Category Archives: Social services

My Drive Through Two West Virginias

A natural gas well fire in nothern West Virginia

A natural gas well fire in northern West Virginia

 By Peter Galuszka

It was a biting eight degrees when I hit the road in Beckley, W.Va. last Wednesday morning having held a book signing and given a talk in Charleston the night before.

I wanted to drive two hours up to Harrison County, where my family lived from 1962 to 1969, and see what had changed. I hadn’t been there in a few years.

Harrison and neighboring counties Doddridge and Lewis had long been coalfield areas along with natural gas. Coal had pretty much played out after the 1980s but there are still some big mines. Its real claim to fame is the underground rock formation ideal for glass-making. In the 1890s, it had attracted hundreds of craftsmen from Italy who made Clarksburg an important glass center and home to the locally-famous “Pepperoni Roll” – a small loaf of bread with a long stick of pepperoni inside.

As I drove up Interstate 79, I noticed the first signs of the area’s most recent transformation. There were plenty of oversized truck rigs with oddly-shaped machines. A number carried long steel pipes.

When I drove on familiar roads, I noticed that small lots that might have stored strip coal mine gear were all now filled with bright-orange wellheads. Davisson Run, a small creek where we used to hunt for frogs, is now near a large new building for Dominion Transmission — yes, that Dominion based in Richmond — which plans a $5 billion natural gas pipeline from the area through Virginia and North Carolina.

Welcome to Fracking Central. This part of northern West Virginia is booming thanks the Marcellus Shale formation rich with hard-to-get natural gas. In just a few years, hydraulic fracking, using high pressure water and powerful chemicals to fracture underground gas pockets and pump them out, has revolutionized the U.S. energy industry.

My mission (which failed) was to find a woman living in a rural house in the rolling hills and dairy farms of western Harrison County. She had been on YouTube two years ago complaining how her neighbor had sold gas rights and turned pleasant pastureland into an obnoxious industrial site with all-night floodlights and diesel generators roaring 24/7. Huge trucks carrying water for high pressure injection clogged narrow county roads.

I drove through Salem, a tiny college town, and noticed signs reading “Antero Resources” that reminded truck drivers supplying rigs to drive slowly and not to “Jake Brake” – use brakes on some trucks that make a loud, machine gun sound as they tap engine exhaust to slow down.

Antero Resources was a big clue. They are an independent gas and oil firm based in Denver that has hit the fracking craze in a big way. They have rights to something like 384,000 acres of gasland in the surrounding area. Having gone public only recently, the company has revenues that have zoomed from $195 million in 2011 to $259 million in 2012 to $689 million last year.

Antero has had its problems. In July 2013, “flowback” material from a Doddridge Count well exploded, badly burning five workers and killing two. Earlier this year, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a case operations order to Antero because of tank ruptures. The firm has also been accused of released methane into the private wells of 12 individuals.

I couldn’t find out if some are enjoying the economic benefits of fracking. One reads of people suddenly drawing $1 million a year in royalties. I did notice was that there was a lot more drilling support activity and more shopping malls.

My road trip was in marked contrast to one I had taken the day before in the southern part of West Virginia.

Upper Big Branch memorial in Whitesville

Upper Big Branch memorial in Whitesville

I was on my way to give a talk in Charleston about the paperback edition of my book “Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal.” I had the time so I chose to head up fateful Route 3 through the Coal River Valley where I have spent a lot of time in the past four years.

Route 3 in Raleigh County is a lot different from any road in Harrison County. The peaks are taller, steeper with more distinct hollers. Rock outcrops jam out at you, unlike the gently rolling hills of the north. The late fall sun is dramatically restricted.

This is the road that suddenly became flooded with ambulance and fire trucks on April 5, 2010. A huge explosion at the Upper Big Branch deep mine owned by then-Richmond-based Massey Energy killed 29 miners. Before then, it had been Ground Zero in the environmentalists’ vigorous war against Mountaintop Removal, which is strip mining on an obscenely large scale. Hundreds of feet of mountaintops are lopped off by gigantic drag lines. The leftover dirt and trees are dumped into creek beds destroying habitat.

