Forward Together, Not One Step Back: Moral Monday Returns To Asheville, NC

Yesterday I attended Asheville’s second Mountain Moral Monday, a movement that started in Raleigh in 2012 in protest of the extremist policies of the NC General Assembly, most of which have been signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory. Early estimates put the number of attendees at about 5,000-6,500 people-down from last year’s 10,000, but an impressive turnout nonetheless.

Mountain Moral Monday in Pack Square, Asheville
Mountain Moral Monday in Pack Square, Asheville

The Moral Monday movement’s organizer and state NAACP chapter president, Reverend William J. Barber, was in attendance. Barber and hundreds of others have been arrested for peaceful protests in Raleigh and vilified by the far right. The Moral Monday movement has been reported on by national outlets and versions of the movement are beginning to spread around the country. A short clip of his speech can be found here. I hope to add the full video when it becomes available.

Yesterday’s rally focused on voter registration and bringing public awareness to the continuing struggle for equality, environmental protection, quality education and support for teachers, immigration reform, and healthcare for all. There were several speakers directly affected by recent legislation: a doctor from a rural community, a single mother, an undocumented immigrant, a teacher, a gay minister who wants to marry her partner…

Those who attended the rally carried signs that addressed issues important to them.

Medical Cannabis Advocates
Medical Cannabis Advocates
Frack Off Gasholes!
Frack Off Gasholes!



Veterans for Peace
Veterans for Peace

Since Republicans won a super-majority in the General Assembly in 2012, NC legislators have succeeded in pushing forward the far-right’s agenda, such as Amendment One-a Constitutional amendment which bars recognition of same-sex marriages. The earned income credit is expiring this year, as are several deductions and exemptions that will result in a higher tax burden for the working poor and the middle class.

In 2016, the new voter ID law will require voters to show a photo ID to vote. Early voting days have already been cut, and several polling locations have been closed, leading to longer lines and more difficulty casting a vote, especially for minorities.


Legislators have also voted to fast-track fracking and criminalize the disclosure of the chemicals used in the process. This law, the so-called “Energy Modernization Act,” was passed without public notice or time for public comment-a tactic which has become par for the course in NC. 2378

Restrictions on reproductive rights, unemployment and Medicaid cuts, immigration issues, and tax cuts for the rich  may also be added to the laundry list of grievances about which NC voters have become increasingly concerned. North Carolina has become a test lab for all of the regressive policies that tea-party driven politics have wrought.


For decades, the far right has claimed to be the moral voice of “real” Americans. Their so-called Christian values are the source of their morality and the reason for the positions they take on everything from gay marriage and women’s rights, to their draconian stance on the refugee crisis at our border. But some Republicans are finding the courage to speak out against what they believe are immoral acts by the government. Reverend Barber recently joined forces in Washington, DC with Adam O’Neal, the Republican mayor of Belhaven, NC, who had just walked 300 miles to the capitol to bring awareness to the health care crisis that that has occurred as a direct result of not accepting federal funds for expanded Medicaid. “For me and the mayor, it’s not about partisan politics,” Rev. Barber said. “It’s about what’s right.”


Wearily I rise as birds begin their morning song,

Thankful for the peace that seems to only come at dawn.

The weight of slumber is not so heavy

As the daily mask I wear.

My smile fixed like a rictus, but I edit it with care.

I tuck away my sorrow like strands of fallen hair.

My eyes, deep pools, never shed their tears.

The salty pearls are swallowed,

How bitter are those spheres!

Carefully arranged, it’s time to face the day.

So practiced, so artful, so perfectly assembled…

I rarely have to fill the cracks that form along the way.

Politics, North Carolina Style. Coal Ash Pollutes NC Waters as Regulatory Body Endures Job and Funding Cuts: Duke Energy Promises to Pass Clean-up Costs on To Customers!

