Sunday, February 27, 2005

Thin Ice?

Rob Christensen has an essay in today's N&O in which he characterizes "insurgent Democrats" in N.C. as "mad as hell," which in his locution does appear to mean "off their rockers": "North Carolina Democrats have survived under Jim Hunt and Mike Easley as a moderate, pro-business party. I think some of the Insurgents don't realize that their party in North Carolina is skating on some exceedingly thin ice."

Shoot! You don't survive as a Democrat in the South without hearing the ice crack. You certainly don't survive as a Democrat in a majority-Republican county in the South without going under the floe a time or two.

But there's "pro-business" and then there's "pro-business." The pro-business mentality that gets our goat intends to make poor people "adjust" to their poverty, intends to make working people work longer, harder, for less money, intends to "wean" Americans off Social Security, intends to run everything for their own benefit and would like to put an end to those buzzing flies of democratic governance that make their form of business a tad more accountable.

We're all whores for something, I reckon. (They used to say in West Texas that Ticky Sue would do it for a button.) If "insurgent" Democrats in N.C. are peeved, it might be from seeing our own Ticky Sues climb into bed with every big-gutted asphalt company and corporate pig farmer. Those guys didn't get where they are today by being overly solicitous of "little people."

There's "pro-business" that likes economies of scale rather than scope, that nurtures entrepreneurship and brilliant innovation, that actually gets turned on by creativity and is embarrassed by blatant displays of greed. Doing what the big bankers always want you to do is "pro-business," we guess, by one definition, but corporations are an artificial lifeform that mimicks us in everything but feeling.

So, ridiculously burdened by the lead weight of differing assumptions, we set out across the lake.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Run as a Democrat, Tax Like a Republican

According to the N&O, the Guv's proposal to tax candy, movie tickets, newspapers (all our major vices), etc. is the first step in a national conspiracy to tax goods sold over the Internet. (The Internet is a miracle of democracy; the stupid decision by state governments to try to tax its commerce will only create a huge new class of scofflaws.) Meanwhile, the Guv's proposal to lighten the tax burden on the richest North Carolinians, while shifting it to sugar- and tobacco-addicted wage-slaves, just begs for comment from the new head of the state's Democratic Party.

And, indeed, reporters apparently appeared on Jerry Meek's doorstep about 30 minutes about the Guv laid his stinking sinker on the state legislature ... and Jerry Meek didn't answer the doorbell. Yesterday in the N&O, Meek "said through a spokesman that he didn't yet have comments on Easley's plan to raise taxes on cigarettes, candy, movie tickets, phone bills and more to settle the state budget, while also offering an income tax break for the wealthiest in the state."

Meek's in a difficult position, and everyone's watching to see what he does. He just beat (and humiliated) the Guv in winning the state chairmanship. The Guv has shown no particular interest in establishing rapport with the Party. If Meek is in fact a D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T and not of the Guv's persuasion (whatever the hell it IS), he'll be honest about the Guv's budget proposal, which means he's got a couple of chillier years to get through where he has no influence with the Top Dog he's criticized in public.

But what influence would he have if he kissed the Guv's rump?

Might as well be honest, if the outcome is going to be identical to being a great big ass-kisser.

Gene Wilson Wants to Make Mischief with Boone City Elections

If you can't beat 'em, rope in some no-zoners to vote 'em out.

Introduced into the N.C. House last Wednesday is a bill co-sponsored by our own Rep. Gene Wilson ... "ETJ Residents Vote for Council" ... which would mandate allowing residents in municipal "extra-territorial jurisdictions" to vote in municipal elections.

That would mean that residents who don't pay municipal taxes would get to vote to spend city tax-payers' money. But more to the motive: this bill would mean that residents who live under the zoning jurisdictions of those cities, but who hate zoning with a purple passion usually reserved for homosexuals and young women who have sex out of wedlock, would presumably get to vote in city elections for people with similar philosophical aversions to any controls on growth.

