Thursday, January 30, 2020

Saving Remington Woods




  By Reginald Johnson    

    
   BRIDGEPORT --- It sits on the edge of the state’s most densely-populated city --- 422  acres of unspoiled woods and a beautiful 23-acre lake.
   It’s home to nesting eagles, deer, wild turkey and 70 species of birds.
   How many people have heard of Remington Woods?
   Not too many.
  “It’s Bridgeport’s best-kept secret,” says Lela Florel, a member of the group Preserve Remington Woods.
   The Remington Woods tract, with 347 acres in Bridgeport and another 75 acres in Stratford,  is owned by the DuPont Corporation. DuPont years ago bought up Remington Arms, which once had a manufacturing plant on the East Side, and tested its firearms at the Remington Woods site, located on the northeastern end of the city.
  The testing stopped long ago and the site has sat virtually untouched, except for pollution remediation carried out by DuPont, a chemical products company.
  Now, Florel and others in the group are sounding the alarm that Remington Woods may be destroyed, if a subsidiary firm of DuPont is allowed to go ahead with development plans.
  “Dow/DuPont with its spin off Corteva are planning to destroy the living forest community. They plan to build a road splitting it in two, a large industrial complex by the lake, cutting off wildlife access to the lake, and another building complex on the edge of the forest, which they call a research facility,” said Florel.
  There will be construction of infrastructure --- including roads, water piping, and sewer and electrical lines.  Florel estimates that thousands of trees --- many of them decades old --- will be removed in the process.
  “The forest is not an object, it is a living organism.  Destroying part will destroy the whole,” she says.


   
Remington Woods


  Recently, Florel and others in the group spoke at a City Council meeting, alerting officials to the environmental threat and asking for their help.
  They are asking the city to change the zoning of Remington Woods from industrial to one which preserves the entire woods. They are also asking that the city not issue any permits that would allow development to proceed.
  Dr. J.D.  Smith spoke of the many environmental and health benefits that the Remington Woods provides --- including holding carbon and controlling global warming; cooling air; mitigating drought; aiding in the physical and mental health of local residents; and giving off oxygen.
 He also noted that the forest helps to fight air pollution, which has been a significant problem in Bridgeport and Fairfield County.
 “Air pollution is a serious threat to our health and safety,” he said. “Bridgeport deserves clean air. Forest cleans the air.”
  Smith also commented, “Destroying nature has a terrible cost, but it never makes it to the ledger books.”
  Erik Kuranko talked about environmental racism in Bridgeport, and how in more affluent, whiter communities, nature is valued and people have access to it.
   The group also noted that Bridgeport’s 10-year Master Plan emphasizes the need to “Value Nature,” and that preserving Remington Woods will honor that goal.
   Florel says that a "win-win solution" is possible --- preserving Remington Woods in its entirety and using "the many vacant existing commercial buildings" in Bridgeport for commerce instead.
  
     

Monday, January 6, 2020

Protesting a War with Iran




      By Reginald Johnson 


   NEW HAVEN  ---  Scores of protesters gathered here Sunday to condemn the US airstrike in Iraq which killed a top Iranian military official, an act which they said could touch off a catastrophic Middle East war.
   “Unless the people rise up and stop it, this war will engulf the whole region and quickly turn into a global conflict,” said a speaker from the anti-war group A.N.S.W.E.R, which sponsored the rally.
  “For all who believe in peace and for all those who want to avert another catastrophic war, now is the time to take action,” she said.
   The rally in New Haven was one of more than 70 protests around the country which took place over the weekend, following the assassination airstrike which killed Qaessem Soleimani after he arrived at Baghdad, Iraq airport. Soleimani was the head of Iran’s elite Quds military force and considered the second most powerful person in Iran.



