Monthly Archives: February, 2015

Social Consciousness and the River of Lethe

'River of Oblivion 2', Ule W. Ritgen

River of Oblivion 2, Ule W. Ritgen

The River of Lethe was a mythical river the dead were required to drink from so that they would no longer remember their past lives on Earth. Sometimes it was also known as the river of oblivion and its purpose was to allow us to enter the domain of the dead without desire for our previous lives and without regrets. From a cultural perspective we might say our current news cycles and movies offer the same benefits.

Here’s an example: how many of us watching the largest grossing war movie in U.S. history, American Sniper, missed the conflating of Iraq with Al Qaeda and 9/11? Director Clint Eastwood had no problem compressing time and leaping directly from 9/11 to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), eliminating years of history in a single scene. This handy amnesic device allowed U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper in the movie) to announce his unvarnished conviction that he is protecting US soldiers and fighting Islamic evil by shooting Iraqis defending their country against our occupation. Since no mention is made that we were, in fact, an occupying force, there is no ethical dilemma—and frankly no real drama. The story Eastwood tells is a convenient fairy tale, but it hardly touches on the realities during our invasion of Iraq for the Iraqis, or the Americans, for that matter.

Neither is any mention made of the actual cause celebre for the war, those curiously disappearing WMD, but as with the inconvenience of labeling our troops as occupiers, rather than liberators, so too with this omission. No WMD found, no problem. We’ll draw a line straight from airplanes flying into the trade center towers to an American sniper taking out an Iraqi kid and the intervening years of protests to prevent the war, the millions around the world who marched against the reckless adventure won’t even get a historical footnote—much less a short scene in the movie, which, given Americans memory and lackluster appetite for historical accuracy may be the only history lesson they receive.

There are more complex historical problems should we have the patience to learn them. How many folks know, for example, that Saddam Hussein worked for the CIA in 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with assassinating then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim? Or for that matter how many realize that on November 1, 1983, the secretary of state, George Shultz, was passed intelligence reports of “almost daily use of CW [chemical weapons]” by Iraq and that despite this, 25 days later, Ronald Reagan signed a secret order instructing the administration to do “whatever was necessary and legal” to prevent Iraq losing the war to Iran. In December of that same year, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld was hired by President Reagan to serve as a Middle East troubleshooter. Mr. Rumsfeld met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and passed on the US willingness to help his regime by whatever means necessary, even if that meant turning a blind eye toward the use of chemical weapons against Iran. The US was also willing to restore full diplomatic relations. A few decades later, we used the threat of those same chemical weapons to invade Iraq and fracture the country along underlying sectarian lines like a frag grenade. All of which, by the way, was predictable and was predicted by Middle Eastern scholars like Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, whose opinions were actively ignored. To this day, it’s doubtful if the leading luminaries of that invasion (Bush and Cheney, et. al.) understand the distinction between Sunni and Shiite and the circle of hell they unleashed with their arbitrary invasion. Certainly, they make no amends for the useless carnage of either Americans or Iraqis, or the billions wasted in destroying that nation on the pretense of fearing Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, which, a few decades earlier, we were happy to ignore.

Now, a decade in the future of these events, Eastwood offers us a breathtaking look at the war through the eyes of a sniper employed by the Empire’s army without apologies or reference to our long history in that region. And naturally, Americans being Americans with little or no interest in their own history or their place in the world are enthralled by this new wounded hero project. It’s an infantile cycle that is surprisingly resilient through our successful and less successful adventures at home and abroad. We saw the same pattern in ‘remembering’ our role in Vietnam. It turns out there is a simple formula for resolving conflicts that leaves millions dead and wastes billions in treasure: focus on us, not them. Agree that the war is primarily an American tragedy. As Christian Appy puts it in referring to our so-called Vietnam syndrome in a recent Nation article, “Stop worrying about the damage Americans had inflicted on Vietnam and focus on what we had done to ourselves. […] the war had been disastrous mainly because it had weakened an American sense of pride and patriotism.”

