Category: Southern Scene

TVA to Begin Coal Ash Spill Cleanup March 20

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Glynn Wilson
A coal ash island visible in the Emory River with the smokestacks of TVA’s coal fired power plant at Kingston, Tennessee in the background.

by Glynn Wilson

KINGSTON, Tenn. — Steve Scarborough came to East Tennessee from Georgia for the scenic boating and stayed to raise a family and start his own canoe building company, Dagger Kayaks and Canoes. But on Dec. 22, the longest night of 2008, his world was turned upside down when an embankment wall caved at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal fired power plant here, causing the largest environmental disaster of its kind in U.S. history.

Heavy rains, freezing temperatures, and potentially a minor earthquake a few days before, caused the holding pond for TVA’s coal ash waste to fail, dumping 2.6 million cubic yards of the mildly toxic material into the middle of the scenic Emory River.

Tests of the river water around the spill showed elevated levels of lead and thallium, which can cause birth defects and nervous and reproductive system disorders. But levels of toxicity are not that dangerous and not the main issue, Scarborough said. The event was not just a spill of a hazardous substance, like many environmental disasters in the past, like the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

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Glynn Wilson
A six mile long land mass of coal ash where the most vibrant and biologically diverse stretch of the Emory River used to be.

To read the full investigative news feature with more of the story and videos, visit our sister site, The Locust Fork News-Journal.

Understanding the Corporate Press and American Democracy

Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

A couple of weeks ago, when not one single Republican took up our new President Barrack Obama’s call for “bipartisanship” to vote for his stimulus package to aid the faltering economy — a measure backed by virtually every economist in the land as a needed step to avert a far worse economic collapse — a reader on an e-mail list asked: “Why is cable media spinning this as a failure for Obama?”

My answer?

“Because they are the corporate media,” I wrote. “That’s why we are building a replacement here at the Locust Fork News-Journal.”

Obviously, more of an explanation is in order.

In one of his blog columns this week, Tommy Stevenson at The Tuscaloosa News picked up on a recent episode of the Bill Moyer’s show on PBS, which Moyer’s set up by asking: Is the old media sustaining the old politics?

Guests chosen for the show to discuss this issue were New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who later had this blog post on the subject under this statement: pundits and reporters as an establishment institution.

Also on the show was attorney and Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald, who also wrote more about it later in this post, summarized by this statement: The mentality of the Beltway journalist.

Before I get to the criticism, let me applaud all these commentators for getting a discussion going on these issues. It has been reported that the Moyers show got more comments than anything they have done to date.

This is just one demonstration of the public upheaval that has been building for several years against the establishment media in this country, sometimes referred to, and not as a compliment, as “the mainstream media.”

The blogging revolution started in part as a place to vent this backlash against the press and the media, the TV punditry, mainly for not doing its job in the run up to the Iraq war or for holding the Bush administration accountable on all kinds of issues.

There is no doubt the establishment or corporate press as I call it was complicit in allowing the Bush administration to get away with murder, literally, as well as torture, warrantless domestic spying, and turning the justice department into just another political wing of the Bush White House’s perpetual campaign operation.

With all due respect to Tommy Stevenson, Bill Moyers, Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald, none of them have ever chased major stories for the national desk of the New York Times. None of them have ever worked a major city bureau for a top 10 circulation newspaper like The Dallas Morning News out of New Orleans. None of them have ever had the experience of making democracy work like I did working for a chain of weeklies on the Gulf Coast, where for nearly four years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thanks in part to my reporting, we won every environmental battle that came down the pike.

To read the full essay, go to our sister site, The Locust Fork News-Journal

Service with a Smile

MONTICELLO, Ark. — I watched President Barack Obama’s inauguration between classes today with pride and sore bones. Let me explain.

For the first time since I’ve started teaching, I can legitimately tell anyone that they can do anything they set out to accomplish regardless of race, creed or religion. That’s priceless. But so is the fact that we now have a president who walks the walk as well as talks the talk. President Obama showed his colors by not only asking people to participate in a day of service to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday; he also took part by helping at a homeless center.

Community service — Middle school students participating in City Year paint a quote from Nelson Mandela on a support for the Interstate 630 overpass near Little Rock’s Kanis Park. More than 70 people showed up to volunteer to help on the cold day. (photo by Ronald Sitton)

That’s where my sore bones enter. I started yesterday’s day of service by going to the Clinton Presidential Library to see City Year Heroes Opening Day, where 70 middle school students committed to working 100 hours of community service over the next five months. Keynote speaker C.J. Duvall, senior pastor at Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church, told the young participants that their service would inspire even more people to serve. North Little Rock Alderman Maurice Taylor then led the students in the Young Heroes Pledge, which concluded with a promise:

“I am a young hero and I will make a difference.”

