Books that meet the gold standard

Books remaindered, books destroyed.

When I was a Girl Scout, we used to sing a round, "Make new friends but keep the old/ One is silver the other's gold." My sentiment about books, as well as people. But, except for continuing best sellers, commercial publishers are into selling this year's books, in part in response to inventory depreciation rules established in Thor Power Tool Company v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 439 U.S. 522 (1979). And the mainsteam media buys into this model, only reviewing recent titles.

Literary presses, in contrast, maintain a backlist, keep their authors' works in print. And alternative media can, in books, as well as other matters, inform their readers about other than the latest frenzy. Below, I've listed some of my favorites from years past, old friends I revisit again and again. All are still available from their presses.

You can buy directly: the wellbeing of these publishers affects their authors. As Jonathan Greene of Gnomon Press explained to Meredith Sue Wilson for her September 10, 2007 Books for Readers Newsletter,

mall Press Distribution and Consortium that distribute books for many small presses return even less to small presses that Amazon: they normally sell books to stores or chains at 40% - 55% then take half of the gross receipts of any payment and put the amount due the publisher in escrow for three months. And Consortium charges the publisher a re-stocking fee for any books stores or distributors return [sometimes in unsellable condition.]
And support your local independent bookseller: Chapters Book Shop in Galax and The Easy Chair in Blacksburg special order any books that are not in stock. Anne Holbach at The Easy Chair says,
We definitely place special orders for customers. Usually, turnaround time is 2-3 days, and there is no charge for shipping. We also offer free membership in our frequent buyer’s club. Customers earn a $10 coupon for every $100 they spend, including special order items.

And you can order from that great family-run bookstore for three generations, Powell's Books of Portland, Oregon , which inceasingly relies on its national internet trade to stay in business. While Powell's doesn't offer the deep discounts of the chain stores which view books as just another commodity, Mike Powell explained to Scott Timberg for his December 3 Los Angeles Times story, "Powells turns the page," that his customers are charged
market price because we pay market wages, market benefits, market rents.
(The store is unionized.)

So here's my list:
  1. Kettle Bottom: Diane Gilliam Fisher's (now just plain Diane Gilliam) 2004 series of poems imagines first person accounts of coal camp lives and deaths during the mines wars of 1920-1921. http://www.perugiapress.com/books2004_kettle.html
  2. One Good Hand: Dana Wildsmith 2005 poetry collection chronicles a year in the Georgia mountains and has the single best poem I've read addressed to the beloved late poet Jim Wayne Miller, who for years taught summers at Hindman Settlement School. http://www.irisbooks.com/Wildsmith/One_Good_Hand.html
  3. Coal, A Poetry Anthology: Disclosure--I was in this 2006 collection, but that's not why I'm suggesting it. Look at life in coal country as told by poets ranging from Don West, Jim Wayne Miller and James Still to Grace Cavalieri, Jay Parini, Dick Hague and Bob Henry Baber. http://www.blairmtp.com/CoalAnthology.htm
  4. Shell Shaker LeAnne Howe's 2001 novel both hilarious and heartbreaking, juxtaposes the murders of two Choctows, one contemporary and one from the Trail of Tears era. http://www.auntlute.com/shellshaker.htm.
  5. Sabbath Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha: Blacksburg author Edward Falco's graceful 2005 short story collection combines compelling plots with engrossing characters. http://www.unbridledbooks.com/sabbathnight.html
  6. Insect Dreams, The Half Life of Gregor Samsa: Intellectually ambition and funny, Mark Estrin's 2005 novel imagines Kafka's Gregor Samsa rescued only to be sold to a freak show, which he leaves to wend his way through the first half of 20th century U.S. history, ending up as a risk management consultant for the Manhattan Project. http://www.unbridledbooks.com/insectdreams.html
  7. Rehearsing With the Gods: Ronald T. Simon's black and white photographs and Marc Estrin's text, published in 2004, give you the insiders' look at Bread and Puppet Theater. http://www.chelseagreen.com/2004/items/rehearsingwithgods/AssociatedArticles
  8. If You Return Home with Food: Shawsville writer Mary Crockett Hill's award-winning 1998 poetry vivid and quirky collection speaks to hope and dread. http://www.emporia.edu/bluestem/hill.htm
  9. Divine Right's Trip: Gurney Norman's novel with Ed McClannahan, spins the tale of a hippie traveling home from California to rescue his Kentucky homestead from the effects of stripmining. If you're old enough, you'll remember the novel as a seris of installments on the pages of the Last Whole Earth Catalog. Kinfolks, Norman's linked short stories, evoke loyalty to family and the close ties of community in the coming of age of Wilgus Collier and end in a stalemated correspondence between a sister who wants to return to Kentucky and her brother who wants to join her in Arizona because the mountains are now what they had been. Both were reissued by Gnomon Press, 329 W Broadway in Frankfort, 502-223-1858.
  10. The Lie that Tells the Truth: John Dufresne's 2003 guide to writing fiction ranks as the most generous spirted and useful book on the writing craft since poet Bill Stafford's Writing the Australian Crawl and You Must Revise Your Life. Also, check out any fiction by Dufresne. You won't be disappointed. http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/spring04/032581.htm
UPDATE: A version of this post was published by New River Voice December 13. The owner did not post a link to that issue on his website and ironically lists the books I recommened by their Amazon links. Is that why the version that appeared on newsstands eliminated my links or even the names of the publishing houses and any reference to my blog in the author's note?)

Happily, I just found a link to the article in the books section posted December 18, but that version, while linking to the publishers, omits my mention of Powell's as an alternative to Amazon or a link to my blog. I added a comment January 13.

Thank you for posting the links to the original publishers. I notice that you have advertisements for your Amazon shop to the right. Have you looked into whether Powell’s Books has a co-marketing plan. Wouldn’t it be better to support an independent bookseller on line, as well?

That great family-run bookstore for three generations, of Portland, Oregon , inceasingly relies on its national internet trade to stay in business. While Powell’s doesn’t offer the deep discounts of the chain stores which view books as just another commodity, Mike Powell explained to Scott Timberg for his December 3 Los Angeles Times story, “Powells turns the page,” that his customers are charged

market price because we pay market wages, market benefits, market rents.

(The store is unionized.)

I got back the comment,

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Let's see if it gets posted. If it does, I'll post a link. If not, as Tony Soprano said,


NRC approves more nuke plants for Virginia

Photo of Lois Gibbs of Love Canal fame who spoke against the new nuke plants near Louisa, Virginia when she was in Charlottesville.
With over 200 miles of shoreline and some 13,000 surface acres of water, Lake Anna is a recreational centerpiece that maintains a rural charm. As Virginia's second largest lake, it has become a premier choice for water lovers. Here, you can enjoy water sports of your choice - power boating, sailing, water skiing, wake boarding, jet skiing and certainly swimming. One of the most common reasons water enthusiasts love Lake Anna is because of its clean water. If you're an angler, you'll find that Lake Anna is a proven year-round fishery. One of the best lakes to fish for lunker largemouth bass on the eastern seaboard, Lake Anna is also known for its hard charging stripers and fine eating crappies. Catfish, bream and walleyes are also on the lake's menu.
Sounds idyllic. Besides the marinas and restaurants, there are homes strung out along the shores of the lovely lake near Louisa, VA. What a great place to build two additional nuke plants. (There are already two.) But this is exactly what Dominion Energy applied for on September 25, 2003 .