On January 27, 3.5 million gallons of raw sewage poured into the Haw River from a cracked main at a Burlington, NC wastewater treatment facility.  Residents were not notified of the breach until January 30, despite state law requiring public notification within 48 hours of any spill over 1,000 gallons. Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources, stated that the spill constituted only 1 percent of the water flowing through the Haw River at the time; therefore it had no major impact on the environment. Perhaps those who live on or near the river would beg to differ. Why the terrible breach? Most of NC’s water pipes are made of wood or corroding metal. “We have incredibly old infrastructure in North Carolina,” says Reeder. “The thing is it costs billions and billions and billions of dollars to replace all of this aging infrastructure.” And we know that no one wants to spend money on protecting the environment these days, especially in GOP-dominated North Carolina…

In February, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Raleigh opened a criminal investigation into a coal ash spill that resulted in 27 MILLION gallons of toxic sludge being dumped into the Dan River from a now defunct Duke Energy power plant. The public was not notified of the spill until the next day. It took six days to seal the ruptured pipe. It was a full ten days until state officials warned residents not to swim in the river or eat fish from it.

The spill was blamed on a corroded storm water drain that runs beneath the 27 acre (!) coal ash pond. Who puts a storm water drain under a toxic, unlined coal ash pond? Everyone, apparently!  There are no federal regulations regulating coal ash ponds, notes Tom Reeder. More than a dozen of the 31 Duke Energy coal ash ponds in North Carolina have been deemed unsafe and liable to fail at any time. That means that a tasty cocktail of benzene, mercury, lead, and arsenic could be leaching into groundwater from a coal ash pond near you.

Duke Energy Chief Executive Lynn Good said that customers would pay the cost if the state requires the company to empty its 31 coal ash ponds in NC. Duke Energy CFO Steve Young recently informed his investors of compliance costs on a Februrary 18 conference call:

“We currently estimate we will spend between $4.5 billion and $5.5 billion over the next 10 years, with $900 million expected to be spent in the 2014 to 2016 time frame…Approximately 85 percent of our expected environmental compliance investments will be in the Carolinas and Indiana. Both of these jurisdictions have a strong track record of allowing utilities to recover costs related to environmental compliance investments.”

In other words, the company fully expects that NC legislators will allow Duke Energy to charge its customers for the cleanup. Where on earth would they get that idea? From recent history, that’s where!

As a shareholder, Governor McCrory has profited directly from the company, whose profits for the past fiscal year were $2.7 billion. Shareholders enjoyed a 25% increase in earnings after the company’s controversial merger with Progress Energy, which created the nation’s largest utility company. Did you say monopoly? What monopoly? So, in a nutshell, profits are passed on to shareholders while costs are shifted to the ratepayer. Ah, business…the crony capitalist way!

Before the latest spill, NC environmentalist groups had tried three times in the last year to sue Duke Energy and force the corporation to clean up its toxic coal ash dumps. Each time, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) blocked the lawsuits to assert its own authority over regulatory enforcement. The environmental groups were shut out of negotiations that resulted in a proposed settlement considered by many to be highly favorable to the company.

Environmentalists criticized the DENR for its seemingly cozy relationship with Duke Energy, noting the $99,111 proposed settlement fine for pollution from two previous coal ash pond leaks in Charlotte and Asheville constituted nothing but a slap on the wrist for the $50 billion company. The settlement would have required Duke to study how to stop contamination, but would not require the company to clean up the sites. Lawyers from the DENR have now asked judges to disregard their own proposed settlement after public scrutiny has caused backlash and criticism, in addition to the pesky federal probe. The investigation is focusing closely on the relationship between the regulators and the Duke Energy.

The Southern Environment Law Center obtained 400 pages of emails from the DENR as part of legal efforts to force shutdown and clean up of the state’s coal ash ponds. The emails show that DENR officials have known about the problem and have been studying it since at least 2008, after a similar spill in Tennessee. The DENR found that Progress Energy and Duke had not obtained required stormwater permits for several of the coal ash ponds. Attempts to request that the companies obtain proper permits were rebuffed. “Why we would do this when we are looking for a kinder gentler regulatory framework according to the Governor?” asked Duke environmental and legislative director George Everett in a 2011 email. Is seems that he was right to stall. All Duke Energy needed was a Republican-led legislature.

After budget cuts and a shift in focus, the DENR all but dropped its pursuit of permit enforcement. “The legislature has not created a culture where DENR feels like it can act aggressively, and that has gotten worse since the GOP took over the legislature,” said Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro.