In the case of Boone, the residents in the ETJ would be sufficient to sway any election (and we'll try to get exact numbers soon). The no-zoners have not been able to win a majority on the Boone Town Council in a couple of election cycles now, so we see this as Rep. Gene Wilson's attempt to give 'em a leg up (like a dog against a hydrant) by means of state-wide legislation.

This hair-raising legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Election Law & Campaign Finance Reform. You can read the text of the bill here. Below are the e-mail addresses for all the Democratic members of the committee. We urge you to write 'em about this dangerous law:

Tim Moore, Chairman ...
Deborah Ross, Chairman ...
Paul Luebke, Vice Chairman ...
Mickey Michaux ...
Walt Church ...
Mary Price Harrison ...
Hugh Holliman ...
Edd Nye ...

Friday, February 25, 2005

What's the Matter with Kansas?

It's like we went to sleep one night and woke up to a police state in Kansas, a foretaste of things to come (see the last post down-column).

Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline (and, yes, that's how he spells his first name ... one 'l' ain't enough!) is pursuing jihad against abortion in Kansas. He was against abortion when he served in the Kansas state legislature and helped write a very restrictive late-term abortion law (which doesn't quite ban it outright, an oversight he's clearly trying to correct). Kline has been Kansas Attorney General for two years, and he's been busy during that time sniffing out female sexual activity. Last year he made an attempt to require the state's health workers to report any sexual activity of girls younger than 16, but a judge blocked the order. Just so you know where he's coming from, he argued last year that Roe v. Wade should be overturned in an brief in the federal cases on abortions after the first trimester. No doubt about it ... he's a Republican mullah who intends to BREAK women of what he considers an annoying habit.

Now he's on a huge fishing expedition, and he's doing it under cover of investigating rape. He is demanding the complete medical files of scores of women and girls who had late-term abortions, claiming that he is looking for evidence of statutory rape of underage girls. He's gotten a state judge to sign a subpoena directed at two clinics, one run by a doctor who has been a major target of anti-choice activists for years (and who contributed hugely to Kline's opponent in the race for Attorney General). The subpoena is demanding "complete" records, which would include personal details like marital status, race, employment history, and emergency contacts. Lawyers for the clinics asked, "How can a woman's method of birth control or prior history of abortions or use of drugs and medications be relevant?"

The NYTimes says, "It is unclear exactly how the records could lead prosecutors to rape suspects, although the clinics say the files often include information about how patients became pregnant, among other 'intimate details of their lives' like sexual history, birth control practices, drug use, psychological profiles, information about fetal anomalies and communications with law enforcement."

If there's one thing that turns Phill Kline on, it's "intimate details" of women's lives. God help those women, if the courts don't.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Liberty Under the Mullahs

The attorney general of Kansas has gotten a court order to go snooping into the personal lives of some 90 women who received late-term abortions. "Under the order signed by a judge, the attorney general would get records that would include each patient's name, medical history, details of her sex life, birth control practices and psychological profile."

Balancing N.C.'s Budget on the Backs of the Poor

As promised, the Guv delivered his budget proposal to the legislature yesterday. He proposes reducing taxes on the state's richest while socking it to the poor in steep increases to the cigarette tax (which he proposes upping this year from 5 cents a pack to 40 cents a pack), along with taxes on other "vices," like candy, liquor, movies, newspapers, and live entertainment, such as circuses and other shows. Easley's plan would also increase to 7 percent the sales tax on phone bills and cable and satellite service.

When in trouble, tax consumers, eh, Guv?

"Why would we cut the income tax for people who live well and who don't have to worry about health care and make those who can't afford it pay more?" asked state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird.

It's so bad that the N&O felt obliged to remind readers ... "Easley [is] a Democrat." He's registered that way, at any rate.

'Nuff Said?

From this a.m.'s NYTimes: "Concluding a yearlong study on the effectiveness of President Bush's sweeping education law, No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan panel of lawmakers drawn from many states yesterday pronounced it a flawed, convoluted and unconstitutional education reform initiative that had usurped state and local control of public schools."