I happened to be in Charlotesville in March 25, 2005 for the Virginia Festival of the Book when the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) brought down Lois Gibbs to explain why the North Anna application was a bad idea. Health hazards, adverse environmental impacts, nuclear waste uncertainties. She sure convinced me.

For details, read BREDL's report, issued in June of 2004. Read the August 2, 2007, BREDL comments filed with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, citing concerns about the water temperature of the discharge.

But, today, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ignored all this and authorized an Early Site Permit (ESP) to Dominion Nuclear North Anna, LLC for the site. The NRC staff has 10 business days to issue the permit, valid for up to 20 years. This is the third permit approved. The NRC granted one for the Clinton site in Illinois on March 15, and for the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi on April 5. A fourth ESP is being processed for the Vogtle site in Georgia.

The NRC published a final safety evaluation for the North Anna ESP in August 2006, a final environmental impact statement in December 2006, and then the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) conducted a hearing on June 29, 2007, ruling that the permit could be issued. See: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-licensing/esp/north-anna.html. Those in Louisa County can view the documents at the library, 881 Davis Highway in Mineral, VA.

Supposedly, safety and environmental issues have been resolved and the site is suitable for construction and operation of a nuclear plant. The company (or any other potential applicant interested in the site) still must seek NRC approval to build one or more nuclear plants on the site. But what are the chances of refusal?

Is any site suitable? Especially one this close to the Nation's and the State capitals. How can the Bush administration harp on the need for Homeland Security and at the same time go full speed ahead, building new nuclear plants? Wouldn't wind, solar, geothermal, etc. be a better idea? Think of the opportunity costs of continuing to shovel money at nukes, oil and coal, just because they are entrenched and have so much influence.


The Need for a New GI Bill

Photo from UCLA's web article on the GI Bill.

For some reason, my newsletter from Jim Webb (D-VA) (email) went to my spam folder. This is his Veteran's Day plea for a better GI Bill for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. I'd add that I wouldn't be opposed to backdating this to include Vietnam vets, if any of them would like additional education. Heck, how about education for anyone willing to perform national service? As Webb says,

The United States has never gone wrong when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training.

It would be especially fitting to make such an investment, given the fact that the "All Volunteer Force," and for that matter, the draft before it, is hardly an equal opportunity employer.

The Department of Defense has published an annual report Population Representation in the Military Service starting in 1974. The 1998 report notes that,

Analysis of Vietnam era veterans indicated that individuals of high socioeconomic status comprised about half the proportion of draftees compared to their representation in the overall population.

Interestingly, the reports for 1997-2004 are available online. Thus the last information is for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2004. The 1997, 1998, and 1999 reports included a chapter examining socioeconomic status v.s the general population. This is no longer the case. The 2000 report did have a chapter about representation in the army.

Webb's measure S.22 received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs on July 31 with no action since then. Bobby Scott's companion bill, H.R. 2702, introduced June 13, has been referred to subcommittee and there the tale ends to date.


Webb writes,

In terms of providing true opportunity and creating a level playing field among Americans of all walks of life, the original World War II G.I. Bill was perhaps the most important piece of legislation in our history. Designed to help veterans readjust to civilian life, this landmark legislation helped 7.8 million World War II veterans pursue a college education. The program cost about $14.5 billion (in 1940s dollars), and for every dollar invested, the government estimates that seven dollars were generated.

From political figures to Nobel Prize winners, the effectiveness of the G.I. Bill has been demonstrated by the broad success of those who benefited from it. As former Senator Bob Dole, himself a recipient of that G.I. Bill's benefits, mentioned recently during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, "It made a big difference. I think it's the single most important piece of legislation when it comes to education. It changed America more than anything I can think of."

We have an opportunity to enact equally important legislation today for those who have served post-9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan. On my first day in office, I introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 in order to provide our returning troops benefits that mirror those provided to our veterans after World War II.

In the current debate about how to properly support our newest generation of veterans, history has taught us that we must not overlook the great transformative power of education. This Veterans Day, I believe it is time that we commit to a more robust educational assistance program and that we provide a first-class education for the men and women who have served us honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First as an infantry combat Marine in Vietnam and later as a full Committee Counsel on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I saw first-hand the inequities of the Vietnam-era G.I. Bill and the difficulties that so many veterans of that era encountered as they re-entered the civilian world.

Under the current Montgomery G.I. Bill, designed primarily for peacetime not wartime service, a service member must pay $100 a month for the first year of his or her enlistment, in order to receive up to $1,075 a month toward an education up to a total of $38,700. The average amount a veteran receives these days is $666.67 a month.

This amount is insufficient for readjustment to civilian life after serving two, three, or four tours of duty, as many of our post-9/11 servicemembers have. This compensation is hardly enough to allow a veteran to attend many community colleges, let alone a traditional four year institution.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, himself a Vietnam combat veteran, has since joined me in leading the charge in the Senate, in addition to 23 Senate colleagues who have signed on as co-sponsors to my legislation. Congressman Bobby Scott introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives, which enjoys the support of 75 co-sponsors, including Congressman Jim Moran.

The United States has never gone wrong when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training. Enacting a more robust G.I. bill akin to that of the World War II era is not only the right thing to do, but its the smart thing to do, in terms of investing in the economic health of our country. As someone who hails from the soldier-citizen tradition, I hold immense personal pride in those who answer our nation's call to duty.

Now as a U.S. Senator, I hope to put into place the mechanisms that will allow future generations of Presidents, Senators and Nobel laureates to rise through the ranks on a sturdy educational foundation provided by the G.I. bill.


Uranium Mining for Virginia

Cartoon from the November 3, 2007 Roanoke Times by Chris OBrion (email, website), used with permission from Mr. OBrion, who moved back to Virginia from Olympia, WA in 2002. Previously, he had worked at the Fredericksburg, Virginia Freelance Star. OBrion has stuff for sale at Cafe Press.


Chatham is home to a sort of literary aristocracy including poet Ellen Voigt and Pulitzer Prize winner Claudia Emerson and WaPo book editor Jonathan Yardley. And Walter Coles is hardly Jed Clampitt of the the 60's sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies, whose proposed reinvention as reality series stirred public uproar in Appalachia about negative stereotyping .

Coles Hill in Charham, Virginia in Pittsylvania County, has been in Walter Coles's family since 1785, according to Tim Davis, the editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune, in his October 3 story, "Local company hopes to mine uranium." The house Coles resides in dates back to 1810 and the farm, which originally included 5,500 acres, was used to raise tobacco, wheat, and cattle. Coles attended Fork Union Military Academy and the The Citadel, in Charleston, S.C. After serving in Vietnam, he join the U.S. Agency for International Development, an arm of the State Department, in 1969. He has lived and worked in Asia, Jordan, Egypt, and Jamaica. After retiring from the foreign service in 1999, he spent five years as an international consultant on land reform and privatization, his last job being in Afghanistan. His wife, Alice Clement Coles, who still works with the State Department, is the sister of former delegate and Virginia transportation secretary Whitt Clement.

Otherwise, OBrion has drawn an interesting comparison between oil and uranium. And as he wrote in an email to me,

Two factors that almost led me to ditch the cartoon: I remembered the
outcry over the Beverley Hillbillies reality show, and I knew that
Coles wasn't in any way poor.

