Thursday, May 31, 2012

Castle for Congress: A Marine Aims to Change the Mission in Washington

Jason Castle
 Voters in northern New Jersey have a choice this year to elect a very different and refreshing member of Congress than the usual incumbents. Jason Castle is a Marine veteran of Iraq who wants to quickly wind down the war in Afghanistan and boost reinvestment and jobs at home. He is running in Tuesday’s primary election seeking to become the Democratic candidate in the newly redistricted 5th Congressional District, which sweeps across the top of the state, encompassing much of suburban Bergen County, a rural portion of Passaic County and most of rural Sussex and Warren counties. That seat is currently held by conservative Republican Scott Garrett, who is seeking reelection. 

Castle gained a strong endorsement by The Record, the region’s largest newspaper, over his opponents in the Democratic primary: Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, whose governmental focus has been limited to parsing school and municipal budgets, and Diane Sare, a supporter of the LaRouche campaign to impeach President Obama.

As The Record’s editorial stated: “While Castle lacks day-to-day political experience, his personal narrative is impressive. A Marine veteran now working in the information technology industry, Castle served in Iraq and also on presidential detail as a member of the Silent Drill Platoon. Castle proposes forming collaborations among colleges, trade organizations and companies to identify where jobs in a region are needed and to then develop training programs to fill them. It’s a good idea.

“Castle may not be an expert on the ins and outs of Congress, but he is intelligent and persuasive. Democratic voters in the 5th District should give him a chance on Tuesday, although we wish Castle was now living in the district. He plans to move from Cliffside Park to Teaneck by the end of June. Nevertheless, we like the idea of a charismatic military veteran going against Garrett, who is New Jersey’s most conservative member of Congress.”

A 30-year-old New Jersey native, Castle is mounting a challenge to both Garrett and the grid-locked Congress over the federal government’s priorities during the past decade of costly global warfare capped by economic disaster at home. As he put it in a campaign statement:

“The United States needs to responsibly reduce our military commitments abroad. We can no longer fight wars without a direct mission or clearly defined objectives. These wars tax our servicemen and women mentally and physically and leave our country vulnerable to other threats. For these reasons and many others, we must end our involvement in Afghanistan.

“As a Marine, I know that we cannot be successful in a war where we are unable to define success. America can no longer afford to commit billions of dollars and thousands of lives to the vast and divided country of Afghanistan. We need to build roads and schools in America and pay down our own deficit. More importantly, we must bring our young men and women home to their families.”

For more information:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Environmental Writing 2012

Ramapo College, May 2012                (photo/Jan Barry)

Are electric cars the wave of the future? Why are bomb squads frequent visitors to a New Jersey business park? What’s up with both solar panels and natural gas pipelines spreading across the Garden State landscape? These are just some of the timely and essential ecological issues that 15 student-reporters at Ramapo College of New Jersey explored in the Spring 2012 Environmental Writing class.

Here’s a sampling of insightful passages on topics the students researched and reported in magazine-style final writing projects, which are posted on our class website,, along with a wide array of other eco-themed assignments.

“In April it was predicted that as the election pressures become more intense and gas prices rise, the president and administration may accelerate the review process and allow the northern leg of the pipeline to move forward more quickly. However, gas prices are currently in decline and have been for the past five weeks, as reported on Friday by the Huffington Post.

“According to the Los Angeles Times, ‘that day when hundreds of thousands of barrels arrive from Canada is at least a decade away, however, and much of the gasoline refined from Canadian oil would probably be exported, industry analysts say.’ ”
--from “New Keystone Pipeline Plan: What’s It Mean for the 2012 Elections?” by Lauren Haag

“Fort Detrick, a military base located in Fredrick, Md, was the main testing and research center for herbicides used in Agent Orange.  In recent years, area residents have raised concerns about what they see as a cancer cluster in the nearby neighborhoods surrounding Fort Detrick. Government officials deny there is a cancer cluster, although the state health department and a National Academy of Science panel are now taking a look at it.
“There is much skepticism as to whether the military will take any responsibility or admit to any wrong-doing. Randy White, the founder of the Kristen Renee Foundation, named after his daughter who died of brain cancer, has raised concerns about a possible cancer cluster based on surveys of residents of the area. White said that he had no confidence in the Department of Defense or a National Academy of Science review getting to the bottom of the issue in Fredrick.”
--from “The Lingering Legacy of Agent Orange” by Deshaun Mitchell

“You’re a devoted recycler. You’ve installed solar panels in your house. You drive a hybrid car. You have a homemade compost pile in your backyard. You live an eco-friendly life, and you wouldn’t have it any other way. But what happens when you leave your personal green kingdom for a summer vacation trip with the kids or a weekend getaway with your spouse? Do you abandon your green morals for a few days, or do you stick to your roots?

