The Aristocrat, the Woodchuck and the Fractivist

As you read this my day will have been well underway.  I’m leaving to watch a meeting between two Irishmen with very little seemingly in common, class wise.  The aristocrat and the ‘woodchuck’ if you will.


I used the classist ‘W’ phrase designated for Upstate New York men.

I can explain.

But first, (because later that evening I must be in Montrose), allow me to say something even more crude:

I barfed my way through what should have been an iPhone livecast of the stupid Montrose Borough Council meeting on March 5th.  There was no livecast.  The problem was not just lack of cellphone signal (which makes things easier for the elite to exploit the rural areas, no?).  I had a virus.

You didn’t miss much. I strode out of the meeting to the borough’s immaculate bathroom six times. I didn’t miss much, either.

Because, the Montrose Borough was still stuck on stupid.

They were in executive session as I arrived and first busied myself with their plumbing–on the other side of the drywall from their ‘executive session’ room, no less!   Upon departing their (brand new?) loo, I heard laughter as they met with the lawyer provided by the borough’s insurance carrier.

There are other reasons we can assume they did not take the stipulation seriously.   And that is an understatement.  Perhaps the insurance company lawyer babysitting them that night had not yet seen the incriminating emails that show its policy holders’ (elected officials!) discriminatory intent:

*Labeling as ‘thugs’ the very people most notably documented as damaged by gas drillers–GASLAND sources-turned anti-drilling activists Craig and Julie Sautner of Dimock, PA –(and their daughter?);

*Salivating at the prospect of arresting the Sautners or the people truing to provide clean water to the Dimock ‘boomtown’ victims.  All that would be needed for arrest, per the borough council email plot, was a public questioning of Montrose Borough’s arbitrary decision to block water sales (SALES) to good samaritans helping those needing water in Dimock;

*Name-calling Susquehanna President Judge Kenneth Seaman as a sort of jailer “Kenny’s jail” in a manner which no doubt wrongfully implies the judge supported their plot;

The most galling thing about this is the arrogance.

It’s reminiscent of a “Sopranos” episode on the cable network that made its mark in New Orleans’ arson-plagued post-1984 World’s Fair period.  HBO gained financial muscle by sending its cameras into a shady suburban Metairie hotel to livecast commercial boxing matches.  Somehow, that activity seems less criminal than the gas ‘plays’ threatening to swallow vast portions of the Northeast dominated by petty potentates like those who run the Montrose Borough.

How fitting Montrose has the thuggery down so well they have to misappropriate the word ‘thug’ to define the good guys.  Smart.  No doubt that’s how former Louisiana farmland was turned industrial back in the day.  Backroom deal here.  Virtual and actual assassination there.  Only the assassinations in the frack-threatened areas up North now are done more slowly–cancers take more time than do bullets.  Careful where you decide to buy your house!

Montrose has a ban on drilling.  Yet they sell millions of gallons of ‘their’ water for the polluting mob activity know as fracking–a practice exempted from usual industrial regulation rules the industry by definition can never hope to meet.   Their high school has its own police force–which subcontracts its policing authority when ‘necessary’ to gas industry ‘security’.  Two years ago, at a public event, their ‘security’ wrenched a gallon of contaminated Dimock water out of Julie Sautner’s hands.  They chased me around (I was on crutches) and tried saying I could not photograph their equipment on  display at a public event (they said the public school grounds were private because the industry had rented them–in order to invite the public to eat Halliburton, Chesapeake, and Cabot burgers and weenies.

And it is there that we must gather later tonight to hear Pennsylvania (Department of Environmental Protection) DEP officials explain what they don’t know about why a compressor station exploded, caught fire and exploded a 2nd time 2 weeks ago.  The plan is for these compressor stations to dot the Upstate New York landscape to ship gas (obtained by destroying the region’s mile-deep bedrock) for liquification, and then export to shore up the fracker’s pyramid scheme.

They need more dough, more time to buy auctions masquerading as elections to render as gas junkies enough vehicles and home heating systems. Then they can really squeeze the cancer-free survivors of the currently frack-threatened areas.

Think of Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Mario’s son imperiously claimed to require a million anti-dsGEIS signatures to stop this madness right smack in the aptly named Empire State.  Think of the Exxon campaign dollars he received.  Is Cuomo any different than the brutish Montrose PA borough leaders?   We’ll discuss young Andy and his friends later.  Back to Montrose.

One of the attorneys writing Montrose borough’s incriminating emails is an elected official who publicly grandstands against the winter dust storms caused by all the fracking traffic through town. Mop the streets, he demands.  And the public employees attending the post-stipulation meeting I tried covering in my bathroom-dependent-state said, “Yes sir!  How often?”

