed that my favorite daughter-in-law would be my daughter’s lover.” Here we have a woman who has considered herself and her values as “normal” and her daughter is part of a minority that certain politicians use as a scapegoat to get votes.

Gay people are a very small minority in our society and, like the Jews in Germany, they are an easy target for politicians who want to divert attention away from bigger issues like the millions of children living in poverty. Gay bashing is a vote getter among weak minded voters.

I would bet that every family has one family member or close relative who is gay. Most of these people are gay for genetic reasons, and can’t be sincerely heterosexual. All of these gay people are members of families who hopefully love them even if they disapprove of their sexual preference. So how do politicians get away with scapegoating members of our loving families?

Tammy’s mother thinks there is an economic connection to politicians trying to limit Gay rights. If companies have to recognize gay couples as legal unions it will cost the companies more money in benefits such as health care.

By now, about everyone knows of or is related to people who are HIV positive. There was a man two years ahead of me in high school who has since died of AIDS. One of my former students is HIV positive. The son of my boyhood family doctor died of AIDS. These people who are HIV positive or have AIDS are members of families, many of which are heroic in their support of the suffering loved ones.

So, if we are all related in some way to gay people and people stricken with AIDS, why do we tolerate laws and politicians that discriminate against our loved ones?

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Governor Underwood and Gay Rights

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent, October 2, 1996

“I am against discrimination against gays,” said Cecil Underwood as quoted in the Charleston Gazette. He was also quoted as saying that he was for the inclusion of gays under the protection of the West Virginia Human Rights Laws. Underwood is a decent man. He doesn’t have a need to bully people with unpopular sexual orientations.

I won’t be voting for Underwood because he is supported by coal companies and other large businesses in West Virginia. These supporters are licking their chops at the thought of having a governor who will let them do whatever they want to the environment, and to the working people. They know that with a Republican governor the environmental laws will not be enforced with any vigor. They know that Underwood will help them hold wages down for working people. They see a return to rape and pillage of our land, water, air and forests.

The Republicrats who support Underwood see him as their ticket to get the machine candidate back in power after four years.

From the Charleston Gazette’s support of Underwood it is obvious that we have two Republican papers in Charleston. In Lincoln County, we have one Republican and one Republicrat paper.

Underwood came out with an economic development plan that he says is not much different from Caperton’s. He praised the Caperton staff for doing a good job. These are the people who never saw a bulldozer they didn’t like, a road they didn’t like, nor a polluting factory they didn’t like.

The Caperton style of economic development is to do anything that will change West Virginia from the wonderful, wild place it is, into just another fast food joint. Underwood praising Caperton is a way of telling us that he and Caperton are the same kind of politicians. Both are sponsored by the rich against the working people and the environment in which we live.

The rich people who control the Democratic Party don’t want Charlotte Pritt because she is for the working people before big business, and the environment before reckless development. She scares the jerks whose only motivation is money and power.

Toyota gave $500,000 to the Putnam County school system. This is only a fraction of the taxes they would have paid to the school system if the Caperton Republicrats had not given the store away in tax write-offs for Toyota. This corporate welfare will run out in fifteen years, and if we don’t bow to Toyota then, they will move to a state that will pay their taxes for them. Toyota is taxing us—good deal if you can get it.

*******

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the crack epidemic was started by the CIA in Los Angeles to get money to support the contras in Nicaragua. The CIA-sponsored agents shipped crack to Los Angeles street gangs. This happened during the Reagan-Bush years. This was Ollie North stuff. Nice people.

The Republicans wanted to ban children from school if their parents were illegal immigrants. They also wanted to deny illegal immigrants and even legal immigrants from getting welfare. You don’t teach them to read and write, you insist on the English language in all transactions, and when they can’t get jobs you let them starve. As it says on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your huddled masses.” They must have meant only if they are white people.

*******

A friend wrote me a letter commenting on my articles. He used the term Republicrat in the letter. When he used the spell checker on his computer it suggested that for Republicrat he use the words “Republic Rat.”

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Right Wing Wants Big Government?

The News from Sam’s Branch
The Lincoln Independent

Why is it the right wing politicians condemn big government, government regulations and government control over our lives and yet they want to force school children to pray all at the same time and out loud and they want to enforce patriotism by forcing a pledge to that effect everyday, at the same time and out loud? I think what they really want is to be able to dump toxic waste in our air, water and land, clear-cut our hardwoods and strip our mountains for coal without big government telling them to stop. As demagogues will do, they use religion and patriotism to hide their real intent. The medical profession and health insurance companies wave the same red flag when they preach against government control of your choice of doctors when what they really want is more money.

Doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies killed the Clinton health plan claiming there would be no choice of doctors. The health insurance companies spent one hundred million dollars trashing universal health care. Clinton lost, the medical and insurance professionals won. Now people are stuck with HMO’s that force them to go to a primary care doctor to get permission to go to a specialist. The HMOs make it worthwhile to the doctor to refer as few as possible to specialists. With less referral to specialists the HMOs make more money and can pass some on to the primary care doctors. The old kick-back scam. The defeat of Clinton’s plan left us with nearly forty million people without health insurance.

I don’t understand why we need the insurance companies in the health business. Let’s eliminate the middle man and have a single-payer system. By putting health insurance under the government we eliminate the insurance company and the HMO profit. Some HMO presidents are making over a million dollars a year at our expense. Do they own the politicians, or what? It is alarming that our health care programs are run by people who just want to get rich.

Since 1979 health insurance companies have given $180 million to congressional campaigns--nothing more than a bribe to keep them on the gravy train.

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State Socialism and Corporate Welfare

The News from Sam’s Branch,
The Lincoln Independent October 21, 1996

It was a gas to read in the Charleston Gazette that Buck Harless* is for state socialism and corporate welfare. I wonder if Buck’s candidate for governor, Cecil Underwood, is aware that Buck is red on the inside. Buck wants the working people of West Virginia to pay for the stuff it will take to start a furniture manufacturing industry in West Virginia.

I could say he wants the taxpayers to finance his socialist idea but we all know that it is only the working people who pay taxes anyway. The big corporations pretty much get off with tax credits. I wonder how he feels about giving money to unemployed working people. Bet he doesn’t like those welfare bums a’tall. How about if Buck and his fellow rich boys take the risk in the old fashioned capitalist tradition. Let them borrow the money they need to get the furniture business going in West Virginia and then they can feel guilt free about getting the profit. Take some risk, Buck. Don’t go on welfare Buck, please. I’ll bet you would rather be dead than red, so take a risk.

In the 1950’s, according to Molly Ivans, corporations paid 31 percent of the Federal government’s general fund tax collections. They now pay only 15 percent. In the 1950’s individuals paid 49 percent of total taxes, today they pay 73 percent. And Buck Harless wants us to pay more. Those tax and spend, corporate welfare, socialist Republicans.

It was said years ago that what we have in America is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. Maybe Charlotte Pritt** has the right idea—give tax breaks to businesses if they will pay union wages.

*Buck Harless is a timber and coal tycoon of Mingo County, West Virginia. He has timbered in the Appalachians and the Amazon rain forest. He is a major influence in politics and higher education in West Virginia. He often donates large sums to both political parties.

**Charlotte Pritt is strikingly beautiful. She was the first woman nominated by the Democratic Party for Governor of West Virginia. The Republicans have never nominated a woman for Governor. Pritt was betrayed by the Democratic Party machine which threw its support to a former Republican governor, and sometime coal company executive, Cecil Underwood. The present [2008] West Virginia Governor, Joe Manchin, sometime coal broker, lost to Pritt in the Democratic primary and supported Underwood in the general election.

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Blood Money

The Highlands Voice

A couple of years ago at the Putnam County Fair, a mountain top removal miner gladly signed the Save Blackwater Canyon petition I offered and then told me about his job. “At the end of the day I look at the destruction and feel like I am taking blood money.” he told me.  Another miner told me of arguing with fellow workers on a mountain top removal site about the destruction that four wheelers were doing to the woods. He told the other miners, “Look all around you, it is devastation for as far as you can see, how can four wheelers compare with this?” Still another miner, doing volunteer work for the Wildlife Federation, told me there were many miners who don’t like destroying the mountains, but are trapped in a situation where the alternative is minimum wage jobs or unemployment or moving to dreaded North Carolina.

What I have discovered going to hearings and town meetings on mountain top removal in the last few months is that when just local people show up everyone speaks against this destruction of their communities, homes, health and mountain beauty. It is also becoming obvious that almost none of the miners live near the mountain top removal sites. Some of the miners are in the ironic position of being “outsiders”. Some live two counties away from the mine sites. Some live in Kentucky. Most of the owners are clearly outsiders with headquarters in other states and other countries. I only mention outsiders because that is what we [environmentalists] are often called. Having lived in coal camps it is hard for me to consider myself an outsider. My dad, grand-dad, son, brother-in-law and uncles have worked in the mines of Boone, Logan and Kanawha counties.

At a hearing for a mountain top removal permit and then at a town meeting about coal sludge dams in the Whitesville and Marsh Fork area, on the border between Raleigh and Boone counties, there was a parade of testimony all opposed to the permit and all worried about the danger of the sludge ponds. One pond hovers right over their grade school. Not one person spoke in favor of the permit, none had kind words for the coal companies involved and all were worried about the sludge ponds failing like the one at Inez, Kentucky. Many of the testifiers were former coal miners. It would be interesting to witness a genuine dialogue between mountain top removal miners and people living near the mines. There is a conference for someone to organize.

These industrial atrocities against nature could be stopped if only the meaning of the phrase, “Must be done in an environmentally sound manner” had not been changed by industry and the so-called Department of Environmental Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency. This change has made it possible to qualify as environmentally sound such hideous practices as taking the tops off beautiful mountains and dumping them in the hollows. This “environmentally sound manner” is about to happen across the creek from Jim Weakley’s home. It has made the ridges disappear all around Larry Gibson’s homeplace, and has brought a sludge dam high above the school of Judy Bond’s grandchildren.

More than one friend has asked me if I think we can win these environmental battles. They point out the incredible odds, the mountains of cash put into destroying our mountains, buying our politicians and the false twists and spins that industry executives and public relations companies put on the facts.

My answer to the question can we win in the struggle to save our environment is that I don’t know if we can win or not. I know that I am going to die but I don’t quit living. I also know that we could lose out on some of our efforts to preserve nature (ourselves included) but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. We have to speak the truth whether it prevails or not. It would be bad enough to lose but still worse to lose without speaking the truth.

Since this was written I interviewed a Massey Energy dump truck driver. He said he hated Massey and hated his job. His wife said, “But it is the best money you have ever made.”

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Toyota and the War Between the States

“We are blessed to have Toyota in West Virginia”, chortled a member of legislature on West Virginia Public Radio. Have you noticed how West Virginia news on  Public Radio is a series of chortlings from  various politicians?  Seems that Senator Rockefeller, Senator Byrd and Governor Wise are the most often quoted and with nary a dissenting thought.

Judging from the commercials and the news sound bites it is fairly obvious  who owns West Virginia Public Radio--a combination of big business and  politicians. Of course this is the two headed monster that has always run the state. Public radio sucks up to those guys with seldom a thought to denouncing some of their more self-serving and devious sound bites.West Virginia Public Radio has become the press agent for incumbent politicians and companies  busy decapitating the Appalachain mountains.

Being “blessed” to have Toyota in West Virginia puts God in the picture. Being blessed means by some diety, or did Toyota bless us?  Is Toyota our God, now?  The people in Kentucky must be looking for a new God since our common diety blessed us with the new Toyota plant that they wanted. It is like thanking God for football victories. Did God forsake the side that lost?

Toyota must be thanking their diety that they were blessed with a  state that would give them  fifteen years without property taxes, a four-lane highway, a bridge and an airport. And we are doubly blessed that  our politicians would fall all over themselves praising our new diety for giving five hundred thousand dollars to the Putnam county school system. Sounds like a good deal to me--five hundred thousand dollars and no  property tax for fifteen years. How much you want to bet that the five hundred grand is  tax-deductible?

There is a new civil war. It is indeed the war between the states. Fifteen years form now Toyota will probably ask for another fifteen-year gift from the poor tax payers of West Virginia. If we turn them down, Kentucky is ready and waiting.

Workers Aren’t Equal to Corporations West Virginia

Public Radio 7-29-98

Unfortunately for our environment, prosperity in this economic system depends on how much money is spent and that depends on people making good wages. If everyone’s wages suddenly went down people would have less money to buy the goods that are on the market, the goods would sit there and workers who make those un-bought things would be laid off and we would have a good old-fashioned depression.

With the top 1% of Americans owning more than the other 99% combined perhaps we could start at the other end. Let the obscenely over-paid executives take a pay cut. Let’s see if they want to live on less. With Bill Gates owning more than the poorest 106 million Americans combined maybe it is gagging at a gnat and swallowing a camel to ask people to work for less.

With 40 million Americans having no health insurance it is bizarre to propose that people would be better off with lower wages. It is mighty hard for a worker to agree to a pay cut when the executives in his company are getting pay increases in the millions of dollars, usually for firing thousands of workers.

American companies are already racing to the bottom on the wage scale by taking their factories to poverty-stricken third world countries and hiring desperate people to replace American workers who demand a living wage.

To say that  “Just as workers are free to look for work wherever they want to, businesses should be free to look for workers wherever they want to,” is to say that one lone worker and the corporation he or she works for are equal. Since the workers can shop around then the company should be able to hire and fire whenever they please. Let’s take the cover off this. What is being advocated is that General Motors should be able to hire scabs or in Orwellian newspeak “replacement workers” whenever their workers show dissatisfaction by going on strike.

It would be wonderful if workers and corporations were equal--we could all get super tax credits and use loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Workers aren’t equal to corporations and that is exactly the reason we must organize and match our numbers against their billions of dollars.   Perhaps wages should depend on what a person needs to have a decent life. Maybe wages shouldn’t be dependent on General Motors auctioning off jobs to the lowest bidder. This is Julian Martin on West Virginia Public Radio.

This was a rebuttal to a commentary by an industry owner representative who did actually say “Just as workers are free to look for work wherever they want to, businesses should be free to look for workers wherever they want to,” Unfortunately West Virginia Public Radio has discontinued commentaries and rebuttals. And Governor Joe Manchin, who was elected Governor in 2004 and again in 2008, got things changed so that he heads up West Virginia Public Radio. Don’t expect much to be said against big corporations now that they have one of their own in power.
Manchin actually changed the slogan on the welcome to West Virginia billboards to read West Virginia, Open for Business. Public anger over the change from West Virginia, Wild and Wonderful caused the Governor to wiggle out of his mistake by holding a vote on what slogan people wanted on the welcome signs. Of course Wild and Wonderful was a previous change from The Mountain State. All three slogans were cooked up by public relations hacks. Open for business is probably the more accurate of the two considering that 500,000 acres of wild and wonderful mountains have been destroyed by mountain top removal coal mining.

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Professional Testifiers

The Charleston Gazette
August 23, 1998

J. Wade Gilley, president of Marshall University and chairman of the Governor’s Task Force on Mountaintop Removal, claims in a Sunday Gazette-Mail commentary on Aug 3 to want, “A thorough, thoughtful and fair study of mountaintop removal.” However, in his first public comment on the first public hearing, he insults many people who testified, calling them “professional testifiers.”

Gilley discounted the testimony of many who were, in his words, “proudly pointing to their past appearances before public groups on this and other topics.”

How can Gilley prejudge people who are concerned about things in their communities and who speak out about their concerns? Why does he find it odd that people are proud of the stands they have taken for things they care about?

You would think that a man of learning and a molder of young minds would congratulate people who are concerned for their communities and who don’t lay low when something needs to be said.

The “professional testifiers” are not we who have no financial incentive to speak. The pros are the coal company lobbyists who are paid big money to testify before committees. Why didn’t Gilley denounce that group?

Wade Gilley left Marshall University to become president of the University of Tennessee. He left Tennessee in disgrace—something about sexy emails.

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It Is Insane, It Is Madness

The Charleston Gazette
December 26, 1998

Governor Cecil Underwood is either a liar or he has advisers who lie to him. He was quoted in a Gazette article on the report of the Governor’s Task Force on Mountaintop Removal as saying, “…when asked to produce usable information, the environmental people didn’t come forward…didn’t offer proposals. They didn’t attend hearings.”

Underwood is wrong. We were there. We made proposals. Many of us proposed that mountaintop removal strip mining be banned. In Underwood’s mind, banning mountaintop removal strip mining is not “usable information.”

At the next-to-last hearing of the task force, the number of “environmental people” who spoke outnumbered the coal industry speakers.

Underwood appointed a task force that had three subcommittees. There was only one “environmental people” representative on the entire task force. Therefore, when the three subcommittees had separate meetings and hearings, there was no one representing the “environmental people” on two-thirds of the subcommittees.

This task force was an obvious cruel joke. Several of its members have dedicated their lives to taking the tops off the mountains of West Virginia. Over one-third of the task force has direct ties to the coal industry. The three elected politicians on the task force have received thousands of dollars from the coal industry in campaign contributions.

Ex-officio task force member Michael Miano, the current head of the so-called Division of Environmental Protection, and a longtime employee of the coal industry, replied to one of the “environmental people.” He said, “We have been doing mountaintop removal for 40 years and there has been no problem.”

Wade Gilley, the chairman of the task force, classified many of us “environmental people” as “professional testifiers” in a Gazette article after the very first task force hearing.

As I said in my last testimony to the task force, “Mountaintop removal strip mining is the most insane idea that has ever been tried in West Virginia.” Mountaintop removal strip mining is justified with sentiment expressed with the infamous “we had to destroy the village to save it” statement from the Vietnam War. We have to destroy the mountains for the economy. We have to destroy West Virginia to save it. That is insane.

It is not mountaintop removal; it is mountain removal. They aren’t just taking the tops off the mountains; they are digging down like a dentist doing a root canal and removing the entire mountain.

Southern West Virginia from the air looks like it has been carpet-bombed. They claim they are making it better. The reclaimed ground is as hard as concrete when they get through “reclaiming” their moonscapes. Madness.

The coal industry people tried to change the name of “strip mining” to “surface mining” because “strip mining” sounded as ugly as it is. Now they are trying to change the name of mountaintop removal to mountaintop mining. Madness

Mountaintop removal strip mining is the worst thing that has ever happened to West Virginia. These coal industry people who are removing our mountains call us “environmental people” extremists. Removing mountains is far more extreme than wanting to leave them alone. It is insane. It is madness.

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Eddie Gillenwater

The Lincoln Journal

Dear Editor,

There have been a few saints in my life, people who have influenced me deeply. Being saints didn’t mean they were perfect. Being saints meant they understood human nature and listened to you when you talked and shared their ideas and feelings with you.

My football coach, Sammy LeRose, is one of the saints of my life. He was a wonder of a coach. He never raised his voice, never cussed and never showed disgust for his players. He was kind. My great uncle Kin Barker was another. Kin was a logger on Bull Creek before logging tore up the earth much like a strip-mine.

Grandma Ethyl Atkins Barker is another of the saints who have smiled into my life. Kin and Grandma have died, but I remember them every day. Now another saint has died but not passed away, for I will keep him fresh in people’s memories.

Eddie Gillenwater died the other day doing one of the things he liked best. He died in the woods hunting rabbits. Eddie went fast and he gave up the spirit out where the ginseng grows and where his dogs ran.

Eddie was amazing. He built my kitchen cabinets when he was seventy years old. He left a beautiful table, a rocking chair and two stools in my house. I write this on the table he built. Eddie was at Pearl Harbor. He looked up and saw planes shooting at him. I expected a heroic tale about Pearl Harbor. Eddie told me that he ran down a hill to escape the bullets and tried to get inside a drainage culvert. But he could only get his head in-- the rest of him didn’t fit. So there he was with his rear end as a target for the Japanese air force. Eddie would rather tell a funny story than make himself look good.

He was a paratrooper and told me that he made one combat jump. I think his jump was in New Guinea. Once again I expected to hear about the brave soldier in hand-to-hand combat. Not so, Eddie landed in the courtyard of an unarmed Japanese hospital. He said that within twenty minutes he was on the third floor balcony flirting with the Japanese nurses.

Eddie read about every major American novel and many minor ones. He was a friend, an intellectual, a woodworker and a musician. He raised Beagles, dug ‘sang and smoked a pipe. As a young man he could shoot a dime out of the air with a 22 rifle.

Eddie was most of all a philosopher and he left me with my favorite quote about the stress of modern life. Eddie said, “Prosperity isn’t worth the price you have to pay.”

I loved Eddie Gillenwater and if it weren’t for my grandma Barker and great uncle Kin and Sammy Lerose I’d say he was in a class by himself.

Rest in peace, Eddie, and thanks for all the great memories.

Eddie’s grandson, a high school student of mine, met me in the hall of Duval High School and told me with a sad and serious tone, “Grandpa Eddie died yesterday.” I searched for someone to commiserate with, but none of the other teachers knew him. I went into the assistant principal’s office and broke down telling him of Eddie’s death.

I left some things out about Eddie that didn’t fit in a eulogy. Eddie took a drink of whiskey about every half hour or so. Once, when he was our star witness in a suit against a bunch of outlaw gas well drillers, I was assigned to stay with him and make sure he got his drinks on time and that he made it to the trial.

He was almost always just a little high, not enough to notice. Maybe he was just on an even keel. Addictions will do that—make you want the drug just to get back to a normal feeling. He came to my house one day around noon to collect money I owed him for making and installing cabinets in my kitchen. He said he needed the money to buy some whiskey. He was grumpy and short with me. I told him that was what I didn’t like about his drinking-- it made him impatient and short tempered. He replied, “Martin, this is why I drink. I am sober right now. Now give me my money so I can go buy some whiskey.”

Eddie saw me at the end of an election day in which he had helped a candidate get votes out. He told me he felt ashamed and dirty for what he had done that day. He was probably referring to buying votes with money and booze.

Eddie was at least once found drunk and passed out over the hill in his wrecked pickup truck along with a woman who was probably thirty years younger.

As a young man during the depression he rode boxcars all the way to California and back. One of his brothers did the same thing and found a job taking care of John Wayne’s horse on a movie set. Eddie could play a decent guitar and told me that, when in the Army, stationed in the Caribbean, he roomed with Chet Atkins. Men of Eddie’s age had great adventures. They traveled to exotic places riding the rails or a navy landing barge. Some ended up in enemy prison camps. Most came home determined to get a job with the gas company and never go back out into that dangerous world.

Eddie was no saint but he did love just about everybody and his dogs.

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Euphemisms

The Charleston Gazette
March 13, 1999

The coal industry tries to call it “mountain top mining” instead of mountain top removal and “surface mining” instead of strip-mining. The timber industry and forest service use “over-mature” and “decadent” instead of old growth. And here is a doozy-- “Temporary meadows” for clear cuts. There is the old stand-by “harvest” instead of cut. The milk people use “somatotropin” for bovine growth hormone. “Somatotropin” is Latin for growth hormone. During the war against Iraq [this was the first Iraq war] there were “KIA’s”. Never did the military public relations briefings use the word kill. I suppose they discarded “harvest” early on. The Gazette and other news media use “environmentalists” instead of concerned citizens.

The coal industry does its best, along with other industries to demonize the term “environmentalists”. The news media cooperates with the industry, helping them in their effort to isolate concerned citizens by calling them “environmentalists”, of course their favorite is “environmental extremist”.Visit a strip-mine and you will see who is being environmentally extreme. If the PR firms working for the coal companies succeed in making “environmentalist” a dirty word then everyone who cares about what happens to the mountains, the water, the air, the trees and the scenic beauty of West Virginia will be descredited.

So far the PR campaign isn’t working. In a recent visit to a rural high school 146 students defined environmentalist in very positive terms, nine students gave negative definitions.   It ought to scare the polluters and destroyers of our state to know that the massive resistence to their pillage is done by people from all walks of life and a wide variety of occupations. I know of only three or four people in West Virginia who get paid to help concerned citizens organize to defend the earth and most them are paid half-time for a double-time job.   The people who most consistently represent the coal company view are public relations people who would spout whatever line the boss pays them to spout. If we concerned citizens could double their salaries they would work for us, they believe in nothing and their talents go to the highest bidder

.

Fanny Seiler’s article in the March 10 Charleston Gazette was a pleasing exception to the rule. She reported on the strip-mine mitigation bill without once using the word “environmentalist”. To identify people who wanted a stronger bill she used  terms like “private citizen”, “members of the West Virginia Organizing Project”,  “lobbyist for the West Virginia Citizen Action Group”, “a member of the Environmental Council”, “a representative of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition”. However, the headline for Seiler’s report reverted to the coal industry newspeak euphemism of “surface mine” instead of the uglier, more accurate and publicly named “strip-mine.” And the report just below Seiler’s, on the conflict of interest lawsuit against Michael Miano*, uses the term “environmentalists” in the second paragraph.

Mind you, I am happy to work for the environment but I have a life besides that. I like basketball very much and played full-court until I was fifty years old. So if you quote me and think you have to call me something other than citizen just call me an ex-jock.

*Miano was a former coal company operative who became boss over the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

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Doug Waldron

The Lincoln Journal, April 14, 1999

The following letter from the late Doug Waldron appeared in the April 14 issue of the Lincoln Journal. Doug and I were allies a few years ago in opposition to school consolidation in Lincoln County. His daughter was a student of mine at Duval High School

Dear Editor,
Julian Martin, a well-respected Lincoln County resident, stated that all people who support Mountain Top Removal were just doing what their boss was telling them to do, and that they were for sale to the highest bidder.

Now let me set the record straight, sir, and explain, the cold hard facts of West Virginian life.

First, we have loyalty and pride, being employed by coal and coal support companies, but no one tells us what to say. We are much more professional than the members of the environmental organizations operating in WV.

Years ago, we were going off to basic training at Fort Knox, while others were going to Canada and Africa to avoid the draft. After being in the service, we came home to work on our fathers’ farms, raising corn and tobacco, while others were raising marijuana. Upon finding a job and working hard, we received a pay check while others received a welfare check.

We worked hard day after day because we were taught that the world owed us nothing. While others protested, demanding society freely give them everything, at no charge. We were called hicks and hillbillies-they were called hippies and flower children.

Thirty years later, these social lines are still drawn. All people have the right to their own views and opinions, but likewise all people have the right to work, prosper and support their families. And yes, we take the responsibility very seriously. But, on the other hand, a small minority of people do not have the legal or moral right to direct the majority of the people and their actions.

I believe we have a breakdown of communication between these two groups. I believe all those who feel the same as Mr. Martin should visit a present day surface mining operation. And, likewise, I believe every coal miner support employee and anyone connected to the coal mining industry should Immediately join and be a voting member of the WV Highlands Conservancy, the High Seria[sic] Club, or any other environmental organizations operating within the state. These organizations are of non-profit status, and open membership is guaranteed by state and federal laws.

Let’s all get involved, let the voice of the majority rule, no justice, no peace. Our great state of West Virginia belongs to us, the people, not out of state environmental extremists. We can and will make a difference.

Doug Waldron, Employee of Walker Machinery Co., Lincoln County Commissioner, and a true, W.Va. Hillbilly.

The following letter appeared in the Lincoln Journal the week after Doug Waldron’s letter.

Dear Editor,
Doug Waldron, who works for a company in the earth moving business is understandably in favor of mountain top removal. However, his letter of 4/14 is disturbing, and disturbing for reasons that have nothing to do with mountain top removal. There are strong arguments on both sides of this divisive issue, some of them supported by facts. Mr. Waldron addresses none of them. Instead, he belittles those who don’t see things his way: he describes those on his side as hardworking, patriotic, responsible citizens; those opposing his view are lazy, unpatriotic, drug-using parasites. We are all tempted to demonize those who don’t agree with us, but name-calling is no argument at all. Perhaps Mr. Waldron’s intention is chiefly to increase one side’s hatred of the other.

It is destructive enough when we do that as private citizens.To do it as an elected official is especially disturbing. One can be passionatewithout being unfair and illogical.

Don Churchill, Sweetland, W. Va.

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My Response

The Lincoln Journal, May 1999

In a letter to the editor on April 12, Doug Waldron put words in my mouth and then attacked his own invention. In an article of March 13, 1999, I wrote “The people who most consistently represent the coal company view are PR people who would spout whatever line the boss pays them to spout...they believe in nothing and their talents go to the highest bidder.”   Waldron rephrased this to say, “... all people who support mountaintop removal mining were just doing what the boss was telling them to do and that they were for sale to the highest bidder.” The public relations people the coal companies hire say what they are paid to say. Coal-miners say what they feel and believe. Come the next strike and those public relations people will be paid to denounce the miners as extremists.

I have never questioned the sincerity of the working people who mine coal in West Virginia. I do question the sincerity of the owners and managers of the coal mines. They would fire every miner in a New York minute if they could find a machine to replace them.

In the same letter Doug Waldron refers to “out-of-state extremists”. My family has been in this state since the early 1800s when Isaac Barker settled at White Oak Creek on Big Coal River. My father lost an eye in the mines, my grandfather fought at Blair Mountain. My Uncles, brother-in-law, son, friends and former students have been miners. I am not from out-of-state and being for the mountains as they are seems far less extreme than destroying the mountains. Absentee owned coal companies like Arch Coal of St. Louis and Massey of Virginia are the “out-of-state extremists.”

Those destroyed mountains will provide no jobs in the future. On the 300,000 acres that have been strip-mined in West Virginia, 180 million board feet of hardwood lumber could have been cut every year, forever. Hardwoods don’t grow on so-called “reclaimed” strip-mine sites, the ground is as hard as concrete.

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Creation Science

The Charleston Gazette
March 2, 1997

At Duval High School in Lincoln County, I teach Chemistry and physics. Next year we may not be offering genetics at Duval unless creationism, as a science, is given equal status with evolution.

Jeff Harper lives across Sam’s Branch Creek from me. Jeff is the man who objected to evolution being taught in the genetics class. Jeff is a former student of mine and a friend. He is a wonderful father and neighbor and works hard at two jobs. He keeps National Guard planes flying and helps keep he family farm going. We fought side by side against one-school consolidation. So you can see the problem is not simple.

I think Jeff is wrong, but I know he is sincere in his beliefs and I know that he stands up for what he believes. I would much rather have him on my side than on the other side.

My guess is that in Lincoln County an overwhelming majority agrees with Jeff. Members of the board of education are very aware of this. The night the board voted not to approve the evolution-tainted syllabus for genetics, a crowd of angry parents was on hand. This board of education, elected as opposed to consolidations, was busy consolidating some grade schools. The members didn’t need anymore trouble that night in front of those already stirred-up citizens.

The creationists claim that evolution is “just a theory.” There is confusion as to what the word theory means. To scientists, a theory comes about after a hypothesis has been tested over and over by many different scientists and it appears the evidence points in a certain direction. A theory is the result of lots of data collection and evaluation; it is not just someone’s casual opinion.

It would be more accurate to say something is “just an hypothesis.” A scientific hypothesis is an idea that can be tested by experiment. Science deals with ideas that can be tested in the physical world. If it can’t be tested by experiment, it is not science.

Is creationism scientific? Can it be tested in the physical world? Can we use our senses or instruments to bring information to our senses to test the hypothesis? This is the issue. If the answer is yes, then creationism can be taught as a science. If the answer is no, then it could be included in a course that studies religion.

I don’t think creationism can be tested. To test it you would have to interview God and have the interview repeated many times by many different people. Maybe that is prayer. But I can’t check your prayer to see if God really spoke to you.

Evolution gets tested every summer. Farmers, using insecticides, breed resistant strains of bugs that by the end of the summer are laying eggs in the insecticide bags. Overuse of antibiotics has bred varieties of bacteria that are immune to the medicine.

Certain mutations, caused among other things by radiation, survive and their offspring are resistant and multiply. Creationists object to random mutations. They prefer God as directly causing the mutations. Why would God cause mutations that kill innocent people? If God is causing the mutations, God is not on our side.

When someone claims to have proven a hypothesis by experiment, other scientists jump all over it like a chicken on a June bug. Not too many years ago, two scientists in Utah claimed to have produced nuclear fusion at room temperature. Fusion is what causes the sun and all the stars to be so hot—if you believe scientists.

Other scientists were skeptical of this “cold fusion.” Science’s greatest virtue is skepticism. Skepticism is insurance against fraud. The skeptics tried to repeat the results. No one could get cold fusion to happen. The hypothesis that fusion could happen on a lab table in test tubes was tested and found wanting. Cold fusion never became a scientific theory because it could not be proven over and over by independent experiment. Science works only when evidence meets honesty.

The creationists whom I have heard speak seem to think that scientists are a bunch of dishonest people who make things up to fit the model they have for the universe. One even doubted that uranium decays into other elements. Proof that there are liquid regions beneath the surface of the earth was rejected because you can’t go there and observe—which is strange, since they base their beliefs on things unseen.

Officials at the Institute for Creation Research are sure that the space program and the search for extra-terrestrial life are government plots to “indirectly promote the rejection of Genesis as the true account of origins.” They count Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Muslims as their only fellow travelers among the denominations and religions of the world. They come within a cat’s hair of calling the Pope a communist. Somehow, globalism creeps into their disgust for evolution, and they don’t fail to mention the Trilateral Commission.

Creationists aren’t looking for answers. They already know the answer, and the facts must fit that answer. Science doesn’t know the answer. Science examines the evidence and follows where it leads. If the evidence shows that God causes the mutations, then the scientist says so. Contrary to creationist paranoia, scientists are not a bunch of heathen atheists out to prove that God doesn’t exist. If you believe that god exists, you believe it on faith and that’s religion, not science.

Some people believe that evangelist Ernest Angley can heal by bumping the afflicted on the head and shouting, “heal!” The hypothesis that he can heal is a scientific hypothesis. It can be tested. Simply take him a person with an arm that has been cut off and ask him to put the arm back on.

Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart claimed that he healed his Studebaker many years ago on the way to a tent meeting. He simply rubbed anointing oil

on the hood ornament and commanded the stalled car to heal, he said, and it ran just fine. This hypothesis, too, could be tested.

In 1600, a Catholic priest named Gordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the creationists of his day for saying that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. Galileo was more fortunate. Because of his popularity with the people, he was merely threatened with torture and put under house arrest for the last eight years of his life.

Galileo had the gall to trust what he observed more than what the creationist leaders said he had to believe. Through his telescope he saw craters and mountains on the moon and four satellites going around Jupiter. From his observations he concluded that the earth went around the sun. Church leaders told him he couldn’t have seen these things because the earth is the center of God’s creation. The earth was the only place that could have moons. I am happy to report that the Pope cleared Galileo less than 10 years ago.

Creationism is an all out attack on the scientific method. The motto of science is “question authority.” The motto of creationists is “we are the authority.”

The proven theory of evolution isn’t the only theory that would have to be trashed under a new world order of creationism. The theory of relativity would have to be burned with Darwin’s books. Relativity depends on the postulate that the speed of light is the maximum speed throughout the universe. Many stars are millions of light years away. If the universe is only 6,000 years old, as the creationists claim, those stars can’t be more than 6,000 light years away. The Ice Age could not have occurred 10,000 years ago because there was no earth then.

If religion is brought into the schools, which religion will it be? Which creation story will be taught? To be fair, do we teach them all or just the Christian version? I have read that there are Hindus who believe that the world was created in a cosmic butter churn, and another religion believes that God created the world out of ant dung, and another claims that the world sits on top of a giant turtle. And what about Voodoo? Do reading chicken entrails get equal time? And of course there are those pesky snake handlers.

Who would be the creationist commissar for education—Jerry Falwell? The Pope? I lean toward the Pope. He declared last year that evolution is no longer just a hypothesis.

Can you imagine the power struggles that would go on between the multitude of denominations and religions? The founding fathers saw this one coming. Does God need all this coercion? Does God have to be defended against science and evolution? Many compromises will have to be made to accommodate every religion in the diverse country. Maybe the best compromise is to keep the separation of church and state.

If creationism is made part of the curriculum, as “creation science,” let’s be honest and call it divine revelation. Every test question could be answered with, “That’s the way God made it.” We wouldn’t have to do all those experiments in science class. But maybe God is revealed in the results of those experiments, maybe not. How would you test that hypothesis?

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Drug Dogs

The Lincoln Journal

Dear Editor,
It is important that students feel safe and secure at their schools. Students need to feel that the teachers and administrators in charge of the schools are capable of solving the problems they encounter without calling in uniformed police with dogs. When the police and their dogs come into a school on a surprise raid, every student in the school becomes a suspect and the teachers and administration lose control over the school.

Principals have the right to search any locker in the school if they suspect drugs are present. That’s enough police power in the schools. We don’t need armed, uniformed strangers with mean dogs sniffing out every student in the school to contain the drug problem.

Police and their dogs in the schools is an over reaction and would disrupt the educational process beyond repair. The police might want to spend more of their energy catching the vote-buying politicians who destroy democracy every election day. It wouldn’t be surprising to find that these same corrupt politicians are also involved in the drug trade—they destroy democracy, why not sell drugs.

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NO PUBLISHING REFERENCE

Crown Yourself

I despair at the commercialism that causes ball parks and bowl games  to be named for whatever company puts up the money. Poor Watt Powell.* It’s getting as bad as public radio and television having “corporate sponsors”, some a little short of criminal in their own operations and/or tearing the environment limb from limb.

In the spirit of incorporating everything once holy in America I offer the following possibilities:  Counties and towns in West Virginia could seek “corporate sponsors” and endure such name changes as, Amazon.com Cabell County, Toyota Putnam County, Arch Coal Logan County, and Wampler Moorefield. Mudsuck and Big Ugly will have a hard time finding a buyer. West Virginia could become The National Coal Association West Virginia. This could catch on.

Actually the corporate naming is just a continuation of the tradition of naming towns and counties after robber barons. In the old days companies were often dominated by one aggressive and greedy capitalist. Thus towns got named Davis, Elkins, Huntington and Itmann (for I. T. Mann) and streets for Camden and Ruffner. Towns like Junior were named for robber baron children. In the past we didn’t charge for the free advertising.

However, we must be careful-- the legislature might try to continue the tradition of giving the store away. In keeping with the super tax credits and the decision to pay NASCAR for giving them free advertisement on license plates the legislature will probably offer to pay the National Coal Association for the privilege of connecting their name to West Virginia. After all “West Virginia is Coal” you know.

West Virginia used to be mountains but that was before mountain top removal strip-mining. The slogan will eventually slither down to West Virginia used to be Coal” or “West Virginia Used to be Coal and Mountains.” The state seal could evolve showing the mountains gradually disappearing with maybe a coal train heading out of state. Coal industry euphemism “Union Free” would replace the hilarious Mountani Semper Liberi as our state slogan.

A commentary on names and slogans could not possibly omit Senator Robert C. Byrd. Once every road and college building is named for Byrd we should also consider naming every possible street, school and mountain removed of top after him just for the fun of watching people from Ohio get confused. Byrd fills an important gap made vacant by A James Manchin’s inability to hire people who could make money in a booming stock market.

Heathen, communistic, atheistic Cuba, often referred to as Castro’s Cuba, has a law against anything being named after a living person. The bust of Arch Moore in the Cultural center and the streets and institutions named for him point up the wisdom of the Cuban policy. We can be sure politicians will not be convicted of any crimes after they are dead. So we should wait. I feel cheapness oozing every time I walk by the plaque honoring Gaston Caperton at Tamarack. The profile of Caperton looks so very much like Byrd’s profile--watch out Gaston he wants it all!

To become even more of a legend, Robert C. Byrd could insist that everything named for him be changed to honor some real heroes. My first nomination would be Tom Bennett. Tom was a conscientious objector to war, served in Vietnam as a medic and died winning the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Another nominee who comes to mind is noted historian Carter G. Woodson. Woodson’s memory suffered the ignominy of being erased from the grade school named for him in St. Albans when schools were integrated. The newly integrated Weimer grade school was named for a St. Albans lumber baron.

Parade Magazine, with Byrd’s serious countenance on the cover, would tell of his unselfish act of honoring real West Virginia heroes.

Send your nominations to Senator Robert C. Byrd, United States Senate, Washington, D.C. and don’t hold your breath.

*The name of an old baseball park named for a man who organized the first baseball teams in the Kanawha Valley.

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Board of Education Bottoms Out, Again

The Charleston Daily Mail, April 23, 1998

Just about the time I think the Lincoln County Board of Education has bottomed out, it swims deeper. Now it is co-sponsoring an essay contest that offers fifty-dollar savings bonds to students who write essays in favor of the proposed regional transpark. Students who want to write an essay in opposition are out of luck.

The constitutional guarantee of free speech and equal protection of the law eludes the board of education and the co-sponsors, the Lincoln County Commission and the Lincoln Economic Development Authority. These people are shameless in their exploitation of school children to promote their political agenda. They think they are still back in the USSR. I have often thought that the USSR was just a bunch of Lincoln counties back-to-back.

Concerned citizens from Lincoln County and throughout the state are pledging money to offer the same opportunity to students who want to write essays in opposition to the airport. At this point we can offer fifty-dollar savings bonds to the best thirteen essays. Awards will be given to the best grade school essays, junior high school essays and high school essays.

We would prefer that the Lincoln County Board of Education see the error of its ways and not exploit school children for its political agenda.

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Kirkendoll's job a payoff for votes

The Charleston Gazette
2000

Editor:
It is hilarious that the charge of poor judgment is made against the people who were assaulted while marching in honor of coal miner's courage at Blair Mountain.If there was poor judgment, it was on the part of those showing criminal behavior in attacking the marchers. That mob was lead by Art Kirkendoll. He is now in a position in the Wise administration to continue being a leader with poor judgment.

It was poor judgment on the part of Governor Bob Wise to create a new position and appoint a mob leader. It appears the position was created as a political payoff for delivered votes. Mob violence did not disqualify Kirkendoll for a position in the Wise administration; not delivering votes probably would have.

It is ironic that at his inauguration, Wise honored Kirkendoll. It was Martin Luther King Day. King also suffered the violence and poor judgment of mobs.Party hacks were rewarded in the South for attacking people who were trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Governor Wise has joined a long tradition of Southern governors.

Note--Jimmy Weekley organized a march from Marmet, West Virginia to Blair Mountain to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain. A group of 200 came from Logan County to Hernshaw in Kanawha County and tried to stop the march. Ninety year old West Virginia Secretary of State Ken Hechler was one of the marchers who was kicked and shoved. The police were called and the march continued after some of the marchers agreed to turn t-shirts inside out that had United Mine Workers themes.

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Unemployment Equals Inferior Schools

The Charleston Daily Mail, February 26, 2000

It is out of the clear blue that you attribute the unemployment rate to “inferior schools” in your February 25 editorial about Lincoln County Schools. If the schools are inferior it is because of the high unemployment rate. “Superior” schools seem to develop where wages and employment rates are high. I doubt there is evidence showing areas of low employment that increased employment by creating a superior school system. In fact it is rare for a quality school system to develop in an area that has low wages and employment rates. Consistently low income areas have poor schools. Generally children from low income families score low on tests.

The community support that a school like George Washington High School has is possible because the area it serves has a relatively high employment rate at good wages. Parents at affluent schools have the money which gives them clout to demand the best for their children. Where they can’t get what is best from the system they contribute time and money to their schools to make them “superior”.

*******

There is the charge to deal with that says, “You are against Mountain top removal strip-mining so how do you expect to get any good paying jobs in Lincoln County.” Coal mining of any type is done with fewer and fewer people each year. Coal mining jobs have dropped over one hundred thousand since the 1960’s, down to less than sixteen thousand today. Not one per cent of those job losses were because of environmental regulations. Large machines replaced those one hundred thousand miners and will continue to replace them. Those large machines are producing more coal than the one hundred thousand miners.

When it comes to the environmental effect of mining on its neighbors the coal executives have already said, “No neighbors are the best neighbors.” Witness the extermination of Blair, West Virginia. By their actions they are also saying, “No miners are the best miners.” These coal companies will replace as many people with machines as they possible can. The late Ned Chilton said that someday the mines would be operated by a few people at computer stations. When profit is the only motive there is little room for people.

Mining jobs are not going to be the answer no matter what becomes of mountain top removal strip-mining. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is but I think it will require a major change in our economic system. If you notice the unemployment rate never goes much below five per cent. When it does interest rates are raised by the Federal Reserve Board to “slow the economy down”, to “keep the economy from overheating”. These are code words for “too many people have jobs.”

Low unemployment means a higher demand for workers. Workers can get higher wages when the demand is high and the supply is low. Workers would get some of the money that stockholders were getting. If stockholders can’t pressure the Federal Reserve Board into raising interest rates they make their executives raise prices. Inflation occurs because those stockholders don’t want a cut in pay. They either want the workers to take that cut or they want prices to go up.

We have an economic system that says a five percent unemployment rate is necessary and acceptable. Between five to ten million people out of work is acceptable. Forty million people with no health care is acceptable. 

*******

Your editorial is cynical about the people of Lincoln County. You see it all in terms of efficiency and money the rest of the state pays to help this poor county. You accuse the people of Lincoln County of not caring about their school system because it isn’t their money. You say that they refuse to put education ahead of politics. The people of Lincoln County don’t want their schools turned into large, impersonal, crime filled semi-prisons. They want their children in a school close to home. They want the schools close enough for their children to participate in extra-curricular activities, close enough for the parents to participate in the life of the school, close enough to avoid long bus rides. The people of Lincoln County really care about their children and they want them close to home so they can feel better about their safety and security. People everywhere have a right to expect that their schools be on a humane scale.

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Hernshaw Mob

September, 2000

Kanawha County Prosecutor, Bill Forbes, has given the green light to the likes of  bigots, racists and nazis to beat up just about anyone they disagree with as long as the other feller is kind of out of sync with the political and industrial powers. He decided, without informing the victims, to drop charges against the mob that assaulted people reenacting the United Mine Workers march on Blair Mountain.

About one year ago a mob drove from Logan County to Hernshaw in Kanawha County and assaulted citizens including the Secretary of State of West Virginia and a state administrative judge. They were doing nothing more than carrying signs down the road in honor of the march our grandfathers made on Blair Mountain.

When the state police arrived they would not let the marchers proceed until they did what the mob demanded--take off all United Mine Worker t-shirts. To continue the march, a retired coal miner and descendents of the original marchers, some of them women, had to change clothes on the side of the road.

The state police took no names, made no arrests, charged no one with anything!  Some twenty names of attackers were given to Forbes by the victims. Forbes took only four names to the grand jury and only charged them with misdemeanors instead of felony civil rights violations. Now he is dropping even the misdemeanor charges.

Coal company executives have eliminated over ten thousand mining jobs in the past decade. Miners have great reason to be angry with people who have replaced them with machines. How do you suppose the state police and Bill Forbes would have reacted if that mob attacked coal company executives? My guess is they would have been on the mob quicker than a chicken after a June bug. Nobody is going to get by with beating up the president of Arch Coal. But they can get by with beating up the Secretary of State of West Virginia.

There is a similarity between the justice of Bill Forbes and what I received in Lincoln County twenty years ago. Lloyd Jackson, now a state senator, was the very effective lawyer for a man who assaulted me after a board of education meeting. The attacker was active in Lincoln County politics and was treasurer of the Democratic Committee. Despite eight eye-witnesses to the attack, Jackson was able to convince the jury that I was hit, as he put it, “For the glory of Lincoln County.” The sister in law of the county democratic chairman was on the jury. The man Jackson so enthusiastically defended is now in prison for murder.

Now comes Senator Truman Chafin defending a group that includes two elected officials of Logan County and a Logan County school bus driver. It is ironic that the scabs who fought against the original march on Blair Mountain were from Logan County and were led by another Chafin, Don, the sheriff.

In my case and in this case it appears that if you have political connections you may assault people. If Forbes gets his way it extends that a mob may attack you if they don’t like your religion, race, or political opinion. A mob took the law into their own hands that infamous day in Hernshaw and Bill Forbes is trying to let them get by with it. If the law offers anyone protection from violent mob action then this case better go to trial, and on felony charges. Otherwise everyone’s freedom of speech and public assembly are in danger.
When a mob is allowed to assault one group, neither individual nor group is safe.

The march referred to here was on the anniversary of the1921 miners’ march on non-union mines and the ensuing battle of Blair Mountain. The union mines were forced by the union to pay their workers by the actual weight of the coal that they shoveled onto the coal buggies. A union representative was present to make sure the scales were read correctly. In counties farther south the non-union mines paid their workers by how many buggies they filled. The bosses made sure the coal was heaped up as high as possible and even put wooden extensions called cribs on the sides of the buggies to allow more coal to be piled in. Thus the coal from the non-union mines was produced and sold at a cheaper rate than the union mines. The non-union mines’ cheaper coal had the potential of putting the union mines out of business.

Five to ten thousand miners gathered at Marmet in Kanawha County to march on the non-union mines and equalize the cost of coal. My grandfather told me that, “When they killed Sid Hatfield that was the last straw.” Sid Hatfield was the police chief of Matewan in Mingo County who led miners in a gun battle that the coal companies have succeeded in labeling a massacre. Baldwin-Felts detectives, who had been expelling striking miners from their company- owned homes, were ambushed at the Matewan train station. The detective agency got even a short time later when they murdered Sid Hatfield on the McDowell County court house steps.

