July 2014 ARCHIVE
Local Decisions are decided by Global Corporations

“Is Mt. Island Lake destined to be further polluted by another housing development on the Riverbend Peninsula?” I asked as we sat upon a porch watching the sun drop behind the horizon on Mt. Island Lake, NC.

He leaned forward to answer me. His spoke in soft and solemn tones, like a priest delivering unction,

“This is what you need to understand. The decision about the massive housing development to be built on the Riverbend Peninsula will not be a decision that is made by local people. The decision will be made by an international investment corporation.” He paused.

“The property is part of a family trust set up decades ago.” He continued. “The international investment firm’s daily objective is to find ways to invest and grow their clients’ trust funds. The corporation will make decisions about new housing development opportunities. Their only objective is to see that the trust fund will grow and support future generations. “

“And,” I said, “a dream once possible for all American citizens.”

We watched the setting sun. The sky was blushing with streaks of fiery-orange, purple, and peach. The last swats of blue sky linger and the shadowed tree tops outline the sunset like lace. Only the rivers and the thumbing of rocking chair broke the quiet. Twilight is the color of silence.

I thought about the hundreds of large homes, townhouses, cluster-homes and condos to be built on approximately 300 acres of the historic Riverbend Peninsula in Gaston County, North Carolina. The housing development will engulf the east and west shores where the land ends and the river rushes around the bend. The Riverbend Peninsula is shaped like a boot. The development will fill the boot from its toe to its ankle. The residents of the peninsula and many environmental groups abhor the proposed housing development and the destruction any further development will cause to the land, the residents, and Mt. Island Lake. In that
moment, I felt very depressed.

I was beginning to understand it may not impossible to stop development and destruction of the historic Riverbend Peninsula. It is highly improbable. Benjamin Franklin said it best, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

I settled deep into the cushions of the white-wicker rocking chair to listen as the river currents slapped against the pier’s pile-logs. It was a soul-soothing sound as the harsh reality of today’s culture of Corporate Personhood began to sink in. Reality sounded like a Grimm’s fairy tale that tells of global corporations acting as Fairy Godmothers with worldwide clout coddling and expanding the investments of the world’s most wealthy families. Their Fairy Godmother defeats dragons and dismisses pawns such as the middle class and the nation’s poor.

These Corporations are hired for one purpose…to make money. If not, not even their reputation can keep them from being fired by their wealthy clients.
Faceless men in blended silk suits will meet in the elegant offices located in skyscrapers to discuss how to make money. They will speak of percentages, dividends and bonuses while gazing down through their windows with only a bird’s eye view of all that is below.

Land owned on the Riverbend Peninsula provides an opportunity to further enrich their clients’ portfolios. The Corporate Personhood is a greedy Fairy Godmother who sees the green in nature as money.

To begin, they will hire a large, aggressive legal firm with local and regional clout to put together a team that will include developers, investors, surveyors, land developers and architects to pave the roads, bring in water and electricity, to the new dwellings. Brightly colored ribbons are tied around trees marking their fate and the waste of woodlands.

Yellow bulldozers will be brought to the peninsula on the back of trucks. By the end of the day a forest has become a pile of logs. As the land is prepared and the roads are built, sediment, cement, asphalt, dirt and chemical poisons will wash into the Catawba/Mt. Island Lake waters. The finishing touch will be the new trees brought in to line their streets to replace the original ancient hardwoods and pine.

Instead of a verdant green tree line running beside the boat as we cruise the lake, we will slow-down to stare at the enormous number of homes built by developers at the request of a global investment corporation. The faceless suits in high towers will never set foot upon the actual peninsula.

When ready, the legal firm will announce the development at community meetings. The housing development will be sold to their neighbors as an opportunity to maintain, leverage and grow their respective land values. Standing on tri-pods are meticulously graphic charts representing roads, home lots, gas lines, utilities and common areas. The charts resemble the color of rainbows. They were created by the marketing and public relations department. When the charts are finished no one but the art director can translate the color chart.

These same people and their oil investment partners are the ones who sold the merits of fracking to the State of Oklahoma which included the onset of daily earthquakes. It is a harsh reality to learn that there is nothing you can do to stop the pillage. Like Medusa’s snakes, more than forty or more piers will stretch deep into Mountain Island Lake. More oil and gas will wash into the Lake along with spent building materials. I am even concerned about how the new piers will affect the safety of boating on the Lake.

Neighbors can gather and defy the planned carnage of their land, but rarely are they successful. American citizens have lost their voices. Our cries are not heard inside the luxury offices above the fortieth floor. This is the harsh reality of Corporate Personhood.