“…our own veterans were the greatest victims of the war and their wounds were largely a consequence of their shabby treatment by antiwar protesters upon returning from the battle zone to an unwelcoming home front. Indeed, it became an article of faith that the most shameful aspect of the Vietnam War was the nation’s failure to embrace and honor its returning soldiers.”

Thus, those who worked so hard to prevent and stop the war become the focal point of blame for its failure.


Hannah Arendt once wrote that the totalitarian government always starts by colonizing the individual’s imagination. In her book on Eichmann, she notes that Eichmann had done evil not because he had a sadistic will to do so, nor because he had been deeply infected by the bacillus of anti-Semitism, but because he failed to think through what he was doing. His thoughtlessness, his lack of imagination allowed the Nazis to carry out their murderous tasks. The phrase she coined to describe this was the ‘banality of evil’. It encompasses two things really: that evil itself can be found in the most mundane and daily tasks of our lives, that it isn’t necessarily represented solely in the black mask of Saddam Hussein or the stink of his torture chambers, or in the sights of Chris Kyle’s rifle. The other notion is that evil can be passive as well as active, that it isn’t limited to the actions of Nazi generals and can include political hacks as well as bureaucratic functionaries, in other words, evil can be systemic; it can flow out of career climbing and intellectual sloth as much as malevolence and action. In Arendt’s view, when a country or nation commits a horrendous crime, we are all on notice; all of us are in the driver’s seat to a certain degree.

This makes living consciously in the postmodern age quite the challenge and makes the desire to drink deeply of our culture’s river of Lethe all the more tempting. After all, if the Vietnam war was a mistake, if the Iraq war was a mistake, if we were invaders and not liberators, if our soldiers were reviled and not embraced by the Iraqis or Vietnamese, doesn’t that make us essentially colonialists and occupiers? This is a painful recognition. Most of us prefer not to deal with it, though each of us bear some responsibility, too. Movies like The Deer Hunter show the physical and psychological wounds suffered by Americans because of the war, leaving out the horrific casualty count in Vietnam or the genocide later perpetuated by the Khmer Rouge that would never have happened without our massive bombing campaigns. American Sniper focuses on the wounded American hero as well, but it also rewrites history which helps to justify our actions. We can suggest, like Chris Kyle, that it was necessary, that we were just doing our jobs, protecting our ‘homeland’, securing our borders, keeping our neighborhoods safe and retaliating for 9/11. None of this is true, of course. But the point of the movie isn’t about getting at the truth, it’s about assuaging our feelings, helping us ‘get over’ Iraq, like we ‘got over’ Vietnam.

There’s a tragicomic YouTube that Adam Koresh has put together in which he interviews American moviegoers after they’ve attended American Sniper. They are all universally overwhelmed, teary eyed, or just silent and thoughtful.

“He’s a real hero,” one of moviegoers opines.

Koresh doesn’t let him get away with this simple formulation, though. What do you mean by ‘hero’? he asks.

The moviegoer suggests that he’s a hero because he’s willing to go to such great lengths to protect his fellow soldiers, and by extension, his homeland.

But, Koresh asks, seemingly baffled, weren’t the Iraqis also protecting their homeland?

The questioning, a classic Socratic technique, is applied again and again, frustrating the moviegoers’ simple assertions and forcing them to think, if for just a few seconds, about what they’ve actually watched, about the unspoken narratives they have unwittingly accepted as true.

Koresh is relentless. One woman gets so discombobulated that she insists that she will support our soldiers no matter what they do. Even if the war is unjustified, even if we are invaders, even if the Iraqis defending their homeland have a right to do so, she’ll still defend our soldiers and their mission.

But why?

Because they are our troops and I will always support them, regardless.