It was at my grandparent’s dinner table that I first learned of Sid Hatfield, the miner’s march and the Battle of Blair Mountain. My elementary and high school textbooks and teachers never mentioned it.

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Act of God or Satan?

The Charleston Daily Mail, January 12, 2000

Pittston Coal claimed the 1972 Buffalo Creek* murder of 125 people was an “act of God”. A.T. Massey Coal Company says the same thing about the Martin County, Kentucky, sludge “release”.** It seems that someone in the coal industry would be embarrassed by their seemingly endless supply of tacky euphemisms. This one is a work of ignorance. “Release” sounds intentional while spill would sound more like an accident.

No doubt God was with the coal company as it decided to build a mammoth pond for sludge right above underground mines. God must have been grateful for his helpmates who provided the right stuff in the right spot. All that was left for God was to make sure the gravity valve was wide open. How it must have pleased the creator to watch this joint venture of coal and heaven shoot a jet of sludge out the side of a mountain, knocking down trees on the other side of the hollow.

All manner of wild and domesticated life created with considerable care by the Lord was snuffed out as the black sludge oozed out of the banks of Kentucky and West Virginia streams and poured finally into the mighty Ohio.   Unlike Virginia Beach, we had no Pat Robertson prayer to deflect the disasters onto some other state of a lesser god. Anyway, we have no business praying against an “act of God”.

Our previous god slew and tormented multitudes of enemies. Poor choices of inferior and false gods will often bring such punishment. It is almost as bad as being with the losing Democrat faction in a West Virginia primary election.

Now comes the coal companies with a new god. Love for the new god is announced on bumper stickers throughout the land. It is apparent that the coal god is far superior to any other. The coal god has slain hundreds of thousands. Counting the lesser organisms, billions have been killed by this new, angry and powerful deity. But it is silly to this coal god to suppose that hellbenders, snake doctors, and micro-organisms have any value. After all, people are more important than these and if we must kill everything else for money, then so be it. Anyway some of these creatures are slimy, ugly, and surely the work of the devil.

There were no doubt millions of deaths in the sludge spill, er, excuse me, “release.” Of course the god of coal only recognizes human deaths, with which it is so very familiar. Even a Gazette editorial claimed there were no deaths in the sludge disaster.

Now let’s suppose that God didn’t kill those people at Buffalo Creek and was not floating happily downstream in the black sludge on the Big Sandy River. Who else could be responsible for these disasters?  Not the killers of Monongah, Farmington, Holden 22 and Cesco Estep. No, it couldn’t have been the coal companies and if it wasn’t God then who could it have been...could it have been... Satan?

*In 1972, huge coal sludge dams broke loose and killed 125 people on Buffalo Creek in Logan County, West Virginia.**In Martin County, Kentucky another huge coal sludge pond broke into old underground coal mines and shot out the side of the mountain dumping more sludge than the oil dumped by the Exxon Valdez tanker. Some yards were covered with eight feet of sludge.

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I Was Sucker Punched

The Lincoln Journal, March 15, 2000

Several years ago, I was “sucker punched” after a Lincoln County Board of Education meeting. The man who threw the punch is now in prison for murder. Back then he was a big cog in the Democratic Party machine in Lincoln County. He was the director of transportation for the board of education. His brother-in-law was the superintendent of schools. Among other things my wife and I had complained at the board meeting that he got a two thousand dollar raise and teachers got nothing.

After the assault, a board member called the State Police. My wife and I told the State Policeman that we wanted to file a complaint against my attacker. When we got to the Hamlin State Police Headquarters, he kept delaying us about the filing of the complaint. We told him more than once we wanted to file a complaint. He shuffled papers and said, “In due time.”

Suddenly a pickup truck roared into the area in front of the door and two State Policemen with what looked like assault rifles jumped out of the truck.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said to my wife and headed for the door. The State Policeman we had been talking to ran from behind his desk grabbed me from behind and threw me into a chair. He held me with one hand and doubled up his fist in my already bloodied face. He turned to the policeman standing in the door with the assault rifle and said, “He won’t listen to anybody.” Up to that point, we had no confrontation with the policeman; we had discussed nothing that could lead him to believe I wouldn’t listen. We had gone to the State Police headquarters of our own free will to file a complaint of assault and battery.

Lucky for us, the two armed State Policemen needed help with a hostage-taking situation in another part of the county. The police had to leave and, as you can imagine, we got out of there, too. The policeman, who had just had his fist double up in my face, called to us to, “Come back tomorrow and file that complaint.” We looked at him in disbelief.

We talked to a lawyer in Hamlin about the situation. He told us the best thing we could do for the people of Lincoln County would be to get some publicity on the brutality of the State Police. “Every time I have a teenage client, who has been arrested by the State Police, either the teenager or an adult male relative has been beaten by the police.”

An investigation was conducted into police brutality in Lincoln County. The investigator was another State Policeman from northern West Virginia. The same State Policeman who assaulted me at the Hamlin headquarters drove him to our house. The cop, who had his fist in my face, sat in front of our house, with his cruiser motor running, while we were being interviewed inside our house. At one point, the investigating officer defended the actions of the State Policeman who assaulted me. I literally became speechless. When I recovered, I told him that he could depend on one thing. I would never call the State Police again. We were wasting our breath with this guy. The State Policeman, who assaulted me, was not punished as result of the “impartial, in-house investigation.”

Except for certain politicians, local citizens have no control over the State Police. Local citizens do have some control over the sheriff and his deputies. The sheriff is elected and if he or she or the deputies get too rough on too many people the voters can throw them out of office. Sometimes it just takes an informal complaint to the sheriff to reign in an abusive deputy. There is no such threat controlling the State Police. When they get out of line and someone protests, they investigate themselves.

The State Police officials are opposed to a civilian review board. If the recent brutality by State Policemen in McDowell County had not been recorded in a 911 call, there is little doubt, based on my experience, that the in-house investigation would have whitewashed the whole thing.

The State Police are working for the people. The people should have some way to control any abusive behavior. Everyone would benefit from a civilian review board. A few renegades would not taint the “good cops”. The renegades would have to answer to the people not their fellow employees. It may be just human nature for fellow policemen to want to take it easy on their comrades in arms. Reviews of complaints should always be done by independent agencies. Very few people trust an in-house investigation.

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Foregone Conclusions as Science

The Charleston Daily Mail, June 21, 2000

I worked for West Virginia University long enough to find out that institutions of higher learning are mired in the same political muck that sucks at the feet of the rest of the state. Arch Coal has a board member at Marshall University and Buck Harless* has them wrapped around his little finger with his big pocketbook. Still, my idealism caused me to hope for research at Marshall to be research and not something commissioned from the coal industry with the result determined by the coal industry.

This was actually said by Calvin Kent, Dean of Marshall University’s Business College: “The purpose of this study was to lay to rest some myths.” Now that is objective scholarship! Dean Kent already knew what the outcome of his study would be. He already knew that it would lay to rest some myths and by golly it did. What a surprise, he found the answer he was told to find. The coal industry commissioned this narrowly defined study. You might object that it was the legislature that told Marshall to do the study. Do you really think the legislature acted as anything more than a conduit to launder ideas for the coal industry?

Besides already knowing the answer, the so-called objective researchers at Marshall were pitiful in constructing straw men that could be blown over by less wind than we’ve had during some of these high pressure inversions. Dr. Kent produced this academic gem: “Those myths include the idea that coal is no longer important to the West Virginia economy.” No one with a grip on reality ever said coal isn’t important to the West Virginia economy. It is easy work for a “great” University to knock over myths, especially ones that don’t exist.

Can you imagine the outcry from the coal industry if Marshall University produced a “study” that laid to rest the myth that the coal industry has been good for West Virginia? Imagine Dr. Kent telling the legislature that “The purpose of this study was to lay to rest the myth that removing the tops of the mountains and filling the valleys is good for West Virginia”.

If I had the clout the coal industry money has, Marshall would do a study, involving all the social sciences, that looks into the future and asks the question, “Will West Virginia be better off in one hundred years if mountain top removal and valley fills are allowed to continue?” I suspect the study will show that my late friend Eddie Gillenwater** was right when he said, “Prosperity isn’t worth the price you have to pay.”

*Buck Harless is a timber and coal operator who has cut down trees in the Appalachian Mountains and the Brazilian rain forest.

**Eddie Gillenwater’s story can be found elsewhere in these letters.

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A Woman Runs for Governor on Third Party Ticket

The Charleston Gazette
October 16, 2000

Shudders follow the thought of another four years of the coal company controlled Cecil Underwood as Governor. It is embarrassing and disgusting to admit to friends in other states that all of the top officials of the department that is supposed to protect the environment come from the coal industry. Underwood and his advisors are so stupid or arrogant that they can’t figure out the trick; appoint people who will do your bidding and who have no direct connection to the coal industry. This is not a large pool of people but there are some who will sell their soul to devil coal, bureaucratic advancement and a very good salary. The concept “you must be sly to get by” is surely covered in public relations 101.

The Democrat alternatives to Republicans like Underwood usually understand the concept of “sly to get by.” It appears that if Bob Wise is elected he will appoint David Callaghan as head of the Department of Environmental Protection. Callaghan presided over massive destruction of West Virginia Mountains when he was protecting the environment under Democrat governors. Callaghan is nothing if not sly. He knows how to play the game of brushing some crumbs off the table for people concerned about the environment while letting our mountains be decapitated and dumped in our valleys. There is an annual award with his name on it given to coal companies which do “good” strip-mine reclamation; one of the most oxymoronic phrases ever devised. It ranks with Bob Wise’s “responsible mountain top removal”. Callaghan is so good at the game, or he was overcome by a dose of candor, that he said out loud on National Public Radio that West Virginia would be better off if there were no coal here.

If Bob Wise loses, it will be because of Democrats like Bob Kiss and Earl Ray Tomblin. Kiss, speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, refuses to endorse Wise. Tomblin, West Virginia Senate President, did so very late in the campaign. Kiss and Tomblin enjoy having a weak Governor who agrees with them on most issues. Underwood is the Democratic Party machine’s governor. Charlotte Pritt* was betrayed by that machine and Republican Underwood was elected. As George Wallace might have said; there ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between Kiss, Tomblin and Underwood. Why should Kiss and Tomblin support a guy who will get in their way of being de facto co-governors and their future ambitions for the real thing?   Notice the similarity between the two factions of the Rich People’s Party. Republican Cecil Underwood brags that he has continued the policies of his millionaire Democratic Party predecessor Gaston Caperton, while Democrat Bob Wise says he agrees with Underwood on eighty-five per cent of the issues. Eighty five percent agreement with Underwood is enough to qualify as a Republican. According to PERC, People’s Election Reform Coalition, Coal industry contributions support both Wise and Underwood campaigns...Not a dimes worth of difference.

We are led to believe that there will never be a “good” time to vote for a third party candidate. There will always be the excuse that the Democrats are the best we have, no matter how much they suck up to the coal companies. I am sick of the two parties led by men who seem to  believe in nothing except greed and power, and who hate our mountains.

I will vote for Denise Giardina and the Mountain Party.

*In 1996, Charlotte Pritt ran as a Democrat for governor and lost narrowly. She was the first woman to be nominated for governor of West Virginia by either of the two major political parties

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Diatribe Against Denise Giardina

The Charleston Gazette

In Democratic Party co-chairmen, Pat Maroney and Steve White’s strident, shrill, diatribe in the Gazette against Denise Giardina, (especially vicious in that they were attacking a person who got only 2% of the vote against Bob Wise) they gave away their master’s voice by using the coal company euphemism for mountain top removal. They of course called it mountain top mining. That’s how you tell a commentator’s bias. Those who want to save the mountains of West Virginia call it what it’s always been called, mountain top removal.

When the word went out to change to a smoother sounding name those who follow the coal company party line dutifully shifted to mountain top mining. Governor Bob Wise calls it mountain top mining.

When politicians change even the way they speak it is the nadir of sycophantic groveling and reveals the coal companies’ total control. Next we may see the people’s representatives chasing hub caps down the street. They join in the coal company propaganda efforts, warned of by George Orwell. Instead of saying “I love big brother”, they repeat, “I love coal”. Expect West Virginia’s new slogan to descend from “Almost Heaven” to “Coal is Big Brother”.*

Maroney and White claim that Bob Wise was endorsed by the “environmental community”. To refer to people who love the mountains, the streams and clean air and water as if they are a separate “community” living in some segregated part of town is an attempt to show us as a minority of the state’s population. My estimate is that eighty per cent of our citizens are in the “environmental community”.

To imply that environmental organizations endorsed Bob Wise is a lie. By law, none of the non-profit West Virginia environmental organizations are allowed to endorse candidates. Neither did they endorse Underwood. For individuals it was indeed a choice of the least of two evils. Rewarding Art Kirkendoll, of the infamous Hernshaw ambush, and his son with state jobs must have been Bob Wise’s way of saying thank you to the so-called “environmental community”. For Wise to pretend that he believes there was no violence at Hernshaw and that Kirkendoll was an innocent observer, who traveled sixty miles just to watch people being “peacefully” kicked and knocked down, was shabby indeed.   Bob Wise once was passionate in going after the coal companies and other large land owners for not paying their fair share of taxes. It is how he won his first election.

That was when he might have cared for the mountains. It was before he acquired the ability to look at clear water leaving a strip-mine pond, and declare it as good as or better than before. It was a miracle he performed, for contaminated water is often clear and pure looking. It was also miraculous that he knew the quality of the water before the strip-mine made it “better”. Was he abducted by aliens who planted a special chip in his brain that could analyze water on sight and determine its previous quality?

Wise need not worry about making a living after governing. He can work as a water analyst extraordinaire. He will need no lab, no expensive equipment, just a casual glance and his x-ray vision will do the job. At last we have superman for governor.

There was a revealing picture in the Gazette of Bob Wise dedicating a statue of an underground coal miner with a flunky of the Coal Association standing right behind the Governor. The flunky’s presence  reminds us who controls things. The statue of an underground miner represents a job the coal association is rapidly eliminating. Perhaps the statue should be in memory of the lost jobs, the uprooted families and  the ghost towns as underground miners are cast aside and replaced by increasingly larger and numerous mountain top removing machines. To the coal companies the statue represents a defeated foe. It was obscene to have the coal association pretending they give a damn about coal miners, past or present. It was like having the cavalry’s public relations hack present at Wounded Knee for the dedication of a monument to murdered Sioux. Coal miners, more than anyone else, are what the coal operators want fewer of.

In spite of the coal association’s obscene attempt at identifying with deep miners, I will always view the statue as honoring men like my dad, “Pepper” Martin. He lost an eye in the mines and told me of shoveling coal, on his knees, in a foot of water.

Over the years the coal companies have done everything in their power to persecute miners by fighting against black lung benefits, resisting mine safety laws, waging war on union miners, killing union organizers, hiring scabs, refusing to pay their fair share of taxes and yet their boy was there, right behind Governor Bob Wise. Ah Bobby, say it ain’t so. 

*Eventually Governor Manchin changed the slogan greeting visitors entering West Virginia to “Open For Business.” An uproar caused him to back off and replace it with “West Virginia, Wild and Wonderful” which was another public relations invention from several years back. Most West Virginians have always thought of our state as The Mountain State.

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Appoint School Board?

The Charleston Gazette April 15, 2000

For a long time I thought it was a good idea to have members of the state board of education appointed by the Governor. It seems fair that the positions are staggered so that no one governor could stack the board. Appointed for long terms the board would be independent of political pressure, I thought. 

Then it occurred to me that all of the board members are political appointees. Most often the appointees have very strong ties with partisan politics. Just to name a few: Gary White, the right hand man of multi-millionaire and Underwood contributor, Buck Harless; James MacCallum of Madison a political ally of Lloyd Jackson; Cleo Mathews, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Raleigh County. The list goes on.

All of the appointees owe their appointments to political friends and aren’t likely to disappoint them. Given West Virginia politics it is a real possibility that the appointees are conservative and pro big business. Under the present system there is little chance that a populist would be appointed to the board. There is no chance that anyone strongly opposed to forced consolidation of schools would ever meet the standard for political appointment. Since most people in West Virginia are opposed to forced consolidation of schools it would be easy to elect members of that persuasion to the board.

If the board members are elected we might get a few people who are independent of machine politics. It is hard to get elected in West Virginia without machine support but at least there is the possibility.  There is no possibility that an appointed board member will be free of the stamp of approval of some part of the political machines.

Howard O’Cull, in his Gazette article of April 3, expresses concern that the rabble will take over if the board members are elected. O’Cull figures that candidates would be “sponsored by big-business, labor, religious fundamentalists, left wing groups, right wing groups, anarchists or whomever.” Sounds like just about all the people in West Virginia, except for bureaucrats, are represented in this list. Is there a fear of the chaos of democracy here, a fear of the people taking over the government?  I don’t want the anti-evolution fundamentalists taking over the board but they have every right to try for representation. 

It would be better to have the people’s voice on the board than have everybody appointed with the approval of Buck Harless, Lloyd Jackson and the other republicrats. It sounds like O’Cull would have the aristocracy run things, perhaps technocrats of the bureaucracy. Now there are only two “sponsors” of board members; the Democratic Party bosses and the Republican Party bosses.

O’Cull again: “Appointed boards could make…unpopular but necessary educational policy....Such as closing schools...”   Who decides that these “unpopular” decisions are necessary? Obviously the people don’t decide or the decisions wouldn’t be unpopular to start with. These unpopular decisions are made possible by a legislature so in bed with big business that they give them over one hundred million dollars a year in tax breaks rather than use that money for community schools.

O’Cull falls for the same line the big business backed politicians in the state spout. Their line is that we don’t have enough money to keep small schools open. But we do have enough money to give over one hundred million a year in tax breaks to lure big businesses when many  would have located here anyway. The tax breaks were meant to create jobs. Since getting super tax credits the coal companies have reduced employment by over 10,000 jobs. Small, local businesses reduce employment in Wal-Mart’s wake. Wal-Mart gets tax breaks and the locally owned Charleston Department Store has to compete with them and pay part of Wal-Mart’s taxes. The tax breaks reduce jobs and we have poor schools, too.

The people of West Virginia are opposed to forced consolidations as is witnessed by O’Cull’s, “Can you imagine an elected state board dealing with school closures...” West Virginia parents don’t want their children to be bused long distances to large, cookie cutter designed, cold-hearted consolidated schools, where parent involvement is diluted, and student participation in after school activities is often ruled out for those without transportation. Closing schools is only “prudent”, to use O'Cull’s word, because we have given the store away to big business in the form of tax breaks.   Why does O’Cull find it bad for someone to get elected who clings, ”...to an extremely popular single issue”?  Is that worse than clinging to the extremely unpopular single issue of forced consolidations?  What is wrong with someone representing, “...an extremely popular issue...”? Seems like that is who we want on the board, people who represent extremely popular issues!

O’Cull admonishes, “...the board must become more inclusive.”   A few paragraphs before he advocated excluding just about everybody. No doubt he meant inclusion of the elite, certainly not the people. The way to have inclusion is through elections and let the chips fall where they may.

Democracy and elections are messy but at least there is a chance for the people. With appointed board members we get the same old, same old--a dishonest state superintendent and secret meetings. It appears that everything in the process is designed to keep the people off the board and in the dark.

During a state board meeting a couple of years ago citizens of Lincoln County were present in large numbers to protest forced consolidation. Superintendent Hank Marockie* spotted Senator Lloyd Jackson II in the crowd and unctuously invited him to sit with the board members. Jackson was the only one there who spoke in favor of forced consolidation.

Contrary to the headline that accompanied O'Cull’s article the state board of education could not be any more political than it is now. It is Alexander Hamilton’s elite versus Thomas Jefferson’s trust in the people.

*Hank Marockie was the West Virginia Superintendent of Schools. He responded to my testimony by saying I had no credibility. Dan Radmacher, editorial page editor of the Charleston Gazette and the winner of the 2001 National Education Writers Award for Opinion, wrote of Marockie’s credibility in the spring 2002 issue of The Masthead:

“This man’s rise and fall were both marked by smug arrogance”… “He believed he was entitled to all the perks of a CEO, too: country club memberships, company cars, inflated salary”…. [and] “$300 dinners with his wife, a bureaucrat in the school system”.... “He charged mileage … for hundreds of luncheon trips from the Capitol to restaurants a couple of miles away….and for driving home to his wife in Wheeling. Sometimes, he charged mileage when he was driving a state car”… [The state was charged for,] “Christmas candy for his secretaries; first-class upgrades on flights and flowers for the funeral of an employee’s relative.”…. “The facts were clear enough -- though we never did get all the details of how Marockie spent nearly $100,000 of money from the nonprofit Education Alliance.

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They Have Lost Their Minds

The Charleston Gazette
August 28, 2000

Environmental Quality Board (EQB), sounds like a group that would be partial to the environment. The quality part is in the eye of the beholder; after all, it doesn’t say what kind of quality, good or bad.

The EQB held a hearing the other evening on rules they had drawn up concerning keeping West Virginia rivers as clean as possible. It is called an anti-degradation policy. That seems clear; don’t degrade the streams. So it sounds like quality in the board’s name must mean good quality.

Twenty-five years ago the State was told by the Environmental Protection Agency to formulate a policy to prevent degradation of the streams. With the aid of a threatened lawsuit from the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, the EQB reluctantly decided they might as well go ahead and do something. One board member was even quoted as saying that they were only doing this to avoid the lawsuit. They do a version of their job when they are forced to. Sounds a lot like leaning on shovels at a state road repair job.

I arrived at the board meeting room very early so that I would get to speak early. You know, the old first come first served idea. Two friends signed in ahead of me. It appeared from the list that it might not be first come first served. There were eighteen names ahead of us but only six or so people in the room, certainly not 18. Maybe they went next door for a beer.

Every since the Gulf of Tonkin, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the removing of mountaintops and dealing with the Lincoln County board of education for twenty-two years, I assume hanky-panky. Numbers five through 16 were in the same handwriting. I thought, well, this is unfair but since the signatures are numbered, at least I will be the 21st speaker. When they called number 21 to speak I was going to ask them how twelve people above me could duplicate one another’s handwriting so well. Did they have the same grade school teacher?

Five of the signed-in speakers ahead of me were on the list twice. They signed in when they actually arrived. It appeared someone else signed in for them earlier. This is not good coordination, not a well-planned conspiracy. Maybe they signed in early, went down the street for that beer and under the influence forgot that they had already signed in and did it again when they came back. But how could they write just like all those other people? Doubt reared its ugly head. I was having the unpatriotic thought that someone was a crook.

I didn’t count the speakers but it started to become evident that a whole bunch of speakers representing Carbide, Dupont, Rhone-Poulenc, Walker Machinery and others who signed in after I did were speaking before me. Finally I went to the table where the board was seated and asked why my name hadn’t been called. I looked at the sign-in sheet they were working from and they were clear down in the 60s. I pointed to my name back at 21 and they told me I would get to speak.

I went back to my seat and waited and waited. Exasperated, I stood up and told my story out loud to the whole damn room. I was assured that I would get to speak real soon. I asked why they were not going by the numbered sign-in sheet. They told me that I would get to speak very soon. I asked again why they didn’t go by the sign-in sheet. They answered that I would get to speak real soon.

I asked again and finally they answered my question. One of the board members said it was because the list had too many industry speakers at the beginning and they were trying to mix in speakers from both sides. They were doing just the opposite. They had lost their minds.

I wondered later and wished I had said, “Why did you put numbers on the sign-in list if you are going to ignore the order in which the speakers signed up? And how did you know the industry speakers so well? There was no place on the list to identify industry representatives.”

The industry speakers all pretty much said the same thing, so one could have spoken for all and shortened my wait somewhat. Their general line was: “We will do business with whichever state will let us dump the most pollution in the water.” Speaker after speaker threatened to take their plants to Ohio where they claimed the regulations were weaker. I told the board that it was a good thing we didn’t border on Mexico.

Since the industry speakers got to jump the line, it was their testimony that dominated the story in the Gazette the next morning. The reporter had a deadline and couldn’t stay all night waiting for the rest of us to speak. You reckon that’s why they let all those industry people go first?

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Be Not Like the Hypocrites

The Charleston Gazette
November 2, 2000

Some advice from Jesus for those who want prayer in classrooms, at high school football games and other public events: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

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ASTERISKS BUT NO FOOTNOTES

Agents of God

The Charleston Daily Mail, January 6, 2001

If the 1972 Buffalo Creek* murder of 125 people and the Martin County sludge “release” (another coal company euphemism) were acts of God, then the coal companies must be agents of God, providing the stuff for God to act on. In Martin County* the prayers of Pat Robertson* would have deflected the sludge somewhere else.

The Old Testament God slew thousands and brought epidemics of boils and bugs on the enemies of God’s chosen people. The slain worshipped an inferior god.

Now come a new chosen people of God, agents of God—coal companies. Their God is coal, as testified to by the stickers on bumpers that announce their love for the God.

The God of the people in the path of destruction wrought by the Coal God was the God of mountains, of nature, of all creation. It is apparent that the Coal God is far superior to the Mountain God. The later has slain no one. The Coal God has slain hundreds of thousands.

In the Martin County disaster, they claim to have caused no deaths. There were no doubt millions of deaths in that spill, er, excuse me, “release.” Of course the Coal God recognizes only human deaths, with which it is amply familiar.

Now let’s suppose that God didn’t act at Buffalo Creek and was not swimming happily downstream in the black sludge and the Big Sandy River. Who else could be responsible for those two disasters—not the killers of Monongah, Farmington, Holden 22 and Cesco Estep.*

No it couldn’t have been the coal companies, and if it wasn’t God, then who could it have been? Could it have been Satan?

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Coal River Valley

The Charleston Gazette
February 28, 2001

I rode through the Big Coal River Valley the other day, the valley of my birth, where I learned to swim, where my dad, grandpa, uncles, brother-in-law and son worked in the underground coal mines.

Random memories floated through my mind of the one room school, taking cows up the hollow, the barn full of wonders, tossing “Frisbees” of flat, dry disc-shaped cow piles, watering the horses at the river ford, sleigh riding in the snow and the earnest prayers in the little church across the river.

But no matter how many times I pass through that valley, I am stunned out of my reverie by the dreary, desolate abandonment that envelops it, as does the black coal dust.

Before the robber barons, before the virgin forests were cut, before coal mines, Coal River Valley must have been gorgeous. It would be interesting to know what the Indians thought of it and what they named it.

If you want to see the local benefits of the coal industry take a drive on Route 3 up Big Coal River. The roads, dirt, mud and trees along the edges are black with coal dust, every other mountain has been gouged and altered. Huge piles of “spoil” and “overburden” have been pushed into the hollows and tower menacingly. Those valley fills look like huge, black glaciers getting ready to ooze out into the roadway.

Stop at the Coal River Mountain Watch office in Whitesville and look at the maps that show mountaintop removal mines under consideration. The blast zones overlap at Marsh Fork High School. Drive on up the road and see for yourself the gigantic sludge dam hovering over a grade school, which is also within the blast zones of the two newly proposed mines. It might forewarn of a tragedy like the one in Wales when a mountain of coal refuse broke loose and covered a grade school, crushing and smothering all the children inside. There is a sludge dam expansion that will be nearly as high as the New River Gorge Bridge and it hovers over Marsh Fork Elementary School.

Whitesville was once a thriving community with an active, exciting downtown, where thousands of miners came and spent their money. Many of the storefronts are now abandoned. Whitesville is a dilapidated, decayed, dirty skeleton of its past. There are at least eleven coal mines in the area, and they have produced the very opposite of prosperity.

The view along the road between Whitesville and Marsh Fork looks as bad as anything I saw in the so-called Third World in the early ‘60s. The rural areas of Nigeria actually looked much better. In Nigeria, people lived off farming of the land and there was little environmental damage. They worked hard to bring enough to eat out of poor, sandy soil. But their environment was intact and there was a joyful celebration of life. There was nothing in that rural area of Nigeria as bleak, joyless and depressing as the Whitesville and Marsh Fork environs.

I feel certain that the people who run the coal industry will not hesitate to take the top off very coal-bearing mountain in West Virginia. As the demand and price for coal goes up there will be excuse to mine the high-sulfur seams in northern West Virginia, those mountaintops might well be leveled. And if you think that some places will be too pristine to be stripped, too beautiful, too much in public view, take a look at the strip mine and the quarry at Snowshoe, the quarry in Germany Valley and stand on a ridge above Webster Springs and look out at the beautiful ridges and see that one in the middle distance has been stripped.

“Alarmist!” you may accuse. But if someone had said fifty years ago that the mountain tops of West Virginia would be removed, they too would have been called alarmist. How could the tops of the mountains be removed in the Mountain State? This is severe, extreme environmentalism.

For the most part it is out-of-state extreme environmentalists who are destroying our mountains. Arch Coal got its name from the arch near their headquarters in St. Louis. Massey has headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. The Addington brothers are from Kentucky.

Coal River Valley suffered a greater defeat than Jay Rockefeller when he lost in his first bid for governor. Rockefeller got his political start at my birthplace of Emmons on Big Coal River. He was then in favor of the abolition of strip mining. I believed him and put his bumper sticker on my truck.

How I wish he had spent enough money to get elected that time. How I wish the money he sent to Democratic bosses in Southern West Virginia had not ended up being used to support Arch Moore. Rockefeller said in December 1970, “I will fight for the abolition of strip mining completely and forever.” He must have been kidding, for just seven years later, as governor, Rockefeller testified to a U.S. Senate subcommittee considering the new strip mine law that, “mountaintop removal should certainly be encouraged, if not specifically dictated.”

If you have the stomach for the devastation, drive to the Stanley Family graveyard on Kayford Mountain just above Whitesville. There you can look down at what remains of mountains that used to cast shadows on the cemetery; see the earth turned upside down, a treeless wasteland, forever useless; see the future for the Mountain State if this beast isn’t stopped.

Almost Heaven West Virginia has become, in the Coal River Valley and other little valleys and hollows, an Almost Hell, West Virginia.

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You Often Get What You Pay For

The Charleston Daily Mail, March 3, 2001

To paraphrase “Fiddler on the Roof,” I don’t want a big fortune, just a living. Since teaching was my profession for twenty-one years, it was good that I wasn’t very materialistic. When your kids are eligible for reduced-price lunches, you are very near the poverty level.

I am not complaining for myself. I was happy being poor. It’s that hippy gene. Our old house was cold. In the record-setting winter of ‘94, the water in the pipes under the house froze, expanded and thawed. There is an amazing pressure caused by the V-shaped water molecules when they slow down and realign. It can even burst brass fittings and iron pipe.

Our plastic pipes were no match for the bipolar water molecules. It was three weeks before the temperature got above freezing and I could get under there and re-invent the plumbing.

We could not afford anything near a new car. We thumped around in old clunkers. Again, the hippie gene served me well. We got where we needed to go and didn’t quite freeze to death in the house. We were happy and I loved teaching.

Parents hope their kids will have an opportunity to materially improve or at least not be worse off than their progenitors. Most people who spend the money and time to go to college want to provide the same possibility for their children. Teaching is a sure way to make certain that doesn’t happen.

If you reproduce to the tune of two or three kids and your teacher’s salary is the only one in the house, you are probably going to live in a rundown home, drive a clunker, and watch your offspring go straight from reduced-price lunches at school to serving hamburgers for minimum wage and no benefits—all this while some former students start out at salaries sometimes twice or more what a teacher with 20 years experience draws.

Anybody with a family and only one income will avoid the teaching profession. They will find a job that pays more than teaching where they will not have to put up with those bizarre administrators. To understand bizarre, start at the top with a Hank Marockie* and imagine what it is like in the trenches. Where do they get those people?

* This is a partial repeat of the note following a previous article:

Hank Marockie was the West Virginia Superintendent of Schools. Dan Radmacher, editorial page editor of The Charleston Gazette wrote of Marockie in the spring 2002 issue of The Masthead:

“This man’s rise and fall were both marked by smug arrogance”… “He believed he was entitled to all the perks of a CEO, too: country club memberships, company cars, inflated salary”…. “$300 dinners with his wife, a bureaucrat in the school system”.... “He charged mileage … for hundreds of luncheon trips from the Capitol to restaurants a couple of miles away….and for driving home to his wife in Wheeling. Sometimes, he charged mileage when he was driving a state car” The state was charged for, “Christmas candy for his secretaries; first-class upgrades on flights and flowers for the funeral of an employee’s relative.”…. “The facts were clear enough--though we never did get all the details of how Marockie spent nearly $100,000 of money from the nonprofit Education Alliance.

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A Pay Cut

The Charleston Gazette

When state government tells teachers that health care premiums are going up and coverage is going down, it announces a pay cut. Does anyone think this will attract ambitious, hardworking, dedicated teachers?

It gets worse when a teacher retires. Through the magic of inflation and the legislature refusing to pass a cost of living increase, retirement benefits rapidly approach worthless. Now legislators want to take away the option of trading unused sick days for health care premiums. Taking away benefits is not going to keep or attract good employees.

Teachers notice that the people at the top of the roost in West Virginia government get salary increases on a regular basis. Sometimes the increases are more than a teacher’s yearly pay. Some legislators make more in a sixty-day session than this retired teacher makes in a year.

Headlines warn that we cannot compete for top talent unless the highest paid people get more money. The same warning holds true for teachers.

If the Legislature wants to attract dedicated, qualified people who just want to make a living, not a fortune, they had better start increasing, instead of decreasing, pay and benefits.

We often get what we pay for.

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Decapitation is Better

Charleston Daily Mail, July 16, 2001

It was disappointing to read the coal company propaganda puff piece about mountaintop removal in the July 4, Daily Mail.

Has the Daily Mail shamelessly hired itself out as a public relations consultant to Arch Coal? It was shocking to see such outrageous claims on the front page as: “When we’re done with the land, it’s going to be as productive or more productive than it was originally.”

The picture on the front page of the “productive land” left after mountaintop massacre showed nary an oak, hickory or any other hardwood tree. Hardwood forests have never grown on such barren land.

It is an insult to the entire Mountain State to be destroying the tops of the mountains. Only an employee or owner of a coal company would say the mountains are going to be better after being decapitated.

Over 1000 miles of streams already have been covered with hundreds of feet of rubble. Close to 400,000 acres of mountaintops have been decapitated—over three times as much land as is in our state parks.

Every year, forever, we are losing 80 million board feet of hardwood timber that would have been the new growth on the 400,000 acres, that been rendered useless by mountaintop removal. Every year, forever, we are losing the jobs that would have been employed to cut and process that timber.

The incredible claim that after mountaintop removal, the beheaded mountain would be “much more diverse” is not even close to reality. Second only to the tropical rainforest, the mountains of West Virginia support the most diverse plant and animal wildlife habitat of any forest in the world.

This coal company from St. Louis is telling us that by destroying the hardwood forest, removing the mountaintops and dumping millions of tons of ugly mine waste in the streams, they are going to make an environment more diverse than it was before.

Out of over 400,000 acres already destroyed. It is generous to say that 10,000 have been use for schools, jails, airports, shopping centers and whatever else qualifies for “development.”

It is not likely that we are ever going to find a use for 390,000 acres of flattened mountains that won’t even grow hardwood trees.

Here is what U.S. District Judge Charles Haden wrote: “If the forest canopy…is leveled, exposing the stream to extreme temperatures, and aquatic life is destroyed, these harms cannot be undone…If the forest wildlife are driven away by the blasting, the noise, and the lack of safe nesting and eating areas, they cannot be coaxed back…If the mountaintop is removed, even Hobet’s engineers will affirm that it cannot be reclaimed to its exact original contour.

“Destruction of the unique topography of southern West Virginia…cannot be regarded as anything but permanent and irreversible.

Here is what Bill Maxey, director of the West Virginia Division of Forestry from 1993 until 1998, says about mountaintop removal:

“I think mountaintop removal is analogous to serious disease, like AIDS…. It will take 150 to 200 years before trees would become re-established following such a drastic mining practice…. All native plant and animals are practically eliminated…. I resigned as a matter of principle, for I did not want to share in the blame of guilt for the loss of West Virginia’s heritage through the loss of our forested mountains.”

Mountaintop removal is a form of biological warfare, destroying the natural habitat of thousands of species. Fly over southern West Virginia. It looks like it has been carpet-bombed by B-52s.

Mountaintop removal is the worst environmental and economic disaster in the country.

As for the mountains being “more diverse” and “more productive” after mountaintop removal, ask the people of Booger Hollow in Raleigh County. A week ago, they watched this “diversity” and “productivity” wash their homes away.

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What Would Jesus Do?

The Charleston Daily Mail, November 12, 2001

Thousands of innocent people of all ages, races and faiths were murdered on September 11. Their families and everyone else in America are saddened, shocked and horrified by what happened. The killers should be caught and brought to justice for their crimes.

However the other people who are suffering for this attack are also innocent. September 11 was planned and carried out mainly by citizens of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. None of the hijackers were citizens of Afghanistan.

The Taliban soldiers who are dying by the thousands are probably like any army; composed of patriotic, idealistic, young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five who are doing what their government has ordered them to do. They have been brainwashed to believe in the motto, “My country, right or wrong.” They believe that God is on their side. Bombs of enormous killing power are being dropped on them by young men who believe in the motto, “My country, right or wrong” and who believe that God is on their side. They both claim to worship the same God, the God of Abraham and Isaac. Since there can be no winner in this ghastly slaughter and counter-slaughter we will never know which side God is really on.

Jesus sent these messages: Do not kill; Love your enemies; Turn the other cheek; Forgive seventy times seven; Do good to those who persecute you; Blessed are the peacemakers.   What would Jesus do?

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Katie Sierra

The Charleston Daily Mail, December 26, 2001

The assaults on Katie Sierra* at Sissonville High School bring to mind the infamous Hernshaw ambush*.The assault at Hernshaw was by people who seem to have no idea what freedom of speech and freedom of assembly mean to this country. As if to encourage violence, Governor Bob Wise honored one of the leaders with a political job that never existed before. Perhaps to make certain everyone got the idea; Wise also gave the leader’s son a state job.

I was pleased to learn that Forrest Mann, principal at Sissonville, called the students to two assemblies to tell them not to assault other students. Following Wise’s example I was afraid Mann might give them jobs, perhaps as thought police in the halls.

The principal overreacted to a situation that would have faded away for lack of student interest if he had figured out a way to allow Katie Sierra to express her views, to lay claim to her constitutional rights. Surely he could deal with one student’s idealism.

His students imitated him, and they have followed the lead of board members who said she was un-American and should live somewhere else. The principal and board members sent a clear signal for violence to students at Sissonville High School.

A man from Mississippi once explained to me what happened in the schools of that state during 1964, when three young idealistic believers in civil rights were beaten to death, castrated and buried under a dam. He told me the thoughtful students at his school let the haters take over, and before they knew it, the hallways of the school were controlled by Klan types.

Similar things happened in Germany. Good people backed off and the Nazis moved in. During World War II, Jehovah’s Witnesses were tarred and feathered in Richwood because they would not salute the flag. In the ‘60s, longhaired males were heckled and attacked as they walked across the West Virginia University campus. Vietnam War protesters were beaten in Hamlin.

Recently, at the Greyhound Bus station, a surgeon was thrown to the ground and handcuffed—he thought for being of dark skin. People have been kidnapped and beaten to death for their sexual orientation.

Katie Sierra has been run out of the school. Is it now open season on any student who is different from the majority and has the courage to say so?

How about some law and order and protection of minority rights? Can’t the principal and the board of education control a few hoodlums at Sissonville High School and make it a school safe for diversity and freedom of speech?

* Katie Sierra was a tenth grader at Sissonville High School in West Virginia. She asked the school principal if she could start an anarchy club, so that like-minded or curious students could gather, have reading and discussion groups and do community service. Her request was denied. She wore home-made t-shirts to school that featured the “anarchy” circle-a symbol, and anti-war messages such as “When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God Bless America.” Another shirt read “I pledge the grievance to the flag Of the United State of America and to the Republicans whom I can’t stand, one nation under smog, indespicable with liberty and justice for some, not all.” The school’s principal suspended Katie for three days and forbid her to wear the shirts.
Katie attended a Kanawha County Board of Education meeting and got a negative response from some board members; “This isn’t something funny or cute,” said one member. “You're talking about overthrowing the government!” Another yelled that Katie is a traitor, and suggested that what she is doing is “like you stood up and waved a Japanese flag on Pearl Harbor day.” The president of the school board added, “What the hell is wrong with a kid like that?” Katie left in tears. Following her suspension, she filed a suit against the school district and the principal, maintaining it was her First Amendment right to wear what she wanted, express her political views and start the club. A jury ruled against her.

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Coal Ads Invading WV Public Radio

The Charleston Gazette
April 8, 2002

“Support for Weekend Edition is provided by Arch Coal Incorporated, reclaiming the land for community projects such as the Twisted Gun Golf Course opening soon in Mingo County.”

That’s a coal industry editorial disguised as a commercial on West Virginia Public Radio. This editorial-commercial makes it sound as if Arch Coal is fixing something that someone else destroyed, when in fact Arch is just cleaning up a very small portion of West Virginia that it is tearing up.

No mention is made of the fact that Arch and other coal companies have, just since 1987, destroyed over 300,000 acres of West Virginia mountains. An attempt is being made, in cooperation with West Virginia Public Radio, to create the illusion that a golf course on a destroyed mountaintop is better for a community than the original mountain and trees and streams.

And guess just what fraction of the neighbors of the “community project” will ever play golf there. Like Public Radio editorial-commercials, the golfing will not be free; there will be a price.

At the rate ruined mountaintops are being “developed,” it would take more than 3,000 years to finish the job, and that’s if not another mountaintop is blasted off.

Imagine the size of the job of “developing” mountaintop removal mine sites.

The 500 square miles already destroyed equal a mile-wide bulldozed swath running all the way from Charleston to Manhattan, plowing through the entire island and going on into Connecticut, or from here to Myrtle Beach and on down to Jacksonville.

The degree of truth in the Arch Coal editorial-commercial compares with one that might read: “Brought to you by your good friends in the tobacco industry, promoting healthy communities throughout West Virginia.” I dare Public Radio to run that one.

I like Public Radio. It is wonderful to listen to programs that are not yet constantly interrupted by loud corporate propaganda. Conservative politicians have reduced Public Radio funding. For Public Radio to survive, we are asked to endure coal company fabrications and witness the humiliation of the professional employees of West Virginia Public Radio who must read the coal company propaganda or lose their jobs.

In a way, these editorial-commercials are a good sign. They show that the coal companies, the ultimate eco-terrorists and environmental extremists, realize that the public expects them to clean up their mess.

However, if with one hand, they can dazzle us that they are in the benign business of reclaiming land for community projects, they can continue to strangle the mountains and streams with the other hand.

Would a $25 contribution to Public Radio give a person access to the airwaves to counter the coal company creativity with the truth? Perhaps it is like access to politicians—the more you pay, the more you say.

STOP PROOF

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There Are No Ads on Public Broadcasting

The Charleston Daily Mail

The chairman of the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority wrote in a recent Daily Mail commentary that “...there are no ‘ads’ on Public Broadcasting.” Considering the obvious presence of commercials on Public Broadcasting, was this disingenuous double talk or just old fashioned lying?   Public Broadcasting is by far the best, most informative, comprehensive and balanced source of news and information that is available. At one time it was commercial free. Sadly, starting with Ronald Reagan, the Republicans and conservative allies tried to either destroy Public Broadcasting or, failing that, take it over. Government funding cuts forced Public Broadcasting to find money somewhere else or go out of business. Because contributions from individual citizens have not been enough to keep Public Broadcasting going they have turned to corporations for money.   The corporate invasion of Public Broadcasting has been gradual. At first it was just an announcement that a particular program was brought to you by a certain corporation. Then Public Television started using colorful corporate logos. And now we have rather extensive commercials on both Public Television and Radio which are really editorials of self-praise. Oil company commercials on Public Television bragged over and over that they were cleaning up the environment (a mess they made themselves). As a result wags were inspired to call PBS the Petroleum Broadcasting System.   An example of an ‘ad’ on West Virginia Public Radio goes like this: “Support for Weekend Edition is provided by Arch Coal Incorporated, reclaiming the land for community projects such as the Twisted Gun Golf Course opening soon in Mingo County.” Arch Coal is being portrayed as a harmless company making land better and more useful, trying to help people build communities. There is nary a word about Arch Coal’s role in the coal industry destruction of over 300,000 acres of West Virginia mountains and hardwood forests by mountain top removal strip mining and the burying of one thousand miles of streams with mountain top removal waste and the killing of hundreds of species of wildlife and the destruction of homes and communities. For a more typical Arch Coal community project check out what is left of the community of Blair.   Public Broadcasting please be careful what you sell, it may be your soul. Too many of us depend on you to let that happen.

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Coal Statue

The Charleston Gazette
November 9, 2002

There is a certain accuracy and a bunch of irony in the four panels on the base of the West Virginia Coal Association’s sculpture being built on the Capitol grounds. Burl Jones, the sculptor, wrote in the Gazette that the sculpture “...is a monument to the history and traditions of West Virginia coal mining.” He is correct.

Three of the panels show the machines that have made the coal miner on top almost extinct. One shows the sinister dragline used on mountaintop removal strip-mines. This dragline has played a major role in making the miner that will stand on top of the base an endangered species. The dragline picture is realistic. It shows the ugly destruction of our beautiful mountains. There is nary a tree in sight.

The irony runs deep. For the West Virginia Coal Association to sponsor a statue dedicated to miners is award-winning cynicism. The Coal Association has a history of resisting mightily any wage increases, health and retirement benefits, workers compensation, safety and environmental regulations and taxes that would benefit coal miners, their families, their neighbors and the people of West Virginia. Since the beginning of coal mining in West Virginia, the members of the West Virginia Coal Association and their predecessors have been getting rid of coal miners as fast as they possibly can. Over 100,000 miners have been killed and more than 100,000 coal mining jobs have been eliminated in West Virginia.

When my dad was a miner, there were 125,000 coal miners in West Virginia. Now there are less than 17,000. I suspect the Coal Association would secretly prefer that there be no miner standing on top of that statue; maybe a bull dozer, a dragline or a long wall mining machine. They love machines.

A monument in memory of the coal miners killed and maimed would be more fitting than this monument to machines. Plans for the Coal Association statue make no mention of the 78 miners who died in Consol No. 9 at Farmington in 1968 or to the at-least 551 who were killed at Monogah in 1907.

There will be no tribute to miners, like my dad, who lost an eye, or like my father-in-law, who came down with black lung and had to fight like hell to get any benefits. Miners whose legs and backs were crushed in roof falls, who can’t stand up straight or walk, or who must wheel around a bottle of oxygen because of black lung disease are left out.

The Coal Association statue is a monument to their success in replacing miners with machines.

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More Like China

The Charleston Gazette
January 21, 2003

It is sad to see Don Nehlen, the ultimate Mountaineer from Ohio, sell his good name to further the destruction of the mountains of West Virginia.

Until now the highest level of Nehlen’s public opinions had to do with how tough the next football opponent would be, even if it were Ball State. He has elevated his game, moved to the next level.

He is now a paid shill for the coal companies, paid to remake the truth and create a warm fuzzy “image” of the monstrous atrocity called mountain top removal strip mining. Nehlen’s new found love for destroying West Virginia mountains surfaced after the coal companies showed him the money.

Charles Ryan is another shill hired by the coal companies to reinvent their sorry past. Ryan was quoted in the Gazette telling the coal barons, “Your tentacles are everywhere in this state.” The man tells it like it is.

The coal company “image”, which Nehlen and Ryan are being paid to put in the winning column, was well earned by years of destroying our mountains and streams, beating and shooting union miners, opposing safety standards, fighting against black lung benefits, cheating widows out of their pensions, opposing all coal taxes, bribing politicians, sucking at he trough of tax credits, refusing to pay into Workers’ Compensation, destroying entire watersheds with black sludge, flooding Southern West Virginia communities over and over again, drowning 125 people at Buffalo Creek, killing or maiming over 100,000 West Virginia miners. With Don Nehlen and Charles Ryan, the coal companies are hoping to turn lies into truth and history into the memory chute.

The Charleston Gazette quotes Nehlen as admitting, “I don’t exactly know the regulations….” Yet he claims they need to be changed. Nehlen continues, “But in China, they mine for six bucks a ton, and we must be able to compete with that.” Is Nehlen advocating for Chinese style starvation wages for West Virginia miners? Does he favor the terrible safety standards, which kill 10,000 Chinese coal miners each year? Does he admire the use of prison labor in China? Maybe he prefers a totalitarian state like China where a coal company can produce cheap coal without being bothered by pesky laws to protect miners and the environment.

It is ironic that some of the companies Nehlen is trying to pull out of the sludge of their own “image” in West Virginia are mining coal in China. If we could just be like China, everything would be doggone peachy keen*.

*To avoid cursing Nehlen often uses doggone and other substitute curse words.

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Again, What Would Jesus Do?

