A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Mon, 25 Jun 2018 17:53:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 32 32 Charlie Brown Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:24:53 +0000

In the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I got my first car. My parents bought it for me, and so I must confess that as a doctor’s son, I was financially privileged. Privileged yes, but spoiled no. I didn’t ask for much, only something “with a reliable engine and brakes that work.” Dad looked at me with some disbelief, apparently wondering if I were as naive (or stupid) about automobiles as I appeared to be. Nevertheless, after a short speech that named several other important components of automobiles, among them tires, he acquiesced.

A trip down memory lane from 1967Within a few days I had located a used 1961 Volkswagen Beetle, cherry red in color, which we purchased for $600 from Johann Leipi, a German immigrant whose VW repair shop lay midway along the twelve-mile stretch between our town, Bluefield, and the next, Princeton.

I had operated a manual transmission on but one or two previous occasions, and my first few days of ownership were marred by frustrating moments stuck in the middle of major intersections searching franticly for second gear. By the end of the week, however, I had mastered both the clutch and the shift pattern and was as proud of my new wheels as if they belonged to a Ferrari.

I’d convinced my parents of the need for a car by promising to return on weekends from the rustic camp where I worked for the summer as a counselor. On the weekend following the second week of camp, while passing through Danville, Virginia, an ungodly racket exploded from the VW’s rear engine compartment, and the car abruptly lost all power. The symptoms suggested catastrophic failure, which the tow-truck mechanic confirmed. The crankshaft had broken. Dejected, I abandoned the car at a dealership in Danville, bummed a ride to South Boston where the camp staff had gathered for a weekend cookout at the director’s home, and with tail between legs, called home to inform Dad that the two-week-old car would now need a rebuilt engine to the tune of several hundred dollars.

Out of this disaster, came the name for my born loser of an automobile: “Charlie Brown.” Like Native Americans, who bestow appellations to acknowledge the spiritual essence of an individual, I had tapped unwittingly into the personality of this unique VW bug.

In truth, Charlie Brown possessed considerable innate personality. For starters, he had no gas gauge; early models were equipped only with a spare tank that contained precisely one gallon of fuel (or equivalently thirty-two miles of distance), which one accessed by flipping a lever in the firewall beneath the dash. The trick was to flip it quickly enough after the engine sputtered to avoid complete evacuation of the gas line, in which case a long trek on foot with a gas can was in order. Although I never once ran out of gas, I had several perilous close calls. The closest occurred in five o’clock traffic inside the nearly mile-long Liberty Tubes near Pittsburgh. Had I not been quick on the flip, I’d probably still be paying the fine.

Electrical systems have never been particularly reliable in Volkswagens. In the four years I owned Charlie Brown, his horn functioned for a cumulative total of perhaps two weeks, despite my repeated efforts to remove dirt and grime from the contacts. Curiously though, every time I pulled into the garage for a state inspection, the horn beeped faithfully. For other occasions when honking was necessary, I, the driver, developed a respectably loud “meep-meep,” mimicking the Roadrunner of the animated cartoon.

Another electrical problem that grew progressively worse over time involved the ignition system. Eventually, no jiggling of the ignition key would cause the starter to even budge. As a student, I could ill afford a replacement starter. So I learned to push-start Charlie Brown; that is, provided I had remembered to park on the level or a slight downhill grade. Upon releasing the hand brake, with the door open, I’d run alongside the car shoving heroically on the door post until the blazing pace of two to three miles per hour (mph) was attained, at which point I’d leap into the driver’s seat, plunge the shifter into second, and pop the clutch. Following a lurch and a cough, the engine sprang to life.

The problem turned out to be not the starter but the ignition switch, a relatively inexpensive fix. Unaware of this fact, for an entire month, I performed the Fred Flintstone impersonation each time I needed to drive. Most probably I’d never have replaced the ignition switch had I not stalled Charlie Brown at the bottom of a hill while on a date. None too thrilled, my date was pressed into service to push while I executed the clutch-popping routine.

Charlie Brown sabotaged other dates by playing hide and seek. When I was an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, the student parking lot was known derisively as the “Dust Bowl.” After a week in that god-forsaken lot, all 5,000 cars were the same damned shade of “Bleaksburg” gray. Worse, every tenth car or so was a Volkswagen Beetle, the preferred choice of students, and most of those in their natural states were red. Finding any given red Bug in a featureless lot required either exceptional memory or a game of chance. On one occasion, I arrived at the lot around 6:30 p.m. in sufficient time to make my 7:00 o’clock date in Radford. Unfortunately, it was after 7:00 before I located my particular accursed red Beetle.

A particularly bizarre personality trait of Charlie’s was his squealing speedometer cable. At first there seemed neither rhyme, reason, nor predictability to this phenomenon. Driving along normally, I’d suddenly be jolted to high alert by a violent twitching of the speedometer hand. Shortly following this visual aura emanated an unbearable, ear-piercing squeal, which could last for any duration from a few seconds to several minutes, or more. Eventually, the twitching and squealing vanished as unpredictably as they started. Once, the noise and vibration reached such intensity that the red and green colored lenses on the dashboard indicator lights dislodged and fell away, leaving only glaring white bulbs.

In time I learned that there was indeed some predictability to this odd behavior. It usually occurred when I was driving alone, late at night, on the verge of drowsiness.

Like its owner, Charlie Brown loved to wander. At the end of that first summer, my best friend Jon and I planned a week-long trip in the brief interval between the end of my summer camp and the beginning of his fall semester at West Virginia University. With not much more than $50 each, and my dad’s admonition not to drive when we were tired, Jon and I set out in Charlie Brown early on a Sunday morning, knowing only that we were headed west.

Five hours later we chugged through Knoxville, where Jon took the wheel and turned west on I-40. Late that evening, passing through Memphis, Jon glanced over at me and volunteered casually, “I don’t feel too bad,” to which I responded, “I don’t feel too bad either.” And so we drove on.

At around dinner time the following day, I called home. When my father answered the phone, I offered enthusiastically: “Dad, guess where we are.” Memphis, he conjectured. “No, we’re in Tucumcari, New Mexico.” “You’re where?” he gasped.

Thirty-eight hours from the outset, we pulled surreptitiously into a picnic ground on the flank of Sandia Peak outside Albuquerque and camped illegally during the remaining hours of the night. For the next four glorious days we explored Sante Fe, Albuquerque, and the mountain roads between.

On Saturday, our return date, we awoke before dawn, with the intention of crowning our New Mexico adventure with a sunrise picnic and early morning Tram ride to Sandia Peak—10,678 feet in elevation—accompanied by Barbara Gwen Starr (not her real name, who, my friends, is another story). That morning, while preparing to start the car, I placed my foot on the brake pedal. It collapsed to the floorboard without resistance. The braking system had mysteriously experienced total failure overnight.

Undeterred, we drove in third gear to our appointed 6:00 a.m. rendezvous at the Tramway, my hand never leaving the emergency brake handle. At about 1:00 p.m., one-half hour beyond the VW Service Department’s Saturday closing time, we pointed nose to the east on I-40 and headed out of town with a new master cylinder and very little money.

Midday on Sunday, giddy with exhilaration and exhaustion, while cruising along the oilfields on both sides of the interstate near Oklahoma City, Jon and I burst into uncontrolled, hysterical laughter when, at the split second he glanced into the driver’s outside rearview mirror, the entire mirror and stem fell from the car and bounced along the roadway behind us.

At 5:00 a.m. on the Monday morning when at 8:00 a.m. Jon’s father was to return him to WVU, we pulled into his parents’ driveway. The next weekend I called Jon to see how he’d fared. Unfortunately, for the three precious hours between the two trips, sleep had eluded him, denied by the high-pitched engine whine that persisted in his ears after thirty-nine continuous and relentless hours in Charlie Brown.

Charlie loved people, and they loved him. All except Ralph, that is. The second summer I owned him, I painted his Peanuts’ namesake on the driver’s door, which thereafter never failed to capture the attention and excitement of the children in the back seats of the station wagons that passed by in the fast lanes of the interstates, lanes Charlie and I seldom occupied.

After graduating from college, I spent a summer in New Jersey on a work camp with fifteen students from around the country. As one of the few with wheels, I did a lot of chauffeuring. For one particular evening outing, most likely just down the road to the Dairy Queen, ten of us piled into Charlie Brown. In the back seat were six, three abreast by two deep. Three of us squeezed into the front, where the one in the middle between the bucket seats provided a semi-automatic transmission by shifting on the driver’s command. Number ten, Jim, the scrawniest of our group, occupied the well behind the rear seat.

The following Fall, I entered the Air Force. Packing all my worldly belongings in Charlie Brown—except my bicycle, which went on the roof rack—this mountain boy struck out for the flattest place on earth, Rantoul, Illinois, for training in aircraft maintenance. I received many letters from friends during those first lonely months in the military. Most began: “Dear Charlie Brown” …

Oh, about Ralph. Ralph, also a part of the summer work-camp team, drove with me to the work site in coastal New Jersey. As I loaded the rear seat, Ralph began loading the trunk, which is in the front of a rear-engined Beetle. On that model, an elbow-like joint supported the trunk lid, which Ralph accidentally struck while moving suit cases around, collapsing the trunk on his left arm. “Dave, Charlie Brown bit me,” he proclaimed with some surprise, one arm deep in the jaws of a VW. Fortunately for Ralph, Charlie’s bite was as innocuous as his beep.