Just like their new president, they honored that promise. Read more: Service with a Smile

Obama Takes Oath as 44th President of the United States

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Yahoo
President Barack Obama

Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States today and pledged to “begin again the work of remaking America.”

Addressing a throng of about 2 million people on The Washington Mall and millions of others watching on television around the world, Obama recognized the multiple crises now afflicting the nation at a time of war abroad and economic turmoil at home. But he sought to rally Americans to a “new era of responsibility” and the promise of a brighter future.

He cited a profound “sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.” The challenges are real, serious and many, and “they will not be met easily or in a short span of time,” he said.

“But know this, America — they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

“Starting today,” he said, with the local crowd totally silent in respect of the historic moment and the words almost as powerful watching on the screen from afar, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

For the full story, photos, videos and the text of the speech and comments, check our sister blog The Locust Fork News Journal.

Fighting the Final Battles of the Civil War

America Just Elected Its First Black President

Are the people of Alabama ready for an African-American governor?

by Glynn Wilson

ATLANTA, Ga. — Some historians say the final battle of the Civil War was fought at Sayler’s Creek, southwest of Petersburg, Virginia, on April 6, 1865. Try bringing that up in a political bar like Manuel’s Tavern in downtown Atlanta, however, and see how fast you can start an argument.

While everyone knows that Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, at the Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the war, many an expert would argue that the old, lingering causes of the war survived in people’s attitudes long after the fighting on the bloody battle fields came to a gentlemanly end.

Ask the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, those who had to fight those battles all over again in the 1950s and ’60s.

Then there are thinkers and writers who will tell you, if you give them half a chance over a few shots of whiskey or a few pints of dark beer, that the election of George W. Bush in 2000 effectively erased the Union’s victory in the war and was finally, at long last, a victory for the old Confederacy. Putting aside the issue of election theft and the Supreme Court, ponder the idea that Bush came into office in large measure by the hands of mostly white voters from the old Confederate states of the Deep South, with some help from middle America and parts of the West.

Since Obama’s election even the TV pundits will tell you the only base left for the national Republican Party lies in the old states of the Confederacy, thanks in part to the scorched earth strategies of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, whose marches to Washington and Baghdad with Bush scarred the national character almost as much as General William Tecumseh Sherman’s fiery “March to the Sea.”

Then consider that while Bush’s campaign coffers may not have been filled by the profits from cotton, hand-picked on plantations worked by slaves, the mega corporations that mostly supported his candidacy were interested in keeping wages low and gutting the rights of juries in courtrooms to punish corporate crimes against working people, humanity and the earth. Bush got most of his money to run in 2000 from oil and other energy companies, including Exxon Mobile and Southern Company, as well as insurance companies and the pharmaceutical giants. He came into office — in the world prior to 9/11 — with the prime objective to pass national “tort reform,” the watchword for stopping juries from rendering multi-million dollar judgments against multi-national corporations.

Rove had already accomplished that feat in Alabama — once known as the top state in the country for large jury awards against corporate malfeasance — by helping the Republican Party orchestrate a political takeover of the state Supreme Court.

If you ask just about any academic expert who studies the demographic numbers from public opinion polls and election results, you could say Americans finally fought the final battle of the Civil War on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. Symbolically, it took another Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, to put together enough of a national coalition to defeat Confederate attitudes once and for all.

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Glynn Wilson
Rep. Artur Davis in Birmingham recently…

Jim Gundlach, a retired Auburn Sociology professor, harbors a special fascination for the “age” variable in public opinion research, mainly for the story it tells on an issue like public attitudes on race and the chances of electing African-American candidates to national and statewide office.

He ran the model on Obama’s candidacy before the election and predicted that the best he could possibly do in a national race was to win by about 7 percent, if he ran a flawless campaign and the other side stumbled (can you say Sarah Palin?). And Obama hit the number almost right on the dot, winning by about 7 percent nationally in the popular vote.

If you run the same model in a state like Alabama, where Birmingham Congressman Artur Davis is making noises about running for governor, what you find is that the state is at least a decade away from fighting the final battle of the Civil War. It will take that long, according to the numbers, for the younger and more progressive population to overtake the older diehards on the race issue, who will finally die off in substantial enough numbers for a black man to have a chance of moving into the governor’s mansion in Montgomery, in the city where the Confederacy was launched in 1861.

