Environmental Activist Dr. Barry Commoner Dead At 95—Commoner Understood That The Work Of Freedom And Hope Is Up To Each Of Us
The great environmental activist Dr. Barry Commoner has died at the age of 95.
Above is Dr. Commoner on the cover of Time Magazine in 1970.
“Barry Commoner, a scientist-activist whose ability to identify and explain complex ecological crises and advocate radical solutions made him a pillar of the environmental movement, died of natural causes Sunday in New York City. He was 95….He conducted research that helped propel a successful campaign for a nuclear test ban treaty in the early 1960s and drew early attention to the dangers of dioxins, the potential of solar energy and recycling as a practical means of reducing waste….. Commoner was particularly known for boiling down his philosophy to four simple principles: “Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch,” he wrote in “The Closing Circle.” Describing himself as “a visionary gadfly — I’m right but intransigent,” Commoner often took his arguments into the lion’s den, telling autoworkers that their industry put profits before public health and delivering a blistering critique of Environmental Protection Agency policies and practices before an audience of agency employees….While serving in the Navy during World War II, he was assigned to spray a naval facility on the Jersey shore with DDT to rid it of mosquitoes. To his dismay, the mosquito population ballooned and the fish that normally ate them died. He would recall the experience in later years when he reflected on the development of his ideas about the worlds of men and nature sharing one ecosystem.”
Dr. Commoner was an individual who took responsibility for our collective future. Such acts are a defining characteristic of the hopeful progressive or person of the left. He understood that the work of freedom and of defining our society and culture in ways other than by the accumulation of wealth is up to each of us.
The are many ways in which individuals can work to expand the range of ideas and paths open to all of us. These things can be accomplished by taking part in politics and in debating the issues of the day, by working in the arts to expand the cultural choices open to all, or by simply working hard to remain open and accessible on a personal level to folks we encounter in life and to the struggles of everyday life.
Open and hopeful acts by individuals help our society become open and hopeful. Dr. Commoner was right that all things are connected. This is so in the ecology of the Earth and in the ecology of our everyday lives.
There are many options open to us other than just dividing the nation into freeloaders and allegedly more productive people and saying that there is a large portion of the nation that can be ignored.
Please consider reading Dr. Commoner’s obituary I link to above. The work of freedom and hope is truly up to each of us. Taking individual responsibility for our shared future is the only way we will make progress in a society that each day is more and more rigged for the benefit of the few.
You Have The Right To Take Pictures Of Infrastructure—Business And Government Work Together To Deny Basic Freedoms In An Open Society
Houston public radio station KUHF reported recently about people in Houston who take pictures of things such as refineries and bridges here in Houston.
(Above–You have the right to take pictures.)
These persons are often stopped and questioned by police and by private/corporate security officers.
From the KUHF report—
“As part of his work as a community organizer for environmental causes, Juan Parras takes photos of refineries and petrochemical plants near the Houston Ship Channel. Sometimes, he says he’s made to feel like a criminal for doing it. In some cases, they’ve actually wanted to delete the pictures we took,” he says. When that happened, Parras says he just told the officers he didn’t know how to do that…People who photograph or videotape “critical infrastructure”– what the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) calls things like refineries, bridges and airports — might be plotting an attack. Or at least that’s the message the government is publicizing in an effort to encourage all of us to report suspicious people…An anti-terrorism video produced by the City of Houston shows a woman taking notes and photos at a light rail station. When a police officer approaches, she tries to leave. The next shot is of the woman being held in the backseat of a patrol car….In July of 2010, Austin-based photographer Lance Rosenfield was on assignment for ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative reporting project, which was doing stories on accidents and pollution releases from BP’s big refinery complex in Texas City….But after getting shots of a “Welcome to Texas City” sign along a highway that borders the refinery, Rosenfield noticed he was being followed by a private security truck. When he pulled into a gas station, a couple of Texas City police patrol cars pulled in. Rosenfield showed officers the photos on his digital camera. Satisfied he had done nothing wrong, the officers said he could go. But they also insisted on giving the personal information they’d collected from Rosenfield to a security officer from BP who also showed up at the gas station….Under federal regulations, the chemical industry is actually required to promptly report security “incidents” to the National Response Center, providing “as much … information as possible,” including addresses and phone numbers of people apparently like Rosenfield. “
I take many pictures around Houston for my blog and for another project I’m working on. I was once stopped and asked questions by private security officers of a large energy company while I was on City of Houston property. These persons told me that if I did not give my name that they would call the police and the Coast Guard.