Another harsh reality is the harm done to the Catawba River by Duke Energy’s coal-ash ponds that have leaked into the river since the Mt. Island Steam Plant began operations in 1929. Progress brought us electricity, but at a horrible price. Thru the passing decades coal-ash slurry has licked its way into the river bed like a long black tongue poisoning the river and the land. According to the pages of the Coal Ash Chronicles, “more than 25 percent of the chemical elements listed on the periodic table can be found in coal and coal-ash.” Just to name a few of the unseen poisons that invade the water we drink…

Duke Energy has grown from a local company to a nationwide corporation. Per their website, of their many financial sponsors are two global investment firms. Anchorage Capital Group is a private investment firm that “invests in opportunities with a view towards enhancing value as an active investor.” They manage more than $17.5 billion in assets. Their interests are in regional building and land development.

Another interested party, MatlinPatterson, a global investment firm, focuses on credit opportunities for homebuilders. MatlinPatterson is the controlling shareholder of Standard Pacific, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders.

The Catawba River basin is made up of eleven lakes. Lake James near Asheville, NC, is the first lake of the chain of lakes created by Duke Energy’s dams. While visiting in Marion, NC, I ate lunch on the shore of Lake James. I noticed how clear and clean the water currents were. The Lake is still clear enough that you can find a glimmer of a light topical shade of green outlining the crevices along the shore. This river does not contain a toxic coal-ash like the waters of Mt. Island Lake. The coal-ash contents of Mt. Island Lake hold biological waste, boiler slag, cleaning solvents, arsenic and many other unnamed disease ridden chemicals. Duke Energy also permits other industries to dump into their ponds.

Duke Energy’s ad campaigns are so misleading that recently I was told by Antoine James of the Charlotte Environmental Action Group, that Duke Energy has taken the stance that… “since arsenic is in apple juice… arsenic does not harm humans.”

The sun dropped behind the horizon leaving another hour of eventide. Drinks were passed and we spoke in whispers so as not to disturb. Below, a turtle popped his head out of the water, looked around, and quickly, dove out of sight. Herons wade in the shallow waters. In the distance Osprey chicks scream to be fed. Suddenly, from near the clouds, an Osprey shot like an arrow into the water’s surface. When he returns with a fish, we cheered his success as he struggled, wet and heavy with his bounty, to fly up into the sky. We cheered and toasted to feeding the young’uns.”

I gazed at the shore and where the ground had been washed away leaving a foot or so of tree roots tapping the river to feed the bodies of the natural world. Layers and layers of soil, worms, plants, dens, rocks and trees are exposed. “It is so awesome,” someone said.

“But the facts are grim,” came a whisper.

In the 1950s, enthusiastically, farmers used the pesticide DDT abundantly on their crops without noticing the lethal impact it was causing. Populations of Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Seagulls, Robins and many populations of song birds and sea birds disappeared. Since 1972, DDT was banned from use in the USA. Yet, the pesticides being used today contain elements that are as highly toxic. Will future generations of Osprey chicks survive?

In the summer of 2014, there are still a few undeveloped wild places where the shoreline is not despoiled. It is abundant with wild-life and mystery. Wildlife occupies this fading natural world which is so quickly disappearing under the ponderous grip of Greed, a deadly sin. Darkness had set in, covering our half of the world, to beckon sleep. I said my goodbyes with a heavy heart.

One morning, I caught a ride with the Catawba River keeper. We cruised with Captain Tony Mills up towards Cowan’s Dam. During the ride we slowed to look at a sunken boat near a coal-ash pond. We could see several leaks that allow coal-ash slurry to seep into Mt. Island Lake. Daily.

It was then on that bright blue morning, instead of listening and shaking my head, only action would settle the rumblings of my spirit and very soul. As a friend once told me, “A person has to do what they want to do. It is each individual’s journey.” The only power I have is the written word and my voice. If I was younger, I would have included marching.

Count the corporations. Count the corporations. They are listed from A – Z, all of them including AT&T, British Petroleum, Exxon, Insurance companies, energy companies, insurance companies, cable companies, etc. etc. All of these corporations have been given the rights of Personhood presented to them on a golden platter by the Supreme Court of America.

The corporations disguised as “Trusts” usually do not pay taxes because of being tax-exempt. They share the same rights as an American citizen, but corporations seem to be treated “more equal” than citizens.

Corporation personhood controls the management of local organizations. Chambers of Commerce, charter schools, family-owned corporations, pharmacies, colleges and universities. Their citizenship rights and tax breaks are far more important than the average citizen. Even the most powerful Homeowners’ Associations, (HOAs), are managed by national corporation personhoods.