In his life as a lawyer Sean Granahan represents a hospital boat that plies the Hudson River.  In his life as a Montrose Borough official, he assaults journalists—   journalists whose corporate bosses don’t bother going to court for them.  So, I did.  With my sister representing me.  Judge Kenneth Seamans recognized my standing as both a journalist and media educator.  He ordered Montrose borough to rewrite their code of conduct and their (insurance company supplied) lawyer and mine to draft a negotaited stipulation.  Much has been made about its ‘closed door’ nature by media who should know it’s a public document.  So, for the sake of those who hang upon the phrase ‘closed door’–here is a ‘how-to-petition-for-local-press-rights’ primer.

You’re welcome.

We go back to court May 31st.  In the meantime, Montrose borough has cancelled two public meetings for lack of ‘sufficient’ public business.


Now–regarding the other email-crazed attorney–borough solicitor Marion O’Malley–she wrote the rules of conduct–and some of the emails!  She seemed in tears when our first court hearing began–leaving the judge’s chambers her late father used to dominate in the manner of a town drunkard wielding aristocratic power by virtue of his robe. Montrose, PA has always been an insanely snobbish, xenophobic backwater.  Truly anti-semitic signs were displayed in shop windows in the 80s and 90s about ZOG (zionist organized government).  Out-of-town attorneys not resembling Ken and Barbie dolls were called ‘Jew Lawyers’ and pridefully refused to disabuse their attackers’ assumptions.  Never a truly nice place, its people nonetheless know how to perform ‘nice’ behavior.

Like all bigots of good standing, the Montrosians know how to perform manners.  Unlike the first, pre-court hearing night I arrived to cover the rules change, the cops grinned at me.  It was stomach flu season. I was green-faced and said I needed a bathroom.  “Right around the corner ma’am–here I’ll open the door for you.”  And he did.  In I walked, past a crowd awaiting the Montrose borough to leave executive session and do their public duties.

People survive in Montrose, as they do all over ‘the land of the free’ by getting in line.  When they get out of line it is consequence time.  It is no wonder that the Israeli-based stalking firm hired by PA “Homeland Security” to smear, among others, GASLAND premiere attendees at the theatre down the street from the courthouse apparently the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR) could feel at home in Montrose.  An embarrassed Governor Rendell made Tom Ridge fire the firm.

Given borough council behavior, perhaps the smear firm’s greatest offense was redundancy?  And, how different is the behavior of rural Montrose power-drunkards than  those of Albany?  Or those in Westchester who issue belated anti-fracking sentiments?

Think of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr..

No longer the brother in law of New York’s governor, he still serves on the advisory committee for possible 2016 Cuomo run for the White House.  Decades ago, “Robert” made a missing page from a crucial EPA report on an Upstate New York weapons manufacturer reappear for Sidney-area activist Patrick McElligott.  McElligott’s much-documented family claim on an historic piece of Upstate New York is in jeopardy.  A word from a Kennedy could, once again, keep the fight for equity alive Upstate.

McElligott believes pressure from ‘Robert’ could pressure ‘Andrew’ to do something significant: “Perhaps the single most important thing the pro-environment anti- hydro-fracking side could get is an extended moratorium for another five years for health studies not yet done.”

That is a big order.  And Kennedy has been reluctant to enter the fray.   But McElligott has been patiently persistent–as only a twenty year psychiatric social worker can be.  Consider that profession.  It’s like being a lay minister:  time-intensive, patience-trying.   Now consider McElligott’s earlier claims to Upstate NY fame:

*preventing a bloody retaliation after racist thugs from a nearby high school beat and left for dead a Sidney area all-state athlete (and a relative);

*insisting upon ethnologically proper reburial of Native American remains while working as top assistant for Onondaga Chief Paul Waterman;

*starting the Sidney Center Historical Society, and

*writing a book detailing his family’s nearly 100 year history with a local railroad and earlier forced removal from Kerry lands to County Limerick.

Consider also that Robert Kennedy will be sitting down with a strategic fighter.  McElligott’s international claim to fame came earlier.  As a boxer.  A British writer for Boxing Illustrated predicted in 1973 that Patrick, then in high school, would be a world class champion in the 1980s.  A defensive boxer, he later won hundreds of fights, losing less than you can count on both hands.  That patience will be on display as his allies join him, watching him try convincing Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to find a stronger voice than the one the grey lady put in print for him a couple of weeks back.

“He has a voice, as a Kennedy,” begins McElligott.  And a strong sound must emerge to satisfy his upstate friend.  Even on disability McElligott undertook a hunger strike against a state Republican madman.  That won him a speaking opportunity when the fashionable, foundation-funded, actor-flanked anti-fracking crowd protested Albany’s silence regarding fracking.

