Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Climate Ground Zero Delivers Toxic Blasting Dust to Capitol Building in Charleston, West Virginia

For Immediate release:

Climate Ground Zero Delivers Toxic Blasting Dust
to Capitol Building in Charleston, West Virginia

When: Monday, November 25 at 1:00 P.M.
Where: The Liberty Bell Memorial near the back steps of the Capitol Building.

“Blasting mountaintops to mine for coal has been controversial in Appalachia since the 1970′s when it was first introduced. We believe it has never been legal or regulated. It destroys the streams that are the headwaters for our nations great rivers. The communities that live here have fought in every war since the American Revolution yet they are being dishonorably displaced and even their cemeteries are being desecrated, blasted, and buried in toxic mining spoils. Most importantly, new studies have shown that breathing the blasting dust can be fatal. It is past time to end the blasting,” said Mike Roselle, director of Climate Ground Zero
“If this does not stop, and stop soon, our next actions will be on the blasting sites.

At present, two million pounds of explosives are detonated every day, save Sunday, in Appalachia.

No one should have to live under this,” said James McGuinness, one of the protesters with Climate Ground Zero.

End Mountain Top Removal

End Mountain Top Removal

Additional background information available at climategroundzero.org
Contact: Mike Roselle Climate Ground Zero cell: 205 999 8391

cell: 304 854 7788 (office)

 

9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask

 

9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask

By Max Fisher, Published: August 29 at 12:50 pmE-mail the writer

 

syriaForMax (2) The United States and allies are preparing for a possibly imminent series of limited military strikes against Syria, the first direct U.S. intervention in the two-year civil war, in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.

If you found the above sentence kind of confusing, or aren’t exactly sure why Syria is fighting a civil war, or even where Syria is located, then this is the article for you. What’s happening in Syria is really important, but it can also be confusing and difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it.

Here, then, are the most basic answers to your most basic questions. First, a disclaimer: Syria and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive or definitive account of that entire story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it.

Read the rest of our “9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask” series here

1. What is Syria?

Syria is a country in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s about the same size as Washington state with a population a little over three times as large – 22 million.  Syria is very diverse, ethnically and religiously, but most Syrians are ethnic Arab and follow the Sunni branch of Islam. Civilization in Syria goes back thousands of years, but the country as it exists today is very young. Its borders were drawn by European colonial powers in the 1920s.

Syria is in the middle of an extremely violent civil war. Fighting between government forces and rebels has killed more 100,000 and created 2 million refugees, half of them children.

2. Why are people in Syria killing each other?

The killing started in April 2011, when peaceful protests inspired by earlier revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia rose up to challenge the dictatorship running the country. The government responded — there is no getting around this — like monsters. First, security forces quietly killed activists. Then they started kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing activists and their family members, including a lot of children, dumping their mutilated bodies by the sides of roads. Then troops began simply opening fire on protests. Eventually, civilians started shooting back.

Fighting escalated from there until it was a civil war. Armed civilians organized into rebel groups. The army deployed across the country, shelling and bombing whole neighborhoods and towns, trying to terrorize people into submission. They’ve also allegedly used chemical weapons, which is a big deal for reasons I’ll address below. Volunteers from other countries joined the rebels, either because they wanted freedom and democracy for Syria or, more likely, because they are jihadists who hate Syria’s secular government. The rebels were gaining ground for a while and now it looks like Assad is coming back. There is no end in sight.

3. That’s horrible. But there are protests lots of places. How did it all go so wrong in Syria? And, please, just give me the short version.

That’s a complicated question, and there’s no single, definitive answer. This is the shortest possible version — stay with me, it’s worth it. You might say, broadly speaking, that there are two general theories. Both start with the idea that Syria has been a powder keg waiting to explode for decades and that it was set off, maybe inevitably, by the 2011 protests and especially by the government’s overly harsh crackdown.

Before we dive into the theories, you have to understand that the Syrian government really overreacted when peaceful protests started in mid-2011, slaughtering civilians unapologetically, which was a big part of how things escalated as quickly as they did. Assad learned this from his father. In 1982, Assad’s father and then-dictator Hafez al-Assad responded to a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising in the city of Hama by leveling entire neighborhoods. He killed thousands of civilians, many of whom had nothing to do with the uprising. But it worked, and it looks like the younger Assad tried to reproduce it. His failure made the descent into chaos much worse.

Okay, now the theories for why Syria spiraled so wildly. The first is what you might call “sectarian re-balancing” or “the Fareed Zakaria case” for why Syria is imploding (he didn’t invent this argument but is a major proponent). Syria has artificial borders that were created by European colonial powers, forcing together an amalgam of diverse religious and ethnic groups. Those powers also tended to promote a minority and rule through it, worsening preexisting sectarian tensions.