“Staying green while traveling can be a challenge, but in recent years more and more eco-friendly hotels have been popping up, and classic hotel chains like the Marriott and Hilton have been adapting practices that cut back on water use and air pollution.”
--from “Go Green: Eco-Friendly Hotels” by Diana Stanczak

“The students also found that vapor intrusion from the VOCs in the groundwater is a real threat to nearby buildings.  The area where the contaminants are found is right where a movie theater and parking lot are proposed.  This means careful investigation is needed to determine if vapor intrusion is a threat to indoor air quality.  Mitigation measures include a vapor barrier and venting systems.
“More suggestions include solar panels on buildings or in parking lots to reduce heat and produce clean energy.   Additionally, using LED parking lot lamps with special covers to reduce light pollution and in the long run, save on electricity and maintenance costs.  The use of native plants for landscaping was suggested, and not just for the bio-retention basins.  Native plant usage reduces water, fertilizer and maintenance needs, but also eliminates the threat of invasive species infiltrating the valuable wetland and riparian river habitat nearby.  They also stressed the importance of an efficient waste cycling program with the goal being zero-waste, which seemed to intrigue the members of the Environmental Commission and residents at the public hearing presentation.”
--from “Ramapo College Students Assess Proposed Mall’s Environmental Impact” by Barbara Bodden

“There obviously are serious concerns with the mega-million project, including damage to the pristine land--tearing through the Ramapo Reservation--and also the problems that come with fracking for natural gas for the pipeline. I wonder what is the point of reserving land if you’re going to destroy it anyway. Reservations are turning into layaways for companies. The same way department stores used to let customers put products on reserve to buy them at a later date, is what going on here. People and other businesses can’t build on this land. How strange that a gas-related project gets precedent over everything else.”
--from Tennessee Gas Pipeline Project: Why Is It Allowed in Preserved Parkland?” by Thomas Babcock

“The installation of solar panels in New Jersey ranks among the highest in the country and is set to continue to grow. Over the past couple of years, solar panels have exploded onto the New Jersey landscape. They were most commonly seen in multiple-acre solar farms, on rooftops, and car ports. But now they quite likely line the streets of your local neighborhood.
“Behind a majority of New Jersey’s solar energy projects is its largest utility provider, Public Service Gas and Electric (PSE&G). It is recognized by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) as the nation’s third most solar connected utility, ranking behind only Pacific Gas and Electric in California and Florida Power and Light Company.”
--from “Solar Panels Spreading Across New Jersey” by Joseph Pianese

“In a time where IPhones and fast cars are celebrated more than natural things, it is safe to say that humans have drastically affected this planet. It is hard for people to remember that we were not always the superior species to walk this vast realm, but that before us Earth belonged to the animals.

“Is it a scary statistic to learn that almost 99% of living organisms that were here when the Earth was created are no longer in existence. Every day, more and more of our beloved creatures are forced out of their homes and into extinction. Although oftentimes not a primary concern to most humans, there are plenty of reasons and statistics proving why they should be concerned.”
--from “Animals: Pertinent to Our Survival” by Alexis Lopez

“Last summer, Tennessee Gas expanded the existing pipeline from 30 feet in width to almost 200 feet.  In these areas where the pipeline already exists, specifically in the region off of Clinton Road, waterways were flooded with excessive runoff, motor oil and other fluids from bulldozers and construction vehicles used in the projects, and wetlands along its route have been contaminated, say residents who were directly affected.
“The Monksville Reservoir, which is the starting point for the extension, holds up to a billion gallons of water, and serves as the backup water supply during droughts for the Wanaque Reservoir. Approximately 3 million people are served by this water system. The plan is to drill under the reservoir, minimizing its impact to the water body, which extends 505 acres, and is a popular fishing spot.”
--from “Gas Pipeline to Mahwah Set Off Alarms” by Victoria Ahlers

