Nader’s take on the banking crisis and how credit unions have avoided it

Here is a great article by Ralph Nader which explains how, for the large part, small credit unions have been shielded from the current credit crisis. The basic premise of Nader’s argument is that credit unions have avoided financial ruin due to their not-for-profit structure that inherently avoids excessive risk and dangerous leveraging practices. It’s a quick read that is clearly written and easily digested.


Wake up Freak Out! Tipping Points, Climate Change, and this generation’s duty

This video is amazing. Check out the original website here. This stuff is serious, and Im a little bit terrified of folks not coming around hard and fast enough. We should prepare ourselves, and our children, for a radically different future.

Going Up Against Big Coal in West Virginia On Cherry Pond

Mike is one of the co-founders of Earth First!, Rain Forest Action Network, and The Ruckus Society.  He is now standing with the people of Coal River, Mountain Justice, and Appalachia to say No More! to Mountain Top Removal.’


On Cherry Pond.
The first time I was on Cherry Pond it was ramp season, and I joined Judy,
Bo Larry and Ed for the much anticipated spring ritual, in which the tasty
wild onions are harvested and cooked in butter with potatoes. It was a
steep hike through rugged country, and from the ridge you could see Coal
River Mountain, the highest peak around, all the way up to Kayford
Mountain, which is no more. Kayford Mountain is now a huge pit, where
bulldozers, trucks and dynamite can be heard for miles around.

Larry Gibson, one of the most vocal opponents of mountain top removal coal
mining, used to look up at Kayford Mountain and thank god that he was
lucky enough to live in West Virginia. Now, on must be careful when
looking the top of a high wall; a man-made cliff that is perfectly

Larry lives on the top of the cliff and Kayford Mountain is two hundred
feet below Larry’s House. His property line is at Kayford Mountain by
default. Larry refused to sell out to the coal companies and has been
fighting mountain top removal for the last twenty years of his life.
Thousands of people have come to Larry’s to see how coal is really mined,
and few are prepared for the site they will see when they peer over that
high wall.

If you drive a few miles north of my house on Highway 3, you can look up
Clay’s Branch, the creek that leads to Cherry Pond. It is famous among
turkey hunters, mushroom hunters, ginseng pickers and bird watchers. The
people who live along Clay’s Branch are used to people driving by their
houses, some of which sit so close to the road that they could hand you a
beer as you drove by without getting off their porches. This is because
the holler is steep, and what little land is flat enough to put a house on
is usually right near the road by the creek. You can still see Clay’s
Branch today if you drive by, but you won’t see Cherry Pond Mountain.

Cherry Pond is gone.
Continue reading

Facing down terrorism in Appalachia

Below are the words of a friend Bo Webb, in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. He is fighting to save his home from the real Eco-Terrorists: corrupt regulatory agencies and mining companies. Send this along as you see fit. Its been picked up by Grist and Alternet as well.

Dear Mr. President,

As I write this letter, I brace myself for another round of nerve-wracking explosives being detonated above my home in the mountains of West Virginia. Outside my door, pulverized rock dust, laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground.

The mountain above me, once a thriving forest, has been blasted into a pile of rock and mud rubble. Two years ago, it was covered with rich black topsoil and abounded with hardwood trees, rhododendrons, ferns and flowers. The understory thrived with herbs such as ginseng, black cohosh, yellow root and many other medicinal plants. Black bears, deer, wild turkey, hawks, owls and thousands of [other] birds lived here. The mountain contained sparkling streams teeming with aquatic life and fish.

Now it is all gone. It is all dead. I live at the bottom of a mountain-top-removal coal-mining operation in the Peachtree community.

Mr. President Obama, I am writing you because we have simply run out of options. Last week, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court in Richmond, Va., overturned a federal court ruling for greater environmental restrictions on mountaintop-removal permits. Dozens of permits now stand to be rushed through. As you know, in December, the EPA under George W. Bush allowed an 11th-hour change to the stream buffer zone rule, further unleashing the coal companies to do as they please.

During your presidential campaign, you declared: “We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains.”

That time is now. Or never.

Every day, more than 3 million pounds of explosives are detonated in our state to remove our mountains and expose the thin seams of coal. Over 470 mountains in Appalachia have been destroyed in this process, the coal scooped up and hauled away to be burned at coal-fired power plants across our country and abroad. This includes the Potomac River Plant, which generates the electricity for the White House.

Mountaintop removal is the dirty secret in our nation’s energy supply. If coal can’t be mined clean, it can’t be called clean. Here, at the point of extraction, coal passes through a preparation plant that manages to remove some, but not all, of the metals and toxins. Those separated impurities are stored in mammoth toxic sludge dams above our communities throughout Appalachia.

There are three sludge dams within 10 miles of my home. Coal companies are now blasting directly above and next to a dam above my home that contains over 2 billion gallons of toxic waste. That is the same seeping dam that hovers just 400 yards above the Marsh Fork Elementary School. As you know, coal sludge dams have failed before, and lives have been lost.

My family and I, like many American citizens in Appalachia, are living in a state of terror. Like sitting ducks waiting to be buried in an avalanche of mountain waste, or crushed by a falling boulder, we are trapped in a war zone within our own country.

In 1968, I served my country in Vietnam as part of the 1st Battalion 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. As you know, Appalachians have never failed to serve our country; our mountain riflemen stood with George Washington at the surrender of the British in Yorktown. West Virginia provided more per capita soldiers for the Union during the Civil War than any other state; we have given our blood for every war since.

We have also given our blood for the burden of coal in these mountains. My uncle died in the underground mines at the age of 17; another uncle was paralyzed from an accident. My dad worked in an underground mine. Many in my family have suffered from black-lung disease.

These mountains are our home. My family roots are deep in these mountains. We homesteaded this area in the 1820s. This is where I was born. This is where I will die.

On Jan. 15, 1972, U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller made a speech at Morris Harvey College. He declared: “The government has turned its back on the many West Virginians who have borne out of their property and out of their pocketbook the destructive impact of strip-mining. We hear that the governor once claimed to have wept as he flew over the strip mine devastation of our state. Now it’s the people who weep.”

Our state government has turned its back on us in 2009.

Peachtree is but one of hundreds of Appalachian communities that are being bombed. Our property has been devalued to worthlessness. Our neighbors put their kids to bed at night with the fear of being crushed or swept away in toxic sludge. And the outside coal industries continue their criminal activity through misleading and false ads.

Mr. President, when I heard you talk during your campaign stops, it made me feel like there was hope for Peachtree and the Coal River Valley of West Virginia. Hope for me and my family.

Abraham Lincoln wrote that we cannot escape history: “The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”

I beg you to re-light our flame of hope and honor and immediately stop the coal companies from blasting so near our homes and endangering our lives. As you have said, we must find another way than blowing off the tops of our mountains. We must end mountaintop removal.

I also ask you to please put an end to these dangerous toxic-sludge dams.

With utmost respect, yours truly,

Bo Webb
Naoma, W.V.

Dumpster Diving, an Ethnography

Hello, below is an essay I wrote recently for my Ethnographic methods class. Its a craft analysis, analysing the craft of… dumpster diving, as part of the activist culture, focusing on Mountain Justice. Let me know what you think. Got anything to add?

The Dumpster Run, or, the Art of the Dumpster Fairy

“Hey man, you want to go visit the free box behind the grocery store?”, says the voice over the phone. “Uh…, tonight? now?”, I say “yeah”, he says, “like now-ish”. “Cool, I’ll call W, he wanted to come too”. Thus begins a dumpster run. A trip to glean from the trash a treasure. Within Mountain Justice and many other cultures, particularly those made up of individuals who, on one level or another, distrust contemporary, industrialized society, going dumpster diving is a weekly, or daily experience. On the surface and from the outside, dumpster diving is dirty, gritty, uncouth, and probably illegal, or at least should be illegal. But for some in MJ and other activist cultures beyond, dumpster diving is a reflection of values; it is civil disobedient direct action to confront the wasteful practices of Western society. It is enacting a whole system of beliefs about the world that are also reflected in the placement of a political advocacy sticker, in the cooking of a meal, in saving scrap lumber, in the handwritten sign over a lightbulb telling you to flip off the switch, in protesting on a street corner and writing letters to congressmen.  Dumpster diving has an ideal form, a cultivated art, and the instance of a dumpster run is a chance to connect the stories of a movement, to connect novices to veterans, to retell the stories of the culture and bind activists together.

dlf_largeThe end result of a good dumpster dive is a couple of organized boxes full of produce, fruit, bread, and maybe a bouquet of flowers sitting on the porch of a friend, or even better, on the porches of several friends. A well done dumpster run brings in a lot of food, but not so much that a house is going to be left with rotting vegetables everywhere. The ideal run is quick, quiet, nearly invisible. A well done run brings home really unique things, like children’s toys, or an 11 pack of Smirnoff. But in the doing of a dumpster run, a culture is enacted, a value system manifested. Ideals are expressed in action, and the culture is refreshed. Sometimes a dumpster run is a novice’s introduction to action in an activist culture, serving as an act of enculturation. In the process, stories and memories are shared, new shared experiences lived, and the web of affinity which holds a geographically dispersed movement together is thickened.


The right kind of gear is needed for a good dumpster run. Usually, and in the case of the dumpster run I observed for this analysis, it is a nighttime activity, and so flashlights are necessary. Instead of a two pound mag light, dumpster divers are usually going to be found with a fist sized headlamp in their hands (rarely actually on a head). Headlamps are small, versatile, and usually have LED’s instead of the less efficient bulbs found in traditional flashlights. The first question I asked when I met up with N to go on this dumpster run was if he had a headlamp.

Other important artifacts of the dumpster run cluster around clothing and physical preparedness for an activity that isn’t exactly sanctioned by your freeganinsurance company. Closed toed shoes, long pants, dark clothes, and gloves (if its cold or if you prefer not to have dumpster juice on your hands) are all common components of a run.

Dressed in their dumpster fairy costumes,the divers pile into a car, telling stories and jokes and catching up. Heading towards the grocery store, they casually turn the car to the back of the building, and cut the headlights, pulling the car to a nook near the big green “free box behind the grocery store”. As the divers climb up and into the dumpster, they start to harvest their finds. One or two inside, another waits out, as trash is flung aside and produce is picked out, and put in discarded cardboard boxes. The dumpster box is one of the most prolific artifacts in the making of a dumpster dive. The produce comes straight out of the store in these cardboard boxes, and is flung haphazardly into the receptacle. The divers duty is to find the least polluted vegetables, and put them back in their boxes. The box is filled, and handed over the lip of the thick green metal, and received by the diver on the outside.

Each find is shouted out as it appears beneath the pale light of the headlamp. “Peppers! Carrots! oh man, is that, yeah, ACACADOES!”. Another box filled, and over the top. Bread is its own artifactual category. As bagels, sliced loafs, french breads or croissants, bread is different from veggies, found in different dumpsters at the same store, the freshness of a 3 day old loaf different from that of a 3 day old squash.

One has to think though, about what this box, or half dozen boxes, will look like at home. There is usually more fresh-enough food in a single dumpster to feed 8-10 people for a couple of days. If a diver only lives with 4 others, she has to think about where this food will go. Boxes pile up. Food rots. Rotting food is a common artifact produced, though not universal nor ideal, in the art of dumpster diving. But one last, common artifact resolves and recycles the odious waste: the compost pile, and its eventual byproducts, compost and humus.


Words that are heard in the context of a dumpster dive are mostly simple. “They’ve gone for a Dumpster dive, or on a dumpster run,”  or, “the dumpster fairies delivered us a free box”, or “that bag has 10 avocadoes in it, but it also has a half a leg of ham. Eww, not worth it.” or “Freegan” are all words and phrases that litter the vocabulary of a diver. Freegan is a term taken by many activists in this activity, a combination of ‘vegan’ and ‘free’.  Veganism is not just a diet choice, but a political choice, one meant to decrease your material support for the system of processed foods and industrial agriculture, and increase your support for more just sources. Veganism is voting with your dollars, and Freeganism is voting by abstaining from dollars, by denying demand. Dumpster fairies, light and quick, run to the free box and return with the spoils, but only those ‘worth it’, those that are unlikely to hurt the health of a fellow freegan.


Different communities of freegan dumpster divers have a plethora of names for their art. Skip Diving, binning, skallywagging and urban foraging are spoken by other communities to describe saving a bit of trash from the landfill. Compactors and locked bins are names for obstacles and deterrents, cops are the folks that might tell you to get out and issue you a citation for trespassing. Score is the name of a particularly good find, as well as the act of acquiring a haul from your run, i.e. “what did you score?”. Dumpster juice is the byproduct of juices, water, grease and whatever other liquids seep to the bottom of a large dumpster.


Dumpsters smell. They are a mash up of trash bags full of receipts and rotting meat. Bouquets of slightly browned flowers, and thawing frozen dinners. But, they are not all putrid, and the smell of a dumpster, and the haul that comes from it, are important indicators of a successful dive. A particularly smelly dumpster is ‘not worth it’, likely to be filled with polluted meat. A dumpster full of fresh-enough produce will probably smell fairly neutral. A dumpster full of everything bagels will smell invitingly of everything bagels.