In the years since Charlie Brown, I have owned another seven automobiles, each of which I have tried to name. In all, only two names have stuck: “Charlie Brown” and “Farfy,” short for Fahrvehrnuegen, a faux-German term for “the joy of driving,” created expressly as an advertising gimick. “Farfy” was also a Volkswagen, a top of the line Passat, for which I paid twenty-five times what my Dad shelled out for Charlie. On the surface of it, the resemblance between the two automobiles stopped at the manufacturer’s name plate. “Farfy” was teal green and sleek, with a water-cooled engine, front-wheel drive, and air-conditioning. He was also sure footed, accelerated like a bat out of hell, and would top 127 mph according to the specs.

In contrast, the words “acceleration” and “VW Bug” in the same sentence coined an oxymoron. People used to ask me how fast Charlie would go. My well-rehearsed reply was that it all depended “on how high the cliff is.” But to be specific, with petal to the floorboard, Charlie’s forty-horsepower engine would propel us at exactly seventy mph on a level road with no headwind—and nothing in the rooftop carrier. A footlocker up top reduced the top speed to a law-abiding fifty-five mph. Passing a truck was life-threatening, because the VW Bug hesitated, as if lacking confidence, just as it encountered the high pressure wave off the bow of a truck.

Still, one can trace the bloodlines from Beetle to Passat. Both growled at low-torque, their engines lugging at low rpm. Both had radios that operated with the ignition switch off, both had firm high seats, both got thirty-two miles per gallon. Both windshields etched with every grain of sand, and the doors on both fit so snuggly they had to be slammed. It has always puzzled me how the Germans, a people notorious as zueruckhalten (reserved), can produce automobiles with such endearing character, especially when you consider that the People’s Car, the original Volkswagen, was commissioned originally by none other than der Fuerher himself.

After nearly four years of owning Charlie, with 98,000 miles on the odometer, 50,000 of which I had contributed (and a few more which were never recorded because I had once disconnected the speedometer cable to silence the unbearable squealing), I reached the sad conclusion that time had come to purchase a newer, more reliable, and safer automobile. Selling Charlie Brown was not unlike putting an old family dog to sleep. After all those years of faithful service, how can one turn his back?

In the end I put up a sign that said simply: “Home wanted for cute, lovable VW named Charlie Brown.” I like to think I found him a good home; I sold him to a mechanic for $50.

You were a good car, Charlie Brown.

Dave Pruett

Dave Pruett

Dave Pruett, a former NASA researcher, is an award-winning computational scientist and emeritus professor of mathematics at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, VA. His alter ego, however, now out of the closet, is a writer. His first book, Reason and Wonder (Praeger, 2012), a "love letter to the cosmos," grew out of an acclaimed honors course at JMU that opens up "a vast world of mystery and discovery," to quote one enthralled student. For more information, visit

]]> 0
If At First You Don’t Secede… Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:12:32 +0000 Atlanta Journal Constitution caught my eye last week: In Pierce County, hard times and a push to "secede" from Georgia. A sign of the times, I figured. When working out differences like adults seems a thing of the past, pitching a fit and threatening to take your toys and go home is par for the course. After all, activists in Texas and California have made noise in recent years about seceding from the United States, and Californians will vote this November on a measure to try and split that state into three. Reading this news from South Georgia, I’m struck by the irony that Pierce County Republicans are pushing this ...]]>

A front-page headline in the Atlanta Journal Constitution caught my eye last week: In Pierce County, hard times and a push to “secede” from Georgia.

A sign of the times, I figured. When working out differences like adults seems a thing of the past, pitching a fit and threatening to take your toys and go home is par for the course. After all, activists in Texas and California have made noise in recent years about seceding from the United States, and Californians will vote this November on a measure to try and split that state into three.

Reading this news from South Georgia, I’m struck by the irony that Pierce County Republicans are pushing this. (It started as a tongue-in-cheek idea born of frustration, but 27% of the county’s GOP voters responded “yes” to the question: Should the counties south of Macon join together to “form the 51st state of South Georgia?”) Such action would require approval by the state legislature and US Congress. But, it’s the reasoning I find interesting, such as:

  • The head of the county Republican Party complains rural Georgia has been ignored by high-speed internet providers. (Won’t the marketplace sort this out?)
  • The story references a GOP-backed plan raised this past legislative session for the state to pay to move people to rural counties, bolster small hospitals, and grow business opportunities. (Republicans asking “big government” to intervene and subsidize where people live?)
  • The article quotes supporters who say a new legislature representing only counties south of Macon could “more effectively fight to lower farming costs and bolster the diminishing job prospects faced by rural Georgians.” (It’s not clear where resources would come from to provide such programs – especially while severing ties to prosperous, revenue-generating counties of North Georgia. But, could it be taxes?)
  • For all the talk about “states’ rights” among conservatives, it’s evident there’s nothing magical about the state as a political subdivision. (When things don’t go our way at higher levels, we imagine local control to be the answer. The compromise we like most is that which serves us best.)

Facing diminishing economic prospects, members of the party of less government are demanding a state solution to their woes. (It’s a dissonance driven by angst not unlike the sharp turn towards protectionism animating the Trump base of the GOP.) It would be easy to label this selective application of principles as hypocrisy. But, that’s unfair. The current struggles and uncertain future facing rural Georgia – and the Southeast – are real. Starkly real.

I first wrote about the Economic Innovation Group’s (EIG) Distressed Communities Index (DCI) in a Like the Dew piece in 2016. EIG has since published another DCI report in 2017. Using a mix of seven metrics reflecting economic wellbeing, the DCI ranks zip codes and counties into one of five classes of economic health. From best to worst, those categories are prosperous, comfortable, mid-tier, at-risk, and distressed.

Overall, the southeast US is awash in distress. But, zooming in on Georgia, it’s also clear why rural Georgians feel a north-south divide. While, in the northern US, distressed communities are largely found in inner cities, the South’s most distressed places are almost exclusively rural.

Economic Indicators for Georgia via
Economic Indicators for Georgia via

In Southeast Georgia, Pierce County is faring better than its nearest neighbors. But, with a DCI score of 64.7 (out of 100), the county is on the distressed end of the scale. Distressed communities (the deepest reds on the map) dominate south and eastern Georgia. And, you don’t need dots to locate larger cities, like Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Savannah, and Brunswick, which are easily distinguished blocks of blue prosperity.

There is ample support among EIG’s research for the despair voiced by people in Pierce County and elsewhere in South Georgia. To the north, Metropolitan Atlanta’s sprawling blue footprint dominates, stretching from the Alabama line to Athens. The southern counties, by contrast, are a sea of brick-red hues, dotted sparsely by blue oases around Albany, Macon, Savannah, and Brunswick.

(It’s easy to become distracted by the correlation between the colors on the DCI map and the electoral map from 2016. But, let’s hold that thought for now.)

The DCI is bad enough news for rural areas across the southeastern US. But, things are even worse than that.

Earlier this year, EIG released another report, Escape Velocity: How Elite Communities Are Pulling Away in the 21st Century Race for Jobs, Businesses, and Human Capital. The report confirms, with hard data, what we already know from experience – the rich are getting richer. Already prosperous communities are growing businesses and creating jobs at a far faster rate than less prosperous ones. On the “tails” side of the coin, at-risk and distressed communities are shedding businesses and jobs at an alarming rate. Analyzing data from 25,500 zip codes nationwide, the report’s authors wrote:

Hit badly by two recessions and bypassed by two recoveries, the country’s most distressed places have been nothing short of hollowed this century. An age of unrivaled prosperity for thousands of communities and tens of millions of Americans has taken root alongside what amounts to a deep and sustained modern depression in the communities that house many of the country’s least advantaged citizens.

That’s right. Depression. Frustrated rural Georgians are right: the world is leaving them behind. Counties near our larger cities are prospering at their expense. But, citizens of these forgotten places are wrong to blame their woes entirely on lawmakers in Atlanta. It’s false hope to place their bet on retreating into their already failing world.

I’m a liberal. I believe government has a role in maintaining a healthy economy and a level playing field. But, I also understand the folly of swimming against the tide of fundamental change.

As a progressive, I’ll admit we are sometimes so caught up in the intrinsic elegance of our aspirations, that we ignore on-the-ground realities right in front of us. But, too often, conservatives cling to past reality (and even imagined reality) long past the point the ideas they’re holding onto are practical. The world changes. And, while we can shape some aspects and preserve others, we have to adapt to things larger than our own desires.

During my decades in business, I developed a philosophy I used often with employees and colleagues. Leaving corporate America in 2015, I carried that philosophy I called “Breathe Water” into my private consulting practice. The premise is simple: “To tread water is to survive. To breathe water is to thrive.”