Flawed. Convoluted. And unconstitutional.

Does it get any worse than that?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A New Tax We Can All Get Behind

A state senator in Montana has introduced a bill that would impose a gross proceeds tax on "big box stores" like Wal-Mart. The tax, however, would only kick in if these stores did not pay their employees an entry level wage of at least $22,000 a year, counting both pay and benefits. The tax would only apply to a store if its annual gross receipts went over $20 million.

The logic is that Wal-Mart actually creates welfare dependency wherever it goes, because it pays its workers so little. The Montana bill would force the retailer to pay for the mess it creates.

Election Poker

The all Republican N.C. Supreme Court throws out over 11,000 provisional ballots in the November election.

The Democrats in the N.C. State Senate see that and raise the bet. Yesterday the state Senate voted 29-21 along partisan lines to make those 11,000 provisional ballots count.

"It is important to declare what was done was properly done," Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Charlotte Democrat and the bill's main sponsor, said of the state's voting procedures. "The people whose ballots are in question here did nothing wrong. They acted in accordance with the instructions they were given."

The bill now goes to the state House, where a thin Democratic majority also (theoretically) prevails.

The low hum you hear from the east is the yowling of Raleigh Republicans, screaming that the Dems are trying to "steal" the election. Excuse me? This all started with a Supreme Court willing to disfranchise thousands of legitimate voters in an effort to make Bill Fletcher the new state Superintendent of Public Instruction. As always, the Republicans would much prefer the Dems to just sit still and take it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Winning Friends & Influencing People

Madame Virginia Foxx will probably not be getting the congressional Miss Congeniality Award any time soon. According to the N&O, she's alienated a fellow congressman from New York (and shown off, once again, her superior humanitarian instincts).

The Education and Workforce Committee of the U.S. House was debating revisions to the Workforce Investment Act. Rep. Major Owens (D-New York) told Foxx and his other colleagues about a study showing that half of all black men in New York City are unemployed. Foxx bristled about "sweeping generalizations that are being made about people standing in line and unmet need." And with a heart the size and approximately the composition of Miss Murdstone's coinpurse, she added, "I'd say if you can't get a job in New York, move."

She also apparently urged unemployed New Yorkers to move specifically to Watauga County, and we would like to second that excellent proposition. Anything that will tip the balance of Democrats to Republicans in the county will be most welcomed!

Virginia Senate Puts Kebosh on Prayer in School Amendment

The mythology of persecution has grown so potent among the Christian Right that they feel led by God to impose themselves on venues they judge are insufficiently Christianized for their tastes. Hence, the now late-lamented attempt to revise Virginia's constitutional guarantees on religious freedom -- a document penned in 1786 by no less than Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Mason -- to actually mandate Christian prayer in school and other public arenas.

The Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 10 to 5 yesterday to reject a proposed new meddlesome paragraph that Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr. (R-Grayson) wanted to wedge into the graceful 18th-century prose of the state's constitution. New language was needed, he said, to counter court decisions that have "persecuted Christians and expelled expressions of faith from the public square." So whereas the Founding Fathers of Virginia wrote that "all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion," that's insufficiently partisan for Del. Carrico, who wants to demonize "activist judges." We thank God for "activist judges," if that's what you want to call 'em, who'll continue to hold the line against the Charles Carricos of Virginia and elsewhere, who intend to ram their religion down everyone else's throats (by means of the public schools, if possible) and who scream "PERSECUTION" when they're thwarted.

Interestingly, four Republicans joined the committee's six Democrats to soundly defeat Del. Carrico's trifling amendment. Occasionally, statesmanship can still rear its handsome head in this age of partisanship, though those four Republican state senators will be targeted in the next primaries for failing to deliver "Christian Virginia" into the hands of the "Christians."

Monday, February 21, 2005

Inspector General of U.S. Dept. of Labor To Look at Wal-Mart Deal

The supposedly independent Inspector General of the Department of Labor has decided to investigate the sweetheart deal between the dept. and Wal-Mart over the issue of child labor laws, as in violation of same. (We wrote about this deal in this space in an earlier post.)