One suspects this woman’s reaction could be applied to quite a few of our citizens. I’m sure many good Germans at a certain ignominious points in their history held the same blind loyalty. American Sniper just makes it easier for us to be good Germans, eliding history, giving us a cause and effect that does not exists in order to present a more seemly version of reality in which the people we kill are incontestably bad; and our own motives in the Iraqi disaster are incontestably pure.

In Felix Cornelius’ Bumper Sticker Culture, he notes that during war, one way to jettison our moral precepts against murder is to no longer imagine your enemy as a fellow human. That’s one reason Hannah Arendt writes that in order to work, totalitarianism colonizes the imagination. War, too, is a kind of totalitarianism, as is the militarism that makes war possible, no matter how short-lived. It abstracts humans from their concrete presence, and replaces them with ideological representations and abstractions: words like ‘enemies’ or ‘evil’. In this context it’s not curious at all that the Pentagon has probably the worst record for using concrete language of any bureaucratic institution on earth. Abstraction and ideologies pour water into the river of Lethe. They help us to forget the human face, the quite simple human needs that drive most people. They let us kill another human in the name of an idea.

A friend of mine recently sent me a link that applied Jungian analysis to the September 11 attacks. One of the insights, perhaps not even that remarkable, is that during war, or the ‘release of aggression’, the feeling of justification is important and individual moral judgments tend to be swept aside to be replaced by group standards. Control then becomes external rather than internal; what is good or bad is decided by the group or the leader, not the individual. In short, the imagination is colonized. “We see this mechanism in all forms of political violence, witch-hunts, and the persecution of minorities and heretics. In a country such as the USA with powerful communications and media, there is a tendency for the cultural psyche to strongly affect individual attitudes.”

In a totalitarian society, one of the tricks is to keep control always situated on the leader or the group and specifically out of the hands of the individual. That’s what Orwell brilliantly portrayed with his description of group ‘hates’ in 1984–an externalized enemy –nebulous, un-locatable and ‘evil’ becomes the focus for all psychic energy and also, conveniently, is the source of most of the problems in their society. The focused hatred also allows for a pleasant comparison with Big Brother, for if the enemy is all evil, then Big Brother is all good. In a frightening way, this closely parallels another set of psychological behaviors that occurs in a war where each party tends to see itself as right and good and the other as all bad. Negative components of the self are typically projected onto the other side–these negative components are sometimes referred to as ‘shadow’ components based on Jung’s idea of the shadow or essentially the underside to our personalities: those disavowed or socially disapproved behaviors we are all capable of but do not do–these grow more powerful the more we deny their existence. When we project them onto others we actually give them a portion of our power. What’s always surprised me is how huge Bush managed to make a relatively inconsequential man–Osama Bin Laden. With the pursuit of Saddam Hussein, it’s as though our nation had projected all its negative, disavowed behaviors onto the face of one man, an ex-CIA thug with a fondness for fuchsia, apparently.


Our enemy du jour is ISIS. ISIS or the Islamic State is an outgrowth from our failed adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan, known principally in the West for its unseemly habit of beheading its enemies, a practice our longtime ally, Saudi Arabia, still happily employs. It is also ruthless, wealthy and growing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but ISIS in many ways shares attributes with our own endeavors. It is media savvy (at least in terms of their constituency), more than willing to sacrifice civilians in their various causes and concerned with making money while they make war.

The fact that ISIS is an outgrowth of AQI that would never have existed if we had not invaded Iraq does not seem to be understood. Here’s a short primer: AQI was a direct response to the invasion of Iraq and the disbanding of the Ba’athist leadership—military and otherwise– under Saddam consisting mostly of Sunnis. Maliki, a Shi’a or Shiite was appointed leader of Iraq, a move that dramatically heightened sectarian tensions and led to the civil war that ravaged Iraq along Sunni/Shiite lines. Ex-Baathist took up arms against both the US occupation and Maliki leadership of Iraq. AQI morphed into ISIS that now wishes to proclaim an Islamic caliphate across a large swath of the Middle East and portions of the Balkan states and Spain.

The details of this morphing are instructive. CBS News recently traced the formation of ISIS back to a U.S. military prison in Iraq, Camp Bucca, one of the largest, and one of the toughest, American prisons in Iraq. As the civil war/insurgency raged across the country, Bucca’s numbers swelled. And according to a CBS News investigation, at least 12 of the top leaders of ISIS served time at Camp Bucca, including the man who would become the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

U.S. officials who worked at Bucca told CBS that they were concerned that prisoners were becoming radicalized. The prison has been described as “a pressure cooker for extremism.”

“An unexpected and powerful alliance was formed between the Islamic extremists and the Ba’athists loyal to Saddam Hussein, who were angry at losing power.” It was a marriage of convenience.

“You put them together and you get a mixing of organized military discipline with highly motivated, highly active ideological fervor, and the result is what we have today,” said Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer who spent time in Iraq and who know works with the Soufan group.

“I mean, there were other circumstances, but the toxic brew of Bucca started this recipe.”

“I think it’s undeniable that one of the main causes of ISIS’s explosive growth after 2010 was Bucca. It’s where they met, it’s where they planned.”

“Everybody could see what was happening but nobody could do anything about it,” Skinner said.

In fact, western publications are speculating that ISIS is so efficient militarily precisely because they are led by ex-Ba’athist officers.

But ISIS is different from AQI in one important sense. It has captured ground and held it, and already claimed a de facto caliphate reaching from Syria to Iraq. Graeme Wood, writing in the Atlantic about ISIS notes that what was once best described as an insurgent fighting force might now be more accurately described as an army. “Within the region, around 56 million people must navigate between the armies of the rival militias, warlords and national armies that are barely distinguishable from one another.” They may not be overjoyed with the resulting sharia law under ISIS, but they can at least enjoy some stability.

The sad part is none of this had to happen. If you take a map of Baghdad in, say, 2002, it’s a mixed city: Sunni and Shi’a are living in the same neighborhoods, they’re intermarried. As Noam Chomsky put it, the relationships between the religions at that time were “like knowing whether your friends are in one Protestant group or another Protestant group. There were differences but it was not hostile. For a couple of years both sides were saying: there will never be Sunni-Shi’a conflicts. We’re too intermingled in the nature of our lives, where we live, and so on. By 2006 there was a raging war. That conflict spread to the whole region. By now, the whole region is being torn apart by Sunni-Shi’a conflicts.”

Historically, Saudi Arabia’s peculiarly strict version of Islam, Wahhabi Salafism is what lies underneath Al Qaeda and ISIS ideology: a kind of fundamental Islam on steroids. Think of the Christian Identity movement or the Dominionist who still cling to a belief in the ‘end times.’ How did this cult-like tribal strain of Islam become so powerful? Oil money, and enthusiastic Western support. Britain, before the US, had typically preferred radical Islamism to secular nationalism. Better a radicalized version of Islam that approaches fascism than a self-determining nationalist state—much easier to control and you don’t have to worry about the unseemly socialist occasionally getting elected—like Mossadegh in Iran, Nasser in Egypt or Qasim in Iraq—many of whom were disposed by Western agents, either through revolution or assassination. And when the US took over, it essentially took the same stand that Britain had. Now Saudi Arabia is the most radical Islamic state in the world. It makes Iran look like a tolerant, modern country by comparison, and, of course, the secular parts of the Arab Middle East even more so. The brand of Islam it subscribes to, Salafism also, not incidentally, zealously proselytizes. Saudi Arabia uses its huge oil resources to promulgate strict Islamic doctrines throughout the region as well, establishing schools, mosques, clerics, all over the place, from Pakistan to North Africa. ISIS also provides such services as it expands its geographic hold imposing their harsh version of Islam on the areas they conquer.

One other thing. Like their Christian fundamentalist counterparts, ISIS followers believe fervently in the “end times.” They believe that their activities will help bring the end times on, and they are quite eager to embrace their oblivion for the better glory of their god.


In his Atlantic piece, Graeme Wood wonders what the appeal of such a cult-like religion might be. In answer he stumbles upon George Orwell’s famous observation about fascism:

Fascism is “psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.”

Nor, Wood adds, should we underestimate Islamic State’s appeal. “That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model.”


The River of Lethe is for the dead. For the living, to remember correctly, to see actions in their historical context isn’t just a minor convenience to be jettisoned when the story line requires something simple and familiar, especially when dealing with religious fanatics. After all, the Chris Kyle solution, bombs and bullets, will only reinforce their vision of divinely ordained mission. Malala Yousafzai, who famously survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban had this suggestion for dealing with ISIS and radical fundamentalism in general:

“The best way to fight terrorism is to invest in education. Instead of guns, send books.”

Malala was nearly murdered because she decided to receive an education in Afghanistan. Perhaps that’s not as “heroic” as Chris Kyle’s blind loyalty to a military whose motivations and raison d’etre he barely understands, but it’s considerably more effective in the long run. Certainly, ISIS would like nothing better than to fully engage the West in their determined lemming run toward the end of time. But their strength lies precisely in their ability to appeal to Muslims around the world who see in their struggle something pure and consonant with their faith. Should we give them such an advantage? After all, the Ba’athist officer corps that gives ISIS its tactical edge might be less inclined to march off into oblivion if they had a home and an Iraqi leader that didn’t promise to exterminate them. This was how we easily invaded Iraq in the first place, by essentially bribing Saddam’s officer corps. Our mistake was later to disband them without any hope for jobs or positions in our neoliberal’s version of Iraq, essentially guaranteeing an insurgency that has mutated into civil war and destroyed Iraq and torn apart the larger Middle East in less than a decade.

Just as important, Malala’s advice is good for the West as well. The first step in changing a course that has gone disastrously wrong is learning how we got there.

Waiting for the Man


Sissonville, West Virginia gas pipeline explosion sent flames shooting 100 feet into the air, melted a section of Interstate 77 and destroyed four nearby homes, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board said it took Columbia more than an hour to isolate the section of the pipeline where the explosion occurred and shut off the flow of gas to the pipeline. Photo,


There’s a great scene in Scott Frank’s Dead Again that summarizes all that can be said about addiction. Andy Garcia, playing a newspaper reporter, winds up in a rest home, crippled by cancer of the larynx. Kenneth Branagh gives Garcia a cigarette and then looks on in horror as Garcia takes a satisfied drag—through his tracheotomy hole. That’s the way addiction works. Faced with our drug of choice or death, we’ll take the drug of choice. The ever transgressive William Burroughs made a great point about heroin dealers that could easily apply to our energy industry. “The junk merchant doesn’t sell his product to the consumer; he sells the consumer to his product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client.”

Our energy industry has decided not to change its drug of choice, merely to degrade and simplify the client. Last week, the US Senate passed a bill supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline, which if built, according to founder, would be “game over for the Earth.” That may be a touch hyperbolic, or it may not. The vast majority of scientists think it’s a bad bet. Certainly it’s no better for the Earth than a junkie looking for another collapsed vein to shoot up smack.

2014 was the hottest year on record. All 10 of the hottest years on record have come after 1998. In 2014, several regions in the world smashed their heat records. California hit record-high temperatures. It’s now in the middle of the worst drought in history. Australia hit unprecedented high temperatures in January — and the continent’s so hot this year, that people are already frying eggs on sidewalks. Literally.

What about the storms for 2014? Snowmaggedon– that record level snow fall from Lake Erie? Strange, but sadly predictable as a result of global climate warming. Hotter temperatures cause higher moisture retention in the atmosphere and thus more precipitation—more storms. Parts of Brazil were struck by floods and landslides following record rainfall. The very warm surface waters in the Pacific Northwest during November fueled Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall anywhere in the world, which killed more than 5,700 people in the Philippines. And it’s not like these events are hidden or in some dim, chiaroscuro past. This is real time, with the American Senate voting to allow pipeline access happening on the same day California suffers through its worst drought in history and Australia fries eggs on sidewalks.

The Keystone pipeline vote was not a strictly partisan endeavor, by the way. Nine Democrats saw fit to join the pack. It’s like the loser kid from the suburbs who wants to be hip and promises to only shoot up once. We all know how that ends. Our very own Mr. Business Everyman, Mark Warner decided to enable the destruction of the planet so that he might preserve his good name as Virginia’s preeminent Wall Street lickspittle. The rest of the nine were fairly predictable votes. All centrist wannabes, with Bob Casey of Pennsylvania sticking out principally because his vote aligns him with an industry that has done so much to turn Pennsylvania’s water into a dual use commodity: part drinking water, part lighter fluid.


Speaking of Pennsylvania…apparently not one to be left out of this enormously bad idea, Virginia politicians have embraced the idea of an Atlantic pipeline that would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania’s fracking fields to North Carolina and Hampton Roads. The usual suspects, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy have joined forces to make this next environmental catastrophe a real possibility for areas slicing through the west and center of our state. Residents of Nelson and Augusta County have been fighting this battle and are losing steadily in the current General Assembly session because Virginia politicians, like their national doppelgangers, will have their next fix.

According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, Dominion has begun the process of enforcing a 2004 Property Access statute that guarantees gas transmission companies access to private property — even without a landowner’s permission. The owners say the law is unconstitutional; that it wrongly allows an invasion of private property by a private corporation invoking the authority of the state.

Dominion is bringing a lawsuit to enforce the 2004 statute against landowners in Augusta and in Nelson County, with lawsuits filed already against property owners who have refused access to their land. But six landowners in Nelson have struck back with two lawsuits pending in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the law. A federal judge in Harrisonburg will consider Dominion’s motions to dismiss the suits in separate hearings in February, but the bigger battle lies ahead as the partnership behind the pipeline seeks a federal certificate of need that would allow it to traverse the area in question, including the federally owned George Washington National Park.

How this will turn out will be decided in the courts. If the certificate of need is granted by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it will make the project that much more difficult to stop. But, one method of slowing it down, as the Nelson County folks are discovering, is to stop the surveys. Another is for citizens with relevant property to just say no, though that is more difficult. In Virginia, even if a homeowner still refuses to consent to the pipeline being built on their land, Dominion could obtain a land easement using a court order. Under the Natural Gas Act of 1938, pipeline infrastructure qualifies as “public use” under eminent domain. Therefore private companies can seize private land for their own profit with the assumption that it will benefit the public. Recently this notion got a boost in the General Assembly with a bill that achieved near unanimity in passing the House—HB1475. Dominion introduced HB1475 thanks to the diligent efforts of Delegate Lee Ware who lives in Powhatan and has received a little over half of his campaign funds from…Dominion Power. HB1475 declares gas pipelines and associated infrastructure to be de facto, “in the public interest” which is key to invoking eminent domain. HB1475 does a couple of other bad things. It passes the costs of building their infrastructure onto the client (Virginia citizen) and it stipulates that the SCC keep its nose out of any related rate increases. This bill passed on a 95-2 vote in the House. A companion Senate Bill SB1163 does much the same thing, stating, “it is in the public interest to authorize and encourage the expansion of natural gas infrastructure in the Commonwealth and to promote the use of natural gas as an integral component of a diversified portfolio of energy resources…” SB1163 was introduced by Senator Richard Saslaw whose top donor is…Dominion Power. He has received just less than a quarter of a million dollars from Dominion over the course of his career.