Governor McCrory has chided reporter’s questions about his relationship with Duke Energy as “disrespectful.” It is certain that he and other GOP lawmakers are scrambling to save face after the launch of the federal investigation. He defends his record, stating that “Our DENR under our administration has taken the most aggressive action in North Carolina history.” REALLY?

The relationship between lawmakers and Duke Energy warmed considerably after Governor McCrory took office. At least $1.1 million was contributed to the McCrory campaign by Duke’s PAC, executives, and their immediate families. Duke Energy shareholder and former employee McCrory appointed businessman and climate change skeptic John Skvarla, who has stated the dubious claim that coal is an infinite resource, to head the DENR. After his appointment, he stated that the environment was not his only concern. He characterizes those companies that he regulates as “customers” and the DENR as a “partner” to those entities. His duties, as he saw them:

“Protect the environment and help the economy because DENR has such a bad name. DENR is the number one obstacle to economic growth in the state of North Carolina for a long time.”

Skvarla, who had no experience in environmental regulation before his appointment, told the John Locke Society that if environmentalists had their way, “we’d live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”

Michael Burkhard, a former senior specialist tasked with investigations into contamination, says that the environment within the agency took a turn after McCrory appointed Skvarla. He stated that his powers to regulate enforcement were weakened and that proposed penalties had to be submitted to Raleigh for ultimate approval before being levied on violators. “The message was that we shouldn’t hold anyone accountable or responsible…They told us that industry and business do a better job of regulating themselves than we do,” Berkhard told Salon. Other employees have stated that their jobs were threatened if they didn’t get with the program.

Legislators have been steadily chipping away at DENR jobs and funding since the 2008 recession. Under Skvarla, the DENR returned almost $600,000 to the EPA that was supposed to have been used to test waters that are potentially affected by fracking and for wetlands research, because the unit that would have handled the tests was eliminated. Legislators also cut the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which was established to protect watersheds, from a $100 million fund to $11.5 million.

The DENR lost 30 positions in between 2009-2010, and since 2011 has lost 225 positions. The water resources unit has been the hardest hit within the DENR, constituting half of all job cuts since McCrory took office. 67 of those job cuts were since March 1, well after the devastating coal ash spill. The reduction in force was part of Skvarla’s broad restructuring of the agency that began last summer. Now seven regional offices must stretch dwindled resources to continue fulfilling its duties. Here in Asheville, a crew of 12 persons is tasked with monitoring 19 surrounding counties.

Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a seven-term Republican from Marion, NC, made it his mission to gut environmental laws after the GOP took over the General Assembly, in an effort to clear the way for hydraulic fracturing and other oil and gas friendly pursuits. One of those bills resulted in the famous law against sea level change, or rather, the way we measure it. Has he targeted DENR? Absolutely, he says:

“Now, are we targeting DENR? Well, I am. I’m actually targeting regulatory reform. It just so happens that DENR is the issue that I’ve been involved with all my life, as far as regulations go.”

Gillespie, who has received contributions from Duke, Progress Energy and natural gas company PSNC, says that DENR regulations have cost him tens of thousands over his years in the industry.

The Republican-led legislature has been very active in gutting environmental regulations, making deregulation and defunding a top priority. The Raleigh News and Observer reports on the disturbing trend:

“Three major bills that either streamlined or decimated – depending on your point of view – environmental regulations have been enacted since 2011. One such bill prohibits state regulations that are more stringent than federal regulations, and takes decision-making authority on disputes over regulations out of state agencies’ hands.

A 59-page bill enacted from last year’s session restricts local environmental ordinances, weakens groundwater protections around landfills such as coal ash ponds, and requires state agencies to review all their rules every 10 years and trim those that can’t be justified. The bill required DENR be the first agency to undertake the time-consuming process, beginning with some 500 water quality and wetlands rules, with its diminished staff.

Another bill enacted into law last session removed Democratic-appointed incumbents from state commissions, including the Environmental Management Commission and the Coastal Resources Commission, and replace them with Republican appointees, eliminating the expertise and continuity of the former members.”