Zakaria’s argument is that what we’re seeing in Syria is in some ways the inevitable re-balancing of power along ethnic and religious lines. He compares it to the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein, after which a long-oppressed majority retook power from, and violently punished, the former minority rulers. Most Syrians are Sunni Arabs, but the country is run by members of a minority sect known as Alawites (they’re ethnic Arab but follow a smaller branch of Islam). The Alawite government rules through a repressive dictatorship and gives Alawites special privileges, which makes some Sunnis and other groups hate Alawites in general, which in turn makes Alawites fear that they’ll be slaughtered en masse if Assad loses the war. (There are other minorities as well, such as ethnic Kurds and Christian Arabs; too much to cover in one explainer.) Also, lots of Syrian communities are already organized into ethnic or religious enclaves, which means that community militias are also sectarian militias. That would explain why so much of the killing in Syria has developed along sectarian lines. It would also suggest that there’s not much anyone can do to end the killing because, in Zakaria’s view, this is a painful but unstoppable process of re-balancing power.

The second big theory is a bit simpler: that the Assad regime was not a sustainable enterprise and it’s clawing desperately on its way down. Most countries have some kind of self-sustaining political order, and it looked for a long time like Syria was held together by a cruel and repressive but basically stable dictatorship. But maybe it wasn’t stable; maybe it was built on quicksand. Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez seized power in a coup in 1970 after two decades of extreme political instability. His government was a product of Cold War meddling and a kind of Arab political identity crisis that was sweeping the region. But he picked the losing sides of both: the Soviet Union was his patron, and he followed a hard-line anti-Western nationalist ideology that’s now mostly defunct. The Cold War is long over, and most of the region long ago made peace with Israel and the United States; the Assad regime’s once-solid ideological and geopolitical identity is hopelessly outdated. But Bashar al-Assad, who took power in 2000 when his father died, never bothered to update it. So when things started going belly-up two years ago, he didn’t have much to fall back on except for his ability to kill people.

4. I hear a lot about how Russia still loves Syria, though. And Iran, too. What’s their deal?

Yeah, Russia is Syria’s most important ally. Moscow blocks the United Nations Security Council from passing anything that might hurt the Assad regime, which is why the United States has to go around the United Nations if it wants to do anything. Russia sends lots of weapons to Syria that make it easier for Assad to keep killing civilians and will make it much harder if the outside world ever wants to intervene.

The four big reasons that Russia wants to protect Assad, the importance of which vary depending on whom you ask, are: (1) Russia has a naval installation in Syria, which is strategically important and Russia’s last foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union; (2) Russia still has a bit of a Cold War mentality, as well as a touch of national insecurity, which makes it care very much about maintaining one of its last military alliances; (3) Russia also hates the idea of “international intervention” against countries like Syria because it sees this as Cold War-style Western imperialism and ultimately a threat to Russia; (4) Syria buys a lot of Russian military exports, and Russia needs the money.

Iran’s thinking in supporting Assad is more straightforward. It perceives Israel and the United States as existential threats and uses Syria to protect itself, shipping arms through Syria to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah and the Gaza-based militant group Hamas. Iran is already feeling isolated and insecure; it worries that if Assad falls it will lose a major ally and be cut off from its militant proxies, leaving it very vulnerable. So far, it looks like Iran is actually coming out ahead: Assad is even more reliant on Tehran than he was before the war started.

5. This is all feeling really bleak and hopeless. Can we take a music break?

Oh man, it gets so much worse. But, yeah, let’s listen to some music from Syria. It’s really good!

If you want to go old-school you should listen to the man, the legend, the great Omar Souleyman (playing Brooklyn this Saturday!). Or, if you really want to get your revolutionary on, listen to the infectious 2011 anti-Assad anthem “Come on Bashar leave.” The singer, a cement mixer who made Rage Against the Machine look like Enya, was killed for performing it in Hama. But let’s listen to something non-war and bit more contemporary, the soulful and foot-tappable George Wassouf:

Hope you enjoyed that, because things are about to go from depressing to despondent.

6. Why hasn’t the United States fixed this yet?

Because it can’t. There are no viable options. Sorry.

The military options are all bad. Shipping arms to rebels, even if it helps them topple Assad, would ultimately empower jihadists and worsen rebel in-fighting, probably leading to lots of chaos and possibly a second civil war (the United States made this mistake during Afghanistan’s early 1990s civil war, which helped the Taliban take power in 1996). Taking out Assad somehow would probably do the same, opening up a dangerous power vacuum. Launching airstrikes or a “no-fly zone” could suck us in, possibly for years, and probably wouldn’t make much difference on the ground. An Iraq-style ground invasion would, in the very best outcome, accelerate the killing, cost a lot of U.S. lives, wildly exacerbate anti-Americanism in a boon to jihadists and nationalist dictators alike, and would require the United States to impose order for years across a country full of people trying to kill each other. Nope.

The one political option, which the Obama administration has been pushing for, would be for the Assad regime and the rebels to strike a peace deal. But there’s no indication that either side is interested in that, or that there’s even a viable unified rebel movement with which to negotiate.