But it's just such a catchy tune.

Indeed , the "Ballad of Jed Clampitt" hit number one on the country charts in 1966. The composer Earl Scruggs and his bandmate Lester Flatt appeared as themselves in six episodes of the show. Their other foray into popular culture, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" ended up in the movie Bonnie and Clyde. But , fiving lie to rural rube stereotypes, Earl Scruggs has recorded with the likes of Sting, Elton John and the Byrds.


Cole's ancestral home sits on one of the largest uranium deposits in the United States. There is also uranium in Orange County, which raised questions recently when a shale company prosed a quarry there. Rising uranium prices and the resurgence of the nuclear power industry after federal underwriting in the 2005 energy bill, have led Cole , along with friends, family and Canadian investors in Virginia Uranium, Inc. to lobby the Virginia Assembly to study lifting the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia. The company's president is Norm Reynolds, former head of Marline Corp, which bought up uranium rights in both Orange and Pittsylvania Counties, the last time the state was considering the mining of the ore.

Cole, with the help of his brother-in-law, persuaded Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, to amend Virginia's 2006 energy bill to include a study of possible uranium mining in Pittsylvania. Cale Jaffe, a lobbyist for Charlottesville's Sourthern Environmental Law Center told the Richmond Times Dispatch, the final bill had no direct mention of uranium mining, but the study resurfaced in drafts of the 2007 Virginia Energy Plan. Sure enough, you can read them, starting on page 50 , in the plan Governor Tim Kaine released September 12.

The Law Center says on its site,

There is no precedent for large-scale uranium mining in eastern states such as Virginia, where the population density puts more people at risk and where a wetter climate increases the chance of radiation contaminating streams and groundwater. Virginia has no experience with regulating uranium mining.

The studies from the 1980s raised serious questions that were never answered. Many questions remain today, including where the uranium would be processed, how the mine waste or “tailings” would be disposed of, what safeguards would be in place to protect the environment and public health, how would the facility be secured from earthquakes and floods, and many more.


Security, Privacy & Government Accountability

To review this post on Newstrust, go here.

Chart tallying calls to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding their position on telecom immunity.

Changes to that law must be considered carefully and openly – not eviscerated in secret Administration interpretations or compromised through fear or intimidation

Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman


As the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up its consideration of the currently proposed changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) laws, advocates for the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution have advocated that the Committee strip of provisions for telecom immunity and blanket warrants from S.2248, the Senate Intelligence Committee's proposed replacement for the Protect America Act. Chris Dodd's presidential campaign sites is maintaining a "citizen-generated whip count" which encourages calls to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them to oppose telecom immunity. It also asks callers to report back and post the reactions they receive. The American Civil Liberties Union's current letter writing campaign asks that the Senate require individual warrants.

Back on October 2, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine the implications of the PAA."Preserving the Rule of Law in the Fight Against Terrorism" featured testimony from Committee Chairman Leahy and from Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Office of Special Council , who had, along with his boss John Ashcroft, resisted the Administration's warrantless surveillance program. Goldman, now at Harvard Law School, based his testimony on his book, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (W.W. Norton, 2007).

Yesterday's hearing, "How to Protect Americans’ Security and Privacy and Preserve the Rule of Law and Government Accountability" looked at the S. 2248. (FDL's Marcy Wheeler live blogged a transcript is here.) Representing the Administration's position was Kenneth L. Wainstein (complete testimony), Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department's National Security Division. He decried FISA's outdated provision that

substantially impeded the Intelligence Community’s ability to collect effectively the foreign intelligence information necessary to protect the Nation

and outlined a defense of telecom immunity and criticism for the increased reporting requirements and sunset clause of the current bill. Supporting his testimony was that of Patrick F. Philbin (complete testimony) , a partner in the DC law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, who had served as Deputy Attorney General in the Office of Special Counsel from 2001 to 2005.

Leahy (complete testimony) opened his statement by criticizing the PAA's granting of "sweeping powers" for warrentless surveillance without meaningful privacy or civil liberty protection. After having received some of the documents requested from the administration, Leahy still expressed reservations about telecom immunity included in S.2248 :

The Congress should be careful not to provide an incentive for future unlawful corporate activity by giving the impression that if corporations violate the law and disregard the rights of Americans, they will be given an after-the-fact free pass. If Americans’ privacy is to mean anything, and if the rule of law is to be respected, that would be the wrong result.

A retroactive grant of immunity or preemption of state regulators does more than let the carriers off the hook. Immunity is designed to shield this Administration from any accountability for conducting surveillance outside the law. It could make it impossible for Americans whose privacy has been violated illegally to seek meaningful redress.

The lawsuits that would be dismissed as a result of such a grant of immunity are perhaps the only avenue that exists for an outside review of the government’s program and honest assessment of its legal arguments. That kind of assessment is critical if our government is to be held accountable. One of my chief inquiries before deciding to support any legislation on this subject is whether it will foster government accountability. Anyone who proposes letting the telecommunications carriers off the hook or preempting state authorities has a responsibility to propose a manner to test the legality of the government’s program and to determine whether it did harm to the rights of Americans.

... The FISA was enacted in the wake of earlier scandals, when the rights and privacy of Americans were trampled while no one was watching. We in the Senate, and on this Committee, have a solemn responsibility to hundreds of millions of our fellow citizens. Because the American people’s rights, freedom and privacy are easily lost; but once lost, they are difficult to win back.

Ranking member Arlen Spector (R-PA) said in his opening statement,

With respect to the request for retroactive release of liability, I have great reluctance. Part of that stems from the secrecy that the government has interposed. When we were seeking subpoenas last year for the telephone companies, we were thwarted by action of the vice president in contacting Republican members without notifying the chairman.

And as I see the situation, I think the telephone companies do have a strong, equitable case, but my inclination is that they ought to get indemnification; that the courts ought not to be closed.

I doubt very much the cases will be proved, but if plaintiffs can prove them, I think they ought to have their day in court. And it is costly, but that's part of the cost of the war on terrorism.

Russ Feingold, (D-WI) (complete testimony) ,expressed his belief that the Intelligence Committee, on which he also sits, would have benefited from a public hearing such as the current one, with input

not just of the Administration, but also of outside experts who may have brought a different point of view to consideration of the legislation.

One "outside expert" testifying , Morton H. Halperin (complete testimony), Director of U.S. Advocacy, Open Society Institute and a member of the Board of Directors of the Constitution Project and its Liberty and Security Committee, posed two interesting questions. Regarding the first,

  • What electronic communications should the government be able to acquire using procedures different from those mandated for criminal investigations;

Halperin noted that there was an ongoing debate about whether the change was "necessary and constitutional" and proposed to "leave that discussion to others." Instead, he chose to focus on his second question of

  • what procedures should be put in place so that all concerned groups can know clearly what the rules are and have confidence that the rules are being followed?

He outlined four major failures he found in the Intelligence Committee bill:

  • Section 701's statement that “Nothing in the definition of electronic surveillance under section 101 (f) shall be construed to encompass surveillance that is targeted in accordance with this title at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.”
  • the lack of required, advance court orders for surveillance ;
  • the lack of effective procedures and oversight to insure the law was not used to acquire the communications of a "U.S. person or a person in the United States"
  • lack of proclaiming that FISA procedures were the sole means to conduct electronic surveillance for intelligence purposes and that private companies must cooperate only if they receive a court order or a certification specifically authorized by this statute .