The Charleston Daily Mail March 29, 2003

In a March 26 editorial, “Protesters: Activists need to be careful about whose interest they serve,” the Daily Mail dragged that mean ol’ Joe McCarthy out of his grave and pointed his finger and yelled “communist, traitor.”

It is tiresome logic that whoever disagrees with the madness of our appointed president in attacking Iraq must be a commie and not have feelings for the awful danger our soldiers are in.

Americans have the right to disagree with anything we want to disagree with. That is why we aren’t communists. We are being patriotic Americans. We are saying what we believe.

It is illogical to point out that people in Iraq don’t have our freedoms. Does Iraq’s lack of freedom negate our freedom of speech, too? Should we become silent and fearful to speak out for what we believe because people in Iraq can’t?

And of course we all want our fellow Americans to be safe and to come home from this invasion in one piece. But that doesn’t make the war just, or the president right.

What he is doing is so unnecessary and horrible that we must oppose it even if it means being called a commie by the Daily Mail.

If we wage war on every country that lacks our freedoms, we are going to be very, very busy, get a lot of people killed, and break the bank.

Here is a partial list of the countries we might want to invade to free their people from oppression

  • Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t even allowed to drive cars.
  • Kuwait, run by millionaires of inherited power (sound familiar?)
  • Syria, also a family empire.
  • Pakistan, ruled by a military dictator.
  • China, which brutalize the Tibetan people every day. (But China is a big country that supplies us with a cheap labor market and we know for sure they have weapons of mass destruction).
  • Iran, because they don’t like us and they do have oil, and probably WMD.
  • Cuba, just because.
  • Myanmar, maybe the most brutal “regime” on earth.
  • Several divisions of the former Soviet Union
  • All those African countries coming apart at the seams.
  • North Korea
  • Vietnam, ripe for another go-round.

Perhaps our job is not to police the whole world. Maybe it is too expensive in lives and money. And if you are a Christian, just ask yourself: “What would Jesus do.”

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Protesters and Terrorists

The Charleston Gazette
April 26, 2003

Protesters and terrorists: Majority approval doesn’t justify war. Some supporters of the Iraq war have suggested that peace advocates go live with the French, Germans or Russians. Does this mean that Americans who exercise freedom of speech to question the president should leave America? Which leads me to Ed Rabel and Lt. Col. Herb Lattimore.

Lattimore of the state Department of Emergency Services was quoted in the Gazette as saying: “Potential domestic terrorist groups... include religious organizations, racial hate groups and environmental activists.... Think of West Virginia — coal mining, strip mining.” Whoa there, just a minute! Is he lumping religious groups and environmental activists with hate groups? Does opposition to the terror called mountaintop removal qualify a person as a “potential terrorist”?

Lattimore went on to say that “potential terrorists are everywhere.” Sounds a bit paranoid, or maybe it is a job-security boondoggle to scare everyone into thinking we need an army of well-paid anti-terrorist bureaucrats in West Virginia.

In another recent Gazette article, former Charleston newscaster Ed Rabel tried to dismiss and ridicule the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have protested Bush’s war. He called us “professional protesters and Hollywood celebrities.” Does he read? Practically every major newspaper in the country carried editorials against the war, especially if it were to be launched without the United Nations. I was at one of the huge Washington demonstrations. The crowd was from all age groups and all walks of life. There didn’t seem to be many “professional protesters” and there was only one Hollywood celebrity. But there were many of Col. Lattimore’s “potential terrorists” disguised as Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. And there was another bunch of potential terrorists, those bloodthirsty environmental activists.

Rabel blew on the embers of hate with the accusation that opponents aren’t sincere or real people, that they are some kind of alien species who have the temerity to stand up for what they believe. Rabel didn’t speak to the issue. He attacked the credibility and sincerity of those who disagree with the pro-war view.

I infer from Rabel’s article that the war is justified by polls showing 70 percent support. He failed to mention that before the war, about the same percentage opposed war if it was to be without U.N. participation. There was probably more than 70 percent support for slavery around 1776. And during the mean years of school and swimming pool segregation, it was pretty obvious that it was what the majority wanted. Injustice does not become justice because of majority opinion. Slavery, segregation and an unjust war do not become just when a majority thinks so.

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Amputation

The Charleston Gazette
May 6, 2003

Dear Editor,
For the Gazette to applaud Arch Coal for planting pine trees on a strip mine is like praising a madman for giving his victim artificial arms and legs after having cut off the good arms and legs.

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Torture is the New Standard

The Charleston Gazette

Dear Editor,
Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have set a standard in Iraq and Afghanistan that will no doubt remain there if ever American troops are pulled out. The standard is abuse, torture and murder the prisoners. Stand tall and proud, America.

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Biting the Hand That Feeds You

The Charleston Gazette

An outrage, silly, stupid, corrupt, very dangerous. Why is it I still get shocked at the pettiness of the state legislature, and their brutal disregard for the bill of rights and specifically the first amendment?  Their attitude seems to be if the press wants to be free it will have to pay for it. Those newspapers that have the nerve to say something bad about our legislative clowns will be punished by those clowns. When it comes to legislatures we can no longer fall back on, “Thank God for Mississippi.” Enlightened Mississippians are now cleared to utter, “Thank God for West Virginia.”

A Gazette editorial criticized 15 senators for voting against the smokeless tobacco tax. Senator Sarah Minear, R-Tucker, one of the criticized senators had the bill removed from the Senate calendar in protest over that editorial. To further punish the Gazette for believing they were located in the home of the free, the bill was amended to give the Gazette less money for running legal advertisements than the other state newspapers.

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Razing Appalachia

The Charleston Daily Mail, May 25, 2003

In his Daily Mail review of “Razing Appalachia,” reporter Chris Stirewalt says that it ranks as one of the most depressing movies ever made.

Indeed, the truth about mountaintop removal is depressing. There is little about mountaintop removal that offers hope for the future. It destroys the mountains and their future economic use and all their spiritual and aesthetic values.

These values seem to embarrass Stirewalt, as he sneers at people who get overcome with grief when interviewed or who sing folk songs about the destruction of their mountains and communities. He calls for compromise.

The problem is that coal companies accept no compromise. They intend to destroy every coal-bearing mountain in West Virginia. When laws like the Clean Water Act get in their way, they can rely on their politicians to change the rules.

Contrary to Stirewalt’s cynicism, mountaintop removal is arguably the country’s worst ecological devastation.

Stirewalt says he grew up in a family supported by Arch Coal. So far, only people who make money from mountaintop removal speak of it with affection.

To his knowledge, Arch Coal’s mountaintop removal is a modern operation that follows the best practices in the industry. The “best practices” of Arch and other coal companies has led to the destruction of over five hundred square miles of West Virginia mountains and a thousand miles of streams.

He writes that Arch Coal’s claims they are good stewards of the land were followed by images of the earth ravaged by draglines and explosions. Perhaps he doesn’t want the public to see their mountains being blown up or witness the hypocrisy of coal company claims.

And he was right on the money when he wrote that it will reassure public television viewers that the earth is in immediate jeopardy. For some reason, this obvious truth is lost on Stirewalt.

He says that for in-state environmentalists, the film was a triumph. Indeed, it was wonderful to see some counterbalance to outrageous coal company claims on commercial television.

Stirewalt unwittingly proclaimed the truth when he described coalfield residents as the little guy standing up to the bully on the block and as the heroes on the front line in the struggle to protect defenseless nature.

He says it best when, referring to the coal companies, “…who wants to be on the side of the monster?”

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Retirement Tribute

This appeared in Charleston Gazette Sports Editor “Shorty” Hardman’s column when Coach LeRose retired in 1974.

Sports writers have been putting it down in black and white for a long time that one of the really great coaches West Virginia ever had was Sam LeRose who is retiring as head coach and athletic director at St. Albans High School. But not many of the people who have otherwise come in contact with LeRose and his boys have taken time out to say it like it is. Julian Martin…however is the exception. A former St. Albans player, he writes:

“Sam LeRose has been praised for his most obvious talents---his ability to win at football and track. But his greatest talents have gone without much comment—his compassion, gentleness and his very real love for all of his players, not just the starting lineup. When LeRose came to St. Albans in 1953, he found only 45 boys interested in football. The following year he had 125 boys out for the team and they all were suited up for games and many of them got to play…

‘He taught us to think on our own, to change plays on the field and meet new situations, to rely on ourselves and to know what to do at all times. He never condoned dirty playing and never showed us any sly tricks that we could get by with. He felt it unethical as well as a waste of time to play dirty. I shall forever be grateful to him for giving me a chance to play football at a time in my life when that was exactly what I needed most.”

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Coach LeRose

The Charleston Gazette
2003

Sammy LeRose was a young 37. He was our new football coach. He was quick in his step, confident, successful and he was kind. In 1953, my senior year, Coach LeRose came to St. Albans High School from Gauley Bridge High. We were hopeful. He helped us fulfill our hope. We had a winning season for the first time in five years.

The next year, his team lost only one game. In his third season, most of the starters from the year before had graduated. He welcomed a bunch of very small inexperienced players to the 1955 season. His Kennedy Award winning quarterback weighed 130 pounds, and at least one tackle weighed only 140 pounds! They won every game they played and the state championship. Although St. Albans didn’t even have a track, Coach LeRose’s track teams won four state titles.

So what was his method, his philosophy? How did he succeed so fast at a school that had quit winning? Players at other schools were astounded. They couldn’t believe what they had heard. Some even came to see for themselves.

Unlike any other team, we practiced in shorts in the afternoon of those hot and horrible August two-a-day workouts! Our morale soared. We worked on timing and went over real game scenarios without the pain.

Coach LeRose told us that he would wait each day for one-half hour, after we got dressed and on the field, before coming out to start practice. He said, “You linemen, get out there and kick the ball, pass the ball, enjoy that half-hour.”

He convinced us that every play could go for a touchdown, and that cheating was wrong and a waste of time. He never taught us any dirty tricks or rule benders. Sammy LeRose taught us to think for ourselves. He sent every play in from the bench, but we were to make changes if we saw a weakness in the other team that he didn’t see. His bag of trick plays added to our and our fans’ joyful experience.

Coach LeRose played as many players as he possible could. Little, fast guys were put in on the kickoffs, and their enthusiasm seemed to get them downfield before the ball. Word got around that if you hustled, Coach LeRose would let you play. On the first day of his first season, there were only 45 of us. The third season, that championship season, he dressed 125 players! What a sight as they completely encircled the field and the other team as they trotted out for pre-game workouts.

I never heard Coach LeRose raise his voice in anger, nor did I ever hear him curse. He was gentle and compassionate. He taught us to never express disgust with our mistakes, no temper tantrums, no helmet throwing, no kicking the ground, no cursing. Everything was positive about Sam LeRose. He never jumped on anyone for a mistake. He very patiently, and with his kind smile, helped us correct our miscues. He lifted us up and never did we feel humiliated.

Next to my parents, Sammy LeRose was without a doubt the most influential person in my life. For a period of just twelve weeks when I was turning seventeen, this man gave me self-confidence and allowed me to succeed. He may have saved my life. Rest in peace, good man, rest in peace.

Sam LeRose coached the St. Albans High School football team from 1953 to 1956 and from 1962 to 1973. Every season was a winning season. His record was 124-35-3. He coached a state champion football team and four state champion track teams. Coach LeRose died November 3, 2003

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Ed Rabel

Charleston Gazette, 2003

Ed Rabel in a recent Gazette article added to the shrill and dangerous dehumanization of opponents that erupts in all contentious issues. He tried to deride the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have protested Bush’s war as “professional protesters and Hollywood celebrities.” I was at one of the Washington demonstrations, the crowd was from all age groups and all walks of life. I would say 90% of the crowd did not fit Rabel’s description. How could Rabel know who was in the crowd and how can he be so sure that peace is just a “cause du jour” for those of us who were there. Rabel makes it sound like it was all an insincere lark and that participants were all kooks, nerds and publicity seekers.

It is dangerous to fan the flames of hate with the notion that opponents aren’t sincere, real people, that they are some kind of alien species who have the temerity to stand up for what they believe. And to do that in  America of all places!   Rabel didn’t speak to the issue, he attacked the credibility and sincerity of those who disagree with his view. It is a well tested technique that works just about every time. I infer from Rabel’s article that the war is justified by polls that show a 70% support for the war. Had there been polls in the days of slavery the support might have been even higher than 70%. During the mean years of school and swimming pool segregation it was pretty obvious that it was what the majority wanted. Injustice does not become justice because of majority opinion. An unjust war does not become a just war when a majority thinks so. 

I remember fondly the good old days when Ed Rabel was cutting his teeth as a teen age St. Albans radio reporter. I remember when he was a teen age radio announcer covering the St. Albans Jaycees Turtle Derby.

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Judge Haden

The Charleston Gazette
March 26, 2004

When the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy lawsuit against dumping mine waste in our streams came before Federal Judge Charles Haden, I hoped he would go by the law. And that is what he did. The law is clear; mine waste cannot be dumped into intermittent and perennial streams. As a conservative, he believed in the law, and he ruled that the law meant what it said. People who love our mountains were overjoyed at his decision.

Judge Haden wrote that the destruction of the unique topography of Southern West Virginia by mountaintop removal is “permanent and irreversible” and that if the forest canopy is destroyed, our streams are exposed to extreme temperatures and aquatic life is destroyed—”these harms cannot be undone.”

As a birdwatcher, he was concerned that “If the forest wildlife is driven away by the blasting, the noise, and the lack of safe nesting and eating areas, they cannot be coaxed back.”

Haden chastised administrators for trying to change the Clean Water Act behind the back of Congress. He wrote that amendments to the act “should be considered and accomplished in the sunlight of open congressional debate and resolution,” and “not within the murk of administrative after-the-fact ratification of questionable regulatory practices.”

To exclude dumping mine waste from the Clean Water Act would, in Haden’s words, be an “…obviously absurd exception” that “would turn the Clean Water Act on its head and use it to authorize polluting and destroying the nation’s waters for no reason but cheap waste disposal.” Haden further observed that Congress “did not authorize cheap waste disposal when it passed the Clean Water Act.”

Speaking to the question of whether dumping mine waste into streams had an adverse effect on the streams Haden wrote that, “When valley fills are permitted in intermittent and perennial streams, they destroy those stream segments” and “if there is any life form that cannot acclimate to life deep in a rubble pile, it is eliminated.” Haden pointed out the obvious truth that, “No effect on related environmental values is more adverse than obliteration. Under a valley fill, the water quality of the stream becomes zero. Because there is no stream, there is no water quality.

A mutual friend told me that Judge Haden was stunned when he was taken on a flyover and viewed mountaintop removal from the air. He observed in his ruling that “The sites stood out among the natural wooded ridges as huge white plateaus, and the valley fills appeared as massive, artificially landscaped stair steps.”

“Some mine sites,” he said, “were 20 years old, yet tree growth was stunted or nonexistent compared to the thick hardwoods of surrounding undisturbed hills, the mine sites appeared stark and barren and enormously different from the original topography.”

It is ironic that Judge Haden died just 10 days before the Bush administration will conduct a hearing Tuesday in Charleston. They are proposing to change the buffer zone rule to make it legal to dump mine waste into the streams Judge Haden so valiantly tried to protect.

Long after the names of the people of limited vision, who are destroying our mountains and streams, are forgotten, the name of the very distinguished Judge Charles Haden II will live on. He is indeed an authentic West Virginia hero.

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Carp Eating Crap

April 18, 2004

As Mark Kemp-Rye did, in the Sunday Gazette-Mail April 18, 2004 article, it is good therapy to look back at how awful the environment was when we were kids and to take note that some improvements have been made.   In 1950  I stood on top of a sewer pipe in St. Albans that emptied into the Kanawha River and saw carp, which we called sewer bass, gulp down the human waste that was washing out into the river. Another day from our front yard high above the same river bank I looked down on a flotilla of large carp floating on their backs; miniture Moby Dick white bellies reflecting the sunlight. Carbide, Westvaco or some other chemical polluter had fed the carp a toxic mix that even they could not live on.

One memorable day, when I was in about the eighth grade, Monsanto or someone unknown down in Nitro, released a foul gas into the air that smelled like rotten eggs. The gas drifted up and across the river to my neighborhood. It was a humid summer morning, dew was condensed on the sides of the houses. The gas dissolved into the dew and set the sulfur ions free to react with the lead in the white paint. The white houses became coated with a silvery, brown, black muck known as lead sulfide.   With the coming of clean water and clean air laws, carp no longer gulp clumps of human feces at open sewer pipes and I see water skiers where the dead fish once bobbed past my house and I don’t hear of the white houses in St. Albans turning that horrible color anymore. And other varieties of fish besides catfish and carp are returning in abundance to the Kanawha River.   However there is a catch or two. One catch is you better not eat your catch. Kanawha River fish will poison your body with less obvious pollutants like dioxin and mercury. Another catch is that George W. Bush is gutting the clean water act so that coal companies can dump their waste into the tributaries of Kanawha River and he is gutting the clean air protections and cynically calling it a “Clear Skies” initiative.   On a small local level if you travel down a road in South Hills of Charleston called Stonehenge and then vere off to the right on Brookstone and go a mile you will come to a Charleston city sewage pumping station which smells like the gas from Nitro that turned all the houses such a lovely color.   This pump station is old and inadequate and there is a sign that warns “Combined Sewer Outfall. This Outfall Pipe may Discharge Untreated Sewage. Avoid Contact With River After Rain.” The sign goes on to assure that the Charleston Sanitary Board has been given an EPA Permit to dump raw sewage into Coal Hollow Creek. That Creek during and after rain empties human waste into Davis Creek near where Connell Road meets the Davis Creek Road; anyone living downstream of this juncture better stay out of that creek. People on Davis Creek get the quadruple whammy from the sewage; the silt runoff from the mountain top removal project disguised as Southridge Center, from muddy water from the construction of new houses at the Jamestown development and from gas well sites.   In fact our environment is much worse than it was back when the carp were dining on our bowel movements. Government agencies, called for some illogical reason names like the Department of Environmental Protection, are making it easier through rule changes and incompetent enforcement for large corporations to continue destroying the only earth, the only water, the only air, the only mountains we have.   Lets enjoy and celebrate our victories, but lets not delude ourselves into believing that all is well. The Monongahela River*, as Mark Kemp-Rye pointed out, is a nicer color now than years ago. But just last week the nonprofit organization American Rivers announced that the Monongahela is one the nation’s 10 most endangered river systems. And scientists at WVU say untreated discharges, many from abandoned coal mines, dump acid and thousands of tons of iron oxide, manganese oxide and aluminum oxide into the Monongahela each year*. And in the southern coal fields there are one thousand miles of streams that no longer exist buried under hundreds of feet of mine waste and there are over 400,000 acres of mountain tops gone forever with the area destroyed increasing by 30,000 acres each year. We are losing 80,000,000 board feet of new growth timber every year forever that would have come from the mountains that have already been destroyed. And to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut Jr., in his book Breakfast of Champions: Within three months the coal from stripmining is burned, the electricity is used up and the mountain is gone forever.   The environment is in a crisis, much worse than it was when I or Mark Kemp-Rye were kids. Mr. Kemp-Rye expressed a gratitude for all the people who have worked to protect our environment. I share that gratitude. But lets not leave it in the past tense. Many people are working very hard for the environment right now and there is much to be done.

*I have since learned that muscles can no longer live in the Monongahela River because of the acid mine drainage

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Handsome Picture

The Charleston Gazette
May 18, 2004

The Gazette headline “And then there were two” (May 13) was a little inaccurate. There are three candidates for governor. Jesse Johnson of the Mountain Party will be on the same ballot as the two who got their pictures on the front page.

I hope as all media covers the race for Congress in the 2nd District they will not leave me out like Jesse was left out*. (And I have a really handsome picture ready for the same exposure as Capito and Wells get.)

*I was the Mountain Party candidate for Congress. Shelley Moore Capito was the incumbent Republican and Erik Wells was the Democratic Party candidate. Capito won then and again in 2006 and 2008 when Obama was elected along with a host of Democratic Congressional and Senate candidates.

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Two Bit Hamburger

The Charleston Daily Mail, April 24, 2005

Dear Editor,
In her Word for Word column of March 13, Johanna Maurice defended the Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage. So far the Republicans have stopped every attempt to raise the wages of the very poor for eight years. It looks like they mean to keep it at $5.15 forever. She says the market for a $2 hamburger is vastly larger than for an $8 hamburger and that increased wages for the poor will drive up prices and drive down employment. Why not go for the whole hamburger for almost nothing by paying no minimum wage at all. With slavery, all free people could have a hamburger for a quarter.

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Clean Coal?

The Charleston Gazette
October 30, 2005

One day when I was teaching chemistry at Duval High School a student plopped down a plastic zip-lock bag on my desk.

“What is this Mr. Martin?”

“Well it is white,” I said and pushed on the clumps in the bag. “And it crumbles. Where did you get this?”

“It was dumped on the road up our hollow,” he replied. Recognizing a teachable moment I told the student to get out the chemicals he would need to find what metals and non-metals were in the mystery substance. The student’s tests showed that the white substance contained calcium and sulfate. I wondered all day about the origin of the stuff. The next day I was driving past John Amos power plant and it hit me. They use limestone to scrub out the sulfur dioxide in the fumes from burning coal. Limestone contains calcium. A by-product of the scrubbing would be calcium sulfate.

I tell this story to point out that when the poisons are removed from the noxious fumes at power plants they don’t just disappear. The coal companies and their client federal and state governments like to fool the public with the oxymoron “clean coal” technology. “Clean coal” technology speaks only of the burning of the coal and even then it is a cruel deception. Instead of going into the air, deadly poisons like mercury go on the ground and then into the creeks and rivers. The mercury has thus been taken from what we breathe to what we drink and eat. Nothing just goes away, everything continues to recycle.

The Gazette has more than once repeated the coal association’s oxymoronic “clean coal”. How can “clean” ever be applied to the thousand miles of streams filled with coal mining waste from mountain top removal and the five hundred thousand acres of mountains destroyed forever? That 500,000 acres is equal to a quarter-mile wide swath from New York to San Francisco. I am hoping the Gazette doesn’t go for the whole enchilada and start using the coal industry’s most ridiculous of all Orwellian claims that coal is the “cleaner, greener energy.” Anyone who would use clean or green to describe coal has never lived near where it is mined, nor seen mountain top removal, valley dumps, gob piles, slate dumps, flooded hollows and poisoned streams. Or maybe the money hardens their hearts and they count on the public being stupid enough to swallow their lies.

Unlike the Charleston Daily Mail and state and federal regulating agencies, the Gazette usually resists the coal company signals to substitute euphemisms for the ugly truth. Strip mining becomes “surface mining” and mountain top removal morphs to “mountain top mining.” I hope the Gazette will resist the “clean coal” lie as well.

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Where Is Away?

This first appeared in the July, 2008 issue of the Highlands Voice, newsletter of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and again in the July 3, 2008 edition of the Charleston Gazette.

On Thursday I took the trash out and thought once again about what I was doing. My trash will end up in what was a beautiful West Virginia valley. When that valley is filled another will be sacrificed and then another and another.

Recently the people who make money by dumping garbage wanted more McDowell County valleys for dumping out-of- state garbage. The idea had local support. The legislature wisely saved them from themselves. Claims were made that out of state garbage would bring jobs and of course jobs are most important no matter what the damage.

Way back in 1960 I was a young engineer working in Connecticut. A friend took me to Newport, Rhode Island. It was November and in those days there were no guards to protect the seasonally vacated Newport mansions that faced out on the ocean. My friend and I climbed a fence and explored the grounds. We walked out to the edge of the magnificent rock cliffs and there I looked upon the ocean for the first time. It was indeed an awesome experience to see the seemingly limitless water swelling and crashing against the cliffs.

The feeling that oceans are limitless has led us to dump into it all kinds of garbage, chemical and nuclear waste, human urine and feces, trash and oil from ships and who knows what else. I have read that ninety percent of all the plastic ever made is now in the oceans. We even have an expression that indicates how huge we imagine the ocean--something considered to have no impact is like pissing in the ocean.

There is no “away” to where stuff we don’t like can be sent. Air pollution doesn’t just blow “away,” it goes somewhere else. Take a look at the smoke stacks at John Amos power plant. The stacks are high so that the pollution will be blown “away.” Our “away” is someone else’s backyard. That yellow stuff coming out of the stacks is sulfur dioxide. It changes to sulfuric acid and rains down on your head, your baby’s head and heads of your fellow creatures and plants and the heads of the cabbage in your garden. Some of the sulfur dioxide is removed by reacting it with calcium carbonate (limestone). A student of mine once brought me a white substance that had been dumped on the dirt road that ran by his house. We analyzed it and found that it contained calcium and sulfate. I figured that it was calcium sulfate from a power plant scrubber. The calcium sulfate had been thrown “away.”

I remember TV preacher Pat Robertson praying a hurricane “away” from his hometown of Virginia Beach. The hurricane did not go “away.” It hit people farther up the coast where the reverend didn’t live and where people must have been quite sinful.

And there was my upstream neighbor who laid his trash on the creek bank to await high water to wash it “away.” It went “away” all right. It ended up in the trees in front of my house. I could tell how high the creek got by where the plastic diapers were hanging. That same neighbor was talking with me one day while enjoying a soft drink. When he finished the drink he threw the can “away” into the weeds on the edge of my yard. I picked it up and told him the can would never go “away.” But my neighbor was no guiltier of littering than I am when I send my trash via a garbage truck to a once wild and wonderful valley.

Maybe we should be required to dispose of our waste where we live. Are homes surrounded by trash any worse than concentrating it out of sight in one irreplaceable valley after another? If we had to look at and smell our garbage maybe we would quit creating so much. Back in the sixties I knew of a large household in San Francisco that generated no waste and refused to pay the garbage pickup fee. They composted their food waste and reused everything else. It can be done.

Coal companies dump mountain top removal mine waste into nearby valleys. As more mountains are decapitated more valleys will be needed and then more valleys again. There is nothing to worry about since, as any fool can see; our mountains and valleys are, like the oceans, infinite. There will always be another mountain, another valley into which waste can be thrown “away.” And once the Charleston Gazette’s favored coal company billboard slogan “clean coal” rescues us from global warming we can destroy every mountain with coal in it and not worry because, as fools assume, the mountains are infinite, the valleys are forever.

A couple of years ago my wife and I went to Alaska with an Elderhostel group. One day we got a rare glimpse of Denali as some of the cloud cover drifted away. That glimpse of North America’s highest mountain led one of our group to look in awe and say that humans cannot have any significant impact on nature because it is so huge. He argued that we don’t have to change our ways, we can do anything we want to the earth, that the earth is just too massive, never ending, infinite for mere humans to have a significant impact. In his view we are simply arrogant to think we can move those Alaska mountains. Two days later our train passed a mountain that had been removed to get at the coal. The coal was shipped to Korea to meet our nation’s energy needs I suppose.

Our sewage and garbage is only going to increase with increased population. Coal mine waste is increasing as you read this. The oceans are not infinite, neither are the mountains and valleys. This earth is finite, there is just so much and then no more. A place called “away” does not exist. We have to come up with ways to live without creating waste that requires the sacrifice of oceans, mountains, streams and clean air.

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The M Word

The Charleston Gazette

The July 7 editorial “Endangered” began like an enlightened, courageous commentary on endangered species. I kept reading, hoping, saying to myself, yes, yes they are going to say it. They are going to say the “M” word. Once again I was disappointed. The Gazette editorial went up to the edge and then, as usual, backed off. The editorial hinted at the “M” word by including industrial development as one of the threats to endangered species.

There were soaring words about the beautiful Cerulean warbler and its need for a mature Appalachian hard wood forest for survival. I thought, oh yes here it comes. They are going to use the “M” word. The editorial again came close to using the M word with, “The decline of those forests threatens them [the Cerulean warbler].” Decline! Our forests aren’t just “declining” they are plunging head first in a dive to their deaths. And it is all because of the “M” word that seems to be banned from the Gazette editorial page.

My grandmother often said about people who did not have the courage to express the obvious that they would not say shit if it was in their mouth. Can the Gazette say mountain top removal?

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Patriotism Is The Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel.

The Charleston Gazette
June 2, 2005

Steve Walker’s May 30 reply to Kathryn Stone’s article about moral choices in the coal industry was full of oxymorons. “Greener coal” and “clean coal” are two doozies. Is cleaner, greener coal what is up there in that giant sludge pond glowering down at Marsh Fork Elementary School? To combine green and clean with coal is merely a public relations gimmick.

Early on, Walker says of Stone’s article, “Her remarks facilitated my more thoughtful considerations of the issue...” And he accuses Stone of being self-righteous? Walker asks, “Is it ethical to offer a criticism without practical solutions?” It would be unethical to remain silent, even without offering alternatives, about something as evil as mountaintop removal. Growing poppies in Afghanistan and coca in Colombia leads to addictions and death in the United States. By Walker’s reasoning it should not be criticized without offering another way for the farmers and dealers to make a living.

Of the several hearings that I have attended, no one has spoken in favor of mountaintop removal if it wasn’t their moneymaker. Does anyone really think that Steve Walker would be giving ethical and moral justification for mountaintop removal if he weren’t getting rich from it? Walker speaks for short-term prosperity. He seems to ignore that he is destroying the future.

The late Bill Maxey was a highly respected director of the Division of Forestry. He retired in protest against mountaintop removal. Maxey said mountaintop removal “...is analogous to serious disease, like AIDS.” Based on Maxey’s data, we now lose 100,000,000 board feet of new growth timber every year forever to mountaintop removal. That is enough to build 4,000 houses every year forever.

Walker trivializes the coal industry’s cruel history and pretends that it has reformed itself when he writes that “In the past some individuals may have been negatively affected by some practices and incidences that would shock us by today’s standards.” He can’t bring himself to admit the horrors of the past without the caveat that some individuals just “may” have been “negatively affected” (here I think he means killed, maimed and flooded). More than 100,000 miners were indeed “negatively affected” as were the millions injured or left gasping for breath from black lung disease. The present ongoing destruction equals a quarter-mile-wide swath from New York to San Francisco.

Walker wraps the flag around coal by giving the industry credit for homeland security. “Coal has enabled the United States to defend itself and freedom around the world...” he claims. As the great Samuel Johnson said many years ago, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

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Geemony Christmas

The Charleston Gazette
June 19, 2005

Dear Editor,
Geemony Christmas! I think I said it out loud, maybe whispered in awe. There was a dip in the Kanawha State Forest trail and drops of last night’s rain were sliding off the green canopy. An old log disappearing into its own humus was covered with green moss, thick and wet. Large ferns hung over like fans for the potentates of nature. The soil was black and damp. It was like a piece of the Olympic rain forest. I was pleasantly tired, serene and happy to be there, to pause and look at my kingdom.

I love walking in the forest. I was practically born in the woods, just up the bank from Coal River. The feeling is deep inside me, a feeling that only death can erase, and if I pass the feeling on to Luke, Patrick, Levi and little Henry, Hadley and Elizabeth Marie, the feeling may go on forever. I hope so.

It is that deep feeling, the trust, the happiness I feel in the woods that makes me sad beyond all words when, as I come to the top of the trail, I hear the rumble and roar of industrial bedlam. Just across the valley from Kanawha State Forest the mountain is being blasted away. The moss-covered logs and the ferns will never return. I don’t understand the hunger for money that blunts feeling for what makes me whisper in awe.

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High Profile Protestors

The Charleston Gazette

Chris Hamilton, vice-president of the West Virginia Coal Association, stretched the truth considerably in his recent rant against Wheeling Jesuit University, its forum on coal mining and the highly respected Davitt McAteer. Hamilton said “…the forum was filled with individuals with a history of high-profile protests and opposition to coal mining.” There were four members of the forum: Harold Erdoes, Ohio political coordinator for the United Mine Workers of America; Charles Keeney, a West Virginia University history professor, whose great-grandfather was the heroic United Mine Workers leader Frank Keeney; Davitt McAteer, a vice-president of Wheeling Jesuit University; and Cindy Rank, also highly respected and the mining chair of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

Mrs. Rank has done outstanding work in battling against the ravages of strip mining near her home in Upshur County. Statewide she has led the fight against mountain top removal strip mining, the most destructive and short sighted of all coal mining methods. She is a lady of mild manner, determination and courage. Mrs. Rank speaks truth to the power of Mr. Hamilton’s bosses.

Mountain top removal strip mining blasts off the tops of mountains and dumps the waste material into the valleys. At least 500,000 acres of mountains have been destroyed by mountain top removal strip mining. This is equal to a swath one quarter mile wide from New York to San Francisco. 1000 miles of streams have been buried—that is longer than the Ohio River. Less than five percent of this devastation has any economic development on it. The hardwoods will not return so we lose 100 million board feet of new growth hardwood timber every year forever.

West Virginia University had this to say of Davitt McAteer: “McAteer is acknowledged worldwide as a leading authority in mine safety. He authored pioneering work on the subject and served as a consultant to unions, governments and industries from South Africa to China to Eastern Europe. His involvement with mine safety and health issues began in law school, when he developed and directed a study of the West Virginia coal industry. The findings of this study led directly to the nation’s first comprehensive general coal mine health and safety act in 1969 and indirectly to the election of reform candidates to lead the United Mine Workers of America in 1972. When a reform movement won control of the United Mine Workers of America in 1972, he became solicitor of safety for the union where he helped revitalize the union’s safety and health program and improved the training of rank-and-file safety inspectors.”

Mr. McAteer was a very successful director of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Governor Manchin appointed him special advisor to get to the bottom of the cause of the tragic deaths at the Sago mine. Governor Manchin praised Davitt McAteer as “a noted authority on mine safety.

Mr. Hamilton seems to be making an attack on the character of the forum members, particularly Mr. McAteer. Chris Hamilton probably does not often encounter people of such high character as Davitt McAteer. It obviously has confused Mr. Hamilton.

Davitt McAteer has been on the side of the coal miners, the people of West Virginia and their safety all his life. Wheeling Jesuit University was wise to have recognized Mr. McAteer’s character and excellent world-wide respect and reputation.

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Sago

The Charleston Daily Mail, February 2, 2006

After the Sago* deaths a Daily Mail editorial listed positive things about the coal industry. It brought back memories of Arch Moore* at Buffalo Creek and Tony Boyle** praising Consolidation Coal at Farmington. To balance the Daily Mail praise of what the coal companies have done for us, let us remember what the coal industry has done to us.

Coal mine accidents have killed over 20,000 West Virginia miners.

Thousands more have suffered injuries such as my dad’s lost eye and health problems like my father-in-law’s black lung.

Over 100,000 West Virginia mining jobs have been replaced with

machines. Permits have been issued to bury 1000 miles of streams with the waste from mountain top removal--that is longer than the Ohio River.

Acid mine drainage from abandoned mines affects at least 570 streams totaling more than 3,000 miles. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection reports that approximately 7,260 stream miles are “influenced” by acid mine drainage.

According to a federal study the coal industry destroyed 380,000 acres of mountaintops between 1992 and 2002. The total destroyed before 1992 until now is estimated to be 500,000 acres***.

Less than 5% of the desecrated mountains have any economic development.

The European Union reported that the cost of producing electricity from coal would be doubled if the ‘external’ costs, such as environmental damage and health costs, were included.

The late Bill Maxey, a highly respected director of the West Virginia Division of Forestry, said of mountain top removal strip mining: “All native plant and animals are practically eliminated; It makes the landscape so unsightly that it ruins tourism; It actually destroys more coal mining jobs than it creates; It is analogous to serious disease, like AIDS...”

Using Bill Maxey’s estimates the total mountain tops destroyed would

have produced one million board feet of new growth hardwood timber every year forever, enough to build 5,000 houses every year forever.

Dave Callaghan, former chief regulator of strip-mining and no tree hugger for sure, said on Public Radio that West Virginia would have been better off if it had no coal.

* The Pittston Coal Company sludge dams on Buffalo Creek, in Logan County, West Virginia, failed on February 26, 1972. 124 people were killed. Governor Arch Moore visited Buffalo Creek shortly after the disaster. Moore’s infamous statement as he looked over the massive damage was that the media coverage of the disaster was “an even greater tragedy than the accident itself.” The state sued Pittston for $100 million. Governor Moore negotiated a $1 million settlement three days before leaving office in 1977.

** At the still smoking mine entrance with 78 miners entombed below, Tony Boyle, then president of the United Mine Workers of America said “…as long as we mine coal, there is always this inherent danger of explosion.” Boyle went on to praise Consolidation Coal Company as being one of the safest coal companies. Boyle later went to prison for paying $5,000 to three men to murder his rival Jock Yablonski and Yablonski’s wife and daughter.

***500,000 acres is my estimation. An Environmental Protection Agency study estimated that from 1992 to 2002, 380,547 acres of the forest environment (vegetation and soils) in the study area were cleared by strip mining. This is just in the study area which did not include all strip mining. By now[September,2009] it is conservative to estimate that more than 500,000 acres have been destroyed by strip mining.

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Friends of Coal: Nehlen and Pruitt

I am a WVU football fan, so much so that I was one of the frozen in the zero wind-chill at the WVU-Pitt game. I have a WVU Chemical Engineering degree and was once an Assistant Director of Student Educational Services at WVU. Several members of my family have attended WVU and most even got degrees. I played football in high school and one of my sons was an all-state football player. All this is by way of saying that I am a loyal Mountaineer and I have an irrational* liking for football.

And just to make it clear that I have nothing but admiration for underground coal miners, my grandfather and his brother fought for the UMWA at Blair Mountain, my dad was a UMWA miner and lost his eye at Armco Steel’s Nellis mine. My uncles, my brother- in-law and my son all worked in the coalmines.

WVU fans were proud to read in the Gazette that Don Nehlen had been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He did a good job competing with some of the best teams in the nation. Heck, his teams twice won every game on the schedule. One year his team might have won the dad-gummed national championship game had not super star Major Harris been injured in the first quarter. And who can ever forget the Oklahoma game?

Proud as I am that a WVU coach made the College Football Hall of Fame, it is hard to be proud of Nehlen’s performance in the coal industry radio ads heard during the recent South Florida game. To my knowledge Nehlen has no previous experience with the coal industry whether as a miner, an owner or an executive. He for sure has never endured life down below a mountain top removal strip mine. The devilish part is that Nehlen comes across on the radio as a good old boy with a grandfatherly voice that could reassure an unsuspecting listener that he is full of wisdom and truth.

Nehlen, joined by former Marshall Coach Bob Pruitt, pretends on the radio to take us to a coal mine. What we hear in the background are the happy voices of children playing in a schoolyard. “This is reclamation,” Nehlen purrs. He leads us to believe that this school is typical of so-called strip mine “reclamation.”

It would have been more truthful to reveal that Mountain View High School, which coal companies like to hold up as one of the examples of their success at reclamation, has had a ton of money poured into it to shore up the building from the settling of the “reclaimed” strip mine.

According to a Mountain View teacher, the walls and floors in a rest room and in the gym pulled apart. A boardwalk was built around the edge of the gym floor to protect students from falling into the crack. The teacher also said that thirteen cubic yards of concrete were poured into a hole that subsided under the gym and that corners of the building had to be reinforced with steel. And there was the day the fire department was called to pry open the gym door after the settling trapped the students and teachers inside.

Truth would have been better served if Nehlen had bothered to mention that 95% of the acres leveled by mountain top removal strip mines have no development on them at all. More than 380,000 acres** have been left a wasteland with little to no chance of the magnificent Appalachian hardwoods ever coming back.

Nehlen and Pruitt demean themselves. They are forfeiting their good reputations by stretching the truth to where any reasonable person would call it lying. Surely, neither of them needs money bad enough to lie for it. But if money is their motivation they should heed the words of Paul in a letter to Timothy--”The love of money is the root of all evil.”

Many WVU fans are proud that Don Nehlen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. But when it comes to telling the truth about mountain top removal strip mining Don Nehlen, and his good buddy Bob Pruitt, belong in the Hall of Shame.

*The irrational part owes to my recognition that football is a brutal sport that should be outlawed as should boxing and as is cock fighting. I nurse lifetime injuries to my knee, neck and brain from playing just one season of three months and ten games of high school football. I suspect that everyone who has played one season of football at or above the high school level has a permanent injury. My son started playing football when he was in the second grade and continued through his junior year in college. He broke five bones, was knocked almost unconscious once, could not play his senior year in college because of a back injury and I recently learned that he, now at age 31, has hip pain and shoulder dislocations from football injuries.

If the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration, better known as simply OSHA, did a work place inspection of a football practice or game they would shut the sport down as unsafe. No other occupations require that employees run full speed and crash into one another and often head to head.

One improvement in the game’s violent toll would be to throw away the helmets. Players would stop running into one another head first like they don’t in Rugby. The helmet is a weapon and I know from experience that they don’t protect a 150 pound seventeen year old when he lowers his head and tackles a 225 pound fullback.

**An Environmental Protection Agency study estimated that from 1992 to 2002, 380,547 acres of the forest environment (vegetation and soils) in the study area were cleared due to strip mining. This is just in the study area which did not include all strip mining. By now [2009] it is conservative to estimate that more than 500,000 acres have been destroyed by strip mining.

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Cedar

The Highlands Voice, 2002

The coal industry knows they are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of West Virginia. Walker Machinery began an advertisement about mountaintop removal reclamation with "contrary to popular opinion..." And Steve Leer, president of Arch Coal, started a defense of mountain top removal with, "Despite widespread criticism of the process..." A couple of years back in the Charleston Gazette, Ken Ward quoted a coal executive as saying that their polls showed that 80% of the people in West Virginia opposed mountain top removal. The executive was using the poll results to warn that the coal industry needed to launch an all out public relations attack about mountain top removal.

Now comes a letter and a brochure from CEDAR of Southern West Virginia. CEDAR stands for Coal Education, Development and Resource. CEDAR admits that "Our coal industry is facing the biggest reclamation challenge of our history. And that job is to reclaim the understanding and support of our state and nation's citizenry." If the reclamation of their reputation is anything like how they reclaim mountains and valleys then we can look for the truth to have its head lopped off and covered with tons of lies.

CEDAR continues, "Many of us in the coal industry believe the solution now, and over the long term, to many of the current issues facing [sic] can be achieved through better education." In other words the issues don't need to be addressed just change the spin.

CEDAR is seeking "...support for a new initiative designed to get coal education back in our schools." And get this, "Its purpose will be to facilitate a knowledgeable and unbiased understanding of the many benefits the coal industry provides in our daily lives..." And they plan to dump some money into this project, "...by providing financial resources and coal education materials for implementation in school curriculum grades K thru [sic] 12."

CEDAR's first targets are Mingo and Logan county schools "...with more counties to be added later." Logan ought to be easy for sure, their superintendent testified in behalf of mountain top removal to a legislative committee. He claimed that they needed more flat land for school buildings.

Rest assured that CEDAR will present little if any unbiased treatment of labor and environmental issues. I doubt seriously that the young minds of Mingo and Logan will get to see the great documentary, "Even the Heavens Wept", nor West Virginia Highlands Conservancy board member Bob Gates' classic film "In Memory of the Land and People".

The CEDAR propaganda will most likely not include a knowledgeable and unbiased presentation of the coal mine wars, the so-called "Matewan massacre", the notorious mine guards and the murder of Sid Hatfield* by coal industry detectives. Don't expect much about such important issues as child labor and black lung. It is doubtful CEDAR will include coal industry resistance to regulation, taxation and health and safety legislation.

Will CEDAR own up to killing 125 people on Buffalo Creek and the dumping of 300 million gallons of sludge into the Tug Fork and the Big Sandy rivers? And will they connect mountain top removal and other strip-mining with the two one hundred year floods of last July 8[2001] and this May 2[2002]?

It will be a big surprise if CEDAR mentions how much money the coal industry has used to buy politicians. And don't expect to learn from CEDAR about how large coal companies got by with not paying into worker's compensation, and then settled for twelve cents on the dollar. Try not paying your taxes and see what happens. How about the 132 forfeited mine sites, the 136 sludge dams, the 1000 miles of streams under tons of rubble and the over 380,000 acres of mountain tops decapitated?

Do you reckon CEDAR will brag on the replacement of miners with machines and call it progress? Will they reveal having eliminated over 100,000 West Virginia mining jobs? Will they justify multi-million dollar salaries for coal executives? Is it likely CEDAR will mourn over twenty thousand West Virginia miners killed on the job? My guess is that CEDAR will stick with an "unbiased" presentation of "the many benefits the coal industry provides in our daily lives." The mantra will no doubt be "Coal Keeps the Lights On". And you can bet that every student will get a t-shirt with that slogan.

CEDAR plans to infiltrate our schools with 'Coal Fairs" followed by regional coal fairs with "63 Cash Prizes to Category Winners". They plan to provide a "Coal Study Unit" with "Grant Money, Educational Materials, and Cash Incentives for participation and performance in each grade level".

CEDAR claims that there will be, "No One Left Behind, Coal study units can be available to every student no matter what discipline or interest because coal affects virtually ever [sic] aspect of our lives."

According to their brochure, CEDAR intends to invade the realms of science, mathematics, literature, art, music, technology and social studies with "...an unbiased understanding of the many benefits the coal industry provides in our daily lives."

What do you think about this? Would you like to help organize a program that would give an honest version of the story? Should we file a protest with the WV Department of Education that this propaganda should not be part of any school curriculum? Let me know what you think either in a letter to the Voice and/or to me at martinjul@aol.com

*Sid Hatfield was the chief of police of Matewan, West Virginia. During a coal mine strike near Matewan, coal companies hired Baldwin-Felts detectives, referred to by union miners as gun-thugs, to throw striker families out of their homes. The gun-thugs carried everything found in the houses and placed it outside by the road. When these detectives were waiting for a train to take them back to their Bluefield headquarters a gun fight broke out. Union miners killed several detectives including brothers of the founders of the Baldwin-Felts organization. Coal company spin doctors succeeded in labeling the gun fight as the “Matewan Massacre.”

Sid Hatfield was later murdered by the detectives as he and his wife were walking up the steps of the McDowell County courthouse.

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Bewildering Things

Charleston Gazette, March 15, 2006

Some things are simply bewildering. Some are so obvious they need no comment: like auctioning off the Monongahela National Forest; tax breaks for the rich; and attempts to destroy social security. Here are some happenings that have recently left me with my mouth hanging open:

1. The Coal Association’s vice-president represented both the coal companies and the United Mine Workers at a recent legislative hearing. Lordie, lordie, John L. Lewis, Arnold Miller*, Mother Jones and my dad and grandpa are rolling over in their graves.

2. Our government opposed releasing the names of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay because it would violate the detainees’ right to privacy. They sure don’t seem to worry about their right not to be tortured but are concerned that word will leak out that they are in jail.

3. Our government wanted to outsource our ports to Dubai. Imagine how you would feel if our airports had been outsourced to Dubai. I am not anti-Arab but it wasn’t too bright of George Bush to not expect a landslide of concern over giving our sea ports to an Arab nation. The Dubai deal is really just more globalization which is another way of saying cheap labor.

4. BrickStreet took over our workers compensation program and immediately assaulted the well-being of widows. BrickStreet’s president topped that off with an assault on the first amendment by sending a memo to employees who were worried about losing their jobs. In writing, mind you, he told them they should quit “gossiping” at Murad’s and Applebee’s, quit talking out of school in their emails and during breaks at work. It reminded me of the time a vice-principal told teachers that we were not to talk with one another in the halls between classes. He was concerned about teachers “gossiping” about one of the many scandals in the school system. My response to him was that I did not leave my first amendment rights at the door and that I would talk to anyone about anything I wanted to, at any time I wanted. Others agreed and the meeting adjourned in disarray. Where do they get those guys?

5. In a recent Gazette story the County Commission President exalted that “It’s a great feeling” that the prison industry was coming to McDowell county. It would mean jobs. His happiness reminded me of an old Little Abner comic strip. There was a great celebration when the comic strip characters learned that their community had been selected as an atomic bomb test site. Expect McDowell county officials to hoop and holler if they get a toxic waste dump or a federal torture center for prisoners of war. If it means jobs, bring it on.

When my dad was a miner there were around 125,000 coal miners in West Virginia, now there are around 15,000. That’s not a very promising record on job creation in the land of the Friends of Coal. So Babbitt-like county officials welcome prisons.

Jubilation over prison jobs underlines how desperate it is to live in the land of the Friends of Coal. We will do just about anything for a job. Come, take what you want, do to us what you will, you can even take our mountains and dump mine waste in our streams, but give us jobs and we will be quiet.

Visitors used to comment on how awful the Kanawha Valley smelled.

Local replies were often “it smells like jobs to me.” Those noxious awful smelling gases once turned all the white houses in our St. Albans neighborhood to a very ugly brown. And what went into the Kanawha River in South Charleston sent schools of dead fish floating white bellies up by our house. It all smelled and looked like jobs.

Of course “jobs” is a smokescreen that hides the fact that the real reason for destroying our mountains, forests, air and water is the money it makes for the large coal, timber and chemical interests. Those same industries do everything they can to downsize, automate and eliminate jobs. Jobs are what they say but money is what they mean.

Denise Giardina, acclaimed West Virginia novelist, nailed it with “…the Mafia creates jobs, the Colombian drug cartel creates jobs and pimps create jobs.”