I spent my career in the Information Technology (IT) field, where globalization radically changed everything with lightning speed. Programming jobs that didn’t even exist when I was born at the end of the 50s had gone from high-demand, high-pay to being commodity skills easily moved offshore to lower-cost countries. And, by the time I retired in 2015, automation was eliminating those jobs even in those parts of the world.

I was a journalism major, not a technologist. So, I felt blessed just to have a well-paying job. I carved out a nice career. But, I could see the writing on the wall. With employees who were angry, frustrated, and disillusioned by training newly hired workers in India to take their jobs, I was direct and honest. You can hold to your notion that you are a programmer. And, you can try your best to be the last one out of the building when the lights go out. But, the lights will still go out. This is a rising tide, and you are treading water. You cannot tread forever. To survive, at some point, you have to dive deep, go into the water, and learn to breathe. Learn to thrive.

For these young people in a fast-changing profession, thriving meant accepting their new skill set… They had to embrace their ability to work collaboratively with a global workforce, spread through nations, cultures, and time zones around the planet. It wasn’t what they studied in school, but it was what the marketplace now demanded.

Rural communities are not dying today because of some government plot, nor for any centralized neglect. Rural communities as we know them are fading into the countryside landscape because fundamental technology changes have transformed our economy and created new expectations for what younger workers and consumers value and, therefore, what businesses chase. We’ve built physical places hardwired to how things used to be, and it’s stubbornly resistant to change.

Millennials (young people born from the early 1980s to the late 90s) have shown a sustained desire to live in more urban settings. They favor walking, biking, and transit over the prospect of long commutes by car. They enjoy living in communities where work, play, and home are enjoyed in close proximity. But, this phenomenon is not limited to their generation, as even Baby Boomers and Generation X are showing a growing interest in such places.

Meanwhile, globalization and technology have made people, jobs, and goods more mobile. In a growing number of industries and professions, one can readily live just about anywhere and buy goods from anywhere. Family farms are a thing of the past (though a growing appreciation for organics, sustainability, and locally grown food may change that). Going to work at the local plant where your father and grandfather worked is no longer a prominent thread of the American fabric.

The anxiety of rural South Georgia is understandable. The despair is real. But, their future cannot be found in the past. Or, maybe it can. Human beings have always adapted. But, the speed with which we’re being asked to do so today is pushing our human limits. And, the Escape Velocity report suggests those already struggling will only suffer more if we keep doing what we’re doing.

As an aging bicyclist who’s carrying a little more around my midsection than 15 years ago, I know what it’s like to finally surrender and fall off the back of the pack, discouraged and defeated, left to find my lonely way home. But, when we’re all in this together, that’s not how you do it.

In a group ride, when cyclists are working together, the stronger ones take an active role maintaining a sustainable pace for the group. Everyone benefits from riding in the draft, even when weaker riders take pulls at the front. The entire team moves faster together than anyone could alone.

EIG’s work is data-rich, but not overly prescriptive about solutions to circumstances they are highlighting. That’s actually a good thing, for we need to recognize and understand problems together without fighting over ideological fixes.

In their conclusion, authors of the Escape Velocity paper wrote: “The findings presented here underscore the need for a new embrace of localism and a place-based lens for our national policymaking.”

So, in that sense, people of Pierce County are on the right track to seek a stand-apart view of their situation. But, it would be unwise to separate themselves permanently from the pack. As EIG researchers concluded:

Each region and every community is a node in the vast neural network that is the U.S. economy. The healthier that network and the more robust the connections among its nodes, the stronger the foundations of American prosperity. Our task now is to harness the immense power and energy of our strongest communities to help revitalize the network as a whole.

The political map divides us today, much like the DCI map, into blue cities and red rural communities. Yet, that divide runs counter to everything stated above as to how we maintain a vital economy for all regions and every citizen. If we can just set aside, for a moment, our preconceived fixes, perhaps we can make progress by simply acknowledging together the measurable ways what we’re doing now is not working. A state divided against itself cannot stand.

Maurice Carter

Maurice Carter

Maurice Carter is President and Founder of Breathe-Water, LLC, where he uses community building, storytelling, consulting, and social media to enable businesses, non-profits, and communities to understand and harness forces for positive change. An Atlanta native living in Covington, GA, Maurice is an active community volunteer, a freelance columnist, and an advocate for causes that build community and promote thoughtful responses to the opportunities and challenges of our day.

]]> 0
A Song For Miss Johnnie Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:09:51 +0000


—“I hear the train a’coming, rolling round the bend”

—“Look a-yonder comin’, comin’ down that railroad track, it’s the Orange Blossom Special, bringing my baby back” ….

Two songs the man in black sang. Two trains, similar names, and a story.

Oh sing that train song, Ronnie, … sing it through the year. Blow that horn, blow it for her to hear. Strum your guitar, strum it hard, cause Miss Johnnie someday soon is gonna meet the Lord …

And now I turn the clock back to long-gone days in the red clay state and one Ronnie Myers. My abiding memory of Ronnie is hearing him sing and play guitar in his high school band, the Comets. Ronnie strummed a red electric guitar if memory serves me right. The Comets? Well, they came to age during the British Invasion, and for a while I thought Lincolnton, Georgia, had an answer to the Beatles. Ronnie and the Comets played in the old Spires pool hall located between Charles Ware’s Hardware and East Beauty Shop—all no more. Nothing lasts forever, and that goes for railroad men and their devoted fans.

Ronnie and me? We parted the usual way. We graduated and moved on. Then some fifty years later, we crossed paths. He, too, lived in South Carolina and he had done something I envied: worked as a trainman. “Tell me some train stories, Ronnie; tell me some please.”

Among them is this lonely happy, happy lonely tale of what some folks call an old maid.

Who doesn’t need something to look forward to, something that gives life a cadence, rhythm. For Miss Johnnie O’Bryant trains did just that. The clacking of the rails must have been music to her. She lived in a small four-room house just west of Auburn, Georgia, about 100 yards from the railroad tracks that parallel Highway 29. “We could see her house really well from our train,” said Ronnie. “She lived all alone except for her cats.”

Miss Johnnie loved the railroad men and their conveyances of steel. She could hear the train a’coming, coming round the bend. By day, she waved a hankie; by night, a flashlight. “We all looked for her,” said Ronnie. “Even in the wee hours we would see her flashlight waving from her window. We always blew the whistle when we passed.”

Miss Johnnie lived in lean circumstances, so the men learned. At Christmas, the trainmen, conductors, and engineers would chip in some money and an old conductor friend of hers, Ben Powell, would drive to Auburn to deliver it. “Practically all 100 or so railroad men from Abbeville would contribute about $20 each,” said Ronnie.

An appreciative Miss Johnnie wrote letters to the men and they would put her letters on the bulletin board in the crew room at the Abbeville depot. She wrote about everyday life. Her flowers and vegetable garden, her cats, the frogs in the little spring close to her yard. (She didn’t have running water.) “She even had names for certain frogs,” said Ronnie. “She talked a lot about her favorite radio announcer, Ludlow Porch, whom she listened to religiously every day.”

Unfamiliar with Ludlow (Bobby Crawford Hanson)? Well, he was one of Lewis Grizzard’s stepbrothers. Ludlow, a humorist and radio talk-show host, always ended his show with, “Whatever else you do today, you find somebody to be nice to.”

Ronnie certainly did. “Occasionally I would be called to cover an outlying job and I would drive my personal car to other towns to work a switcher (an engine and crew that work local businesses). “One summer day I had gotten off work in Lawrenceville and driving home I decided to stop by Miss Johnnie’s and introduce myself. I wanted to meet the lady who always waved at us.”

Ronnie walked through Miss Johnnies’ fragrant purple old timey petunias; the perennial kind our southern grandmothers grew in their yards. He knocked on her screen door and waited. He waited some more and then her visage materialized through the screen. “It startled me at first. She had a serious, cautious look so I immediately told her my name and that I worked on the railroad and had been wanting to meet her.”

A smile crossed Miss Johnnie’s face and she invited Ronnie into her front room. “We had a chat about her cats and how dry the summer was.” She told Ronnie one of her cats was sick because it had eaten too many lizards. She told him she had loved trains and always lived near the tracks since she was a girl. And then music—that balm of the soul—entered the picture.

“Through the open bedroom door I saw an acoustic guitar on her bed,” said Ronnie. “I see you play guitar.” Miss Johnnie said she played a little bit and Ronnie said he did too. “Matter of fact I have mine out in the car.” You could say a mini-concert took place.

Miss Johnnie had an old Sears & Roebuck Silvertone guitar. “They were really good quality guitars back in the day before they started manufacturing cheap department store toy guitars and passing them off as real guitars,” said Ronnie. “Miss Johnnie played the guitar pretty well. She sang the old tune, ‘On Top of Old Smoky … all covered with snow, I lost my true lover for courtin’ too slow.’ ”

Ronnie couldn’t help but feel this “old widow” was thinking of an old boyfriend while singing. Maybe so. “An old railroad friend who lived near her told me she, a sister, and her mother had lived in that same old house as long as he could remember and that Miss Johnnie had taken care of them until they both died.”

