Sunday, August 11, 2019

NJ Energy Master Plan: Which Kind of Green

Union members at fossil fuel moratorium rally in Newark, NJ
(photo/Jan Barry)

New Jersey is in the process of planning its future, amid a global climate crisis that state residents have yet to grapple with. 

The traffic-jammed corridor of turnpike exits that touts itself as the Garden State has relentlessly paved over farmlands and clear cut forests to build some of humanity’s most densely packed population centers; as its public officials welcomed smog-belching petro-chemical plants and constructed car-and-truck-tangled highways, while shrugging at lung-burning air pollution and toxic contamination of water sources. Residents, meanwhile, turned running around shopping at multiple malls into an Olympic sport.

Now New Jerseyans are suddenly being asked to slow down, take a deep breath and drastically change our lifestyles.

“Scientists in the state say that without comprehensive changes, life in the Garden State will be about adapting to a reality where the Jersey Shore is continually a disaster zone … and inland river flooding brings floodwaters to the Statehouse steps in Trenton,” reported last fall. Repeated downbursts of heavy rain during heat waves this summer, punctuated by tornadoes and thunderstorms, flooded local streams and streets across the state.

Governor Murphy’s response to reports of dire weather events getting much worse if greenhouse gasses from power plant and vehicle emissions continue to heat up the planet was to order up an energy master plan for switching out smog-producing fuel to solar, wind and other kinds of clean renewable energy. Like many other states and nations, following the guidance of international climate scientists, the goal is to accomplish this massive energy makeover by 2050.

Meanwhile, the fracked gas industry is pushing to build more than a dozen new pipelines, compressor stations and power plants in New Jersey. Environmental activists say this would dramatically increase emissions from fossil fuels, just as they should be decreased.

“To meet the Administration’s objective of 100% clean energy by 2050 … New Jersey needs to aggressively reduce, not increase, greenhouse gas emissions,” says a report by Empower NJ, a coalition of civic groups that includes the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and NJ Industrial Union Council. “This requires annual reduction benchmarks and objectives starting NOW. Approving any new fossil fuel expansion projects will move us further away from achieving necessary GHG targets and make it virtually impossible to fight climate change and achieve the Governor’s 100% clean energy goal.”

The activists’ call to reject new fossil fuel projects “threatens to deepen a rift between the environmental community — that largely backed Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, in his gubernatorial bid — over the administration’s reluctance to halt several new natural gas pipelines in New Jersey as well as four new gas-fired power plants. A huge coalition of environmentalists wants an immediate moratorium on all new fossil-fuel projects,” noted statehouse reporter Tom Johnson in

“This has nothing to do with facts and figures, but with money and politics,” Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s state chapter, said of the Murphy administration’s reluctance to follow the lead of California, New York and several other states in enacting legislation to set a path for promptly reducing fossil fuel use in order to help counter the effects of global climate oscillations.
At public hearings this summer on the draft energy master plan presented by the Board of Public Utilities, environmental activists called for a moratorium on state permits for proposed fossil fuel projects and a quicker pace of moving utilities, transportation, businesses and homes to non-polluting sources of energy.

“Act like your child’s life depends on it—because it does,” Leslie Stevens, a former AT&T vice president who now teaches at Stevens Institute of Technology and is a volunteer Climate Reality community leader, said at a recent hearing in Newark.

“The reality of what’s happening now could have a devastating effect on our future,” Newark City Council President Mildred Crump said as she joined a rally of environmental activists in front of Seton Hall Law School, where a draft energy plan hearing was held.

Flanked by union members, Kevin Brown, the state director of 32BJ SEIU, said emphatically “we need to end fossil fuels.” His union, he noted, represents more than 13,000 commercial, residential and public school-contracted cleaners, security officers and airport service workers in New Jersey. These workers live and work in communities affected by air pollution. “Many of our members have asthma.”

In testimony before the Board of Public Utilities energy master plan committee, Brown echoed a statement he made earlier this year directed at Congress: “it’s more important than ever that we come together to reduce greenhouse gasses, switch to renewable energies and create strong, union jobs while ensuring a just transition for impacted workers.”

“Newark is ground zero for climate change,” said Kim Gaddy, environmental justice organizer for the South Ward Environmental Alliance. Port of Newark activities involve 8,000 trucks emitting diesel fumes daily, on top of constant aircraft and car traffic at one of the nation’s busiest airports, amid clouds of smoke from a regional trash incinerator, she stated. “It poisons our children now… We need zero emissions at the port now.” She noted that technology exists to switch trucks and cars to electric battery power.

“The draft plan ignores that we are already facing a climate emergency,” added Paula Rogovin, an organizer of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition. Air quality in northern New Jersey was so bad from ground-level ozone this summer that the state issued repeated health warnings, she noted.