According to reporting done by the NYTimes, "Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, asked the inspector general to intervene. Noting that Wal-Mart executives had contributed heavily to President Bush's re-election, Miller said that Wal-Mart had received special treatment and that the department had acted suspiciously in not making the settlement public for more than a month."

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Easley's Defeat

We're still waiting for accounts from actual participants in yesterday's historic take-over of the N.C. Democratic Party. In the meantime, this morning's N&O offers up a few choice nouns and adjectives on Gov. Mike Easley's humiliating defeat at the hands of the state executive committee:

Jerry Meek's election ... "a rebuke to Gov. Easley and party insiders."

"...a startling rebuff to Gov. Mike Easley and the party establishment."

"Cheers erupted when it was announced that the state Democratic Executive Committee had elected Meek by a 271 to 242 vote over Ed Turlington, a Raleigh attorney and veteran Democratic operative."

"It was the first time in memory -- and maybe the first time ever -- that the party's ruling body had rejected the recommendation of the governor."

"The rebellion .... will probably dampen talk of Easley having any national aspirations."

"...the pressure [from party leaders] seemed to backfire."

"...a bit of a backlash against Easley."

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Meek Takes N.C. Dems Top Post

The progressive insurgent Democrats roll on! Jerry Meek won the vote this afternoon for the N.C. state party chairmanship.

Saturday Morning "We-Heart-Statistics" Round-Up

1. Newly elected N.C. Senator Dick Burr received $250,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. He raised more money from interest groups than any other Senate candidate in the 2004 elections. Not surprisingly, after recently grilling the governor of Minnesota about that state's importation of drugs from Canada, thus bypassing patent laws held by U.S. companies, Burr got wet little kisses in the hallway from drug industry lobbyists, who apparently find his championing of their special interest very sexy indeed.

2. From the major world religion that tried strong-arming its members last fall into voting for George W. Bush for "moral" reasons came this news yesterday: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops received in 2004 1,092 new accusations of sexual abuse by priests. The major world religion that proclaims an intimate knowledge of the mind of God on the issue of abortion has been forced by circumstances to open an "Office of Child and Youth Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops." The 1,092 new accusations of abuse were made by 1,083 people, mostly men. An analysis conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found 10,667 minors had allegedly been abused from 1950 to 2002 ("the actual number of victims will probably remain unknown because many people never come forward"). Some 756 priests have been implicated. Costs to the church (principally, pay-offs to victims) have exceeded $800 million since 1950. Last year alone the costs from settlements, therapy for victims and offenders, and lawyers' fees came to about $139.6 million.

3. A week after President Bush came to North Carolina to pitch his proposal to privatize Social Security, an Elon College poll found that 46 percent of N.C. respondents said they disapprove or strongly disapprove of the president's plan, while 31 percent said they approve or strongly approve. About 23 percent said they didn't have a clue what was going on.

4. Details of Gov. Mike Easley's new budget proposal have leaked. The guv proposes keeping the additional half-cent sales tax (that was supposed to expire in June), upping taxes on cigarettes "as much as 50 cents per pack," cutting many state agencies across the board by 1 or 2 percent, and cutting the tax rate of the wealthiest North Carolinians (those making over $200,000 a year). Apparently, Easley really IS running for president, only as a Republican.

Friday, February 18, 2005

MeanDean Debates Perle

Newly elected Democratic National Chair Howard Dean, our favorite all-round Proctologist to the Right, debated neo-con and Darth Vader look-alike Richard Perle yesterday in Portland, Oregon. A protester threw a shoe at Perle, yelling "Liar, liar!" but MeanDean was a model of restraint.

Our favorite wound inflicted on Perle came from an audience member who reminded Perle that he had bragged on Sept. 22, 2003, that within one year "a grand square in Baghdad [would be] named for President Bush."