It’s possible that there was a brief window for a Libya-style military intervention early on in the conflict. But we’ll never really know.

7. So why would Obama bother with strikes that no one expects to actually solve anything?

Okay, you’re asking here about the Obama administration’s not-so-subtle signals that it wants to launch some cruise missiles at Syria, which would be punishment for what it says is Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.

It’s true that basically no one believes that this will turn the tide of the Syrian war. But this is important: it’s not supposed to. The strikes wouldn’t be meant to shape the course of the war or to topple Assad, which Obama thinks would just make things worse anyway. They would be meant to punish Assad for (allegedly) using chemical weapons and to deter him, or any future military leader in any future war, from using them again.

8. Come on, what’s the big deal with chemical weapons? Assad kills 100,000 people with bullets and bombs but we’re freaked out over 1,000 who maybe died from poisonous gas? That seems silly.

You’re definitely not the only one who thinks the distinction is arbitrary and artificial. But there’s a good case to be made that this is a rare opportunity, at least in theory, for the United States to make the war a little bit less terrible — and to make future wars less terrible.

The whole idea that there are rules of war is a pretty new one: the practice of war is thousands of years old, but the idea that we can regulate war to make it less terrible has been around for less than a century. The institutions that do this are weak and inconsistent; the rules are frail and not very well observed. But one of the world’s few quasi-successes is the “norm” (a fancy way of saying a rule we all agree to follow) against chemical weapons. This norm is frail enough that Syria could drastically weaken it if we ignore Assad’s use of them, but it’s also strong enough that it’s worth protecting. So it’s sort of a low-hanging fruit: firing a few cruise missiles doesn’t cost us much and can maybe help preserve this really hard-won and valuable norm against chemical weapons.

You didn’t answer my question. That just tells me that we can maybe preserve the norm against chemical weapons, not why we should.

Fair point. Here’s the deal: war is going to happen. It just is. But the reason that the world got together in 1925 for the Geneva Convention to ban chemical weapons is because this stuff is really, really good at killing civilians but not actually very good at the conventional aim of warfare, which is to defeat the other side. You might say that they’re maybe 30 percent a battlefield weapon and 70 percent a tool of terror. In a world without that norm against chemical weapons, a military might fire off some sarin gas because it wants that battlefield advantage, even if it ends up causing unintended and massive suffering among civilians, maybe including its own. And if a military believes its adversary is probably going to use chemical weapons, it has a strong incentive to use them itself. After all, they’re fighting to the death.

So both sides of any conflict, not to mention civilians everywhere, are better off if neither of them uses chemical weapons. But that requires believing that your opponent will never use them, no matter what. And the only way to do that, short of removing them from the planet entirely, is for everyone to just agree in advance to never use them and to really mean it. That becomes much harder if the norm is weakened because someone like Assad got away with it. It becomes a bit easier if everyone believes using chemical weapons will cost you a few inbound U.S. cruise missiles.

That’s why the Obama administration apparently wants to fire cruise missiles at Syria, even though it won’t end the suffering, end the war or even really hurt Assad that much.

9. Hi, there was too much text so I skipped to the bottom to find the big take-away. What’s going to happen?

Short-term maybe the United States and some allies will launch some limited, brief strikes against Syria and maybe they won’t. Either way, these things seem pretty certain in the long-term:

• The killing will continue, probably for years. There’s no one to sign a peace treaty on the rebel side, even if the regime side were interested, and there’s no foreseeable victory for either. Refugees will continue fleeing into neighboring countries, causing instability and an entire other humanitarian crisis as conditions in the camps worsen.

• Syria as we know it, an ancient place with a rich and celebrated culture and history, will be a broken, failed society, probably for a generation or more. It’s very hard to see how you rebuild a functioning state after this. Maybe worse, it’s hard to see how you get back to a working social contract where everyone agrees to get along.

• Russia will continue to block international action, the window for which has maybe closed anyway. The United States might try to pressure, cajole or even horse-trade Moscow into changing its mind, but there’s not much we can offer them that they care about as much as Syria.

• At some point the conflict will cool, either from a partial victory or from exhaustion. The world could maybe send in some peacekeepers or even broker a fragile peace between the various ethnic, religious and political factions. Probably the best model is Lebanon, which fought a brutal civil war that lasted 15 years from 1975 to 1990 and has been slowly, slowly recovering ever since. It had some bombings just last week.

More from WorldViews on Syria:

The one map that shows why Syria is so complicated

The first truly heartwarming video from Syria in a long time

Here’s why Obama is giving up the element of surprise in Syria

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This post has been updated.

Max Fisher
Max Fisher is the Post’s foreign affairs blogger. He has a master’s degree in security studies from Johns Hopkins University. Sign up for his daily newsletter here. Also, follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
 

U.S. Stay out of Syria! It will just fuel Al-Qaeda

Why the U.S. Should Stay Out

The Long War in Syria

by GARY LEUPP

Two years ago, Barack Obama announced that Syrian President Bashar Assad must “get out of the way.” “The time has come,” he declared on August 18, 2011, “for President Assad to step aside.”