In response to the grassroots campaign, state Senator Loretta Weinberg issued a statement to the news media last week announcing that she and Assemblyman John McKeon have “introduced a resolution urging the governor to impose a moratorium on fossil fuel projects in the state. There is no reason to build new fossil-fuel guzzling infrastructure in 2019. We must start taking responsibility for our future today—there is no time to waste.”

For more information:

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Protesting Concentration Camps

Protest demonstration in Elizabeth, NJ
(photo/Jan Barry)

Americans don’t usually think of ourselves as cruel. But there’s no other word to describe our nation’s gulag-like prison system that now includes concentration camps for increasing numbers of people whose crime was trying to come to America.

Years ago, I met a woman in New York City whose family fled from a civil war by walking out of Russia in the winter of 1919 and made their way to America. Her worst experience on arrival was spending a few days in a dormitory on an island in New York harbor, which she fondly recalled for an exhibit at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

That is not the story of today’s emigres herded into barbed wire enclosed detention warehouses, tent camps like what Japanese-Americans were kept in as prisoners of war, private prisons run by incarceration corporations and overcrowded county jails.

“Holding them in cages where they die in custody is unacceptable,” Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill said yesterday at a protest demonstration at the Elizabeth immigration detention center near Newark Liberty International Airport. Gill joined hundreds of protesters, including families with small children, calling for closing what many signs and speakers called “concentration camps.”

"I can't imagine, now that we have a child, being separated, and knowing what is going on with the kids,'' Tina Jensen of Guttenberg told a reporter for Jensen and her husband Joel Garcia stood with their 2-year-old son, Ethan, amid an upset crowd of 200-300 people who filled much of the street in front of the immigration detention building. Elizabeth police officers patrolled crowd control barriers to provide a narrow passageway for trucks and cars entering and exiting a Fed-Ex and other truck distribution facilities.

The privately owned prison is set in a busy trucking warehouse area near one end of the main airport runway. Huge commercial airliners roared just overhead every 90 seconds or so, the sound so loud no one could hear the speakers.  

"I just don't think what we are doing reflects the values of this country,'' Naz Pakizegi of Montclair told the reporter. "Just thinking of the children, the parents, and the desperation that brings people out." 

When I lived in Montclair years ago, Brendan Gill was a neighbor. His younger brother and my youngest son played together. The town, like all of New Jersey, all of the United States, was full of people whose families came from Ireland, Scotland, Russia and other nations during troubled times. Why is it that people trying to flee hard times in Central America are treated as enemies?

Why aren’t we sending the Peace Corps to El Salvador and neighboring nations instead of perpetuating a history of military missions that created the chaos in Central America?

These are some of the thoughts I had as I stood with the protesters in Elizabeth.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Michael Eckstein RIP

Mike Eckstein at Secaucus Vet Center Art Group
(photo/Frank Wagner)

Mike Eckstein joked about his ailments as he talked about scheduling another round of surgery for spinal problems that left him bent over and unsteady without a cane. With a mischievous grin, he traded quips with Frank Wagner, a fellow Vietnam vet and multiple surgery survivor, at a recent Warrior Writers writing workshop at the VA Vet Center in Secaucus. But for the date with a doctor, Mike would surely have made the trek into New York last Tuesday with Vet Center art group members to visit the Museum of Modern Art.

That’s where we learned via a cell phone call that Mike had died in the hospital. He was 74.

Among other things, Mike Eckstein was a walking, talking encyclopedia of hard-earned knowledge about Agent Orange and its monstrous offspring, dioxin. A member of New Jersey’s Agent Orange Commission, Mike testified before government agencies, organized public meetings for vets and family members to speak about their health experiences and hear from experts on emerging information on dioxin health effects, and issued periodic updates on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans of America New Jersey State Council’s Agent Orange/Dioxin Committee.

To cope with his own health problems, Mike was a regular at the weekly art group that met at the Secaucus Vet Center. He created paintings about things on his mind, including Agent Orange spray planes, the Army truck he drove in Vietnam, and baseball, which he excelled at when he was young. More recently, he dropped by the monthly Warrior Writers workshop and wrote sprightly vignettes about memorable experiences in the military and as a kid growing up in The Bronx.

Mike often laughed that he got more paint on his clothes than on the canvas. A numbers guy who retired as a corporate chief financial officer, Mike could nail a spreadsheet but struggled with drawing a straight line. His artistic strategy, deployed by many of the paint brush wielding vets, was to paint over mistakes with layers upon layers of acrylic. The result was a vibrant rendition of a vet’s memory. Many of these pieces were hung in various art shows including at the Brennan Courthouse Gallery in Jersey City and Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck.

As noted in the Star-Ledger obituary, Mike was “the beloved husband of Susan (nee Segal), devoted father to Craig (Tricia), Matt (Jim), and Cindi; cherished grandfather (Elmo) to Danny, Maya, Alex, and Martin; loving brother to Stanley and also leaves many nieces and nephews.”