Instead of sensibly going "la-la-la, I can't hear you," Perle laid down another public quote by which he can be humiliated in the future: "I'd be a fool not to recognize that it did not happen on the schedule I had in mind," Perle said, adding that he did not deny that the administration had made mistakes in Iraq. But, Perle added, "I will be surprised, yet again, if we do not see a square in Baghdad named after this president."

So the first person to notice "George W. Bush Square" in Baghdad (or even "George W. Bush Bomb Crater") is requested to phone in, so that Richard Perle will not continue to look like ... Richard Perle.

ASU Bearing the Brunt of Bush's Budget

While our local newspaper monopoly smooches the lobe of Virginia Foxx's ear, and points south, The Appalachian newspaper at ASU is at least taking notice of direct impacts that will alight locally, should Foxx succeed in passing El Presidente's proposed budget. From yesterday's Appalachian:

The Upward Bound program would be completely eliminated. Completely. Upward Bound prepares first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds for a university education while they're still in high school, and according to Assistant Director of Upward Bound Matt W. Ruble, the ASU program has a 92 percent success rate. That is, 92 percent of Upward Bound students have finished college. But Bush's budget sees this as a frivolous expense (when compared to invading foreign countries on trumped up evidence).

Also Bush's proposed budget would cause reductions in Pell Grants to 1,800 students. Some 200 ASU students would lose their grants entirely. Pell Grants, for those not in the know, go to the neediest students.

Also up for cuts ... the "Work-Study" program ... which provides on-campus jobs for literally thousands of students. Helps defray expenses for the students and keeps regular secretaries from spending all of their days standing at copying machines.

Vice Chancellor for Student Development Cindy A. Wallace said, "We intend to fight this one out. It matters too much to Appalachian students and to the entire university .... This really aggravates me. I just don't understand why they would cut Pell Grants, which go to the most needy families and students .... [And] work-study affects thousands of students. I don't understand that cut either. Students working to pay for college seems like something President Bush's agenda would support."

Seems like. But ASU administrators shouldn't be holding their breath, especially not for the support of Madame Virginia Foxx. She's never shown herself inclined to help out ASU in the least, and her hard governmental heart toward "the needy" is well documented. She'll say, "I was poor and got rich without federal handouts. Everyone else should do it too."

N.C.'s Struggle with Bush's E.P.A.

Let's recap:

1. Because about a third of North Carolina's counties do not meet federal standards for ozone or fine particle pollution, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper filed a petition last March under the federal Clean Air Act, asking the U.S. government to declare that pollution from other states is contributing to North Carolina's air problems. The law requires states to prevent their emissions from contributing to another state's air pollution. Such a petition as the one Cooper filed is the mechanism for states to ask for direct federal regulation of pollution from upwind states.

2. When EPA missed the deadline to answer Cooper's petition (while Bush officials instead maneuvered to amend the law to get rid of the petitioning right which Cooper had exercised), Cooper threatened to sue in November to force EPA to do something about 13 states that are contributing bad stuff to N.C.'s air quality (a suit he was bound to win, if there's an unbought-off federal judge left anywhere on earth). The primary culprits: power plants in Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

3. Yesterday, EPA agreed to reach a decision by August 1st on whether air pollution from those other states was causing air problems in N.C. Now because the EPA is (belatedly) actually following the law in even this feint toward enforcement, our attorney general Cooper has decided to act the blissful idiot: "Cleaner air is right around the corner for North Carolina," Cooper said yesterday in Raleigh. "We have a strong case. We have shown these power plants in other states contribute significant air pollution to North Carolina."

But what EPA agreed to yesterday was NOT to do anything but only to decide by Aug. 1st WHETHER to do anything ... a huge difference. For anyone even vaguely tracking the performance of this administration with reference to the environment, Cooper's "cleaner air is right around the corner" glee is just so ... naive.