A federal subpoena of the governor’s office, the DENR, and Duke Energy requires documents, emails, sampling results, and records regarding the Dan River Steam Station to be handed over for a Grand Jury to review beginning March 18.

***Fellow blogger and friend BTG has also written about the questionable relationship between regulators and Duke Energy on his blog, Musings of an Old Fart. Please visit and tell him I sent you!***

Must Read: Mike Lofgren on the Deep State

Former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren has penned a disturbing essay on the Deep State, the invisible power structure within our government that goes beyong mere party politics and elected officials. Lofgren left Washington and the Republican party in disgust due to his experience of the Deep State, which he describes in this way:

Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.

This makes intuitive sense without much understanding of the complexity of the system itself, and upon closer examination, becomes more and more apparent. It seems the natural progression of a government such as ours, which thrives on the military industrial complex and public apathy and ignorance. As more and more money pours into the electoral coffers of our leaders, the hybrid power structure of corporate and national security interests becomes more pervasive. The Deep State has become so entrenched that it has become self-sustaining, no matter who is in office. It matters not who our elected officials happen to be, because they have bought into the very system that usurps any real power they might have to change it. Lofgren quotes Upton Sinclair to elucidate this point:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Deregulation, privatization of historically governmental functions, the economic crisis, and the erosion of our civil liberties after 9/11 has intensified even further the power of the Deep State. Our elected leaders often either do not know that they are puppets, or willingly participate in the ruse of democracy, since when they leave office, they are very often assured of lucrative careers within the very entities that have dictated their public policies. Lofgren, from an interview with Bill Moyers:

Wall Street is, perhaps, the ultimate backstop to the whole operation.  Because they generate so much money that they can provide second careers for a lot of the government operatives.  They’re going to make more money than they ever dreamed they would on Wall Street. And I think a good example of that is the most celebrated soldier of the last decade David Petraeus.  What did he do when he retired?  He went to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, a Wall Street buyout firm with $90 billion in assets under management.

Lofgren states that this results in an ideology neither Republican nor Democrat in nature. On the surface, there are some differences on social issues-what I call wedge issues: gay marriage, abortion, etc. Not least of these are issues which to many define the meaning of AMERICAN. It is my AMERICAN, God-given right to bear arms, refuse service to gays, or beat my child! Yet, too often we do not question why AMERICA is spying on its own citizens, arresting them for speaking their minds, and letting corporate welfare moochers deplete the public wealth while despising the poor for weakness. No matter what party affiliation, there seems to be some concepts that are universally accepted as gospel, which Lofgren characterizes as the “Washington Consensus”:

…financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation and the commodifying of labor. Internationally, they espouse 21st-century “American Exceptionalism”: the right and duty of the United States to meddle in every region of the world with coercive diplomacy and boots on the ground and to ignore painfully won international norms of civilized behavior.

The “mainstream media” tends to support these inviolate principles without question, as it continues to focus on the fractiousness that seems to consume all of public attention and political discourse. American Exceptionalism is the true religion of this nation. To suggest that our nation is not divinely protected and beloved is heresy. It is repeated over again that no matter what mistakes our country has made, it is always with altruistic and benevolent intent. We have always held this truth to be self-evident, and so the Deep State has come into existence due to our own arrogance.

The frightening effects of this state of affairs is becoming apparent. Public infrastructures have long been neglected. A relatively mild snowstorm results in massive power outages, gridlock, and panic. Bridges are literally collapsing. We incarcerate more persons per capita than any other nation, often due to the failed war on drugs, which is nothing but an extension of the devastating effects of poverty. Record numbers of people are on food stamps as corporations enjoy record profits. SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE! Lofgren’s Deep State theory pierces to the heart of the problem:

The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction. Washington is the headquarters of the Deep State, and its time in the sun as a rival to Rome, Constantinople or London may be term-limited by its overweening sense of self-importance and its habit, as Winwood Reade said of Rome, to “live upon its principal till ruin stared it in the face.” “Living upon its principal,” in this case, means that the Deep State has been extracting value from the American people in vampire-like fashion.