Now for an uplifting item with a bewildering ending: How about former Republican governor Cecil Underwood testifying for Charlotte Pritt in her case against the Republicans. Pritt lost to Underwood partly because of negative ads paid for by out of state Republicans. Underwood testified that the ads were inappropriate and that he had asked that they be withdrawn. The jury ruled against Pritt, it is now open season.

*Arnold Miller was a leader of the Miners for Democracy and was the first democratically elected president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Tony Boyle, the previous president of the UMWA, was sent to prison for ordering the murder of Jock Yablonski and his wife and daughter. Yablonski was Boyle’s unsuccessful opponent in the 1968 UMWA election.

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Friends of Coal Bowl

The Charleston Gazette
July 4, 2006

They sold out cheap, really cheap*. The coal companies, masquerading as a grassroots organization called Friends of Coal, bought each WVU-Marshall football game for less than two four-year scholarships for each school. It cost the coal companies the wages of about three employees to turn WVU and Marshall football helmets, with Friends of Coal logos, into moving billboards for mountaintop removal**.

With WVU officials referring to football games as products and exalting that the Friends of Coal Bowl will enhance the coal industry’s “image,” it is plain to see where this branding of our football players is going. The coal barons have had over 100 years to develop a good image, but they must have failed if it still needs to be enhanced.

The coal companies must be losing the public relations battle in West Virginia or they wouldn’t be making this desperate attempt to foist their propaganda onto WVU football fans. A few years ago, the coal bosses admitted that 80 percent of West Virginians opposed mountaintop removal. To counter their bad reputation, they rolled out a public relations blitz and created Friends of Coal, an instant “grassroots” organization. Their billboards and radio and television ads try to convince us that destroying half a million acres of mountains and burying a thousand miles of streams is good for us. ***

The Friends of Coal Bowl agreement allows the coal companies to use signs and the giant video boards inside the stadiums to promote their views on controversial issues. They are free to repeat one of their more ridiculous

Claims: that mountaintop removal makes the mountains better and more useful; like claiming that cutting off your arms and legs will make you better and more useful.

Imagine the nightmare if every WVU football game is sold to corporate sponsors: For two more scholarships, logos are plastered all over the players’ uniforms a la NASCAR drivers. Even cheerleaders, coaches and referees are included in the tacky parade. The huge video screens, which cannot be turned off, blast out corporate propaganda that polluted air, water and land are good for your children. Mountaineer Field becomes one big advertising venue and is renamed each game for the corporate sponsor. ****

Could some bowl games be named for Friends of Clear-cutting, Friends of Smog, Friends of Toxic Waste Dumps, and Friends of Adult Sex Shops? Logo-clothed cheerleaders chant “Tear down the mountains, dump in the creeks, beat the hell out of Pitt!” and “Take the ball and run boys, give a good return for our dollars, while we scalp the mountains clean, boys, and flood the hillbillies out of their hollers.” But imagine a pleasant dream: WVU and Marshall put education first. They use football games to tell the real story of coal in West Virginia. The football players, cheerleaders, coaches and referees wear symbols that honor the over 20,000 miners killed in state mines and the hundreds of thousands disabled by black lung and mine accidents. The video boards show re-enactments of the Battle of Blair Mountain, and news clips of the

Farmington mine disaster, the Buffalo Creek flood and Sago. Green armbands are worn in memory of the dead mountains.

The Friends of Coal Bowl is propaganda, not education. The president of WVU should be ashamed of such blatant distortion of a university’s duty to tell the truth and to educate. A quality university would not be a willing agent of corporate public relations. But what can we expect, our WVU president is one of them, he is on the board of directors of Consol Energy. It is on the way to becoming a tradition, a previous president is on the board of Massey Energy. *****

My Mountaineers sold out to an industry that is destroying the reason for being Mountaineers.

*I know, I know, it should be cheaply but cheap sounds so, well, cheap.

**Earlier news stories said that the players’ helmets would have the Friends of Coal logo on them, but they didn’t.

***A more recent claim shouts from billboards “Clean, Carbon Neutral Coal.” And “Clean Coal, Clean Water”. Those have got to be an embarrassment if people who are decapitating the Appalachian Mountains can be embarrassed.

****The WVU football stadium has been renamed Milan Pushkar Stadium at Mountaineer Field. Guess who gave a bunch of money for that.

*****Under pressure from students at Ohio State University, Gordon Gee their president has resigned from the Massey board. He was accused of hypocrisy for advocating for green energy and being on the board of the environment devastating Massey Energy.

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Peace Corps

Friends of Nigeria Newsletter

I called Washington and volunteered the day after Kennedy announced the creation of the Peace Corps. I did not want to go to Africa. News from the Congo told of Simbas killing and raping. Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s first Prime Minister, was beaten to death*. By the time I heard from the Peace Corps I was about to start night classes in law. By day I was training to supervise the production of sidewinder missiles.

Studying chemical engineering didn’t include much about Africa so I was happy to learn so much in our training at UCLA. After a pleasant in-country two week training with Nigeria I Peace Corps volunteers we were taken to our schools.** I was picked up in Enugu by the priest and head master of my school. As we drove south he pointed with pride to the large churches along the way that were built by his tribe, the Holy Ghost fathers. “Built by a black man”, he sneered as he pointed to some poorly built churches. We took an eight mile unpaved short cut that was busy with pedestrians and bicycles. Barefoot women were carrying “loads” on their heads, some had babies wrapped to their backs and little children running alongside. The priest drove recklessly and much to fast. He came close to hitting people, pressed his horn in anger and muttered hateful things as they scurried out of the way. I was feeling dizzy, my face was hot, and there was a lump in my stomach.

After about a month teaching chemistry I happened to casually mention to the headmaster that only one student passed the first test. The next day he came into my room, lectured the students on their study habits and ordered them all, except Edwin Igbozurike who had passed the test, to line up at the door. As the students passed in front of him he bent each outstretched hand and beat it two or three times with one of the several canes he had with him. He then marched them back into my room and repeated the process on the other hand. The boys were crying as they returned to their seats. I was horrified. When the priest left I told the students that I was very sorry and that it would never happen again. If necessary I was resolved to physically prevent him from beating my students.

One day the school carpenter, Mr. Augustine Okemadu, told me that his brother was going to Fourah Bay College to study French. He confided, “I am beginning to worry now that all of the money is paid out and he has signed for the courses. Father said no Ibo man could learn French.”

I assured him that the priest was wrong about Ibos and that his brother would be able to learn French.

Augustine looked puzzled, “I have been wondering about this Ireland. Are there any people there but priests?”

I said that they weren’t all priests.

“Well, I thought that they were all equal and most of them priests and for this reason they don’t know people. I always listen on the radio to these prime ministers of all these countries and presidents and I never hear anything about Ireland. Do they have government there or is everybody a priest? These reverend fathers treat everyone like they don’t know any law. They treat workmen like they are very common and only local and cannot do a good job which is worth a fair price.”***

I didn’t let the headmaster ruin my experience. Those two years in the Peace Corps were most happy, exciting and wonderful. I learned more than any other time in my life. My two years in Nigeria were peaceful. How could I have missed seeing the coming apocalypse called Biafra?4 On a third class train trip from Enugu to Kaduna I did notice that while the people of different ethnic groups were very kind and helpful to me they ignored each other. And we had a Yoruba Peace Corps driver who told us that the Ibos ate people.

Most of the time I felt celebrated and admired as an American and part of “Kennedy’s Peace Corps.” Once while showing a USIS film on Kennedy I heard my Nigerian friend, John Nwosu, saying, as in a duet with Kennedy, his inaugural address. But there was that one time I was chased by a machete waving member of a group dancing down the road with a man dressed in a ceremonial mask and raffia palm costume. Heck, I just wanted to take one little picture. That was really pretty traumatic for the first month in country.

At the end of two years the admiration and respect for America extended all the way home through Egypt, Greece, Russia and France. I was in Moscow for Kennedy’s funeral, the hotel maids were crying as they watched the ceremony on TV. The admiration and respect disappeared with what Robert McNamara has agreed was a tragic mistake in Vietnam. I joined a large group of returned volunteers and became active in the Committee of Returned Volunteers. Our only purpose was to help end the war and get our troops home alive. Today I am part of West Virginia Patriots for Peace. Each Friday at noon in downtown Charleston, West Virginia, we have a one hour vigil holding a “Wall of Remembrance” with the name, age, hometown, and date of death of soldiers killed in Iraq. When we started there were 800 names.****

My first job after the Peace Corps was as West Virginia University’s first full-time foreign student advisor. With 150 students from other parts of the world, WVU also had an East African agriculture program with fifty-two students from Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. They had made some pretty bad mistakes, like housing all these various ethnic groups in one section of a student apartment building. And the unwritten housing policy was to place Black with Black, Asian with Asian.... Of course no African was assigned a white roommate. On top of that the barbershops were segregated. With help from the African-American and Caucasian-American students we integrated the housing and the barbershops. As the Vietnam War got worse a group of students formed a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society and I signed on as a charter member. These students were idealistic and peaceful. My membership in SDS and participation in the first picket at WVU against the war and a picket against Robert Byrd receiving an honorary doctorate did not please the president of the University. It became obvious that I might as well resign. The picket against Byrd was when his only claims to fame were that he had been a KKK organizer and filibustered the Civil Rights Act. He has since redeemed himself and has courageously opposed the war on Iraq.

Nigeria was like West Virginia in some ways. The railroads in Nigeria were designed to bring raw materials to the coast to be shipped to Britain. Railroads in West Virginia were designed to carry out the logs and coal and deliver it out of state. When I returned to West Virginia the similarity to a third world nation disturbed me and led to my involvement with environmental groups that are trying to stop the coal industry’s destruction of West Virginia mountains and streams with mountain top removal strip-mining. So I am now vice president for state affairs of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and vice president of the Kanawha State Forest Foundation. I also participate in the activities of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Environmental Council, Friends of Mountains, The Sierra Club and the Coal River Mountain Watch.

*It was later revealed that the CIA was responsible for Lumumba’s murder.

** Nigeria 1 was the first of three groups of Peace Corps Volunteers that arrived in Nigeria in late 1961. I was in Nigeria 3. We trained at UCLA and Nigeria 1 trained at Harvard.

*** Mr. Augustine Okemadu was an excellent carpenter. He built all the home furniture in the teacher’s and headmaster’s homes and the lab tables in the new science lab that was being built when I arrived at the school. When my daughter was born I requested and he designed and built screens on the windows to keep the mosquitoes away from her.

****In 2009 over 4,000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and close to ten times that have been wounded.

*****Eastern Nigeria seceded from the rest of the country and a brutal civil war followed in which the Soviet Union and England supported the Nigerian government and China and France supported the Biafrans. It was all about oil in the Niger Delta and Biafra lost and ceased to exist.

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West Virginia Power

April 11, 2005

A few years ago the Charleston Gazette reported that the coal companies’ decided to ratchet up their public relations. They were alarmed by industry polls showing 80% of West Virginians opposed to mountain top removal. They came up with such deceptions as the absurd billboard that calls coal a “cleaner, greener” energy* and a program that takes their brainwashing into classrooms, even kindergarten classes.

West Virginia Power looks like the newest partner in the coal company’s public relation scams. West Virginia Power is the new name for the Charleston Class A baseball team. The name was inspired by the energy production in West Virginia and the fact that the power of West Virginia government is in Charleston. Their logo is the Capitol with POWER written beneath. By all indications the naming of the team is a way of promoting big coal in West Virginia and that means promoting mountain top removal strip mining.

The owners of West Virginia Power must be frustrated that the mountain top removal pending on the edge of Charleston (just 300 feet from Kanawha State Forest) isn’t ready for “reclamation”. What a coup it would have been to build a baseball park on a decapitated mountain. This would add to the illusion that “reclaimed” mountain top removal sites are loaded with economic development. In reality only 5% of the over 400,000* West Virginia acres, ruined by mountain top removal, has any economic development.

Friends of Coal (FOC) and the West Virginia Coal Association got into the bidding for the naming rights for the new baseball park. FOC and the Coal Association is essentially the same thing. FOC is a coal company creation disguised as a grassroots organization. FOC is a descendent of the company town with its company store, company union and company preacher. What grassroots organization has the money to even consider buying the naming “rights” to a baseball park? FOC even hired a public relations firm (they are paid to act like they believe something) to speak for them. The same FOC spokesperson from the public relations firm is also the president of West Virginians Against Law Suit Abuse which helped put Don Blankenship’s boy** on the Supreme Court.

I guess the owners of Power figured that FOC West Virginia would not be a good name for the new venue so Appalachian Electric Power, a consumer of mountains through their use of mountain top removal coal, is naming the park after themselves for $125,000 a year. The public is putting about $20 million into the team and park but we were not asked to help with the names.

There are plans for a cute little coal train inside our new park to represent, I suppose, the hauling away of our mountains. And how about gagging on your hot dog at the “Coal Car Café” and “Mine Shaft” concession stands. Won’t it be cute if they accept scrip?

Professional baseball in Charleston has always been a marginal operation. To save face the coal companies will have to keep The Power afloat when the inevitable decline in attendance follows the initial novelty. And AEP sure doesn’t want The Power turned off so they are probably going to subsidize it even more–heck everyone might get in free to keep the Power on. Now there is a socialist concept! Free baseball!

The Power will no doubt have events like Massey Energy Night and Arch Coal Night. Considering the coal companies’ history, here are some special evenings that would be more appropriate: Buffalo Creek Night*** in honor of the 125 killed; Black Lung Night with free oxygen hookups; Take a Mountain Home Night, the first one thousand fans would get a miniature baseball bat made of coal from their favorite destroyed mountain.

For the nature lovers there could be The Old Swimming Hole Night or Dead Fish Night in remembrance of the over 1000 miles of streams (longer than the Ohio River) covered with mountain top removal waste. Fisherman’s Night would celebrate the fish contaminated with mercury from Appalachian Power’s smokestacks.

For the children, struggling to breath and competing with Appalachian Power for air, there could be Asthma Night. Sludge Night would help us keep in mind the Marsh Fork Elementary School children who learn at the base of a huge sludge pond. A second sludge night would be for the giant Massey sludge pond failure into the Tug River. A follow up could be Sludge Wrestling Night. On Overloaded Coal Truck Night, fans could dodge them as they speed around the parking lots. Flood Night would honor the people killed and homes destroyed by mountain top removal induced floods.

There could be a Scab Night for those who have ever crossed a UMWA picket line. On Workers Comp Night, crippled coal miners would pay extra to get in. And during the seventh inning stretch on UMWA Night, Don Blankenship would be stretched in effigy.

The Power intends to honor towns with community nights. Sylvester Night would be a good community to show how big coal treats its neighbors. Fans would have their seats and faces covered with coal dust. Of course the power in the luxury boxes would look down on the game in clean air conditioned comfort. Ghost Town Night would recall all the towns boarded up by the replacement of 100,000 miners by continuous miners, long wall machines and mountain top removal. Jumping around and threatening people on all these nights will be Axe, the violent and destructive looking coal mascot.

To close out the season how about Coal Sucks Night and invite all the politicians who grovel before big coal. Every living past and present governor would be guests of honor. Remember when Jay Rockefeller changed his mind about strip mining and became an advocate of mountain top removal to get elected and do you remember when Arch Moore took payoffs from coal companies? New Governor Joe Manchin has promised big coal he will speed up the decapitation of our mountains. And don’t forget the most recently disgraced Governor Bob Wise’s devotion to the coal companies.

I figured The Power people might name our new publicly funded ball park Massey Energy Field or Don Blankenship Park to rub West Virginia’s nose in the dog poop left over from the rubbing of noses in the last election. Remember what’s his name, that Supreme Court justice the Don bought? Appalachian Power would gain far more in public respect if they named our new park the Miner’s Memorial Park to honor the over 20,000 West Virginia coal miners killed and the untold thousands, like my dad, who were maimed and blinded for life. The miners are the real producers of the energy, not the power company and not the coal companies–they are nothing without the miners.

Appalachian Power could honor the memory of perhaps the youngest victim ever of big coal by naming the new park the Jeremy Davidson Baseball Field. Jeremy was the three-year-old boy crushed to death, while asleep in his bed, by a boulder from a mountain top removal strip mine.

*Walker Machinery has since put up billboard ads that say “Clean Coal, The Carbon Neutral Fuel” and “Clean Coal, Clean Water” Joseph Goebbels would have been proud.

**Blankenship is president of Massey Energy, the largest coal company in West Virginia which is of course headquartered out of state. He paid five million dollars to defeat a progressive, pro-labor West Virginia Supreme Court justice and replace him with a corporate lawyer of no particular distinction. It has paid huge dividends. John Grisham wrote the novel “Appeal” based on this episode.

***On February 26, 1972, Buffalo Creek in Logan County was wiped out by a failed coal sludge dam. 125 people were killed.

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Ivory Bill

The Charleston Gazette
May 5, 2005

The other day I overheard someone say with a happy voice, “Did you read Susanna Rodell’s* column this morning?” The next day I read that excellent and environmentally sensitive article about the discovery of an Ivory Bill woodpecker. The Ivory Bill was believed to be extinct. She wrote that, “...the great birds disappeared as their habitat was logged into oblivion.”

Every spring there are beautiful song birds living in central and South America who pack up and head north to the mountains of West Virginia. It is hard to imagine that those little sweet sounding fellers can fly across the Gulf of Mexico! They even have beautiful names. Cerulean Warbler translates to Sky Blue Warbler. Like our relatives who moved to Ohio and North Carolina, they love this place and they want their young ones to enjoy the forests and streams and mountains. They return expecting that their habitat will still be here where they were born and where they learned to fly and sing. But like the habitat of the Ivory Bill which was logged to oblivion, the nesting habitat of our lovely birds from Latin America is being mined to oblivion.

In 2002 a Federal study reported that in the previous ten years 381,000 acres of forest were lost to mountain top removal strip mining. The same study says that by 2012 the total lost will be 1.4 million acres. This will be equal to a mile wide swath from the tip of the northern panhandle of West Virginia all the way to Key West Florida. That is almost a million and a half football fields, or Wal-Mart’s, or golf driving ranges.

Three of the little songbirds gracing us with their presence in West Virginia summers are the Cerulean Warbler, the Black Throated Green Warbler, and the Louisiana Water Thrush. A report of the Forest Service in 2003 found that the latter two were “losers” in surveys of “reclaimed” mountaintop removal sites. Song birds are very sensitive to fragmentation of forested breeding habitat. Mountain top removal is the ultimate in forest fragmentation. Our forests are being fragged by the coal companies and a wink of the eye by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The Gazette editorial policy seems to have shifted to joining the Department of Environmental Protection in winking at the fragging of our mountains. The Gazette has quit taking an editorial stand against what is the worst environmental disaster on earth. Nowhere else are 1.4 million acres of a mountain range being destroyed and the Gazette editorial page is just watching it happen.

We are all happy that the Ivory Bill is back and we hope the Gazette will come back too and regain its past editorial concern for our mountains and the people who live in the shadow of the monstrous mountain top removal. I urge the Gazette to please continue to be concerned for the birds and include in that concern our lovely Appalachian song birds who travel so far to be with us.

Or, As Dr. Suess wrote in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

*Susanne Rodell was the editorial page editor of the Charleston Gazette.

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Rape Is Evil

The Charleston Gazette
2005

In Susanna Rodell’s first editorial on mountain top removal she chastised the people at Coal River Mountain Watch for using the word “atrocity” to describe mountain top removal strip mining. She thought it an exaggeration. She did not bother to criticize the gross exaggeration of coal company ads that claim by beheading mountains and dumping the waste in the valleys below they are somehow making them better.

Ms. Rodell’s most recent editorial implied that the Mountain Justice Summer volunteers were exaggerating to claim that coal companies are evil. One confirmation of that evil, as if just the sight of mountain top removal isn’t enough, is the story of a young woman who, as part of her job, rode into the coal fields with some coal company officials. When she returned she exclaimed to a co-worker, “They are evil.”

Ms. Rodell wrote, “Here’s the thing that bothers me the most: How many of us who are so upset at the rape of the mountains are equally concerned about the human beings who work there?” It took honesty and courage for Ms. Rodell to include herself among those of us who see mountain top removal as rape. Everyone agrees that rape is evil. Ms. Rodell sees mountain top removal as rape. I am sure she would call rape an evil act. It is not a long jump for her to agree with the Mountain Justice Summer volunteers that the coal industry is evil since it rapes our mountains and that this rape is an atrocity

Destroying our mountains does support some families. But monstrous draglines and other large equipment like longwall machines have replaced over 100,000 families formerly supported by coal mining. There will be no jobs for the descendents of the 4,000 miners who work at decapitating our mountains. If the mountains had been left to grow hardwoods the new growth alone would amount to enough wood to build 5,000 houses every year, forever. Yet Ms. Rodell chokes on words like atrocity and evil as being exaggerations. There is no exaggeration that can match what the coal companies are doing to our mountains.

*Susanne Rodell was the editorial editor for the Charleston Gazette.

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Farewell to The Mountains

The Charleston Gazette

A clever headline writer nailed it with “Farewell to the Mountains.” That was the headline on Susanna Rodell’s last column as editorial page editor of the Gazette. It is not so much that she is leaving but more importantly she abandoned the mountains.

Some of what Ms. Rodell wrote in her last editorial is worth repeating: “I’ve seen what mountain top removal does and it’s truly appalling. It makes huge swathes of the state’s forested hills—the kind of primeval landscape now so precious and rare in America—look like the surface of the moon.” Why oh why, I thought, have you not been saying that for the last three years?

On a couple of occasions Ms. Rodell’s editorials claimed that people who live near and suffer most from mountain top removal use exaggerated language in describing their loss. It is almost impossible to exaggerate mountain top removal; it is itself a gross exaggeration. But in her parting editorial Ms. Rodell appeared to agree with the language of those most afflicted by mountain top removal. She wrote, “The landscape that’s been subject to this sort of rape will never recover.”

Among the assaults on our environment Ms. Rodell agreed that mountain top removal might be, “…the absolute, down-and-dirty, worst-case manifestation of the process.” She says, “It eats up primeval landscape at warp speed and creates the ugliest consequences I’ve ever seen.”But just as I thought she was among the saved Ms. Rodell cops out. Because of her feelings of guilt about using coal-fired electricity and her concern for West Virginia’s short term economy she justifies her three year failure to address the issue of our disappearing mountains.

Ms. Rodell thinks that ending mountain top removal would destroy West Virginia’s economy. She agrees with the coal barons that quarterly profits make an economy. It is this short-term greed that destroys the economy in the long run. Mountain top removal is ending all hope of a future for West Virginia, be it economic or spiritual. If she is truly concerned about our long-range economy Ms. Rodell would advocate for the abolition of mountain top removal.

Just one example of our future economic loss is in the hardwood timber industry. Every year we lose 100,000,000 board feet of new growth timber that would have grown on the mountains already destroyed. This could build 5,000 houses every year forever. Since this is just the new growth there would be no net loss of forest volume. The loss of renewable forest growth increases with each mountain removed and valley smothered.

Ms. Rodell figures the Gazette can “…at least try to ensure that those who are chewing up the landscape abide by the regulations now in place.” She had multiple opportunities to help ensure that the regulations were followed. She could have been a voice from the editorial page that pulled with Ken Ward and Paul Nyden in their heroic reports of the tragedy of mountain top removal. But she refused to speak out against what she now calls rape.

Ms. Rodell states that it is not responsible to buy into a crusade unless she is willing to contemplate the consequences of its success. By default she is buying into the “success” of the continued rape of our mountains. She saw the rape but stood by silently while the mountains screamed for her help.

Ms. Rodell turned her back on our mountains and now she waves goodbye as they disappear.

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Buying Votes in Lincoln County

The Charleston Gazette
January 24, 2006

The poorest of the poor are vulnerable to the vultures offering cash and other benefits for votes. The cure for vote buying and a lot of other things is full employment at decent wages. People with good jobs seldom sell their votes. Few people making $20 an hour are willing to sell their birthright for less than they can make in an hour of honest work.

It is risky for a poor person to turn down any offer they get to sell their vote. When I lived in Lincoln County, the Jackson-Stowers faction of the Democrat Party controlled the Board of Education, the County Commission and the welfare department thus controlling almost all of the jobs in the county. A poor person or one of their relatives could easily get hurt economically for not cooperating with that kind of power.

A few years ago a man close to the operation told me that there were 160 votes for sale at one precinct in Lincoln County. The man should know because his wife worked inside the polling place and gave signals to the paymaster outside when bought votes were cast as directed. A vote sold to the winning side might get some gravel in your driveway courtesy of the other taxpayers. One Election Day dirt roads all over Lincoln County were paved.

A neighbor offered to drive me to the polls to vote, with the understanding that I would be paid. When I told him that I wouldn’t sell my vote, he pointed to the new gravel in his driveway and asked, “I got a load of gravel for my vote, what will you get for yours?”

If you are smart enough to sell your vote to the winning side and your kid gets in trouble with the law the charges can mysteriously disappear. A traffic ticket can be dismissed if you are a “friend” of the ruling political faction. Now if you bet on the wrong horse, you could be in deep trouble. One beer joint owner found out real fast what it means to get on the wrong side of Lincoln County’s ruling families. Cops waited at closing time down the road from his tavern and arrested anyone leaving who was driving under the influence. Sometimes I felt that the Soviet Union was probably a whole bunch of Lincoln Counties, back to back.

Votes are not always bought with money. Often substances of real value are offered. The older generation likes to sell their votes for some whiskey while the younger go for marijuana.

It was a hoot to read in the Gazette of Jerry Weaver, the disgraced Lincoln County Assessor, allowing as how he fixed traffic violations based on friendship and not votes. It’s not clear if he was bragging about being a prince of a guy or just revealing his lack of a moral compass. Perhaps he thought it was not a crime to fix a ticket if done for friendship. Kind of reminds me of Chicago Mayor Daley the elder answering to charges of nepotism. It’s the American way, he said, to take care of your family.

According to the Gazette, the federal prosecutors are going to recommend home confinement for Greg Stowers!* That will confirm the Lincoln County cynicism that the big guys always get off. The disgraced Stowers, who resigned his circuit clerk position after pleading guilty, admitted that he organized and led the vote-buying program. Amazingly he is going to get to lounge at home in exchange for snitching on the people he hired to break the law.* Hopefully he will rat on those above him too.

It is also revealing that the Federal prosecutors are not going to ask Mr. Stowers to squeal on his family. The logical conclusion is that there is something very bad he could say about his kin. In return for snitching on his private army his relatives walk.

Greg Stowers is no small player in the Democratic Party. Among his good friends are both of West Virginia’s United States Senators**. Greg was a member of the state Democrat Executive Committee. His brother Lyle is vice-chairman of that committee. They inherited their power from their father Wiley Stowers. Getting caught verified the commonly held opinion in Lincoln County that the boys aren’t nearly as smart as the old man.

A school administrator, active in Lincoln County Republican politics, told me in 1979 that every school bond issue election that ever passed was stolen. In a fit of deformed social responsibility, Democratic and Republican leaders decided that for the good of the school system the bond issues should pass. They joined forces to rig the elections. Lincoln county parents are so united against school consolidation that it was politically expedient to let them have their way and defeat bond issues that would match School Building Authority grants.

Another school official, who has played both sides of the political fence, told me that he bought votes for the Stowers faction back when the old man was running things. He expressed disgust for people who would sell their vote. Sort of like a “John’s” disgust for a prostitute. A man who taught Principles of Democracy to high school students was caught with a trunk load of half pint bottles of whiskey destined for the polling places.

An election can be won in Lincoln County by investing just $5000 in vote buying. Maybe all past elections should be nullified and monitors from the United Nations brought in to supervise new elections.

Corruption is not a southern West Virginia phenomenon. Arch Moore*** is from the northern panhandle and Jerry Messatesta lives in the eastern panhandle. Neither do the Republicans have reason to get smug, old Arch was not a Democrat and neither is Tom DeLay. Wealthy people have bought both parties and victimize the poor and, in turn, all citizens.

*Stowers did actually serve some prison time.

**Senators Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller

***Governor Moore did time in Federal prison for lying and stealing. Democratic Governor Wally Barren also went to prison for bribing a jury foreman in a trial in which Barren was being tried for bribery.

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Twisted Gun

The Huntington Herald-Dispatch July 8, 2006

I was driving through Mingo County and saw a sign that pointed to the Twisted Gun golf course. I had to drive up there and see what the coal company TV ads have been bragging about.

In David Walsh’s June 15 Herald-Dispatch puff piece on Twisted Gun he exudes about the view. He says that when golfers drive up to the parking lot they see a stark contrast. Stark is right, in every direction there is stark reminder that the beautiful mountains are gone. There was not a tree in sight. It was green fairways sitting in the middle of a moonscape. Of course there were no trees. The native hardwoods like hickory and oak will never grow there, nor will the lush understory of an unmolested Appalachian hardwood forest.

Walsh writes that golfers have unobstructed views of ridges in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. The view is unobstructed because the closest mountains have been blasted away.

One golfing official allowed as how, “It best exemplifies what coal operators can do.” It sure does! The destroyed mountains all around and the streams filled in with mine waste show what the mine operators can do.

The same official said that the hills are a hurdle to having more great courses. Well what a pity that those pesky old Appalachian Mountains get in the way of knocking a small white ball around. Who needs the mountains if it means we can’t play golf?

The title of the article “Twisted Gun turns coal mine to gold mine.” is surely a joke. There were 17 cars in the parking lot at 3 pm on a Thursday. I suppose three or four of those belong to employees. That golf course will never pay for itself. It will probably never meet operating expenses. It will never be shut down as long as the coal companies can use it for their propaganda.

Walsh wrote that there are reminders of the region’s heritage everywhere. If destroyed mountains is our heritage it is certainly viewed in all directions from Twisted Gun. A stark reminder of what our children are inheriting. So far that heritage is to the tune of 500,000 acres of destroyed mountains. To get a grasp on 500,000 acres try to imagine a quarter mile swath of destruction from New York to San Francisco. Only five per cent of the destroyed mountains have any kind of “economic development.” 475,000 acres look like the moon with non-native grass that could grow through Teflon.

The golf official who seemed to be able to ignore the destruction all around Twisted Gun asked, “What more could you want?”

How about the end of mountain top removal.

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Christian Jihad?

The Charleston Gazette
October 8, 2006

In a recent Gazette article, Joseph C. Atkins recited a list of Moslem atrocities. Atkins observed that, “All my life, from Sirhan to today, we have known little of Islam but as a religion of blood-thirsty killers. Muslims, not Christians, not Jews, not Buddhists, not Hindus carried out these atrocities.”

It is simple to selectively look at history, pick out certain events, leave out others and come to a distorted conclusion. A casual view of Atkins’ time frame will reveal that if Islam is a bloodthirsty religion it surely isn’t the only one.

Atkins’ beginning with Sirhan Sirhan’s murder of Robert Kennedy was especially poignant for me. As a Kennedy campaign volunteer on Election Day I took voters to the polls in the mission district of San Francisco. On television that evening I saw my candidate murdered by a Moslem. Earlier that year Martin Luther King had been murdered and not by a Moslem.

In 1968, the year Sirhan murdered Kennedy, an army of Viet Cong, I assume mostly of the Buddhist culture, in the TET offensive, killed thousands of Christians and Buddhists. In that sad, mad war, America’s Christian Quaker president Nixon ordered the bombing and invasion of Cambodia and Laos, killing thousands of Buddhists. And there was Mai Lay where “Christian” American soldiers murdered Buddhist women and children. In the Vietnam deception there was the irony of a Jewish Secretary of State of our oft-claimed “Christian” nation ordering the carpet bombing of Buddhist Hanoi on the eve of the birthday of baby Jesus.

“Christian” America has been at war most of my life. Since I was born in 1936, America has invaded and/or bombed at least 21 countries. This does not include the CIA supplying arms, mercenaries, and intelligence to one side or the other, sometimes, as in the case of the Iran-Iraq war, to both sides.

Maybe the devil made them do it, but in World War II “Christian” America and Great Briton fire bombed Dresden killing 400,000 mostly Christian civilians. The Nazis, also of the Christian culture, murdered 6 million European Jews and 20 million Russians. The Shinto Japanese raped Confucian Nanking. A Christian president ordered the vaporization of hundreds of thousands of Shintos, Buddhists and Christians with nuclear weapons. Buddhist’s in Cambodia created the killing fields and murdered 1,000,000 fellow Buddhists. In India, Hindus have been known to go on periodic Moslem and Sikh killing rampages. Pat Robertson, a self-appointed TV spokesman for Jesus, called for the murder of the president of Venezuela. Four American soldiers in Iraq are accused of raping a girl and murdering her Moslem family. A West Virginia woman and her fellow “Christian” American guards tortured and sexually abused Moslem prisoners at Abu Ghrab. And there is the American concentration camp secretly away from Christian eyes down there in Cuba.

Our born again Christian president* confessed, maybe bragged is more like it, to operating secret CIA prisons. Guess what they do to prisoners in secret prisons. If the CIA isn’t torturing Moslem prisoners just why does our born again leader exclude the CIA from the Geneva Convention ban on torture? It is astounding that we are even debating whether torture is right or wrong, what has happened to us?

Every belief has a long list of killers, often their very heroes. It was Martin Luther who had the Anabaptists, precursor of the Mennonites, placed in cages and lifted to the ceiling of cathedrals and left there. John Calvin slowly burned Unitarian theologian Miguel Serveto, taking half an hour to kill him. “Saint” Augustine approved the killing of Donatists in North Africa. When Catholic Columbus was exterminating and enslaving native populations in the new world, his brother in Christ, Torquemada, was torturing and burning Jews and Moslems in Spain. And now Israeli Jews and neighboring Moslems continue to spill one another’s blood.

There just isn’t enough space to enumerate the atrocities exchanged between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland or the Christian Crusades against Moslems, Jews and just about anyone in their way. Our born again leader declared at the beginning of his war on Iraq that it was a crusade. His word “crusade” must have confirmed the Moslem world’s suspicions.

Perhaps not noticing the moat in Christian eyes, Atkins instructs the Moslems that it is their responsibility to change the perception of Islam from bloodthirsty cult to peace-loving culture. Ah so, and it is the responsibility of Christians to prove they are followers of the Prince of Peace. Following Jesus isn’t easy for the Bible says that Christian’s must love enemies, return good for evil, turn the other cheek and forgive seventy times seven.

In Atkin’s most recent article he seems to suggest that Christians are about ready to quit being Christians. In what sounds like a veiled threat, Atkins wrote, “I also believe that for more and more Christians across the globe and, especially here in 80 percent Christian America, Sister Leonella’s dying words--”I forgive. I forgive.”--are increasingly more difficult to live by.” Is Atkins calling for a Christian Jihad?

*George W. Bush

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Sculpting the Earth

The Huntington Herald Dispatch, September 22, 2007

In a September 7 opinion column (“MU and area have been great to Friends of Coal”), Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, and Andrew Jordan, president of the so-called “Friends of Coal” praised coal miners as if that is who they represent. Raney and Jordan represent the owners of the coal companies, not the miners. Jordan is himself a strip mine operator.

Their column tried to link loving West Virginia and rooting for the Marshall University and West Virginia University football teams with support of the coal companies.

A few years ago, the coal companies admitted that 80 percent of West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal. So there are a bunch of us who cheer for the Herd and/or Mountaineers who do not cheer for what the coal companies are doing to our mountains.

Marshall and WVU sold out really cheaply. The coal companies, masquerading as a grassroots organization, bought each WVU-Marshall football game for less than two four-year scholarships per school.

University officials refer to football games as products and exalt that the Friends of Coal Bowl will enhance the coal industry “image.” The coal barons have had more than 100 years to develop a good image, but they must have failed if it still needs to be enhanced.

To counter their bad reputation, they rolled out a public relations blitz and created Friends of Coal, an instant “grassroots” organization. Some ads feature the indignity of former Marshall and WVU coaches paid to spout coal company propaganda. They try to convince us that destroying half a million acres of West Virginia mountains and burying a thousand miles of streams is good for us.

The Friends of Coal Bowl is propaganda, not education. Marshall and WVU are supposed to be educational institutions, not willing agents for corporate propaganda. As a WVU alumnus and former employee, I was saddened to see my university making a deal with people who want to destroy the very reason we call ourselves mountaineers.

Imagine a pleasant dream: WVU and Marshall put education first. They call their game the Friends of Mountains Bowl and tell the true story of coal in West Virginia. The football players, cheerleaders, coaches and referees wear symbols that honor the more than 20,000 miners killed in state mines and the hundreds of thousand disabled by black lung and mine accidents. The video boards show re-enactments of the fight for black lung benefits, better safety, wages and work conditions, the Battle of Blair Mountain, news clips of the Farmington mine disaster, the Buffalo Creek flood and Sago. Green armbands are worn in memory of the half a million acres of dead mountains and the thousand miles of streams filled with mine waste.

Raney and Jordan refer to the massive destruction of our Appalachian Mountains as “sculpting the earth.” What a cute phrase—a new euphemism for total devastation. Strip mining was changed to “surface mining,” mountaintop removal became mountain top mining and now they “sculpt the earth.” So expect that soon they will refer to mountaintop removal as “mountaintop sculpting.” Massive destruction becomes art.

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Clean Coal

The Charleston Gazette
December 4, 2007

The Gazette gave smiles to the coal industry for putting two golf courses on “reclaimed” flattened mountains and to Massey for an office building on land they had flattened. But there has been nary a frown for the hundreds of thousands of acres destroyed by mountain top removal or for the hundreds of miles of streams buried.

And a Gazette editorial observed that coal companies should pursue “clean coal” technology. “Clean coal” is an oxy-moron invented by the coal companies. There is nothing clean about the massive destruction caused by mountain top removal.

This letter to the editor concerned only the editorial page of the Charleston Gazette. In reporting about the devastation of mountain top removal strip mining the Gazette has been the number one newspaper in the country. Award winning reporters Ken Ward and Paul Nyden have and are doing an excellent service for the people of West Virginia in their courageous presentation of the truth about mountain top removal strip mining.

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Liquid Coal Will Be Costly, Too

The Charleston Gazette
January 13, 2008

In his Dec. 16 commentary, Roger Nicholson, a senior vice president

of International Coal Group (Sago* was theirs) said he wants his children to settle in this beautiful state. He figures that coal-to-liquid plants will make that possible. What he fails to mention is that those plants will increase already massive

mountaintop removal strip mining. With that increase there may be no beautiful West Virginia left for Nicholson’s children to find jobs. The beauty will be gone with the disappearance of even more mountains and the burial of even more streams.

Jeff Goodell says in his book Big Coal that about 3.5 barrels of water are consumed for every barrel of fuel made from coal. Nicholson backs Gov. Manchin’s goal of producing 1.3 billion gallons of fuel from coal every year. That will take about 5 billion gallons of water per year, 14 million gallons a day. Boy, that ought to dry up a bunch of streams, underground aquifers and water wells.

Goodell also says that the carbon dioxide produced in coal-to-liquid plants can be 50 to 100 percent higher than that in the refining of petroleum. Nicholson sloughs off concerns of reputable scientists about the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Nicholson tried to place negative labels on thousands of West Virginians who love the mountains just as they are. He called us extremists, alarmists, obstructive and a vocal minority. Nicholson becomes extreme and alarmist himself in the act of trying to scapegoat people who love mountains more than they do coal and money. For the coal industry to call anyone else extreme is a knee-slapper. It is hard to imagine what could be more extreme than the massive mountaintop removal strip-mining that will increase with coal-to-liquid plants.

Contrary to Nicholson’s mean-spirited labels, the people I know who love the mountains just as they are more easily fit the labels of gentle, kind, aware and intelligent. They are folks who are indeed alarmed at the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of West Virginia mountains. They are extremely angered by the burying of over a thousand miles of West Virginia headwaters. And the only thing they want to obstruct is the wholesale destruction of the environment, a very worthy obstruction. Thanks to the first amendment to our Constitution, we are all free to be vocal.

We are not a minority as Nicholson claims; far from it. Even if we were a minority, we still would have the right to be vocal, to express our opinions, to seek mercy from the courts. Vocal is good. Indeed, for democracy to survive we must be vocal when we see crimes against man and nature.

Predictably, Nicholson wraps himself in the flag. He uses the phrases “help our country,” and “our nation’s energy needs.” We are called upon to be patriotic, to remain silent, and to be a sacrifice zone for the rest of the country. Nicholson seems to be paraphrasing the infamous quote from the Vietnam War; we have to destroy the state to save it and the nation.

And jobs, they never leave out jobs, except at the mine site. When my dad was an underground miner there were over 100,000 miners in West Virginia. Now there are fewer than 20,000. As Larry Gibson says, if that is job-creation, I hope they stop before they run clear out of jobs. Whenever it will save money, coal miners will continue to be replaced with machines. No matter what smoke screens the coal companies put up, it is money they care about.

At permit hearings on mountaintop removal and other forms of strip mining, it is always the same. Speakers for the permit stand to make money from the destruction of the mountains. Those who speak against the permit are not there for the money, they are there for the mountains. Those who want more mountains destroyed are in it for the money.

Upton Sinclair said it best: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

*On January 2, 2006 eleven coal miners died from carbon monoxide poisoning after an explosion in the International Coal Group’s mine in Sago, Upshur County, West Virginia

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Giant Wind Turbines in Almost Heaven

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy’s Highlands Voice

I don’t want to see the beautiful highlands of West Virginia industrialized with giant windmills. I also want the horrible practice of mountain top removal to stop.

David Buhrman of Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy wrote an article in the April Highlands Voice entitled Greenbrier County Group Opposes Windfarm. Among other things he suggested that we should focus on making coal “cleaner”.  

“Clean coal” is a coal industry public relations slogan, it is an oxymoron. There is nothing clean about the way mountain top removal has destroyed 500,000 acres of West Virginia mountains. Nor is there anything clean about the one thousand miles of West Virginia streams that have been buried in valley fills. “Clean Coal” is 2.8 billion gallons of sludge (waste water runoff from “cleaning” coal) looming over the Marsh Fork elementary school at Sundial in Raleigh County. 

In areas where the mountains and streams are being destroyed we are fighting for everything that is dear to us, our beloved mountains, water, homes, health and most of all our children. The people opposed to windmills in the West Virginia highlands and those of us fighting the horror of mountain top removal are natural allies. Both should be fighting for the right of the other to preserve their environments.  

I hope April Crowe, a Conservancy member living in Trout, speaks for other members of Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy. She wrote this in the Charleston Gazette: “In regards to mountaintop removal, I have to say that no words could accurately describe the destruction wrought to our state, to Appalachia and to the planet. At a time of global warming when we should be going out of our way to protect the natural and rich biodiversity of our forested mountains, we instead continue to obliterate them. We are in effect extinguishing our own hope of a future in our fragile Mother Earth. Is mankind insane?”   

The proposed Greenbrier County windmills are only fifty miles from mountain top removal. Physically we are close. We need to get closer in fighting the monsters that threaten us both.

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Cruel Joke

Charleston Gazette, June 11, 2008

Dear Editor,
I was outraged to see that an April 2008 article in Wonderful West Virginia, a Department of Natural Resources magazine, gave two whole color page photos to the Twisted Gun Golf Course in Mingo County. I have been there, and it is devastation surrounded by devastation. There is nary a tree in sight and all around a view of mountaintop removal strip-mining. The coal companies use that golf course in their propaganda as one of the ways they have “improved” our mountains, made them “better” than they were before. For Wonderful West Virginia to promote a coal industry ad campaign by including this hapless golf course is indeed sad. To wax poetic saying that the course is located on a “heath-like plateau” is a cruel joke.

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Aerial Spray for Mountain Top Removal

The Charleston Gazette

The Gazette reported on July 18 that aerial gypsy moth suppression treatment is offered for the 77,904 West Virginia acres defoliated in May and June. We sure could use an aerial suppression treatment on the acres that have been de-mountained by mountaintop removal.

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All-Terrain Vehicles in Chief Logan State Park

The Highlands Voice, April 2008

Chief Logan State Park is an oasis in Logan County amid massive destruction done by mountain top removal coal mining. And adding insult to injury, mineral owners recently threatened to drill thirty-five gas wells in the park or sue the state for millions of dollars in “takings”. Now comes more insult in the form of all terrain vehicles (ATV’s).

Friends of Chief Logan State Park (FCLSP) say a plan is being hatched to connect the Hatfield-McCoy ATV trail to the Chief Logan State Park Lodge. The connector would go through four miles of the park before arriving at the Lodge. The lodge stands on an old strip mine but the four-mile trail would cut a swath through the park that so far has not been assaulted by coal mining or gas wells.

A FCLSP flier says that, “Four wheeled, motorized vehicles pose a serious threat to wildlife that is protected within the confines of the park. Conservation officers note that easier access to lands not currently open for hunting would create a whole new area of poaching. Loss of vegetation on trails would result in erosion thus greatly impacting the park habitat.” ATVs are not allowed in any of the thirty-eight state parks. Creating a connector would set a precedent to allow access in other state parks.

The West Virginia State Parks website states that the parks are places of quiet and solitude. ATVs in Chief Logan would surely disturb the peace and quiet of the park.

Jeff Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, was quoted in the Logan Banner as saying that the site for the four-mile trail “…will have very little impact on the park itself as it consists of an old goat trail around the ridge of the mountain.”

Follow the politics and money might be the best advice here. The Logan Banner reported that Senate President, Earl Ray Tomblin of Logan County has asked the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority to, “cut a path” to the lodge. The huge, and by my eye ugly, new lodge is underused with only 25.83% in 2006-07. The lodge is in a location where use is not likely to increase.

To register your opposition to ATVs in Chief Logan State Park and all state parks please contact the Chief of State Parks & Recreation.

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Senator Foster’s Mining Stance Troubling

The Charleston Gazette
May 23, 2007

Dear Editor,
Senator Dan Foster* has always seemed to be intelligent, reasonable and environmentally conscious. He was a great help in getting legislation passed to better protect state forests from the destructive practices of the oil and gas industry. I was shocked to read in his op-ed commentary of May 9 that he has fallen for the “clean coal” scam. “Clean coal” becomes a cruel oxymoron when you consider the massive destruction of West Virginia mountains and streams by the coal industry. If the 60 billion tons of coal that Senator Foster say are left in West Virginia leave as much damage as the 10 billion that have already been mined, then there will be nothing left of our once beautiful state.

*Surgeon and Senator Dan Foster is a member of the West Virginia Legislature.

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Changing the Rules

Imagine a football game, but this is about something more deadly than a game. In this game your team is ahead at the half-time. While your coach is mapping out your second half strategy the losing coach is talking with the rules committee. When you come out for the second half you notice that a very high stonewall has been built on the goal line that your team must cross to score a touchdown. The referee joins your team in objecting to the wall but the president of the rules committee says the wall stays. The rules have been changed so the other team can win. Of course this cannot happen in a real game, only in a bad dream.   The bad dream has become reality. The president of the United States [George W. Bush] is changing the rules that govern the mining of coal. The coal industry aided by Kanawha County delegate and chairman of the judiciary committee, John Amores and others, wants to change the rules that govern how much coal a truck can carry on our roads.   After years of coal companies breaking the law, President Bush decides, without public hearings, that in order for the coal companies to continue destroying West Virginia streams he will just change the rules and let the waste from mountain top removal be dumped legally over the sides of our mountains and into our streams. The rules have been broken in the past to fill in one thousand miles of streams in West Virginia.The president is going to make it legal1. 

When citizens complain about illegal over-weight coal trucks and illegally destroyed streams, they aren’t going to be allowed to win. The rules will be changed, a giant wall will be built that they cannot get around nor over.   It appears we are living in a country and state where when the big boys get caught breaking the law the government just changes the law and builds a wall to keep citizens out. It should come as no surprise if citizens, given no chance of winning and deserted by their government, become like the coal companies, environmental extremists.

*And indeed on his way out of office George W. Bush has changed the rule making it legal to dump mine waste into streams.

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No Environmentalists in State Delegation

The Charleston Gazette
Fall 2008

Congressman Nick Rahall said, “Coal is under attack, and not only from strident environmentalists...” Raise your hand if you are against mountaintop removal. Those with your hands up are “strident” environmentalists. Rahall is good on the Mon Forest and other public lands, but outside those areas he is 100 percent in favor of destroying every coal-bearing mountain in West Virginia. But alas, so are Capito, Mollohan, Rockefeller and Byrd. None of them are environmentalists, let alone stridently so. I am hoping Anne Barth* will breathe fresh air into our D.C. delegation.

*Anne Barth was defeated for Congress by incumbent Republican Shelley Moore Capito, daughter of former Governor and convicted felon Arch Moore. One of West Virginia’s other members of Congress, Alan Mollohan, is the son of a former congressman who was defeated for Governor because of a land scheme scandal.

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There Isn’t Enough Money

The Charleston Gazette

To paraphrase Fiddler on the Roof--I don’t want a big fortune, just a living. Since teaching was my profession for twenty-one years it was good that I wasn’t very materialistic. With a family of five and a teaching salary, my three children qualified for reduced priced lunches at the high school where I taught. When your kids are eligible for reduced lunches you are very near the poverty level. I am not complaining for myself, I was happy being poor. It’s that hippy gene.  

Our old house was cold. In the record setting winter of ‘94 the water in the pipes under the house expanded as it froze and thawed. There is an amazing pressure caused by the V shaped water molecules when they slow down and realign; it can even burst brass fittings and iron pipe. Our plastic pipes were no match for the bipolar water molecules. It was three weeks before the temperature got above freezing and I could get under there and re-invent the plumbing. Snow was in our yard for weeks after it was gone in our neighbor’s yards over on the sunny side of the creek. There was an advantage to our location. We had natural air conditioning in the summer. It seldom got above eighty in the house. But that was a disadvantage too, for our house grew the finest blue mold any allergy has ever endured.  

We could not afford anything near a new car. We thumped around in old clunkers. Again the hippy gene served me well. We got where we needed to go and didn’t quite freeze to death in the house. We were happy and I loved teaching.

Unfortunately for the mountains and trees and air and water, most people don’t want to live a simple life. Parents hope their kids will have an opportunity to materially improve or at least not be worse off than their progenitors. Most people who spend the money and time to go to college want to provide the same possibility for their children. Teaching is a sure way to make certain you can’t do that. If your spouse works you might afford to send some of your kids to a commuter college. If you reproduce to the tune of two or three kids and your teacher salary is the only one in the house you are probably going to live in a rundown home, drive a clunker and watch your offspring go straight from reduced lunches at school to serving hamburgers for minimum wage and no benefits. All this while former students start out at salaries sometimes twice or more what a teacher with twenty years experience draws.

In the real world just about anybody with a family and only one income will avoid the teaching profession. They will find a job that pays more than teaching and where they will not have to put up with those bizarre administrators. To understand bizarre start at the top with a Hank Marockie* and imagine what it is like in the trenches. Where do they get those people?

It is a pay cut announcement when the state government tells teachers that health care premiums are going up and coverage is going down. Does anyone think this will attract ambitious, hardworking, dedicated teachers?

It gets worse when a teacher retires. Through the magic of inflation and the legislature refusing to pass a cost of living increase, retirement benefits rapidly approach worthless. Now they want to take away the option of trading unused sick days for health care premiums. It should be obvious that taking away benefits will neither keep nor attract good employees.

Teachers notice that the people at the top of the roost in West Virginia government get salary increases on a regular basis. Sometimes the increases are more than a retired teacher’s social security and teacher retirement checks combined. Headlines warn that we cannot compete for top talent unless the highest paid people get more money. The same warning holds true for teachers. If the legislature wants to attract dedicated, qualified people who just want to make a living, not a fortune, they better start increasing, instead of decreasing, pay and benefits. We often get what we pay for.

With our pro-business legislature there is probably no solution to this problem. They like to give huge tax breaks to just about anybody who will promise a few jobs. Ostensibly the super tax credits were given as a reward for creating new jobs. Over ten thousand miners have lost their jobs since the coal companies started slopping at the super tax trough. Wal-Mart gets tax gifts from the state for creating jobs but by the time they get through putting older tax-paying businesses out on the street, there is actually a net reduction in employment.

Giving all that money away for less than nothing makes it possible for governors and legislators to throw up their hands and chant their yearly mantra: “There isn’t enough money”.

*Hank Marockie was the West Virginia Superintendent of Schools. Dan Radmacher, editorial page editor of The Charleston Gazette wrote of Marockie in the spring 2002 issue of The Masthead: “This man’s rise and fall were both marked by smug arrogance”… “He believed he was entitled to all the perks of a CEO, too: country club memberships, company cars, inflated salary”…. “$300 dinners with his wife, a bureaucrat in the school system”.... “He charged mileage … for hundreds of luncheon trips from the Capitol to restaurants a couple of miles away….and for driving home to his wife in Wheeling. Sometimes, he charged mileage when he was driving a state car” The state was charged for, “Christmas candy for his secretaries; first-class upgrades on flights and flowers for the funeral of an employee’s relative.”…. “The facts were clear enough -- though we never did get all the details of how Marockie spent nearly $100,000 of money from the nonprofit Education Alliance.

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Bailout Is Socialism For Capitalists

The Charleston Gazette
winter 2008

I have two credentials for writing about the $700 billion gift to a bunch of anti-socialist capitalists: I once got the only A in a very large economics class at WVU. We engineers were required to take economics but, of course, the economics majors didn’t have to return the compliment by taking calculus. My other credential is that I ain’t stupid. Karl Marx predicted this downfall of capitalism sometime around 1850. And more recently, my wife and I have been wondering just what was supporting the building of all these huge McMansions and more and more shopping malls. West Virginia has had no increase in population and no increase in jobs. So where is the money coming from?

We watch the turnover of fast-food joints, the empty look of older malls and deserted parking lots in front of some of the national franchises right there on Corridor G. We reasoned that if the number of houses are doubled then half of the total houses will go empty and that if the number of malls double then half the stores will go broke. So we figured that half the people must be going broke. Lo and behold here it is. The bottom has dropped out of this foolishness. Half the people are about to go broke.

The Bush government solution is a very free-market, conservative kind of solution -- socialism. Only it is socialism for the rich, and of course the rest of us get capitalism. And it ain’t gonna be cheap. If it won’t work in the capitalist marketplace they pawn it off on the government. That means me and you because when it comes to something like this, we peasants suddenly become very important to the capitalists. Karl Marx probably never figured that it would all collapse because the capitalists sold their worthless properties to the government, to us.

It is only fair that I offer a better solution. So here goes: How about a $700 billion investment in repairing all our aging national parks and our decaying school buildings; real research into alternatives to destroying our mountains to keep the lights on; free health care for all of us and, daggone it, include my eyes and teeth for that $700 billion? Just this modest proposal would employ all kinds of hardworking steel workers, plumbers, carpenters, concrete finishers, roofers, equipment operators, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, health-care workers, teachers, social workers, building supply companies, computer programmers, surveyors, architects ... . There must be a bunch of ways to go in debt $700 billion that are better than just letting the rich get by with it again.

To add more injury to this calamitous insult there was buried on page 3 of the Sept. 25 Gazette, an article that told of the House of Representatives passing a year-end budget of $630 billion. Dear lord! That and the buyout comes to $1.3 trillion! And that will just be for next year! We may not end up with enough left over to bring my grandson home from Iraq. As if that pullout will ever happen.

This is what they said they wanted: free markets, globalization (especially of our debt, like to China) and no government regulations to stifle the muscular engine of capitalism. So let them have it. If the government has to buy them out then it should all belong to us, and by golly I volunteer to manage it for just a cost-of-living adjustment on my teacher retirement check and, of course, eye and ear health coverage. I will not require a golden parachute at the end of my tenure.

To get a grip on $1.3 trillion, put in all the zeroes -- $1,300,000,000,000. Or if you tried to spend it all at the rate of a dollar a minute it would take you around 2,500 years. Your spending would be completed about the year 4508, about the same time our government will get out of debt.

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Irresponsibly Extreme or Extremely Irresponsible?

The Charleston Gazette and the Huntington Herald Dispatch
November, 2008

Perhaps D. Steven Walker, in his OP-ED article of October 23, was looking into a mirror when he called extremists those of us who oppose the massive destruction of our mountains. For what could be more extreme than blasting the mountains away, filling in the valleys with the leftover waste, injecting coal waste sludge into the water table, forever destroying wildlife habitat and eliminating any future renewable hardwood timber industry and its permanent jobs? And what could be more extreme than building a coal waste sludge pond above a grade school?*

Walker rolls out “clean coal”, the ultimate oxymoron, and includes “environmental opportunities” as one of its benefits. What could he possibly be talking about? What opportunities are in store for the increased mountain top removal that will be made possible by irresponsibly dumping gases from burning coal into our earth, into our water table? There is no way to know what horrible side effects will appear after pumping that waste material into the ground. It is the madness of, “We can’t continue to pollute the air and survive so let’s pollute the earth.” That’s the ticket.

The West Virginia Council of Churches falls into Walker’s definition of “state and national extremist groups.” On September 11, 2007 they issued a statement on mountaintop removal coal mining. These state religious leaders proclaimed that, “Mountaintop removal mining blasts the tops from our mountains and obliterates healthy streams, filling them with waste material. The damage done is permanent and irreplaceable. Once the top of the mountain is removed it cannot be put back. The streams cannot be replaced, and the native hardwood forests and diverse understory do not grow back. The animals, birds, and people are deprived of the welcoming environment that once nurtured their minds, bodies, and spirits and provided food, water, and shelter for them.”

Walker says the way to sustain WV’s economy is to “responsibly grow the coal industry.” He has been forced by the terrible coal industry reputation of death and destruction to add the qualifying word “responsible.” This is obviously an admission that they haven’t been mining coal responsibly in the past. And from what I see that past comes right up to this very day. Just how do you “responsibly” decapitate mountains and bury a thousand miles of streams?

So is the coal industry irresponsibly extreme or extremely irresponsible?

* Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia, is located 400 yards down slope from a Massey Energy mountaintop removal strip-mine. A coal waste impoundment containing 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge is precariously held back by a 385-foot-high earthen dam. There is also a coal loading silo within 150 feet of the school. It is against the law to have this facility less than 300 feet from a school.

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Pay The Players

The Charleston Gazette
November 28, 2008

Gene Budig* said in his November 24, 2008 commentary about collegiate sports: “With rare exception, the major donor wants to be entertained, and by the president at a sporting event.” According to Budig, one president of a large university intends to raise between $2 billion and $3 billion by entertaining wealthy donors at athletic events in upper-level private suites. Another says the state is in no position give universities what they need and deserve. So they must turn to private donors.

If wealthy donors can give large amounts to universities, they certainly are not paying enough in taxes to governments that could then finance higher education without prostituting themselves to what amounts to professional athletics.

And if universities can make $3 billion on the backs of athletes, then those athletes should be making very high salaries. Instead, many are left with lifetime injuries and no marketable skills. Setting aside just 1 percent of $3 billion would come to $30 million for athlete salaries.

* Budig has served as president of Major League Baseball’s American League and as president of Illinois State University, West Virginia University and as the chancellor of the University of Kansas. Active in the Air National Guard, Budig retired at the rank of Major General in 1992.

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Eating Out

Charleston Gazette March 2009

I know a single mother waitress who usually gets only five hours of work a day. The Federal minimum wage is $2.13 an hour for people like her who work for tips. For her five hours of work the minimum wage pays her a whopping $10.65. With tips added she sometimes makes less than $30 a day. Last year she made only $7200. The Economic Policy Institute says a single-parent with one-child should make about $30,000 to meet basic needs. The waitress’ modest two bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood goes for $525 a month plus the electric utility. Her monthly income is almost all gone after the rent and utility is paid.

With one hand congress renders single mothers into a state of poverty. With the other hand, they make up for it by paying for almost all day care expenses, child health care, food stamps, an earned income credit that returns income taxes and housing subsidies(which are often in unsafe neighborhoods where a single mother might not want to raise her child). However there are no day-care facilities open in the evenings when lots of single mother waitresses are at work. And there is still no health care for a single mother making $7200 dollars a year and she sure can’t afford it on that income.

This is a strange arrangement. The owners of the restaurants get slave-wage labor, and in the case of the waitress I know, give no health coverage and no retirement benefits. Tax-payers end up with the bill. What we have here is a government subsidy for restaurants. The government bails these restaurants out every payday and consequently provides cheap dining for the public and a profit for the owners. Eating out would cost a whole lot more if the restaurants had to pay a living wage, health care and retirement benefits. But without the subsidies I figure most restaurants would close down and the workers would be without jobs.

Most of us cannot afford to eat out if we insist that the people who serve us be paid a living wage with benefits. But if we don’t eat out a lot of people will lose their jobs. To make the food service business work it must be subsidized by the government, or we all must get a big pay raise to afford to eat out and leave a generous tip.

So how do you vote? Should we have socialized restaurants with food servers getting more from the government than they do from their employers? Or do we resort to another socialist idea of forcing the restaurants to pay a living wage with benefits, in which case we pay a lot more to eat out?

What would the restaurants pay if there were no minimum wage? My guess is food servers would work for tips only and Republicans and Governor Manchin might generously observe that, “I would think they’d be tickled to death to have a job.”

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CEDAR And The Ladies Auxiliary

The Highlands Voice, April 2009

A year ago, at the WV Environmental Education Association conference, I asked Dr. Steven L. Paine why CEDAR was being allowed to spread its pro-mountain top removal propaganda in the schools of southern West Virginia. He claimed he had never heard of it and said he would look into it. Dr. Paine is superintendent of West Virginia Schools. He had never heard of a program that bragged three years ago to being in sixteen southern West Virginia schools. A year later, after hearing the testimony of Janice Nease, Lorelei Scarbro and me, Dr. Paine was instructed by the president of the state board of education to do what he had promised me a year earlier. He said he would look into it and that he would meet with us. We have an appointment to meet with him on May 18.

Dr. Paine is to include the Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary in his investigation. The Ladies Auxiliary tried to take their pitch into Stratton Middle School in Beckley. Lorelei Scarbro of Coal River Mountain Watch met with the superintendent of Raleigh County schools and the program was cancelled. The Superintendent said that the students had already missed too many snow days to include anything else in the school day. Watch out for the Ladies Auxiliary to try again next year.

CEDAR which stands for Coal Education Development and Resource of Southern West Virginia, Inc. is a coal industry invention. “CEDAR’s mission is to facilitate the increase of knowledge and understanding of the many benefits the coal industry provides in daily lives by providing financial resources and coal education materials to implement its study in the school curriculum. CEDAR’s target group is grades K-12 in Mingo, Logan, Boone, McDowell and Wyoming counties in southern West Virginia.”

“The many benefits the coal industry provides…” are key words in CEDAR’s mission statement. Learning outcomes for West Virginia Schools don’t include promoting the many benefits of any industry. Just promoting the many benefits qualifies CEDAR as one-sided propaganda, not education.

The many benefits the coal industry provides couldn’t possibly include: Flooding caused by mountain top removal--the selenium from valley fills producing fish with eyes on one side and curved spins. Recent studies of hatchlings from below valley fills show 10 % have abnormalities as compared to trace numbers in normal streams--heavy metals in coal sludge impoundments--acid mine drainage--acid rain--injecting coal sludge into the ground water and out into people’s sinks--miners coughing to death with black lung--the Buffalo Creek disaster—the massive sludge disaster in Martin County, Kentucky—the coal ash dam collapse in Tennessee--coal mine accidents at Farmington, Mannington, Sago and the many, many others--the destruction of habitat for migrating song birds. 44 bird species were counted in the wooded area that Larry Gibson saved on Kayford Mountain while only 3 species were counted at the edge with the mountain top removal strip mine--the effect of blasting on people’s homes and their health--the research of Dr. Michael Hendryx of the WVU Department of Community Medicine documented that as coal production increased rates of cardiopulmonary disease, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney disease increased.

It is not likely that the many “benefits” of the coal industry would include the miners march on Blair Mountain--the Black Lung Movement--Miners for Democracy--The so-called Matewan Massacre and subsequent murder of Sid Hatfield--the “Bull Moose Special” and murder of Cesco Estep—child labor in coal mines. CEDAR is not holding back, they have the coal industry money to seep into every crook and cranny. “CEDAR awards cash prizes to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place for each grade level of K-4, 5-8 and 9-12.” There is a regional coal fair where students enter coal projects in Science, Math, English-Literature, Art, Music, Technology-Multi Media and Social Studies.

The Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary are also ambitious. They exclaim that “We'd really like this to be statewide, that it be mandatory in the schools that they learn about coal.” Aw, yes, that’s the ticket, the coal industry mandating the school curriculum from top to bottom.

We met with Dr. Paine. The following is an email summation I sent to a friend on the state board of education:

Dear Ms. Haden: Lorelei Scarbro and Janice Nease from Coal River Mountain Watch and I met with Dr. Paine on Monday. I will tell it like I saw it. He hadn’t done his homework, didn’t know our names or who we represented and if he had read the information we gave him at the Bd of Ed meeting he didn’t seem to remember any of it nor did it appear he had bothered to prepare for our meeting by reading it again. A social studies supervisor said she contacted social studies teachers in the several counties where CEDAR claims to be in the schools and none of them had heard of or used the CEDAR information. Two or three years ago CEDAR bragged on-line of being in 16 schools. They claim their program is for all grades and disciplines and pay teacher coordinators in schools where CEDAR is used.

Paine claimed it was a jurisdictional issue and seemed powerless to take meaningful action. He agreed to tell the superintendents at the next meeting with them that they should have balanced programs teaching both sides of issues.

I offered to show Dr. Paine mountain top removal up close. He didn’t seem too interested and didn’t seem to know much of anything about the issue. He did say he was a friend of Bill Raney*. He referred to Chuck’s ruling as infamous as in Judge Haden’s infamous ruling. I assume he does know the meaning of infamous.

I am sorry that my report is so pessimistic. Both Lorelei and Janice agree with my summation.  

We all thank you for your help and concern about this issue.

*Bill Raney is president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

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Marsh Fork Demonstration

The Highlands Voice, July 2009

The story went nation-wide almost instantaneously via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Satellite TV and radio. My son-in-law saw it in the Santa Rosa, California newspaper the next day. No it wasn’t Iran. It was the protest rally against mountain top removal in Raleigh County, West Virginia on June 23, 2009.

Our demands were that Massey:

  • Withdraw plans to build a second coal silo within 300 feet of Marsh Fork Elementary School.
  • Fund the building of a new school at a safe location in the children’s own community.
  • Withdraw its permits on Coal River Mountain in order to facilitate the Coal River Wind Project, which would provide a permanent source of clean energy and jobs.
  • Stop conducting mountaintop removal operations.

We hold it self-evident that these demands are just, feasible, and essential. No job or profit margin justifies Massey’s ongoing threats to the community by mountaintop removal.

We drove past lines of miners with signs telling us to go home which I figured didn’t apply to me being the eighth generation to have lived in the Coal River Valley. One sign mocked the Earth First organization with “Earth First, Mine the Other Planets Later.” I honked for the sign that said “Honk For Miners” since many in my family have been underground miners.

At the Marsh Fork Elementary School rally site the miners limited themselves to disruptions of the speakers with loud insults and counter arguments and noise from motorcycle engines and chants of “Massey, Massey, Massey.” My father and grandfather, both union coal miners, probably turned over in their graves at hearing coal miners lovingly chant the name of their employer.

As the rally was nearing its end the miners slowly left the school property. They gathered about a thousand yards up the road just outside the mine entrance area. We walked silently two by two from Marsh Fork Elementary School to the area in the road where the miners were blocking the public area leading to the Massey mine entrance.

The miners yelled insults and invited us to come on over and take them on. If the state police had not been there a bunch of people would have been hurt. Judy Bonds, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch and a past recipient of the Goldman International Environmental Prize, was attacked by a woman who passed up other targets to get at her. It was not a random act of violence. The woman seemed surprised that she was arrested. The mob of Massey miners cheered her.

Fortunately there were lots of state police including a swat team with body armor, shaved heads and automatic rifles. However the state police did not offer to clear the miners from the public access to the Massey mine property.

Rather than try to enter the Massey property for civil disobedience and create a confrontation that would lead to violence, our leaders sat down in the middle of the road to block traffic as an act of civil disobedience. Thirty protestors were arrested including Ken Hechler who was the absolute most principled member of Congress and Secretary of State we ever had. Dr. James Hansen, Director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, was arrested as was actress Daryl Hannah. Hansen wrote in the Charleston Gazette, that “…mountain top removal and strip mining of coal is a shameful abomination.” Say Amen.

Dr.Hansen also wrote that “Don Blankenship, Massey CEO and seemingly a role model for a few of his employees, suggested he would like to “debate” me about global warming. I agreed to a discussion in which I could make a presentation (of order 40 minutes) of the science, he would have as much time (before or after), followed by discussion and interaction including audience. Mountain State University eagerly agreed to provide the auditorium. It seemed fool-proof, because if Blankenship failed to show, I could give a bit longer talk and have discussion with the audience. But, after I got a room in Beckley, staying an extra day, Blankenship decided he would only do a debate in a television studio with his favorite moderator. When Mountain State University learned what Blankenship wishes were, they withdrew permission to use their auditorium. I turned on the television news and heard: Blankenship offered to have a discussion with me, but “Dr. Hansen was still trying to check his schedule” – this was a television station that knew exactly what had actually happened. It seems that even the media is owned by coal.” Say Amen again.

Most moving of all at the rally was when a semi-circle was formed around the arrested Dr. James Hansen and his wife and we chanted thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Skinner By Trade

The Charleston Gazette
September 13, 2009

One of our family stories is that a Mr. Skinner came up Coal River from St. Albans buying mineral rights at rock bottom prices. He made his “generous” offer to my ancestor who told him, “You are Skinner by name and you are Skinner by trade, but you will not skin old Isaac Barker.” Consequently my uncle owns forty acres with the mineral rights intact on Big Coal River in Boone County.

Mountain top removal strip-mining is closing in from all directions on our beautiful farm. The Farm has ten acres of fertile bottom land and a barn built in 1917 by lumber washed ashore in the 1916 flood. The ridge running toward our farm and parallel to Big Coal River from Ashford to Bull Creek is being destroyed. Andrew Jordon’s Pritchard Coal is tearing it to pieces. The Graley family testified to the destruction of their peace and quiet and their hunting, fishing and hiking places. They told of the cracks in foundations and the awful view they now have of the mountain top removal mess at Bull Creek just across Big Coal River from their lovely family compound. I sat on our home place porch, just down river from the Graley compound and looked across the river at the beautiful mountain and suddenly realized that unless the monsters are stopped they will kill that mountain too.

My great uncle Kin Barker was a mule team logger. He lived and logged on Bull Creek. Bull Creek no longer exists. This spring, I had a conversation with a foreman on the Bull Creek strip job. As we talked, I stood on private property on the edge of the most diverse temperate forest in the world and he was standing on the wasteland created by mountain top removal strip-mining. I told him of walking up the Bull Creek hollow as a young boy to visit my Uncle Kin. I assumed the foreman was local and told him that Charlie Barker was my grandfather. Of course he had never heard of him, the foreman lives in Cross Lanes. He doesn’t have to look out at the mountains and streams he is destroying when he is home. It is not in his back yard.

As I have said many times, I am proud that my grandpa Charlie Barker and his brother Kin were in the 1921 United Mine Workers march on Blair Mountain. Pritchard Coal Company is destroying the ridge across Big Coal River from where those two brave men are buried in the Barker Cemetery.

A recent Gazette article by a Boone County public relations agent made fun of the value of mayflies and by extension I suppose all small seemingly unimportant creatures. It showed an ignorance of ecology and how human survival depends on small creatures. Perhaps the public relations agent knows better but was playing to an ignorant audience. That same play to ignorance is displayed on billboards that surely must be joking with their oxymoronic slogans of, “Clean Carbon Neutral Coal” and “Clean Coal, Clean Water”. They probably figure if they tell big lies over and over that eventually uninformed people will fall for it.

The Boone County public relations agent rolled out the outrageous claim that they are flattening mountains to host economic development. A friend has calculated that at the present rate of economic development, on mountains destroyed by mountain top removal, it will take 3,000 years to develop the over 400,000 acres that have already been destroyed. And just how will they develop the over 1,000 miles of streams that have been buried with mine waste?

Pritchard, Massey, Arch, Patriot, Consol and the others will take down every mountain that has coal in it if we don’t stop them. They don’t plan to quit at 400,000 acres. They are skinners by trade.

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Global Warming Denial

The Charleston Gazette
Oct. 13, 2009

Dear Vent Line,
Regarding Don Blankenship’s* denial of global warming, here are some facts from the WV Council of Trout Unlimited: 552 tons of ice melted this summer from the Greenland ice sheet, 15 % more than the annual average summer melt(NASA). Surface ice lost over Greenland this year was 12-15 percent more than the previous worst year (University of Colorado)--enough to cover D.C. a half mile deep in ice. Surface temperatures in the Arctic Ocean this summer were the highest in 77 years. The shrinking summertime ice is about 30 years ahead of the climate model projections.

*Blankenship is CEO of Massey Energy

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Army Corps of Engineers Mob Hearing

The Highlands Voice, November, 2009

Tuesday evening, October 13, 2009, at the Charleston Civic Center, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers feebly attempted to hold a hearing on a proposal to modify and suspend Nationwide Permit 21. Joe Stanley tells best what happened that night. Joe is a native of West Virginia and a retired coal miner. He worked underground and in the coal processing plant. He was a certified and qualified surface miner. Joe was elected President of the Local Union 93 in 1993 and was also a member of the Health and Safety Committee. Here are excerpts from his comments to the Corps of Engineers:

“After numerous speeches on the merits and the goodness of the coal industry the first opposing view was presented by Maria Gunnoe [A coalfield resident and organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC)]. No respect was given her by the crowd. The court reporter said he could not hear her comments and Ms. Gunnoe was shouted out many times. The panel made no reasonable attempt to control the crowd. The insults and the profanity were great. The meeting should have been controlled then and there. All of the opposing views that followed were greeted with the same insults. The opposing views could not be heard by the court reporter and he indicated so on several occasions.

“When it was my turn to give my comments, I asked the panel before I started if my time would be adjusted if I was interrupted; Colonel Peterson said it would not and that my time had already started. I tried to speak but a constant roar of profanity and insults drowned me out…. The panel was asked to remove the people who were disrupting the meeting but refused to do so. As each person who had an opposing view to the coal industry spoke, they were shouted at until their message could not be heard…The panel made no viable attempt to control the uproar and I felt that our well-being was in danger. Michael Morrison [OVEC volunteer] and I began to make our way out of the room. We were shouted and screamed and cursed at constantly…

“We went to the side door and waited with some Charleston police officers. Maria Gunnoe, Robin Blakeman, Vivian Stockman and a few others joined us and we left. Upon exiting we were surrounded by people wearing reflective clothing [Miners often wear their coal company safety clothing to hearings and demonstrations]. A very large man started toward me calling me names. I sidestepped him and he continued toward Michael Morrison continuing to shout profanity. The other people close behind him were saying they were getting paid to “stomp our a**”. The man cursing at Michael Morrison kept his right hand under his chest clothing which made me think he was armed. He bumped into Michael Morrison and said he would “kill him”. …I told Michael to keep moving…The large man and his followers pursued us and I then saw the large guy push Maria Gunnoe who was spun around by the contact. At this point a Charleston Police Officer came directly up and into the face of the large man and told him “Do not touch her”. As the police officer told him and the others to “move back, turn around and leave,” I told the police officer we don’t want any trouble. The police officer put his hand on his gun and told them (face to face with the big guy) “Don’t follow them. Leave the area.” A second Charleston Police Officer came running up to back up the other officer. The two officers stayed between our group for several blocks until we were at one of the parking lots where Maria Gunnoe, Robin Blakeman, and Vivian Stockman were parked. The mob had continued to follow the policemen. The policemen waited at the corner. Vivian Stockman thanked them and told them that there were others inside that needed help getting out…

“It is a miracle that one of us was not killed by the men who threatened to kill us. I have been around mining people all of my life and I haven’t seen anything like this… Not enough police protection was provided and no West Virginia State Police were present. This was a U.S. Government sponsored meeting and we were blocked by an organized effort to prevent us from expressing our opinions. I believe the U.S. Department of Justice should investigate what occurred.

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Freedom of Speech

The Charleston Gazette
November 11, 2009
The Highlands Voice, November, 2009

Our constitution says that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the freedom of speech. George Washington declared that if the freedom of speech is taken away we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter. Ben Franklin knew that there can be no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.

Noam Chomsky wrote that “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Stalin and Hitler, for example, were dictators in favor of freedom of speech for views they liked only. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”

On the evening of October 13, 2009, the Army Corps of Engineers held a hearing in Charleston, West Virginia, to hear the testimony for and against their proposal to modify the Nation Wide Permit 21(NWP21) concerning mountain top removal valley fills.

Speakers in favor of the Corps’ proposal were shouted down. Colonel Peterson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowed the screams, shouts and booing. He would say please let the gentleman or lady speak, then a thank you, whereupon he would allow the shouted insults and booing too continue. There were no state police present, no county deputy sheriffs and just four or five city police.

Outside, both before and after the hearing, people in favor of the Corps proposal were verbally abused and threatened. One large man even threatened to murder two people who were leaving the Little Theatre. To their credit two Charleston policemen got between the potential murderer and his victims and escorted those being threatened to their cars.

There were some respectful people at the hearing who were on the opposite side of the issue from me. As I arrived outside the Civic Center, a former student, a fifteen year strip mine worker, greeted me and he and his friend and I had a civil discussion of the issue. Others were verbally abused as they waited in line to get in at the Civic Center. Amazingly one group being threatened was forced to leave the line by city police. Nothing was done to those making the threats.

What happened under Colonel Peterson’s watch did not have to happen. At the Kentucky hearing on NWP21, I am told that an official of the Kentucky Coal Association asked the crowd to let all speakers have their say without interruption. In Pittsburgh the presiding Army officer told the crowd that when he put on his uniform he took the oath that he would support the U.S. Constitution and that everyone would get to speak and be heard.

A biographer said, in describing Voltaire’s sentiments, “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” At future strip mine hearings, I hope our elected officials agree with Voltaire and provide police protection. No matter which side of the mountain top removal issue you are on, I hope you will be present at future hearings, defending the freedom of speech. If you don’t use it, you will indeed lose it. If freedom of speech is denied one group it can be denied to other groups as well. Your group might be next.

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Hate Speech

Sent To the Charleston Gazette
November 2, 2009

It was disappointing to read hate speech on the editorial page of the Gazette. In Carl Hubbard’s op-ed he refers to those of us who love our mountains more than money or coal as “limp-wristed.” That is homophobic hate speech designed to dehumanize gay people and everyone who wants our mountains saved.  I know the Gazette would not allow Hubbard to call us nigger-lovers.

[My point is made in that you will change the nigger-lovers in some way to avoid that hate speech, and I hope you do.]

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Hate Speech Letter Revised

Dawn--please accept this revision--I realize that as Voltaire was credited with saying, I should defend to the death the freedom of speech. It does raise the interesting discussion of whether hate speech should be restricted in public forums--I don’t know the answer to that. Dawn Miller is the editorial page editor of the Charleston Gazette.

Dear Editor,
In Carl Hubbard’s op-ed he refers to those of us who love our mountains more than money or coal as “limp-wristed.” That is homophobic hate speech designed to dehumanize gay people and everyone who wants our mountains saved. Gay people comprise 10 % of our population and that includes strip-miners and pro-mountain top removal op-ed writers.

This was printed in the Charleston Gazette except someone edited

TRUNCATED

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Chief Logan Threatened Again

The Highlands Voice, November 2009

I rode with Cordie Hudkins to the Chief Logan State Park court hearing on drilling for gas in the park. He was Chief of West Virginia state parks for ten years. I first heard of Cordie when he leant his support to the effort to save Blackwater Canyon from logging. We discovered that we were two years apart at St. Albans High School—West Virginia is a small state, often with only one degree of separation. Cordie understands and laments the impact coal mining and logging have had on West Virginia. He observed that if the mountains of Logan County and other coal producing counties had been left in a natural state they would be as beautiful as the Smokey Mountains. He was going to Logan where he successfully became an intervener, along with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club, in the lawsuit to stop the possibly 35 gas wells proposed for the park.

Logan has suffered perhaps the worst coal industry devastation of any West Virginia county. Just before arriving in the town of Logan there is a huge Wal-Mart based shopping center built on a former strip mine.(Ironically the Department of Environmental Protection Logan office is located on an undeveloped section of this gouged out land). This sort of “development” came like a kick to the gut after the victim was already down. Unemployment caused by mechanization and mountain top removal strip mining has just about brought the town of Logan to its knees. It looks like Wal-Mart has finished it off. Those working in the natural resources and mining industry make wages of a little over $1,000 a week. But the average wage of all workers in Logan County is less than $500 a week compared to a national average of $841 a week.

There is a lot of opposition against drilling for gas in Chief Logan State Park. A man who works in the coal industry told me that 80% of the people in Logan County oppose the drilling. I heard it said that the state park was all they have in Logan and to let it get roughed up by gas well drilling was just too much.

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John D. Rockefeller IV

The Charleston Gazette
November 23, 2009

People were charmed when John D. Rockefeller IV came to Emmons. He was a tall, handsome young man from a rich and famous family. From all that I heard, Rockefeller fit in and was well liked by most of the people in Emmons. My uncle, who owns the Emmons farm of my birthplace, describes Jay as a good man.

In 1972 I lived with my Grandma in Emmons and tried to make a go of raising organic tomatoes. I put Rockefeller’s bumper sticker on my truck when he ran for governor the first time. I supported him because of his statement of Dec. 20, 1970, that he would, “... fight for the abolition of strip mining completely and forever.” And in his campaign of 1972, he got my hopes up with, “Strip-mining must be abolished because of its effect on those who have given most to the cause — the many West Virginians who have suffered actual destruction of their homes; those who have put up with flooding, mud slides, cracked foundations, destruction of neighborhoods, decreases in property values, the loss of fishing and hunting, and the beauty of the hills. ...”

In his Gazette op-ed of Nov. 8, Rockefeller wrote that he is concerned by the “... disturbing number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress who oppose surface mining altogether.” Perhaps they understand the horror of strip mining as did Rockefeller when he also said in 1972 that, “We know that strip mining is tearing up the beauty of our state. We know that strip mining is not a good economic future for West Virginia and not a good economic future for our children. And we know that, whatever advantage it has now, the damage that it leaves is a permanent damage.”

Rockefeller betrayed those of us who trusted him to stick by his principles and fight for the abolition of strip mining “completely and forever.” In his second try at governor, he cast aside his idealism and as he recommends in his op-ed, embraced coal.

As governor on March 12, 1977, Rockefeller told the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources that “... mountaintop removal should certainly be encouraged, if not specifically dictated.” That was quite a flip-flop from his 1972 stance for the abolition of strip mining.

The irony of Rockefeller getting his start in Emmons is on display there now. The ridge from Ashford to Emmons is being destroyed by mountaintop removal strip mining. I fear it won’t be long until that destruction will blow right on past Emmons. Emmons might well cease to exist, thanks in part to Rockefeller’s loss of what he called, in his op-ed, his central core principles.

Rockefeller does some good work in the U.S. Senate. He advocates for the elderly, children, veterans and universal health care. None of Rockefeller’s many good works can mitigate or withstand the blast from the destruction of our mountains, streams and homes. He abandoned them to the coal companies without a fight. Would that he had donated to the pro-mountain environmental organizations the 30 or so million dollars he spent on elections and lavish homes. Instead he chose a political career over the beauty of the hills. He chose to be pro-mountaintop removal rather than pro-mountain.

In his commentary, Rockefeller said nothing about the destructive nature of mountaintop removal strip mining. He offered no relief to people whose homes and communities are being destroyed. Rockefeller didn’t mention the loss to strip mining of fishing and hunting and the beauty of the hills that so enamored him in 1972.

Rockefeller’s op-ed was a transparent attempt to keep the good favor of the coal companies. Those folks don’t need to worry about Rockefeller; he is their boy.

Back to TOP

 

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S300609

The Highlands Voice Feb, 2010

Keystone Industries has applied for a mountain top removal mine permit for 600 acres just across the creek and a little over 300 feet from the border of Kanawha State Forest. The permit boundary starts across the road from the gate to Middle Ridge road and runs past the shooting range. If approved this mine will dump over two million cubic yards of mine waste into Middle Lick Branch and Kanawha Fork; both are tributaries of Davis Creek. Mining is expected to last five years. Tom Scholl of Ft. Myers, Florida owns Keystone Development.

Keystone is asking for seven variances of the strip mine laws. One variance request is to change the post mining land use from forestland to a combined use of industrial/commercial and forestland. Industrial and commercial land use three hundred feet from Kanawha State Forest! This led one critic to wonder if that means a Taco Bell or other big mall lights shining into Kanawha State Forest. Could it mean a factory across the creek from the Forest?

Nearly 200 comments were sent by Kanawha State Forest Foundation members and others to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Here are some excerpts from those comments:

“I am concerned about losing the quality of the outdoor experience. Already mining is visible from some of my favorite trails...from time to time a loud boom or explosion breaks into my meditative state…. Part of this outdoor experience for many people includes Davis Creek. Any degradation to this water course would be detrimental to the whole of Kanawha State Forest.”

“Nearly 400,000 visits from WV taxpayers occur in KSF yearly.”

“The Kanawha State Forest is one of our greatest assets in bringing people back to West Virginia to live and work. Allowing this permit revision to go through will impact the one last draw the city has for residents and tourists.”

“If we continue to add to the ugly, black and polluting aftermath of mountain top removal, what tourists would want to come here with their families?”

“While the physical MTR site isn’t within the KSF, the impacts of the cleared land and desolation that would be left by this site will impact the ecosystem within the KSF for generations to come.”

“Imagine a small child playing in Davis Creek, as I saw several times this summer while hiking. What is he being exposed to as a result of contaminated water from mine run-off?”

“My father grew up on a farm beside your site. I’m sure he’s raging in the grave to think of what you’re doing to rape the countryside.”

“In recent years, the residents of this area experienced devastating flooding. Depositing this waste into these creeks could increase the potential for flooding and endanger residents and their property.”

“Kanawha State Forest has been described as a botanist paradise….To see the lovely Cerulean Warbler that finds a haven in that Forest is an especial delight... Kanawha State Forest provides fun, nature study and solace for me, my children, my grandchildren and now my great grandchild. It must not be despoiled.”

“I love that within minutes of being in downtown Charleston I can enjoy the quiet solitude, beautiful scenery and be deep in the hills, mountains and trees of Kanawha State Forest.”

“What a jewel we have and we just can’t afford to let it slip away.”

“… there has to be a line drawn at some point and Kanawha State Forest is it…this is a disgrace.”

Over 100 commentors have requested a public hearing on this permit. Stay tuned for the date and time for that hearing.

Please contact your Legislators, Governor and Congressional delegation and anyone else who may help protect Kanawha State Forest.

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Overpopulated

The Charleston Gazette
Feb 28, 2010

“Overpopulated?” Yes, you heard me right. West Virginia is overpopulated. Overpopulation exists when there are not enough jobs for the number of people who need them—or at least not enough jobs without destroying the very environment the people live in.

But even destroying the environment doesn’t seem to bring more jobs, as is plainly demonstrated in coal industry employment statistics. There were over one hundred thousand coal miners in West Virginia in1950 and about seventeen thousand in 2010. And this decrease in jobs was during near-record coal production and its requisite destruction of the mountains, trees, water, wildlife, people, and culture. So, even if we agree to let the land be raped, we still won’t have high employment. They will just rape with bigger machines.

Around the year 1900 people were brought into West Virginia from the south and from Europe to mine coal. They stayed and reproduced, and the jobs declined as the population increased. With the cooperation of the union, the mines were mechanized and then mechanized again, accounting for a huge job loss. The population that was in West Virginia in 1880, when the horrendous scale of environmental destruction started, is about all this state can handle without eating the mountains like tent caterpillars on a wild cherry tree.

My people came here long before the coal companies recruited immigrants off the boats in New York and ex-slaves from the south to work the terribly dangerous mines. On my mother’s side of our family, only three of us are left in West Virginia. In response to overpopulation, which combined with technology resulted in high unemployment, my mother’s siblings fled to Ohio and Florida and mine to the Carolinas. I tried California but only lasted three years and had to come back, job or no job.

However, the overpopulation isn’t confined to West Virginia. You can’t escape it by leaving; it is worldwide, and the environment is being torn to pieces worldwide to feed, clothe, shelter and pamper some of this swarm of people. The rain forests of South America are being destroyed as are the Appalachians, waters of the world are being polluted, 5,000-year-old redwoods have been cut down, highways are “opening up” and “developing” pristine areas with strip malls, filling stations and fast food joints.

Our wasted West Virginia environment results in the sorry spectacle of people destroying limestone mountains to treat trout streams ruined by acid mine drainage and acid rain as a result of destroying other mountains. Fishermen following stock trucks in order to catch trout almost before they hit the water are another sorry result of an abused environment. And there is the shame of profiteers wanting to drill 36 gas wells in Chief Logan State Park and two more in Kanawha State Forest along with the threat of mountain top removal right across the creek.

Humans are devouring the food and habitat of other species. We cannot eat the whole world and live on this planet alone in a junkyard environment. We do need the other living things. We need the salamanders. The salamander is the largest animal biomass in our forests. It is at the bottom of the food chain. Most every other animal species in the forest depends on the salamander being there in large numbers at the base of the pyramid. Salamanders don’t survive on a forest floor scrambled by bulldozers. Little creatures in streams buried by mountaintop removal valley fills are vital to the life forms farther down the stream. Everything is indeed connected, including us.

We, too, are part of nature. We have a right to be here and to flourish. But humans have become an infestation on the body of the earth. The worst sores are the huge cities. As you leave the cities, the inflammation decreases and the countryside appears healthier. There is less concrete and asphalt, more green space, less noise, the air is cleaner, the water looks better, and there are fewer people. But to feed the infection in the cities, rural areas are losing their mountaintops, their streams, and their forests. The effects of the infection are spreading.

It is madness.

What follows are excerpts from comments about “Overpopulated” from a friend who has written several op-eds on climate change.

First I'm not sure “madness” is an appropriate term for human’s destruction of the biosphere. We overpopulate because we CAN be destructive and overpopulate. We are animals. As I'm sure you know all organisms will overpopulate until Nature steps in (famine or predation). However, because we have opposable thumbs and the intelligence to invent fancy technology we can delay Nature’s wrath for a while, but we will destroy the biosphere. If chimps or elephants had these characteristics to our degree, a different species would be causing problems. We are on the Titanic and we are out of time. With time running out, all we are doing is increasing speed and dancing with the band.

The level of affluence (lifestyle) and climate change are overpopulation multipliers. These factors accelerate the pace of catastrophe (through over resource use and biosphere destruction). I seriously doubt it’s possible to curb humanity’s love of overconsumption. As Chinese and Asian Indians make more money, they will buy cars and bigger houses and more stuff (10s of millions of them are already doing it).

We waited far too long to keep climate change and overpopulation within limits to prevent catastrophe. We'll be at 7 billion next year (the buns are in the ovens). If we had wished to keep population below 8 billion, we would have needed to adopt strict breeding controls years ago. Same deal with climate change. There are 40 to 50 years of increased climate change impacts still to go in the system (due to thermal inertia) even if we stopped all green house gas emissions this year. Anyway, my advice is to enjoy life now by doing things which give you fulfillment, because it’s going to hit the fan in a few decades. I used to write 5 to 6 op-eds a year on climate change until I understood at a deep level it’s too late. As a friend once told me, “…we are on an earthride to hell.”

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Mountain Top Removal

Submitted to Specious Species, May 2, 2010

In 1958 I was driving down from Morgantown to Charleston, West Virginia, when I saw it for the first time. “It” was a strip mine. I pulled over, stopped the car, got out and tried not to believe my eyes. There was a great gash around the side of the mountain. It looked like the mountain had been horse collared. I could not believe anyone would get on a bulldozer and do that.

I gasp every time I see mountain top removal strip mining. People, whom I take to see for themselves, most often exclaim, “Oh my God"--usually in a hushed voice perhaps similar to someone praying not to die. They may wonder if there is a God when they look out and down into a root canal being done on a mountain with dump trucks whose wheels are higher than a basketball hoop and a shovel taller than the trees that used to be there . The ninety foot tall descendents of steam shovels are called draglines. They consume as much electricity as a town of 10,000 and can accommodate a sixty member marching band in the scoop. No amount of prayer or positive thoughts have succeeded in restoring our ancient Appalachian mountains subject to the wrath of greed aided by massive machines.

Coal drag line

Dragline

Visitors often ask, “What is the difference between strip mining and mountain top removal?” Mountain top removal is strip mining on steroids, is my answer. Strip mining cuts into and around mountains but the tops are left intact. With massive earth moving machines, the mountain tops can be blasted away and parts of the pulverized mountain dumped into adjacent valleys. The draglines contain sleeping and eating quarters for the operators. The draglines are so huge that they have to be trucked in a piece at a time and assembled on the mine site.

Reclamation on strip mine and mountain top removal sites has been compared to putting lipstick on a corpse. Non-native grasses are planted that local wildlife have no use for. The diverse Appalachian forest is being replaced with a non-native savanna grassland hundreds of feet shorter than the original mountains. Imagine the confusion of song birds migrating from Central and South America when their birthplace is no longer there. A group of “birders” did a species count in a fifty acre forest surrounded by mountain top removal. Inside the forest they counted 44 species. At the edge where the healthy forest met the mine site there were only three species.

Blasting Away The “Over-Burden”--Note original height of the mountains in background

Blasting Away The “Over-Burden"
Note original height of the mountains in background.

Ashford Ridge is across Coal River as I drive down the Emmons road from Ashford. Before the bull dozers and explosives, Daniel Boone rocks stood on the spine of the ridge. There is a local legend that ol’ Dan'l hunted up there near those rocks. I have been up and down the Emmons road hundreds of times since my birth there at Emmons. My dad told me of working inside Ashford Ridge and shoveling coal while standing on his knees in a foot of water. Mountain top removal goes on all over southern West Virginia and I have seen much of it, but I wasn’t prepared for the loss of Ashford Ridge. I never figured they would blow my mountain apart.

A Mountain Removed Near My Birthplace

A Mountain Removed Near My Birthplace

Destruction, like the death of a friend, has a way of wiping out memory. Now when I think of Ashford Ridge, my mind sees the destroyed mountain, not the beauty that I took for granted and thought would always be there. It is almost more than I can bear.

On the way down the Emmons Road from Ashford, I turn left and go up a little knoll to the Barker graveyard. My mother was a Barker and our ancestors are buried up here. I stand before the graves of Isaac and Spicy Barker who migrated from Virginia when Thomas Jefferson was president. I have made known my desire for my ashes to someday join Isaac and Spicey and the others. Standing with my ancestors, I look across the river at the massive destruction of what was wild and wonderful about West Virginia.

My sainted grandma Barker told me of the rich Mr. Skinner riding his horse up and down Coal River buying mineral rights. Sometime back then someone got the bright idea to divide a piece of land into two parts--the surface and the minerals beneath. That was the beginning of the end of our mountains. Fifty cents an acre sounded like a fortune to subsistence farmers for letting someone have what could not be seen. Before bulldozers, steam shovels and draglines, there didn’t seem to be any harm in the deal. My prescient ancestor looked Mr. Skinner in the eyes and said, “You are Skinner by name and you are skinner by trade, but you will not skin old Isaac Barker.” Consequently the forty acre farm with mineral rights intact is still in our family. I would love to have been there and witnessed the speaking of truth to power. I imagine that maybe Isaac’s dog might have pissed on Skinner’s shiny shoes.

Mountain top removal is closing in on our homeplace that Isaac Barker saved. It is just over the mountain in the Fork Creek watershed where the state used to have a public hunting and fishing area. My mule once escaped and I ended up walking, dragging and riding him back across nine miles of the Fork Creek protected forest land.

Upstream from our homeplace, the Ashford ridge mountain top removal strip mine turns up Bull Creek holler (holler is how we pronounce hollow). Bull Creek is just across Coal River from the Graley family homeplace where several of the children and grandchildren of Earlie Graley have lovely homes on rolling bottom land that leads down to the river. Their homes’ foundations and walls are cracking from the blasting across the river. No longer can they hunt over there in Bull Creek holler. Bull Creek holler and the mountains on both sides have been blasted apart. There is nothing familiar there, nothing that brings back my memory of walking up the holler to my great-uncle Kin’s cabin.

The Graleys and nearly everyone in the area showed up for a hearing on the permit to renew the Ashford ridge mine. Twenty people testified against the permit. The mine company owner and one employee testified for the permit. The permit was granted. A few years back a bunch of us met with the director of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. We asked her if a strip mine application had ever been turned down during her tenure. She couldn’t think of one.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2003 draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) reported that nearly 400,000 acres were mountain top removed in just the ten year period between 1992 and 2002. This is over four times the combined area of all West Virginia State Parks. It is a loss of 76,000,000 board feet of new growth hardwood every year forever. The EIS stated that “it is unlikely that any more than 2 to 3% of the future post-mining land uses will be developed land uses such as housing, commercial, industrial, or public facility development.” Strip mine regulators in West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee had, according to the EIS, approved nearly 6,000 valley fills that would bury 75,000 acres of streams.

Bill Maxey

The late and honorable Bill Maxey served as director of the West Virginia Division of Forestry from 1993 until 1998 when he resigned in protest against mountain top removal. Maxey, born in the coalfields of West Virginia, was a tenured associate professor of forest management and taught for eleven years at West Virginia University. Maxey also worked 15 years as a forester for Westvaco Corp., and seven years for Georgia Pacific. Maxey understood that mountain top removal was destroying any future hardwood timbering. He wrote, “I think mountaintop removal is analogous to serious disease, like AIDS.”