We certainly applaud the attorney general for doing his job and demanding that the EPA enforce the friggin' law. (He's one of the few statewide Democratic office holders who strike us as both brave and righteous.) But we consider his celebratory dance of yesterday to be waaay short of any goal-line.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Mayor Burnley Spanks Keith Honeycutt

Boone Mayor-for-Life Velma Burnley -- God bless her! -- has written a stern letter to Republican County Commissioner Keith Honeycutt, ostensibly scolding him for his offensive strut-fest and the Boone-bashing he brought to the podium last Thursday night at the Boone public hearing over the two moratoria on steep-slope and high-density development. But Mayor Burnley's anger at the first-term County Commissioner has been building over two years, since Mr. Honeycutt never passes up an opportunity to sneer publicly at Boone, especially its hated zoning regulations. Ironically, Honeycutt took advantage of a public hearing mandated by ZONING to again grand-stand against his personal demon ... i.e., any government reg that limits what a property owner can do to his own land (and hence to his neighbors).

Your comments were "ill-informed and ill-advised," scolds Burnley in her Dear Keith letter. "Frankly, I was upset and amazed" to hear you once again make "unfounded accusations" against the town relative to the disaster in the White Laurel subdivision. (The atrocity of White Laurel ... the brainchild of Ned Fowler and the Northwest Regional Housing Authority ... low-income housing built on a steep, north-facing slope ... where some six residences slide off their foundations during last summer's hurricanes.) Honeycutt's point is that since the development is in Boone's ETJ and was permitted under Boone's (hiss) zoning, Boone should bear the burden of paying for the relief of those families (and he's got a point). Mayor Burnley's point is that even though the development is in Boone's ETJ, the homeowners, however, are technically not residents of Boone (they pay no taxes there) but of the county (where they do pay their taxes), and hence Boone is prohibited by law from expending its money ... legally accurate (though not as compelling as Honeycutt's simplistic "you zoned it, you permitted it, you should own it!" argument).

'Course, Honeycutt's philosophy of government would have resulted in even more White Laurels -- and worse -- which takes a little wind out of his high dudgeon.

What's really gotten Burnley's goat is the arrogance of multiple county commissioners who feel no particular compunction for strolling out of their zone of elected responsibility into hers. And maliciously offering commentary and helpful hints about how Boone would be better off doing things the way the county does them ... which is certainly OUR model of planning for the future!

UPDATE: At last night's Boone Town Council meeting, Mayor Burnley read aloud a separate statement scolding County Commissioner Honeycutt for spreading false impressions about the town. The gloves are off!

E-Ballot Voting Reforms Being Proposed for N.C.

If you want to keep up with what the N.C. General Assembly's "Joint Select Committee on Electronic Voting Systems" is going to propose to the full legislature, you can check it out here. Sounds pretty good to us. 'Course, the termites in the state legislature haven't started chewing through it yet.

A.G. Gonzales Gets Hard on Porn

The Bush administration's timing is just priceless and will give The Daily Show, ah, fresh meat.

At the same time that you cannot avoid explicit nude poses by famed male prostitute and fake right-wing journalist "Jeff Gannon" (nee James D. Guckert), Bush's new Attorney General decides to get tough on pornography. In what is billed as Alberto Gonzales's "first public decision on a legal matter," the adorable little A.G. has decided to appeal a judge's decision to toss out a federal indictment against a California couple, "the government's first big obscenity case in a decade."

While the groin-obsessed Bush administration goes after nasty little buggers in California, they allow "Jeff Gannon" to sell his flesh from a perch in the White House press room and to ask the occasionally loaded question of White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, or of El Presidente himself.

The U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, charged by Gonzales to pursue the legal appeal against the California couple, "said the case was not about banning all sexually explicit materials, just reining in obscenity." Might want to start with bareback hacks to whom someone in the White House granted press credentials and allowed through security with a fake identity for two full years.

(And if you haven't seen the photos of "Jeff Gannon" that he himself put on the Internet, don't look for links here. Do a Google search like all the rest of us voyeurs.)