The other "outside expert, "Edward Black (complete testimony) , President and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, had this to say,

We should all want protection both from terrorists and from illegal spying, search and seizure by our own government. In crafting our efforts to combat terrorism, we should not forfeit our privacy or weaken our First or Fourth Amendment rights. As a nation, we should not countenance the sort of autocratic surveillance of ordinary citizens which we find so abhorrent in repressive foreign regimes.

According to the Dodd site, to date only Jon Kyl supports telecom immunity, but it appears john Cornyn (TX) is learning that way. The three in addition to Feingold on record as opposing immunity are Joe Biden (DE), Ted Kennedy MA), and Ben Cardin (MD). The ACLU reported on October 31,

American Civil Liberties Union, Move On.org, People For the American Way and bloggers from Open Left, Salon, Fire Dog Lake and others delivered petitions to Senate and House offices signed by over 250,000 Americans who oppose granting amnesty to the telecom companies that violated the Fourth Amendment and their privacy.

So, it remains to be seen whether, once again, Congress will give the Administration what it desires when the issue is fighting terrorism or whether it will stand up for the Constitution. Things look more hopeful than they did last week, I have to remember that in December 2005, that Republican Senators' dismay with NSA revelations made me wonder whether we had reached a tipping point with regard to renewal of the Patriot Act.


The New Furor over FISA "Reform"

To review this post on Newstrust, go here. Sabrina Pacifici's edited version of this piece will appear on LLRX. An archive of my articles is here.


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”--Fourth Amendment , The U.S. Constitution


October 26 marks the sixth anniversary of the PATRIOT Act. On October 9, Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) argued, “What separates our government from the totalitarian ones we despise is that they spy on their citizens in the name of national security.”

Holt was speaking of his efforts in the House Intelligence Committee to repeal August’s hurriedly enacted “update” of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the Protect America Act (PPA) with its six-month sunset clause. Holt’s FISA Modernization Act of 2007 (H.R. 3782) would repeal the PAA and restore the requirement for individualized warrants for wiretapping Americans. Pressure from the White House and heavy lobbying from telecommunications companies had civil libertarians saying that demands for secrecy and bypassing even the FISA court would weaken the Fourth Amendment.

John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the principal House rewrite of PPA, the RESTORE Act (H.R. 3773) on October 9. The acronym stands for “Responsible Electronic Surveillance that is Overseen, Reviewed, and Effective.” It had been marked up and reported by the Judiciary Committee Conyers chairs with three amendments by October 10 and by the Intelligence Committee with an additional three amendments that same day.

The measure troubled the American Civil Liberties Union for its inclusion of long-term program warrants that name neither the targets of the search, the facilities that will be accessed, nor what is going to be seized. Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said that such warrants are “the 21st century version of King George’s heavy-handed intrusions on individual privacy. We would not tolerate allowing government agents to sit in our living rooms recording our personal conversations. We should not permit it simply because the government now has the capacity monitor remotely and without our knowledge.”

The ACLU, as well as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee preferred Holt’s bill, which never made it to the House floor. Holt was able, however, to add the changes during the committee markup which would:

  • Require the Bush administration to “fully inform” Congress on all surveillance programs conducted since 9/11.
  • Increase the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) judges from 11 to 15; provide additional personnel to both the FISC and government agencies responsible for making and processing FISA applications; and create an electronic filing, sharing, and document management system for handling this highly classified data. The amendment would also mandate training in the FISA process.
  • Require the Court to review and approve not only the targeting procedures and guidelines required under this Act, but also the application of those guidelines.
  • Clarify that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is the sole statutory basis for domestic surveillance.

The RESTORE Act did not include the immunity Bush demanded for the telecommunications companies which had cooperated in his warrantless surveillance, although the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) had offered a failed amendment to do so and to permanently extend the PPA act. Bush threatened a veto of RETORE without immunity, saying that the companies acted in good faith, believing that they were following the law.

A May 11, 2006 USA Today article,

NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls,” makes one wonder why these companies complied when “Qwest refused to help the NSA…. According to multiple sources…because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.
And while President Bush has always justified his need for warrantless surveillance on the events of September 11, 2001, the October 11 publication of redacted documents in an insider trading case against former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio indicated confirmation of his meeting with the NSA on February 27, 2001 (see CIPA document 9, page 4) at which time Nacchio raised questions about the legality of a request to his company.

Scott Horton (bio, email), a NYC human rights attorney and lecturer at Columbia Law School, has concluded October 14 in "Quest, Another Political Prosecution ?" that "in light of the current disclosures, however, the question is exactly what secrets the court and the Government are trying to conceal? Using alleged national security concerns to deprive a criminal defendant of a robust defense undermines confidence in the entire legal process, and gives rise to an appearance of a court and government participating in a vendetta instead of administering justice. Certainly these disclosures suggest improper conduct on the part of the Government: first, that the contract award process was skewered to punish Qwest and its shareholders because of Nacchio’s views—which were, in the view of most U.S. legal professionals, entirely correct. And second, they raise a fair issue whether the prosecution itself was not launched as an act of retaliatory malice. At this point, the number of such politically directed prosecutions is growing, and the Nacchio case may well be just another example. Of course the Nacchio case went to trial before evidence had come to the surface that detailed just how pervasive and entrenched the phenomenon of polticially dictated prosecutions was.
I have no view of whether Nacchio is guilty or innocent of the charges brought. But the way they were brought and their timing now seems very disturbing.

Whose interests are protected when a Republican judge excludes evidence that suggests wrongdoing on the part of a Republican administration? Certainly not the most fundamental interest. That is injustice.
Jack M. Balkan (bio, email) is the Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School and founder and director of its Information Society Project, which studies the implications of the Internet, telecommunications, and the new information technologies on law and society. October 14, he argued in "It's the Secrets Stupid: Why the FISA Immunity Debate is Important," that

the President wants legal assurances that nobody will have incentives to reveal what his subordinates did and what he asked the telecom companies to do. Retroactive immunity helps insure that these issues will never come to light in any court of law.

October 14, as RESTORE was about to come to a vote, Pete Hoekstra cited the delay in surveillance when three American soldiers kidnapped in Iraq in May.

Former FBI whistleblower Mike German, who worked on cases of domestic terrorism before joining the ACLU Washington Legislative Office as Policy Counsel on National Security, Immigration and Privacy in 2006, contradicted Hoekstra in an article by the conservative Cybercast News Service,

It is shameful of the administration to put families of soldiers in a political argument. There is no loophole to be closed....FISA has never restricted the military or NSA (National Security Agency) from conducting surveillance from foreign soil. They know if they are sitting in Iraq they don't have to come back to FISA.
German noted that the military waited three days after the kidnapping before seeking approval from the NSA, the Department of Justice (DoJ), and former Attorney General Gonzales and filing for a warrant.

Talking Point Memo’s Spencer Ackerman had reported on September 20 from an unnamed source:

To get an emergency warrant, you just have to believe the facts support the application that someone is an agent of a foreign power….That takes approximately five seconds to establish if you're going after an Iraqi insurgent.
But, Ackerman writes, the source indicated that
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was out of town; Deputy AG Paul McNulty had resigned already; Solicitor General Paul Clement ‘had left the building’; and the other responsible official, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein was not yet authorized to approve the emergency order.
The Democratic leadership pulled the RESTORE Act on October 17, after maneuvering by Eric Cantor (R-VA) threatened to scuttle the bill. Pamela Hess of the Associated Press wrote on October 17,

The amendment would have said nothing in the bill could limit surveillance of Osama bin Laden and terrorist organizations. While the Democratic bill, in fact, allows the unfettered surveillance of such groups, voting against it could make it seem as though a member of Congress were against spying on al-Qaida.

Passage of the amendment would have sent the bill back to committee, effectively killing it. Democrats believed they were short of the votes needed to defeat the move.
The Senate Intelligence Committee marked up its bill, the FISA Amendment Act of 2007 on October 18, after insisting on a review of administration documents regarding the domestic spying. According to an October 20 New York Times article, “Wiretapping Compromise was months in the making,”

The House Intelligence Committee, and the Judiciary Committees of both the Senate and the House, have not been allowed to see the secret documents: President Bush’s orders authorizing the program, and Justice Department opinions laying out its legal basis….Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said Friday that the Senate Intelligence Committee had gained access to the documents only after its leaders had indicated that they would grant immunity to the phone and Internet companies. ‘To the extent of anyone else being able to see the documents, Ms. Perino said, “I think that we’ll wait and see who else is willing to include that provision…"
While committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) found the documents sufficient to include retroactive immunity for the telecoms, he had expressed doubts about the surveillance program in a handwritten letter in 2003 to Vice President Cheney, stating that he was not a lawyer and had been prevented from consulting with counsel.

Another Intelligence Committee member, Russ Feingold (D-WI), who is in contrast to Rockefeller a former practicing attorney, voted against the measure on October 18, along with Ron Wyden (D-OR), and issued this statement:

The documents made available by the White House for the first time this week only further demonstrate that the program was illegal and that there is no basis for granting retroactive immunity to those who allegedly cooperated. The one silver lining of the flawed FISA bill passed in August was that it had a 6-month expiration date. It would be shameful to miss this opportunity to fix the law. It is time for Congress to stand up for the rights of Americans and to defend the Constitution and the rule of law.
The measure is slated to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee and its chairman, Patrick
Leahy (D-VT), expressed reservations about immunity, according to The Hill:\ [Administration officials] know that it was illegal conduct and that there is no saving grace for the president to say, ‘Well, I was acting with authority….Otherwise there wouldn't be so much pressure on us to immunize illegal conduct by either people acting within our government or within the private industry.
Chris Dodd (D-CT) stepped into the fray against immunity, saying that he would put a hold on the measure. After rumors circulated that Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) would not honor the hold, his presidential campaign emailed supporters,

Just last night, we heard there are plans to disregard Senator Dodd's intention to place a hold on a FISA bill that includes amnesty for telecommunications companies. That would be a pretty extraordinary move, but…if the hold is not honored, he is prepared to go to the Senate floor and filibuster.
Joe Biden (D-RI), another Senator running for the presidential nomination succinctly answered a question in an October 19 Washington Post online chat session with readers as follows:
San Francisco: Will you join Sen. Chris Dodd's hold and proposed filibuster on any FISA bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecoms? Thanks for joining us for this chat today, Sen. Biden, and thanks for the leadership you provide the Democratic Party and America.

Sen. Joe Biden: Yes
Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama emailed Greg Sargent at TRP Electrion Central opposing immunity, but not explaining what steps he would take:

I have consistently opposed this Administration's efforts to use debates about our national security to expand its own power, whether that was on the Iraq war, or on its power grab to curb our civil liberties through domestic surveillance programs. It is time to restore oversight and accountability in the FISA program, and this proposal -- with an unprecedented grant of retroactive immunity -- is not the place to start.
Feingold issued a second statement on October 19:

If the bill that ultimately reaches the Senate floor includes immunity and does not adequately protect the privacy of Americans, I will fight it vigorously with every tool at my disposal.
If Congress passes a bill containing retroactive immunity, it will abort suits, such as the Electric Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) Hepting v. ATT. In that case, both AT&T and the government unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the case. As the Electronic Privacy Information Center summarizes: “AT&T argued that it should be immune from suit because it was following government directives. The government argued that the case would reveal "state secrets," which would harm national security. In July 2006, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker [a George H. W. Bush appointee] issued a decision denying both motions. In dismissing AT&T immunity claims, Judge Walker said that AT&T could not have reasonably believed that the alleged surveillance activity was legal. In rejecting the government's secrecy argument, Judge Walker stated:

The compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one. But dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security.
On October 17, the EFF filed a related Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit seeking expedited processing and release of records from the Director of National Intelligence, concerning the agency’s

efforts to push for changes to federal surveillance law and ensure that telecommunications companies are not held responsible for their role in warrantless government surveillance activities.
In a press release. The organization , EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann (email) said,

Congress is debating amnesty for the telecoms right now -- amnesty that could imperil judicial review of a very controversial government program, as well as threaten class-action lawsuits that impact millions of Americans....We deserve to know what kind of lobbying has gone on behind the scenes before lawmakers make this critical decision.
EFF also filed on September 25 against the Department of Justice for withholding records on telecom lobbying (news release) and has launched a campaign for citizens to contact legislators. See: http://www.stopthespying.org/ .

A partial transcript of an interview with Cindy Cohn, EFF’s lead counsel for Hepting by attorney Glenn Greenwald can be found posted in his blog entry of October 16. Greenwald has also posted an analysis of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s 1965 opposition to retroactive immunity for industry and an excerpt from an August interview with Chris Dodd regarding the assault on the Constitution.

While some reporters in the mainstream media, such as the AP’s Hess, have depicted objections to the PPA versus support, as a left-right issue, conserative groups such as the Cato Institute, the John Birch Society and The American Freedom Agenda opposed that bill. And according to Scott Horton, a member of the New York City Bar Association, that group which includes corporate and telecommunications experts, sent a letter via its president, Barry Kamins to the House leadership October 16 holding that the PPA should expire because it has undermined the core protections of FISA. Kamins also opposed telecom immunity, writing,
There is simply no lawful basis for the Administration’s demand for such absolute immunity. It would encourage a culture of impunity for unlawful conduct that is entirely unacceptable.
I have been in touch with the Bar and the letter will be posted here soon. Until then, I've provided the relevant paragraph below in its entirety, with the sentence cited by Horton highlighted. It's interesting to note that the companies already had a means of relief, but were not willing to take it--a court order or a clearance from the Attorney General. As you may remember, at the time, the Attorney General was the conservative John Ashcroft, who had strenuously objected to the surviellance program, even while hospitalized, as depicted in the recent Frontline program, Cheney's Law and also reflected in his comments to Arlen Spector (R-PA) in the Judciary Committee (will provide that link when I find it):
Finally, the Association also strongly opposes any effort to give immunity from liability to telecommunications companies that have allegedly cooperated in the past with the Administration’s unauthorized and probably unlawful warrantless surveillance program. There is simply no lawful basis for the Administration’s demand for such absolute immunity. It would encourage a culture of impunity for unlawful conduct that is entirely unacceptable, undermine the rule of law, and seriously erode incentives for future compliance with the law. There is no unfairness in permitting lawsuits against the telecommunications companies to go forward, because these companies have always had a safety-valve to escape liability if asked to cooperate with a government surveillance program. Under 18 U.S.C. §2511(2)(a)(ii), the telecommunications companies were already entitled to immunity from suit as long as they received either a court order directing them to provide assistance or obtained a certification by the Attorney General or his designee "that no warrant or court order is required by law, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the specified assistance is required." Id. Given the pre-existing availability of this carefully tailored immunity provision, the grant of amnesty now would reward only manifest failures to abide by the law. Any telecommunications company that failed to observe this express and unequivocal legal requirement, and failed to seek assurance that its conduct was legal over the years during which the surveillance allegedly occurred, has no legitimate cause for complaint, and should be held accountable for its unlawful conduct.