I’ll be honest—I gave in and told them my name because I was nervous and I did not want to deal with it all.
But the truth is that you have rights in this society. You have rights even given the collaboration of big companies and government to deny our basic freedom to observe and make note of what is around us in life.
The ACLU has a page of rights that each of us have to take pictures in our supposed land of the free.
Here is some of what the ACLU says on this issue—
When in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police. Such photography is a form of public oversight over the government and is important in a free society.
When you are on private property, the property owner may set rules about the taking of photographs. If you disobey the property owner’s rules, they can order you off their property (and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply).
Police officers may not generally confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant.If you are arrested, the contents of your phone may be scrutinized by the police, although their constitutional power to do so remains unsettled. In addition, it is possible that courts may approve the seizure of a camera in some circumstances if police have a reasonable, good-faith belief that it contains evidence of a crime by someone other than the police themselves (it is unsettled whether they still need a warrant to view them).
Police may not delete your photographs or video under any circumstances.
Police officers may legitimately order citizens to cease activities that are truly interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. Professional officers, however, realize that such operations are subject to public scrutiny, including by citizens photographing them.
Note that the right to photograph does not give you a right to break any other laws. For example, if you are trespassing to take photographs, you may still be charged with trespass.
Out of control voter registrars are disenfranchising Texans all over our great state.
From the Houston Chronicle—
“Walter Pinkston, a Friendswood retiree and faithful Harris County voter, got a letter in late March asking his family to confirm that he was dead – which he was not – and warning that he was about to be purged from Texas voter rolls. Retired Houston Baptist University Professor Trilla Pando received a similar notice of her death from voter registration officials in 2010. Even Sylvia Garcia, a former Harris County commissioner, got suspended – not because anyone thought she was dead – but because county officials questioned the validity of a P.O. Box the Houston native had used on her voting card for years. More than 300,000 valid voters were notified they could be removed from Texas rolls from November 2008 to November 2010 – often because they were mistaken for someone else or failed to receive or respond to generic form letters, according to Houston Chronicle interviews and analysis of voter registration data…..Statewide, more than 1.5 million voters could be on the path to cancellation if they fail to vote or to update their records for two consecutive federal elections: One out of every 10 Texas voters’ registration is currently suspended. Among voters under 30, the figure is about one in five. Texas voter registration rates are among the lowest in the nation, but Texas pays nearly twice as much to cancel voters – 40 cents per cancellation – as it does to register new ones at 25 cents.”
How do the officials responsible for this live with themselves? What is more basic and American than the right to vote?
Out state is broke we are told, but we have plenty of money to stop people from voting.
These unAmerican voter purge efforts are taking place all across our nation. These efforts are being led by conservatives.
Republicans are fearful of our multi-ethnic future, and of a fair count at the polls this upcoming Election Day.
What a sharp departure this all is from the most essential American values of full-inclusion and a vigorous democracy.
North Carolina Bans Gay Marriage—Why Would A Public That So Often Has So Little Self-Respect Have Much Care For The Rights Of Others?
Voters in North Carolina have made gay marriage in that state illegal by approving an amendment to the state constitution that will ban such marriages.
This was a cruel act by North Carolina voters. Life is brutally short and people should be allowed to live in marriage with the person they most value.
If I had it within my power, I would annul the marriages and break apart the families of the people who voted for this amendment. I would ask them how they like it to be denied the relationships they hope for with the people they love.
Then, after a time, the folks who opposed the amendment could vote on if those marriages and families should be restored. That seems fair.
Why is such basic thing as the right to get married is up for a public vote in the first place?
Where was the “get the government out of my life” crowd on this issue?
Gay marriage is going to be the law of the land sooner or later in this nation.
However, until that time it seems that the rights of gay people will be up for approval by a public that in so many cases is unable to maintain steady relationships and unable to treat children well.