   President Trump said that he ordered the airstrike after receiving intelligence which indicated that Soleimani was planning a number of deadly attacks on American forces in the Middle East. The American administration also blamed Soleimani for orchestrating the killing of hundreds of Americans in the past.
  But speakers at the rally questioned the intelligence and said that Trump and other officials are lying just the way Bush administration officials lied 16 years ago about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction (which were never found) to provide a pretext for the invasion of Iraq. That invasion began a long and bloody war which led to the deaths of 5,000 Americans and upwards of 1 million Iraqis.
  “If he (Soleimani) was the kind of person they are claiming, he would’ve been taken out years ago,” said one speaker from A.N.S.W.E.R, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.
   That speaker also said that the Iraq War cost hundreds of billions of dollars --- money diverted from funding social services and human needs back home.
   Another speaker who identified himself as an indigenous person, reminded people that the land where they were standing on was once land held by the Quinnipiac Indian tribe.  But the land was later taken away by European colonial governments.
  “Just like the Quinnipiac people, the people of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, don’t have a say in how they are treated by this illegal, imperialist and immoral government.  This is what’s been happening for the last 527 years,” he said, referring to the landing of explorer Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in 1492.  Columbus’s arrival began a wave of European immigration to North and South  America and in the process the systematic decimation of native peoples on the continents.
   The speaker went on, “There has not been a period in the history of this government when it hasn’t been attacking some country around the world. Whether it is in South America, Central America, the Middle East,  Asia, the Philippines,  Puerto Rico, Cuba... this government is criminal and what happened the other day was an act of war and a war crime.”
   He then led the crowd in a chant: “Trump says more war. We say no war!  Trump says more war. We say no war!”     
    
   
  
  
  

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Building a Peace Economy





   By Reginald Johnson



   Unlike years ago, when Connecticut’s economy was diversified and there were numerous companies manufacturing a wide variety of consumer goods, today the state’s industrial base is heavily dependent on defense firms.
  Such companies as Sikorsky, Pratt & Whitney and Electric Boat make helicopter gunships, fighter aircraft and submarines for the nation’s military.
 But there are a growing number of peace advocates who think it’s time that we create a new economy based on addressing human needs instead of making  weapons of war.
   This Saturday there will be a discussion about this issue at a conference called “Retooling the Connecticut War Economy” at Middlesex Community College in Middletown. The event in Chapman Hall will take place from 12 noon to 4 pm.  The event is free and open to all.  I’ll be done with this pretty soon
   The keynote speaker at the conference will be Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace organization Code Pink.
   “What we hope to discuss is what things workers could build and what kinds of industries we might establish to move out of the making of weaponry,” said Henry Lowendorf, a member of the CT Peace and Solidarity Coalition, which is sponsoring the conference.
   Lowendorf said as the climate crisis is forcing our society to move away from fossil fuels, there will be more and more skilled workers displaced from the fossil fuel based economy and nowhere to go.  “This is going to happen….these people are going to have to do something else,” he said.
   As a result, it is imperative to create new industries where people can work. It is in the area of dealing with civilian needs --- building new housing, new infrastructure, schools, and green jobs ---- where opportunities will open up.
     “We have to make provision for what is going to happen,”  Lowendorf said, otherwise there will be a “employment contastrophe.”
   Lowendorf, also with the Greater New Haven Peace Coalition, said the funds needed to build the new industries should come from substantial cuts in the US military budget.
   “We have to cut the military budget. That’s where the money is. It is coming to over $1 trillion dollars on weapons and war every year,” he said.
  As cities like New Haven and Bridgeport struggle to provide services due to lack of funding, the Pentagon is handed huge budget allocations every year.
  Most political leaders, including members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, enthusiastically support the massive military budgets, because lots of money goes to local defense firms, which in turn spells votes and contributions for them.
  “We are making the argument that we cannot continue spending 69% of our national treasure --- our federal dollars --- on wars and weapons into the future. It’s just not sustainable.  We’re killing our cities and states and killing our communities,”  Lowendorf said.     
  
    

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Cut the military, fund social needs!