I headed north along Big Coal River, which is anything but. Its valley provides just enough space for a road and a CSX rail line in some areas. I went past the new Marsh Fork Elementary School that Massey Energy was forced to build to replace one a few miles away that was threatened by its mine operations.

There was Jarrett’s store (new sign) where bystanders watched all the police cars and ambulances that fateful April day. Soon, the old Marsh Fork school appears. It had been a focus of yet another battle over coal but today it is abandoned and fenced in. Its playground is close to huge coal storage towers. Soaring above them is an earthen dam holding back a lake with about 3 billion gallons of toxic sludge.

There was very little activity – odd since the coal of the valley is the best in the world. Then it came – Upper Big Branch mine – lifeless. It was sealed after the disaster. Past roads with signs reading “Ambulance entrance” there was the portal where the UBB miners came and went. There is a lonely memorial of 29 black helmets at the base of a steel tower. Another memorial to them is a few miles north at Whitesville – a classic coal town filled with empty stores, although the florist shop is still busy.

No coal trucks, no pickups, for miles. The only activity was at the Elk Run deep mine at the very top of Route 3.

Why? One reason is that fracked natural gas from Harrison County and its region is stealing electric utility market share away from coal.

The other reason is Asia’s economic slowdown. Coal River and UBB provide metallurgical coal used for export to smelt steel in foreign mills. (They don’t anything to do with “Keeping Our Lights On” as the pro-coal propagandists say.) Met coal can be enormously lucrative but its prices are down two thirds from three years ago.

That’s bad news for Bristol-based Alpha Natural Resources, which bought out Massey for $7 billion after the disaster. Alpha is in such bad straits that hedge funds are lining its stock up for shorting trades, according to this morning’s Wall Street Journal.

Well, that’s my road trip. Not to worry, though, I’ll be back soon. The criminal trial of Donald L. Blankenship, former Massey CEO and otherwise known as “The Dark Lord of the Coalfields,” starts Jan. 26 in U.S. District Court in Beckley.

Fracking Our Pristine Mountain Forests

GW forestBy Peter Galuszka

Is nothing sacred? Of all groups, the U.S. Forest Service should protect the lands it controls, but today it introduced a plan that would allow limited hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the 1.1 million-acre George Washington National Forest which straddles Virginia and West Virginia.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had opposed lifting the ban, although he supports other proposed gas projects in the state, such as the 550-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would stretch from the fracked gaslands of Northern West Virginia over the mountains and southeastward to Southside and Hampton Roads and North Carolina.

Forest lands help supply drinking water to 4 million people including those in Richmond and Washington. Some of the forest land has so-called “Karst” topography made up of rock formation that can be dissolved. In those conditions, any leakage of methane, or the toxic, powerful chemicals used in fracking would be more, rather than less, likely to poison drinking water.

The only good news out of the new USFS plan is that before some 995,000 acres could be available for drilling and that amount will now be limited to 177,000 acres.

But what can’t they let it all be? If you head west where the heart of the Marcellus Shale formation has become one of the mega-meccas of fracked gas, you hear of impacts of all types from drilling. These have included fire, explosions, diesel generators roaring 24/7, drinking water effects, bright floodlights and so on. In fact, I am embarking on a drip in about an hour that will end up in frack-land and will report when I get back.

To be sure, natural gas drilling has been going on for decades in the Appalachian Plateau of the western slopes of the Appalachians. Few pipelines crossed eastward over mountains and it was rare to find many drilling rigs in those areas.

But the fracking craze continues unabated and is now a $10 billion industry in the Marcellus Shale formation. One potential new target could be a different formation that starts from Fredericksburg and slips under the Potomac northeast into Maryland. A Texas firm with a letter drop address has been talking about leasing rights for fracking. One assumes that if the leases are in place, they’ll be quickly flipped to an actual drilling company, but you won’t know who. Virginia is only in the very early stages of setting up state rules for fracking.

Environmentalists say natural gas can be an even worse carbon polluter than coal should methane be released. Some others believe that the biggest damage comes not from the actual fracking process with millions of gallons of water and chemicals but from faulty wells.