The Al Nusrah Front, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that is fighting in Syria, in October 2012 released two photographs of the execution of Syrian soldiers reportedly captured in Aleppo. One of the photographs is reproduced above.

Needless to say, Assad ignored him. He was probably not surprised at Obama’s demand, given the unrelenting U.S. hostility to his regime, and that of his father, Hafez Assad, for several decades. This is due mainly to Syria’s close relationship with Iran and its support for Lebanon’s Hizbollah and Palestinian organizations including Hamas, and the deployment of Syrian troops in Lebanon to 2005. U.S. hostility to Syria (listed by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism) reflects that of Israel, which illegally occupies Syria’s Golan Heights.

The proximate reason for Obama’s call was that Assad had fired on his own people. One must question Obama’s authority to make that moral judgment, given that police in the U.S. fire on unarmed people, especially young black men, all the time (especially in Chicago, L.A. and Philadelphia); and that the U.S. arms security forces in countries including Egypt and Bahrain that fire on their people as well.

Obama was simultaneously (from March 2011) accusing Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi of “attacking his people” and planning mass slaughter (a charge many analysts questioned, there being little evidence for it). It was just another Big Lie, comparable to the Big Lie that the Taliban was in bed with Osama bin Laden and complicit in 9-11. Or that Saddam Hussein was aligned with al-Qaeda and producing weapons of mass destruction.

But it served as the pretext of U.S.-NATO intervention on behalf of armed rebels and their western-trained front men, who have plunged Libya into chaos and made it fertile ground for al-Qaeda-linked groups since the fall and murder of Qaddafi in October 2011.

On the other hand, the Obama administration did not call on Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to step down even as his forces fired on the people, killing 850 in 2011. It delayed giving Mubarak his marching orders until February, when the mass upheaval had become so powerful, and the U.S. so despised for its complicity in repression, that it became impossible to extend the Egyptian dictator further support. And it has never called upon the Bahraini king to step down, even as he attacks his own people. Many people paying attention see some hypocrisy here.

If Obama thought that Assad would be driven from power, or step down at his arrogant command, he was badly mistaken. David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, now says the conflict in Syria will likely last “many, many months to multiple years.” (I don’t believe he indicated, in a talk at the Aspen Security Forum, whether or not further supply aid from the U.S. would likely shorten the conflict. Imagine a proxy war going on a decade, like the U.S. proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.)

There are several reasons for this projected long duration. Assad’s forces are stronger than Obama expected and have scored some notable victories lately against the rebels. The opposition is divided into about 1,200 groups. The strongest rebel military force is the al-Qaeda faction, the Al-Nusra Front. If the U.S. and its allies want to strengthen and use the non-jihadi forces (whom they are aiding with weaponry, and who may or may not wish to create a western-friendly, non-Islamist “democracy”) they will have a lot of work to do since even the “moderates” seem to appreciate the superior fighting skills of the Islamist fighters. And Russia and China stand behind Assad, promising to veto any UN resolution such as the one used to legitimate the assault on Libya, ostensibly to “protect” its people.

Nicholas Burns, a George W. Bush-era undersecretary of state, writing in March 2011 about U.S. support for anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya, noted, “This is the first time in American history when we have used our military power to prop up and possibly put in power a group of people we literally do not know.”

(The world has since come to know them, through such events as the attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi; the repeated resignations of ministers in the dysfunctional, impotent cabinet in Tripoli; the persecution of blacks and Tuaregs; inter-tribal clashes, etc.)

But it seems Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry would like to do this a second time—that is, take a risk and place in power people they don’t know. One wonders what their real reasons might be. Surely Israel plays a major role in their reasoning, but Israel may be ambivalent about U.S. arms to rebels who might be as hostile to it as Assad. And Assad has in fact offered to recognize Israel following the return of the Golan Heights. Israel appreciates the fact that he has maintained peace along the border, even importing Golan-grown apples. His secular, religiously tolerant Baathist regime is preferable to an Islamist one.

Surely a key U.S. goal is to weaken Iran, and the Syria-Iran-Hizbollah alliance. But if that goal were to be obtained through handing a central Arab state to al-Qaeda, would it be worth it?

Al-Qaeda once seemed scattered, vitiated, defeated. But then the U.S. invaded Iraq, and al-Qaeda which had never been there before mushroomed overnight in Al-Anbar province, causing the occupation big headaches. Libyan jihadis flocked to Iraq, and returning home created a new Maghreb branch of al-Qaeda, which in turn spawned a Sahel branch now causing mischief in Mali. The majority of the al-Nusra fighters in Syria seem to be arriving from Iraq.

Meanwhile U.S. missile strikes on Yemen build sympathy for Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula—totally counterproductive.