    By Reginald Johnson





    Democrats fight for a lot of good things --- steps to combat climate change, a saner immigration system, a more equitable tax system, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, ending racism and controlling guns. Check, check, check.
  But where Democrats keep falling down is on the question of whether to cut the bloated military budget --- a budget that dwarfs the military spending of many countries around the world combined.
 A number of  Democrats, including presidential candidates, vacillate on this crucial issue. They talk of possible cuts in the defense budget but don’t take a strong public stand on the matter, and sidestep critical votes.  Others actually support massive increases in the war budget, and back President Trump on Pentagon spending.
  According to an August 2nd story in the World Socialist Website, Senate Democrats recently gave strong support for a record $738 billion defense budget outline, a plan backed by President Trump.  Democrats voted 38-5 for the plan, which won passage in the Senate.  Self-described “Democratic  Socialist” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said previously he would vote against the budget, but did not bother to return to D.C. to actually cast a vote against it. Candidates Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and  Kamala Harris also were absent for the vote.
  Why didn’t they go back to Washington, blast this wildly excessive spending plan and cast their votes in opposition? These people are going around the country demanding that we rebuild our infrastructure, invest in education, fund health care and build more affordable housing. They denounce Trump for not addressing  critical social needs. But the huge amount of spending on the military siphons billions of dollars away from funding domestic programs.  In fact, the massive outlays for the military year in and year out make it impossible for domestic needs to be adequately addressed.
  People like Sanders and Warren have to know this fact. But apparently, out of fear they’ll be labeled as “weak” on national security or afraid they’ll lose votes and contributions from defense contractors and their workers, they hedge on the issue of reducing the Pentagon budget.
   Other leading figures in the Democratic Party are voting in favor of Trump’s war spending.  Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, for instance, voted in favor of the Trump budget.
   Also backing Trump's war budget was freshman Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has been in the headlines continuously for the past year condemning Trump’s immigration policies and calling for the president’s impeachment.  Her vote helped the House of Representatives pass the budget overwhelmingly. Apparently Ocasio-Cortez didn't care that this obscene budget steals money from domestic needs like education and housing, which are vitally important to the constituents in her mostly poor Bronx-Queens district.
  You expect Republicans to go along with sky-high defense spending proposals, year in and year out. You wouldn’t think Democrats would be so supportive.
  But they are, and this support undermines the promise by Democrats they will create a government that is more compassionate and addresses domestic needs.
  Democrats have to overcome this contradiction, otherwise they cannot continue to claim they are  “the party of the people.”
   The U.S. military budget is by far and away the largest of any country in the world and exceeds the total military spending by many other nations --- including China, Russia, France and England --- put together.
   Our military budget should be cut by at least 30 percent. There won’t be the slightest fall-off in U.S. security.
  Thirty percent of $738 billion is about $220 billion. Think of what that money could do for building new schools, new infrastructure and new housing.
  It’s time for Democrats to step up to the plate.
  Cut the military budget!  
 
  
  
   
       
       

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

City schools in crisis; kids at risk



  By Reginald Johnson
  

  BRIDGEPORT --- Is the city school system on the verge of collapse?
  Education officials are warning that if the school district doesn’t get millions more dollars than what has been proposed by Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, some schools will be closed and vital services cut.
 Already the over last four years, the Board of Education has eliminated 230 positions and slashed $38 million in spending.  Many services --- such as those provided by guidance counselors, social workers and the parents center --- have been slashed to the bone.
  Officials say that things are so bad that the state might be asked to take over the school system.
  “We will close schools,” said board Chairman John Weldon at a City Council hearing last week. “We will become a school system in name only. We will have buildings that don’t provide the very core services that they exist to provide. Why would anyone send their kids to a school system like that? The school system is being bankrupted. It’s insolvent.”
 Weldon was joined at the hearing by well over 100 school supporters, including parents, teachers and students, who pleaded with city council officials to fully fund the schools, which serve over 20,000 students.
  A second hearing will take place tomorrow (May 2) at 6 pm in the City Council chambers, 45 Lyon Terrace.
  The City Council is working on their budget outline for the city, after Mayor Ganim  proposed a $557 billion budget for city and school funding. The budget flatlines the city contribution for schools, at about $61 million, roughly the same amount as this year.
 But other city departments, including the police and city attorney’s office, are receiving increases. Ganim, up for reelection this year, has also promised city residents a modest tax reduction.
  School officials made clear they need a minimum of $11.5 million more from the city, just to maintain existing levels of service.
  According to state figures, Bridgeport contributes less money to local schools than any other town or city in the state. Bridgeport funds only 26 per cent of the school budget, while the state puts in 74 percent.
 Bridgeport’s per pupil spending is lower than the other largest cities in the state. Figures from the 2017-18  fiscal year show Hartford spending $19,916 per pupil;  New Haven, $18,381; Waterbury, $15,546, and Bridgeport, $14,241.