Corporations may have been given personhood, but like robots they do not have a soul and their only religion is Money. Silently, unnoticed, and at this moment corporations are purchasing abandoned houses and neighborhoods, foreclosed homes, industrial and commercial properties and stealing universal water rights.

There is a neo-feudal system swallowing what is left of our individual rights. This time, we are not farmer peasants. Instead, we are worker-bees in skyscraper hives. The Chairman of the Board, aka “the” King, occupies the penthouse and the lesser royal executives occupy the offices above the fortieth floor. They do not want to be bothered.

The Catawba River of my youth, now known as, Mt. Island Lake, will most likely continue to be developed which will bring in revenue to many pockets and city budgets. There is little we can do about the pollution that will occur. An economic lesson, a tale of woe, whispered in a stoic voice, telling us to make our voices heard across the seas and above the fortieth floor.

Judy Rozzelle

Listen, this is my favorite story of “the things Cousin Yvonne would say.”

I have written many stories concerning my adventures with Cousin Yvonne. I wrote many of them for her grandchildren who were young at the time of her death. There were a couple of stories concerning Yvonne that I never told except in intimate gatherings. Well, her grandchildren are grown with children of their own and what is more intimate than Facebook?
Once in a time long ago and faraway, the summer of ‘83, Cousin Yvonne, Frank Coley and I took a road trip. Yvonne had charted the trip from Shuffletown to the Outer Banks. She rode shotgun. I drove and Frank Coley sat in the back seat. He was the official beer drinker. During our five days of freedom, not one of us had a serious thought that wasn’t quickly extinguished.
A slight error was made in the length of time it took to make the first leg of the trip. We forgot to include the many extra stops we made on our way. It was after midnight, when we reached wherever we were to stop and sleep.
In the primitive world of the 1980s, the highways ran through a sleeping silent world void of blinking neon lights. Most of the existing motels and inns were closed up for the night by eleven. We looked and looked for a place to sleep. All we needed was a room with two full beds. We were budgeting.
But that is not what we got. Since all this happened in a time of long ago, I dimly remember recalling antique furniture, a roll-out bed for Frank and a double for us cousins. What I remember is more like a rental living room in a private home. Following this first night of sleep, I endured the nightly obligatory and colorful comments concerning my snoring.
The next morning, after refueling with junk food, gas and an extra twelve pack of beer, we set out for the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The trip was merry and foolish. For two days, we stayed somewhere in a motel with a pool. While I read a book in the room, Yvonne and Frank were tanning and drinking by the pool. Close to noon, Frank shot through the door like he was being chased.
“#%^&*(@#, there is a man out there with his family. He has a large chain hanging from his jeans and they are waiting for friends.”
“He’s been throwing his children into the pool and it’s aggravating, but Yvonne just sat up and hollered at him to say that if he threw his son into the pool one more time, I was going to beat him up. Look out the window to see what is going on.”
“I see a large man throwing a boy into the swimming pool,” I answered.
“Do you see Yvonne?”
“Maybe she is taking a nap.”
“You hope,” I laughed. “Let’s go pick up lunch.”
“Great idea, I will change clothes and we will sneak past the pool.”
“You can hide as I drive by,” I said.
Frank was the size of a small bear. He wore an untamed full beard; he was a sports announcer, a freelance writer and a sentimental, gentle man. Other than that, like Yvonne and me, he practiced the sport of humor. Wit is a blood sport in the South.
As we drove past the swimming pool, Yvonne’s head popped up like a chicken. She hollered, “Frank, don’t forget, you need to fight him.” She pointed at a tall, big man with twenty-four inches of chain hanging from his waist. He waved to us but Frank was lying down in the back seat.
At the mid-point of the trip, I called home. We had ordered our food. While we waited for lunch, I used the outside pay-phone. Everything was fine, but there was a message for Frank. His girlfriend had called to relay the news to Frank that her ex-husband had passed away.
I walked back to the restaurant and while frowning, I said to Frank, “I have some bad news.”
They called my number. My lunch was ready. I walked away without finishing the sentence. When I returned, Frank’s face was in a state of horror. “What is the bad news?” He rightfully demanded.
At the same time, I heard Yvonne say, “She is dumb as broccoli. It’s a good thing she has big boobs. ”
Another day, I remember Frank and Yvonne throwing pebbles at me after a ferry ride. It was a revolt against my snoring. The obligatory snide comments now began at breakfast and continued until we slept. We watched sunsets, swam, frolicked, and tore through the five days like children in an ice cream store. Until it was time to go home.
At some point on the trip home, Frank Coley announced from the back-seat, “I am horny.”
“As the cruise director, I told you that was not included in the trip agenda.” I answered.
“All I want is a little pussy.” Frank laughed.
“God, me too,” Yvonne spoke up. “Mine is as big as a bucket.”
I drove off the road.