Some of his art work was on display at the funeral home.

One of Mike’s best talks about his life and the debilitating health effects of Agent Orange was posted on YouTube. See it here: 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Letters to the Wall

Veterans For Peace 2019 Memorial Day ceremony, NYC
(photo/Jan Barry)

Today, members and friends of Veterans For Peace are placing envelopes at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC containing letters to and for the dead to be shared with visitors paying respects this Memorial Day to the ghosts whose names grace that wall. The letters were written by veterans, military family members, war protestors, peace activists—all stirred to speak by the consequences of the endless, dinning drums of war—from across America.

Here is my contribution to this grassroots commemoration of what we’ve lost to war. I read it yesterday at a gathering of Veterans For Peace members and friends at the Battery in New York City. The event included a procession carrying a flag-draped coffin from war memorial to war memorial to war memorial. Around us swirled crowds of people from around the world boarding and departing tour boats to the Statue of Liberty. Battlefields where American soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and women in uniform died span the world. The names of all the dead could fill a wall beyond imagination. Just imagine the life cut short of one name. 

At the Wall in Washington

The Vietnam Wall is where the dead
Greet the living eye to eye—
Face it, your eyes
Staring back from the black marble
Framing a soldier’s name—
Your soul and his startlingly entwined

Jan Barry
US Army Vietnam 1962-63

Monday, April 22, 2019

Earth Era

A flock of phlox  ( photo/Jan Barry)

This Great, Green Earth

How often we forget the debt we owe
This great, green Earth:
The land, the food, the water, the air…
The mysterious, solitary parent of our birth.

From whatever speck of wet in the universe
Life may have come at first,
It is Earth that cradles us and sustains us,
To whom we are joined for better or for worse.

Let us walk this great Earth once again as guests,
Not as conquerors or even hosts—
For we are no more immortal
Than bluebirds or the continents’ coasts.

--Jan Barry
From Earth Songs II: Poems of Love, Loss and Life

Monday, March 18, 2019

Warrior Writers in Action

Sarah N. Mess and Jan Barry at Wild Project, NYC
 (photo/Omar Columbus)

It was a reunion of sorts. Veterans of various wars getting together and catching up. Instead of a bar, in this case the reunion was on a stage in New York City. Many of the vets have been getting together for years in Warrior Writers writing workshops, Combat Paper art workshops, theater workshops, stage performances. In many ways, it was like jazz musicians getting together to jam in a public place.

“Veteran Voices 2019” at the Wild Project theater in the East Village also included newcomers attracted to this eclectic bootstrap-art collective. The theme of a weekend of performances by five diverse groups was “Resilience.” The March 16 gathering of veterans provided just enough time for a rehearsal that blended into the 3 pm performance and an after-party in a fusion cuisine Chinese restaurant.

Produced and hosted by Jeremy Karafin of Poetic Theater Productions, the event was co-curated by J.A. Moad II and Jenny Pacanowski.  Moad, a former Air Force pilot, created the Veterans’ Voices Initiative in Minnesota. He performed his play “Outside Paduch—The Wars at Home” as part of “Veteran Voices 2017” at the Wild Project.  Pacanowski, a former Army combat medic, founded and is the Director of Women Veterans Empowered & Thriving and directs plays and poetry performances in Pennsylvania and New York.

On Saturday, men and women in street clothes stepped out of the audience in seemingly random sequence. Abruptly, in ones and twos, they delivered dramatic commentaries, poems, songs and a radio play, conveying stories ranging from World War One to Vietnam to Somalia to current battlefields that filled what had been a virtually bare stage.

Omar Columbus performed a poem, “White Marker,” about writing messages on bombs to be dropped on Baghdad. With photos of himself when he was a grinning Airman posing beside hand-marked bombs flashing on the wall behind him, Columbus recalled being haunted that his mother’s name was on a bomb that obliterated a palace building used as a military barracks and who knew what else.

Donna Zepherine quietly reeled off a litany of adversities in her life, including two Army tours in Iraq, the husband who left, and a baby who died on Veterans Day. Then she listed the veterans’ groups, college advisors, writing and theater groups who helped her regroup and build a career in social work.

“She’s Gone” is the title of a performance by Monique Arrucci on the experience of coming home from war in Iraq and being told by family members that the happy-go-lucky girl who joined the Army after 9/11 didn’t come home. Arrucci spun that stunning story into a song that tried to piece together her missing old self.