Mountain top removal strip mining for coal is arguably the planet’s largest and worst environmental disaster. [Almost as soon as I wrote this oil started gushing out of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico-there is fear it will not only wipe out the wildlife on our Gulf shoreline and in the bayous and wetlands but will be carried by the Gulf Stream up the east coast. And a friend said Chernobyl is the worst and I argued for a minute then said, hey we are splitting hairs, Chernobyl might be the worst, hell by now mountain top removal might be a close third or in a three way tie]

I estimate by now that over 500,000 acres have been destroyed by mountain top removal. No other mountain range has been assaulted like that nor has any watershed had over one thousand miles of streams buried. That is longer than the Ohio River. The streams are buried with mine “spoil”. Amazingly, “spoil” is how the coal industry refers to the earth that lies above coal seams-- sometimes they call it “over-burden”. Spoil and over-burden are not epithets conferred by a nature loving entity. It surprises me that the euphemism creators haven’t changed these designations to something more benign like “earth enhancing deposits”.

This decapitation of over 500,000 acres has produced coal that generates only about 8% of U.S. electricity. To grasp 500,000 acres of devastation or 800 square miles, visualize a one quarter mile-wide bulldozer blade that levels everything from New York to California.

Coal Companies claim West Virginia needs more flat land for economic development yet only 5% of what has already been destroyed by mountain top removal has any economic development. A friend has calculated that at the present rate of economic development on flattened land it will take 3,000 years to develop what has already been flattened by mountain top removal.

Jimmy and Sibby Weekly

Jimmy and Sibby Weekly own less than an acre next to a proposed massive mountain top removal strip mine in Pigeonroost hollow across the road from Arch Coal’s Dal-Tex mine. Dal-Tex destroyed part of the historic Blair Mountain where a gun battle in 1921 took place between United Mine Workers union members and deputized coal company mine guards. My grandfather and his brother were in that battle on the side of the union.

 Jimmy Weekly and the late Sibby Weekly

Jimmy Weekly and the late Sibby Weekly

Part of Blair Mountain Already Destroyed

Part of Blair Mountain Already Destroyed

Mountain Top Removal Looms Over the Community of Blair, West Virginia

Mountain Top Removal Looms Over the Community of Blair, West Virginia

Jimmy Weekly took his concerns to Joe Lovett, a new lawyer with Mountain State Justice, Inc. Lovett filed suit in Federal Court, tried his first case against a phalanx of expensive coal company lawyers and won. In an historic ruling Judge Charles Haden II, identified as a conservative Republican, decided in favor of the environment. On March 3, 1999 Haden wrote:

“On February 26 [1999,during a helicopter flyover of mountain top removal sites], the ground was covered with light snow, and mine sites were visible from miles away. The sites stood out among the natural wooded ridges as huge white plateaus, and the valley fills appeared as massive, artificially landscaped stair steps. Some mine sites were twenty years old, yet tree growth was stunted or non-existent. Compared to the thick hardwoods of surrounding undisturbed hills, the mine sites appeared stark and barren and enormously differing from the original topography.

“If the forest canopy of Pigeon roost Hollow is leveled, exposing the stream to extreme temperatures, and aquatic life is destroyed, these harms cannot be undone. If the forest wildlife are driven away by the blasting, the noise, and the lack of safe nesting and eating areas, they cannot be coaxed back. If the mountaintop is removed, even Hobet’s engineers will affirm that it cannot be reclaimed to its exact original contour. Destruction of the unique topography cannot be regarded as anything but permanent and irreversible.” Haden also wrote, “No effect on related environmental values is more adverse than obliteration. Under a valley fill, the water quality of the stream becomes zero. Because there is no stream, there is no water quality.” Arch Coal appealed and the mainly Republican and conservative U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the case was one for the state courts and not the Federal court and sent it back to Judge Haden for dismissal. They knew what they were doing-elected state court judges are more heavily influenced by coal company campaign donations than life-time appointed federal judges. The ruling by Judge Haden stated the obvious truth that the rule that strip mining could not be done within 100 feet of perennial or intermittent streams meant they could not be buried in hundreds of feet of coal mine waste.

The second Bush administration granted Arch Coal the mountain top removal permit in Pigeonroost Hollow next to the Weekly home. It would be the largest-ever strip mine in West Virginia and would dump a valley fill almost on top of the Weekly home. Under Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to revoke that permit (called Spruce #1/Pigeonroost Hollow) and proposals have been made that will make valley fills almost impossible. However it will not stop mountain top removal that don’t have valley fills. That same Obama administration approved a mountain top removal strip mine called Hobet 45 that will mine through only 3.5 miles of streams instead of the original proposed seven miles. Obliterating 3.5 miles of streams is hardly an action worth praise even if it is just half as bad as it could have been.

Governor Joe Manchin, who was a coal broker, said West Virginia is an “extraction state”. When he first took office the slogans on West Virginia welcome signs said “Wild and Wonderful West Virginia”. Manchin changed that to “West Virginia, Open for Business”. Public outrage forced him to retreat and put the old slogan back up. We used to pride ourselves as “The Mountain State” not because our mountains can compete with the height of the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada but because the entire state is covered with hills and mountains of the Appalachian range. A friend said the Rockies are majestic but the Appalachians are personal. Our mountains are the most diverse temperate hardwood forest in the world.

As I write this, here in West Virginia, we just lost 29 coal miners to a preventable disaster of what is believed to have been a methane and coal dust explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch underground coal mine. Ken Ward, Charleston Gazette award winning reporter on coal and other environmental issues, wrote on April 9, 2010, that, “Parts or all of Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine were ordered closed more than 60 times in 2009 and 2010, and the mine was repeatedly cited in recent months for allowing potentially explosive coal dust to accumulate...” After hearing of the Big Branch explosion, Governor Manchin accepted a ride from Florida back to West Virginia in a Massey Energy corporate jet. In his first appearance before the press concerning the mine disaster, Manchin said, “…this kind of danger comes with the territory.”

Big Branch is a non-union mine or, like the coal industry public relations hacks like to euphemize, it is a “union-free” mine. Massey Energy is noted for being union-busters. Non-union companies like Massey are not noted for taking safety complaints from miners seriously. They are more noted for firing miners who refuse to work in unsafe conditions or who try to organize for a union. Right after the Massey Big Branch killing of 29 miners, CEO Don Blankenship commented to Diane Sawyer on national television that, “Anything in life has risks.”, and noted that 42,000 people get killed every year in highway accidents. A Charleston Gazette op-ed by John David told that Blankenship is so anti-union that he once parked an armored personnel carrier at a coal mine entrance to intimidate the miners-- “He wanted no part of safer unionized operations, since they come with mine safety committees and an experienced miner who tours the mines with inspectors at all times…”

My friend and labor historian, Wess Harris, reports that between 2006 and 2010 non-union mines had 73% more fatalities than union mines. The previous two mine disasters in West Virginia were both in non-union mines. Twelve men died and one survived carbon monoxide poisoning after a methane explosion at International Coal Group’s “union-free” Sago mine in January 2006. At Massey Energy’s “union free” Aracoma mine, also in January 2006, two miners suffocated from smoke inhalation after a conveyor belt caught on fire. Ventilating air was illegally diverted across the conveyor belt which sent smoke into the working area of the mine. The federal mine safety administration fined Massey a then-record $1.5 million for 25 violations that inspectors concluded contributed to the deaths of the two miners trapped in the Aracoma mine fire. The company later settled a lawsuit naming it, several subsidiaries and CEO Don Blankenship as defendants. Aracoma Coal Co. later paid fines of $2.5 million after the company pleaded guilty to 10 criminal charges in the fire.

Hot off the press-The FBI is investigating the Big Branch mine explosion and people in the know say they are looking into possible bribery of officials of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that inspects and regulates mining. The sources say the FBI agents are also exploring potential criminal negligence on the part of Massey Energy.

Massey Energy-The Beast of the Mountains

Massey Energy is the largest coal company in West Virginia and the central Appalachians. They operate both underground and strip mines. Massey made $104 million profit last year (2009). Some reports have it that Massey CEO Don Blankenship made $20 million in 2008.

In 2008 and 2009 Massey Energy was cited for 12,000 Clean Water Act violations-this was soon after Massey paid $20 million in fines to the Environmental Protection Agency for 60,000 separate Clean Water Act violations. To improve his chances in court appeals, CEO Don Blankenship bought himself a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice with expenditures of $3 million dollars in support of an unknown candidate who beat an incumbent, progressive, pro-labor justice. The U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the bought justice would have to recues himself from cases involving Massey Energy or CEO Don Blankenship. Spike Maynard, another West Virginia Supreme Court Justice, was photographed sharing a Monte Carlo vacation with Blankenship. To the credit of West Virginia voters this cost Maynard his court seat in the next election. Like every other state, West Virginia politics is sometimes weird. We once had a governor name of Wally Barron who was convicted and served prison time for bribing the head juror in a case where old’ Wally was being tried for bribery.

Spike Maynard (WV Supreme Court Justice) and Don Blankenship (Massey Energy CEO) Vacationing in Monte Carlo

Spike Maynard (WV Supreme Court Justice) and Don Blankenship (Massey Energy CEO) Vacationing in Monte Carlo

In 2000 a Massey coal slurry impoundment associated with mountain top removal strip mining, across the West Virginia border in Martin County, Kentucky, burst through into abandon underground mines and dumped 300 million gallons of toxic sludge down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River. Coldwater Fork, a ten-foot wide stream became a 100-yard expanse of thick black, toxic sludge. The spill was over five feet deep in places and covered nearby residents’ yards. It polluted hundreds of miles of the Big Sandy River and its tributaries and the Ohio River. Anthropomorphically, the news media reported that there were no fatalities when there must have been thousands of deaths among the aquatic wildlife that were covered with the toxic mess. The water supply for over 27,000 residents was contaminated. The spill was almost 30 times larger than the 12 million gallon Exxon Valdez oil spill. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the Kentucky disaster was one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the southeastern United States. Before the Clinton Administration report was finished, George W. Bush’s boys took over and sanitized the report. My friend Jack Spadaro, a U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation expert, was fired for refusing to sign on to the sanitized report that the Bush administration published. Massey was fined $5,000

Massey’s meanest offense was building a coal silo illegally within 300 feet of Marsh Fork Elementary School and putting a huge toxic sludge dam and lake right above the school. In that school I wiped my finger between the cinder blocks and my finger came back black with coal dust. The children were breathing that stuff.

Marsh Fork Elementary School and Coal Silo

Marsh Fork Elementary School and Coal Silo

Another breaking news story-The Annenberg foundation has donated $2.5 million toward building a new Marsh Fork Elementary school. The school will be located away from dangerous coal loading facilities and away from toxic sludge dams. The state School Building Authority, the Raleigh County Board of Education and Massey Energy are contributing an additional $6 million dollars. The people at Coal River Mountain Watch have been campaigning for a new, safely located school for six years. Their perseverance paid off.

Bill Price of the Sierra Club said “Led by the residents of the Coal River Valley, supported by environmental, community and human rights groups and celebrities, the “powers that be” were no match against dedicated and persistent people. WAY TO GO EVERYONE. When the history of the movement against mountaintop removal is written, the victory at Marsh Fork will be remembered as a key moment. Celebrate….celebrate….power to the people!”

Grandfather Ed Wiley walked from Charleston, West Virginia to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to the unsafe and unhealthy school his granddaughter was attending. He also parked himself on the West Virginia Capitol steps until governor Manchin finally asked him in to his office to talk.

Bo Webb of the Coal River Mountain Watch said six years ago, “This can be won, we will get a new school.”

Looking For A Beer Joint in Durbin

I was looking for a beer joint in the little town of Durbin in beautiful Pocahontas County, West Virginia. It was not long after the Aracoma mine deaths. I had been attending a West Virginia Highlands Conservancy board meeting nearby and was looking for a place to watch West Virginia University play the University of Pittsburgh in football. In the only beer joint in town I shared a table with some underground union coal miners who were members of a mine rescue team. They were on a fishing trip after having been part of the mine rescue effort at the Aracoma mine. I told them I was a member of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and that one of our efforts was to stop mountain top removal. They were from an area of West Virginia that doesn’t have mountain top removal. One of the miners told me he had read about mountain top removal in National Geographic and that it was the worst thing he had ever heard of. He gave me one of their mine rescue ball caps and a twenty dollar donation to the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. He promised to get more directly involved after he retired. Many underground miners do not like mountain top removal because underground mines have been closed in favor of hiring fewer workers needed in mountain top removal and because of the destruction of hunting and fishing habitat and some simply love the beauty of our mountains.

Jobs

Coal industry public relations shills claim the industry creates jobs. Since the early 1940’s, when my dad was an underground coal miner, the mining jobs in West Virginia have decreased from 125,000 to less than 20,000. As my friend Larry Gibson says, if that is creating jobs he hopes they will stop pretty soon. The decrease in coal mining jobs is a result of mechanization in underground mining and mountain top removal strip mining. Of the 17,000 or so miners in West Virginia about 4,000 are working in mountain top removal mines and of those only around 500 are members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Massey and Arch coal have succeeded in busting the union to where the UMWA has more retired members than active miners. There are more school teachers in West Virginia than coal miners.

Brave People

Larry Gibson is one of the several brave people I have met who live right in the middle of the destruction of mountain top removal and are fighting back. Larry saved fifty acres on Kayford Mountain from the destruction of mountain top removal. He formed a land trust with his relatives and preserved their homeplace land and cemetery. Those fifty acres are surrounded by thousands of acres of mountain top removal strip mines. He has withstood multiple threats and acts of vandalism and violence. In 1999 Larry and I walked across West Virginia carrying signs that said “Stop Mountain Top Removal” We met with TV, radio and newspaper reporters at stops along the way. More about Larry at mountainkeeper.org.

Two other brave people, of the many who fight back on a daily basis, are Judy Bonds and Maria Gunnoe both of whom won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award for their dedicated efforts to stop mountain top removal. Judy Bonds is director of the Coal River Mountain Watch in Whitesville, West Virginia. Judy organizes locally and travels the country educating folks about the destruction of her homeland. Maria Gunnoe is a community organizer and like Judy travels the country sounding the alarm. Her front yard was washed away and her barn knocked off its foundation by flood waters caused by mountain top removal above her fourth generation home.

Maria Gunnoe's Home

Maria Gunnoe’s Home

Maria Gunnoe's Home After Flood Waters From Mountain Top Removal Wiped Out Her Yard

Maria Gunnoe’s Home After Flood Waters
From Mountain Top Removal Wiped Out Her Yard

Mountain Top Removal Above Maria Gunnoe's Home

Mountain Top Removal Above Maria Gunnoe’s Home.

Cindy Rank, former president of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and current chair of the WVHC mining committee, has been fighting against strip mining since it threatened her home and stream in 1979. The pristine stream she protected furnishes her and her husband untreated drinking water-I wonder where else in this world can water be safely drunk right out of the stream. In a recent Highlands Voice, Cindy reported the conclusions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development:

*Burial of headwater streams by valley fills causes permanent loss of ecosystems; *Concentrations of salts as measured by conductivity are, on average, 10 times higher downstream of mountaintop mines and valley fills than in un-mined watersheds;

*The increased levels of salts disrupt the life cycle of freshwater aquatic organisms and some cannot live in these waters;

*Water with high salt concentrations downstream of mountain top mines and valley fills is toxic to stream organisms.

*To date, there is no evidence that streams that undergo a restoration process have returned to their normal ecological functions after the mining is completed.

Patricia Bragg’s name is on the first decision handed down by Judge Haden. It is the Robertson vs Bragg case. Patricia and Vicky Moore courageously took on coal companies and helped others get organized to do the same. Ed Wiley and Bo Webb were already mentioned in relation to the new Marsh Fork Elementary School. Frieda Williams, whose late husband was a miner and strong union member was a founder of Coal River Mountain Watch. Patty Seebok and Lorelei Scarbro have carried on great work for Coal River Mountain Watch.

Judy, Maria, Larry, Cindy, Patricia, Vicky, Ed, Bo, Frieda, Patty, Lorelei and Bill are just twelve of the many heroes in this battle to save our mountains in West Virginia.

Health Impacts of Coal

Health costs are just one of the many hidden costs of what the industry billboards call “clean” coal. West Virginia University research shows that as coal production increases so do rates of major health problems. Death by cancer is more likely if a person lives near a stream polluted by coal mining and the worst polluted streams were in close proximity of mountain top removal and other forms of strip mining. The WVU researchers claim that the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its benefits. A Physicians for Social Responsibility study claims that coal pollutants damage every major organ in the human body and contribute to four of the top five leading causes of death in the United States. I read a couple of years ago that the medical school at Indiana University found that 5 billion dollars per year is spent in Indiana on coal related illnesses.

Selenium pollution from mountain top removal mine valley fills is poisoning downstream fish. Larval fish samples in the Upper Mud River Lake showed 10% with two eyes on one side of the head, and others with curved spines. That lake is downstream from major mountain top removal operations. Streams that are not below mountain top removal show negligible effects of selenium poisoning on fish larvae. Because of selenium pollution, the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health warned people to limit themselves to one meal per month of fish caught in two lakes and one stream.

High levels of mercury have caused West Virginia officials to warn people not to eat more than two meals per month of rock bass from any stream or lake in the state. The burning of coal in electric power plants is a major source of mercury in the environment.

A Brief History

World War II dramatically increased the demand for coal and made strip mining a profitable business. In 1939 Legislation was introduced in the West Virginia Legislature to put controls on strip mining. This was mainly at the request of underground mining coal company owners who feared competition from the cheaper less labor-intensive strip mined coal.

Eastern Kentucky citizens were opposing strip mining in the 1950s. The best known of the organizations that formed to fight for a ban on strip mining was the Appalachian Group to Save the Land and People (AGSLP). At first anti-stripmine groups tried all the legal avenues but finally realized they were not going to get a ban on strip mining that way. They took to direct action, sitting down in front of bull dozers, sniping at strip mine workers and dynamiting earth moving equipment on strip mine sites.

Matters came to a head in 1965 in Clear Creek Valley, Kentucky, when strip miners reached the land of Dan Gibson’s step-son who was serving in Vietnam at the time. Mr. Gibson took his .22 rifle and forced the coal company employees off the land. After getting a promise that the coal company would not cross onto his step-son’s land Mr. Gibson agreed to be arrested. Soon after his arrest the jail was surrounded by armed men demanding his release. The charges were dropped and Gibson was let go. The next morning the bulldozers were greeted by what company lawyers called a “big gang of outlaws” composed mostly of elderly men and women, some of whom were armed. The bulldozers did not cross onto the Gibson property, ever. A short time later Ollie Combs gained national attention when she and her two sons sat down in the scoop of a strip mine bulldozer to stop stripping on her land in Honey Gap, Kentucky. “Widow” Combs was arrested and pictured nationally eating Thanksgiving dinner in jail. Her resistance caused Kentucky Governor Breathitt to revoke the permit to mine on the Combs land.

In 1967 residents of southern West Virginia counties and a few Appalachian Volunteers and VISTA members organized a movement called Citizens Task Force on Surface Mining (CTFSM). A 1967 regulatory act met most of the demands of CTFSM but the agencies responsible for enforcing the act failed to do so and the amount of unreclaimed land actually increased. By 1971 the strippers had disturbed 250,000 acres of land.

There was a movement to ban strip mining in West Virginia. In 1971, Si Galperin, a Kanawha County legislator, introduced a bill into the state legislature to completely abolish strip mining. During the legislative session, the Surface Mine and Reclamation Association effectively saturated the state with ads where “just plain folks” talked about the hardships they'd face if “the politicians” abolished strip mining. The ads were effective. The Galperin bill never got out of committee. Instead, the legislature adopted a moratorium on strip mining in 22 of West Virginia’s 55 counties and a few years later it was rescinded.

In 1971, five hundred citizens and then West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler gathered to protest the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) permit for a strip mine near Cooper’s Rock State Forest. In a matter of days after the protest, Governor Arch Moore revoked the permit. A similar protest had been held earlier that year in Braxton County, when citizens successfully campaigned for revocation of a permit to strip mine near Sutton Lake.

Rockefeller

The anti-strip mining forces reached such a pitch in 1971 that then Secretary of State Jay Rockefeller, a strip mine abolitionist, financed Citizen’s to Abolish Strip Mining (CASM) and predicted that West Virginia would outlaw strip mining within three or four years. Rockefeller said, “We know that strip mining is tearing up the beauty of our state. We know that strip mining is not a good economic future for West Virginia and not a good economic future for our children. And we know that, whatever advantage it has now, the damage that it leaves is a permanent damage….Strip-mining must be abolished because of its effect on those who have given most to the cause-the many West Virginians who have suffered actual destruction of their homes; those who have put up with flooding, mud slides, cracked foundations, destruction of neighborhoods, decreases in property values, the loss of fishing and hunting, and the beauty of the hills…”

Rockefeller ran for governor of West Virginia in 1972 and was defeated by a combination of coal company money and betrayal by southern West Virginia Democratic Party leaders. He ran again in 1976 and was elected. His commitment to principle is shown in these two statements:

December 20, 1970--"I will fight for the abolition of strip mining completely and forever.” John D. Rockefeller IV while running for governor of West Virginia as a strip-mine abolitionist.

March 12, 1977-- “...mountaintop removal should certainly be encouraged, if not specifically dictated.” Governor Rockefeller’s testimony to the U. S. Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources, March 12, 1977.

After getting beat by Republican Arch Moore in 1972, Rockefeller followed the advice of his advisors and changed his mind on strip mining and on attacking corrupt politicians in southern WV. He won the following election for Governor as an advocate of strip mining and had shut up about corruption.

Some ironies--Rockefeller got his start as a sort of social worker in my birthplace of Emmons, West Virginia. I had his campaign bumper sticker on my truck the first time he ran for Governor. I and many others never forgot the betrayal. He sold out for a political career. Would that he had donated, to environmental groups in WV, the $24 million he has spent on getting elected and $6 million he spent on his home in DC (not to mention his 2000 acre estate in Pocahontas County) The Ashford-Emmons area where Rockefeller first came to West Virginia and worked as a volunteer community organizer is now being destroyed by mountain top removal.

In 1972, DNR agreed to study strip mine applications more carefully after citizens and Congressman Ken Hechler charged that strip mining in Mingo, McDowell, Logan, and Wyoming counties greatly exacerbated August flood damages and resulted in $6.9 million of losses. A reporter asked Ralph Nader if Congressman Hechler was the best in Congress on the environment. Nader answered that he was not only the best, he was the only one.

As one of the original strip mine abolitionists, West Virginia Congressman Ken Hechler knew that strip mining cannot be regulated. Coal companies and regulators know all the loopholes to get around strip mine laws. Future Republican administrations will probably look the other way as did George W. Bush’s cast of coal industry officials who were keepers of the environmental regulations. To quote Vernon Haltom of the Coal River Mountain Watch, “Regardless of how clear and strict the rules of the game are, they're useless if the referee is at the concession stand.”

Beginning as early as 1967 members of these organizations have been in the fight for the people, mountains, streams and wildlife of the Appalachian Mountains and against mountain top removal and other forms of strip mining: Citizen Against Strip Mining; Save Our Mountains; The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy; Friends of the Little Kanawha; Mountain Stream Monitors; Trout Unlimited; West Virginia Organizing Project; the West Virginia Rivers Coalition; Coal River Mountain Watch and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in West Virginia; Kentuckians For The Commonwealth; Save Our Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee; Appalachian Voices in North Carolina; Appalachian Mountain Stewards in southwestern Virginia; The Sierra Club has recently become active in the entire region. These groups have organized communities and brought several lawsuits in trying to force regulators to enforce mountain top removal and clean water regulations. Victories in most of the lawsuits were overturned by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

More recently these organizations have joined the battle against mountain top removal: Mountain Top Removal Road Show, Sludge Safety Project has been lobbying for tighter laws on regulating coal sludge dams and ponds; Pennies for the Promise has raised money to build a new Marsh Fork Elementary School, Climate Change Ground Zero has done direct action including chaining themselves to draglines and other equipment and tree sitting. Christians For The Mountains is calling on the faith community to get involved; Mountain Justice recruits young people to come to West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee and do direct action.

A statement by James Reilly, vice-president of Consolidation Coal Company back in the 1970s, should give an idea of the mindset of coal company leaders toward people who want to preserve our mountains and streams. Reilly drew loud applause from an audience of coal operators when he declared, “These conservationists who demand a better job of land reclamation are stupid idiots, socialists and commies who don’t know what they're talking about. I think it’s our bounden duty to knock them down and subject them to the ridicule they deserve.”

The current CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, has referred to opponents of mountain top removal strip mining as “greeniacs” and “treehuggers”. I embrace both designations.

For excellent reporting on coal mining issues log on to Charleston Gazette award winning reporter Ken Ward’s blog Coal Tattoo at http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/

For more history on the early resistance to strip mining in the Appalachians consult to save the land and people by Chad Montrie University of North Carolina Press, and Harry Caudill’s My Land Is Dying New York: E.P. Dutton, 1973. Also see Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area ; Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1963.)

To find contact information for the groups fighting mountain top removal log on to friendsofthemountains.org and allianceforappalachia.org

What You Can Do

Please Contact your U.S.Representative and U.S. Senators about: The Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1310)

The Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1310) is a bill in the US House of Representatives which will sharply reduce mountaintop removal coal mining and protect clean drinking water for many of our nation’s cities. It will protect the quality of life for Appalachian coalfield residents who face frequent catastrophic flooding and pollution or loss of drinking water as a result of mountaintop removal coal mining.

Please contact your representative today and ask them to become a cosponsor!

Contact information for your Representative is at https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

The Appalachia Restoration Act (S 696)

Introduced by Senator Cardin, Maryland and Senator Alexander TN

Two U.S. senators from coal-producing states introduced bipartisan legislation that would protect Appalachia from mountaintop removal coal mining.

The Appalachia Restoration Act (S 696), introduced by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), would amend the Clean Water Act to prevent the dumping of toxic mining waste from mountaintop removal coal mining into headwater streams and rivers.

Contact information for U.S. Senators at:
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

And Join the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy at WVHighlands.org

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Environmental Threatens Environmental

The Charleston Gazette
June 30, 2010

It is curious that Randy Huffman was threatening the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for wanting to protect the environment. The Gazette reported that the EPA wants to “prevent irreversible damage to Appalachian watersheds at risk from mining.’ The Gazette goes on to say “EPA says burying streams increases salt levels in waterways downstream, hurting fish and other aquatic life. It says its new standards would protect 95 percent of aquatic life.’ An agitated Huffman counter threatened with “I can promise you there will be much that will be said [by the EPA]…that will be held against them later.’  Huffman has threatened to sue EPA for what appears to be their desire to protect the environment.

Quoting from  Bo Webb in the Spring 2010 Messenger,  the Coal River Mountain Watch newsletter, Governor Manchin talked about “How tough a job Secretary Randy Huffman had at the WV Department of Environmental Protection in trying to keep strip miners working….I didn´t know that the Secretary of Environmental Protection was also the mountaintop removal strip miner Czar…I thought the Secretary of the WV Department of Environmental Protection´s job was to protect our environment and communities from industry abuses.’

Randy Huffman is supposed to be the Director of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). It is not his job to save strip mining jobs or to go against tougher federal legislation. His job is to accept tougher regulations that just might save what is left of our mountains and streams. Is he supposed to be a spokesperson or foot dragger in service to the coal industry? Or is he supposed to be an advocate for the environment?

It is Alice in Wonderland West Virginia when the head of the Department of Environmental Protection threatens to sue a federal agency for doing what he is supposed to do. Whose side is he on? Obviously the DEP is still as his predecessor said, “A permitting agency’ and not a permit evaluation agency. That predecessor was once asked if DEP had ever turned down a strip mining permit and she couldn´t think of one.

Someday the coal companies will decide to let whoever is governor end Huffman´s career as a functioning director of the WV Coal Association. The coal companies will probably reward him with a high paying job as a lobbyist and spinner of strange made-up “facts’. They may not want to do that very soon because right now the coal companies have an employee paid by West Virginia taxpayers.

West Virginia has had a long list of governors, dating back at least to Jay Rockefeller, whose spines disappeared in the face of possible revenge from the coal industry. And does anyone remember any head of the DEP and before that the DNR who protected the environment against coal company predators?

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People Change

The Charleston Gazette
July 3, 2010

In the spring of 1954 the front page of the Charleston Gazette announced the Supreme Court ruling that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional and would be integrated. My reaction was “It will never work here.’ As a senior at St. Albans High School I had attended segregated schools all my life. The kids who lived two blocks away were bused 12 miles to Garnet High School in Charleston and I knew it was because they were “colored’. I don´t know what made me think integration wouldn´t work here. For me St. Albans was a safe and happy place. I lived at the end of C Street and I knew some of the “colored’ boys who lived two blocks away on A Street. In the summer we played baseball and sometimes in the evening we sat together on the outfield fence to watch the men´s softball league games. We even discussed racism but not school integration.

Less than a year later, while a student at West Virginia University, I attended a YMCA national convention at the University of Kansas. A student from Kansas State University extended his hand and said “I´m Arch Rich.’ I don´t know if my hesitation was noticeable but for the first time in my life I shook hands with an African-American. Arch and I became buddies and hung out together for the rest of the conference. Since then I have worked on ridding myself of racial prejudice. It is not easy, maybe not possible, to recover from the subtle and not so subtle racist messages our society sends.

I tell this story as a reminder that people can change. Robert Byrd went from a rabid racist to an advocate of civil rights. He had deeper feelings to overcome than I did—in the 1940´s he referred to African-Americans as mongrels. In the mid-fifties I heard him say in a speech at a Baptist Church in Morgantown that he was proud to have been a member of the Klan. I don´t know if Byrd would have changed if the political realities had not changed, had there been no Brown versus Topeka and had the southern Democratic senators continued to hold control over the Senate. And I don´t know how long it would have taken me to change had it not been for Arch Rich.

In August, 1964, news came that American ships had been attacked by North Vietnam torpedo boats. Vengefully I was in favor of bombing North Vietnam. After I learned the attack was a hoax to justify bombing North Vietnam, I became active in anti-war activities. I tell this story as a reminder again that people can change. Robert Byrd voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which gave Lyndon Johnson the permission he needed to escalate the war. Recently Byrd said that vote was one of his biggest mistakes. He opposed the invasion of Iraq for the same reasons he wished he had not voted for the Vietnam War.

Byrd denounced Judge Haden for his 1999 ruling against valley fills. In May of last year Byrd said this: “The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land. If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.’

Robert Byrd came a long way. I hope our governor and our other senator paid attention.

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Byrdman

Published on Facebook and Submitted to the Highlands Voice and the Charleston Gazette
June 30, 2010

In 1967, West Virginia University awarded West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd an honorary doctorate. Members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and I felt that this former Ku Klux Klan organizer didn´t deserve the honor. The University was kissing Byrd´s ass to get more federal money. His name was on just about everything by then. I was foreign student advisor and also had the impressive title of Assistant Director of Student Educational Services.

“They” didn´t learn with Governors and convicted felons (1)Arch Moore and (2)Wally Barron that it is better to wait and see which prison the guy goes to before building statues and naming streets, courthouses and schools after him. You have got to love that bust of Moore in the Cultural Center. He sure thought the place was his. The first event that took place in Archie´s bunker was closed to the easants. He shut it down like an Argentine dictator and held his daughter´s wedding. It was by invitation only. The public was shut out.

Byrd hasn´t seemed to be seeking personal wealth, but the idea that, if he gets money directed toward a particular project, they just might immortalize him by putting his name on it, smells of corruption. If only he had the grace of former Kansas Senator Nancy Katzenbaum. When it was proposed that a stretch of highway in Kansas be named after her, she declined, saying that she didn´t want anything named after her, especially a stretch of pavement.

In Cuba, it is against the law to name anything after a living person. When I was there in 1969, there was nothing in Cuba named after Castro or any other living politician or person. West Virginia is perhaps not as enlightened as Cuba. Our brown-nosing grovelers fall all over themselves in eagerness to build graven images of Byrdman. The genuine good works that have been done in West Virginia to preserve the environment and try to moderate the evils of the coal industry and over-development have been accomplished in spite of Byrd and his ilk.

_______________________

1.Three term Govenor Arch Moore was convicted of lying and stealing and sentenced to prison.
2.Governor Wally Barron was convicted of bribery when he bribed the head juror in the Governor's bribery trial.

In 1979, some of us Lincoln County residents organized Pennzoil Natural Gas customers against the rate increases that the Public Service Commission kept handing out. We went to the state capitol to do some lobbying and some hell- raising. We were having lunch in the basement cafeteria. Senator Byrd walked in with an entourage of shameless obsequious sycophants [I have always wanted to put those words together]. He seemed to suddenly remember that it was an election year and started in his awkward manner going from table to table, shaking hands. I was at a table with several people, most of them from the upper Kanawha Valley. Byrd walked toward our table. I had never admired him, and I wondered what I was going to do when he reached out to shake my hand. When he came to me, as we shook hands, I said, audible only to those at our table, “I have never had much respect for you.’ Byrd looked as if he had been shot. He backed away from our table, pointed at me and stammered “I know your type. I´ve met your type before.’ He fled across the room and didn´t risk any more handshakes.

It was scary to think that a man who at that time was Senate Majority Leader couldn´t handle that situation better. He had the power to help start a nuclear war, but he couldn´t deal with a long-haired, bearded man in his own home state capitol.

Maybe Byrd remembered me from Morgantown, when he was there to receive the honorary doctorate. WVU had an acting president after the capable Paul Miller resigned. The acting president and his Chamber of Commerce kin were taking Byrd around to view all the things he had made possible with his skill at the pork barrel. At every stop, the SDS and I greeted the group with signs objecting to giving this Klan organizer the University´s highest honor.

When the acting president saw me, he turned what writers often call “ashen gray’ and looked like he might get sick. I was obviously out of control. He would cure that.

Former University President Paul Miller, who by then was an assistant Secretary of Education in Washington, D.C., was sent to Byrd´s coronation to represent the federal government. Miller had signed off on hiring me at WVU and more than once encouraged me to be bold, once saying “I like young Turks.’ His new wife and her children walked with him toward the graduation ceremony. He saw me in the picket line against Byrd, stopped, shook my hand, and introduced his new family. The Associated Press photographer took a picture of us shaking hands—with that picket sign in my other hand. A friend on the student newspaper staff told me the AP people were warned that if they used that picture, they would never get another story from the University.

One week later, I was invited to a meeting with the university financial people. They wanted to know why they shouldn´t close International House since it wasn´t supporting itself. Pointing out that hardly anything at WVU was self- supporting didn´t cause them to look up from their figures. Going by their standards, only the football team would be left. But, they had their orders and just needed to go through the motions.

My boss refused the acting president´s request that he fire me. International House was closed and I was banished, with no annual pay raise, to a windowless balcony in the old Mountainlair which was a large Navy-surplus dining hall in the hollow behind the old Mountaineer Field.

Apologists for Byrd have portrayed him as having reformed since the days when he was the organizer for the Klan in southern West Virginia and when he would gratuitously enter into the Congressional Record all the negative data he could scrape off the bottom of his intellectual barrel about African-Americans living in the District of Columbia. As a student at WVU in the 1950s, I heard Byrd give a speech at the First Baptist Church on High Street. Byrd, ever reminding his audiences that he was a holy man, pounded the Bible to illustrate that, like an anvil, it had withstood the hammers of time. After the speech, an old guy in the back of the chapel made a statement about the KKK. Byrd admitted he had been a member of the Klan and that the Charleston Gazette had exposed this and tried to ruin him with it. He went on to say that he was proud to have been a member of the Klan. However, the blatant racist power in the Democratic Senate gave way to more moderate influences, and Byrd slid right into the twenty-first century, not one step ahead or behind the prevailing spirit.

I more recently heard Byrd speaking on so-called public radio. It was the twentieth century Byrd, not quite to his welcome twenty-first century stand against the Iraq War. And it wasn't the Byrd that the Charleston Gazette made fun of for wearing baggy suits in his early days at the state legislature. He was telling Congress of the need for straight roads in West Virginia. He lamented the crooked roads that follow creek and river bottoms. He didn´t see the value in them being picturesque or in going past locally owned businesses. He wanted our poor citizens to be able to travel on them big ol‘ four lanes that go straight through everything. Of course, he didn´t mention that the coal and timber trucks would have an easier time of carrying the state away to our lords in other states. Neither did he mention that the sons and daughters of those lords in other states could more readily get to our few remaining natural wonders.

In his story The Bear, William Faulkner observed that the two-lane hardtops being built into the Mississippi wilderness would destroy what was worth seeing or feeling in the first place. It´s like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle--looking at something changes it.  During a speech opening a portion of a boondoggle highway called Corridor H, Byrd swept his arm toward the mountains behind him and spoke of them in his grandiose style not noticing he was drawing attention to a mountain that had been strip-mined.

Byrd was concerned about the average citizen and his struggle in getting to the mall. But, more than that, he was probably looking over his shoulder at campaign support from the highway construction companies and votes he would get for creating construction jobs. Senator Byrd and the Snopes family: moving right along into the twenty-first century.

Author´s  update—Byrd has recently redeemed himself. He has apologized for his racism and for voting for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. He was the only Senator to oppose the Iraq War.

In May of 2010 Byrd wrote that “The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land. If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.’

Other excerpts from recent statements that reveal Byrd´s amazing change of attitude:

“In recent years, West Virginia has seen record high coal production and record low coal employment ... The increased use of mountaintop removal mining means that fewer miners are needed to meet company production goals.’

“It is also a reality that the practice of mountaintop removal mining has a diminishing constituency in Washington. It is not a widespread method of mining, with its use confined to only three states.  Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens. West Virginians may demonstrate anger toward the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over mountaintop removal mining, but we risk the very probable consequence of shouting ourselves out of any productive dialogue with EPA and our adversaries in the Congress.’

“Some have even suggested that coal state representatives in Washington should block any advancement of national health care reform legislation until the coal industry´s demands are met by the EPA. I believe that the notion of holding the health care of over 300 million Americans hostage in exchange for a handful of coal permits is beyond foolish; it is morally indefensible.  It is a non-starter, and puts the entire state of West Virginia and the coal industry in a terrible light.’

“To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say "deal me out." West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.’

 

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Peace Corps Memory

The Charleston Gazette
November 8, 2010

The Peace Corps was a wonderful experience for me. I learned more in those two years among the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria than any other period of my life. In this fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps I wonder if any of my friends and former students are still alive.

I left Nigeria in late 1963. In 1966 there was a coup and then a counter-coup and the murder of an estimated 30,000 Igbos who lived in the Northern Region of Nigeria. Surviving Igbos fled back home to the Eastern Region. They seceded from Nigeria and formed a new nation called Biafra. The civil war that ensued lasted from May 1967 until the defeat of Biafra in January 1970.

The oil reserves in Biafra attracted a strange mixture of bed fellows to the war. France and China sided with Biafra. Britain and Russia supported the Federal government. Mercenaries from several nations rushed in to make money flying supplies into Biafra. The U.S. didn't publicly take sides but by not recognizing Biafra we were defacto on the side of the Nigerian government.

From somewhere I learned that Egyptian mercenaries flew MIG jets for the Federal government and bombed every hospital and major market place in Biafra. And I don't remember how I came to know it or even if it is true, but an account got to me that a five hundred pound bomb was dropped on the market place in Okofia, not far from where I lived and taught.

I don't know if the war killed or wounded any of my students and friends among the staff at Abbot School or Augustine Okemadu the school carpenter or Emanuel Obiako Anyaduigwu our cook.

I wonder if the brilliant Edwin Igbozurike survived the horror. In my chemistry class Edwin, who grew up living in a mud hut with no electricity or running water, calculated from his experimental data the equivalent weight of copper.

Did Johnny Ikegwounu make it? He was an exceptional athlete on my track team who, at five feet eight inches tall, high jumped six feet with no coaching. And what happened to my good friends and fellow teachers at Abbot Secondary School: John Okorie Nwosu, Amaraegbu Assic Olumba, Adolphus Amakamara and their families I was priviledged to meet?

I recall showing a film in my home of John Kennedy's inauguration. I heard my friend John Okorie Nwosu repeating from memory the inauguration speech word for word and simultaneously with Kennedy on the screen.

America had great political capital back then. Coming home, my wife and I were celebrated by Egyptians, Greeks and Russians. In Russia the maids in our hotel were weeping as they watched the funeral of President Kennedy on television.

Six years after I returned to West Virginia this letter arrived from a former student:

Dear Sir,
I entered University in 1966 to study chemistry and could finish a year only before the Nigerians started their plan to exterminate us. We could not fold our arms but took up arms in self defence. Because of the support being given to them by Russia and Britain we were being bombed even in our market places and private dwellings. With these we have to put up and at the field we have decided to resist till the last man. It is only heart breaking that much destruction has been caused.

All of us are engaged one way or another in winning the war. I hope public opinion in the United States is on our side. We discarded most English ways to embrace Americans as Peace Corps and your dress, the industrious habit you inculcated in us are still with us. We very well remember how you stayed up without siesta to solve chemistry problems for us, the chemistry books donated on our behalf by your people.

Yours obediently Sir,
Hilary Igwe

The happy face of Hilary Igwe is still clear in my mind. I hope he survived the war. Many Igbos died and now the Federal government controls the oil in Niger River delta of southeastern Nigeria. Shell-BP and other foreign oil companies are contaminating the Niger delta with oil spills and all the debris and liter that go with oil drilling.

The oil boom has turned the town of Port Harcourt into a wild-west city of bars and prostitution. Eight Ogone men, including author Ken Osiweri, who led resistance to the oil industry's destruction of their homeland, were hanged by the Federal government.

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What Do You Think of the Queen?

Friends of Nigeria Newsletter
Winter, 2010

My first evening in Okofia, two miles down the road from Ihiala, I had supper with the priests. We were served by two obsequious "house boys". These two men of God, who took a vow of poverty, had a cook, two houseboys, a large refrigerator, a new Puegot and a fine, well furnished house and were served three meals a day and tea and cookies twice a day. It was not how missionaries were depicted in Reader's Digest. The priests' vow of humility was tested daily by the power to lord it over, abuse and degrade the hired help and the three hundred teen-age boys under their control. They failed the test.

"What balance," the assistant headmaster priest marveled as he watched me lift food with the fork tines up. I watched them cut their food with a knife and fork and then push it with the knife up on the back of the fork, tines down.

"What do American's think of the queen, Julian?" Assistant Headmaster asked. I didn't know at first which queen he was talking about. I had no knowledge of the brutal British treatment of the Irish, had never heard of the black and tans nor Michael Collins. "No Irish nor dogs need apply," was how some British considered the Irish. It probably disappointed the priest to learn that Americans seldom mentioned the Queen.

"What about the cowboys, Julian?"

Assistant Headmaster was as ignorant about cowboys as I was about the "Black and Tans". He thought cowboys still drove cattle hundreds of miles and fought gun battles with one another. No briefer period of any nation's history has had so many movies made about its heroes and anti-heroes. Almost before the cowboys got started as a profession they were replaced by cattle-hauling trains. It was like telling a kid there is no Santa Claus. The priest wanted so much for the movies to be real. It was going to be a long two years.

Headmaster told me that he had hired Emanuel Obiako Anyaduigwu to cook for me and that I should pay him three pounds per month which was then about nine dollars. I was stunned by the low wage and being a union coal miners son immediately doubled the amount, causing unforeseen consequences. The cook next door was fired when he asked his Indian "master" for a raise.

My Indian neighbor had picked up on the superior feelings of many of the Irish priests. I saw him imperiously call for his "house boy" to come and pick up a small box and carry it a short distance into the house.

The other Indian teacher was loved and respected by the Africans. He and his family attended a local church and were given a tumultuous welcome of dancing and singing in front of their house when they returned from their trip home to India.

Before I arrived some terrible thing had happened between the two Indian families. They were not speaking. I never learned why they were so cool to one another.

There were some pleasant conversations with my Indian neighbor but the other Indian teacher was more formal--I don't recall more than casual greetings and a few perfunctory exchanges. Indian neighbor was weak and gregarious, the other Indian was strong and private.

There were lots of Indian teachers in Igboland. They were on contract with the owners of the schools and were recruited from the mostly Christian state of Kerala. Christians in Kerala claim that the disciple Thomas carried the gospels to southern India.

Headmaster was in charge of hiring and firing and he, of course, hired Christians. I doubt if he knew that I was a fading Christian whom he would help fade clear out of sight, forever. Not eternal forever just the forever that would be my life.

I thanked the priests for dinner and walked across the school compound to my new home. It was a newly built cement block duplex with wood doors and window frames and a bam bam roof. I was the first inhabitant. The other half of the duplex was the school carpenter's shop.

*

The school electric generator was on from six until nine in the evening. When the lights went out after nine I lit my Aladdin lamp and started to read at the dining table. No one told me about sausage bugs. That was my name for them. They looked like miniature sausages with wings and they did suicide plunges toward my bright light. Their dying bodies covered the table. I went to bed.

Emanuel Obiako Anyaduigwu had neatly made up my bed. I had a manservant! It went against my proletarian upbringing. But what was I to do, fire him after Headmaster had landed him a cash paying job? And compared to Emanuel I was rich so I did what rich people do--hired a servant. My servant seldom wore shoes which caused his feet to be splayed and his legs were skinny as if he might have suffered from malnutrition as a youth.

I tucked in the mosquito net and tried to go to sleep. It was my first night alone in Nigeria.The fun had just started.

It was January and the Harmattan wind brought tiny sand particles from the Sahara in a cool haze to my sinuses as I lay awake in my new home. The wood in my house was green and it responded to the dry wind by making sounds like a machette crashing through the door. All over the house the wood was taking turns drying out and contracting with loud cracks.

To accompany the cracking wood, what sounded liked at least a hundred lizards decided to visit the attic side of my ceiling. It was the Nigerian lizard olympics. They were all running sprints, each in a different direction and I didn't know what they were. Were they rats or some exotic African animal? The training at UCLA did not prepare me for machetes crashing through the doors nor lizards happily chasing around and perhaps fornicating in my ceiling.

As if the sounds of the axe murderer and the lizards weren't enough to worry me, the women in the neighboring village started wailing a mournful chorus. The drums joined in. I knew for certain they were coming after me. I would not make it past my first night alone in Nigeria The story would be on every front page in the United States.

There was a night watchman who prowled the school compound. He was not an Igbo and was afraid of the dark and the Igbos. Every so often, he would let out a scream to bolster his courage and ward off the thieves and evil spirits of the night. I don't know if he was having fun with the new European or if it was just a coincidence that he chose to scream right outside my open window at the same time the machete murderer came through the door with drumming and wailing out back. And there was something in the ceiling. I think I passed out. The next thing I knew it was morning, sunny, bright and quiet outside. I was alive.

I found out later that the wailing and drums were people mourning because a baby had died in the village behind my house. They weren't coming after me. They had their own problems. And later that day what looked like hundreds of Lizards were jumping from under the roof eaves to escape the attic heat as the sun got higher in the sky. They returned that night and every night for two years.

*

After three weeks teaching chemistry I gave my students their first Chemistry test. In the Form 4 class, Edwin Igbozurike got a perfect score on the test--he was the only student who passed. I mentioned it to Headmaster that everyone but Edwin failed the test.

The next day Headmaster came to my class with a handful of canes and ordered the students, except for Edwin, to line up and file out the door. On the way out and on the way back in he grabbed each student by the hand, bent their fingers back and broke the canes on their stretched palms.

As he beat on their hands his face grew red and his eyes bulged. The canes, one at a time, disintegrated as he beat on my students. It was awful to watch. The students were in tears. I didn't want to teach in that unhappy environment. I felt like I was in a Charles Dickens novel. No beatings, please.

The following day I told the students that I didn't approve of what Headmaster had done and that I would never again tell him about low student test scores and I would not allow him to come to my class and beat them.

I discussed the beatings with John Nwosu, my best Nigerian friend and a tutor at Abbot. "I fear for the priests and nuns." John said in answer to my question of what would happen if things got unwound in Nigeria like they had in the Congo. He told me of the Irish nuns at a neighboring school punishing the students by making them stand on their knees in the mid-day sun for two or three hours at a time.

I once walked by a classroom where Headmaster was teaching. He must have been talking about a biblical character. I heard him say loudly and with disgust in his voice, "And why did she do it? Because she was a Jewess."

Too many of the Irish priests were stereotypes of the British imperialists in a movie I saw as a kid. I never quite knew what I was seeing except there were hundreds of disorganized black warriors after the obedient, organized, red-coated, spit and polish British soldiers. The black men died with drama but the proper British just fell over dead.

I need to keep in mind that Headmaster was good to me. He provided all the creature comforts I needed, hired me a cook and ordered anything I needed to teach my classes. After Joyce Carlson, also of Nigeria III, and I got married he loaned us a Volkswagen. He was considerate and kind to me and Joyce, but not to Africans.

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State Police Review Board

The Charleston Gazette, January 7, 2011

Policing the Police, the Gazette's recent series by Gary Harki, brought to mind an incident with the state police that happened thirty years ago.