“People do not change their minds on core issues in their lifetimes,” Gundlach says. “That’s a fact.”

To read the full investigative news feature, go to our sister blog, The Locust Fork News-Journal

Explosive New Story Lends Credence to Siegelman Appeal

New Reporting May Show Bush Was ‘In the Loop’

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Glynn Wilson
Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman in front of the federal courthouse in Montgomery, with Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth, wife of Birmingham Civil Rights icon Fred Shuttlesworth, in the background.

by Glynn Wilson

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy will get another day in court Dec. 9 in Atlanta, when a three-judge appeals court panel will hear oral arguments in a rare hearing that is likely to result in the case being thrown out, perhaps by Christmas.

We are working on a longer news feature about the case as an advance on the hearing, and will go into some detail about the arguments before the court.

But an explosive new story in Time magazine confirms what we have been reporting all along, and reveals critical and startling new evidence about the political, unethical, and, if true, illegal activities on the part of the Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys and career prosecutors in Montgomery.

The Time lede:

Next month in Atlanta, a federal court will hear the high-profile appeal of former Alabama governor Don E. Siegelman, whose conviction on corruption charges in 2006 became one of the most publicly debated cases to emerge from eight years of controversy at the Bush Justice Department. Now new documents highlight alleged misconduct by the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney and other prosecutors in the case, including what appears to be extensive and unusual contact between the prosecution and the jury.

For more on this breaking story, see the piece in our sister blog, The Locust Fork News Journal.

A Green Future is Our Only Real Hope

Under the Microscope
by Glynn Wilson

In a world of hurt and bad news as the global economy implodes, there is some good news to report this Sunday morning as the late October air finally begins to cool off the brick walls of The Bunker.

The best news is that the presidential election of 2008 is almost over. One more week of negative TV ads and lying robo-calls and then we can all breathe a sigh of relief and get on with trying to turn this country in a better direction after eight years of black Bush anti-rule.

That is if the Democrats win and we don’t have to spend another four years fighting the idiotic conservative policies of the angry John McCain and his right-wing nut running mate Sarah Palin.

The other good news is that with one week and two days to go, the aggregated polling at Pollster.com shows the Democratic Party ticket winning in a landslide on Nov. 4. Let’s just hope the lead holds up for a few more days so that Karl Rove’s hackers cannot steal another election.

While the not-so-liberal New York Times issued it’s reasoned endorsement of the ticket of Barack Obama for president this week, our wildly conservative Republican hometown newspaper just had to extend its losing streak with this hilariously misleading endorsement of McCain.

We are still waiting on the apology from that editorial staff for their two-time endorsement of the dufus president-prince George W. Bush. It’s a wonder the racist “pro-life” newspaper sells any papers at all in a city full of liberals and African-American voters. I guess it’s safe to say they sell more newspapers in the white-flight suburbs than the city itself. The financial calculation had to be that an endorsement of Obama would have finished off the paper that has lost a significant portion of its staff of late to early retirement packages.

If only they knew how to produce a Website readers could use, they might have a chance of surviving in this new online world. There are a number of us out here who will never forgive them for their role in killing the one Scripps paper in Alabama, The Birmingham Post-Herald, which might have been able to provide the kind of Web journalism this state needs. Other Scripps papers around the country are doing some amazing work, including the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado and the Knoxville News-Sentinel in east Tennessee.

But that’s OK, because we have a long-term plan to continue providing a viable alternative to the people of this state who want a FREE free online news source without all the bureaucratic baggage of a conservative chain newspaper where corporate profits rule the editorial roost.

Since we already endorsed the Democratic Party’s pick in this race, there’s no reason to re-endorse the Obama-Biden ticket. Our recommendation is for voters to check the Big D and vote a straight Democratic Party ticket on the Nov. 4 ballot, not so much as an endorsement of “the man,” but to throw the Republican bums out who have screwed up just about everything they can in this country for the past eight years.

It is really hard to understand how anyone can vote for another Republican with the economy in the worst shape since the Great Depression, along with the debacle of the Iraq war, the failures associated with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the complete loss of trust of the United States by people the world over.

We are concerned with some of Barack Obama’s suggested moderate policies, such as his hedge to the private sector on national health insurance. And we were not happy with his vote this summer for Bush’s spying bill that gutted the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

But we believe he is an educated man with an even-keel personality who can negotiate our way back into the hearts and minds of people around the world. And that should be our number one priority right now. We are going to need the good will of the world to right the wrongs and reverse the bad policies of the Bush-Cheney years.