The American people can not continue to feed this unsustainable vampire. Eventually, the system will be depleted of sustenance, but it could very well be too late the stop the cycle, for most of us are as yet still blind to its existence. History shows that once a society that has consumed itself in such a manner, it is often much too late to stop the terrible spiral even after it has become self-aware. And history shows that leaders, in the face of defeat, tend to double down on already failing policies, arrogantly refusing to admit a change must be made.

Lofgren offers a few disturbing glimpses of our future if the Deep State continues to dictate the course of our country. The first step to dismantling this destructive entity is to become aware of it, perhaps through an enlightened leader:

What America lacks is a figure with the serene self-confidence to tell us that the twin idols of national security and corporate power are outworn dogmas that have nothing more to offer us. Thus disenthralled, the people themselves will unravel the Deep State with surprising speed.

I had hoped that Obama would be this true agent of “change,” but he has proven to be yet another extension of the Deep State. I encourage you to read the essay and watch the accompanying interview with Bill Moyers. I welcome your thoughts and opinions.

Quiet Sunday Morning Reflections on Parenthood and Uncertainty

Before my first child was born, I had a miscarriage. It was very early in the pregnancy, but it was devastating nonetheless. When we first found out I was pregnant, my husband and I were so happy and excited. We stayed up late musing over names and wondering if if it would be a boy or a girl. The miscarriage brought crushing disappointment and sadness over the loss of what could have been.

Just a few short months later, and a bit unexpectedly, for we had decided to wait a bit before trying for another, I found I was pregnant again. My pregnancy was uneventful and normal. My 110-pound frame ballooned nearly 70 pounds due to my new love for chocolate cake covered with chocolate syrup. I was as big around as I was tall, but my husband proclaimed I was still just as beautiful (bless him).

It was a difficult labor, lasting the better part of a day before doctors decided to cut her from my body because she was stuck in my pelvis. I had never had a broken bone or even stitches before, so I was terrified. But as her heart rate dropped, my fears for myself were overcome by my fear of losing her, this child that was so wished for and wanted. In February of 2000, my healthy baby girl was born. I got to glimpse her adorable cone head and wrinkly face before I passed out in exhaustion. When I awoke, I found a crowd of friends and family at the door. They had been there all day, anxiously awaiting the girl’s arrival. They surrounded her bassinet and cooed in awe at her perfection.

The pediatrician came around early the next morning to check her out from head to toe. He noticed a distinct clicking sound as he manipulated her little legs and hips. He discovered that her hip socket was malformed. Her condition was called hip dysplasia. She was immediately fitted with a tiny brace that held her legs in a position that would allow her hip to grow properly. She had to wear it all of the time, unless changing clothing and diapers, or bathing. It added a new level to baby care for an anxious pair of new parents. But again, our fear for her health and safety made us stand up to the responsibility and stifle those fears. After a year and a half, our daughter’s hip was proclaimed normal, although she must still be checked periodically until she is finished growing.

Only 16 months after the birth of my daughter, along came my son, fat and healthy. The next several years were a blur of joy and despair. Frazzled and tired beyond comprehension, I suffered through the loneliness and isolation of being the only mommy in our group. I worked nights as my husband worked days. Those nights after work with my friends, I drank too much, pretending I was still cool. Alone with my children, I sobbed with guilt, because I didn’t feel up to the task of being a good mother. I was nearly undone, but my husband recognized my spiral, and helped me get back on my feet with renewed purpose.

Fast forward a few years. We have continued to work our crazy opposite schedules so that we don’t have to entrust our babies to daycare. We trust very few people to care for them, and never for more than a few hours. My youngest is about to go to kindergarten. I am ready. I want to start my own career. But fate has different plans for me. As soon as I enroll in school, my mother in law suffers a fall and an injury that requires me and my husband to care for her in our home for a couple of months. I have no alone time, and now have to fully care for an adult more demanding than any child. Shortly after she is well enough to go home, I find out that I am pregnant again.

Although I manage to finish school during my pregnancy and childbirth, we decide to once again place my career on hold until my precious third child and second daughter goes to school. It is a sacrifice that I am happy to make, though that means that I will be forty years old before I start any type of career. I continue to work nights. As you know if you have read my blog for a while, I then had to care for my mother in law once again for the better part of a year. This was an entirely new type of madness in our tiny home. We were tethered to the house, bound by our responsibilities, and completely unable to keep all of the balls in the air. Though she is now gone to a nursing home, we are still recovering from the effects of her stay here.