It is no surprise that a public that is so often incapable of self-respect, and so often incapable of respect for the people they say they most value, would have when given the choice little respect for the basic humanity of others.
NAACP And Many Others To Stand At Houston City Hall On 3/25 For Justice In Trayvon Martin Case And For Justice For All
There will be a protest later today at Houston City Hall to call for justice in the Trayvon Martin case.
While Trayvon was shot and killed in Florida, his death is a matter of national concern.
I will be attending this event.
We’ve got to stick together and show up for each other when times are difficult.
We don’t always do that in Houston and in the nation. The rights and freedoms of all people are connected.
I encourage you to take part in this protest at Houston City Hall.
Here are details of the City Hall protest—
On Sunday, March 25, Houston will join the official Justice for Trayvon Martin Movement. The Houston Unites for Justice Rally happens Sunday at 3PM at City Hall’s Reflection Pool, 901 Bagby Street, in Downtown Houston.
The event is organized by the NAACP-Houston Branch, Rev. Reginald Lillie-President and Texas NAACP, Gary Bledsoe-President. Partnering organizations and officials include, area Churches, the Houston Urban League-Judson Robinson, Executive Director, LULAC-Mary Ramos, President, Local Unions, Greek fraternities and sororities, Congressional Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green, and a host of other officials and groups.
Houstonians of diverse races and affiliations are passionate about expressing our outrage and righteous resolve to see that justice is done in this matter. We join the National Movement calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman and a thorough investigation of the Sanford Police Department.
To… ask questions please contact the NAACP Chairman of Religious Affairs, Bishop James Dixon at (713) 688-2900, extension 224 or by e-mail email@example.com or Yolanda Smith at the Houston Branch at (713) 545-9696.
The Purpose Of Republican Presidential Debates Is To Spur Good People To Action—They Are Telling You Just How Mean They Are
I watched the Republican debate this evening.
It was a very bad program—Lousy characters and an awful script.
I realize it was a poor use of my time to watch this debate.
Though this poor decision making on my part would only matter if folks trusted the judgment of bloggers in any case.
I’m hesitant to use my blog to attack these Republican candidates each day, as they are interchangeable with a thousand other race baiting, health care destroying, job killing, fear mongering politicians who could be up on that stage instead. There are so many more hopeful things in life to discuss.
The debate was like a game show where the contestants answer each question in the form of a hate speech.
The most important thing about Santourm, Romney, Gingrich & Paul is that they are up there, and they are saying for all to hear who they are and what they are about.
At that point it is up to each of us to make sure that one of these folks does not become President.
More significantly, it is up to each of us to help create a nation where people like these are not viable candidates for the highest office in the land.
The work of freedom and a more hopeful nation is up to each of us. The point of these Republican debates is to spur good people to action.
There they are up on the stage spewing hate and talking about making the rich richer.
What are you going to do about it?
Loyal Citizens (A Few Of Them) Protest Manuel Rodriguez’s Anti-Gay Campaign Tactics—Where Are The Good People?
Above you see freedom loving citizens of Houston protesting the ongoing presence of Manuel Rodriguez on the Houston Independent School District Board.
They are quite appropriately making this protest under the flag of our State of Texas and under the flag of the United States of America.
Mr. Rodriguez circulated anti-gay campaign materials in his recent reelection bid. Mr. Rodriguez won by 24 votes.
The link above shows the campaign circular.
“Rodriguez, who is seeking re-election to the District III seat, noted in the brochure that his challenger, Ramiro Fonseca, has “spent years advocating for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender rights … not kids.” The ad also points out (Ramiro) Fonseca’s endorsement by the Houston GLBT political caucus and underlines the words “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.” Rodriguez describes himself in the flyer as a “family man” who is married to his high school sweetheart and is the father of four and the grandfather of five. The ad says Fonseca has a male partner and no children”
There were maybe 20 people at the protest shown in the picture. These folks were loyal Americans seeking to right a wrong.
While that is very good, there are a number of questions I had after attending this rally.
Where was the full GLBT community?
Where were the candidates who have been happy to take the Houston GLBT caucus endorsement over the years?
Where were other civil rights groups in Houston? The freedom of all people is connected. Where is the outreach between groups? Where is the effort and imagination? Where is the hope that people working together can make life better?