7th-Grade Teacher Goes Anti-War in Elizabeth City

A seventh-grade teacher in the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank school system roiled up a political crisis for her- or himself (so far, he/she has gone unnamed in the press we've seen). The teacher developed a writing assignment for a class at the River Road Middle School to write a letter to President Bush "convincing him to please send our troops home."

The teacher shared the writing "prompt" with fellow seventh-grade teachers, one or more of whom spread the news in the community before any actual assignment was ever given to a class. But the school's superintendent felt obliged to publicly apologize yesterday for "an error in judgment."

And it was. An error in judgment. You don't mandate a single politically charged point of view to a bunch of 13-year-olds and expect them to (1) make sense (as opposed to mouth slogans) and (2) keep the exercise from their politically on-edge parents.

It would be an error in judgment if it were a class of 18-year-olds in college, too. I was teaching freshman English back in the early '70s when Roe v Wade turned America into armed camps willing to shed blood over who got to control women's wombs, and in my inexperience I thought it would be useful for students to write essays supporting or opposing the Supreme Court's decision (I at least gave them a choice, as did the decision). What wretched writing that assignment engendered! Half-baked opinions based on emotion, rumor, insults, and puddle-deep information. I never did that again. Instead, I began to ask students to develop solid information based on print resources before attempting to write anything. In other words, I started teaching research and never stopped for 30 years.

Asking 7th-graders to write a letter to the President of the United States is not a bad assignment. But why not ask them to develop a topic out of local issues, and make the letters genuinely informational as well as opinionated? (I am somewhat surprised to find that the readers of the Elizabeth City Advance tilt against President Bush in an on-line poll of his job performance: 45 percent recently graded him with an A or B performance, while slightly over 47 percent gave him a D or F. The remaining voters gave him a C.)

Mainly, we're glad this teacher (whom we'll have to assume is young and inexperienced) did not get publicly humiliated, let alone fired. Let's hope it's been a learning experience.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Executive Director of N.C. Demo Party Resigns

In advance of this Saturday's meeting and vote of the state Democratic Party Executive Committee in Raleigh for a new party chair, the man who's been actually running the daily operations for five years, executive director Scott Falmlen, said he's outta there as soon as his replacement can be arranged by the new party chair (see this, and scroll down).

It's possible to read too much into that. It's also possible to read it as an acknowledgement that Jerry Meek has the votes to take over the party on Saturday.

Republicans Sharing Power with Dems in N.C. House

Jim Black, Democratic Speaker of the N.C. House, appointed committee chairs yesterday, and though Democrats hold a 63-57 majority in the body, Black appointed 26 Republican committee chairs among the total of 82 appointments he made. The smart part of this maneuver is that all 26 Republicans have close ties to former Republican co-speaker Richard Morgan, the man the state Republican Party booted last year. So Black is not only continuing a coalition with a faction of the Republican Party that seemed to work well for him in the last session; he's also exacerbating the division among the Republicans.

According to the N&O, "Black also put moderate Democrats in several key posts, which suggests he might continue to take a cautious approach on divisive issues."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Bush and "the Poor People Stuff"

David Kuo, a former White House official with the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives (oh, you remember "compassionate conservatism," surely!) published an essay on yesterday that says El Presidente was all boot and no cattle when it came to actually helping the poor: "No administration since LBJ's has had a more successful legislative track record than this one," wrote Kuo. "From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants. It never really wanted the 'poor people stuff.' "

Disfranchising Voters, the North Carolina Way

If you're a bit fuzzy on exactly how the North Carolina Supreme Court stepped on its collective weenie in disfranchising over 11,000 provisional ballots recently, Jack Betts' editorial in the Sunday Charlotte Observer is must reading.

Betts writes about the outrage of punishing valid voters who were in most instances told by local elections officials that they could cast provisional ballots in the precincts they showed up in. Betts quotes a precedent-setting case from 1948, when Sam Ervin sat on the court and wrote the opinion: "We can conceive of no principle which permits the disfranchisement of innocent voters for the mistake, or even the willful misconduct, of election officials in performing the duty cast upon them. The object of elections is to ascertain the popular will, and not to thwart it. The object of election laws is to secure the rights of duly-qualified electors, and not to defeat them."