Fate continues to throw us curve balls. I found a job as soon as my baby went to kindergarten. I started part time, but was quickly offered a full time gig with great “bennies.” We were very happy, but that meant putting my baby in afterschool care. She is not adjusting so well to the long times away from us. She is having some behavioral problems and separation anxiety. My son is going to counseling because he has a terrible time focusing at school and at home, because of compulsive thoughts and behaviors. To top it all off, my beautiful eldest child might have a genetic disorder called Marfan’s Syndrome.

My daughter contracted pneumonia last fall. Upon examination of her chest X-ray, the doctor noticed that her spine was curved. When the orthopedist she was referred to assessed the severity of her scoliosis, he determined that she has Pectus Excavatum, an abnormality of the chest bones. Those two symptoms combined suggest the possibility of Marfan, a disorder that affects smooth muscles such as the heart, and connective tissues. I have discovered that if she has it, there is a 50% chance that my other two have it as well. TOO MUCH TO BEAR! I have banned myself from reading any more on the internet about the syndrome as we await an ultrasound of her heart to find out more.

Fourteen years ago, I learned the meaning of true love. At the same time I had to learn to live with oppressive worry that is with me constantly. I suffer doubts over my capacity to endure and remain strong. I find it difficult at times to hide my fears from my children. My own mother left my family when fear of the unknown became too great for her to bear. How was I to know way back then how terrifying parenthood would be-how fraught with danger and uncertainty, how much sacrifice would be involved. I face it all willingly, but still afraid.

My baby, now six years old, has just now wandered in with bleary eyes and funky breath, wanting to cuddle. Still toasty from the warmth of her bed, I hold her close and think, “this is what it is all about.” I can and will face whatever comes, for them.

A Class Divided | FRONTLINE | PBS

On the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in April 1968, Jane Elliott’s third graders from the small, all-white town of Riceville, Iowa, came to class confused and upset. They recently had made King their “Hero of the Month,” and they couldn’t understand why someone would kill him. So Elliott decided to teach her class a daring lesson in the meaning of discrimination. She wanted to show her pupils what discrimination feels like, and what it can do to people.

Elliott divided her class by eye color — those with blue eyes and those with brown. On the first day, the blue-eyed children were told they were smarter, nicer, neater, and better than those with brown eyes. Throughout the day, Elliott praised them and allowed them privileges such as a taking a longer recess and being first in the lunch line. In contrast, the brown-eyed children had to wear collars around their necks and their behavior and performance were criticized and ridiculed by Elliott. On the second day, the roles were reversed and the blue-eyed children were made to feel inferior while the brown eyes were designated the dominant group.

What happened over the course of the unique two-day exercise astonished both students and teacher. On both days, children who were designated as inferior took on the look and behavior of genuinely inferior students, performing poorly on tests and other work. In contrast, the “superior” students — students who had been sweet and tolerant before the exercise — became mean-spirited and seemed to like discriminating against the “inferior” group.

“I watched what had been marvelous, cooperative, wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third-graders in a space of fifteen minutes,” says Elliott. She says she realized then that she had “created a microcosm of society in a third-grade classroom.”

Watch the episode in its entirety: A Class Divided | FRONTLINE | PBS.

A Deadly Mix in Benghazi – The New York Times

Benghazi, Libya

A BOYISH-LOOKING AMERICAN DIPLOMAT was meeting for the first time with the Islamist leaders of eastern Libya’s most formidable militias.

It was Sept. 9, 2012. Gathered on folding chairs in a banquet hall by the Mediterranean, the Libyans warned of rising threats against Americans from extremists in Benghazi. One militia leader, with a long beard and mismatched military fatigues, mentioned time in exile in Afghanistan. An American guard discreetly touched his gun.

“Since Benghazi isn’t safe, it is better for you to leave now,” Mohamed al-Gharabi, the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade, later recalled telling the Americans. “I specifically told the Americans myself that we hoped that they would leave Benghazi as soon as possible.”