After some music, Ronnie left Miss Johnnie’s with vegetables from her garden and a bag of dried apples she had placed on tin in that hot Georgia summer sun. “I left with a good feeling and a song in my heart,” said Ronnie. A few months later in his Atlanta motel room, a melody popped into his head. And then the words came …


Miss Johnnie O’Bryant lived by our tracks, she always waved, and we waved back

On a midnight train, we’d see her light, and she’d hear our horn blow

I stopped by one summer day; her flowers smelled sweet in a strange purple haze

This lady loved trains like her flowers loved dew

She lived all her life in this small Georgia town reading her Bible and tilling the ground

When she leaves this world, full of sorrow and pain, when she goes to heaven, she’ll go on a train

She said I could have married a long time ago, I could have said yes, but always said no

I’d rather live all alone just to hear those old trains and their big engines moan

We who ride these rails every day, sure miss our families in so many ways, but just a wave in the passing, a how do you do, sure eases our sadness, it’s the least she could do

She lived all her life in this small Georgia town, reading her Bible and tilling the ground

When she leaves this world full of sorrow and pain, when she goes to Heaven she’ll go on a train

When Johnnie sees Jesus, she’ll be on a train

Ronnie saw Miss Johnnie one more time. He stopped by, sang her song to her, and gave her the lyrics. And then those trains rolled on and so did time. Lots of time. The day came when they moved Miss Johnnie to a nursing home in downtown Winder. Fate was kind, however. The home sat just across Highway 29 from the tracks. Said Ronnie, “From then until I left the railroad, when we came through Winder, no matter what time of day or night, I’d blow our horn loud and long because I knew she’d be listening.”

Oh sing that train song, Ronnie, … sing it through the year. Blow that horn, blow it loud for her to hear. Strum your guitar, strum it hard, cause Miss Johnnie, she’s wandered off to meet the Lord …

In 2005, many years after he left the railroad Ronnie learned Miss Johnnie O’Bryant had passed away. She rests in a cemetery in Winder. “I hope to go by her grave someday,” said Ronnie.

Well, at least her home and petunias stand across from the tracks. Right? Well, no. “I heard her little four-room house was torn down and an appliance store was built at that location,” said Ronnie, “but to us older railroad guys, Miss Johnnie O’Bryant will always be there.”

She will.

People pass on but their presence remains. A fragrance, a song, why even a sound brings them back. “Hey, buddy, do you hear that horn? Look a-yonder comin,’ comin’ down that railroad track. Hey, look a-yonder comin,’ comin’ down that railroad track, it’s Ronnie and the trainmen bringin’ Miss Johnnie back.”

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at Email me at

]]> 0
Don’t be so gullible as to let your freedoms slip away Mon, 25 Jun 2018 16:06:31 +0000 “We hold these truths to be self evident:  that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Those were Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776.  They’re filled with a courage found just days earlier on June 28 as South Carolina patriots defended a fort on Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston harbor from a massive land and sea attack by the British.  It was the first major patriot victory of the Revolutionary War. Word spread quickly and gave colonists the courage to declare independence.]]>

Americans shouldn’t have to be reminded about core values.  But with all that’s roiling in Washington, let’s go back to the beginning.

“We hold these truths to be self evident:  that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those were Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776.  They’re filled with a courage found just days earlier on June 28 as South Carolina patriots defended a fort on Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston harbor from a massive land and sea attack by the British.  It was the first major patriot victory of the Revolutionary War. Word spread quickly and gave colonists the courage to declare independence.

Through the years, that independent spirit forged values that became known as American all over the world — the continuing commitment to fairness and truth, the zeal to promote opportunity and the American dream through hard work, the passion of shared sacrifice to enhance the common good, an ongoing vow to do the right thing at home and abroad.  These ideals are intrinsically American, recognized in the image of America as the “shining city on a hill” as shared during presidencies from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan.

“In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

the bill of rights being trampled by elephants

In a farewell address, Reagan shared the importance of America as the beacon of opportunity that began in the 1630s by John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony:

And now five presidents later comes Donald Trump, who plays fast and loose with the rules and truth, who is placing economically-disadvantageous tariffs on American goods that likely will dampen the growing economy, who so wants an expensive border wall that he split kids from their parents and tried to blame others.  As this president tweets with selfish abandon, Congress plods. Too often, the media play along, looking at whatever new shiny thing Trump holds in one hand while the other is used to obfuscate, dissemble and trample the hard work of millions of Americans, especially those who do not look like him.

We should be outraged, not gullible.  We must protect the freedoms, human rights and values  championed in a 1941 speech by President Franklin Roosevelt:

Freedom of speech and expression.  Today’s “fake news” is nonsense infecting the country and dampening this basic First Amendment freedom.  Americans should not put up with lies and misrepresentations of verifiable facts.

Freedom of religion for people to worship how they choose.   It is unacceptable and un-American to demagogue red-blooded Americans who observe religions other than Christianity.

Freedom from want.  Artist Norman Rockwell portrayed this freedom as an iconic Thanksgiving dinner.  Roosevelt called for “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants.”

Freedom from fear.  Roosevelt framed this basic freedom as a reduction in armaments to reduce war and violence.  Today, it translates into quelling the nuclear arms race. Trump gets credit for engaging North Korea (although we worry he’s been played).  But he fans the flames of fear by killing an arms treaty to denuclearize Iran and, more recently, announcing the withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

America is a land of promise, a place that has thrived on shared sacrifice for the common good.   It’s hope and opportunity over deceit and greed. It’s love and helping others versus oppression and bigotry.  It’s about working out problems and moving forward, not embracing the sins of the past. It’s an ideal that freedom-loving people have aspired to since the days of Jefferson.

We need to move beyond an electorate that’s angry, a milquetoast Congress scared of its own shadow, out-of-control agencies and a president who struggles with truth daily.  Let’s not let the nattering nabobs of negativism, naysayers, greed-panderers and plutocrats fracture our shining city on the hill.  We must do better.

Andy Brack

Andy Brack

Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and the publisher of Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a twice-weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, A former U.S. Senate press secretary and reporter, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack also is president and chairman of the Center for a Better South, a nonprofit regional think tank. Brack received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. He, his wife, two daughters and dogs live in Charleston, S.C.

]]> 0
Farewell, My Lovely Mon, 25 Jun 2018 15:14:47 +0000

I have grown fond of mowing my meadow in the late afternoon or early evening. I enjoy being in this one-time apple orchard. The gently rolling hillside and field went back to the wild soon after the local farmers quit working it, but I spent the past year clearing paths and removing dead growth. This grassy expanse is now clean of brush and shows off some clumps of Black-Eyed Susans, a gathering of Russian Olive, and a thicket of wild roses. These islands of color interrupt the view and draw the eye and mind into curiosity about what lies beyond the wood line, on the far side of the locusts and walnut to where the hickory, maple, and great white oaks tower.

The meadow is a place my dogs loved. Herds of deer, the solitary grumpy black bear who still leaves huge swirls of dark black scat, almost always with hair in it, an excitement of turkey hens marching their brood single file snatching tasty grasshoppers on the fly, the occasional black snake—that “narrow fellow in the grass”—and all kinds of other woodland critters coming and going, day and night, to wherever their lodestar guides them. The dogs run on fumes, so many scents to inhale, so many droppings to sniff and roll in as they cross and crisscross and then race around the meadow one more time. A band of merry pranksters.

I smile remembering their fun. The time I spend in the meadow gives me pause to think more about the loss of Abbie, my lovely forever-young Golden Retriever who would have been sixteen in October. I had to put her down on 4 June.

The meadow is comforting and allows me distance from the piercing of the heart when life steals what we love away from us. A vet told me once to space my dogs out better so they wouldn’t all grow old at the same time. But like a lot of families, there was little planning. My gals and guys just came down the path at their own pace.

Although death is with us all the time, especially in the country where the young and the vulnerable have the odds fixed against them, I have never learned how to deal with the end of life in any satisfactory way. I just don’t seem capable, or perhaps willing, to make accommodations. I only do what I know how to do: once again I dug a grave into the hard clay and stone on my side of the mountain.

People and animals lose who they are, no longer find comfort in food or water, and pee down their legs. They lie down not because they are tired but because their legs can no longer hold them up.

I’ve had to put a number of dogs down in my life and still haven’t learned much about timing. As we know, there’s never a good moment to say good-bye. Optimist or coward, one thing for sure is that I am never premature. I always feel the need to stretch the limit, even if it’s only a few minutes. The time comes, though, when you can no longer pretend that all will be well.

I told her how precious she is and reassured her that she is my heart’s delight. I then kissed her goodbye and held her trusting head in my lap. When her labored breathing ceased I knew I was in the presence of mystery. I was stilled in that moment.