“Over thirty years ago, it all started with just 12 farmers in a parking lot on 59th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. Now it has grown to become the biggest and most diverse outdoor urban farmer’s market system in the country. There are now 53 markets, over 230 family farms and fishermen participants, and over 30,000 acres of farmland protected from development.
“Since the creation of the greenmarket, the relationship between farmers and city residents has changed rural communities and urban spaces. There is an improvement in consumer health and people who are in need of fresh and nutritious food can get it through the organizations EBT/Food Stamp and Youth-market program. The market has also helped support immigrant farmers, educate school children and city residents about regional agriculture importance, provide an opportunity for medium sized farms, and influenced chefs and local eaters in one of the most popular and famous cities in the world.”
--from “Bringing Farm Life Back to New York City” by Vanessa Camargo

“Since the concept of environmental justice was recognized over three decades ago, the issue has been growing in size and importance.  However, it is still far from where it needs to be.  Environmental Justice issues are largely under-reported, and hardly ever show up in local, state, or national political debate.  This is because residents of poor and minority communities have little to no representation in government, and therefore have little to no voice.  
“As it stands now, environmental justice issues are all too often left to be discovered and advocated for by the residents of the affected communities and environmental groups.  In these cases, the residents and environmental organizations are usually up against large corporations whose financial status and sheer size give them the upper hand.  The fact is, the task of discovering toxic waste and other harmful pollutants in communities should not be left to the residents.  It is the responsibility of government, specifically on the local level, to protect the interests and well-being of its people; therefore, it is they who should be held responsible.”
--from “Environmental Justice: A Growing Issue” by Bliss Sando

“In most towns, the discovery of a misplaced military explosive would have been big news, but this incident in Edison went by without a peep from the media or government officials.  This was not the first time a shell was found in the ground below bustling Raritan Center. 

“They only found one this time,” said Lieut. Salvatore Filannino, the public information officer at the Edison police department.  

“Raritan Center is one of the largest business parks on the East Coast of the United States, and the biggest in Middlesex County, NJ.  It contains approximately 100 buildings and a daytime population of 45,000 workers.  Raritan Center includes several hotels, banks, a day care center, and the main studio and newsroom of News 12 New Jersey. So this issue of old munitions may affect all different types of people in Edison, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

“In years past, it was home to the Raritan Arsenal, a sprawling military base…”
--from “Bomb Squads at a Business Park: Another Day at the Office” by Richard Fetzer

“The odors have become more noticeable to Middlesex residents for the past three years. Some residents describe the odors as unpleasant, and some say the odors are not that bad. The overall issue that the Board of Health is concerned about is if these odors are safe.

“There has been no confirmation that the odors produced are dangerous to the residents, officials said. In fact, all of the products that Spray Tek converts are consumable products by manufacturers that are highly regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency.”
--from “Fragrance Company and Town at Odds over Odors” by Molly Rothberg

“I remember driving into Pennsylvania for a weekend away some months ago and seeing signs on every lawn in the neighborhood I was driving through. Each sign read “FRACK” circled and crossed.

“I had thought “FRACK” was someone running for office that no one seemed to like; my friend told me otherwise. He informed me what hydraulic fracturing was, but I didn’t believe him that these people were lighting their sinks on fire and so I had to Youtube it.”
--from “Hydraulic Fracturing: A Brute Enemy to Water” by Samuel Arnowitz

“Electric cars are beginning to become more popular and are said to be better for the environment. With the rise of this, it is important to understand what an electric car is, the difference between electric and gasoline powered cars, and if they really are better for the environment.”
--from “Are Electric Cars the Way to Go for the Environment?” by Amanda Daley

“The Ramapo River is a popular destination for trout and fly fishermen and a retreat for families in the summer. Part of the Passaic River Basin, it is the most populated river in Northern New Jersey.
“On the surface, the river looks to be in great condition and a safe haven for wildlife. However, looked at more closely, the river is heavily polluted due to commercial development over the last few decades. Also, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, industrial companies used the river as a hazardous waste disposal site.”
--from “State of the Ramapo River” by Luan Madani

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Healing from War 2012

Combat Paper art by Eli Wright
About 100 people turned out for a Saturday night event in April that offered no booze, dancing, live music or political speeches. The attraction was a display of art created from military uniforms and war memories.

The event—called Healing from War Through the Arts, at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, NJ—featured art and writings developed in Combat Paper and Warrior Writer workshops. As one of the curators, I took the liberty of creating a photo book of scenes at this remarkable gathering:  

 “Powerful. The one word that comes to mind after Saturday's Exhibition and performance at The Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck. Simply Powerful,” Dave Keefe, director of the Combat Paper NJ program, wrote in a Facebook message. “Thank you to all that attended. We have something to say. And when we step out on that scary bridge to express everything meet us half way. Thank you.”

This week, Keefe and other Puffin participants and fellow artists are conducting workshops and presentations in Washington, DC and vicinity at a national event called Arts, Military and Healing.

On April 30, the New Jersey Combat Paper program was featured in a PBS Newshour report. Here’s what Morgan Till, one of the PBS journalists who visited a Combat Paper workshop at the Printmaking Center of NJ, wrote on a blog: “The veterans gathered around the cutting table, shredding uniforms and letting the stories flow. An unburdening that is itself a catharsis many have sought and, before now, not found.”

The next step, Till wrote, “is where the veteran can tell their stories through art and poetry. The paper provides the platform, the larger community of veterans provides the confidence and support to undergo this transformation.”

The weekend after the PBS Newshour report, a small crowd of people from a variety of backgrounds showed up at the Printmaking Center in Branchburg, NJ to help cut up uniforms to be turned into paper and otherwise aid the Combat Paper program. Family members and friends of veterans involved in the program dropped by.

Plans were discussed about future workshops, art exhibitions, readings and fund-raisers. These include the events this week in Washington, a Warrior Writers reading this Saturday at the Nuyorican Poets CafĂ© in New York City, a Combat Paper art display at Teaneck, NJ’s Memorial Day festival, a poetry reading and fund-raiser at the Newark Public Library on June 9, and a We R One-sponsored motorcycle run fund-raiser in central New Jersey on June 23.    

For more information:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Vet Arts Profiled on PBS

Combat Paper art by David Keefe
PBS Newshour ran an unusual program the other night, providing an insightful look at the Combat Paper Project that I’ve been working with for some time.  “Finally tonight, transforming the wardrobe of war into art,” PBS Newshour anchor Gwen Ifill said in introducing this report aired on April 30.

“In 2007, a returning Iraq war veteran trying to make sense of his experience cut up his battle dress uniform and, together with a friend, made paper from the fibers. The Combat Paper Project was born. Five years later, in New Jersey, the project has launched a permanent workshop for veterans hoping to reconcile the good and bad of lives spent at war,” Ifill continued. "Here are four of them. Here are their stories..."

Besides profiling participants in weekly workshops hosted by the Printmaking Center of New Jersey, the news program added a slide show of vets’ art created in this project, blogs by PBS staffers Morgan Till and Teresa Gorman on various aspects of what they call “art therapy programs for veterans” and a creative way for war-singed veterans to “tell their stories through art and poetry,” a video tutorial on how vets turn old uniforms into art, and a forum for viewers to share their thoughts and experiences.

In an Art Beat blog titled “Veterans Changing the Arts,” Teresa Gorman placed the Combat Paper workshops in New Jersey into a larger, national context.

“The increase in the number of professional artists with military experience and therapy programs related to military service has been so pronounced that a new collaboration called Arts, Military and Healing states that veterans are changing the arts in America. The collaboration is a week-long event in May that will bring artists, art institutions and art therapists together with service members and veterans,” she wrote.

Combat Paper coordinators Drew Cameron, David Keefe and Eli Wright will be providing workshops at the Arts, Military and Healing event in Washington, DC on May 13-18, along with Warrior Writers director Lovella Calica. The Combat Paper Project grew out of Warrior Writers workshops and often works together in providing programs in various cities, on college campuses and at arts institutions, around the U.S.    

Here are hot links to the various segments of the PBS report:
Art of War: Veterans Shred Uniforms to Create ‘Combat Paper’ Artwork

Combat Paper: Veterans Battle War’s Demons With Paper-Making

Veterans Changing the Arts: Share Your Story

Making Your Own ‘Combat Paper’: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Photo Essay: Combat Paper: Veterans Repurpose Uniforms Into Art