One can make an argument that gas is good because it has completely reorganized the global pecking order in terms of energy. It means the U.S. need not be beholden to machinations of the Middle East, Central Asia and the likes of Vladimir Putin.

What bothers me is the rush to frack. I remember back in the 1960s in West Virginia when mile after mile of mountain side had been ripped apart by surface miners. It was a cheap way to get at coal. Mystery companies were supposed to reclaim the mine site but rarely did because they’d bankrupt one alphabet soup firm merely to create a new one.

The fracking craze, if not properly regulated, could yield even worse environmental disasters.

Eagles Soar Over Turkeys!

UMWEAGLEBy Peter Galuszka

I had to swallow my bile when I read a recent post by James A. Bacon that the University of Mary Washington is not a “prestige institution with strong pricing power and a large backlog of students clamoring to get in.”

The arrogance of that statement is stunning as is its underlying sexism. I speak as a parent of an Eagle, my daughter, who was a National Honor Society high school student, chose Mary Wash, had a great experience and graduated magna cum laude with a double major.

As a Hoo, Bacon  is surprisingly  ignorant of Mary Wash’s history. Believe it or not, it was considered the “female” part of the grand University of Virginia, which back in the day was so sexist as a public school it relegated women to limited positions, such as nursing, on the Charlottesville campus.

An example is my cousin-in-law who now lives in Tennessee. A Richmonder by birth, she went to Mary Wash (not a “prestige” institution) because that’s what bright young women did back in the 1950s. She then transferred to Mr. Jefferson’s University where she got a nursing degree and enjoyed long career in nursing and health care management before retiring.

Along the way, she married my cousin, a Hoo Class of 1966 back when it was all male and the guys trotted from class to class to beer bust dressed up in preppie herringbone jackets and ties. Female companionship was available only via road trips to Longwood or Sweetbriar or (heavens forbid!) Mary Wash.

So where the hell does Bacon come off with his dismissive and insulting comment? He also includes Christopher Newport University as lacking in “prestige” even though it is one of the best, up-and-coming public schools in Virginia. When I need political analysis I often call Steve Farsnworth at Mary Wash or Quentin Kidd at CNU. Next time I talk to them, I will tell them that they lack “prestige.”

Granted, Mary Wash has an acceptance rate of 80 percent. But Virginia Tech has an acceptance rate of 70 percent. VCU’s is 64 percent. These are not as selective as  U.Va’s which has a rate of 30 percent. (I have another daughter at the school). So what?

As for me, I graduated from Tufts University (acceptance rate of 17 percent) but I am sure Mr. Bacon will point out that Tufts is considered a “safety” school for kids not bright enough to get into Harvard or Yale.

I call on Eagles everywhere to protest Bacon’s snobbery.  Phone me and I will give you his address.

How Not to Spend Public College Money

vsu multi-use

Virginia State’s multi-use center

By Peter Galuszka

As Virginia’s students and their families struggle paying their tuition and related expenses, the state’s 15 public universities continue to charge excessively for mandatory fees for athletics and massive bricks and mortars projects.

These are the conclusions by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) which has issued a series of studies on college spending to the General Assembly. Dubious fees and a $7 billion collegiate construction boom are some of the reasons why the average tuition for in-state students has risen 122 percent over a decade.

One doesn’t have to look far to see the shiny new buildings. At Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, former President Eugene Trani spent decades expanding his school’s two campuses. In the process, he transformed downtown for the better but one must ask why the huge expansion seemed to get more attention and resources than raising the school’s academic status. . Late this summer, VCU ordered a $21 million budget cut to help the state with its $881 million revenue shortfall.

In Charlottesville, students at the University of Virginia can enjoy the recently completed $100 million South Lawn project that was a decade in the making and added a patch of new buildings. It is now adding a children’s medicine building at his health care complex.

For one of the stranger examples of dysfunctional spending, consider Virginia State University near Petersburg. The small, historically Black school is well into building an $84 million multi-use center that would serve students as well as offer a venue for community events, much like VCU’s Siegel Center which hosts graduation ceremonies for many area high schools.

As the center is being built, school officials plan to use it to help transform the surrounding areas of the small town of Ettrick. They are using the model of VCU about 25 miles up Interstate 95 as a blueprint for linking school expansion with local community development.