Right now there is a schism in the anti-fracking movement.  It does no one any good to not admit this.  The well-funded ones are not supporting the actions of the grassroots activists.  They are expecting the grassroots to follow them.  This is not how any movement succeeds.  It is how co-optation occurs.  It is how a movement dies.  It is how Al Gore’s campaign bit the dust–selecting his Yalie daughter to run his campaign? Over all those less-than-Barbie-esque committee women?   Refusing to meet with Ralph Nader’s campaign?

I thought of this as I heard the young woman chosen to lead a new anti-fracking initiative scream (literally) in panic, child-like and LIVE on a recent statewide political broadcast (at 38:39, 38;45, and 39:12 ).  And I thought of this as I listened to the grassroots represented by Patrick McElligott calmly (at 39:55 ) state their claim about the need for nonviolent civil disobedience to be deployed to stop fracking.

We know that Robert Kennedy once had the good sense not to side with those who would exploit the rural, less-capitalized areas of the state.  His assistant cautioned Patrick not to engage in a hunger strike outside Kennedy’s office door at Pace.  That was months ago.  After the big environmental groups formed a ‘network’ they could coordinate.  But, Patrick McElligott was active before the kids ‘in charge’ knew where Sidney was.  And he is persistent.  So, the big meeting happens tomorrow.  The question that remains is: will Kennedy play aristocrat to McElligott’s ‘woodchuck’–or can we expect more egalitarian treatment than the grassroots has become accustomed to receiving?

Will Robert Kennedy Jr. pressure his former brother-in-law into extending the NY State moratorium?  It is an important question.

And then it’s back to Montrose for me.  And we’ll how respectful the PA DEC is to complaints about exploding compressor stations.

I’ll try to stay out of the bathroom.

The past 30 years has seen a constant eroding of dignity for less well-connected people, and those with voices critical of the status quo.  And it’s been by design.  The 1981 deregulation order that ended 5,000 radio news jobs across the country eliminated  a place for minorities, women of substance, poise, and, yes, hard work and preparation to take their place in matters of civic importance.  As journalists.  Where we learned how to operate equipment.  And to not panic near a live microphone.

It got local, state, and national power holders, such as those in Montrose, Albany, and, yes, Westchester out of the habit of answering to less well-heeled people–

‘woodchucks’ included.  For those in the newsroom, it was the equivalent of prize-fighter training.  Getting up every at 4 a.m.  to navigate equipment, confront officials, and prepare the local news, and/or going out to make some sense of public meetings was great training in poise.

I hate to end on a crude note–but it’s how I began.  As I knelt before the porcelain god at the Montrose borough, I marvelled at how long it had been since I’d last done that.  It was at an AIR conference (Association of Independents in Radio) in Washington D.C. in 1993.  I was having a gall bladder attack and bothering my roommate, the late Phyllis Joffe of Connecticut Public Television and Radio.  We had earlier lamented that stylized production techniques were winning the day over straight radio news when it came to getting NPR funding of any magnitude.  Ira Glass (yes, the one recently in the news for fact-checking issues) had recently driven her crazy while in a fellowship program at NPR.

We both decided to become journalism academics.  We got our PhD’s–as women wanting to teach in college journalism are told to do.  We then watched men without that expensive credential surpass our own careers, sometimes even judge our careers.  (I was once called out for playing what I believe was Glass’s best work–a piece about how men can survive the growing America gulag.  A fellow ‘professor’ who had never take one graduate level mass communication class told me it was pornographic. I told him it had aired in Chicago! “So?” came the reply.) Phyllis died before either of us achieved tenure anywhere.

Today, trying to produce a documentary on fracking, I am realizing that I lack not only a body resembling a barbie doll, but connections.  Who will fund me?  If I have to rely upon PBS (“let’s get both sides”) or HBO (“Josh has it covered”) then I will never get it edited.  After all, I don’t have Debra Winger looking at my ‘dailies’–I have a sister who’s a lawyer looking at my ‘reporters’ notes’—that’s a big difference.

Was that why I was sick?

After the meeting, recovering for days later, I wondered if it was the flu or my own disgust at the state of public life that had brought me to my knees in Montrose.

Without any clear answer, I am bound tomorrow, first for Westchester, and then for Montrose, seeking any sort of equitable dealings between aristocrats and ‘woodchucks’ in New York and Pennsylvania, and, possibly, among fellow journalists and ‘fractivists’.

Lisa Barr can be reached through her blog Hegemonic Seam.