I was a teacher at Duval High School in Lincoln County. My wife and I along with other members of Parents for Better Schools attended several Lincoln County Board of education meetings and questioned the way the board was spending its money. At one meeting I objected to a $2000 raise given to the brother-in-law of the superintendent of Lincoln County Schools, while teachers got nothing.

After the meeting just outside the board of education building the superintendent announced with his fists up that he would fight me. I turned toward him and the brother-in-law hit me in the side of the head. That blow jammed the metal rim of my glasses into my eyebrow, ripping a bloody seven-stitch cut. When he blindsided me he was a leader in the Lincoln County Democratic Party political machine. A few years later my attacker was sentenced to forty years in prison for murdering a teen-age boy in a Hamlin beer joint.

At the Hamlin State Police headquarters my wife and I told Sargent Andrew Galford that we wanted to file a complaint against my attacker but he kept delaying us about filing the complaint. Suddenly a pickup truck roared into the area in front of the door and two state policemen with assault rifles jumped out of the truck.

"Let's get out of here." I said to my wife and we headed for the door. Sargent Galford grabbed me from behind and threw me into a chair. He held my shoulder with one hand and doubled up his fist in front of my already bloodied face. He turned to the state cop, who was standing in the doorway with the assault rifle, and said, "He won't listen to anybody."

Up to that point there was no confrontation with Sargent Galford. We discussed nothing that could lead him to believe I wouldn't listen. We had gone to the state police headquarters of our own free will to file a complaint of assault and battery.

Lucky for us the two armed state policemen needed help with a hostage-taking situation in another part of the county. The police had to leave and as you can imagine we got out of there, too. Sargent Galford, who just moments before had his fist in my face, called to us to, "Come back tomorrow and file that complaint." We looked at him in disbelief.

We talked to a lawyer in Hamlin about the situation. He said, "Every time I have a teen-age client who has been arrested by the state police, either the teenager or an adult male relative has been beaten."

Another lawyer warned us to get out of town over the coming weekend. She said the state police were known to arrest people on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings and hold them at their mercy over the weekend because there were no justices of the peace available on weekends.

An accumulation of incidents resulted in an investigation of State Police brutality in Lincoln County. The investigator was a state cop from northern West Virginia. He was driven to our home by Sargent Galford, the same state cop who threw me in the chair at the Hamlin headquarters. Galford waited in front of our house with his cruiser motor running while we were being interviewed inside.

At one point during the interview the investigating officer defended Sargent Galford's actions. I became speechless. When I recovered I told him that he could depend on one thing--I would never call the state police again.

  Except for certain politicians, citizens have no control over the state police. When a state cop gets out of line and a citizen files a complaint, the police investigate themselves.

The state police work for the people of West Virginia. We need a way to control abusive behavior of our employees. Complaints should be investigated by a citizen review board. Few people trust an in-house investigation.

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It isn't radical to want to preserve mountains
Coal companies are the extremists in this scenario

The Charleston Daily Mail, January 14, 2011

In a Daily Mail article entitled "Bill Raney: Congress must rein in an arrogant EPA", Mr. Raney, President of the West Virginia Coal Association, invoked jobs and families five times. Not once did he mention the real reason for the massive destruction of our mountains--coal company profit.

Mr. Raney does not represent miners and their families. He represents coal companies that pay him to be their spokesperson. If the coal companies can make more money by replacing people with machines that is what they will do. They are in the business of making money not protecting jobs or families, as Raney would lead us to believe. Since my dad was an underground coal miner, coal companies have replaced 100,000 West Virginia coal mining jobs with machines.

Raney tries to divert our attention away from mountain top removal by accusing President Obama of being anti-coal and anti-business. For sure the EPA under President Obama is doing a better job of enforcing mountain top removal strip mining laws than did Bush the younger-this was not a difficult assignment. How can a president who bailed out Wall Street and General Motors qualify as anti-business?  Employees, executives and Political Action Committees of large corporations gave several million dollars to President Obama's campaign for president and his inauguration.

Patriot Coal's Hobet 45 strip mine in Lincoln County is a good example of what EPA is really doing. They allowed that permit to go ahead with "only" 3 miles of headwater streams filled in instead of six. To the EPA, it is ok for three miles of ecologically vital streams to be smothered in coal mining waste. Patriot coal will be able to mine 91% of the coal in their original permit. This doesn't sound like anti-coal or anti-business--it sounds very close to the Bush II administration.

Because we exhale carbon dioxide, Raney wrote, "How harmful could that be?" That question was aimed at an ignorant audience, which is bad aim since most editorial readers are not ignorant people. Every respected scientist knows that too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can cause serious climate change-none claim it isn't happening or that carbon dioxide is harmless.

Raney continues to try to hang the label of radical on those who want our mountains to be unmolested. But what could be more radical than blowing the mountain tops away in the mountain state?  Raney represents the radical, out of state, environmental extremists called coal companies.

Raney's article ridicules environmental justice as if he can't imagine that there are some silly people who want justice more than money.

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Tribute to Judy Bonds

The Highlands Voice, February, 2011

Judy Bonds was a real person. She lived a real life. She was not perfect and that is good news because it means all of us imperfect people can follow her example.

Judy joined the fight against mountain top removal strip mining the day her grandson yelled, "Mamaw, what is wrong with these fish." He was holding up dead fish from the creek running by their house in Marbow Hollow in Raleigh County, downstream from mountain top removal.

Judy understood that our environment is being attacked by people wanting to get rich from the destruction and she knew that the worst of it was happening right there where she lived--she was moved to do something about it.

Judy traveled the country sounding out warning about mountain top removal and was honored for her work with the 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize, often called the environmental Nobel Prize. In 2009, Utne Reader named her one of their "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World."

At the memorial for Judy her daughter said of her: "This woman educated herself. She became a volunteer at Coal River Mountain Watch while she worked several minimum-wage jobs. She was made fun of in her community, shunned by many neighbors. She armed herself with a protest sign, the truth and the purest of intentions."

Judy said this once:

"I'm tired of it. I'm not taking it anymore. We've got to stand together or we are going to lose everything and most of all our children will lose everything because they are the ones who are going to suffer. Cause let me tell you, not only are they running the bears and chipmunks out of the mountains they are running us out too. Have you thought about that? They're laughing at us as we run. They think we are stupid hillbillies. We are not stupid people. We are just live and let live people. We've always been that way. We've always thought that people would be as honest as we are and treat us the same way we treat them."

Of all people Calvin Coolidge said that nothing in the world can take the place of persistence--"Talent will not-nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not-unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not-the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

That was Judy Bonds, persistent and determined.

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Coal Companies Oppose OSM Rules

The Charleston Gazette, February, 2011

Coal Company's oppose OSM rules that would reduce the streams they can dump mine waste into from 71 miles a year to "only" 57 miles  and blow away "only" 26,000 acres a year instead of 33,000 acres. Over a ten year period they could destroy "only" 570 more miles of streams and destroy "only" 260,000 acres of our land. They want it all.

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Taming Democracy

The Charleston Gazette, April 3, 2011

A book by Terry Bouton beckoned me to take a look inside-- below the title Taming Democracy in small print  it claimed that the American Revolution had a troubled ending.

According to Bouton, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there was a counter-revolution after the revolutionary war. When the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the Constitution, America went from a democracy, the expected fruit of the revolution, to control by what Robert Morris approvingly called "moneyed people." Bouton writes that the second revolution replaced the more democratic Articles of Confederation with a constitution that concentrated the government in the hands of the rich.

Robert Morris, the wealthy banker who financed the Revolutionary War, organized the constitutional convention to replace the Articles of Confederation. The Articles gave too much power to the states and were too democratic for Morris and his protégé, Alexander Hamilton. Morris, Hamilton and others of the elite founders devised our present constitution with a strong central government whose laws take precedence over legislation passed by the states. In an unsuccessful attempt to ensure that the elite would maintain control, Hamilton even wanted the president and senators appointed for life.

The constitution we got from the elite founders gives the President and the Supreme Court vetoes over the feared democratic impulses of the House of Representatives and created a Senate to put brakes on those same impulses. Senators were to be appointed by state legislatures, which guaranteed a Senate composed of "moneyed people" and Senate terms of office were staggered to prevent a sudden revolutionary change. With it possible to vote out only a third of the rascals every two years, it would be hard to mount an overthrow of the "moneyed people" But that sword cuts both ways-without staggered terms the Senate would probably now be controlled by the Tea Party.

The Morris and Hamilton plan for the rich to control the United States was successful -- has there ever been a time when this country wasn't controlled by the rich? A reluctant candidate for Congress once told me it would take six million dollars to defeat Ms. Capito-guess where that kind of money comes from.

The failure of the West Virginia legislature to pass regulations on Marcellus Shale drilling could make one think the rich have our legislators by the pocket book, as might the sacrifice of our mountains and streams to the "moneyed people."

The Supreme Court's recent gift of unlimited money to back political ideas and candidates fulfilled the fears of those who favored the Articles of Confederation. With limitless corporate contributions we may never have a true populist leader elected to office.

It would be hard to predict what would have happened if the states rights Articles of Confederation had not been overthrown in favor of the founding elites' constitution. Could the Articles have prevented the "moneyed people" from taking over? With the states free to write their own laws, without a congressional or Supreme Court veto, would slavery still be with us? Without a strong executive and central government could a president unilaterally order the invasion and/or bombing of the Dominican Republic Vietnam, Libya, Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Serbia, Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Bouton, who has a PhD from Duke University, writes in the introduction that historians have long noted the founders' elitism, their disdain for democracy, and their desire to see power in the hands of "enlightened" gentlemen. He criticizes historians for downplaying as "relics of prerevolutionary thinking or else as a charming character flaw" such admissions by Robert Morris' that he and his fellow elite founders were trying to organize the interests of "moneyed men" so they could "open the Purses of the People" for themselves. And we have been told that popular notions of equality turned back elite attempts to concentrate wealth and power. "Such portraits distort our understanding of the Revolution as much as do all of the popular histories that make the elite founders seem more like gods than men."

This book takes a fresh look at the founding elite and their success at restoring the moneyed people to their pre-revolutionary power. Bouton says they stunted the "meaning and practice of democracy."

It may be that Appalachian fatalism we have been accused of to observe that money and feces float to the top in every political system. Heck, even county commissioners in my twenty-five year home of Lincoln County were often wealthy land owners.

Taming Democracy: "The People," the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. Oxford University Press, 2007

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Skinner By Trade

The Charleston Gazette, April 27, 2011

Guess who said, " I will fight for the abolition of strip mining completely and forever…We know that strip mining is not a good economic future for West Virginia. And we know that, whatever advantage it has now, the damage that it leaves is a permanent damage… Strip-mining must be abolished…"

And more recently in a Gazette op-ed, the same politician made similar declarations saying he will always fight for our miners, our jobs and our economic future. This time he was trying to justify a two year time out on EPA regulations and enforcement. Those regulations and enforcements are in line with what he once said he believed-to protect our land, water, wildlife and people from such ravages as strip mining.

In the Gazette op-ed he mentioned jobs four times and not once did he mention coal company profit-the Coal Association public relations hacks spin it the same way. In his political tenure the number of coal miner jobs have decreased dramatically. Much of that decrease was because of the mountain top removal strip mining that he has enthusiastically promoted since changing his mind about the meaning of forever.

Five years after promising to fight for the abolition of strip mining completely and forever, guess who told a U.S. Senate committee that mountain top removal strip mining should certainly be encouraged, if not specifically dictated?

By now you recognize Jay Rockefeller's flip-flop political rhetoric.

He used the oxy-moronic "clean coal" and "cleaner coal" in his op-ed. From birth to death coal is dirty. To see the first stage of the dirt, Rockefeller just needs to visit our common starting point in the Emmons/Ashford/Costa area of Big Coal River and witness the destruction of the area he once worked to save from poverty.

My ancestor saved our family farm in Emmons by telling a mister Skinner who wanted to buy mineral rights, "You are Skinner by name and skinner by trade but you won't skin old Isaac Barker."

Rockefeller got his start in Emmons as a successful and popular community organizer. The first time he ran for governor in 1972, I was raising organic vegetables on our Emmons home place. I put his campaign sticker on my pick up truck-I believed him when he said he would forever fight for the abolition of strip mining.

Rockefeller identified as a West Virginian and sounded good old boy tough as he groveled for coal's approval. As a fighter for the coal companies he claims to stand " shoulder to shoulder and on the front lines of some pretty tough fights." He just doesn't fit the image of a fighter--he qualifies more as a rich opportunist and out of state environmental extremist. What could be more environmentally extreme than blowing up the mountains in the mountain state? And what could be less West Virginian than to turn his back on the place that gave him his political birth? That place is now being, and some has already been, blown apart by mountain top removal strip mining.

Rockefeller said he will always fight for miners. Miners better watch out because the last time he used words like always and forever he was a skinner by trade.

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Hooray for Ms. Haden

The Charleston Daily Mail, July 7, 2011

A June 10, 2011 Daily Mail article entitled "Industry-provided material a concern: School board president questions fairness of coal industry's curriculum." was about a coal company program called CEDAR.

According to their website CEDAR's mission is, "…to facilitate the increase of knowledge and understanding of the many benefits the coal industry provides in daily lives by providing financial resources and coal education materials to implement its study in the school curriculum."

The many benefits the coal industry provides are key words in CEDAR's mission statement. The curricula for West Virginia Schools does not include promoting the "many benefits" of any industry. Promoting the "many benefits" qualifies CEDAR as one-sided propaganda and is not education.

Education about coal would include a United Mine Workers interpretation of coal mine accidents that have killed over 20,000 West Virginia coal miners. The Black Lung movement and the Miners for Democracy are among many naturals for inclusion in a valid educational program about coal.

Acid mine drainage, injecting coal sludge into the ground water, the Buffalo Creek disaster, the destruction of habitat of migrating song birds, the effect of blasting on people's homes and health, acid rain and selenium from valley fills that produce deformed fish is a short list that is best presented by scientists, environmental organizations and local residents, not coal companies.

WVU research documents that as county coal production increases rates of cardiopulmonary disease, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney disease increase-these "many benefits" of the coal industry would be included in a reasonable presentation on coal.

Historians and political scientists might want to contribute their understanding of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the murder of Sid Hatfield and Cesco Estep, child labor in coal mines and the political battles to pass safety, environmental, black lung and coal severance tax legislation.

The Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary exclaimed that "We'd really like this to be statewide, that it be mandatory in the schools that they learn about coal." Aw, yes, that's the ticket, the coal industry giving their one-sided presentation about coal in every classroom in the state.

Allowing the coal industry to dictate what is taught about coal is absurd. They don't even claim that they will make a balanced presentation, only one that tells of the "many benefits" of coal. So how did they get into the classrooms in the first place?

Included in the Daily Mail article was the informed observation of Priscilla Haden, State School Board President: "I want to make sure there are two sides to the story. I'm asking that we look at it and make sure that the other side is told and that this is truly a fair thing."

Hooray for Ms. Haden!

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Huey Elwood Hager and the Blair Mountain March

The Highlands Voice and the Charleston Gazette, July, 2011

I told my son about shuttling Blair Mountain marchers to their starting points on two days of the march. He reminded me that it is a family tradition-in 1921, his great grandpa Huey Hager shuttled the original marching union miners from Jeffrey to Blair Mountain. Another of my son's great grandfathers, Charlie Barker, and his Brother Kin, also answered the 1921 call to march on Blair to free the scabs.

Huey Hager told us that he was part of a group of miners who climbed Blair Mountain and ambushed and killed a Logan County mine guard who had been firing a Browning automatic rifle at them. For this, Logan County officials indicted Huey for murder.

And he told of arresting two men and John Chafin, notorious Logan County sheriff Don Chafin's brother. As a young man with a pistol held under his bib overalls he gave Chafin's group the choice of surrendering or facing 300 miners who had surrounded the house they were in. They choose to surrender and Huey took their guns. He was indicted for robbery for taking the guns.

After the battle was over Huey fled "far away" to Morgantown to escape the murder and robbery indictments. In Morgantown he started going by his middle name of Elwood and worked in a non-union mine. He had it unionized within a year. Huey told us that two African-American miners showed up at the mine, "They knowed me. I said I never saw you fellers before.They told me I had drove them up the holler from Jeffrey to Blair Mountain when they was down there for the fight against the scabs. Those fellers came all the way down from Pennsylvania to help us out."

This most recent march on Blair Mountain was the second re-enactment of the original march. West Virginia Highlands Conservancy members Ken Hechler, Andrew Maire and Cindy Rank, our mining chair, walked in the first re-enactment in 1999. That group was physically attacked on the first day by a mob that had driven from Logan County to Kanawha County.

This march was peaceful and met with support as well as hecklers along the way. The mayor of Marmet made the marchers feel welcome and the mayor of Madison filled their water tanks. I was impressed with the discipline, commitment to principle and non-violence of the marchers and their organizers. The ambiance of the march reminded me of the peaceful civil rights and anti-war demonstrations of the 1960's.

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Grandma Barker

The Charleston Gazette, July 3, 2011

Until Grandpa Charlie died, Grandma Barker never slept one night in a house by herself. And until her children joined the mountaineer diaspora she had not been much farther than Charleston. Once she did go to Cincinnati to visit the more adventuresome cousins who owned a hotel where couples rented rooms by the hour.

Grandma's only son, worked for an airlines as a ticket agent and baggage handler. Grandma flew anywhere in the world free of charge on her son's account. She went to Hawaii once on his free tickets and she declared it was the place for her. "I've hated bugs, snakes and mud all my life and they don't have any of those in Hawaii."

One afternoon I passed behind Grandma's chair and saw Roy Clark doing a bit part on a Real McCoys re-run. I was surprised to see a young and thin Clark.

"Why, that's Roy Clark." I said.

Grandma looked annoyed and informed me that, "It is not, that's their cousin". Oh my! Grandma thinks the television stories are real. That explains why she sent money to a TV evangelist who can cure arthritis but wears a crooked toupee over a bald head he can't cure.

Grandma trusted. If the sign said three cans of tuna for a dollar she got three and never checked to see if tuna was any cheaper that way. She never thought television would lie to her nor that the Real McCoys were unreal. But she wasn't stupid, she knew that neighbor Red was capable of stealing her onions.

Unless it was on television or in a church pulpit, she could read the face of a thief and the voice of a liar. The onions were gone from the shed. Grandma was sure it was Red. She figured he stole the tools that were missing, so why not the onions.

"Grandma, nobody steals onions, nobody " I laughed. "You can leave the onions out by the road and nobody will steal them. You hang them on the side of the shed to dry and nobody bothers them. People just don't steal onions, Grandma. Even Red would walk right by and not bother to bend over and pick them up."

"You don't know Red like I do." Grandma said with wide eyes and a serious nod of certainty. It was like convincing a Jehova's Witness that more than 144,000 people would go to heaven.

The onions were found in the shed in the nest of a mother pack rat. "But", Grandma reminded me, "that don't mean that Red didn't steal the tools out of the barn."

Coal River, what a portentous name. Sounds like it might eventually be burned, destroyed and perhaps take the whole world with it. Coal is a nasty substance, full of cancer causing compounds that once released by the magic of fire distributes poisons throughout the earth. Coal blocks out the sun. It pours out carbon dioxide that holds in the infrared radiation converted from higher frequency sunlight re-radiated from the earth. Smoke from black gold burning in West Virginia has sterilized lakes in New York and Canada. I tried to fish in one of those lakes in Ontario until I realized there was no life there.

When coal's original connections are altered it lets go of the sunshine that created it millions of years ago. Plastic and steel and asphalt are made by rearranging the connections conjured up by giant ferns. The root of all evil keeps the process going in spite of the suicidal side effects. Coal left alone isn't nasty, but the love of money is a nasty, perverse and abusive love.

A young future Grandma sat at the top of the river bank. At that distance in the peace and shade of the forest canopy she saw the fish swimming. She could see the sandy bottom from the top of the bank--a bottom that was so kind to her bare feet. In her youth Big Coal River ran through a tunnel of arched trees. There was so much green that the very air was green. The river was cool in the summer and drifted slowly down the valley it had been cutting for millions of years.

Grandma and her father fished and what they caught they put into a barrel that was sunk in the bottom of the shallow side of the river. Holes were drilled to allow fresh water inside the barrel to the trapped fish. When they wanted fish for dinner grandma poled the boat out to the barrel and reached in to catch a mess.

By the nineteen forties so much coal had been mined along the river that people took their john boats and walked them up and down in the sandy, shallow parts and picked up escaped pieces made smooth by the tumbling push of the river current. There was enough to heat their homes, cook with and enough to give them asthma and lung cancer after years of breathing the toxic gases. In those days coal and lung disease were free to anyone with a boat. It was the poorest families who were seen picking coal off the bottom. People with a little money bought their coal from a mine. Grandma's daddy and his brothers dug coal from an outcropping up Thomas hollow.

Grandma knew whether it was coal or wood in a stove just from the amount of reassuring heat that radiated, chasing winter back outside the house. Coal made it unnecessary to haul and split large quantities of wood, a little kindling wood and some for the cook stove was all that was needed. With way less than half the labor a person could extract more than twice the heat from coal than from wood.

Coal gave the subsistence farmer time to do something besides labor for winter heat. That luxury, now expanded to air conditioning and such, is what has made coal so dangerous, so destructive, so controlling. The love of money is the root of all evil but the desire for comfort, for rest from drudgery is the market for making that money.

Today the mountains along Coal River are being destroyed forever to accommodate a desire for comfort and rest from drudgery. The Appalachian mountains could probably be saved by turning off air conditioning. It will be a choice between West Virginia's mountains and overfed American comfort.

A young, future Grandma, sat blissfully on the river bank and never had a thought that someday a choice for comfort would injure her progeny and destroy their world. She didn't live to see Bull Creek and Ashford Ridge and the ridge across from Costa blown away by love of money.

Kanawha State Forest

Rejected by the Charleston Gazette
August, 2011

Conductivity of water is a measure of how well it conducts electricity. Chemical-free water does not conduct electricity. Aquatic wildlife suffers when too many chemicals are in creeks and rivers. A conductivity of 300 micro-Siemens per centimeter is the EPA maximum for a stream to have healthy aquatic wildlife.

Keystone Industries wants strip mine permit S300905 renewed. Parts of S300905 are close to Kanawha State Forest and discharge into creeks running along the edge of Kanawha State Forest. On August 9, 2011, creeks that Keystone strip mine S300905 discharges into had conductivity readings nearly twice the maximum of 300, which indicates too many chemicals in the water for healthy aquatic wildlife.

Keystone mine S300905 discharges into Middlelick Branch creek which parallels and in places dips into Kanawha State Forest. Middlelick had conductivity readings of 453, 574, 396 and 463. For comparison, Wall Fork creek had a reading of 99.2, it comes from a healthy forest that is undisturbed by Keystones strip mines. Wall Fork is a healthy stream. After it merges with Middlelick Branch the conductivity zooms up to 463.

Travel downstream to where Middlelick joins Kanawha Fork which then merges with Davis Creek across the road from the entrance to Kanawha State Forest. Just before that junction Kanawha Fork had a conductivity reading of 470, above the maximum for healthy aquatic life. Davis Creek had, just before being polluted by Kanawha Fork, a healthy stream reading of 149. After merging with Kanawha Fork, Davis Creek had a conductivity reading of 349--people and wildlife living along Davis Creek and downstream of Kanawha State Forest have an unhealthy stream.

The difference between Davis Creek water coming out of Kanawha State Forest and merging water from Kanawha Fork is that Keystone Industries strip mines are in the headwaters of Kanawha Fork and Middlelick Branch and there are no strip mines in the Davis Creek headwaters.

The polluted streams have a direct impact on the Kanawha State Forest wildlife. Birds and other non aquatic wildlife don't know that the streams running a few feet from Kanawha State Forest are polluted. They leave Kanawha State Forest to take a drink from those streams and to feed on aquatic wildlife. Children playing in Davis Creek below the junction with Kanawha Fork don't know of the danger to their health. To allow Keystone Industries to continue polluting the Davis Creek water shed makes no sense.

To make comments and request a public hearing on Keystone Industries permit number S300905, email to Thomas.e.wood@wv.gov or mail to Thomas Wood, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, 254 Industrial Drive Oak Hill, WV 25901.

The reason given for rejection of this op-ed was, "In general, we don't use op-eds in which the allegations have not been substantiated in some official way. The more technical and detailed the subject, the more fussy we are."

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YoungPrince of Nlocnil

Submitted to The Charleston Gazette but not published
October, 2011

This story comes from a true legend repeated throughout the kingdom of WesVirgin, especially the shire of Nlocnil.

Once upon a time, YoungPrince rode into the Kingdom of WesVirgin. He wore a white hat and rode a white horse. He saw a terrible thing and it troubled him much. Monster was removing the mountains of this beautiful land of WesVirgin. YoungPrince took WesVirgin under his wing and swore an oath to forever fight against Monster and save the lovely mountains. It was a brave gesture for Monster's mouth could gobble up an entire mountain in just a few gulps and spit it into the valleys below.

Monster loved money and there was much money hidden under the mountains-more money than even YoungPrince had ever seen. He fretted for the peasants in the valleys below, where the monster's farts blew their houses from their foundations and its waste discharges flooded their homes. And he fretted for the squirrels and bears and deer and their cousins who had once lived in the beautiful mountains and the lovely valleys. He understood that the mountains and valleys were the source and pride of all life for the Kingdom of WesVirgin. The people were proud that their land was known as the Mountain Kingdom.

YoungPrince proclaimed that the valleys and mountains, the people, the ginseng and the yellow root, the minnows and crawdads and, yes, the salamanders and lizards, must be saved from Monster. He put up signs saying he would defeat Monster. The peasants were happy and put his bumper sticker on their carts. Monster laughed at the innocence of YoungPrince. But Monster was troubled because YoungPrince was rich. More riches would not turn his head. He could not be bought. The monster had a hard time understanding this and reached for the other arrow in his quiver.

At this time in the shire of Nlocnil, named for the famous peasant Honest Eba, HighSheriff was asking the peasants to re-elect him. To split up the votes against him, he persuaded LoyalDeputy to run. YoungPrince was himself running for VeryHighOffice. He donned his white hat and rode a white horse to the shire of Nlocnil. There, YoungPrince met LoyalDeputy. He liked LoyalDeputy and contributed considerable riches to his campaign. This made LoyalDeputy a real candidate with enough filthy lucre to buy all the votes he needed to get his boss's job. HighSheriff contacted his other opponent, who was also of low character, and gave him a wad of riches to withdraw from the race and yield his votes to HighSheriff. So through this democratic process, HighSheriff was re-elected.

Alas! YoungPrince lost his bid for VeryHighOffice. Monster shared the riches it was digging up with ArchDuke from Upper Panhandle. Old ArchDuke had hatched from the same egg as Monster and preyed on widows. YoungPrince followed the advice of his court counselors and quit denouncing the lying and stealing at the party of the southern shires. And, to calm Monster, he changed his mind about removing mountains. RichYoungPrince then became RichYoungRuler.

In the shire of Nlocnil, there lived a powerful and wily political boss who owned a small carting business. He could sense a fortune to be made. He put RichYoungRuler's bumper sticker on all of his carts. RichYoungRuler was flattered. He awarded the wily political boss with big carting contracts and appointed him Chairman of all the parties in all parts of WesVirgin. Some folks say RichYoungRuler made Chairman a wealthy man.

Now, the reason RichYoungRuler wanted the wily political boss to be in charge was that in his first try for VeryHighOffice, the Machine in the southern shires sandbagged the inexperienced YoungPrince and used his riches against him to elect ArchDuke, the Monster's twin. The next election, YoungPrince held his nose and looked the other way while Chairman and his army delivered the votes.

In celebration, RichYoungRuler danced a happy jig with Monster. The beast's foul breath fell on RichYoungRuler and turned his white hat black as coal.

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Lesser of Two Evils

The Charleston Gazette
October 25, 2011

A long time ago I gave my grandpa a hard time for voting for Bill Marland because I heard the rumor that Marland was a drunk. My grandpa said that he would vote for a drunk Democrat before he would a Republican. I now agree with him. If the only choice I have is a Democrat or Republican, I will vote for the Democrat every time. Anytime I am disgusted by the Democratic candidate, the Republicans put up someone worse on every issue I care about.

Usually the Democratic and the Republican candidates are in a dead heat when it comes to blowing up every coal bearing mountain in West Virginia. And they both want to destroy the effectiveness of the Environmental Protection Agency. But where the Republicans are worse is that in addition to their antediluvian attitude toward the environment, they also want to repeal every socially beneficial program since Franklin Roosevelt was first elected.

When Jay Rockefeller first ran for political office many of us thought we had someone who would not imitate the least worthy and least principled West Virginia politicians. But Rockefeller, turns out to be in the lesser of two evils category like most other Democratic politicians. Like Republicans, Senator Manchin and Congressman Rahall, Rockefeller supports the massive injury that mountain top removal strip mining does to West Virginia and he wants the Environmental Protection Agency to quit picking on his friends who own the companies that are destroying our mountains. Rockefeller never got over losing to Arch Moore the first time he ran for governor. To get coal industry support in subsequent elections, Rockefeller groveled at their feet and sold out for a lifetime job of being their boy.

Paul Nyden's Gazette article on October 11, 2001, Rockefeller reminds us that we just have to look at the gorgeous fall colors to see that West Virginia is an outdoor enthusiast's paradise and that we need to keep it that way. He probably just closes his eyes when he visits his political birthplace in Boone County where blasted away mountains don't have those gorgeous fall colors.

In the Nyden article, Rockefeller says that the best fishing in the world is in West Virginia and that it is "…vitally important that we keep our rivers, lakes and streams pristine and safe." Rockefeller is kidding us again. He approves of and promotes the burying of hundreds of miles of those pristine streams with removed mountain tops and at the same time poses as a protector of pristine streams. Hypocrisy anyone?

A different Rockefeller said in years past that strip mining damage is permanent, tears up the beauty of West Virginia and should be abolished. He lamented that "Strip-mining must be abolished because of its effect on…the many West Virginians who have suffered actual destruction of their homes; those who have put up with flooding, mud slides, cracked foundations, destruction of neighborhoods, decreases in property values, the loss of fishing and hunting, and the beauty of the hills…"

If only Rockefeller had not flip-flopped on mountain top removal and had stood up to the coal industry, many wouldn't have to hold their noses as they vote for the least of two evils. My grandfather voted for a drunk Democrat before a Republican. I wish he were here to advise me about voting for a hypocritical Democrat over a Republican.

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Bullies Are Cowards

The Charleston Gazette
November 21, 2011

Bullies are cowards.
They pick on people whom they see as too weak or intimidated to fight back. It is amazing that anyone would oppose school rules that protect children from bullies. There are those who say rules protecting children from haters promotes a homosexual agenda. Those hate promoters have an agenda of their own. Their agenda is to promote hatred for children who are thought to be “gay.” These are children we are talking about and they should be protected from the haters in their schools.

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Truman and Me by Julian Martin

Julian Martin
This essay originally appeared in Esse Diem
December 27-28
Posted on December 27, 2011

Introduction:
Julian is the eighth generation of his family born on Big Coal River. He is a graduate of St. Albans High School where he was an all-conference football player. He has a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU) and worked two years in the chemical industry. After one month training to make sidewinder missiles,he joined the Peace Corps as West Virginia's first volunteer and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, he has also worked in urban outreach, organic farming, environmental education, and conservation. He loves his wife and several children, step-children, grandchildren and step grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Julian's essay Truman and Me and is a colorful reflection on his growing up experiences on his grandparents' farm. (He admits though, "I called it Grandma's house and farm ever since Grandpa threw a rake at me.")

The title of the essay comes from his special relationship with his Uncle Truman, who though truly his uncle was also only 3 years his senior, and in many ways more like a brother.

I believe that Julian is an exceptionally talented writer, and that he writes in a uniquely Appalachian "voice." He is not afraid to put into words his life's encounters with things most people would prefer not to articulate: disappointment, anger, embarrassment, confusion, oh and……well, you'll see. Let's just say he gave me a post script of, "You can leave this out if you think it's best, but 97% of boys have done it and the 3% who say they haven't are not telling the truth."

I left it in the essay.

Julian's writing is by no means all about the things other people don't want to acknowledge. His adventures with Truman are honest, fun, and entirely real. He lets the uninitiated into the world of real boys, like Huck and Tom, and for the initiated it should be a rollicking and poignant reminder of days past. Days when boys played army, and fought the bad guys instead of doing chores. When they practiced getting erections and weren't entirely sure why. When they had so much fun they threw up, and when they realized their grandma might just be the strongest person in the family.

Welcome to the world of Julian Martin, friends. It is my privilege to share his essay in 5 parts, with an epilogue.

Enjoy!
Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher of Esse Diem

Truman and Me (part 1)

My uncle Truman and I killed millions of German soldiers during the Second World War. One morning before my grandfather Charlie Barker went over the mountain to his job as a laborer at the DuPont plant, he commanded us to hoe the sprouting field corn. I was probably eight or nine years old and Truman was three years older.

To my adult eyes, that corn field is still huge and at our age almost seventy years ago it was daunting.

We hoed as far as the shade of a big sycamore tree halfway down the first row. The ground was sandy from years of flooding which made it easy to dig a foxhole to fight off the Huns. We tossed dirt clod grenades and made appropriate gun noises as we defended our homeland with sticks that felt exactly like guns. Charlie seethed and ranted when he got home and saw our work for the day was a hole in the ground in the first row of corn.

For a while my Grandma and Charlie owned a general store in Ashford, West Virginia, three miles up Big Coal River from the homeplace at Emmons. When I was five years old, Truman and I would run into the store from playing, stick our hands into the loose candy and run like thieves. During one of those escapes Charlie threw a rake at me, at least I thought so at the time. After that I never again called him Grandpa, and the farm was thereafter, "Grandma's farm."

Grandma said Truman and I fought like grown men, punching with our fists and rolling around on the floor and under the dining room table. Truman had a three year advantage but he was a little guy, so our fights were usually a draw. We played hard like kids do. We got hungry during one wonderful, uninhibited, wild and joyous day of fighting, wrestling, killing Nazis, running and running. We went in the house several times and scooped out dollops of peanut butter with our fingers. Like horses eating too much corn, I got foundered on the peanut butter overdose. Terrible vomiting ensued and the memory persisted of a thin mixture of stomach acid and peanut butter running out my nose.

It was at least five years before I ate peanut butter again.

Truman and Me (part 2)

Posted on December 27, 2011

The Big Coal River's 1916 flood washed out saw mills upstream from the homeplace. A bonanza of chestnut, oak, and hickory lumber was deposited in our bottom land and on the river bank. The near-majestic old barn was built from the free lumber. It has a fine cupola for ventilation and I remember a trap door that covered the steps to the loft and another where we pitched hay down to the horse and cow stalls. There is a corn crib in the back of the first floor and there were boxes for laying hens along the hallway that separated the horse stalls from the cow stalls. Truman and I played full-court basketball in the barn loft. The metal hoops are still nailed at the ends of our court.

Truman, a neighbor boy, and I experimented with masturbation in the barn loft. We discovered several other venues and made up bawdy songs about our sport. (Editor's note: Without any prompting from me, Julian greatly reduced his description of this activity. Suffice it to say, I am conflicted about the brevity here. The longer version was quite enlightening.) [The omitted text-- Many years later a girl friend and I enjoyed the barn loft and she broke out with something resembling poison ivy from getting laid in the hay.]

The writer as a boy

The writer as a boy.

The first "colored people" I saw were in a family sitting on a porch overlooking Bull Creek. Truman and I passed them as we walked up the hollow on the way to pick huckleberries near Uncle Kin's cabin. Kin's outside toilet was one of our venues for our harmless sexual experiments. From that cabin, Kin walked to his work in the woods of cutting trees and splitting them into mine posts to sell to coal companies.

Our trust in great-Uncle Kin was well-placed. He never told on us when we charged Red Top tobacco to his bill at the tiny store across the river. We made a corncob pipe and hid out in the barn and tried unsuccessfully to light it. Truman sent me to the house for some kerosene to put in with the tobacco-we were lucky we didn't burn that wonderful old barn down. We tried smoking corn silk and made an unsuccessful attempt at the harsh smoke from dry sycamore leaves. We were determined to imitate our role models and smoke something.

Our farmhouse was L-shaped with two massive stone chimneys and a cellar for storing potatoes, home-canned meat and vegetables, jams, jellies, apple butter and preserves. A dank potato smell enveloped me when the cellar door was opened. The house had the elegant touch of a front porch and balcony which were seldom used because they were on the south side facing the sun. The family gathered on the L-shaped side porch away from the sun to talk and do chores like stringing beans, making leather breeches, and peeling potatoes.

The bee gum was a two-foot tall section of tree sitting in the yard. The bee tree was cut down and the beehive section of the trunk sawed off and hauled to the yard where it rested on a stand with boards nailed together to form a roof. Truman and I did not go near that thing.

Millions of flies were drawn to the horse and cow droppings just outside the picket fence that separated the house from surrounding pasture. Screen doors with un-patched holes let hundreds of those millions of flies inside the house. Their swarming presence turned a table cloth black that had been white and that covered leftovers from the previous meal.

It is a wonder, that with flies as carriers, no one in our family caught polio.

Truman and Me (part 3)

Posted on December 27, 2011

The kitchen and dining room at the farm were closed off from the rest of the house for winter living. Heat came from an open-grate coal fire in the dining room and from a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen. Charlie and his brother, great-Uncle Kin, dug coal from an outcropping up Thomas Branch holler (that's what I still call a hollow) to fuel the dining room fire.

In cold months Truman and I bathed in a galvanized wash tub sitting near the kitchen cook stove. In warm weather we washed in Big Coal River.

On winter evenings, we enjoyed the voice of Uncle Kin singing hymns as he rocked in the warmth of the dining room fireplace - Bringing in the Sheaves and When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder were my favorites.

There was no overnight heat in the farmhouse. Electric lines had not reached our area of Big Coal River. At bedtime, Charlie, Uncle Kin, or Grandma "banked" the dining room fire with ashes to keep air away from the coals. In the morning it was easy to rekindle a fire with hot embers in the grate. Grandma told me that Isaac and Spicy Barker, our progenitors and the first Barkers in Boone County, kept a stump burning in the summer to have a source for starting a fire in the cook stove.

As the fire was being banked and by the light of a kerosene lantern, Truman and I hurried out of the two heated rooms, across the cold living room floor, past the white enameled slop jar and upstairs to bed. If we had to pee or "goo-goo" at night it was either outside to the toilet or the slop jar under the stairs. I can still smell that foul thing. In the outside toilet, Sears Roebuck catalogs provided the necessary finishing touches.

On cold winter nights, Truman and I shared a feather tick under a mountain of homemade quilts. It was deliciously scary when the wind banged the big sycamore tree limbs against the house. Ghosts and strange creatures lurked in the "boar's nest" - a dark, mysterious, and cluttered storeroom of dusty pictures, old clothes, trunks, broken furniture and a coat tree with a hat on top. Flashes of lightening or a full moon turned the coat tree into a creature looking in at us huddled close together under our quilts.

From late spring through early fall mornings after Grandma milked the cows, Truman and I herded those cows up Thomas Branch to graze for the day. Uncle Kin leased that holler for a dollar a month from ARMCO Steel. As we followed the cows, we chewed on birch bark, threw rocks in the creek, ate blackberries, and watched snake doctors (AKA, dragonflies) glide over still pools of water.

At the end of the day we found the hurting-to-be-milked cows waiting for us at the holler gate.

We carried drinking water by the bucketfull to the house from a dug well down the hill near the collapsing remains of the first house built on the farm. Water for other uses was caught in barrels from roof downspouts. By August, it was so dry that Charlie hooked up horses Frank and Barney to a sled with empty fifty gallon water barrels aboard. Besides "gee" and "haw," Frank and Barney seemed to understand the meaning of "get up there," "whoa" and "easy there."

Truman and I rode the horses as they dragged the sled and empty barrels on the road to a ford in the river where Charlie poured buckets of water into the barrels. Going back with one hundred gallons of water was not easy for the horses - their veins bulged as they pulled the heavy water on the uphill grades.

To reduce the load on the horses, Truman and I walked on the way back.

Truman and Me (part 4)

Posted on December 28, 2011

(Editor's note: Biology. Physics. Chemistry. - farm style. Very boyhood, intense, funny, and gross. The image of Grandma with the fightin' groundhog is absolutely classic. You can't make this stuff up.)

Fall butchering was a Druid carnival. The bladder from the hog was cut loose and thrown to Truman and me. We put a hollow stick in the urethra, blew the bladder up like a balloon, and tied it off. We kicked it all over the hillside pasture, fell down, got up laughing and ran after our "pigskin."

We rode the snow down the hill behind the house on sleds that were old pieces of metal roofing. One summer we camped out in a shelter we built of boxes holding up that metal roofing. A pregnant cat crawled in with us and aborted her kittens in slimy looking bags-we were stunned and ignorant of what was happening.

The bottom land was, in addition to being our camping and recreation area, a cow and horse pasture where we invented the game of Frisbee. Cows' semi-liquid poops dried hard in thin disc shapes and were perfect for tossing.

We learned to swim in the Big Coal River, which winds along the edge of our farm. Grandma, who couldn't swim, was our life guard. Truman yelled, "Did you hear that?" He was knocking two pieces of coal together under the water. No, I didn't hear it. "Go under and listen." It was magical! The loud knocking noise seemed to be inside my ears.

Our physics lesson continued on the railroad track - we put our ears against the rail and listened to an approaching train before we could hear it through the air. As the train approached we put pennies on the track and got them back thin and flattened. We noticed that in cold weather the spaces between the rails were much farther apart than in the hot sun of summer when they almost touched. A few years later science teachers taught me what I had already learned by experiment, that sound waves travel faster in liquids than in gases, and still faster in solids, and that metals expand on heating and contract when cold.

Scared groundhog

 Aw, Grandma. I see her herding and milking the cows, churning the milk into butter and stirring hot, thick, satin brown apple butter in a large copper pot over a wood fire. She stirred the apple butter with a long-handled wood paddle with holes to allow the liquid to pass through. To pick berries, she dressed up in a garb that covered every part of her body. Her face barely peeked out of an Arab looking head wrap through a swarm of gnats trying to get at her blood. Picking berries was slow, hot and miserable for me, but Grandma could go all morning, picking two water buckets full of berries without giving in to the heat and bugs.

On one of our berry picking forays up Thomas Branch, the dogs treed a groundhog.

Grandma picked up a piece of wood and knocked the groundhog from the limb it was clinging to. Thinking it was dead, she picked it up by the tail and we started toward home. The animal wasn't dead! It was "playing possum." The dogs barked at it but stayed a safe distance from the snarling, vicious growl. I was looking eyeball-to-eyeball at an animal that had every survival alarm turned on, ready to fight for its very life.

Grandma didn't pay any attention to the life and death noises as she carried the groundhog to the house where she finished clubbing it to death, skinned and gutted it, and cooked it for dinner.

Truman and Me (part 5)

Posted on December 28, 2011

We moved to Detroit after Dad's eye was put out in a coal mine accident.

In his new job, Dad cut deep into his thigh with a sander, and that sent us back to West Virginia. I did half a year of Kindergarten in Detroit, but when we got back to Emmons I started in mid-year of the first grade. My teacher, Mrs. Morris, lived on the next farm about a mile up Big Coal River. She came by on my first day and walked the mile with me to the Emmons Grade School.

After the first day I walked with Aunt Julia and Uncle Truman. Julia was in the sixth grade and Truman was in the fourth.

Lacking electricity like the rest of the area, our one-room Emmons Grade School was heated with coal in a pot-bellied stove, water came from a well, and there was an outside toilet. I was new and shy, which was not lost on at least one of the older boys. Out on the playground during recess, he said something to me, a word for female genitalia, in front of the other kids. I was embarrassed because I knew I was being made fun of, but I didn't know what he was talking about.

Uncle Truman pulled me away from the embarrassment.

I was sent to the blackboard on the other side of the room where Aunt Julia was sitting-she whispered the answers that I was supposed to put on the board. I didn't feel connected to the city children characters in our reading books. "Run Jim, run" and "See Jim run" didn't inspire or connect with me. Jim and his sister Judy wore nice clothes and their parents were always dressed up. They were a bland family. Jim and Judy's dad in a suit coming home from a day at the office looked nothing like my dad when he came home from a coal mine or a construction job.

I didn't learn to read in the first grade and neither did the other two first graders. Not being able to read caused me lots of trouble when, a month into my second grade year, we moved to St. Albans. I was called on to read from the same book we had at Emmons. I remembered parts that Mrs. Morris had read to us and brazenly recited them as I pretended to read, but I was looking at the wrong page. My first and only F was in second grade reading.

It was a traumatic time.

My mother tried to teach me to read using a switch. It is hard to learn to read through tears, sobbing. I have enjoyed a lifetime of reading which is testimony that I survived the stresses of second grade.

Train and Tracks

Somewhere between ages eight and ten, I started going to the farm by myself. I was never afraid on those solo bus and train trips from our home in St. Albans to the farm. It never occurred to me that there was any danger, and there wasn't. I walked four blocks through Ordnance Park over to Route 60 and for a nickel and caught the Interurban bus to downtown St. Albans. I walked the few blocks from the bus station to the train station, bought a ticket and climbed on the train that went up Big Coal River.

Something akin to the theory of relativity fascinated me as I sat on the train before leaving the station. A train headed for Huntington sat beside my train that was headed in the opposite direction. One of the trains moved but for a moment I couldn't tell which train it was. Did my train move or the other one? It was more magic. One of the trains stopped and a few seconds later the illusion was repeated.

"Do not flush while the train is in the station," warned the sign above the commode. I found out why when I did flush-all of what I had just done went straight down onto the area between the tracks. It was fun to hold the flush handle down and watch the wooden ties and rock ballast fly by. After that discovery I paid closer attention to the space between the tracks whenever I walked there.

I was in a safe community cocoon. There were always other people waiting for the bus, and the kind train conductor knew Charlie and Grandma and made sure I got off at Grippe which is across the river from the farm. The conductor enjoyed calling Grippe "suitcase" to see if I would laugh. From the train at "suitcase" I walked on a winding path through a corn field to the river's edge and yelled for someone to set me across the river.

Charlie often put me to work just as soon as I got out of the boat and to the top of the river bank. Once it was bugging potatoes. Truman and I made a game of it. We knocked the potato bugs into a can and turned leaves over to find their yellow egg clusters and squashed the eggs between two pieces of wood. At the end of bugging for the day, we took our catch to the house and put it in a metal pie plate on top of the hot cook stove. We watched the bugs dance and fry - we had no feelings for potato bugs.

Grandma and Charlie told me about the heroes of the coal mine wars. It was word-of- mouth history. I remember sitting at the dinner table and Charlie saying, "When they killed Sid Hatfield that was the last straw." Grandma said that a woman they called "Mother" came to talk to the miners-she was speaking of Mother Jones, the famous labor organizer. United Mine Worker heroes Sid Hatfield, Bill Blizzard, Frank Keeney, Fred Mooney, Cesco Estep, Mother Jones and the Battle of Blair Mountain were never mentioned in my twelve years of West Virginia public school education.

Despite the fact that we are on opposite ends of politics and religion, Truman and I are still friends. He spends half of his time in Florida and the other half at the farm. It is great fun when we get together and reminisce.

At this writing he is 78 and I am 75.

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Aww, Lincoln County

The Charleston Gazette
February 10, 2012

Years ago I concluded that the Soviet Union was a bunch of Lincoln Counties, back to back. Although I now live in Kanawha County, and vote here, I have a funny feeling that I may still be voting in my old precinct in Lincoln County. I was once told that there were 160 votes for sale in my Griffithsville precinct. The last time I knew of illegal tender for votes, marijuana had been added to whiskey and cash. Absentee ballots appear to be the latest twist.

A school administrator, active in Lincoln County politics, told me in 1979 that every school bond issue election that passed was, as he put it, “stolen”. In a fit of deformed social responsibility he described how he and the other party’s leaders decided that for the good of the school system the bond issues should pass, so they stuffed the ballot boxes.

Another school administrator told me that he bought votes for one of the political factions. Like a john condemning prostitution, he said he felt disgust for people who sell their votes. I asked him why he was telling me. Wasn’t he afraid I would report him? He said he wasn’t afraid because the statute of limitations had run out.

I once figured out I was not going to be re-hired as a teacher. I called the superintendant and asked why. He told me it was because I was not loyal. I think he meant loyal to him and his political faction. But I guess they couldn’t find a relative or political supporter who was loyal, so I was re-hired.

It is risky for a poor person to turn down any offer they get to sell their vote. When I lived in Lincoln County, one faction of the Democratic Party controlled the Board of Education, the County Commission and the welfare office, thus controlling almost all of the county jobs. A poor person or one of their relatives could easily get hurt economically for not cooperating with that kind of power.

A neighbor offered to drive me to the polls to vote, with the understanding that I would be paid. When I told him that I wouldn’t sell my vote, he pointed to the new gravel in his driveway and asked, “I got a load of gravel for my vote, what will you get for yours?”