Now I find I have little to say about death. Words fail. I stare blankly at my loss, my tongue mute, not knowing what happened. I am reminded that death, like music, shows us that the essence of being is ungraspable, unnameable. I am learning that this mystery of death cannot be articulated.

All I was able to do for Abbie at the end was to make her comfortable and let her go at what I thought was her own given speed. I wanted more time, not days necessarily, just a few more minutes. Time is not always our friend. I wanted to squeeze every available minute out of that defining moment. I looked up at the clock, though, and the second hand nudged me along. Time was growing impatient and wanted us to move on. I was back in high school Latin class translating Ovid’s Tempus edax rerum, “Time, the devourer of all things.”

That night I slept within dreams and counter dreams and wrestled with what really happened. The comfort of all things familiar was gone.

When I awoke I read from a book by Adam Zagajewski, the Polish poet and essayist, who often wrestles with time, too. In one passage I took comfort from his loving memory of his father who knew the importance of stretching out time when the occasion was right.

Zagajewski writes that his father’s “calling, his life’s mission, became comforting my mother, the constant, permanent, daily creation of an optimistic vision of events, a lens designed to neutralize her deep, deepest pessimism, her fear.” When German bombs began to explode on Warsaw where they lived on 1 September 1939, he reassured her, “Don’t worry, Ludka, it’s just exercises, nothing to upset us, calm down, it’s just maneuvers, there won’t be a war.” Thus, Zagajewski’s father gave his wife “an extra fifteen minutes of peace. He prolonged the interwar era by a quarter of an hour especially for her.”

I also searched for reassurance for Abbie as Janet, our vet, found her vein. “It’s just a shot, sweet thing, to make things better.”

David Evans

David Evans

I'm retired from another life and live in the mountains of eastern West Virginia with my muse Jody along with one little and two big dogs and a diminishing pride of two cats and other critters who come along the path from time to time. I retired one morning years ago when I woke up and said, "This is the day." It was simply time to do something new with my life. I had done whatever I did long enough, and now it was time to do something else. Being independent and no longer in the reins of someone else's driver, I believe I have found something to cherish that I never had before. Retirement may be dull and boring, but that's true only if you are dull and boring. But if you’re like I was, and am, I saw a lot of things as I went along the trail that I would have liked to linger over a lot longer if I had had the time to spare. Above all, I wanted to think about what they meant and have the chance to go back over them and figure them out. I'm not abashed to say that today I lead a life of real luxury. I also recognize that I'm a lucky boy. In the words of Katherine Anne Porter: "My life has been incredible, I don't believe a word of it." I am the author of the recently published collection of essays entitled Meeting Memory In The Dark. Earlier I self-published Words To Woo Her By And Other Distractions Along The Way; Tunes of Glory: The Slow Ticking of the Heart; Cradle My Soul: Glimpses Into Other Lives; and Unscheduled Stops: Essays on Love, Loss and Other Roadside Attractions. All are available on either Amazon or Create Space, a subsidiary of Amazon. Proceeds go to the Almost Heaven Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary in Capon Bridge, West Virginia.

]]> 0
Many Conservatives And Liberals Agree: Don’t Lock Up Amnesty-Seeking Children Wed, 20 Jun 2018 11:11:15 +0000 Quinnipiac University poll taken on June 14-17, 2018 finds that two-thirds of Americans oppose this new policy of prosecuting parents immediately, separating children from their parents, and locking them in detention facilities.  While 91 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Independents oppose this measure, Republicans are a little more evenly split, with just a little more than half supporting the president’s policy.  GOP voters are the most likely to be “unsure,” however, and they should hear what their leaders are saying about the policy.]]>

Within the United States, there’s been little discussion on any topic other than what we should do with children of parents who have been seeking amnesty in the United States.  And conservatives are increasingly joining liberals in opposing the decision to isolate the kids of parents seeking amnesty in the United States.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken on June 14-17, 2018 finds that two-thirds of Americans oppose this new policy of prosecuting parents immediately, separating children from their parents, and locking them in detention facilities.  While 91 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Independents oppose this measure, Republicans are a little more evenly split, with just a little more than half supporting the president’s policy.  GOP voters are the most likely to be “unsure,” however, and they should hear what their leaders are saying about the policy.

South Texas Border - U.S. Customs and Border Protection provide assistance to unaccompanied alien children after they have crossed the border into the United States. Photo provided by: Eddie PerezConservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt is the latest to break with the Trump Administration on this issue, joining evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez, according to the Christian Broadcast Network.  Conservative Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol joined in the criticism of the policy, as did Jeb Bush and Laura Bush.  And Conservative speaker Ben Shapiro said “Congress can fix this separation policy easily. All they have to do is pass a law clarifying that those held for asylum proceedings may be held with their children in a common facility, than [sic] fund it.”

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, both Republicans, said that President Trump could change the policy with a five minute phone call.  Senator Orrin Hatch sent a letter to the Justice Department calling for this policy to be ended.  They know that there’s no “Democrat Bill” that’s out there which ties the President’s hands (there was a bipartisan bill passed in 2008 before Obama became president, which doesn’t cover this treatment) which needs to be repealed.  There’s also no “court case” that forces the Trump Administration to lock up kids in detention facilities in cities far from where their parents are being incarcerated.  That court case simply says you cannot detain a family indefinitely.  There’s no 1997 ruling that mandates this behavior.

Not willing to be a party to this, Republican Governors from Maryland and Massachusetts are withdrawing their National Guard units that have been assisting with border control, or are refusing to deploy them.  Kansas GOP Congressman Kevin Yoder, one of the most conservative members of Congress, tweeted “As the son of a social worker, I know the human trauma that comes with children being separated from their parents. It takes a lasting, and sometimes even irreversible toll on the child’s well-being.”  He’s joined by fellow GOP members, Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, and Mario Diaz-Balart from Florida.  Senator Ted Cruz from Texas is there too.

These are just a few of the GOP elected officials, conservative commentators, and church leaders who have denounced this policy, noting that it would take a short phone call to fix, without any Congressional, court or legal hurdles.  So if you’re a Republican and this just doesn’t sound American to you, it is okay.  You can take a stand against it too, and not abandon your ideology.

In fact, it’s not a bad idea to occasionally take a stand against the president of your own party.  Elected officials don’t walk on water, and we shouldn’t treat them like deities.  Liberals criticized Obama for his drone strike policy, his support of Israel, his reliance on the private sector to fix the Deepwater Horizon spill, for not supporting a single-payer health care system, and even his immigration policy that detained people at the border.  Conservatives should also take a moral stand against their president when he’s got a bad idea too.

John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia.  He writes about international politics, elections, sports, and the War of 1812.

]]> 0
Words to Live By Sun, 17 Jun 2018 17:30:24 +0000 The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” I’m a fan of Jefferson’s forethought, belief system, and writings. None of this seemed authentic to me. Looked more like Late Sixties Conservative rhetoric. So I fact checked it. Turns out to be a bogus quote attributed to our third president, designed to sell bumper stickers to those among us that believe the government is giving too much away to the poor in America, especially the dark skinned poor.]]>

During a visit to our favorite Chapin bar, the Tipsy Toad, I noticed a recent addition to the scenery. A bumper sticker attached to the cooler glass quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying;”The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

I’m a fan of Jefferson’s forethought, belief system, and writings. None of this seemed authentic to me. Looked more like Late Sixties Conservative rhetoric. So I fact checked it. Turns out to be a bogus quote attributed to our third president, designed to sell bumper stickers to those among us that believe the government is giving too much away to the poor in America, especially the dark skinned poor.

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not." Not Thomas JeffersonOne would think that with the ability to verify everything so easily, we would be more careful about who we quote and what stands as words to live by for so many of us. One would be wrong. It is much easier to grab the idea we agree with and assume it belongs to someone of substance. Simpler to buy into supposedly validated suspect ideas than to search out the truth.

Words are important to me. Not sure if I’ve always felt this way or began to worship the freedom associated with speech when I started sweating over just the right word to improve an otherwise meaningless sentence. I’m big on words to live by and even bigger on verifying their authenticity.

So last week when Suzy pointed out a Facebook post with words shoe-polished onto the back of a pickup truck quoting the Bible and demanding that women shut the Hell up and do what their man says, I immediately checked out the quote. I couldn’t wait to prove this asshole wrong.

Problem is, I underestimated the Holy Bible. That’s the problem with ancient religious scriptures. There are lots of idiotic things written down from those times. Some were extreme to begin with. Others got altered during the thousands of translations through the centuries. That’s why we should rarely accept Biblical quotes as words to live by unless we are trying to confirm a bias and make it acceptable.

Old folks can likely remember devout Christians defending slavery, and later racism in America by quoting Genesis and claiming that the “Mark of Cain” and the “Curse of Ham” were both references to black skin color.

As religious leaders pontificate against LGBT people with claims of abomination from a Biblical quote, no one mentions killing anyone associated with sex outside marriage and stoning uncircumcised boys, divorced women, and children that don’t respect their parents.