Yet as the militiamen snacked on Twinkie-style cakes with their American guests, they also gushed about their gratitude for President Obama’s support in their uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They emphasized that they wanted to build a partnership with the United States, especially in the form of more investment. They specifically asked for Benghazi outlets of McDonald’s and KFC.

The diplomat, David McFarland, a former congressional aide who had never before met with a Libyan militia leader, left feeling agitated, according to colleagues. But the meeting did not shake his faith in the prospects for deeper involvement in Libya. Two days later, he summarized the meeting in a cable to Washington, describing a mixed message from the militia leaders.

Despite “growing problems with security,” he wrote, the fighters wanted the United States to become more engaged “by ‘pressuring’ American businesses to invest in Benghazi.”

The cable, dated Sept. 11, 2012, was sent over the name of Mr. McFarland’s boss, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Later that day, Mr. Stevens was dead, killed with three other Americans in Benghazi in the most significant attack on United States property in 11 years, since Sept. 11, 2001.

CONTINUE READING: A Deadly Mix in Benghazi – The New York Times.

One is hard-pressed to find actual examples of investigative journalism these days. This in-depth article goes beyond the sensational and the political. Sadly, I suspect that the people who should read it will not. They will just get the highly filtered version from their favored pundits, who are far from true journalists. 

All That Remains

I came across a word the other day that has since been occupying my mind: hiraeth. There is no direct translation for this Welsh word that describes the feeling of homesickness, nostalgia, or longing for a place or a person. It encompasses all of the feelings that one has-the wistfulness, yearning, and desire for the thing which has been lost and the grief that accompanies the feeling of loss. The thing that is yearned for may not have ever existed, but the feeling remains…hiraeth.

Research led me to a similar word in Portuguese/Galician. Saudade describes the melancholic emotion for something or someone that is gone, along with the knowledge that it will never return. Saudade includes all of the happy feelings evoked by memories, tempered by the feelings of loss and sadness now that the thing is gone. It is all of the feelings that remain although the person, place, or thing is gone forever or perhaps never existed. It is a feeling of incompleteness, of something missing, never to be regained.

Although I never had a word for it-nostalgia doesn’t describe it adequately-I know this feeling. It is always with me. I have always viewed my memories and my dreams as stories, perhaps because this helps me to distance myself from them. All of my stories have this single theme of hiraeth in common.

             I also have the soundtrack of my life playing in my mind. Seriously.

Once upon a time, I had Ojiichan, my grandfather. He was an artist, a teacher, and a playmate for two little girls who never tired of his attention. He flew away to Japan and he returned in ashes. He left the magic realism of his stories and a sense of the absurd.

Once upon a time, I had a father who loved me. His confidence in me was a gift that I did not appreciate fully until he was gone, too soon. What remains is the echo of his love for me now repeated over and over in all that I feel for my own children.

Once upon a time, and to this day, I have a mother who is absent. I remember feeling her arms around me as she sang to me, rocking me to sleep, but I’m not sure if the memory is true. She is almost as much a ghost as my father is. What remains are silences pregnant with regret and a void where a mother’s love should reside.

Now I am a grown woman, still telling myself these tales. A feeling of loss is always with me, even while joyful, and a fear that one day those whom I love will be gone and I will belong to no one. Such fears paralyze me, and make me angry. The saddest tale I have told myself is that the girl I thought I was never existed. I find myself falling short of all that I had hoped I would become. My pettiness and selfishness is a part of me that I despise. I want to be the happy, sober, loving mom that I missed having as a child.

There are many kinds of sadness and so many more kinds of regret. When we yearn for those things which are gone, does it keep us from appreciating the things we have now? We tend to cast a rosy glow on the past, forgetting that those, too, were imperfect times. This pining for something that never was or never will be again lives in us all to some degree. “The good old days” are always in the past, never in the present. We diminish our futures by living in a distorted history.

Will my children remember me as an incomplete person, always wishing for what can never be, always fearing what may come? Will hiraeth haunt them as it haunts me, because I failed to lift myself from my past? What will remain when I am gone? Finding myself halfway through my life expectancy, I realize that I must cultivate my legacy. I must do better. I want to remember without being haunted. I write about this because I know we all feel it. Some of us are trapped within hiraeth, like insects in amber, frozen in time. I can sense the amber hardening into eternity, but I strain to free myself from a lonely tomb.