But it’s not like Delegate Ware or Senator Saslaw are special in this regard; nearly every member of the General Assembly of Virginia has had money handed to them by Dominion Power. In a recent Richmond Times Dispatch article, Jeff Shapiro points out that “The company [Dominion Power] has steered more than $800,000 to delegates and senators in the last fundraising cycle and $18 million to charities in the 12 states in which it does business. This allows Dominion to win — even when it loses.”

Shapiro then offers a little background on the power behemoth: “Dominion is run by Tom Farrell. His brother-in-law, Richard Cullen, leads the company’s law firm, McGuireWoods. It’s where McAuliffe’s chief of staff, Paul Reagan, worked. And don’t forget: Farrell’s son, Peter, is a Republican delegate from Henrico County. The 2004 property-access bill was written by Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Mark Warner”…who, we might add, most recently voted for the XL Keystone Pipeline as a US Senator and who favors the Atlantic pipeline. According to Shapiro, “His former consigliere, Bob Blue, is head of Dominion’s Virginia Power subsidiary.”

So there you have the political line up–not pretty. In fact, opposition at this point might even seem quixotic, if the stakes weren’t so high.


Should it become a reality, the Atlantic pipeline will cross through unstable karst topography, which is prone to sinkholes. This significantly increases the likelihood of the pipeline collapsing which would lead to the release of dangerous chemicals into the groundwater and explosive vapors ending up in homes, schools and business. The threat of pipeline explosions is very real — exemplified by an explosion in Appomattox Virginia in 2008 which injured five people and damaged 100 homes, and another that occurred this year in Kentucky, which sent two people to the hospital and destroyed two homes. Because living in range of a pipeline is both a threat to property and life, property rates will decrease and home insurance rates will increase. That’s probably one big reason the folks in Augusta and Nelson counties are fighting this so hard. How this is in the public interest according to the General Assembly’s vote should be a matter of some serious contention.

What’s worse in the long view is that the installation of natural gas infrastructure locks Virginia into an energy reliance that has no place in our future energy economy. That’s part of what leads to “game over for the Earth.” The construction of the Atlantic Pipeline, like the Keystone Pipeline, removes incentive for the necessary development and investment in renewable energy that would move us off fossil fuels, entirely. Natural gas is not an alternative to renewables, it’s more of the same, or worse. Like coal, it’s a finite fossil fuel that — while emitting less CO2 than coal — creates far more methane byproduct, which is about twenty times more potent. Methane leakage can contaminate groundwater supply. And fracking — the method by which natural gas is commonly extracted, especially in Pennsylvania — is a disaster for the environment. Unless, of course, you like ancillary earthquakes and burning water.


At the same time it pushes the Atlantic pipeline, Dominion is using the EPA’s climate action, the Clean Power Plan, as their excuse for jacking up rates without SCC oversight. Dominion is telling legislators that the costs of the EPA’s climate plan will be very high, but that Dominion is willing to absorb those costs if the legislators will just freeze their base rates and block the State Corporation Commission from reviewing them. We can thank Senator Frank Wagner and SB1349 for this travesty should it be signed into law. This bill would prohibit review of Dominion Power overcharges by the State Corporation Commission and would allow the company to keep those overcharges that in the past have been refunded to customers. Yes, Dominion Power is a top donor to Senator Frank Wagner’s campaign chest, as well.

Dominion is on track to score $280 million in excess profits for this past year alone. Yet our politicians –both Democrat and Republican- seem incapable of responding in some type of coherent fashion. On the conservative side, they could work to preserve private property rights. On the progressive side, they might try not to destroy the Earth. At this point, either of these seem like laudable goals. This isn’t just a right/left issue, after all. This is a who-has-the-power-issue, and it doesn’t appear to be the people or their representatives but rather a faceless energy conglomerate addicted to a dangerous product it refuses to kick.

To channel William Burroughs again:

“We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures, and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident, inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push….After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say ‘I want to see the manager.’”

But there doesn’t appear to be one.