Hall School in the East End may close if the city doesn't provide the school district with more fuunding.


  City Council Member Kyle Langan, D-132, said the present situation is not acceptable. “What is the message in the numbers?” he asks. “Do we value incarceration over education? Do we believe that more police equates to a safer environment? Do we believe our children are not capable and therefore undeserving of an equal chance? Do we believe we are a lost cause and have no other option but to become a reactive community?
   Langan criticized the fact that police protection and other departments such as the city attorney’s office are getting increases in funding in the mayor’s budget, but not education.
   “When we remove the state and federal aid from our education budget, we as a city, contributed only $61 million to education (11 % of our budget) versus $174 million for public safety,” he said.
The police and city attorney’s office have received regular funding increases since Mayor Ganim was reelected in 2015, while the school board has received almost no increases.
    The city council member said that it was possible to come up with the additional $11.5 million that the school board needs this year. Langan said that if the increases in public safety and city attorneys office together are eliminated and the tax cut is dropped, it would go a long way towards coming up with the needed revenue for schools.
  “The question is, what do we value?.... We can make it,” he said.
 Langan also said that the huge amount of money the city spends on special education --- about $35 million --- can be reduced to generate more funds for education as a whole.  Bridgeport now sends the students that are in need of special education out of district for instruction.
  He said the city can work with the school board to develop a plan for teaching special ed kids in Bridgeport, and reap significant savings. “But that takes leadership,” he said.
  Several of the speakers at last week’s hearing also talked of values --- the paramount need to invest in children and their future. One of those was a teacher from Hall School in the East End --- which could be closed if the district continues to have a funding shortfall.
  “I ask you to look in the eyes of my children and tell them they’re not worth it,” she said.
     












Friday, April 12, 2019

Striking for a better deal at Stop and Shop


 By Reginald Johnson


   

    BRIDGEPORT --- Union workers picketed the Stop and Shop stores on Main Street and Fairfield Avenue Friday, urging customers not to shop there while they are on strike.
  “Don’t stop! Don’t shop!” workers on Main Street called out to people as they pulled their cars into the parking lot. “Please don’t cross our line!”
  The Bridgeport workers are among the 30,000 employees that went out on strike at 240 Stop and Shop stores in southern New England on Thursday. Company management is demanding health and benefit cuts and reductions in pay on some days.
   Stop and Shop is owned by the Dutch firm, Ahold. According to the union, Ahold made $2 billion in net profits last year. The company got a $225 million tax break from the US government in 2017.
   “They made $2 billion in net profits last year, but they want us to accept the cuts,” said one worker. “It’s not right.”
  “They’re bringing in replacement workers who are making $20 an hour. That’s more than I make,” said one veteran worker.


Strikers picket the Stop and Shop store on North Main Street

  One woman picketing outside the Main Street store in the North End, who said she worked in the store for 20 years, was bitter at the customers who still keep coming to the store, despite the strike. “They just walk through. They don’t care,” she said.
   As one customer walked through the picket line, one of the strikers called out “Why do you walk through our line? We’d help you if you had a problem!”
  But for the most part, it appeared that patronage at the North End store was down a bit from Thursday when the strike had just started. The parking lot was about one-third filled.
  “ I don’t know how long this will go on. The last time there was a strike it only lasted four hours, but now we’re already into day two, so you don’t know,” said one employee. 
   The strike creates a real pinch for many Stop and Shop workers. 
 A story in  the Connecticut Post quoted one of them, Chris Mauro, who works at the Stop and Shop on Fairfield Avenue in Black Rock.
“I’m a single dad,” said Mauro, who lives in East Haven but works in Bridgeport. “I got 32 years in and my son is getting ready to go college. I’ve always been faithful to Stop and Shop, but I can’t afford all the give backs.”
That includes triple their current contributions to healthcare, triple the healthcare deductible and a reduced pension contribution as well as a reduction of time and a half pay on Sundays.
“This is a very scary time for me,” he told the Post. “The company isn’t even talking to our union.”
  On Friday evening at the North End store, Channel 12 showed up, and so did the politicians --- including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, State Rep Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport and several City Council members.  All of them voiced their support for the strikers.
  Members of the Teamsters Union Local 1150 also came to show solidarity.
  