A beer joint owner found out real fast what it means to get on the wrong side of Lincoln County’s ruling families. Cops waited down the road from his tavern at closing time and arrested drunk drivers.

It was a hoot to read in the Gazette a couple of years ago of Jerry Weaver, the disgraced Lincoln County Assessor, allowing as how he fixed traffic violations based on friendship and not votes. He was bragging about being a prince of a guy and unwittingly revealed his lack of a moral compass.

Weaver, who must have no shame, is running for sheriff of Lincoln County. It looks possible for a convicted felon to replace a convicted felon as the chief law enforcement officer.

Corruption is neither a southern West Virginia nor a Democratic Party phenomenon. Arch Moore, a convicted felon and former Republican governor is from the northern panhandle and Wally Barron, a Democratic governor, lived in Elkins.

Arch was creative in handing cash for votes out a car window as he lay hidden in the back seat. But Wally was even more creative--in a trial in which he was being tried for bribery, he bribed the head juror.

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Teacher Evaluations

The Charleston Gazette
March 2, 2012

My memories of an upside down evaluation system were stirred by reading in the Gazette of Governor Earl Tomblin’s proposed legislation on the evaluation of teachers and principals

In the evaluation of any product, the user says how good it is. The customer evaluates the product and decides whether to purchase another and recommend it to their friends.

Don’t for a minute think I equate education with products for sale. Learning is a wonderful experience, it is not a product. Learning should not be managed like a business or in a military fashion. The idea of learner outcomes reminds me of the instructors I had in Air Force basic training. They had a list of what their students would learn and stuck with it. Nothing creative or new happened. The outcomes were pre-ordained, no discoveries expected nor wanted.

Who knows best how well a teacher is doing? Could it possibly be the users, the students? Who knows best how the principal is doing his job? Could it be the teachers who know how well they are being served?

The evaluation system in schools when I was teaching ninth through twelfth grades , 1977-1998, had the principals evaluating the teachers, the teachers evaluating the students and the students were never asked.

Assuming the user knows best, the students should evaluate the teachers and the teachers evaluate the principal. And for hiring it should run in a similar direction. Teachers would interview candidates and hire the principal who could best serve the teachers. Because politics are so pervasive at the administrative levels in public education, I hesitate to propose that principals evaluate and hire the superintendant. Maybe teachers should do that too.

I remember observing a class in California when the principal made an unannounced visit. The teacher in mid-sentence changed his presentation to one that he had especially prepared for such occasions. He was good at it and the principal was impressed. But students can’t be fooled like that, they are there every day. And the principal may be able to fool the superintendent but not the teachers who experience his leadership or lack of it every day.

“Hardly anything.” Was the answer I got when I asked his former student what a certain teacher taught. That teacher had political connections and taught past retirement age. I doubt if the former student’s honest, from the gut evaluation ever appeared in top down evaluations.

Some say students can’t be trusted to be fair in evaluating teachers nor take the responsibility seriously. I tried student evaluations several times with ninth through twelfth grade students. I found that when I gave students responsibility they were glad to be treated with respect and as a result acted responsibly. Student fairness was not what teachers needed to fear. It was far more likely that a principal with a political grudge would use the evaluation system to harass or get rid of a teacher.

Even if student evaluations are not included in the evaluation of a teacher they should at least be presented to the teacher for their consideration. It was good for this teacher to know what my students thought I was good at and where they thought I needed improvement. No one knew better than my students whether learning took place in my class.

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Coal Brainwashes WV Students

The Charleston Gazette
March 16 ,2012

Throughout America there is an intrusion of industry into environmental education in public schools. Corporations spend millions of dollars on attractively presented lesson plans, videos, coloring books and other materials to offer their version of clear cutting, gas and oil production, mining, farming and the glory of plastic bags. West Virginia classrooms are no exception.

Coal lobbyists are not satisfied controlling West Virginia politicians. Weakening mine safety legislation in the wake of twenty-nine miners killed in an unsafe mine gives them no rest. Despite knowing they have the governor and legislature under control, they leave nothing to chance. Coal public relations hacks intrude into classrooms to grab the innocent minds of children to guarantee another generation of coal control.

West Virginia coal companies have an “education” program called CEDAR. CEDAR’s goal is to “facilitate” in K through 12 classrooms, the “…understanding of the many benefits the coal industry provides in daily lives…”

Learning outcomes for West Virginia Schools do not include promoting the benefits of any industry. CEDAR’s promoting only coal industry benefits in the classroom qualifies as one-sided propaganda, not education.

When Priscilla Haden was state school board president she said about CEDAR that, “I want to make sure there are two sides to the story. I’m asking that we look at it and make sure that the other side is told and that this is truly a fair thing.” So far the state school board has not followed through on making sure the other side is told.

Now we have another coal industry intruder into environmental education. The West Virginia Department of Education posted on a listserv for science teachers an “opportunity” to learn how to teach environmental issues. Virginia Tech and the Eastern Coal Council announced it with this bold-type blurb:“PROJECT COAL TO ELECTRICITY: TEACHING - ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES. Coal + Power Plants + Technologies = Clean, Dependable Electricity.” That announcement declares: “ Coal is clearly the right energy for this country's future. The Eastern Coal Council serves as a ‘chamber of commerce’ for the energy industries.”

It appears Virginia Tech and the Eastern Coal Council have already decided about the environmental issues when they claim ahead of time that coal produces clean electricity. With the energy industry’s “chamber of commerce” and seven coal companies as co-sponsors of the conference, it is obvious what “Teaching Environmental Issues” will mean.

How can clean electricity be squared with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s research showing selenium from mountain top removal causes fish deformities or the WVU study that as county coal production increases, rates of killer diseases increase and birth defects are higher near mountain top removal? And the list of coal’s other well known negative impacts is far longer and more damaging than the list of “many benefits.”

The electricity, that comes from plugging in a light to read by, seems clean but the process of getting it to the light is dirty and destructive. There is no such thing as clean coal and no such thing as clean electricity made from coal.

Virginia Tech and their coal bosses have resisted repeating the coal industry billboard idiocy that coal is carbon neutral. Someone in the chemistry department at Virginia Tech must have enlightened them.

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Social Promotions

The Charleston Gazette
May 13, 2012

Aww that Perry Mann, he is a good one. A smile sweeps through my mind when I see that he has another Gazette op-ed. His latest entitled, “So Much Potential” in the Sunday, May 6 Gazette-Mail, rang true for me. He spoke of the importance of social promotions. I did some of that as a science teacher at Duval High School.

In my first few years at Duval, students were tracked based on test scores. The top test-takers in the ninth grade were in the class labeled 9-1 and the bottom in class 9-5. My first 9-5 group had all flunked science the previous year.

My second year there were five students in 9-5 who could barely read and write. At the end of the first grading period I gave that group higher grades than their work showed they deserved.

The day after grades came out the 9-5 students were excited about their high grades. One student spoke up in class--“Mr. Martin, that was the first “B” I ever got in my whole life. How can I get another one?”

I told him and the class to participate in the hands-on activities and class discussions, to work safely and respect the rights of other students and me. If they did that they might not always get a “B” but they would get no lower than a “C”. We had fun in that class. There were few discipline problems. They were happy to be able to do something right.

I did not have the heart to give a D or F to kids who gave it a good try. The 9-5 students were tracked low because they were not considered academically smart, so why should I hold them to the same high standard as the 9-1 class? Should I flunk the entire class as their academic abilities showed? Should I punish kids who made a decent effort with the same disappointing evaluations they had always received? What would be the point in convincing them that they should feel bad about themselves and could never expect success? A self-fulfilling prophecy of failure results from putting the “bad” students in one class together.

I didn’t like tracking students because there is a certain kind of learning that doesn’t take place when groups are exclusive or segregated. Chance for friendships developing across economic and social lines is less possible if there is segregation based on test taking. Feelings of resentment and inferiority by the lower tracked groups and snobbery and superiority by the “smart” kids are real outcomes from segregated classrooms.

In a 9-5 class I was demonstrating electrical circuits with live 220 volt current and was about to touch a “hot” wire to a wire on a circuit board. A student warned me, “Mr. Martin don’t touch that live wire there, it will short out.”

I said are you sure and did what he said not to do. There was a loud noise and sparks flashed. I nervously reset the breaker. That grading period I gave the boy who knew it would short out an A. This was a boy with limited reading and writing skills who had helped his father and uncles work on cars and tractors at home. Students in groups tracked academically higher would benefit from being in a class with him.

The school counselor came to me about a boy who was not going to be eligible to play football. If I could change his C to a B, he could play. This was the only time I was asked to change a grade. I thought about it. I didn’t want to be a teacher who would pass athletes who didn’t deserve it. The boy was well behaved in my class, participated in the activities and discussions. I figured sports were probably the main reason he stayed in school. I changed his grade. His success might not have depended on that B but he now owns and operates two successful businesses and is a donor to good causes in the Kanawha Valley.
When it comes to youth I think it wise to temper justice with mercy.

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A Workers Concentration Camp

The Charleston Gazette
May 27, 2012

Much of this is based on information from Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia. By Ronald Lewis.

West Virginia has always been a sort of worker’s concentration camp. Big-city folks from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Philadelphia owned and still own most of the minerals under the land. They once brought in desperately poor people to work the mines. They met immigrants off the ships in New York, loaded them on trains with covered windows, and took them to company-owned houses. Former slaves and the children of slaves were brought from the south to imitate the Roman Empire’s practice of working slaves in their mines.

Sometimes, the European immigrants and African-Americans were brought in as strike breakers. They were paid in “scrip,” coal-company money which was honored only at the overpriced company store. It was a prison, lacking only walls and barbed wire. Coal company guards called “rousters” patrolled in the mornings looking for dark-windowed houses. They knocked on the doors of the sleeping homes and roused the miners for work. If the miner claimed sickness the rouster sent him to the company doctor who most often was more sympathetic to who paid his wages than to the miners. Widows of miners killed in the mines were sometimes evicted from the company-owned houses shortly after the accident.

Cut it up, dig it up, and move on to the next job. Railroads were built all over the place to get all the coal, wood, limestone, oil, and gas out as quickly as possible. They knew then that in the long run no one they cared about would ever live here.

In the earliest days of English settlement, George Washington’s Ohio Company claimed the fertile bottomland along the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. The founding father was a land speculator. The poor people were relegated to the steep hillsides with about three inches of topsoil. They cobbled a living off the land, hunting, trapping, fishing, and raising a few head of cattle and pigs, some chickens, and a large garden on the side of a hill.

Ron Lewis wrote that between 1880 and 1920, the land was timbered right down to the nubs, and horrible forest fires swept through the centuries old dried leaves. The fires lowered the forest floor by three and four feet in some areas. Trees thirteen feet in diameter that took six hundred to a thousand years to grow fell to greed. The whole state was clear-cut. A man couldn’t make a living off the land anymore. Soon after the state was devastated by the clear-cutting and the horrendous forest fires, the great depression of 1929 hit and West Virginia never recovered.

Farmers’ sons became industrial workers in the mines. These were called public jobs. It was near shame to a mountaineer to take a public job. It was humiliating to work for another man and be told when to start the day’s work and when it would end and when to take a break from work, to drink water, to use the toilet. It was a loss of freedom to admit defeat with the land and have to join the worker’s concentration camp.

From the beginning of statehood in 1863, the end could be foreseen. Investors from the Northeast bought up the timber and mineral rights for a song from unsuspecting farmers. The investors lived in places like the swell mainline of Philadelphia and Shaker Heights in Cleveland. They controlled politics coming and going.

Henry Gassaway Davis and Stephen Benton Elkins presided over the beginning of the clear-cutting in 1880 and both sides of the political spectrum. Davis was chairman of the state Republican Party and Elkins was chairman of the Democrats. Davis was from Maryland and Elkins, his son-in-law, was from New Mexico. Davis even represented West Virginia in the United States Senate, while a resident of Maryland.

Laws were changed to benefit the investors. A farmer went to court if a train hit his cow. The local jury of his peers found the railroad company liable for the damage. The company then appealed to a higher court, to which the judges were appointed by the governor. If the Democrats were in power, Davis was consulted on court appointments. If the Republicans were in control, son-in-law Elkins was the man. So, no matter who was in charge, the higher court would inevitably rule in favor of the company.

West Virginia had retained the Virginia law that if a company wanted to avoid paying fines and reimbursement for dead cows, it had to build a fence to keep cattle off the tracks. Now the farmer had to build the fence. The direct parallels are uncanny between this situation and the current plight of West Virginians whose land and lives are being devastated by mountaintop removal coal mining and the miners who’ve seen their union busted by the coal barons.

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Fork Creek Memories

West Virginia Highlands Voice
May, 2012

My sainted grandma Barker told me of the rich Mr. Skinner riding his horse up and down Coal River buying mineral rights. Sometime back then someone got the bright idea to divide a piece of land into two parts--the surface and the minerals beneath. That was the beginning of the end of our mountains. Fifty cents an acre sounded like a fortune to subsistence farmers. Before bulldozers, steam shovels and draglines, there didn’t seem to be any harm in the deal.

My prescient ancestor looked Mr. Skinner in the eyes and said, “You are Skinner by name and skinner by trade, but you will not skin old Isaac Barker.” Consequently the forty acre farm with mineral rights intact (almost unheard of on Coal River) is still in our family.

I was born at Emmons near the mouth of Fork Creek on the Boone County side of Big Coal River. When I was toddler we lived in the ARMCO coal camp in Nellis. Dad was a coal miner in the mines under Fork Creek. His coal miner days were ended when his eye was cut open by a piece of flying coal while working under the very area that is now threatened with massive destruction.

As I write this ARMCO’s descendent companies want to blow away the mountains and bury the streams just over the ridge from our home place in what was the Fork Creek Wildlife Management Area.

While living with Grandma in 1972 my mule escaped and I ended up walking, dragging and riding him back across nine miles of the Fork Creek protected forest land.

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Rockefeller Betrays Both Sides

The Charleston Gazette
July 24, 2012

Jay Rockefeller began his serious political career by betraying thousands of people who knew strip mining was ruining our mountains. Now, nearing the end of his political career, he has betrayed his co-conspirators in the massive destruction of our mountains.

On June 20, 2012, Rockefeller gave a speech on the Senate floor. He spoke against a resolution that called for lower limits for mercury and other toxins coming from coal-fired power plants. In his speech he accused coal industry leaders of cynical scare tactics, attacking false enemies like the EPA, denying “real problems” like global warming, refusing to compromise, closing themselves off opposing voices, being afraid to “dare to speak out for change -- even though it's been staring them in the face for years.”, and wanting to turn back the clock, ignore the present and block the future.

Rockefeller told coal leaders to listen to what West Virginians are saying about our water, air, our health and our concern for our grandparents and grandchildren who “…are the most susceptible to pollution.”

He used strong words and a tone of disdain for his fellow mountain destroyers in a, July 16, 2012, West Virginia public radio interview. He said he has had it with coal industry leaders’ refusal to entertain any middle ground, and denying even a hint of legitimacy for the views on the other side.

Orwell’s novel, 1984, came to mind hearing Rockefeller say that coal industry leaders are “caught in groupthink, they can’t split off and say something the others don’t approve of, even if it would be helpful.”

Rockefeller told of a meeting with twenty coal executives after a speech concerning cap and trade that they didn’t like. All they did was complain about Obama and EPA for two hours. “Obama hates coal; we hate EPA, for two hours nothing else came up.” He told Beth Voohees of West Virginia Public Radio.

It is refreshing to learn that Rockefeller believes there is a scientific consensus on global warming and a mounting national desire for a cleaner, healthier environment. Rockefeller, unlike Republicans and DINOs Manchin, Tomblin and Rahall, agrees with the research showing that coal pollutants cause debilitating chronic illness. Rockefeller praised EPA for establishing that coal-fired power plant emissions have serious and long term impacts on premature deaths, heart attacks, hospitalizations, pregnant women, babies and children. He declared to the Senate that “Maybe some can shrug off the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and others but I cannot.”

Among the “others” must be the WVU studies, screamed at by the coal industry, showing elevated major diseases and birth defects in counties where coal is mined and especially so near mountain top removal strip mining. Coal industry lawyers posted on-line that the birth defects could have been caused by in-breeding—those are the kind of folks Rockefeller has been carrying water for since he lost to Arch Moore and took up with the coal industry.

Make no mistake, Rockefeller isn’t anti-coal, he wants to save the coal industry. He wants them to get smart and honest—a giant task for sure. He says it’s not too late for the coal industry to accept scientific findings and quit trying to scare people. He still shouts out for the oxy-moron “clean coal.” That way, his baby, mountain top removal strip mining, can continue its destruction, and the coal industry can continue to reap their profits from destroying our mountains.

Rockefeller has not renounced his renunciation of our mountains. There is nothing new from him about the tragedy of strip mining and the debilitating major diseases in areas where mountain top removal and other forms of coal mining take place. The same kind of stats he uses to attack the coal industry on coal-fired power plant emissions apply to the production of coal from beginning to end.

I look forward to Rockefeller coming home to Emmons and, standing on scalped Ashford Ridge, announce that he is once again for the banning of strip mining.

When Rockefeller chastised the coal industry I wondered if he did it because he wasn’t going to run for a sixth term. I had hoped he would run again because Shelley Moore Capito, the front running Republican candidate and daughter of the convicted felon and former Governor Arch Moore, will be much worse. My letter of November 18, 2012 published in the Charleston Gazette expressed my dismay when Capito announced she was going to run for Rockefeller’s Senate seat.

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Capito

The Charleston Gazette
November 14, 2012

Dear Editor

Despite my grief over Jay Rockefeller's forty year support of mountain top removal strip mining, the rest of his record is fresh air compared to the stagnant right wing record of Capito.

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Heroics on Our Front Lawn

The Charleston Gazette
August 3, 2012

Record-breaking catches and moves never before seen happened in my front yard. I saw my oldest son make a catch that equaled anything in all the considerable college and professional football I have watched. My youngest daughter played one of the best defensive basketball games I’ve ever seen anyone play, and it was a sixth-grade game. But it was pure and good and not for money, just for the joy of competition, the animal instinct to do it as well as possible. It seemed as if she were fighting for life itself. My youngest son scored six touchdowns in a high school game when he was just a sophomore, and less than a thousand people saw it happen.

My point, besides bragging on my kids, is that you don’t have to pay to get into a big stadium or spend afternoons watching TV to observe heroics—they happen all around you. It is greatness that just a few see. You can marvel at athletes who never put on a team uniform and know that, if the world could just see them, they would get a Heisman award. People who play outdoor basketball see world-class performances every summer.

A Lincoln County friend, was a most gifted athlete. Watching his grace in a pickup basketball game was as much fun, especially if you were on his side, as ringside for an NBA game.

Every year we had one or two athletes at Duval High School who were sensational but never got to show their stuff before a crowd. Sometimes this was because of low grades and sometimes they just didn’t want to practice or they didn’t like a coach or they lived too far from the school. Some had jobs after school, or they preferred hunting deer and squirrel and rabbits and chasing coons at night with their dogs more than they loved organized sports. No matter how often they were told otherwise, a few lacked the confidence that they were good enough to be on the high school team. Many just didn’t want to be told what to do. It was said by coaches that they weren't “coachable.” They looked as free as birds leaping in the air during lunch hour in the gym and heading for the woods after school.

More than thirty years ago, I saw a fellow on one of those now-famous outdoor basketball courts in New York drive to the basket, do a one hundred and eighty degree spin in the air, and slam a reverse dunk. It was the first and best dunk I ever saw.

Musicians know they have heard or participated in some impromptu jam sessions that “passed all” as my friends in Nigeria would say. They were sessions that lifted spirits over the trees at three in the morning.

There have been spontaneous remarks made that are so funny or profound that the author deserves to be featured in a book of quotations. About thirty years ago in Lincoln County, my neighbor on Sugar Tree Creek walked up as I was trying to get a complicated knot out of some toy my daughter wanted fixed. He watched me struggle with it and get impatient and frustrated. I handed the thing to him, and, within a minute or two, he had it figured out. I exclaimed “Sam how did you do that?” He replied, “I wasn’t working by the hour.” And another Lincoln County friend told me that, “Prosperity isn’t worth the price you have to pay.”

Keep your eyes open, turn off the TV and listen and watch for those heroic, funny and profound moments--they happen often and don’t require Hollywood, NFL, or NBA stars. Your friends and children are the stars.

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Conflict of Interest in WVU Contract

The Charleston Gazette
March 1, 2013

Editor:
It would have been more reassuring if Drew Payne had told Oliver Luck not to include Payne's company in awarding the WVU sports media contract. Then there would be no conflict of interest.

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CEDAR, again

The Charleston Gazette
May 2, 2013

(The last paragraph was not included in the version printed by the Gazette)

A teacher presented a unit on coal to her ninth grade classes. She invited guest speakers to present four days of the positive aspects of coal. To offer a different perspective, she asked a fellow teacher if he knew any "tree huggers", as she put it.

Complying with her request, the second teacher invited two of us "tree huggers" to "balance" the coal industry perspective. We were given only one day compared to the four days of coal industry perspective. Besides the four days of corporate presentations there were also classroom days in which materials and activities from the Coal Association's CEDAR program were presented to the students.

It is faint praise to say that this is the only time I know of that any alternative perspective to the coal industry has been offered in counties where CEDAR has been allowed in the class room. That said it should be noted that the ninth grade teacher interrupted our presentation with coal industry propaganda that the students had already been exposed to.

CEDAR stands for Coal Education Development and Resource. As stated on their website, "CEDAR's mission is to facilitate the increase of knowledge and understanding of the many benefits the coal industry provides in daily lives by providing financial resources and coal education materials to implement its study in the school curriculum."

The Coal Association believes that, "Our coal industry is facing the biggest reclamation challenge of our history. And that job is to reclaim the understanding and support of our state and nation's citizenry." Reading that I figured that if the reclamation of their reputation is anything like how they reclaim mountains and valleys then we can look for the truth to have its head lopped off and covered with tons of coal waste.

The Coal Association continues, "Many of us in the coal industry believe the solution now, and over the long term, to many of the current issues facing coal can be achieved through better education." In other words get the coal company spin into classrooms.

Through CEDAR, coal companies are dumping money into this project by, "providing financial resources and coal education materials for implementation in school curriculum grades K thru 12."

There are many benefits that the coal industry provides. But it is not part of school curriculum to extol the "many benefits" of any industry. Promoting the many benefits of coal qualifies CEDAR as one-sided propaganda, not education.

Does anyone believe that a coal company program could possibly include an objective presentation of the never ending problems with coal mining, especially when their mission is to promote the many benefits of coal?

The killing of over 20,000 West Virginia miners is not a "benefit" the coal companies are likely to present. Nor is the coughing death of Black Lung, or the increased rates of terrible diseases in coal producing counties and the massive and irreversible destruction of our environment. Will Selenium poisoned fish with both eyes on one side of their heads and curved spines be presented as a benefit of coal?

How much of the violent reaction of coal companies to union organization will fall under the heading of the many benefits of coal? Will the trickery of the coal companies, which culminates in retired miners and widows losing their retirement benefits, be included as a benefit of coal?
The Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary wants CEDAR mandatory in every school in the state. That's the ticket-the coal companies mandating school curriculum.

Education reform should include kicking the coal companies out of our classrooms. Guess why the state board of education has for years looked the other way on this issue of coal propaganda in classrooms.

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Coal Industry Profits

The Charleston Gazette
May 14, 2013

In Ken Ward's excellent story, Mining The Mountains: Coal backed studies evoke controversy, coal industry public relations hacks say they are concerned about jobs and something called energy security. Never do they include corporate profits, and that is what it is all about.

The coal industry cares so much about jobs that they have since 1940 replaced over 100,000 of those jobs with machines and would eliminate all the jobs if they could design machines to replace the remaining coal miners at a dollar savings. It is about corporate profits, nothing else.

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Project Wet

The Charleston Gazette
July 27, 2013

One hundred and fifty middle school fifth grade children had fun and learned about water in the Coal River Water Festival. They took part in the Project Wet curriculum at the Coal River Group's Science and Education Center. (May 29, 2013 The Charleston Gazette's Kanawha Valley Neighbors section)

A friend who works to protect West Virginia streams told me that Project Wet was apparently developed by the Nestlé Company to save face due to criticisms about its bottled water operations that wreck havoc on the environment.

One example of that environmental havoc was revealed in a 2007 report disclosing that Nestlé Water International removes 224 million gallons of ground water from Lake Michigan's hydrologic system and transports it out of the basin. The report concludes that "The Great Lakes ecosystem has and will continue to suffer irreparable damage." ( http://www.nyacd.org/pdf/fyi0407web.pdf)

Project Wet joins numerous other industry created "environmental education" programs aimed at school children and teachers. Two such programs I am familiar with are the timber industry's Project Learning Tree and the coal company's CEDAR, both of which contain industry propaganda.

John Walls and his family ran the Coal River Canoe Livery for nearly a decade. It was the kind of tourist business that the Coal River Group, hosts to Project Wet, says could flourish along Coal River.

But in September 2001, Coal River Canoe Livery went out of business. In a lawsuit, Walls claimed that black water and sludge spills from a Massey Coal operation, "turned the river black with coal dust, and negated all of the efforts made to clean up the river." Walls said that once the damage occurs, "you can't go down there with a vacuum cleaner and suck it out. I mean, it's like four to six inches of muck that covers anywhere the water has been after a spill… And once it goes back down, it leaves the muck behind, plus the bottom's coated. And even after a high water or a flood, it still won't flush...It will get off the banks, but the bottom still stays full."

As a boy, Walls swam in water holes that have since been filled in with silt from mountain top removal strip mining, leaving a gelatinous muck on the bottom.

Fulfilling a Freedom of Information Act request, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lists Big Coal River as impaired from the mouth to mile 14.8. DEP listed six tributaries of Coal River, downstream from mountain top removal, with selenium readings considered dangerous to stream wildlife. Selenium is known to cause birth defects in fish such as both eyes on one side of the head and curved spines.

American Rivers listed Coal River in the top ten most endangered rivers in 1999 and again in 2012.

Coal River Mountain Watch did water testing on some tributaries of Big Coal River that are downstream from mountain top removal strip mining. Those tests showed conductivity readings ranging from 1114 to 1550. Readings above 300 are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be hostile to healthy stream wildlife. Two of those streams with high conductivity are near the Nellis Middle School, one of the schools that participated in the Coal River Water Festival.

Along with the Water Festival's several exciting and fun-filled educational activities, I hope the children and teachers were alerted to the reputation of Nestlé, the creator of Project Wet. I also hope they were made aware of Coal River's degradation caused by mountain top removal strip mining.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I made a serious error in writing that Nestlé created Project Wet. Water scientist Dennis Nelson was the creator. Nestlé is the top financial supporter of  Project Wet, but they didn't create it. What follows is a revision of my Gazette Op-Ed with changes that correct my error. The incorrect version appeared in the Gazette and on facebook. I also posted this version on facebook.

Project Wet Revision
One hundred and fifty middle school fifth grade children had fun and learned about water in the Coal River Water Festival. They took part in the Project Wet curriculum at the Coal River Group's Science and Education Center. (May 29, 2013 The Charleston Gazette's Kanawha Valley Neighbors section)

A friend who works to protect West Virginia streams told me the Nestlé Company became the biggest financial contributor to Project Wet apparently to save face due to criticisms about its bottled water operations that wreck havoc on the environment. On the Project Wet website, the creator of Project Wet, water scientist Dennis Nelson, credited Nestlé as the "cornerstone to Project Wet's success."

One example of that environmental havoc was revealed in a 2007 report disclosing that Nestlé Water International removes 224 million gallons of ground water from Lake Michigan's hydrologic system and transports it out of the basin. The report concludes that "The Great Lakes ecosystem has and will continue to suffer irreparable damage." (http://www.nyacd.org/pdf/fyi0407web.pdf)

Project Wet is one of many industry supported "environmental education" programs aimed at school children and teachers. Two such programs I am familiar with are the timber industry's Project Learning Tree and the coal company's CEDAR, both of which contain industry bias. I don't know if Project Wet is biased by their corporate sponsors, but considering the influence of corporate money on Project Learning Tree and CEDAR and politicians, it does make me wonder.

I first encountered Nestlé in Nigeria when I was in the Peace Corps. The Nestlé billboards showed smiling, pretty Nigerian models posing as mothers encouraging real mothers to feed their babies Nestlé baby formula. Most of the water needed to mix with the formula was contaminated leading to sickness and death for babies of mothers who were persuaded to abandon their cultural wisdom of breast feeding.

Back to the Coal River Valley, where I was born and raised and learned to swim. John Walls and his family ran the Coal River Canoe Livery for nearly a decade. It was the kind of tourist business that the Coal River Group, hosts to Project Wet, says could flourish along Coal River.

But in September 2001, Coal River Canoe Livery went out of business. In a lawsuit, Walls claimed that black water and sludge spills from a Massey Coal operation, "turned the river black with coal dust, and negated all of the efforts made to clean up the river." Walls said that once the damage occurs, "you can't go down there with a vacuum cleaner and suck it out. I mean, it's like four to six inches of muck that covers anywhere the water has been after a spill… And once it goes back down, it leaves the muck behind, plus the bottom's coated. And even after a high water or a flood, it still won't flush...It will get off the banks, but the bottom still stays full."

As a boy, Walls swam in water holes that have since been filled in with silt from mountain top removal strip mining, leaving a gelatinous muck on the bottom.

Fulfilling a Freedom of Information Act request, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lists Big Coal River as impaired from the mouth to mile 14.8. DEP listed six tributaries of Coal River, downstream from mountain top removal, with selenium readings considered dangerous to stream wildlife. Selenium is known to cause birth defects in fish such as both eyes on one side of the head and curved spines.

Coal River Mountain Watch did water testing on some tributaries of Big Coal River that are downstream from mountain top removal strip mining. Those tests showed conductivity readings ranging from 1114 to 1550. Readings above 300 are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be hostile to healthy stream wildlife. Two of those streams with high conductivity are near the Nellis Middle School, one of the schools that participated in the Coal River Water Festival.

American Rivers listed Coal River in the top ten most endangered rivers in 1999 and again in 2012.

Along with the Water Festival's several exciting and fun-filled educational activities, I hope the children and teachers were alerted to Nestlé's reputation and involvement in Project Wet financing. I also hope they were made aware of Coal River's degradation caused by mountain top removal strip mining.

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A Hearing, Or Something Else

The Highlands Voice
September, 2013

Franz Kafka, an author known for some hopelessness, must have been the inspiration for the reorganization of the Department of Environmental Protection´s public hearings. Until a couple of years ago the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held formal public hearings on strip mine permit applications. Those public hearings were often confrontations between large groups of angry strip miners and a few folks concerned about the destruction of strip mining in all its gory manifestations.

The DEP has defanged the hearings into a toothless “informal conference.’ Only one person gets to hear and be inspired, angered or depressed by oral testimony—a DEP employee sits off to the side with a recording device and lets anyone talk to the machine.

At a meeting organized by the Coal River Mountain Watch someone asked the DEP director how many permits had been rejected on her watch—she could not think of one and she was not old so it was not a Rick Perry moment.

A while back I attended a public hearing in Ansted on a strip mine permit. Bored DEP employees sat at tables in the middle of a gymnasium floor. A recording device sat on one of the tables. Anyone present could go to the microphone and speak to the audience and for all it was worth to the DEP employees and with as much affect to the recording machines.

From the bleachers I yelled a question to the DEP boss of the hearing. I asked how many permits he had evaluated--about three thousand, he answered. I then asked how many had been denied—he said two. As a DEP director once declared, the DEP is a permitting agency. Indeed it is.

I recently attended what will probably be my last informal conference. It was an application to expand what was originally the Keystone mine. It is one of the bookend strip mines that squeeze Kanawha State Forest in between and does its damage within sight and hearing of Charleston residents living near Rush Creek and the Mount Alpha road.

Almost ten years ago, the Keystone mine started out as a 375-acre mountain top removal operation within sight and hearing of Charleston homes in the Rush Creek and Mount Alpha Road area. Of course the DEP approved the permit. The nearby residents appealed to the Surface Mine Board. The company settled by agreeing to a buffer zone between the mining and the homes.

Many of the neighbors of the mine showed up to question the DEP about the expansion asked for by Revelation Energy, LLC, the new owners of the former Keystone mine. The neighbors are concerned about the blasting within earshot, the dust, the noise and bright lights at night—the machine monsters of mountain destruction don´t sleep. The neighbors say the expansion request violates the intent of the buffer zone deal they made with Keystone.

Cindy Ellis, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy president, overheard one pair of residents ask about water concerns and well testing. The DEP guy assured, "We'll do that." Resident said, "Several times?" "Well no," replied DEP. "Just the one time."

Informal conferences are bizarre settings with uniformed DEP employees standing behind tables with maps laid out showing what is going to happen. Just two or three people at a time could see the map displays and permit records and hear the explanations. DEP had to repeat their party line many times.

Someone asked if the amended permit would be visible from Kanawha State Forest. DEP has computer software that allows them to predict visual impacts from mining, but they haven't used it to show if Revelation´s amendment will make the mine even more visible from the Forest. During the leafless season I have heard the blasts and viewed the mine from a Kanawha State Forest trail.

The only follow ups to the several formal hearings and informal conferences I have attended informed me that the permit had been approved. It will be interesting to see if DEP approves this permit expansion that is only about two miles from the state Capitol. I wonder—can the mountain right across the Kanawha River from the Capitol be removed?

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Books I Have Loved

The Charleston Gazette
January 12, 2014

The Charleston Gazette is publishing short essays called Books I Have Loved. Here is mine

My best friend in the Peace Corps introduced me to John Steinbeck. Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row were the first books that caused me to laugh out loud. In Dubious Battle was my favorite of Steinbeck´s serious novels

Other gut laughs came from: Douglas Adams´ Hitchhiker´s Guide to the Galaxy, brought to my attention by Mike Adkins, a Duval High School student; Tom Sharpe´s hilarious Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure, spoofed the insanity of South African society under apartheid

My all time favorite novel is The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque, who wrote the more famous All Quiet on the Western Front. The Black Obelisk begins in 1923 Germany when the economic collapse fueled the early days of Hitler. Sometimes funny and black humored, this story is told as a salary increase in the morning had to be spent before the noon currency exchange rates rendered it worthless and a cigar could economically be lit with a ten mark note. And there is a drunken retired army officer who urinates on the black obelisk

Starting with Things Fall Apart I read the wonderful novels of Nigerian Ibo author Chinua Achebe. Achebe tells of the subjugation of the Ibo culture by British domination and takes place where I lived in the Peace Corps

Some other favorites are: At Play in the Fields of the Lord with its treatment of missionary arrogance and folly in the Amazon jungle; The Last of the Just by Andre Schwarz-Barz, considered by some to be the greatest novel of the Holocaust.
Of course, 1984 and Animal Farm, which I read as a WVU student in 1955, when 1984 seemed far in the future, had profound effects on me. I could go on with such as Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.´s sly musings and many others that stopped me in my tracks and turned me around

Denise Giardina´s Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth tell us in seamless prose how West Virginia got in such a mess; as does Ronald Lewis´ Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920 For pictures of that mess try, Plundering Appalachia, Tom Butler and George Wuerthner, editors. And don´t miss Night Comes to the Cumberlands

And to grin and laugh, sometimes out loud, there are the first two volumes of Pogo comic strips, from whence comes, “Deck us all with Boston Charlie.’

Poisoned Water From The Coal Industry

From my blog http://samsbranch.me/
January 12, 2014

 

The real cost of coal drifts down the Elk River and is sucked into our water supply. This is Sunday and since Thursday around 300,000 people in eight West Virginia counties have been warned not to use the water coming out of their spigots for drinking, bathing, washing clothes, washing dishes, mixing baby formula…don´t touch the stuff, just flush your commode and put out fires with what used to be water coming into your home and hope the stuff isn´t flammable.  

A company that provides chemicals to the coal industry, has the clever euphemistic name of “Freedom Industries,’ and has poisoned our water with 4-methyl-cyclohexanemethanol aka “Crude MCHM’. Now the news sources say it is “mostly’ Crude MCHM, what else we are getting is a guess

Our water has a funny smell, some say it smells like licorice. It was that same smell in the air that caused nearby residents to report the problem—Freedom Industries and the so-called Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hadn´t noticed. Most West Virginians, who don´t make money from coal production, understand that the DEP is a subsidiary of the coal industry

The stuff in our water is a gift from the coal industry, their gifts keep on giving. The harm done is another cost of coal that the coal industry never pays. Restaurants are shut down, day care facilities are closed, folks sick and old in hospitals and other facilities cannot be bathed with water coming out of the spigots and of course they can´t drink it

Hold up your hand if you think the coal industry will ever pay for the damage they have done to businesses and the environment. They have blown West Virginia mountains to stumps and filled our streams with millions of tons of coal waste coming from mountain top removal strip mining

People living in the coal mining areas, and especially those near mountain top removal strip mining, have a higher incidence of terrible diseases than folks living in other parts of the state

Huge coal trucks tear up state roads—amazingly those trucks are too heavy to travel on interstate highways but our legislature welcomes them on state roads and bridges not built for huge trucks

Forests are being destroyed and streams in other states and Canada are being rendered sterile from the stuff coming out of smokestacks where coal is being burned to make “cheap’ electricity. And our lungs were not made to filter out that same pollution from coal burning power plants

Will Freedom Industries pay the restaurant employees for the work days they are missing? Will they absorb the financial loss of the restaurant owners? Will they pay for the “free’ bottled water being provided by the state government? Will they reimburse the National Guard for flying water in from Maryland? Will they get on their knees and ask our forgiveness?

The true cost of coal does not appear in the price of coal. Coal is called a source of cheap energy—it ain´t cheap

And will the Freedom Industry facility be forced to shut down and quit operating just one mile upstream from the intake pipes for our water. Will our coal infested state politicians have the guts to do that? [They did!!]

Industry owns Public

From my blog http://samsbranch.me/
January 13, 2014

 

From the Charleston Gazette; a quote from Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper:

In January 2011 he said that to implement the U.S. Chemical Safety Board´s recommendation for a “Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program’ in Kanawha County would take the “…unified support between industry, the public and government.’ And I ask, since when is the government separate from the public. To paraphrase a famous president the government should be of the public, by the public and for the public. As can be seen from the coal cleaning chemical leaked into Elk River and 300,000 homes, the public doesn´t stand a chance when up against industry and a government that is owned by industry

This quote from Jim Hightower´s Lowdown:

Water won´t clear up until you get the hogs out of the creek

Freedom Industries and Coal Companies
Call 304-340-3500

From my blog http://samsbranch.me/
January 14, 2014

In the Charleston Gazette this morning was a front page article headlined with “United Way aims to supplement lost wages…John Ballengee, president of the United Way of Central West Virginia, said the agency is establishing a West Virginia Emergency Fund for workers who have lost 30, 40 or even 50 hours of work during the emergency….We want to be able to ask the community–neighbors helping neighbors kind of thing to assist people who have lost wages as a result of the water crisis….It will be interesting to see how actively engaged the community becomes in reaching out to help each other….’ also the article said that Charleston Councilman Andy Richardson…Delegate Skaff, Nelson and State Senators Corey Palumbo and Chris Walters hope to “encourage affected residents to ‘Turn Up The Tips´ at restaurants that were closed by the chemical leak.’

Now is the time for Freedom Industries and all the coal companies and other companies that use the chemical dumped in our water to call the United Way and volunteer to pick up the entire tab. The number is 304-340-3500

Do “They” Really Expect Us To Pay For This?

The Charleston Gazette(slightly revised)
January 17, 2014

Do “they’ really expect us to pay for this? My eyes were burning after I took a shower in the “safe’ water that we are now enjoying here in Charleston and surrounding unfortunates. This morning I washed my still burning eyes with bottled water.

We are in real trouble. I am not going to shower in this water as long as I can smell it and for sure will not drink this stuff. We can´t or at least shouldn´t bath in or drink the water now coming into our homes and who wants to wash their clothes in that stinky stuff.

Should we be charged for water that is almost useless? We now have two water bills—one for piped in water and one for bottled water.

Charleston has entered into third world status. Other parts of southern West Virginia have been in the third world for a long time with water problems caused by the coal industry's underground mining and mountains obliterated with strip mining and its grotesque juiced up version called mountain top removal, with left over dirt and rocks dumped into the valleys.

Friends and I have done water testing throughout southern West Virginia. Over and over we have found readings of 400 to over 1500 on a conductivity scale where anything above 300 is not good for aquatic life.

The Charleston Gazette reported this morning that Senator Joe Manchin and Representatives Capito and Rahall, took pains to distance the chemical that spilled, which is used to process coal, from the state's coal industry. During a televised press conference, Governor Tomblin fell all over himself trying to disassociate the coal industry from the chemical spill. All these politicians grovel before big coal.

I am mad as hell. After the shower last night that made my eyes burn, I cursed big coal with words that would catch this paper on fire. Big coal destroyed the sight in my fathers left eye, gave my father-in-law black lung and they are destroying the mountains all around our home place at Emmons on Big Coal River. Now they are destroying my drinking water.

 
Coal and Chemical Chernobyl

Friends of Nigeria Newsletter
Spring 2014

Dear Editor,
I have just perused and read through a couple of articles in the winter 2014 issue of the Friends of Nigeria Newsletter. I am so impressed that I write to you, even before finishing the issue, to say it is loaded with the kind of stories I enjoy reading.

Right on the front page twice pictured is my friend Norman Gary(01), who knows his wine. And there is a note from another friend, Chuck Ahlgren(04). Aside from what I enjoy, there was the sad news that Lillian Miles Lewis, of our Nigeria 3 group, had died. Lillian kept us white folks in Nigeria 3 straight about the racial prejudice most of us thought we had overcome. During our training at UCLA, Lil entertained our whole Nigeria 3 training group at her family home in Watts. The excellent article about Lil failed to mention that besides being committed and talented, she was a good looking lady.

Andy Philpot's Our Legacy: A Personal Journey, reminded us that we are getting older and if we don't tell our story no one else can. I used my letters from Nigeria that my mother saved and those saved by a West Virginia University administrator plus a journal I kept irregularly, to put together my memories in self-publish Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories (Which was reviewed in this newsletter). It ain't a work of art, but it is unique because I am the only one who lived it. It can be had for a mere $10 at Amazon.com. Dorothy Crews Herzberg of our Nigeria 3 group has also put her letters together to publish Me, Madam also available from Amazon.com. I dug out the Fall 2013 issue and found it loaded as well with stories I like to read. It was gratifying to learn from Patrick O'Reilly's (16) 65-67 letter that he had a good experience with Father Gal, a kind and culturally sensitive Headmaster/White Father, and not a racist and arrogant Headmaster/White Father as was mine.

And it was good to see pictures of old friends Murray Frank (Staff 61-?) and Aubrey Brown (1) 61-64. I did enjoy very much the two articles by Bob Criso (21) 66-67 and Allan Hall's (24) 66-67 Biafra: My Story. On January 9, 2014, 10,000 gallons of coal-cleaning chemical spilled into the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia where I live. The air and water smelled like licorice and almost two months later, we don't drink or cook with tap water. I take only one very quick shower per week--the first one made my eyes burn. Not too long after the chemical spill there was a huge black coal waste sludge mess leaked into a creek nearby.

Apropos of these environmental disasters,I found this quote in Jim Hightower's Lowdown newsletter; "...the water won't ever clear up until you get the hogs out of the creek."

In my family's eighth generation in West Virginia, I have witnessed: mountain top removal strip mining for coal behead 500 mountains; natural gas fracking destroy ground water and habitat for humans and other animals and organisms; long wall underground coal mining cause homes, barns, streams and other surface areas to tilt, shift and crack; schools of dead fish, white belly's up, drift by our home on the Kanawha River; all the white houses in our neighborhood turn black as the sulfur in the rotten egg smelling air reacted with the lead in the paint; my father blinded in one eye in an underground coal mining accident; and my coal miner father-in-law die with Black Lung. All of this has happened with much opposition and warning from environmental groups, of which I am a part. Our state, with the cooperation of sold out politicians, has become like a third-world Coal and Chemical Chernobyl.

Find some of that history in West Virginia History in Op-eds and Letters to the Editor: 1964-2014. And for more commentary see my blog: The News From Sam's Branch.And coming soon on Amazon.com: The Soviet Union and Lincoln County USA, a memoir of my 22 years teaching in Lincoln County, West Virginia. Now, I am going to get back to reading your most excellent publication.

Julian Martin Nigeria 3 1961-63.
Community Development

The Charleston Gazette
March 22, 2014

I could not imagine my job in the Peace Corps being community development or such. There was no way that I knew enough or was experienced enough to bring about beneficial change in a community that had existed possibly for centuries or maybe so long no one knew when it began. I am so very glad that I was assigned to teach chemistry in a high school. Whether it was what they or their culture needed, I could teach chemistry to young Igbo men.

By their financial sacrifices the students' families and communities seemed to be saying they wanted somebody to teach them chemistry. They trusted the judgment of politicians and school administrators that chemistry and the other Western academic subjects were what their children needed to get ahead in the brave new world out there. My job was already decided when I got there and I did it. On the side, I got acquainted with communities but never offered them any advice as to how they could do better. I visited an area of Eastern Nigeria where there was a custom, a rule, that there would be no defecation within a certain distance of a stream. But here, we, they, somebody, allowed or ignored the existence of several huge chemical storage tanks a few feet from Elk River and just a mile upstream from the water company intake. Ten thousand gallons of coal-cleaning chemical was leaked from one of those tanks into Elk River and sucked into the water company's intake. Over two months later, our trust shattered, we are still drinking and cooking with bottled water. Who needed a Peace Corps community development "expert", the Nigerian communities that banned defecation near their streams, or us?  How could anyone from the many communities across the U.S. that are threatened with the contamination of their water supply, their breathing air and their very land, offer "expert" assistance to "less developed" communities?

A Peace Corps friend says that Peace Corps Volunteers who worked in community development, especially in Latin America, came home more radical than when they left. He figures it was because the community development volunteers went up against the oligarchies that owned most of the land and controlled most of the jobs and did not react kindly to change. To get more people who might come home and advocate for the increasing numbers of people who are poor and powerless, maybe we should send more Peace Corps volunteers to work in community development, knowing that it is going to be a frustrating, difficult, and almost impossible task, but that will create a sensitivity much needed in our country.

Plan Gone Wrong

The Charleston Gazette
May 4, 2014

Bobbi Nicholson's recent commentary, 'Zombie Ideas' in state education inspired me to share these memories of a plan gone wrong back in 1997-98. The State Department of Education told teachers that we should concentrate on fewer topics and teach those topics in depth. It was "less is more." Then we were told to reverse course and teach the "Instructional Goals and Objectives (IGOs),"-- often more than a hundred for one subject. Less was no longer more. At Duval High School, we were required to keep a form for each student with all the IGOs listed. On each student's form we were to put a circle beside an IGO when it was taught to the student. For my classes that would be 100 circles on each student's form. Next I was to give tests that covered each of the 100 IGOs. I taught three different subjects and would have to create, administer, and grade tests to cover the 100 IGOs for each of my three subjects.

Students failing the test for an IGO got a diagonal mark through the circle beside that IGO. The State Department of Education came up with a clever program called "Teach Re-Teach." Students failing an IGO test were to be re-taught that IGO and re-tested. When the student "mastered" the IGO after being re-taught and re-tested, teachers were to put another diagonal mark that would complete an X over the circle and date it, indicating "mastery" of the IGO. Those failing the re-test were to be re-taught and re-tested.

For three classes with 100 IGOs and say 25 students per class, I would have to enter 7500 little circles-25 students times 100 IGOs times 3 classes. And then make a diagonal mark for those who failed an IGO test. The second year of this proposed "program" we would have to re-teach and re-test the IGOs that the student failed the previous year plus do the 7500 little circles for the new year. Administrators of education in West Virginia had been blamed for low test scores. I guess they feared that the test scores had to go up or heads would roll. If students failed the annual Stanford 9 test items that corresponded to the IGOs that the teacher certified the students had mastered, guess whose head would roll. Teaching and learning aren't about standards, IGOs, accountability, testing, or mastery. Those are buzz-words that create mind-boggling, sometimes comical paper chases. Effective teachers are too busy making their classes places where learning takes place to become accountants in a paper chase. The late Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that to attract good teachers, salaries should be doubled and class sizes cut in half. With decent salaries and reasonable class sizes, teaching positions would attract those creative teachers, who couldn't afford to teach under existing conditions. To pay for Shanker's proposal in West Virginia would require fairly taxing the coal, oil, gas, and timber industries

When I was a teacher, our children were eligible for reduced lunch rates. I don't think it was unreasonable to want to earn enough to pay for my children's lunch.

The Lincoln County Board of Education gave up on trusting that students would pass the Stanford 9 test showing mastery of the IGOs. A central office staff member was sent to a meeting of Duval teachers and told us to "backload the test"-translates to "teach the test."

All that malarkey about "mastering" IGOs, "Teach Re-Teach", Xs and Os, and "backload the test", came about during my last year as a teacher. So you can guess what I did--I didn't do it.

 

 

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