A haul ought not to be too big. Taking a hatchback car and three people, hoping to score enough food for 8, only a couple of boxes should be needed, and too much will stink up somebodies kitchen. Whatever the haul, it is taken home, and after an ideal run, is sorted by type of food, then devided for various houses or apartments, and distributed via dumpster fairies. This giving and support between the community of activists or freegans or friends or the needy is also an important part of the whole craft, part of the value of mutual aid.

For days a house of divers can eat nothing but free food. Incorporated into meals, into canning projects, into feeding large gatherings or meetings of other activists, dumpstered food sustains other rituals and experiences which further bind a social movement network together.

The dumpster run, is just that, a run. In the doing of a dumpster dive, one must be fast, quiet, sneaky (or casually confident and quiet). Laws vary by municipality, the watchfullness of police and security depend on the location. Dumpstering is an act of civil disobedience, an idea and value which resonates throughout the Mountain Justice culture. Breaking an unjust law, like that which keeps waste food and reusable objects under lock and key, is what is moral in a culture unified by resistance to a system of unjust laws and practices that level mountains to extract coal. It is rebellion with a cause.

Dumpstering also resonates with the common sentiment of reducing waste, of treading lightly, and reusing as much as possible. Dumpsters represent mountains of waste being buried in landfills, and to reduce that burden, and whats more to reuse it, is a cultural imperative. What is left over after a dumpster run is, ideally, composted, reduced, and reused as soil fertilizer to grow more food.

A good dumpster run is one that exhilirates, that empowers, that feeds and that connects the divers and the broader community that they are a part of. Each run is unique, and can lead to stories that are told again and again. A good dumpster run brings in food for several, and an ideal run brings in a diversity of goods, from new shoes to tupperware. An otherwise sober, straightedge freegan might drink a beer from a dumpstered 11 pack of Smirnoff.  A good dumpster run both feeds a hungry activist and expresses through repeated action some of the same values and beliefs which motivate her to protest a coal company’s use of strip mining for coal. A dumpster run may be the first direct action a new activist takes, but it connects him with a tradition, and with a shared experience, that initiates that individual into a community.

Civil Disobedience in Coal River

By Ben Webb

Yesterday 14 people were arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the site of Massey Energy’s newest crime against Appalachia. This action makes up a another bead in the string of bad newz for the Coal Industry this week, as well as an escalation in the campaign to save one of the most beautiful mountains in a range of beautiful mountains there in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia.

Billionaires for Coal Celebrate Dominion in Richmond

Fun was to be had today in Richmond, Virginia around noon today, at the offices of Dominion Resources.  About two dozen folks identifying themselves as “Billionaires for Coal” assembled  to ostensibly voice their praise for the company’s many coal-fired power plants.

Dressed in formal attire and sipping beverages from wine glasses, the group chanted pro-coal, anti-environment slogans and held signs expressing similar sentiments. In addition to rousing recitations such as, “Up with sea levels, up with profits,” the mid-day merriment included a live bluegrass performance by ‘The We Love Money String Band’ who frequently reassured their audience that they’re “only in it for the money.”

Addressing recent displays of opposition to Dominion’s proposed Wise County coal plant, as well as the escalating presence of anti-coal activism on an international scale, Stan Sneezley an alleged billionaire from Harrisonburg said. “I am insulted by all of these people talking about asthma and climate change and their children’s future. These people obviously don’t care about me and my money at all! I say if a few million kids have to wheeze a little for me to breath easy, then so be it! I’m rich!”

The theatrical display at the corner of 8th and Cary bewildered and amused passing motorists and pedestrians. Though the group’s signs and chants kept on message with the façade of billionaires celebrating their controversial investments, leaflets distributed to on-lookers shed a different light on the events of the day. Made to look like large dollar bills, these leaflets revealed that the demonstration was in-fact organized by Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!), the same environmental organization that twice staged protests blocking entrance to Dominion’s Tredegar St. headquarters in the Spring and Summer of last year. Citing coal’s role as the chief cause of climate-change among other grievances, the leaflets starkly displayed the alleged “billionaires” alignment with the breadth of grassroots opposition to Dominion Power.

Breaking character, Luis, an Earth First! activist from Charlottesville put it plainly, “Coal is dirty, dangerous and deadly. The public knows it and our political representatives are beginning to reflect our concerns on the matter. The one and only reason that companies like Dominion are still pushing for new coal plants is money. By continuing to pursue a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County, Dominion is saying that the wealth of it’s investors is more important than the health and well-being of that area’s residents.”