The lesson is, U.S. imperialism (which once worked alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan; and which alienated bin Laden through its unlimited support for Israel, its support for hated Arab regimes, its sanctions on Iraq which killed half a million children, etc.) positively nurtures al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Even as the interminable terror war justifies the limitless expansion of the surveillance state, unprecedented prosecution and abuse of whistle-blowers and the continued practice of torture.

The more the U.S. and its allies get involved in Syria, the more jihadis will likely get involved. Al-Qaeda has proven that it thrives on U.S. interventions. This is just one reason to demand the U.S. stay out of Syria.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

 

Anti-Fracking Activists Celebrate Cancellation of Gas Leases and Drilling Plans in NE Pennsylvania

Unprecedented mass lease cancellation occurs near homes of some of fractivism’s most effective mobilizers.

Photo Credit: Pincasso/ Shutterstock.com

July 19, 2013  |

Certain powerful images really stick with you when you watch Gasland or Gasland 2. First is the shot of the tap water on fire. Equally powerful are the images of the film’s director Josh Fox on his porch strumming his banjo, in the woods on his property, walking by the local stream, and celebrating the pristine beauty of the nearby Delaware River. The film keeps returning to the land that Fox treasures, cluing us in on why he turned down a sizeable offer to lease for gas drilling, and what drove him forth with his camera on a fact-finding journey that culminated in the first Gasland, the film that ignited the fractivism movement.

The offer on the table in Fox’s corner of Wayne County, PA was part of the first incursion of fracking into the Northeastern U.S. The arrival of landsmen— the gas company representatives offering quick and easy money with no downside if people signed away the mineral rights to their land, had already been going on in the Western U.S. As it plays out road by road, town by town, and state by state, fracking baldly reveals the downsides of the myth of American individualism. Americans prize the right to do what they want on their property. But other people’s rights wind up violated when what Neighbor A chooses to do contaminates the water supply, impinges on the quality of life, or destroys the property value of Neighbor B.

And that cross point—one person’s rights to drill versus others’ rights to protect their homes, community and water supply is central to every community’s divide over fracking.  It’s science’s job to assess benefits versus risks. It’s government’s job to mediate my rights versus yours.  When science fails to study, when government fails to monitor, it’s neighbor against neighbor.  When millions of dollars spent on ad buys and lobbyists assure that marketing slogans like “energy independence” appear everywhere from Superbowl commercials to State of the Union talking points, then local battles erupt in places like Wayne County. Since 2007, when leasing began in Wayne County, Fox’s once idyllic rural community has been embattled. And so is a nation divided at a crossroads of energy choice and climate change.

But over the last few weeks, that changed for Wayne County. Hess and Newfield, the two major gas companies leasing land there, decided to cancel their leases in Marcellus shale, and move out of Wayne and much of northeastern PA. The companies sent letters stating that they “have elected to release your lease, thus your lease will not be continued to the development phase,” terminating approximately 1,500 leases covering over 100,000 acres of land.

“I can’t believe it and I can’t stop crying,” Fox said, adding that he is deeply grateful for this “amazing victory.” “This proves that people passionate and organized can actually win sometimes. We won’t stop until we win everywhere.”

It’s no happenstance that the unprecedented mass lease cancellation occurred in a region that is home both to Josh Fox, fractivism’s heroic Pied Piper, and to the first fractivist organization founded in the Northeast U.S., Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)— making it a triumph both for Fox and for the dedicated grassroots effort by a community of neighbors that began in 2007.

Fox was inspired to film his investigation of fracking’s impacts on average citizens in 2008 after attending a local public event hosted by DCS co-founders Joe Levine, Jane Cyphers and Barbara Arrindell. The first Gasland film is dedicated to them. When faced with the shared threat of fracking, this trio pooled their skills to organize. Levine is an architect conversant with land use, zoning, and local ordinances and officials; Cyphers is an educator; and Arrindell has a background in science, which made it easy for her to grasp the geological complexities beneath the marketing phrases.

 

Vincent Makes the News

Will Work for Change: Activists say their work might not be lucrative, but it’s fulfilling

“It sounds noble but in reality, I’m broke.”

by

Mel Packer with Marcellus ProtestPhoto courtesy of Mel Packer

Mel Packer with Marcellus Protest

Someone has been shouting “get a job!” at Vincent Eirene since he was a little boy.

The thing is, he does have a job. Eirene is a lifelong activist, plying his trade at protests, speeches and actions, and running a house for the homeless supported from his own pocket and community donations. But, like many protest pros around Pittsburgh will tell you, his calling comes with a price, financial and otherwise.

“It’s like the Catholics: We take a vow of poverty,” says Eirene, 60. “It sounds noble but in reality, I’m broke.”

Supporting oneself by supporting a cause is rarely a lucrative career move. One year, for example, Eirene said he was “lucky” if he pulled in $8,000.  Helen Gerhardt, an organizer for Pittsburghers for Public Transit, gave up her apartment to live at Occupy Pittsburgh’s Downtown encampment last year, and has lived in her car between organizing jobs. Joyce Wagner, former board chair of the national Iraq Veterans Against the War, has found herself facing foreclosure.

Others, like peace and social-justice activist Celeste Taylor, do their own fundraising and compete for paying jobs in the organizing field, while working other gigs: Taylor’s work history includes stints as a floral designer and administrator of the Friends Meeting House.

And while there is little financial security for those whose work-day tools include a protest sign, few can imagine pursuing any other way of life.

“I always thought it was honorable work and you should be good at it,” says Taylor, who most recently served as the regional coordinator for the Pennsylvania Voter ID Coalition. “It’s not a place to plunk yourself down and make money.”

Jodi Hirsh, sole founder of JustAction LLC — an Edgewood-based consulting agency whose work includes advocacy and grassroots campaigns — agrees. “I’d be miserable doing anything else,” she says.

Hirsh has faced financial uncertainty, the anxiety of not knowing when her next paycheck would arrive. “As an independent contractor, you never know what’s coming,” she says. “I spent all of November and December nervously biting my fingernails.”

Contracts eventually came, enough to stay afloat with the help of her partner’s full-time job and health benefits, which also help cope with the responsibility of raising two children under the age of 4.

Having young kids can complicate advocacy work in other ways, since meetings and actions often take place on evenings and weekends. “People will say something is kid-friendly, but there’s nothing for kids to do,” says Wagner, who has a 3-year-old son. “You often find meetings start at times when children need to sleep or eat.”

When Wagner was single, “I could scrape by with less,” says the North Side resident. “Now I have a lot more responsibility to feed, clothe and shelter another person.”

Wagner has taken some time off from activism, which allows her to work as an ironworker apprentice, and to spend time with her son. As an activist, burn-out is an occupational hazard, she says: “You’re ineffective unless you’re taking care of yourself and your basic needs are met.”

Taylor agrees that there are times activists get overwhelmed, and that balancing family considerations can be difficult. “Sometimes I wonder if I should have made different choices so I could have done different things with my children.”

“A lot of activists’ families probably feel rejected and not given the same kind of weight or importance that political causes are,” says Gerhardt, of Wilkinsburg. Gerhardt has held a handful of organizing jobs since serving in Iraq with the Army National Guard; her work week sometimes eclipses the 60- or 70-hour marks.

Her current contract with Pittsburghers for Public Transit, paid for by the Amalgamated Transit Union, is only temporary. And she admits, “I often think about getting a stable, professional job and just doing this part time,” adding she plans to re-evaluate within the next year.

Even so, Gerhardt says, activism “is a tight-knit community,” offering work that is “incredibly interesting and satisfying.”

Activists believe that kids with activist parents  enjoy some benefits, too — like being exposed to different ideas and people. Mel Packer, a Point Breeze veteran protester who just retired as a physician’s assistant, worked part time to help take care of his family. Taylor, a mother of four, recalls taking her twins to a rally in Topeka, Kan., on the anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education.

Activism has also brought families together. Packer, for example, met his wife, Emily De Ferrari, through political organizing.

Such personal rewards, activists say, transcend having elaborate lifestyles. Eirene, for one, says he deliberately lives simply. For 35 years, he supported himself through his light-hauling business, which he started in 1977 and stopped two years ago when he got on disability for injuries sustained after getting struck by a vehicle.

Eirene protested on behalf of various causes in college in the 1970s: the United Farm Workers, rebuilding Bach Mai Hospital in Vietnam, and racial equality. And while the cost of living was cheaper with a $75 apartment rent split three ways, he says, even then “it seems like it was always a struggle” to get by.

In 1977, he started a house to take in homeless people in the community, which he financed with personal funds and contributions for the next 35 years. While limited income was due in part to Eirene’s activism, it was also partly by design.

“I thought that my activism would be more effective and unlimited, if I wasn’t being paid by someone telling me what to do. Nobody can tell you what to do when you’re hauling garbage.”

Coupled with more than 70 arrests for civil disobedience, and having spent more than two-and-a-half-years in jail all told, Eirene’s finances are complicated, to say the least. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It just didn’t add up, yet everything was fine,” Eirene says. “You have more money in your account if you don’t check it.”

 

10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down

10 Pro-Gun Myths, Shot Down

Fact-checking some of the gun lobby’s favorite arguments shows they’re full of holes.

—By

| Thu Jan. 31, 2013 3:01 AM PST

By cutting off federal funding for research and stymieing data collection and sharing, the National Rifle Association has tried to do to the study of gun violence what climate deniers have done to the science of global warming. No wonder: When it comes to hard numbers, some of the gun lobby’s favorite arguments are full of holes.

Myth #1: They’re coming for your guns.
Fact-check: No one knows the exact number of guns in America, but it’s clear there’s no practical way to round them all up (never mind that no one in Washington is proposing this). Yet if you fantasize about rifle-toting citizens facing down the government, you’ll rest easy knowing that America’s roughly 80 million gun owners already have the feds and cops outgunned by a factor of around 79 to 1.

gun ownership

Sources: Congressional Research Service (PDF), Small Arms Survey

Myth #2: Guns don’t kill people—people kill people.
Fact-check: People with more guns tend to kill more people—with guns. The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership. Gun death rates are generally lower in states with restrictions such as assault-weapons bans or safe-storage requirements.

ownership vs gun death

Sources: Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society.
Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.
• Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.
• In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.

Myth #4: More good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys.
Fact-check: Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0
• Chances that a shooting at an ER involves guns taken from guards: 1 in 5

Myth #5: Keeping a gun at home makes you safer.
Fact-check: Owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental death by gun.
• For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home.
43% of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm.
• In one experiment, one third of 8-to-12-year-old boys who found a handgun pulled the trigger.

Myth #6: Carrying a gun for self-defense makes you safer.
Fact-check: In 2011, nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime.
• In one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property. However, a closer look at their claims found that more than 50% involved using guns in an aggressive manner, such as escalating an argument.
• A Philadelphia study found that the odds of an assault victim being shot were 4.5 times greater if he carried a gun. His odds of being killed were 4.2 times greater.

Myth #7: Guns make women safer.
Fact-check: In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
• A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
• One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun that women in states with lower gun ownership rates.

Myth #8: “Vicious, violent video games” deserve more blame than guns.
Fact-check: So said NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre after Newtown. So what’s up with Japan?

United States Japan
Per capita spending
on video games
$44 $55
Civilian firearms
per 100 people
88 0.6
Gun homicides
in 2008
11,030 11

Sources: PricewaterhouseCoopers, Small Arms Survey (PDF), UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Myth #9: More and more Americans are becoming gun owners.
Fact-check: More guns are being sold, but they’re owned by a shrinking portion of the population.
About 50% of Americans said they had a gun in their homes in 1973. Today, about 45% say they do. Overall, 35% of Americans personally own a gun.
• Around 80% of gun owners are men. On average they own 7.9 guns each.

Myth #10: We don’t need more gun laws—we just need to enforce the ones we have.
Fact-check:
Weak laws and loopholes backed by the gun lobby make it easier to get guns illegally.
Around 40% of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don’t require background checks. 40% of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them this way.
• An investigation found 62% of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check.
20% of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal “straw” buyers.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has not had a permanent director for 6 years, due to an NRA-backed requirement that the Senate approve nominees.

This article has been updated.

Icons in gun ownership chart: Handgun designed by Simon Child, rifle designed by Nadav Barkan, shotgun designed by Ammar Ceker, all from the Noun Project

Front page image by konstantynov/Shutterstock

 

One Man’s Mission to Combat Pollution in Bejing China – Crazy Bad Air!

 

Sierra Club to Engage in Civil Disobedience for First Time in Organization’s History to Stop Tar Sands

If you could do it nonstop, it would take you six days to walk from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond to President Barack Obama’s White House. For the Sierra Club, that journey has taken much longer. For 120 years, we have remained committed to using every “lawful means” to achieve our objectives. Now, for the first time in our history, we are prepared to go further.

Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in an act of peaceful civil resistance. We’ll be following in the hallowed footsteps of Thoreau, who first articulated the principles of civil disobedience 44 years before John Muir founded the Sierra Club.

Some of you might wonder what took us so long. Others might wonder whether John Muir is sitting up in his grave. In fact, John Muir had both a deep appreciation for Thoreau and a powerful sense of right and wrong. And it’s the issue of right versus wrong that has brought the Sierra Club to this unprecedented decision.

For civil disobedience to be justified, something must be so wrong that it compels the strongest defensible protest. Such a protest, if rendered thoughtfully and peacefully, is in fact a profound act of patriotism. For Thoreau, the wrongs were slavery and the invasion of Mexico. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was the brutal, institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South. For us, it is the possibility that the U.S. might surrender any hope of stabilizing our planet’s climate.

As President Obama eloquently said during his inaugural address, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.”

As citizens, for us to give up on stopping runaway global temperatures would be all the more tragic if it happened at the very moment when we are seeing both tremendous growth in clean energy and firsthand evidence of what extreme weather can do. Last year, record heat and drought across the nation wiped out half of our corn crop and 60 percent of our pasturelands. Wildfires in Colorado, Texas, and elsewhere burned nearly nine million acres. And superstorm Sandy brought devastation beyond anyone’s imagining to the Eastern Seaboard.

We are watching a global crisis unfold before our eyes, and to stand aside and let it happen—even though we know how to stop it—would be unconscionable. As the president said on Monday, “to do so would betray our children and future generations.” It couldn’t be simpler: Either we leave at least two-thirds of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, or we destroy our planet as we know it. That’s our choice, if you can call it that.