Our first priority has to be an energy plan that begins to reduce our dependence on oil from the Middle East, a policy that also begins to address the top problem facing the world right now: climate change due to global warming. Even the Bush CIA and Senator John McCain realize that’s the world’s top problem, although that news gets buried in an election year when, in American elections, no one wants to be labeled a “liberal environmentalist.”

Once this election is over next Tuesday, that will be our focus. We will be working to influence the new administration in dealing with our energy and environmental problems, as well as figuring out how to provide health care to every American citizen. While the conservatives will continue to scream about “big government,” it’s going to take a pretty big government in the U.S. to tackle these problems.

And the fact is, it’s going to take a pretty big government, as well, to provide the leadership and incentive structure to fix the shattered economy. Our vision is that the only real future we have is a green future. We can grow our way out of this mess with green technology. That is our only real hope.

Early Voters Unfazed by Long Lines

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Moms carried small children on their hips while the pre-teens looked around in disgust. Elderly women moved ahead to sit down while their husbands kept their place in line. Younger men and women spoke in hushed tones. Though crowded, nobody wanted to leave and miss their chance.

Early Christmas shopping? Nope; the line that stretched around the inside lobby of Laman Library held hundreds of citizens taking the opportunity to vote early as Arkansas’ polls opened Monday, Oct. 20.

A Long Wait — As I got into the end of the line, I noticed it stretched along the library’s back wall and past the children’s library.

I arrived around 11:10 a.m. after purchasing $2.23 gas at the Indian Hills Kroger on John F. Kennedy Boulevard. I thought the gas line was long, but I wasn’t prepared for the line to vote. The last time I practiced early voting, it was an in-and-out affair as very few people took advantage.

That’s not the case this year. Luckily, I kept speaking with a corrections’ officer through the wait, passing the time and being continually amazed at the numbers of people who kept pouring in the doors. I’m sure he said something about the turnout first, maybe along the lines of “This just shows people want a change.” I just remember saying it did my heart good to see so many people wanting to exercise their Constitutional right.

Keep on coming — This shot looks back to where the line started when I arrived at the right end of the bookshelf (where the man wearing a green shirt stands). By the time we left the lobby, the line stretched past the left end of the bookshelf into the foyer.

We discussed the issues while moving inch-by-inch, around the outside wall while trying not to disturb the library patrons working on the computers but having no choice but to glance at their computer screens as we moseyed by. A middle-aged woman tried breaking in line. No one said anything to her, but she must have gotten hot under the collar as the stares could’ve sent knives into her back; she finally moved to the end of the line, all the way back across the lobby.

As 11:15 stretched to 12:20 and we’d made it but halfway around the lobby, I decided it’d be a good idea to call work and let them know I might be late. “It shouldn’t take too long. Now that I’m here, I want to make sure I vote,” I told Amy Meeks, the secretary of Arts & Humanities at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She replied that it was not a problem and she’d let the dean know.

A Controlled Chaos — This scene greeted citizens who waited nearly two hours to enter the voting room. Citizens would walk down the center row, then turn left to serpentine toward ID check and ballot assignment (back of the room). Finally, they would walk through the last three rows (right side of picture) to get to vote.

It takes roughly an hour-and-a-half to two hours for the 100-mile drive between North Little Rock and Monticello. I knew I’d be pushing it, but I’d already stood in line this long. Usually, I am not the type to wait in line at a grocery store; I’ll leave the buggy and come back later. The only similar-type lines I’ve ever found worth the wait were for student tickets to the University of Tennessee-University of Arkansas football game in 1998 and for student refund checks while an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. But to vote? I feel this election undoubtedly deserves the same rapt attention as refund checks and football tickets.Read more: Early Voters Unfazed by Long Lines

Southern Arkansas Election Issues Forum

UAM PRESENTS 2008 ELECTION ISSUES FORUM

MONTICELLO, Ark. – You’ve heard the candidates, now it’s time to also consider the issues.

Attend the 2008 Election Issues Forum at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in the University Center Green Room on Tueday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.

Brought to you in part by the UAM American Democracy Project, the UAM Journalism Club, and the UAM Speech and Debate Program, this event promises to educate the public about ballot initiatives prior to the Nov. 4 election.

Supporters and opponents of the ballot issues facing Arkansas voters will speak about the proposed State Lottery, Unmarried Couples Adoption Ban, Water Bond Act and more. Confirmed interest groups sending representatives include the Family Council of Arkansas, Hope for Arkansas and Arkansas Families First.

Audience members in this Town Hall-style forum will submit questions for the candidates to answer following the discussion of each issue.