**I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, then decided not to post it for a couple of reasons. First, it sounds as though I pity myself. Secondly, although I am anonymous to most of my readers, it felt too revealing. But then I thought, what the hell. I’m putting out there. For what other reason did I start a blog, but to indulge myself and lay bare my thoughts and feelings?

Forget Big Versus Small — Our Government’s Needless Complexity Is a Big Problem | Connecting the Dots, What Matters Today |

Our ideological debates over the size of government and its role in the economy are often fierce, but what if we’re all missing a larger issue?

Steven Teles, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins, argues that the needless complexity with which our government operates costs us dearly – in dollars, transparency and trust in our institutions. And that’s true for both liberals and conservatives.

Teles borrowed the word “kludge” from the world of computer programming to describe the problem. “A kludge,” he writes, “is an inelegant patch put in place to solve an unexpected problem and designed to be backward-compatible with the rest of an existing system.” Things go wrong in a variety of ways “when you add up enough kludges” leading to “a very complicated program that has no clear organizing principle, is exceedingly difficult to understand, and is subject to crashes.” Teles adds: “any user of Microsoft Windows will immediately grasp the concept.”

CONTINUE READING: Forget Big Versus Small — Our Government’s Needless Complexity Is a Big Problem | Connecting the Dots, What Matters Today |

Kludgeocracy. What an evocative word for what ails our system of government. Having recently become an employee of the county in which I reside, I have witnessed firsthand some of the kludge that gums up the system. I am, by nature, a very organized person. I like to control my environment, which may or may not be a character flaw, depending on the situation. Many times, this trait of mine is not seen as a virtue. Imagining the kludge build-up on a federal level, it becomes easy to see that waste, inefficiency, and aversion to change is a systemic disease that infects the system from top to bottom.

I wouldn’t call myself an anarchist, but the notion of tearing down the whole behemoth of government to build it back up into an elegant system is a fantasy that I entertain. The problem with this fantasy is that we don’t trust anyone to do it. We probably never will. The polarization of our political parties make it impossible. Currently, the Republican Party is engaged in self-immolation, cannibalizing its own members in a bizarre contest to see who is the most extreme. Many people have checked out of the entire process, viewing all politicians as liars and lapdogs of special interests. It’s hard to blame them, but the end result of apathy is tyranny. 

That’s a word thrown about pretty cavalierly by the right wing extreme lately, so forgive me for using it. I cringe anytime I hear that word, sort of like when people talk about “slavery” to our government, because of our addiction to “free stuff.” The tyranny of which I speak is not of a despot over the people, but more of the Jeffersonian concept of tyranny over the mind of man. Our current political environment thrives on distrust and pits us against each other. This insidious distrust and suspicion causes us to cling more tightly to our own “kind,” whether it be our own race or class or religion. Working together toward a solution becomes a folly, a defeat. 

There are many factors which contribute to our kludgy, inefficient system and the very nature of the system makes propagation of inefficiency the default mode. It seems that every election season, our candidates decry the waste, but as soon as they are elected, they invariable contribute to it. I don’t know how to fix it, but I sure do sit here and bitch about it. I ask to you to read the article referenced above and give me your thoughts. 




10 Types Of Government Explained In Stick Figures

I return to WordPress only to bring you the brilliant work of another! This shall be part of my educational arsenal for the kiddies and quite a few of my adult friends. Love you, X!!

List of X

And now for something completely different

Many of those who read this blog have children, and eventually it becomes necessary to explain to them the difference between the various political and economic systems which are established in different parts of the world.  Yes, someday your little girl will have to learn that there are political leadership positions other than the Princess, and it’s better if she learns that from you than from her friends.  But talking about politics and socioeconomics doesn’t have to be a difficult conversation, and, to make it even easier, here is a manual to explain 10 different types of government in the simple stick-figure pictures.

Let’s imagine some ideal country, and picture it as a stick figure, where the left leg is the government, the right leg is private enterprise, so that they balance each other and carry the rest of the country…


And here’s…

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