Getting religion involved in politics, and being rich, are two of the most stringently opposed activities in the Holy Book. Yet politicians have embraced both those activities with relish. Ignoring many instances where God tells us to take in the poor, strangers, and those in need, current politicians and their followers, especially Conservative ones, not only worship the wealthy and heartless, they deify them.

And now our fine Attorney General is quoting Biblical scripture to justify ripping screaming immigrant children from their mothers’ breasts. And we’re doing it as a policy to deter people from coming to The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Wonder if that stanza still applies to America.

Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.

]]> 0
Who Benefits from the “Booming Economy”? Wed, 13 Jun 2018 16:35:46 +0000 “booming economy,” the benefits are distributed very unequally, when they are distributed at all. Buoyed by soaring corporate profits and stock prices, the richest Americans have reached new and dazzling heights of prosperity.  As of May 2018, the growing crop of billionairesincluded corporate owners with unprecedented levels of wealth like Jeff Bezos ($112 billion), Bill Gates ($90 billion), and Warren Buffet ($84 billion).  Some families have also grown fantastically rich, including the rightwing Koch brothers ($120 billion) and the Walton family, owners of Walmart (nearly $175 billion).  Together with the rest of America’s richest 1 percent, they possess nearly 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.]]>

Although the U.S. mass media are awash with stories about America’s “booming economy,” the benefits are distributed very unequally, when they are distributed at all.

Buoyed by soaring corporate profits and stock prices, the richest Americans have reached new and dazzling heights of prosperity.  As of May 2018, the growing crop of billionaires included corporate owners with unprecedented levels of wealth like Jeff Bezos ($112 billion), Bill Gates ($90 billion), and Warren Buffet ($84 billion).  Some families have also grown fantastically rich, including the rightwing Koch brothers ($120 billion) and the Walton family, owners of Walmart (nearly $175 billion).  Together with the rest of America’s richest 1 percent, they possess nearly 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.

illustration of social disparityBut a great many Americans are not doing nearly as well as the nation’s super-wealthy.  That 40 percent of the wealth, in fact, constitutes twice the total wealth held by the bottom 90 percent of the American public (about 294,000,000 people).  On May 17, 2018, the United Way released a study indicating that nearly half of American households could not afford basics like food, housing, and healthcare.  Many of the wage earners in these households were child care workers, home health aides, office assistants, and store clerks―people who had low-paying jobs and minuscule (if any) savings.

Furthermore, according to U.S. government statistics, some 41 million Americans live in poverty.  Of these, over 5 million reportedly live on $4 a day or less―at least as long as they continue living.  Life expectancy in some parts of the United States, for instance in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, is lower than in Bangladesh.

Employment income in the United States serves as another example of extreme economic inequality.  Drawing on information provided to the federal government by 225 Fortune 500 companies with total annual revenues of $6.3 trillion, a Congressional study released this May reported that the CEO-to-worker pay ratio―which stood at 25 to 1 in the 1965―has now reached 339 to 1.

In some well-known firms, the ratio is much larger.  Consequently, their employees would have to work considerably more than a thousand years to catch up with their bosses’ income for one year.  These companies include Mattel (with a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 4,987 to 1), McDonald’s (3,101 to 1), Gap (2,900 to 1), Manpower (2,483 to 1), Hanes Brands (1,830 to 1), and Kohl’s (1,264 to 1).  Walmart, owned by the nation’s richest family and with 2.3 million employees, has a CEO-to-worker ratio of 1,188 to 1.

Somewhat later this May, the AFL-CIO came out with its own report, revealing even greater economic inequality.  According to the labor federation, government figures revealed that CEOs of S&P 500 Index companies received, on average, $13.9 million in compensation during 2017―a 6.4 percent increase over the preceding year.  By contrast, the average production and nonsupervisory worker received only $38,613, producing CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 361 to 1.

As might be expected, corporations vigorously resisted providing this kind of information and reacted angrily to suggestions that there was anything wrong with the extreme disparities it disclosed.  “People have decisions to make as to whether they want to improve themselves and get higher paying jobs,” observed a CEO of a multibillion dollar company.  “Some people decide to do that and others don’t.”

This pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps philosophy has long served as a top rationalization of privilege by the privileged.  And, indeed, corporate executives are very numerous in the ranks of today’s wealthiest Americans, now heading up about two-thirds of the households of America’s richest 1 percent.  But this philosophy should provide little comfort to American workers, whose share of the national income has been shrinking for decades.

American workers are not only extremely unlikely to ever amass riches comparable to those of the wealthiest 1 percent, but even to see their incomes improve significantly through wage increases.  Median real wages rose only one-fifth of 1 percent in the United States during 2017.  Furthermore, despite nearly full employment and the “booming economy,” the same pattern has persisted right up to the present.

The failure to share equitably in rapid economic growth has been a common feature of American history.  In “the roaring twenties,” a surging economy, characterized by economic expansion and a dizzying rise in stock prices, was accompanied by significant income and wealth disparity.  Although the rich got much richer, average workers experienced no more than a slow rise in income.  Indeed, workers in some industries suffered from falling wage rates.

Thus, soaring wealth and incomes for the few do not automatically translate into better lives for the many.  Centuries ago, American slaves understood this as they labored under the lash in booming economies―economies that included their full employment, but served only the interests of their ever-richer masters.  We should understand it as well.

Lawrence S. Wittner

Lawrence S. Wittner

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

]]> 0
Mental Health Is A Serious Problem That Won’t Be Solved By Budget Cuts Tue, 12 Jun 2018 17:57:48 +0000

I was blessed to have the greatest mentor in graduate school.  He helped me on my dissertation, wrote great letters of recommendation, provided good advice, continued support throughout my career, and most importantly, was a true friend.

He killed himself a year ago.

mental illnessThe Fall 2016-Spring 2017 academic year was a devastating one for me.  In addition to his death just before graduation, one of my best friends in town lost his son, a great kid, to a similarly tragic loss.  Both deaths still haunt me.

Every time there’s a celebrity in the news who takes his or her life, like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain, we ask ourselves why.  Even when there’s a note, or last writings, we still don’t seem to have a clue.  Many of these people outwardly seem fine, having lots of fun, great adventures, many friends.  We wish we could have done something, or do something for those who live, either with the silent struggle, or the public knowledge, pain and often the stigma that follows it.

As Ben Domenech with the conservative “The Federalist” publication writes “We are experiencing an incredible increase in suicide levels according to the latest research from the CDC.  From 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in every U.S. state but one (and that one is Nevada, which remains in the top ten states for suicides). It is one of the top ten causes of death and one of only three such causes on the rise. The rise is seen in every age group and across all demographics, but particularly among people who look like Bourdain: 84 percent of suicide victims are white, and roughly 77 percent are men.”

Yet politics can be a strangely cruel arena for combatting our greatest threats…the real ones that plague us.  As NPR reports “[T]he budget blueprint also slashes spending for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration by $665 million. Additionally, Bloomberg reported the National Institute of Mental Health would see a 30 percent reduction in funding — a half a billion dollar decrease — in 2019.”  And the overall Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, which is charged with tackling such problems, is getting a 21 percent decrease according to

If you think the national government is alone in spending less on mental health, you would be wrong.  The Cummings Institute found that states cut $5 billion in mental health services budgets in just three years alone (2009-2012), despite their evidence that nearly one in four adults experiences a mental illness in a given year, with nearly half of all adults experiencing one in their lifetimes.  Those with mental health problems are forced to go to the overworked E.R., shifting the burden to the neediest Americans as well as the U.S. taxpayer, while violent crime rates increase in the states with the greatest cuts.

If the wealthy like Bourdain and Spade couldn’t get help, what about those with less income?

Until these cuts are reversed, I applaud those who take to social media to post contact numbers and suicide hotlines, and a promise to listen, to at least try and get people some help.  And I am proud of LaGrange College which is now offering a graduate program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Other schools, especially the public colleges, which offer these studies, are being hit by statewide budget cuts in these programs.  This means there will be fewer mental health professionals to treat people.  Such losses are tragic, at the time where the need is the greatest.

John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia.  He writes about international politics, elections, sports, and the War of 1812.

]]> 0
The Great Waking Up Mon, 11 Jun 2018 08:25:10 +0000

I don’t blame all of the planet’s ills on the Republican Party, but I find hope in the possibility that it’s on the verge of collapse.

I’m not talking politics here. I’m talking deep vision of humanity: a sense of who we are and how we impact Planet Earth and all its occupants. A smallness of mind has a chokehold on American political power and awareness. Maybe what I mean is that it has control over the money.

“The money just isn’t there” — to provide universal healthcare, to create environmental sustainability . . . to ensure that everyone has clean drinking water. I could name dozens more “nice ideas” that are financial impossibilities, relegated to the trash bin of wishful thinking. We all could.

Special Interests Puppet Masters was created by Angel Boligan and licensed by at “the money,” whatever that actually is, remains quietly, unquestionably present to maintain a suicidal status quo of expanding war, prisons, border “protection” and, of course, environmental exploitation.