    





Thursday, April 4, 2019

Seeking truth in the murder of Dr. King



By Reginald Johnson




     As the nation marks the 51st anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, a  newly-formed committee of journalists, historians, lawyers, artists and King family members and advisors are questioning the official story about who killed the civil rights leader, and demanding a new investigation.
   The “Truth and Reconciliation Committee” has started a campaign to build support for a new probe into King’s murder, which took place on April 4, 1968,  as well the other high-profile assassinations of the 1960s, of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Malcolm X.
   The government’s conclusion in the King case --- that James Earl Ray was solely responsible for killing King … has been widely disputed over the years.
  In 1999, a civil jury ruled in favor of a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the King family, which charged that Ray was part of a conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King, involving local and federal law enforcement officials and organized crime.
 Following the verdict, Coretta Scott King, the slain leader’s widow, stated: “There is abundant evidence of a major, high-level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband.”  The jury in the Memphis trial determined that various federal, state and local agencies “were deeply involved in the assassination … Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame.”
 The Justice Department immediately discounted the finding in the trial, and major media downplayed the verdict.

  David Talbot, the founder of Salon.com and a driving force behind establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, said it is high time to expose the real truth behind the assassinations of the 60s, which saw four charismatic leaders --- all of whom sought major changes in US domestic and foreign policy--- taken out.

   “Our goal is to gather signatures from as many Americans as possible over the next year — an educational campaign that will culminate in the late fall with a major public inquest on the four assassinations. This public tribunal will hear testimony from living witnesses, family members and close associates of the victims, legal authorities, historians and other experts on these epic crimes,” said Talbot on the committee’s Facebook page.
 “The goal is to finally expose the full truth about this dark chapter of American history, and by doing so, come to a shared understanding of our past and a new awareness of what we must do to protect democracy today,” he said.


Martin Luther King giving his "Beyond Vietnam" speech at the Riverside church in New York on April 4, 1967. He was murdered exactly one year later.   (Photo-sfbayview.com)


  The joint statement made by committee members — which was co-written by Adam Walinsky, a speechwriter and top aide of Senator Kennedy — declares that these “four major political murders traumatized American life in the 1960s and cast a shadow over the country for decades thereafter. John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were each in his own unique way attempting to turn the United States away from war toward disarmament and peace, away from domestic violence and division toward civil amity and justice. Their killings were together a savage, concerted assault on American democracy and the tragic consequences of these assassinations still haunt our nation.”
 A spokesman said The Truth and Reconciliation Committee views its joint statement as “the opening of a long campaign aimed at shining a light on dark national secrets. As the public transparency campaign proceeds, citizens across the country will be encouraged to add their names to the petition. The national effort seeks to confront the forces behind America’s democratic decline, a reign of secretive power that long precedes the recent rise of authoritarianism”
   Signers of the joint statement include Isaac Newton Farris Jr., nephew of Reverend King and past president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Reverend James M. Lawson Jr., a close collaborator of Reverend King; and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, children of the late senator.
Other signatories include G. Robert Blakey, the chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which determined in 1979 that President Kennedy was the victim of a probable conspiracy; Dr. Robert McClelland, one of the surgeons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas who tried to save President Kennedy’s life and saw clear evidence he had been struck by bullets from the front and the rear; Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower who served as a national security advisor to the Kennedy White House; Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and a leading global authority on human rights; Hollywood artists Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Rob Reiner and Oliver Stone; political satirist Mort Sahl; and musician David Crosby.
The declaration is also signed by numerous historians, journalists, lawyers and other experts on the four major assassinations.
  The committee is also calling for Congress to establish firm oversight on the release of all government documents related to the Kennedy presidency and assassination, as mandated by the JFK Records Collection Act of 1992.  “This public transparency law has been routinely defied by the CIA and other federal agencies. The Trump White House has allowed the CIA to continue its defiance of the law, even though the JFK Records Act called for the full release of relevant documents in 2017,” the spokesman said.
   The Truth and Reconciliation Committee is modeled after the public hearings in South Africa after the fall of the apartheid regime.

(For more information on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee go to their Facebook page of the same name)