Yet VSU faces such serious financial problems that its president Keith Miller, stepped down unexpectedly on Halloween. Thanks to shortfalls in financial aid and other problems, the school ended up with a sudden $19 million shortfall. Attendance at the school is down 1,000 from last year and 550 short from what the administration had expected.

Students complain that they found out about cuts in their state and federal aid only at the very last minute and many had to drop out. VSU has been through a series of financial problems that have forced it to switch to a fast food-only menu at one of its dining halls. Laboratory equipment is scarce, students say.

They wonder why the school is busy erecting a huge new multi-use center when they have many more obvious and pressing problems at hand. A school spokesman says that funding for the new center is handled by a foundation and is not directly linked to the school’s financial system. VSU is expected to name an interim president later this week after more than 900 students signed petitions asking for a wholesale revamp of the school’s top management.

JLARC found other areas of concern, such as forcing students to pay mandatory fees for sometimes oversized athletic programs that tend to operate in their own worlds that have little relevance for most students. Not every student cares about all of the sports or has time to support every team. Plus, JLARC says that the state should reconsider its methods of handing out financial aid to make sure that low and middle income students are the ones who actually get it.

One hears a lot about overpaid professors and administrators. But the JLARC studies suggest their salaries may be less of a problem than using colleges as cash cows for construction projects and to prop up ambitious sports programs that may have very little to do with the schools they represent.

Takeaways From the GOP’s Big Win

gillespie warnerBy Peter Galuszka

The night of Tuesday, Nov. 4 was an ugly one for the Democrats and a big win for Republicans. Here are my takeaways from it:

  • U.S. Sen.Mark Warner clings to a tiny lead that seems to grow slightly, still making it uncertain if opponent Ed Gillespie will ask for a recount. The surprisingly tight race is an embarrassment for Warner. It likely takes him out of consideration to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 although Democrats Tim Kaine and Jim Webb are still possibilities.
  • Ed Gillespie ran a smart campaign and came off as a solid candidate. Of course, we are comparing him against Kenneth Cuccinelli and that’s a very low bar but Gillespie’s projection of being relaxed and confident helped him. Gillespie did very well despite being dissed by the national Republican money machine. Look for him in the gubernatorial race of 2017.
  • Barack Obama takes his lumps — again. The country’s on the mend and things are going fairly well (despite what you may watch on Fox), but Obama is incapable of cashing in on that. His cool, detached style is a big minus and makes him seem careless and incompetent, especially when crisis like ebola come up that are not of his making.
  • The Republican wins on Capitol Hill are more significant than the Tea Party inspired once during the 2010 midterms.But the earlier races brought in a kind of mindless negativity and gridlock by both parties that truly hurt the country. Will that happen again? Or will older, wise heads prevail?
  • Increase in coverage my Obamacare The New York Times

    Increase in coverage by Obamacare
    The New York Times

    You might get some bipartisan action on taxes and the budget, but deadlock remains for Affordable Care and immigration. The fact is that Obamacare is too far along to change much and people actually like it, despite what you hear in the right-wing echo chamber. This chart from the New York Times shows that the ACA has boosted health coverage in some of the poorest parts of the country, such as the Appalachian coal country, the African-American belts of the Deep South; and poor parts of the Southwest like New Mexico and parts of Arizona. This alone is a big success.

  • Immigration. Look for Obama to use executive authority to come up with an immigration plan. It is an emotional, hot button issue that reveals lots of ugly attitudes. But something needs to be done fast. The GOP has no plan, except for George W. Bush who actually pushed a workable solution that was compassionate. That got soaked by the Tea Party, but then Republican Mitt Romney came up with a health care plan for Massachusetts that looks remarkable like Obamacare and was a precursor. If the GOP can get back to those helpful ideals, there may be hope.
  • Warner lots big swaths of voters who had been with him, like Loudoun County and parts of rural Virginia. This is alarming for the Dems and shows they need to project their messages a lot better. Warner’s poor performance in debates didn’t help either.

It is a big win for the GOP, but somehow I don’t feel as bitter as I was in 2010.