A week at Church Camp

Church Camp

There was only one summer camp for us rural kids, and that was church camp—Camp Stewart, it was called. We lived in the remotest corner of a kudzu-choked forest north of Shuffletown for a week of Bible study, evening vespers, and, on Saturday evening, skits. Presbyterians ran it. Our parents gave us no choice.

The actual camp wasn’t much. You could call it rustic, but it was downright primitive. We slept in tin-roofed cabins built on fieldstone foundations. There were paths, well worn, leading from each cabin to a cement-floored community bathroom. It had nowhere near enough individual shower stalls. And never, not once in that long, long week, did all the commodes flush properly. One or two was always plugged. I do not remember what I learned of Jesus Our Lord and Savior’s life back then, but I will never forget how the bathroom smelled.

I attended Camp Stewart with my cousin Yvonne. Yvonne from an early age was one of those children adults believed to be without malice. I knew better. But I will say she wasn’t afraid of Evil … and we were exposed to a lot of it at church camp. Every night our counselors would fill our heads not with images of the Christ child or stories of his apostles but instead, all manner of ghost stories involving chicken-headed ladies, bloodthirsty vampires, or pirates wandering around with swords through their eye sockets. I would listen to tales that made me want to cry, made me want to go home, made me stay awake for all 168 hours spent at camp while Yvonne yawned, totally unfazed. When the story was finished, our counselor would have us all get down on our knees and recite the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think anybody, with the exception of men in foxholes, has ever recited the Lord’s Prayer with such fervor and hope as we seven cabin mates … leaving out Yvonne, of course, who was asleep before the amen.

Yvonne was in perfect control of not only her mind but mine, on occasion. There was a nice boy who rode our school bus, Dale Gordon, who was older, fourteen at least. He had a crush on me. I didn’t really fancy him … I was in love with Tommy White, forever, cross my heart and hope to die—but Yvonne got it into her head that Dale was the perfect mate for me. >She decided that, during this week at Camp Stewart, I should declare my love for him and reserve him for a wedding sometime in the next decade.

One morning as we sat rocking in chairs outside the camp store, writing postcards home–I was furiously scribbling Come get me, please?–Yvonne announced her plan.

“Judy?” She said, pursing her lips in that my-mind’s-made-up way of hers. “You ought to send Dale a card. Tell him how much you care for him and tell him you think there is a great future for you two.”

“Who?” I was underlining the phrase Come get me NOW.

“Dale Gordon. His daddy is a preacher and that would be good.”

I do not recall what she said to convince me this was a good idea. She must have told me it would get me home sooner, because fifteen minutes later, I had declared my undying love to this boy on the back of a two-cent postcard and mailed it.

Just as it slid out of my hand and down the chute, I experienced, for the first time in my life, second thoughts, the sensation of sinking regret. In the next couple decades, I married many men, but Dale, you can be sure, was not one of them.

But I got even with Cousin.

Every afternoon that week of camp, we had about an hour of free time before supper. Yvonne and I always headed to an oversized swing hung by ropes from the limb of a massive tree. The seat was so large we could stand facing each other, grab each rope, and pump. Boy, could we make that sucker swing. There were times, I swear, when it seemed like it was almost horizontal with the ground. The wind rushed past us and we held on for dear life. But we were young and invincible, so we kept pushing it a little higher, and a little faster, each day.

Well, one afternoon, just as we were swinging past Mars, the limb cracked. Yvonne always recalled that I landed on top of her. She hurt her neck. I hurt my back. People came running. The adults stood us up, brushed off our clothes, and asked us if we were trying to kill ourselves. They checked us for broken bones and then formed a circle around the swing to debate whether or not to fix it. Yvonne and I staggered off to supper.

Three decades later, a doctor convinced my cousin to have the cracked vertebrae in her neck repaired. After the operation, I went to see her. She was heavily sedated, but she rose from her pillow and pointed her finger at me like the ghost of Banquo.

“You did this to me when the swing broke! You landed on my fucking head, you idiot. This is all your fault.”

“Yeah, well!” I sputtered. “YOU shouldn’t have made me mail that postcard!” I rubbed my back, which still hurts me whenever it rains or I get worked up.

“Oh, yeah,” she said, dropping back on her pillow and closing her eyes. “I forgot that postcard.”

A smile spread over her face. Then she drifted off into a drugged sleep.

essay from my book, ShuffletownUSA.