At the core of the matter, where were everyday citizens of Houston?
Is anybody serious about anything?
You can’t control what folks such as Mr. Rodriguez are going to do or say. There are always going to be people who do and say mean and hateful things.
All you control is your response to the bad actions of people in power.
Mr. Rodriguez and people who support his narrow mindset know the sad facts of the matter as shown by this example.
You can get away with just about anything and folks will look the other way.
Even folks who say they care about issues of civil rights and freedom will for the most part look away.
With the Fourth of July over for another year, your inclination might be to pack up your fifes and your drums and to go home.
(Both photos in this post copyright Neil Aquino 2011.)
However, just as the forces of evil never rest, it is up to you to be engaged in the work of freedom each day.
Below is a giant Declaration of Independence leaning up against a tree. I took this picture in Houston on the Fourth.
I know with this being Texas, you might think this giant Declaration leaned up against a tree was being readied for a lynching by a states rights mob angry at all the founding documents of our great federal union.
This was not the case. Not yet at least.
Today–July 6–and every other day of the year, is the right day to know your history and to work hard to win the future.
But even more to the point, gay marriage is part of the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness pledged on July 4, 1776.
(Above—John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence. Painted in 1817.)
The Tea Party is smart enough to link their cause to our founding.
Let’s do the same with our better cause.
The advancement of the gay marriage across our great land is part of the progress of American liberty.
Whenever freedom prevails over intolerance, that is a victory for the Spirit of July 4, 1776.
(Below– Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delware. Painted in 1850.)
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is the celebration to mark the end of slavery in the United States.
On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger, landing at Galveston, Texas, made the announcement that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free.
(Above–Ashton Villa. It was from the balcony of this house that the Emancipation Proclamation was read in the event now known as Juneteenth. Photo by Nick Saum www.nicksaumphotography.com)
Juneteenth for 2011 will be observed on Sunday, June 19.
It is important that we all be aware of Juneteenth. The freedom of all people is connected. If any group of Americans does not have all their rights, than we are all denied our rights.
From the Handbook—
“On June 19 (“Juneteenth”), 1865, Union general Gordon Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, thus belatedly bringing about the freeing of 250,000 slaves in Texas. The tidings of freedom reached slaves gradually as individual plantation owners read the proclamation to their bondsmen over the months following the end of the war. The news elicited an array of personal celebrations, some of which have been described in The Slave Narratives of Texas (1974). The first broader celebrations of Juneteenth were used as political rallies and to teach freed African-Americans about their voting rights. Within a short time, however, Juneteenth was marked by festivities throughout the state, some of which were organized by official Juneteenth committees.”
Though the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863, it took time for word to get around that slavery was over. People went around for two years not knowing they were free.
After Juneteenth came the failure of Reconstruction and over 100 years of Jim Crow. Many people had their lives wasted in these years due to the racist beliefs of political leaders and of many everyday citizens.
( I’ve also written the best Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List on the web. Please click here to see the list.)
Below is a picture of a man who was a slave and who was whipped many times.
The man in the picture above had no choice about his fate in life.
Even today we remain not in full control of our fates. Circumstance and chance play a role in life.
Sometimes our freedom is restricted by our self-imposed limits of imagination. Other times our freedom is challenged by the greed of the wealthy and powerful.
In any case, we must always press ahead towards freedom and emancipation. There is always progress to be made and great victories to be won.
Houston Memorial Day Observance At Federal Cemetery To Feature Non-Inclusive Prayer—We Each Must Choose What Kind Of Nation We Are Going To Have
A federal judge has allowed a Texas pastor to use a non-inclusive prayer at a Memorial Day ceremony honoring Americans who have died in the service of our nation.