RAM, Coal and Massive Hypocrisy

The Pikesville RAM clinic in 2011. Photo by Scott Elmquist

The Pikesville RAM clinic in 2011. Photo by Scott Elmquist

By Peter Galuszka

Sure it’s a photo op but more power to him.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is freshly arrived from the cocktail and canape circuit in Europe on a trade mission and is quickly heading out to the rugged and impoverished coal country of Wise County.

There, he, Attorney General Mark Herring and Health and Human Resources Secretary William A. Hazel will participate in a free clinic to help the mountain poor get free health care. The political opportunity is simple: Many of the 1,000 or more who will be attending the Remote Area Medical clinic are exactly the kind of people getting screwed over by the General Assembly’s failure to expand Medicaid to 400,000 low income Virginians.

RAM makes its Wise run every summer and people line up often in the wee morning hours to get a free medical and dental checkup. For many, it’s the only health care they get all year unless it’s an emergency. Another problem: Distances are great in the remote mountains and hospitals can be an hour away.

Mind you, this is Coal Country, the supposedly rich area upon which Barack Obama is waging war and harming local people by not going along with coal executives’ demands on environmental disasters such as mountaintop removal, keeping deep mine safety standards light and avoiding carbon dioxide rules.

The big question, of course,  is why if the land is so rich in fossil fuel, are the people so poor and in need of free medical care? It’s been this way for 150 years. And now, coal’s demise got underway in Southwest Virginia in 1991 when employment peaked at about 11,000. It is now at 4,000 or less. It’s getting worse, not better.

In June 2011, by coincidence, I happened along a RAM free clinic in Pikesville, Ky., not that far from Wise when I was researching my book, “Thunder on the Mountain: Death at Massey and the Dirty Secrets Behind Big Coal.” My photographer Scott Elmquist and I spotted the clinic at a high school. There must have been hundreds of people there —  some of whom told me they had been waiting since 1:30 a.m. It was about 8:30 a.m.

Attending them were 120 medical and dental personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service. They were dressed in U.S. Navy black, grey and blue colored fatigues. The University of Louisville had sent in about 80 dental chairs.

Poverty in Pike County had been running about 27 percent, despite the much-touted riches of coal. Pike is Kentucky’s biggest coal producer.

One man I spoke with said he had a job as a security guard, but he doesn’t qualify for regular Medicaid and can’t afford a commercial plan. In other words, had I interviewed him more recently and had he been a Virginian, he would have been lost through the cracks of Medicaid expansion. Alas, he’s in luck. In 2013, Kentucky opted for a “marketplace” expansion system where federal funds would be used to help lower income buy health plans through private carriers.

Lucky the man isn’t from here. The marketplace plan is exactly the kind that McAuliffe has proposed and exactly the one that stubborn Republicans such as Bill Howell in the General Assembly are throttling. The feds would pick up the bill for expanding Medicaid to 400,000 needy Virginians, at least initially.

Yet another irony. Expanded medical benefits are available just across an invisible border in two states whose coalfield residents somehow never got the great benefits of King Coal.

Child Services in the Shadow of Cloward and Piven

Cloward and Piven

Cloward and Piven

by Elena Siddall

In 1963 I graduated from Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia, with a BA degree in Pre-Foreign Service and headed for New York City. The degree did not get me a job as translator at the United Nations, so I answered an ad for Social Investigator in the Department of Public Welfare. The only requirement was a college degree in any field, and the majority of applicants came from liberal arts.

The six-week training consisted of reading Charlotte Towle’s “Common Human Needs.” The book had been under fire in 1951 when a statement made by Towle, a psychiatric social worker, was made public: “Social security and public assistance programs are a basic essential for attainment of the socialized state envisaged in a democratic ideology, a way of life which so far has been realized only in slight measure.“ Reading John Bowlby’s Maternal Care and Mental Health also was required. Bowlby was the Director of Tavistock Clinic and a consultant to the World Health Organization. The training was rounded out by learning reams of Child Welfare and Public Assistance policies.