In “Veterans Highway,” a poem I collaborated with Sarah Mess on, Sarah did a rap on vets’ home front experiences, weaving in her interactions with other vets forming informal support networks:

No Yellow Ribbon Brigade on the 9th floor East Orange VA cancer ward
No Star Spangled red, white and football field blue cheers
For a little boy of 19 contaminated by war for almost 50 years
Lonely old vet rotting in a VA hospital…
Pick line feeding tube, chemo on drip…
Final days spent alone in an abandonment haze…

my mind on mefloquine
mefloquine on my mind
left behind…left behind…no veteran left behind…
the flags flying in Uncle Sam’s yard can’t cover
up the lies
steaming with burn pits, depleted uranium, agent orange,
toxic degreaser dirty water, lariam poisoning, anthrax shots…
where are the forget me nots for
vets losing body and mind…
called crazy to cover the lies…
old vet motto is “deny till we die”
support the troops but leave the vets behind

I read selections from my new poetry collection, Earth Songs II: Poems of Love, Loss and Life. One poem had particular significance for me to read at that location. It was about memories of a fellow member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Jeff Sharlet, who died young, not long after the last time I saw him when I lived in an East Village apartment near this theater.

Invisible Wounds

For Jeff Sharlet, 1942-1969
Editor, Vietnam GI

I still see
You striding, urgently
Looking for me that day,
Pushing through the
Crowd on East Seventh Street
Milling at the park full of hippies
And squads of cops—
My first instinct was to duck
And escape your intensity,
I was already burning out
Protesting that damn war
We fought in—what more
Did you want of me—
What more could I say
About that sucker?

Was that the last time
I saw you? Spring 1968?
Cancer took you not long after,
At age 27,
I read in a daze
Far from the clashing crowds
Of hippies, cops and war protesters,
Trying yet again to make a new life—
I had no idea, Jeff,
The war was literally burning
You up inside.

The wrap up piece was an ensemble presentation of segments of a play titled “Porch Sessions: The Girls of Iraq,” written by Jenny Pacanowski, spoken with descriptive stage directions as though on the radio. It conveys the thoughts of a young woman, a war-whiplashed Army medic, who goes to a fancy salon and has flashbacks to events in Iraq, including convoy duty where she was the driver of a medical vehicle and, with other female soldiers and an inexperienced male captain, a frontline fighter when the convey came under attack.

Over the years, I’ve interacted with many of the veterans who staged this memorable event in various writing, art and theater workshops and previous performances. The creativity and camaraderie are always amazing. Their resilience is inspiring.

For more information:

Friday, March 15, 2019

Renewal Energy Sierra Club Campaign

Across the United States, dozens of municipalities have officially set a goal of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. These include Atlanta, Georgia; Kansas City, Missouri; and Washington, DC. Nearly a dozen counties in several states have taken this action, as well as the states of Hawaii and California.

Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania is the latest community to sign up for the 100 percent renewable energy campaign, promoted by the Sierra Club. The board of supervisors voted unanimously last night to support a Ready for 100 resolution, local activists Lou Ann Merkle and Michael Gillen reported on Facebook.

“Congratulations to our Whitemarsh Township for joining 100 other U.S. cities and towns resolved to transition to 100% Renewable Energy!” Merkle, an artist and teacher, wrote. “It was exhilarating to work with so many wonderful, skilled colleagues/friends on our Whitemarsh Township Environmental Advisory Board and staff, and in the Montco Ready for 100 leaders group.”

Gillen, a retired history professor and author, lauded Merkle’s skills in presenting the proposed plan to the governing body. “Lou Ann Merkle made the pitch. The unanimous vote for approval by the supervisors was followed [by] cheering and hugs, understanding of work ahead, and hope for the future.”

Despite Facebook’s notable negative impact on American society of enabling nasty concocted rumors, deliberate misinformation, political hack attacks, and creepy personally targeted ads, activists have found it quite useful for organizing local to national campaigns.

The Sierra Club and its state and local chapters have Facebook pages followed by substantial numbers of people. The national Sierra Club Facebook page is currently congratulating Monona, Wisconsin for joining the Ready for 100 campaign.  

“On Monday, March 4, Monona City Council unanimously passed a resolution to commit the City to 100% clean, renewable electricity community-wide by 2040 and for all energy sectors, including heat and transportation, by 2050,” the Sierra Club page announced. “Monona joins Madison, Eau Claire, and Middleton as the 4th #ReadyFor100 city in Wisconsin, and is the 3rd city powered by Madison Gas & Electric to commit to 100% clean, renewable energy!”

And in case you missed it on the missing-in-action mainstream news, the Sierra Club Facebook page reported that New Mexico’s legislature recently passed “a historic bill that will transition all electricity generation 100% carbon-free by 2045! Pending Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's signature on the bill, New Mexico will join California and Hawaii as the 3rd state in the U.S. to set a 100% carbon-free electricity mandate.”

More than 22,000 people liked that post and more than 500 Facebook readers shared it. Besides sharing photos of babies, pets and smiley selfies, many activists throw into the mix notices of campaigning so babies, pets and life on Earth have a better shot at a healthy future.

For more information: