Thursday, October 25, 2012

Barry O’Bama, Republicanocrat

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

If Barry O’Bama were a registered Republican, Republicans would be hailing him as a brilliant commander-in-chief who took out Osama bin Laden, sent in the Marines to spearhead a military surge in Afghanistan, saved Wall Street, Main Street and the American automobile-SUV-and-pickup-truck industry from bankruptcy, stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel in the face of threats from Iran, and created an economically sound, bipartisan, public-private partnership based on the pioneering state health care plan formulated by that rock-ribbed compassionate conservative, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
The irony of the 2012 presidential election campaign is that Barack Obama’s record as president is more Republican than it is stereotypically Democratic. Like Eisenhower’s pledge to end the stalemated war in Korea, Obama vowed to end the war in Iraq and did so. Like Nixon’s diplomatic coup in traveling to Communist China, Obama deftly undercut dictators in Egypt and Libya. Like Teddy Roosevelt’s nurturing of national forests and national parks while thundering like a bull moose at the rapaciousness of big banks and oil corporations, Obama revived environmental protection and tighter regulations of big financial wheelers and dealers as national priorities.

Like Gerald Ford, Obama dutifully and thanklessly picked up the pieces of a recklessly war-waging, backroom dealmaking, self-serving presidency that crashed in flames—and pardoned the unrepentant crisis-makers, telling the nation, including furious Democrats, let’s move on, clean up the mess and work together to rebuild. Like Lincoln, Obama has tried mightily to hold a fractious republic together in the face of a fiercely anti-federal government, “states’ rights” rebellion on one side and a revolt by disenfranchised students, military veterans and disgruntled armies of the unemployed on the other.

In  contrast, Mitt Romney appears to be running to be CEO of America Inc. The former governor contends that government can’t do anything right including creating jobs, but that he can. In that case, as an experienced business executive, Mitt has a tremendous public spirited opportunity to invest his fortune and that of fellow billionaires to create or expand companies to hire millions of Americans to do good American jobs. With all that money, reportedly sitting in off-shore tax havens, what’s he need the government for to boost the economic engines of the private sector?

Mitt Romney likes to invoke the genial ghost of Ronald Reagan. Unlike Romney’s bellicose stance regarding Iran, however, the former California governor knew how to diffuse an international crisis involving threats and worries over nuclear weapons, reaching out to adversaries. Like Reagan, who went to Moscow to embrace Gorbachev in Red Square and end the Cold War, Obama has traveled far and wide to offer his hand in friendship to nations in turmoil, and also to our tumultuous, politically-divided, culturally warring states. It’s time for Republicans of good will to bury the animosity driving the debilitating Cold War at home that has so disastrously divided Americans.   

Monday, October 22, 2012

Texas Style State of the World

I've seen the future and it's called Texas! That's the gist of how a liberal environmental activist, a conservative Congressman and many other folks described the Lone Star State at the 22nd annual Society of Environmental Journalists conference that ended Sunday in Lubbock, Texas.

Here's what the future looks like, according to an astounding variety of people who spoke with the assembled writers, television and radio personalities, journalism professors, environmental activists and industry representatives at the event, hosted by Texas Tech University. Besides panel discussions at the Overton Hotel and Conference Center, where I was a moderator of a lunch discussion, busloads of conference attendees fanned out from Lubbock across the Texas plains to see various places and issues first-hand. Here're some highlights of what they heard and saw:

  • There's plenty of water in drought-parched west Texas for oil and gas drilling and fracking operations, which use substantial amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack open shale formations deep underground, said an owner of an oil drilling operation near Midland, Texas.
  • With hundreds of cedar trees dead from drought, the water supply from the Texas hill country is in deep trouble, if the hottest and driest weather pattern on record continues, said a watershed researcher.

  • There's plenty of beef in Texas, to judge by the heaping platters of meat set out for the hungry hordes of scribes.
  • Food suppliers predict that "meat is going to become a luxury item within a year," said the manager of food services for scores of schools.

  • West Texas is "one of nature’s biggest working laboratories for agriculture, energy and water research," said the region's Congressman, Rep. Randy Neugebauer. “I think that West Texas can serve as an example to the rest of the country on how we can meet the challenges we face today.”
  • "We're going to struggle in Texas if we have a decade like 2011"--the driest on record for the state, said a former EPA regional administrator, Alfredo Armendariz.

  • Oil and gas fracking operations provide good jobs and don't harm the environment, said industry operators.
  • Oil and gas fracking operations are destroying the quality of life in a rural community near Midland, Texas, where many oil and gas workers live, said several angry residents.

  • "The climate is changing," but who's to say it's not a natural cycle, said the West Texas Congressman.
  • "The vast majority of scientists are telling us it's not a natural cycle," said the former EPA administrator.
  • In any case, Texas and much of the US just experienced two summers of record heat waves, which cost "billions of dollars in health costs" as well as increased deaths, said a public health scientist.

  • Texas is booming with oil, gas, cotton farming, cattle ranching and many other businesses, said several speakers.
  • The future may look like the past unless major modifications are made to the intensive farming practices amid drought conditions that led to the "dust bowl" disaster across the Great Plains in the 1930s, suggested a new Ken Burns documentary, "The Dust Bowl," shown at the conference. The film is scheduled to air on PBS next month.

Here’re some of the news reports that this eco-journalism spotlight on Texas generated:

“President of the Odessa Chamber of Commerce Mike George introduced Odessa to a group of environmental reporters in a unique way — calling the city the Clean Energy Capital of the World,” the Odessa American newspaper reported of the visit by a busload of Society of Environmental Journalists attendees.

“George then went on to talk about Duke Energy’s 95-turbine wind farm in Notrees and how it is the home to a 36-megawatt battery storage facility, the biggest battery storage unit for any wind farm in the world,” added Odessa American reporter Nathaniel Miller. Then he listed plans for a 500-acre solar farm. And then there’s the 400-megawatt “clean coal” electricity generating plant planned for next year with funding from the federal government and the Export-Import Bank of China that is “designed to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide it produces and sell the CO2 as enhanced oil-recovery, which will help companies bring more oil out of the ground.”

“Shane Leverett and his neighbors in Gardendale, Texas, are livid that their properties are now graced with tall white stakes, some less than 150 feet from their homes,” noted a reporter from, Bobby Magill. “Those stakes are signs that an oil company plans to come soon to drill their yards and ranch land in Gardendale, a ranching community on the broad mesquite flats between Midland and Odessa in the heart of the oil-rich Permian Basin.”
In contrast, Magill added, “Unlike Colorado, where the state regulations currently being amended determine oil and gas well setbacks, Texas allows cities to regulate setbacks and other oil and gas issues themselves. In dense urban areas, Colorado’s current setback is 350 feet from homes.”

“Brooks Hodges took over as general manager of Pitchfork Land & Cattle Co. last year in the midst of a drought and then had to deal with wildfire devouring 90,000 acres of native pasture,” noted an editor at, Chris Clayton.

“A group of journalists participating in the Society of Environmental Journalists annual meeting in Lubbock, Texas, toured the Pitchfork Ranch near Guthrie on Thursday as well as the Hale Center Feedyard outside Hale Center, Texas,” Clayton wrote. Here’s what they found:

“Drought recovery remains slow for cow-calf operators. There won’t be any official USDA numbers on whether ranchers are starting to rebuild their herds until January, but numbers earlier this year showed the Texas cow herd had 650,000 fewer head than a year earlier. Overall, the entire cattle herd in Texas declined from 13 million head to 11.9 million.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Death of a Poet

John E. Cowen, 1941-2012
A poet, at his or her best, channels the rhythms of life and death.

Somehow when we get ready
to put things in
order, we know
our time has
come …

("Getting Ready”)

That was the last poem in John Edwin Cowen’s latest book, Poems from Dylan’s Wales, a reflection on Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s life and death.  Just months after its publication earlier this year, Cowen died on August 23 at age 71.

There was no hint of this abrupt departure in Cowen’s vigorous poetry reading in June at his favorite hangout, Louie's Charcoal Pit, in his hometown of Teaneck, NJ. Amid a crowd of admirers going back to his years as a local school teacher and administrator, and more recently as an education professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Cowen signed a copy of his new book for me—“A fellow poet who I met at the Louie’s reading—June 18, 2012”—in a firm scrawl.

But in his homage to Dylan Thomas, the fabled poet from a tiny backwater of Great Britain who died at 39 in New York, Cowen channeled death’s realm.

In the grayest bay on the grayest day
            the grayest seagulls sing
their grayest shrieking song
            to my grayest grayest ring-
ing bell to toll

(“Gray Gray Swansea Bay”)

Earlier in his visit to Thomas’s hometown during the 2011 International Poetry Festival in Swansea, Cowen made light of tripping on the steep hillside at Laugharne Cemetery and falling on the famous poet’s grave. But the poem turns macabre.

Once upon a time, I fell
            On Dylan’s grave: —
Upon his sea-drift songs
            Of his apple green youth
and mine. And, now, I, too, lay, me

            Down, perhaps to dream,
Perhaps to sleep, but more
            Content shall I now keep…

Until I hear October’s
            Raven: —cough up sticks.

(“The Day I Fell on Dylan Thomas’s Grave”)

He was pleased with the way the trip to Wales turned out, how traipsing Dylan Thomas’s home grounds inspired a flurry of new poems. He was delighted that two poets he met at the festival recommended his work to Anaphora Literary Press, which later that year brought out Mathematics of Love, a collection of Cowen’s poems that had previously appeared in literary magazines.

He was further delighted when Stanley H. Barkin, publisher of Cross-Cultural Communications, printed a handsome collection of Cowen’s poems inspired by Dylan Thomas. The book is co-published by The Seventh Quarry Press in Swansea, Wales.

As he turned 71, Cowen had crowned a lifetime of scribbling poetry amid teaching and academic administration work with two books of his poems appearing in tandem. He celebrated each publication with a reading at Louie’s Charcoal Pit. By happenstance, my partner and I decided to eat at Louie’s one night and discovered Cowen intently reading to a rapt crowd. We returned for his next reading in the restaurant, as well.

Behind the humble, down-home celebration was a life devoted to poetry. As his obituary in a local newspaper noted:  “John was the ‘Parnasus Literary Journal's’ first-prize winner in international competition. He published poems widely in major literary magazines and was a co-publisher of  ‘Bravo: The Poet's Magazine’ founded in 1980 by the late poet, Jose Garcia Villa. He was the editor of the Penguin Classics centennial volume: ‘Doveglion: The Collected Poems of Jose Garcia Villa’ published in 2008.”

You never know about poets, where they’ll spring up.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Winning Hearts & Minds Anniversary

 The Puffin Poetry Jam presents a 40th anniversary celebration of Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans on Friday, Nov. 2, 7-9 p.m. at Puffin Cultural Forum, 20 Puffin Way, Teaneck, NJ. The event is a benefit for the Warrior Writers program.  $10 suggested donation.

Readers include Winning Hearts & Minds poets Jan Barry and W.D. Ehrhart;  Gerald McCarthy, contributor to Demilitarized Zones, the 1976 sequel; Warrior Writers Nicole Goodman,  Justin Jacobs, Jennifer Pacanowski and Eli Wright; and guest poets Allen Hinman, Jim Murphy, Walt Nygard, Dayl Wise and Walter Zimmerman. Performers also include musicians Tamara Hayden and Raymond Daniel Medina.

Published in 1972 by 1st Casualty Press, a literary collective formed by Vietnam veterans Jan Barry, Basil T. Paquet and Larry Rottmann, WHAM debuted with selections reprinted in the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times Midwest Magazine and other newspapers and magazines across America. Besides hand-made paperback editions hawked at peace rallies, poetry readings, progressive bookstores, on street corners and through mail orders, a widely distributed commercial edition was reprinted by McGraw-Hill.

A WHAM poem,”The Longest War” by Jan Barry, appeared in A People and A Nation: A History of the United States. A novel by WHAM contributor Gustav Hasford sparked the war film Full-Metal Jacket. Another contributor, W.D. Ehrhart, recently published his 20th book of prose and poetry. Other contributors forged distinguished careers in journalism, education, medicine, law, government service, business and other enterprises.

“Winning Hearts and Minds touched the lives of thousands of people and made them better for it. It touched my life, leaving me with a permanent fascination in the power of words. It made me want to be a poet – not just a doodler or a hobbyist, but a writer. It opened the way to the life I have lived ever since.”
– W.D. Ehrhart, author, most recently, of Dead on a High Hill: Essays on War, Literature and Living, 2002-2012 and other works.

"WHAM was/is a labor of love built upon so much disillusionment and betrayal. WHAM captured the unreality of the WAR, as well as the reality of same. The words on those pages just leapt off the page and into the, ironically, Hearts and Minds of the reader. It was a very special project which for the writers and readers alike served to render a verdict of Colossal Blunder, in a Thunder and torrent of words written from the heart, soul and gut of the participants."
– Stan Platke, WHAM contributor


Monday, October 1, 2012

Remembering Paula Kay

Paula Kay Pierce, 1942-2002

 She would have turned 70 today Instead, she died of cancer more than 10 years ago.

I met Paula Kay Pierce at a peace march. She was my greatest supporter in transforming from bitter ex-soldier into a productive citizen. She became my life partner and made it possible in all sorts of ways for me to do my poetry and other projects.

My best response to the Vietnam war was conveyed in poetry. I found my writing voice in contributing to Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, which was put together and published at the Brooklyn place where Paula and I were living at the time.

 When she died, in January 2002, after more than 30 years together, my habit of jotting down lines and ideas for poems saved my life. I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and wrote poems about her and created a collection, Earth Songs, in which she was very much a presence. That collection encompasses poems on Vietnam and post-war experiences, including our life together and the immediate aftermath of her death.

I’ve since tried to write a sequel to that 2003 collection. Here’s a couple of the poems in that work-in-progress:


I can still hear
after all these years
you playing ragtime tunes—
ecstasy filling the living room

On comes a Scott Joplin tune
I can feel you in the room—
fingers flying, souls soaring,
hearts attuned and dancing

So much joy, so much lost—
my heart still races after a ghost
after all these years,
ecstasy and tears

Paula’s Day

We scattered your ashes
On the Hudson River today—
Sorry it took five years
To do it, finally.

The boys came from LA,
Nik flew in just for the day—
Chris had a premier in Montclair!
All of us together, finally.

We went to Liberty State Park
On a sparkling spring day—
Near where we kept the boat,
We released your spirit, finally.

We scattered your ashes 
With rose petals on the river today—
Sharing fond memories of you,
Our family all together, finally.

We so missed you all these years,
And so we gathered today—
To release you in a river of love,
Together again, finally.