In addition, the Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee, which spans the political spectrum from Paul Weyrich and Grover Norquist to John Podesta and David Cole advised Congress in an October 4 statement that,

many of the amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) contained in the recently enacted Protect America Act (Pub. L. 110-55) are unnecessarily overbroad, undermine our constitutional system of checks and balances, and fail to sufficiently protect the privacy of the communications of Americans” and urged “Congress “not to reauthorize these overbroad and harmful provisions.
On May 31 the Committee had issued a paper, "Reforming the State Secrets Privilege" and also filed an amicus brief for Khaled el-Masri, as did the American Bar Association.

El-Masri, you may recall, is a German citizen of Lebanese descent who sued CIA Director George Tennet et. al., saying that while vacationing in Macedonia he ended up a victim of extraorinary rendition--kidnapped, detained and tortured in a secret overseas prison. The December 7, 2005 Washington Post reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had announced after meeting with Condoleeza Rice that the administration admitted it mistakenly abducted him. Rice declined comment. The administration then argued that any trial would jeopardize national security.

The Constitution Project also sent a letter on October 4 advising Congress that it had the constitutional authority to enact rules for the Courts to reform the state secrets privilege "to protect the system of checks and balances, individual rights, national security, fairness in the courtroom” and that “it should do so.”

On October 9, as Conyers was introducing the RESTORE Act, the Supreme Court issued a get-out-of-jail-free card to the Bush administration, when it declined to hear el-Masri’s case, acceding to state secrets claims. Will Congress will buy the same arguments?

The President’s popularity is at an all-time low of 24%, as revealed in the October Reuters-Zogby Index. This follows his previous low of 29% in September. Additionally, a poll conducted by the Mellman Group for the ACLU October 11 through 14 showed that “voters overwhelmingly oppose key elements of the Bush Administration’s FISA agenda--voters oppose warrantless wiretaps, oppose blanket warrants, and oppose amnesty for telecommunication companies that may have broken the law. Large majorities across almost every demographic subgroup of American voters oppose all three of these proposals.” The poll also found that because of lack of trust in the President, members of Congress who “stand in defense of constitutional rights, have little to fear from their constituents.”

In a press conference on October 17, the President defended his actions regarding the popular SCHIP program, saying,

when I tell you I'm going to sprint to the finish, and finish this job strong, that's one way to ensure that I am relevant; that's one way to sure that I am in the process. And I intend to use the veto.
As I write this on October 21, I have to wonder whether those in Congress resisting further erosion of the Bill of Rights will prevail. Will a sufficient number stand up and abandon the President’s agenda and eliminate retroactive immunity and program warrants, or, as in the case of previous vetoes and veto threats, will Mr. Bush, in the end, get his way?


W&M's Gene Nichol still nailed by the Wren Cross

Photo of Gene Nichol, which appeared in the Flat Hat, William and Mary's student newspaper March 2, 2007. NewsTrust reviews here.

The LA Times story on the firing and rehiring of the outspoken liberal Edwin Chemerinski as dean of the new law school at UC Irvine noted that the school's reputation had suffered more than his. And Scott Moss, an associate law prof who just started at the U of CO-Boulder argues the same in more detail at Find Law.

All this brought back to mind the case of William and Mary President Gene Nichol

Nichol's contract only goes through June 30, of 2008 according to a letter I received from Board of Visitors Rector Michael K. Powell.

Checking today, I learned that Nichol's foes are again using the power of the internet to rally against him, sponsoring a site with arguments against his renewal and a petition "Should W&M Renew Gene Nichol as President?," created according to internic.net on June 12 in Utah, after sending out an anonymous newsrelease on June 11.

There's a second site created at nearly the same time with the same provider, for the Society for the College of William and Mary, which appears to be down with no past history at the internet archive. But Nichols supporters also have a site  which says it has uncovered some of the right-wing funding behind the effort. (UPDATE:  this is now a private blog available by invitation only.)

 I last wrote about Nichol's plight on January 29. You may remember that the conservative Townhall.com labeled him a "Christ-o-phobic" who should be fired. American Spectator (infamous for the Arkansas Project) named Nichol "enemy of the year" and a contender for "the next cultural minister of the Taliban." Vince Haley, research director for the American Enterprise Institute for former House speaker Newt Gingrich, started a website, a blog and a petition against Nichol.

So what had Nichol done to get caught in this maelstrom?

Nichol had come up with a policy even the conservative Richmond Times Dispatch could support. He had ordered the the cross in the Wren Chapel stored unless requested for religious services so as to make the chapel more inclusive. As the RTD editorial said October 31,
The chapel is not used exclusively for religious functions but serves as a general meeting place. The move makes practical sense and reflects the facts on on the ground. The cross can be returned to its spot when appropriate.
The cross was first displayed at Wren in 1940 after Bruton Parish Church received a new cross, according to the Washington Times's January 29 story, "Bow to Diversity Leaves Altar Empty." Interestingly, at the February 8 hearing before the Board of Visitors, Herman Hollerith, current rector of the church called the cross's presence or absence trivial and instead cautioned
I tend to be skeptical of Christians when they are determined to win a victory over a superficial matter. It sounds like a sort of crusade to me. It makes me wonder what else is going on beneath the surface. Is this about winning a victory for God, or is this about winning a victory over the college president? This is a question that you must wrestle with as leaders of this institution.... As a man who has dedicated his life to the cross, I urge you as leaders to be cautious of the tremendous religious and political hypocrisy that surrounds this issue.
His comments and those of support by the faculty senate were bookended by comments by Haley and Bob Thompson, alumni who spoke against Nichols. No alumni were scheduled to speak for Nichols. Haley called the removal of the cross "incomprehensible-and frightening" "dangerous" and "irredemably flawed" and conflated it with making clergy unwelcome on campus. Thompson asked why Nichol hadn't done "what all great leaders do when they make a mistake -admit it, fix it, and move on?" The Rector of the Board of Visitors at William & Mary is Michael Powell, the controversial former chairman of the FCC, whom television critic Tom Shales described on November 21 , 2004 as
definitely not a force for good in America. Pompous and imperious, an ideologue who believes unfailingly in his own philosophy of how TV and radio should work (the FCC also has domain over telephone and emerging broadband technologies), Powell ignores or condemns anyone who opposes him. Though FCC chairmen have labored mostly in obscurity, Powell has managed to make himself famous; he's the Torquemada of the insane campaign now being waged against "obscenity" on the airwaves.
I was feeling uneasy, as if the deck were stacked against Dr. Nichol. The friend of a fellow alum who heard us discussing the case even predicted the president would lose his job over the flap. Powell's February 23 letter to alumni did little to reassure me.
We have long believed that balance must be achieved between these competing perspectives in a manner respectful of the underlying values of each.
A well-organized group, which has been refuted on historic and religious grounds, was to receive equal treatment, even if their true agenda is not religion. I think that Rev. Hollerith, was exactly right in speculating this was about power over a college president, whom they view as an anathema, if the namecalling in their media is an indication. In fact, February 13, Devan Barber, columnist for the college paper, the Flat Hat reported that
a whopping 70 percent of the signatures from the "Save the Wren Cross" petition are from individuals with no affiliation to the College. James Ambrose, the student liason to the BOV, added that, from his conversations on campus, most students seem to think that the Wren cross is not a significant issue, and generally approve of Nichol's performance over the past year.
March 2, after a donor who had previously pledged $12,000,000, went back on his word citinghis position on the cross, Nichol wrote in the Flat Hat :
It may be that steps I've taken have caused wounds too deep to overcome. Perhaps they've touched a divide too white-hot to explore. But if we're to be the national treasure we're called to become, William and Mary must be open and welcoming to all. We must place all religions on an equal footing, rather than signing on to a particular tradition. There should be no strangers here. These heady goals are essential to the College's future. They're more important than the wishes of a donor, or a pundit, or a political hatchet man. They're also more important than a single president.
The final decision March 6 was, according to my friend Barry, more unsettling than relegating the cross to storage when it was not in use. Instead, it was to be displayed 24-7, but in a glass case accompanied by a placque, as if it were nothing more than an artifact. March 23, The Flat Hat reported that fellow parents at Walsingham Academy, a private high school where Nichol's daughter is a senior, had uninvited him to be the graduation speaker. The school happily reached its fundraising goal of $500,000,000 in June despite any of those who withdrew their pledge. I thought, Nichols had weathered the storm, until I got that letter from Powell. And now, looking at the detractor's website, I wonder how long these supposed supporters of my alma mater are going to tear down a wonderful school in an effort to pressure the Board of Visitors to get rid of a President with wide student and faculty support. What makes them think that if the Board caves a first rate President woudl want to come and take Nichols place?


