December 5, 2017

Our voices must be heard over Big Money’s screams

     If you want to get a clearer understanding of how government works, follow the flow of money.  You’ve always known “money talks.”  Big Money screams until it gets what it wants.  Notice what’s transpiring with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington.
     Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp.”  To do so, he appointed cabinet members who supported his pledge.  Enter Scott Pruitt at the EPA.  Born and raised in coal country, the native Kentuckian rose in political prominence as attorney general of oil-rich Oklahoma.  And now as head of the EPA, Pruitt is wasting no time in pulling the teeth of the agency which he had sued multiple times in his former job.
     In Pruitt’s mind, the EPA has too many “over-reaching” regulations.  In a 2016 Washington Post article, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) was quoted, “Scott Pruitt would have EPA stand for Every Polluter’s Ally.”  Before we turn this into a typical Democrat-Republican argument, I take the nonpartisan view: “Every American deserves to have his or her health and safety protected, regardless of political allegiance.”
     Idealistically, I believe less government is better than more government.  But if the EPA is abolished, as Pruitt has touted, America’s health and safety will be in peril.
     An illustration—beyond the threat of toxic coal ash being dumped in Wayne County—comes from my physician.  As he was conducting my annual physical, he grumbled about all the federally mandated paperwork.  And then he said, “But I understand why we have to have certain regulations.  There are too many greedy companies that will cut corners and cheat the government to make more money.  And when they do that, they take dollars out of your pocket and mine.”
     And there you have it.
     If we could trust everyone to do the right thing, we wouldn’t need as much government.  But imagine that there were no state and federal regulations on coal ash.  How high would the toxic mountains rise in Broadhurst?  Republic would have its coveted rail spur, and the coal-ash producers would be shouting, “Yippppeeeee!” 
     There would be little, if any, corporate or government concern over the harmful environmental consequences for Wayne County.  It’d be all about the money to be saved in the utility companies’ disposal of coal ash and the profits to be earned by companies such as Republic Services and Waste Management.
     In October, State Representatives Chad Nimmer and Bill Werkheiser, along with Sen. Blake Tillery, wrote a letter to U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and Congressman Buddy Carter asking them to oppose the EPA’s proposal to eliminate guidelines on toxic coal ash. 
     A portion of the letter read: “Our constituents and neighbors fear allowing the EPA to suspend the enforcement of the effluvia rule would threaten these resources, our health and hinder economic growth … We urge you to strongly oppose the decision of the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend enforcement of the effluvia rule.”  We appreciate their letter, but you and I must reach out to Sens. Isakson and Perdue and Rep. Carter, too.
     One of the world’s leading authorities on coal ash’s environmental impact is attorney Lisa Evans of Earthjustice.  For 23 months, we’ve exchanged emails and telephone conversations.  Recently, she released this statement about Scott Pruitt’s proposal: “EPA’s imminent ‘reconsideration’ of the coal ash rule means only one thing, EPA is again turning its back on public health and safety and siding with polluters.  The EPA’s status report is just another example of agency policy to kowtow to corporate interests.”
     You and I may not have the “big” money, but we must make our voices heard or our future will be doomed under mountains of dangerous coal ash.

November 28, 2017

Old truck helps to keep their great-granddaddy ‘alive’

     If I had a dollar for every time someone asked about the pickup under the shelter, I would have enough money to fill its gas tank—several times.  I’ll admit the Ford F-150 does look a little dusty and under-exercised.  However, the 1986 fleet-side is cranked 52 times a year to make sure it’s ready for a special day.  That day came last week, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
     For about a dozen years, we lived across the street from my parents.  For Alan, Emily and Eric, every trip across Ninth Street made them smile, because their grandparents made all their grandchildren feel special.  Decades later, our three can describe the opening sound of their grandparents’ hollow-core back door, and for certain, they knew the whine of their granddaddy’s six-cylinder.  I think it had something to do with the clutch, as he shifted the three-on-the-tree gears.  Every time I turn the ignition switch and step on the clutch, I can feel him sitting beside me.
     Big Dink was Depression-Era thrifty.  Even though he could afford a new truck, he waited until he was 64 to drive one home.  And when the air conditioner conked out, he had it fixed.  But the next time it quit, he just rolled the windows down and carried on.  He loved that truck, and our children loved riding with him, air conditioning or not.
     In 1997, for his 75th birthday, sisters Sandy, Sheila and I decided our dad deserved a new truck—another F-150.  We had just one request:  He should keep his old truck.  Big Dink was beside himself.  Like a kid with a new bike on Christmas morning, he drove off to show his friends.  A year later, he was gone.  We debated and decided to sell the classy new ride.  We vowed we’d never part with what would always be “Granddaddy’s truck.”  That’s why it’s been pampered for 19 years, awaiting last Friday.
     My dad died before any of his great-grandchildren were born.  You’ve heard me say this before: “People die twice.  The heart stops first, then the memories.”  I was determined our eight grandchildren would know their great-grandfather through family stories, repeated over and over.  And what better way—on the weekend of Thanksgiving –than to take them on a slow, dirt-road ride in his pickup truck?
     With a little barnyard ingenuity, I rigged an old school-bus seat on a wooden platform.  Wyatt, Hayes, William, Henry, Fenn, Smith, Bayard and Stella clambered up the tailgate and jockeyed for a spot on the burgundy bench from a retired Blue Bird.  Three wound up sitting on the floor, but no one was complaining.  When Eric eased off the clutch, they all got to hear that nostalgic whine.  They had heard the stories long before.  And now, they were making their great-granddaddy smile down from heaven.     Who could imagine that old tan truck, with all its nicks and dings, could make for so much happiness and laughter among eight children?
     I could.

November 21, 2017

Words of encouragement for Thanksgiving 2017

     On the eve of Thanksgiving Day 2017, one of our greatest challenges is not to get swallowed by all the ugliness surrounding us.  Everywhere you look, there’s cause to shake your head and wonder: “What’s the world coming to?”
     And you don’t have to look far to see a specific group of unhappy people—the perpetual pouters.  Their view is always clouded by negativity.  Wayne Ates would say these folks had been “weaned on a dill pickle.”  The dill-pickle crowd refuses to acknowledge the goodness which overshadows the badness.  Instead, they would rather poke their lips out from Cherry Street to the traffic light in Ludowici.
     While studying at Harvard, Kent Keith must have made that same observation.  In 1968, he was inspired to write “Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments” as a part of a student-leader handbook.  For 49 years later, the poem of Dr. Kent M. Keith is still making laps around the globe.  One of its more famous stops was in Mother Teresa’s hands.  The saintly woman was so impressed that she posted the message on the wall of her Calcutta children’s home.
     If you are looking for an antidote to the ills which abound, consider these words:
Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments
By Dr. Kent M. Keith
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and 
women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

     Look around.  Badness is trying its best to kick goodness in the teeth.  Let’s not pout about the abundant deeds of dastardly evil-doers.  Instead, let’s focus on the positive by seeing the multitudes of random acts of kindness.
     Opinion is varied on who first said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Attribution is often given to British statesman Edmund Burke.  Regardless of its author, another way to say it is: “As long as enough people care, there will always be hope for tomorrow.”
     Thank you, Dr. Kent Keith, for reminding us of that.
     Here’s to a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.