“The nation’s agency for military veterans has agreed to stay out of religious refereeing for now, backing down from its attempt to tell a minister how to craft a prayer for a Memorial Day invocation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Hindrichs told federal District Judge Lynn Hughes that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will not demand that Memorial Day prayers at Houston National Cemetery on Monday be as non-denominational as possible. ”(The agency) will let the prayer go on this Monday,” Hindrichs told Hughes. The change of heart came one day after the judge granted the Rev. Scott Rainey a temporary restraining order against the agency after officials told the pastor to edit his prayer to make it as general and non-denominational as possible. Rainey’s prayer, submitted for review at the agency’s request, included the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and thanked Jesus Christ, the Christian savior, in closing….Roy Walter, senior rabbi at Congregation Emanu El, said he agrees with Rainey’s free-speech position. ”I do believe the government doesn’t have the right to tell him what he can and cannot do,” Walter said. But the rabbi said Rainey’s prayer doesn’t reflect that all veterans are not Christians. ”I don’t think it’s sensitive to the fact that a great many people who are veterans, who gave their lives or lived through service, are not Christian.”
I’ll simply say this–The judge and the pastor here each had a decision to make about including everybody, or not including everybody, in a Memorial Day observance at a federal cemetery.
We all know that people of many religious beliefs, and atheists as well, have fought and died for our nation.
We all have to make a choice about what kind of nation we are going to have.
The judge and the pastor in this matter have presented one view of America.
I would submit that there is a more generous and hopeful choice that can be made that honors the value of every American who has fought for our freedom.
The following refers to the matzoh that was eaten in my home tonight at our Passover Seder, and is taken from the Haggadah that is read each year at Passover—
This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry-let them come and eat. All who are needy-let them come and celebrate the Passover with us. Now we are here; next year may we be in the Land of Israel. Now we are slaves; next year may we be free.
You can take this as literal or metaphoric. In any case, there is always the hope of being freed from bondage and affliction, and there is always the hope that we can move towards the place in life that we see as best and most just.
Here are facts about Passover, the Haggadah, and the Passover Seder. Passover marks the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt.
Above is Houston-area Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
Rep. Jackson Lee also has a consistently liberal voting record that serves her district and all people of Texas well.
The picture shows Rep. Jackson Lee at the Muslim-bashing House hearings held earlier this month by Republican Rep. Peter King. She is holding a copy of our United States Constitution.
Mr. King represents folks on Long Island. He chairs the so-called Homeland Security committee of the House. Mr. King held these hearings to “investigate” Muslim involvement in domestic terror.
Mr. King discussed no other group in these hearings. Just Muslims.
Are Muslims the only folks capable of engaging in terrorist acts?
In strong contrast to Rep. King’s un-American singling out of one group of citizens, was Ms. Jackson Lee ‘s bringing the United States Constitution to the proceedings.
You never know when you have to argue for an expansive interpretation of the Constitution that allows for a wide range of government actions on behalf of the public.
Our government of the people has the right to act as a counterweight to the influence of big money, and other powerful but narrow influences.
Our government of the people has the obligation to expand the rights of citizens to meet the needs of the times.
The strongest arguments for this wide view of opportunity are the promises of freedom written into our founding documents.
Ms. Jackson Lee brought her Constitution to this shameful hearing and spoke of freedom for all.
At least that is what I imagine she was saying. I had the sound off on the television for most of her remarks.
I think I was reading a book at the time. I can’t stand all that talk in these hearings.
We’ve let the political right claim ownership of the flag, and the Boston Tea Party, and the Constitution.
The freedom of all people is a progressive cause.
Put a flag sticker on your car with your liberal/progressive bumper sticker. Invoke the founding fathers to support your views. Read up on American history and tell people the facts when they get it wrong.
As they work day- and-night to screw-up the future, don’t let conservatives also mangle our past.
The Hospice people I talked today to in regards to the terminally ill person in my life were solid. I spoke to three nurses and a social worker.
The folks at Hospice do the work of existence.
Existence has a structure of life and death. Freedom comes from structure.
In an airplane last week, I thought about how the plane can fly because existence has a structure that we make use of to gain the speed and mobility of air travel.
Today I saw the Ohio River flood its banks because it has been raining. (Above –The flooding Ohio River today.)
Seeing the flooding river, I was thankful for existence, structure, and freedom.
(Below—A river–either the Mississppi or the Ohio– as seen for my airplane window in February of last year.)
(Photos copyright 2011 Neil Aquino)
I have a plane to catch so this will be brief.
These are the folks who yell homophobic slurs in proximity of these funerals.
As odious as these protests are, we can’t pick and choose who may speak and who will not be allowed to speak.
This decision gives the assurance that the widest possible range of political speech will be protected in our nation.