Is it simply human stupidity that’s at the center of such irony?

A couple days ago, NBC News published an intriguing story: “California’s GOP is collapsing. Is that a sign for Republicans nationwide?”

The article, with typical mainstream superficiality, described the Republican problem as a “demographic” one: You know, America isn’t as “white” as it used to be, but the Republicans, with Donald Trump as their poster boy, have focused on “doubling-down on their white base . . . instead of trying to expand it.” The quiet implication is that white voters simply have a set of values that aren’t shared by those across the demographic divide, but the values themselves are media-neutral. Furthermore, politics itself is simply a matter of manipulating voters — enticing them to buy your product — as opposed, heaven forbid, to standing for a coherent, plainly stated worldview.

This is the context in which the article points out that Republicans are now the number-three voting bloc in California, behind not just the Democrats but independents as well. And apparently, as California goes, so goes America, eventually.

The article points out some of the GOP initiatives from the old days, a quarter century ago, when the party ruled the Golden State, which now, apparently, have a stench to the voting majority: declaring English the state’s official language, outlawing affirmative action, and banning undocumented immigrants from access to public health care and even education.

My thought, as I read this, was that maybe what’s going on here is some kind of Great Waking Up — not Democrat over Republican or even non-white over white, but democratic penetration into the default setting of American values. That is to say, the initiatives the article cites aren’t problematic because they’re Republican but because they’re racist. And because they quietly maintain a value system that divides the planet into winners and losers — with the “winners” on endless alert to protect, and add to, their holdings.

What if that’s what is under assault by uncorralled — i.e., independent — voters in California: the force that controls the money?

Maybe I’m kidding myself. Maybe it’s not possible . . . that the force of democracy, the “will of the people,” could actually begin to reshape social values and social spending, that it could penetrate, for instance, the keep-out zone of military spending, one of those areas where the phrase “the money just isn’t there” never applies.

“Did you know,” writes William Astore at TomDispatch, “the U.S. Air Force is working on a new stealth bomber? Don’t blame yourself if you didn’t, since the project is so secret that most members of Congress aren’t privy to the details.”

Astore proceeds to tell us about the B-21 Raider, which would carry both conventional and thermonuclear bombs, and comes in at a cost of $550 million per plane (“before the inevitable cost overruns even kick in”). The Air Force plans to buy 200 of them from Northrop Grumman, at cost of, oh heck, something over a hundred billion dollars. Is that such a big deal?

“Here’s the nightmarish reality,” he writes, “of actually bringing such weapons systems online: when the U.S. military develops a capability, it seeks to use it, even in cases where it’s wildly inappropriate. . . . Fielding a new strategic bomber for global strike, including potential thermonuclear attacks, will not so much enhance national security as potentially embolden future presidents to strike whenever and wherever they want in a fashion devastating to human life. The B-21 isn’t a force-multiplier. It’s an Armageddon-enabler.”

Let’s just sit with this for a moment. Indeed, let’s sit with the future of this planet, which we hold in our hands. The reality is that the human race has managed to embed itself in a social system that includes a murderous and suicidal militarism, which is minimally checked and unquestioned except at the margins of politics and the media. Given this — and given everything else going on in the military keep-out zones across the planet — I think we’d be better off in a state of total anarchy, with no political organization whatsoever.

But that’s a surrender to cynicism and no more realistic than any other form of wishful thinking. We’re stuck, at least here in the USA, with a pseudo-democracy partially but not completely controlled by certain special interests. We possess a fair amount of freedom of thought and action. Maybe it’s not enough to dislodge the entrenched, money-blessed military-industrialism that is our ruling god — but maybe it is, if we can foment a Great Waking Up and start undoing the harm we have been inflicting on ourselves for so long now.

The collapse of the Republican Party may signal that change is underway. So is the message from a few millennia back: Love thy enemy as thyself.

Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at or visit his website at

]]> 0
No Man Is Above the Law in the USA: That Includes President Trump Mon, 11 Jun 2018 03:59:02 +0000

It’s just like the little fellow who cried “Wolf!” too often, which after a while no one paid much attention to his panicking.

That’s the way I’ve come to feel about the many Tweets that President Trump continues to send out. He had adopted this way to “reach the people” in spectacular fashion, though it may hurt him as much as he thinks it helps.

No other president has been so open about his thoughts, diplomatic, political or personal, as he has. Some may say that this form of communication is good. It certainly is an innovative way to let many know his feelings. Their ramifications must keep his staff in dithers.

But the many Tweets have less impact today, since some people have stopped paying attention to them. Now if only the media would put these Tweets into perspective more, or even stop reporting each of them.

Absolute Pardon TweetEvery now and then one Tweet looks larger. In a Tweet on Monday, the president declared that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself for any crime.

Let’s think some about that Tweet.

First, does this mean that the president even himself recognizes that he has committed some crime? That in itself is scary.

But mainly, is there any American in the entire country, even those favoring the president, who believes our president is above all of the laws of this country? That seems a far reach.

From time to time, the Supreme Court, in creating new rulings, sometimes turns the country on its ear. Brown vs. Board of Education, for one, and Roe vs. Wade, have both led the way in changing the minds of lots of people .

But nowhere in the 200+ year history of the United States has any one president declared himself to be a person with absolute power. That’s not the American way.

And it is unthinkable in our republic.

We have three branches of government, each with their own distinct elements, to guide our nation. Each is a separate, though equal, element of our government, and each has served our nation well in guiding our country.

We hope that our country never gets to the stage where President Trump has to inveigh a pardon to himself. That would be disastrous to his presidency. It would also probably convince enough Republican senators to vote with the Democrats and impeach the president.

We certainly hope that it doesn’t come to that.

Remember President Trump by his very nature is primarily a negotiator. We suspect even he realizes he can’t pardon himself, but is full of bluster and is merely trying to reinforce his connection with followers in putting this out this Tweet. We must live with him feeling this way, at least for two years, if not six years.

Yet can someone rule absolutely? Maybe in the past, and maybe even today… Russia. But not in the United States of America.

Having someone think of himself as a ruler, a dictator, able to pardon his own self if he does something wrong? That, simply, is not the American way.

Our country was developed with the idea that no man is above the law. That cornerstone of our government most certainly applies to the president, too.

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County,, and Georgia news,

]]> 0
What the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision Means for Georgia Sun, 10 Jun 2018 15:50:47 +0000

This week, the Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple because of his religious beliefs. There are three important takeaways from the Court’s decision.

First, the Supreme Court’s ruling was based on exceedingly narrow, procedural grounds that are unique to this case. Specifically, the Supreme Court reversed, because it believed that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission exhibited hostility to religion when one of its members described the baker’s faith justification as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.” The Court held that this hostility violated the Constitutional requirement, under the Free Exercise Clause, that governments refrain from exhibiting undue hostility towards religion.

ACLU Rally against the Masterpiece Cakeshop by Victoria PickeringThe case was not only procedurally unique, but also unique in time. The Supreme Court emphasized that the baker’s refusal occurred in 2012, at a time when Colorado was not required to recognize same-sex marriages. But thanks to Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage throughout the country in 2015, that will never be the situation again.

Second, the Supreme Court went out of its way to emphasize that notwithstanding its ruling in favor of the baker, gay people must be treated with dignity in the public marketplace. The majority recognized that “[o]ur society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. The exercise of their freedom on terms equal to others must be given great weight and respect by the courts.”

The Court further emphasized the danger that a broad ruling in favor of the baker may result in a “long list of persons who provide goods and services for marriages and weddings might refuse to do so for gay persons, thus resulting in a community-wide stigma inconsistent with the history and dynamics of civil rights laws that ensure equal access to goods, services, and public accommodations.” Indeed, eight out of nine Justices ultimately signed on to these fundamental principles, as reflected in the majority decision and in Justice Ginsburg’s dissent.

Third, the Supreme Court emphatically did not embrace the theory that businesses have a blank check to discriminate against gay people under a twisted theory of the First Amendment. Two years ago, Governor Nathan Deal rightly vetoed a so-called “religious freedom” bill that would have given businesses a license to discriminate and would essentially allow them to put up signs saying, “Your kind is not welcome here.” Nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision suggests that giving businesses a license to discriminate is constitutionally required.

Nonetheless, in Georgia, unlike Colorado, gay people remain unprotected under state laws. Georgia is only one of three states in the entire country that does not have a comprehensive civil rights law. The ACLU of Georgia will keep making the case for equal treatment of LGBT people until equal opportunity is the norm and the law in the state of Georgia.

Sean J. Young

Sean J. Young

Sean J. Young is the Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. He has been actively involved in litigating cases around the country challenging discriminatory voter identification requirements, cutbacks to early voting and same-day registration, and other attempts to make it harder to vote. Prior to joining the ACLU, he was a judicial law clerk at both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He also served as an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where he litigated a variety of pro bono matters involving civil rights, fair housing, and racial justice issues. He has published articles in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics and the Florida Coastal Law Review. Sean is a graduate of Yale Law School and Duke University.