Female trainees were encouraged to go into the Bureau of Child Welfare (BCW), while males directed to Public Assistance (PA). All were issued a black notebook and assigned to any of the five boroughs. I was sent to work in the Bronx.
The Investigators were represented by the Social Services Employees Union, which one joined voluntarily. Among the first actions of the union in 1965 were to have the SI re-classified as “Caseworker” and to negotiate a salary increase from $4,100, to $4,200. The union, which I soon joined, was very active in non “bread and butter” issues, advocating for a “more dignified” treatment of welfare recipients and BCW cases (not all coming from the welfare rolls).

I learned that the city offered scholarships towards a Masters of Social Work degree based on performance after one year of employment and enrolled in Columbia University School of Social Work for night classes. I also was elected to be a representative from the Bronx BCW to the union’s Executive Board. These factors resulted in rather intense exposure to the increasingly vocal demands of social activists engaged in Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” resisting the Vietnam War, and supporting the Civil Rights movement.

I was drawn to the activities with some serious reservation, having myself come to the US in 1949 from five years in displaced-persons camps in Germany. My family had fled the Bolsheviks in 1919 from Petrograd to Latvia and fled the Soviets in 1944 from Latvia. My family was vehemently anti-Communist, and my work in NYC was disapproved of. My father, an engineer and director of a cement factory in Latvia of interest to both the Soviets and the Nazis, brought us to America with $135 in his pocket. He picked apples and worked as a day laborer until he found employment as a draftsman. We never accepted welfare. Economically we were poor. Everybody (three siblings and myself) “made it” through college, to Master’s programs, and to professional lives without “handouts.” And here I was, as my father accused me, “crying about the darling poor.”

At that time, the Columbia School of Social Work was housed in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion at 5th and 91st Streets (now part of the Smithsonian). It was bizarre to work in the decaying, impoverished Bronx by day and then get on the subway to head to a 5th Avenue mansion to hear, in class, how to dismantle “the system.”

About that time, a husband-wife team of professors (sociologists) arrived at Columbia, Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven. Cloward and Piven embraced (Saul) Alinsky Radicalism to advocate for the poor and down-trodden. No, they did not teach night-time classes, but they caused quite a stir when they published a profoundly explicit “strategy” in the progressive/left The Nation magazine in the May 2, 1966 issue. They wrote (in part):

It is our purpose to advance a strategy which affords the basis for a convergence of civil rights organizations, militant anti-poverty groups and the poor. If this strategy were implemented, a political crisis would result that could lead to legislation for a guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty….

The strategy is based on the fact that a vast discrepancy exists between the benefits to which the people are entitled under public welfare programs and the sums which they actually receive… This discrepancy is not an accident… if challenged, would precipitate a profound financial and political crisis. The force for that challenge, and the strategy we propose, is a massive drive to recruit the poor onto the welfare rolls.

“The Weight of the Poor” ends with:

If organizations can deliver millions of dollars in cash benefits to the ghetto masses, it seems reasonable to expect that the masses will deliver their loyalties to their benefactors. At least, they have always done so in the past.

The strategy was simple for immediate implementation. The union encouraged Public Assistance caseworkers to issue Special Grants to all recipients for what they were “eligible for.” There was no time for establishing “eligibility” for ”non-recurring” grants for clothing, household equipment and furniture, including washing machines, refrigerators, beds, bedding, tables, chairs, even if you had these. BCW/ Bronx was located in the Melrose Welfare Center, and while we, the caseworkers, were not involved with the issuance of these grants, many of our cases were recipients. The ensuing chaos was frightening as the center-–and all centers were over-run with people demanding their “special grants.” Continue reading

Voluntary Sterilization? Great Idea!

Herald

Jessie Lee Herald

by James A. Bacon

Let us all applaud Ilona White, assistant prosecutor of Shenandoah County. She had the brilliant idea of offering Jessie Lee Herald, a 27-year-old man who had sired seven children by six different women, the option of undergoing a vasectomy in exchange for a five-year reduction in his prison term.

Her motive in offering the deal, she explained, was to prevent him from fathering any more children. “He needs to be able to support the children he already has when he gets out,” she said, according to the Associated Press.

Not surprisingly, the deal evoked hand-wringing from civil libertarians. The deal calls to mind the involuntary sterilizations carried out in Virginia in the early 20th century under the banner of eugenics, said Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor. “This takes on the appearance of social engineering,” said Steve Benjamin, past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “Sentencing conditions are designed to prevent future criminal behavior,” he added. “Fathering children is not criminal behavior.”

I am not moved in the slightest by those concerns. Garrett’s statement is ridiculous. Benjamin may make a valid point from a narrow legal perspective — fathering children may not be criminal behavior. The problem is… it’s a narrow legal perspective. It misses the larger issue at hand.

I will fully admit my boundless contempt for Herald, a man who has for years engaged in animalistic, indeed sociopathic, behavior with no serious consequence. Fathering seven children by six women — at the age of 27, no less! — is vile and reprehensible. He cannot possibly be a good father if he wanted to, and it is dubious that anyone so consumed with his own desires even cares. Herald cannot support that many children financially, and he cannot possibly find the time to undertake the non-pecuniary duties of fatherhood. By his own admission, his nephew — a man who has worked as a roofer and in a poultry plant — has financially supported “at least some” of his children. I don’t know how many children of his own the nephew has, but he is more of a man than Herald will ever be.

Among his other derelictions, Herald was convicted of child endangerment, hit and run, and driving on a suspended license in a crash in which his three-year-old son suffered minor injuries.

Society has no good solutions for reprobates like Herald. Mothers of the children can sue for child support, but if he has seven children, it’s highly unlikely that he is willing or able to live up to his obligations for all of them. So, what’s to be done? If you throw him in jail, he can’t earn any money or pay any child support at all. But if you let him out of jail, he’s likely to continue his reckless, irresponsible behavior.

That’s why Ilona White’s offer makes so much sense. The dirtbag gets out of jail early, giving him an opportunity to find gainful employment, earn money and meet at least some of his financial obligations to his children. But the vasectomy ensures that he won’t be spawning any more offspring. If anything, the deal wasn’t strict enough — it gives him a year to scrape up the money to pay for the procedure, during which time he can easily father another child or two… or three.

Amazingly, Herald had to wrestle with the decision. “It was not a no-brainer for him,” his attorney said. Apparently, he saw a big downside to denying himself the ability to impregnate more women and foisting the responsibility for raising his offspring onto single mothers, relatives or taxpayers. What a contemptibly selfish man!

The comparison with involuntary sterilization is, of course, totally absurd. First, Herald would undergo voluntary sterilization — just like millions of other American men do when they don’t want to father any more children. Secondly, he does not belong to one of the groups stigmatized by the eugenics movement on the basis of “undesirable” genetic characteristics. He is stigmatized for his reckless, anti-social behavior.

I think White’s solution is an excellent one. We should reject the superficial comparison with involuntary sterilization and eugenics, which were truly atrocious, and deal with the real social problems created by derelicts like Herald. There are dozens more, if not hundreds, of predatory males in Virginia who should be given the same alternative.

Denying Truth on the Outer Banks

Sun Realty

Sun Realty

By Peter Galuszka

North Carolina’s Outer Banks have always been a touchstone for me – in as much as anyone can associate permanence with sandy islands being perpetually tossed  around by tremendous wind and water forces.

The Banks and I go back to 1954 and Hurricane Hazel when I was an infant. They mark many parts of my life. So, I read with great interest The Washington Post story by Lori Montgomery about how real estate officials in Dare County and other coastal parts of North Carolina are trying to alter clear-cut scientific projections about how deeply the islands will be under water by 2100.

State officials say that the ocean should rise 39 inches by the end of the century. This would mean that 8,500 structures worth $1.4 billion would be useless. Naturally, this has upset the real estate industry which is pushing for a new projection of an 8-inch rise 30 years from now. Think of it like a photo in a rental brochure. You don’t choose shots of dark and stormy days. The skies must be blue.

Ditto science. The insanity is that so many still don’t believe what is going on with climate change and carbon dioxide pollution. Over the past several years, Virginians, many of whom vacation on the Outer Banks, endured and paid for former Atty. Gen. Kenneth Cuccinelli’s legal attacks against a former University of Virginia climatologist who linked global warming to human activity. The assaults went nowhere.

Instead of addressing such profoundly transitory events, too many in the region say it isn’t so or pick away at what is really happening as we speak. And as Mother Jones magazine points out, it isn’t because weather change deniers, usually conservatives, don’t understand science.

The Outer Banks are an extreme example because of their incredible fragility. Anyone with even a cursory understanding of the islands knows that they are completely under the thumb because they are where two major ocean currents meet.

The only reason Hatteras has developed at all is the Bonner Bridge, an ill-conceived, 51-year-old span over Oregon Inlet so decrepit that it is often closed for repairs. Replacing it has been constantly delayed by the lack of funding and the threat of lawsuits. The federal government has been complicit for decades by spending at least hundreds of millions on sand replenishment programs or offering flood insurance coverage.

About 15 miles south of the bridge is Rodanthe, a flyspeck village just south of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuse. It is at the point of the Banks that sticks out farthest into the Atlantic and is under the strongest attack by ocean currents and storms. Route 12, the only way to evacuate by car when a hurricane comes, is on a narrow spit of constantly shifting sand trapped between the ocean and Pamlico Sound.

I’ve been going to Rodanthe for years. Starting in the 1980s, friends and I would pool our money and  rent one of the big beach houses. We have been constantly amazed how the distance between the structures and the surf is disappearing. One favorite spot was “Serendipity,” a skinny, tall beach house that we rented perhaps twice and featured fantastic views from the top-floor bar.

It was dressed up as a bed and breakfast in the movie ”Nights At Rodanthe,” a 2008 weeper starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane. The film was panned and the house was equally threatened. In fact, the next year, the owner had the whole thing placed on a truck and moved nearly a mile down the coast where there’s a little more sand.

More hurricanes followed, cutting a new inlet a few miles into Pea Island and its watery bird impoundments. The oceanfront houses we used to rent are in trouble. The ones across Route 12 now have dramatic new views.  A small, new bridge spans the inlet.

One can argue that building on the Banks is madness, global warming or not. There’s a lot of truth to this. But rising ocean water is truly going to accelerate the changes no matter how hard politicians or North Carolina’s real estate industry say it isn’t so.

Heroin: New Scourge of Suburbs

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Peter Galuszka

Heroin always seemed to be the drug of fast-living artists or the inner city poor.

Not any more, thanks to a shortage of prescription drugs such as oxycodone. Not only is heroin making a comeback in its tradition haunts, it is moving into the affluent suburbs.

That was the case on May 16 when a special unit of Chesterfield County police crept up to a tidy apartment building near Hull Street Road and its huge upscale housing developments of Brandermill and Woodlake.

Police had been acting on a tip they had traced back from a recent heroin overdose. They arrested Sean Kelly Heyward, 43, who lived in the apartment, and Jamal Nathan Gethers, 32, of Plainfield, N.J., and seized drug material and $34,820 in cash.

Corinne Geller, spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, says that heroin-relate drugs have risen 125 percent to 108 from 2012 to 2013. Users tend to be people in their 20s to 50s who have middle to higher incomes and live in the suburbs from Fairfax to Richmond’s Henrico and Chesterfield to Hampton Roads.

“Heroin is not a drug of choice,” Capt. Brad Badgerow of the Chesterfield County police told me in an article I wrote for the Chesterfield Observer. It’s a second choice of sorts – the result of crackdowns on other abuse.

For some years, addicts got hooked on prescription drugs such as oxycodone or acetaminophen which were readily available at pharmacies and traded out from there. Police began cracking down on doctors who over-prescribed such drugs and police and community service organizations launched “take backs” where people could drug off prescription drugs they had at home, no questions asked. The result? Prices for such drugs can be three times what a hit of street heroin costs.

“You have someone who hurts his back and he gets on oxycodone,” says Badgerow. “He’s hooked but it gets too expensive so he moves on to heroin.” In Chesterfield last year, a teacher at an elementary school was arrested when heroin and paraphernalia were found on her car on school property.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has announced a task force to look into the problem. In the Richmond area, regional police and the Drug Enforcement Agency are planning a conference in a few days.