Catherine Pancake's Black Diamonds

Photoshopped version of the Mountain Justice flyer for the film showing at Virginia Tech September 14 and a panel the next day.

Here's the sidebar article I turned in today for the New River Voice:, which will accompany the MTR article I submitted yesterday.

Catherine Pancake came to Blacksburg August 14 for a panel discussion of her compelling and comprehensive 2006 film, Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice, winner of this year’s Jack Spadaro Award from the Appalachian Studies Association.

As a child, the West Virginia native accompanied her father, a minister, to strip mine sites and listened to him call the destruction a sin and a crime. Then Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, meant to stem the damage, Jimmy Carter signed the measure into law and Pancake eventually moved to Baltimore. So, when her sister, author Ann Pancake, passed along emails from an academic list-serve, saying coal companies were blowing up the mountains, it seemed unbelievable. Convinced by her sister to come down and shoot some footage, she imagined, back in March, 2000, a short film used to somehow publicize and stop the destruction of mountain life. Soon, Pancake realized she had embarked on making a full-length documentary, spending much of her free time during the next years driving six hours each way and capturing MTR’s story as told from the points of view of affected residents, politicians and the industry.

Talking to people in their homes, at mining sites and at Charleston protests, Pancake follows every claim of injustice or mistreatment with support in the form of visual documentation or a graphic citing information from state and regulatory agencies. She interviews lawyers, government officials and scientists who explain why they oppose the practice and the obstacles to ending it. And when Pancake interviews industry spokesmen and sympathetic politicians, she makes their spin and disinformation transparent.

Anyone who wants to understand the history and gravity of MTR should view this film and show it to your friends. For showings and ordering information, see:
  • http://www.blackdiamondsmovie.com/
To read an entensive feature based on interviews with Pancake and activists in the film by Baltimore City Paper’s arts editor, Bret McCabe.
  • See http://www.citypaper.com/news/story.asp?id=11640


Mountaintop Removal and the New River Voice

Chart is photoshopped version of page 10 of a national opinion survey prepared September 13 by Opinion Research Corporation for the www.700Mountains.org, the newest project of the Civil Society Institute (CSI).

Here's a draft of the article I just turned in for New River Voice, a new publication edited by Tim Jackson, Assistant Director for Student Media at Radford University.
You may have read about recent actions by the Bush Administration to make mountaintop removal (MTR) easier. As Coal River Mountain Watch’s Vernon Haltom told Democracy Now on August 24, "What this rule change amounts to is a declaration of war against the Appalachian People."

What you make not have read about, is how two out of three Americans (65 percent) oppose the Bush Administration's proposal, according to a national opinion survey prepared September 13 by Opinion Research Corporation for the www.700Mountains.org, the newest project of the Civil Society Institute (CSI).
We should call a spade a spade. So-called MTR is mountain range removal. To maximize profits, big companies blast as much as 800 to 1000 feet off the "tops" of our ridges in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and now Tennessee to reach coal seams which lay underneath.
Mountain Justice Summer (MJS) organized four years ago at Virginia Tech after a visit by coalfield activist Larry Gibson, links students throughout the region to coalfield residents. The group explains MTR in its newsletter: "Once the mountains are destroyed, the few jobs obtained from this practice will also dissapear, leaving a wake of devastation and unemployment behind. Instead of fishing, hunting, camping, collecting medicinal and edible plants, instead of clean water from healthy watersheds, and clean air in a peaceful community deeply connected with the surrounding mountains, we will be left with the ravaged, crumpled, barren remains of what was once the backbone of our Appalachian heritage."
At ground level, a thin veneer of hills and forests often remains, hiding the immensity of the destruction. To fully understand the effects of this "stripmining on steroids, " you need to fly over, as I did last October. I joined Tech English faculty members Jeff Mann and Katie Fallon and 13 other writers, on a tour sponsored by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Southwings to visit Kayford Mountain, south of Charleston, West Virginia.
About all that remains of Kayford, rising out of a vast abyss: fifty acres which once sat halfway up the mountain. Larry Gibson and members of his extended family managed to put their homeplace into a trust rather than sell it to Massey Energy.
If you don’t know about the MTR process, let me explain. Coal companies such as Massey Energy in West Virginia and A&G in Wise County, Virginia take a beautiful mountain covered with deciduous forest. They
  • use huge tractors to knock down the trees and other plants, which they set afire;
  • scrape off the topsoil, ruining the ability to absorb rain and thereby increasing flooding;
  • drill holes and insert amfo--ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil, similar to the stuff used by truck bombers to demolish the Oklahoma City Federal Building;
  • ignite the fuses and blow up the mountain causing tremors that compromise the structural integrity of houses and clouds of smoke and dust which interferes with breathing;
  • operate a dragline excavator 20 stories tall and nearly a city block in size connected directly into a high-voltage grid to scoop nearly 100 tons of shattered mountain a load (equivalent to about 65 pickup trucks) to dig down to the coal;dump what's left into nearby headwaters and valleys in piles in piles that can be two miles long and over 100 feet high, which leaches toxic metals such as mercury, copper, arsenic, lead, and selenium into the watershed which flows all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi River;
  • leave mostly undeveloped flat plateaus where there were once mountains; and
  • lime the soil for quick grass growth, which destroys acidity required for tree growth.
For those interested in viewing the destruction in Virginia first hand, Southern Appalachian Stewards (SAMS) offers flyover tours similar to the one I took, here in Wise County, Virginia. Bill McCabe, an organizer for the Sierra Club who works with the group and MJS, hopes to organize a writers’ tour for Virginia. I met McCabe and many SAMS members when I accompanied them to visit legislators to lobby in Washington for the Clean Water Protection Act, which would reverse a Bush Administration Army Corps of Engineers 2002 rule change undermining of the Clean Water Act by classifying the mining rubble dumped in streams as “fill”.
Larry Bush, a former miner and mine safety inspector active with SAMS, told me that there are less destructive ways to mine thin coal seams than MTR, ways that would provide more jobs in the southern mountains and still provide the coal companies with generous profits. The ratio of jobs for MTR versus these other methods is 1 to 200, according to another former mining inspector, Jack Spadaro, who lost his job running the National Mine Safety and Health Academy in Beckley West, Virginia for refusing to whitewash liability for the Martin County sludge spill after the Bush administration took office and ordered him to do so.
Bush administration’s latest assault comes after the deracination of the EPA’s court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement which downplayed the research of government scientists and instead looked at ways to make mining easier. August 24, the administration published its intention to further change the rules, eliminating the requirement to avoid mining within 100 feet of streams. It is as if Big Coal, already violating the law for years and successfully held accountable by citizens in Court, has now been given a free pass.
And our own Congressman, Rick Boucher is himself responsible for promoting destruction of our Mountains. In addition to refusing to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act, he shepherded, over the objection of the House leadership, a stealth clause in the Energy Bill, to promote coal-to-liquid technology and “clean coal” with vague language that “No appropriation authorized pursuant to this section may exclude any category of eligible project described in section 1703" of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Many of us in the New River Valley are taking action to stop MTR. Just last month, for instance, we attended the Southeast Climate Convergence and picketed the Blacksburg branch of Bank of America on August 31, in an action organized by MJS and the newly formed chapter of Blue Ridge Earth First! This month we attended a MJS showing of the film “Black Diamonds’ and attended a panel discussion with the filmmaker and others to educate ourself about this distructive practice (see sidebar).
It’s time to write Boucher and demand that he stop promoting the destruction of our mountains. His email address is ninthnet@hr.house.gov.
New River Voice readers can also generate letters regarding the Clean Water Protection Act and against the latest Bush Administration rule and access information on the facts on MTR at the Stop Mountaintop Removal site sponsored by EarthJustice, a public interest law firm, in coalition with various coalfield and environmental groups:

The Southern Energy Network is organizing a series of actions against the new MTR rule. See:
  • http://climateaction.net/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=62
To view the most recent legislative package in support of the Clean Water Protection Act, prepared by Appalachian Voices, see:
To learn about actions by Blue Ridge Earth First, visit the group’s website and sign up for its listserve at :
  • http://www.blueridgeef.com/
Also, mark your calendars. Attend the weekly meetings of MJS in Blacksburg at the Squires Student Center. November 7, join us as the campus chapter hosts Dave Cooper's Mountaintop Removal Road Show, including representatives from SAMS (time and place still pending). To get more information, visit the website:
  • http://www.mountainjustice.org.vt.edu/


Who Profits from Fear?

The Political Compass and U.S. Presidential Politics: Was tagging old entries this evening and looking up current versions of sites I had liked. This is an update from Political Compass. I had taken the test in 2006 and landed near the center, a bit left libertarian, the quadrant for Nelson Mandela and Gandhi , or Mozart, all of whom I regard as fine and admirable company. As the authors explain,

If we recognise that this is essentially an economic line it's fine, as far as it goes. We can show, for example, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot, with their commitment to a totally controlled economy, on the hard left. Socialists like Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Mugabe would occupy a less extreme leftist position. Margaret Thatcher would be well over to the right, but further right still would be someone like that ultimate free marketeer, General Pinochet.

the social dimension is also important in politics. That's the one that the mere left-right scale doesn't adequately address. So we've added one, ranging in positions from extreme authoritarian to extreme libertarian.

Just to show the state of American politics, I'm left of any of the presidential candidates except Kucinich and Gravel, neither of whom would be my choice for this office. The skewing brings to my mind that quote about the American eagle needing both left and right wings to fly. Mario Savio attributes it to Jessee Jackson. Or there's the Pat Paulsen version:

Assuming either the Left Wing or the Right Wing gained control of the country, it would probably fly around in circles.

In looking at particular candidates, I'm interested how tight a cluster there is for the Democratic Party candidates (again, other than Kucinich and Gravel.) And that Edwards and Clinton are the most libertarian. Also that Ron Paul, who considers himself the libertarian falls above the dividing line. Contrast his placement with that of a conservative libertarian, Milton Friedman, on this chart:
An aside about Paulsen: according to his memorial he came in second in the 1996 New Hampshire Presidential Primary (makes me wonder how Colbert would have done if SC Dems had let him on the ticket.) And although I did not find the context for the above quotation, I found a site which includes his political editorials, as well as a now dead link I've revived thanks to the Internet Archive to Paulsen's quite serious answers to the 1996 Presidential Primary Natioinal Political Awareness Test from Project Vote Smart.

Since it's 9-11, I'll provide some content devoted to terror: How's this for Keystone Kops? NYC will deter nuclear attack with concentric circles of Geiger counters according to the New York Times today in "Suburban Police Enlisted to Help Protect the City" by Corey Kilgannon. Don't you feel safer now?

The counters didn't work so well in the latest dirty bomb scare. According to "MTA didn't tell us of dirty bomb scare: officers," by Alison Gendar in the NY Daily News on September 10, one officer who works at the Verrazano Bridge complained,

They'll give us two weeks of training for how to collect tolls, making sure we charge a three-axle truck more than a two-axle, but no field training on what a bomb might look like, how to stop cars or use this radiation detector.

Meanwhile, besides Geiger counters, LA is spending its homeland security money on robots and portable media hubs, according to Richard Winton in the September 9 LA Times.

I guess it all comes down to fear being a great motivator for letting loose the purse strings.

And speaking of fear: John Judis (email) had an interesting piece in the the New Republic August 17 explaining why West Virginia supported Bush. In "How Political Psychology Explains Bush's Ghastly Success. Death Grip" (referred to here), he writes about research since the early 1980s by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski (interview, article, research), who developed "terror management theory."

Their experiments showed that the mere thought of one's mortality can trigger a range of emotions--from disdain for other races, religions, and nations, to a preference for charismatic over pragmatic leaders, to a heightened attraction to traditional mores.

It seems that this tendency could be counteracted, if folks were asked to think as rationally as possible. (Not something the current administration espouses.)

On the poetry front: again, with regard to 9-11, Tillie wrote me to say he'd mentioned my poem, "Windows on the World" on his blog entry today.

Other mention on the net:

  • Coal: a poetry anthology and my poem in particular, got mentioned in this online review by West Virginia storyteller Susanna Holstein.
My journalism on Memeorandum: Just found out that my August 22, 2007 post at WV Blue, "Suit by West Virginia Protesters Reveals Bush Tactics," got a link from Memeorandum.com. The topic is the 2002 Bush advance manual for handling dissent. For those of you who haven't seen Memeorandum, it aggregates political news around memes.