The Sierra Club has refused to stand by. We’ve worked hard and brought all of our traditional tactics of lobbying, electoral work, litigation, grassroots organizing and public education to bear on this crisis. And we have had great success—stopping more than 170 coal plants from being built, securing the retirement of another 129 existing plants and helping grow a clean energy economy. But time is running out, and there is so much more to do. The stakes are enormous. At this point, we can’t afford to lose a single major battle. That’s why the Sierra Club’s board of directors has for the first time endorsed an act of peaceful civil disobedience.

In doing so, we’re issuing a challenge to President Obama, who spoke stirringly in his inaugural address about how America must lead the world on the transition to clean energy. Welcome as those words were, we need the president to match them with strong action and use the first 100 days of his second term to begin building a bold and lasting legacy of clean energy and climate stability.

That means rejecting the dangerous tar sands pipeline that would transport some of the dirtiest oil on the planet, and other reckless fossil fuel projects from Northwest coal exports to Arctic drilling. It means following through on his pledge to double down again on clean energy, and cut carbon pollution from smokestacks across the country. And, perhaps most of all, it means standing up to the fossil fuel corporations that would drive us over the climate cliff without so much as a backward glance.

One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr., although it has its roots in the writings of Theodore Parker (an acquaintance of Henry David Thoreau): “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

I believe that, given sufficient time, our government would certainly follow the moral arc that leads to decisive action on this crisis. We have a democracy, and the tide of public opinion has shifted decisively. What’s more, I doubt that even the most ardent climate denier actually wants to destroy our world.

We have a clear understanding of the crisis. We have solutions. What we don’t have is time. We cannot afford to wait, and neither can President Obama.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE and RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

 

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [Martin Luther King, Jr.]“

16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer
criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Coal Mine Safety Cover Up – Finally leads to arrests and convictions. Historic Moment!

Massey official sent to jail for cover-up

Upper Big Branch explosion killed 29
January 18, 2013 12:23 am
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The former superintendent of the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia was sentenced Thursday to 21 months in a federal prison for conspiring to cover up mine safety violations before the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

Gary May, 43, of Bloomingrose, W.Va., had faced up to five years in prison on a felony charge that he conspired to impede the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s enforcement efforts at the mine between February 2008 and the fatal explosion on April 5, 2010. He pleaded guilty in March 2012 and cooperated with the investigation into the tragedy, the nation’s worst mine disaster in four decades.

Family and friends view the 48-foot-long granite Upper Big Branch Miners monument, Friday, July 27, 2012 in Whitesville, W.Va, On the heels of a West Virginia coal mining death, families of the 29 men killed in the Upper Big Branch mine dedicated a memorial Friday to their fallen relatives and those injured in the April 2010 explosion.

Three separate investigations concluded the disaster was preventable but occurred because then-mine owner Massey Energy routinely circumvented numerous federally mandated safety requirements in order to reap higher profits.

May, the highest-ranking Massey official to be sentenced thus far, began working at Upper Big Branch as a foreman in February 2008 and became mine superintendent in October 2009. He admitted that he and others conspired to impede MSHA in administering and enforcing mine health and safety laws at Upper Big Branch mine.

May said he gave advance warning of MSHA inspections, often using code phrases to avoid detection. He admitted that when he knew inspections were imminent, he concealed health and safety violations such as poor airflow in the mine; piles of loose, combustible coal; and scarcities of rock dust, which prevents mine explosions. Furthermore, he acknowledged that he ordered the falsification of a mine examination book and told miners to rewire the methane gas detector on a piece of mine equipment so it could run illegally.

Separate investigations by MSHA, the United Mine Workers of America and an independent panel appointed by former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin concluded that the fatal blast occurred because Massey let highly explosive methane gas and coal dust accumulate inside Upper Big Branch, and that worn and broken cutting equipment created a spark that ignited the combustible materials. Because water sprayers were broken and clogged, what should have been a mere flare-up erupted into a deadly inferno that ripped through miles of underground tunnels, killing the men.

In addition to imposing the prison sentence in Beckley, W.Va., U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger ordered May to pay a $20,000 fine and sentenced him to three years of supervised release. In sentencing May, she emphasized that his actions risked catastrophic consequences and that mine business interests cannot be put ahead of mine safety laws.

“With this sentence, Judge Berger took the opportunity to send a powerful message to this mine manager and other mine managers who would put profits over safety: If you violate mine laws and put miners at risk you will go to jail,” said Booth Goodwin II, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia.

Several other officials have been charged in the investigation of the mine tragedy. The highest-ranking among them is David Hughart, former president of Massey’s Green Valley Resource Group, who was charged in November with violating mine safety laws and conspiring to impede inspectors. Like May, he has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate in the continuing criminal probe by the FBI and the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.

The former security chief at the mine, Hughie Stover, was sentenced in February to three years in federal prison for lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy documents following the fatal blast. Former mine foreman Thomas Harrah pleaded guilty in October 2011 to making false statements and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.
First Published January 18, 2013 12:01 am