]]> 0
Vital Signs Mon, 04 Jun 2018 10:20:11 +0000

As a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, I am enormously grateful to FDR for his salutation to the dawtuhs of that revolution: “Fellow immigrants.”

I am angry about the xenophobia stalking the United States. My ancestors showed up first in Virginia in the 1640 census.  They were Quaker refugees from Britain.  In 1810 they were teaching freed slaves to read and write, violating the heinous laws of Virginia.  In 1812, the Quakers kicked them out because they mustered in the War of 1812.  Later they migrated to western Georgia, near Lagrange, thence into Alabama, settling in “Crewsville,” a place still on Google Maps, but it has been only a field for all of my 81 years.

Like thousands of others, I owe my life to the care and skill of recent immigrants.

In October 2013 I weighed 319 pounds, was on insulin twice a day, on tanked oxygen 24/7, had a 60” waist, and had sleep apnea. Then a major change happened:

Before & After a Gentle Physician

This morning I weigh 158” (less than half of my former body weight), have a 36” waist (down 24”). I have not required insulin or tanked oxygen since 2014, and I no longer have sleep apnea.

All of this happened because of my primary physician, Dr. Khalil Kaid.  I lost my appetite in October 2013, and before it returned, I had lost about 15 pounds. Dr. Kaid said that was a good thing and suggested that I try exercise.

When you have been chronically obese most of your life and somehow make it to 76, my age in October 2013, physicians rarely ask you to make choices that you have rejected most of your life.  But Dr. Kaid seized the opportunity with his gentle smile and obvious concern that I live well.

Two years later, in October 2015 I reached my current range of 160’-170’.

Dr. Khalil Kaid nudged me to have a good life.  I am enormously grateful.

Louie Crew Clay

Louie Crew Clay,  81, is an Anniston, Alabama native and Professor Emeritus at Rutgers. He lives in East Orange, NJ, with Ernest Clay, his husband for 44 years. He holds an M.A. from Auburn University, a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa), and honorary doctorates from three seminaries of the Episcopal Church. He is the founder of Integrity, an international organization of lgbt Episcopalians/Anglicans. Editors have published 2,750+ of Louie Crew Clay's poems and essays — including Letters from Samaria: The Prose & Poetry of Louie Crew Clay, NYC: Church Publishing, Inc., November 2015 and  Our Station Forgot to Give the Evening News,  Poetry Superhighway. An eBook in the press' annual 'The Great Poetry E-Book Free-For-All,' online from December 1, 2016. You can follow his work at See also The University of Michigan collects Clay’s papers.

]]> 0
School Shootings Are Dramatically Up, As Are The Lame Excuses For Them Wed, 30 May 2018 12:09:02 +0000 James Alan Fox with USA Today. “Rather, this more likely reflects a short-term contagion effect in which angry dispirited youngsters are inspired by others whose violent outbursts serve as fodder for national attention. That should subside once we stop obsessing over the risk.”]]>

School shootings are dramatically on the rise; it’s not a myth, as some will have you believe.  The lame excuses offered for them by some are also not supported by the evidence.  It’s time we listen to a majority of Americans, gun owners and NRA members, and adopt some common sense reforms, before guns are outlawed by people fed up with such shootings as well as the false explanations.

“Schools are not under siege,” writes James Alan Fox with USA Today. “Rather, this more likely reflects a short-term contagion effect in which angry dispirited youngsters are inspired by others whose violent outbursts serve as fodder for national attention. That should subside once we stop obsessing over the risk.”

Lady Liberty shooting herself by Mike LichtI tested this by looking at the number of school shootings from the ten years after the 1994 Crime Bill was passed, which included an assault weapons ban.  During these ten years, there were 28 school shootings leading to 52 deaths and 109 wounded; a quarter of these deaths came from Columbine High School in 1999.  For the ten years after the Assault Weapons Ban lapsed, there were 130 school shootings with 171 deaths and 205 wounded.  Now, it’s up to 184 shootings from 1995 until February of 2018, and shows no sign of letting down, with 241 deaths and 339 injured.  The trend shows no indication of subsiding.  It’s not a “short-term epidemic.”

New NRA Chief Oliver North blamed Ritalin and violent video games for the shooting.  First of all, countries that use more Ritalin than we do (like Iceland) have far fewer shootings.  As for violent video games, North should know, as he played a powerful role as an advisor to Call of Duty II, pressing for the game to be made “more authentic.”

Outspoken Texas Lt. Governor Daniel Patrick suggested that it’s our abortions and violent movies and lack of religion to blame.  But such violent movies, like our video games, are shown around the world, without a corresponding increase abroad in such gun violence.

“A Pew Research Center study found that a little more than half of Americans say religion is very important in their lives,” writes the conservative Chicago Tribune.  “In China, only 3 percent say religion is very important. Japan is only 11 percent. The United Kingdom and Germany are both at 21 percent. In Canada, only 27 percent of people think religion is very important in their lives.  Our level of religiosity is high compared with those countries, but our gun violence problem is off the charts.”

It’s the same story with abortion.  “According to data from a study released this year by the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 49 in the United States was 13. The rate was the same in the United Kingdom,” (though they had far fewer gun murders),” continues the Chicago Tribune.  “Sweden had a higher abortion rate at 18 per 1,000 women, but there were only 41 people shot to death there last year.”  Nor can we blame mental health, as a U.S. Secret Service study found few shooters with this condition previously diagnosed.  The decline of spanking has been cited as a reason, even though the continued use of spanking by some may be a factor, given how the American Psychological Association has found such punishment associated with “increased aggression, antisocial behavior and mental problems.”

Unless common sense gun restrictions, supported by a strong majority of Americans, gun-owners and even NRA members, are adopted, the problem will continue to grow, creating calls for more extreme regulations, even outright bans of firearms.  Another more effective reform involves stronger consequences for failing to secure one’s weapons (a Class A misdemeanor if a crime is committed with one) and the laughably short prison sentences for straw purchasers like the ones who provided the Columbine shooters with their guns.

John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia.  He writes about international politics, elections, sports, and the War of 1812.

]]> 0
Hidden U.S. Costs Of Dirty Energy: A Trillion Dollars A Year Tue, 22 May 2018 10:34:21 +0000 America’s economic "success" has been powered by fossil-fuels that cause a range of harms that were ignored or poorly comprehended. By leaving damages to public health and the environment out of the price, these fuels were deceptively cheap and unfairly profitable.

A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly estimates that problems caused by using coal cost Americans some trillion dollars a year. Yet these consequences were not - and still are not - included in the price of energy generated by coal-fired power-plants.


America’s economic “success” has been powered by fossil-fuels that cause a range of harms that were ignored or poorly comprehended. By leaving damages to public health and the environment out of the price, these fuels were deceptively cheap and unfairly profitable.

A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly estimates that problems caused by using coal cost Americans some trillion dollars a year. Yet these consequences were not – and still are not – included in the price of energy generated by coal-fired power-plants.

Smokes stacks from power plantsOne penalty from burning coal that raises justified alarm in South Georgia is the toxic, cancer-causing residue of coal ash – being buried at landfills that are dangerously close to wetlands, rivers, and groundwater.

Similar conclusions have been reached in analysis of petroleum impacts. Studying neglected costs in extracting and burning oil, energy experts say that the price of oil would be more than double market rates if hazards to public health and environmental quality were included.

Now we’re being misled by false claims that burning wood pellets is “carbon neutral” and thus environmentally benign. EPA’s Scott Pruitt declared this well-lobbied position in a recent visit to timber-intensive Georgia. While the asserted carbon neutrality has an element of truth with obvious advantage to Georgia’s $40 billion timber industry, it deceptively cherry-picks science to reach a dangerously deceptive conclusion.

Wood-pellet assessment has two main factors: (1) carbon emitted in combustion, and (2) elimination of much-needed carbon-storing capacity when timber is cut. It’s well established that burning wood emits more carbon than coal. And, contrary to Pruitt’s claims, wood consumed to make pellets is not primarily deadwood, but harvested healthy timber.

Due to the urgency of reducing greenhouse gases to curb accelerating climate-change, using fuels that release enormous volumes of atmospheric carbon must be curtailed. Moreover, timberland carbon-storage is vital to reducing harms of ongoing carbon emissions. Cutting carbon release as much as possible while maximizing carbon storage is vital. Burning wood defeats both these imperatives.

Accurate evaluation of fuels to account for all significant consequences is essential to making rational decisions in the public interest.

If these factors were reflected in fuel costs, converting to “clean energy” technologies that avoid such destructive impacts – foremost solar – would have greater market incentives. With responsible pricing, Americans would be given better energy choices that favor our nation’s future.

Georgians should insist that clean energy is given priority in improving state energy policies.


Editor’s Note: How David came up with a trillion dollars: multiply the tons of carbon emitted in the U.S. annually – five billion tons in 2016 by the estimated cost per ton in 2015.

More Reading:

David Kyler

David Kyler

Executive Director at Center for a Sustainable Coast.

]]> 0