But the five Republicans on the state Supreme Court reversed that precedent and decided to punish the voters, thereby punishing all of us.

When this decision was first handed down, we wondered aloud on this blog why the provisional ballots cast out-of-precinct on election day were no good, while the million or so ballots cast state-wide out-of-precinct in "early voting" were okay. Betts also addresses that curious anomaly: "What did the court say about those [early, out-of-precinct] voters? A mere footnote, reprinted here without the statutory boilerplate: 'Absentee voting and election day voting at specially created out-of-precinct voting places are not at issue in the present case.' "

Betts tries to give the five Republican justices the benefit of the doubt, that they wouldn't have reached such a tortured conclusion for purely partisan reasons. But the above footnote from their decision sends a different message: "We want to disfranchise these 11,000 voters and not the other 1 million because we want to."

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Give 'em Hell, Howard!

MeanDean took charge of the Democratic National Committee just before noon today, and we hear that the party's national website is buckling under the pressure of people crowding on to send money. Join the great outpouring of support, if you can swing a buck or two, and give on-line: Think of it this way: it'll annoy the hell out of our enemies!

On to Raleigh next weekend. Can the tide of grassroots progressivism and reform be held back by Guv Easley?

UPDATE: Daily Kos and Atrios have set up a special page for funneling contributions to the DNC,, though the servers are currently too overloaded to manage the crush. We hear that contributions on this site hit $10,000 in the first four minutes after Dean's acceptance speech, with the average contribution (from 218 contributers) at $45. A great stirring was felt across the land!

Bush Labor Department Gets Cozier with Wal-Mart

In a secret agreement between Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Labor, which was investigating child labor charges against the mega-corp, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $135,540 (virtually nothing, in other words) to settle federal charges that it violated child labor laws in Connecticut, Arkansas and New Hampshire, and the Bush Department of Labor agreed in the future to give Wal-Mart 15 days notice before investigating any further complaints. That ought to be enough time for the corp to cover up the wrong-doing before the federal "suits" stroll through the front door.

The agreement was apparently signed back on January 6th and kept quiet (gosh. We wonder why?) until a reporter began asking questions at the Department of Labor, prompted by complains from investigators in the department.

"Giving the company 15 days' notice of any investigation is very unusual," said John R. Fraser, the government's former top wage official under the first President Bush and President Bill Clinton. "The language appears to go beyond child labor allegations and cover all wage and hour allegations. It appears to put Wal-Mart in a privileged position that to my knowledge no other employer has."

Putting huge corps in privileged positions is the speciality of El Presidente and his drones.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Senator Kinnaird Disposes

North Carolina State Senator Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange County) introduced a bill yesterday in the state Senate that might be a bellwether for insuring college-student access to the polls (we're calling it "Give the Republicans Heartburn Act of 2005").

The Kinnaird bill would apply only to Orange County, that is, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but might form the basis for a similar state-wide reform of ballot access. The bill would give Orange County residents the express right to vote at any precinct in the county. The bill also apparently contains a provision to open "super precincts" for "early voting" that would stay open THROUGH election day rather than close the weekend prior.

Did we mention Republican heartburn? Anything that gives young people greater access to the democratic process can't be good for the Republican Party, or so they obviously think, because David Blust's brother, state Senator John Blust (R-Guilford), has already started screaming "voter fraud." In these guys' eyes, anything that makes access to voting easier is best shouted down by alleging incipient, massive "fraud," since obviously the desire to get to a ballot on or before election day is tantamount to mortal sin.

Got Them Privatization Poll Blues?

A new AP poll by Ipsos-Public Affairs, taken after the president's State of the Union address and the elections in Iraq, show El Presidente's approval rating going lower by the week. Only 45 percent approve now of his job performance, and 58 percent now think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

He should, like, keep harping on Social Security ... is what we think. Yeah, that's the ticket!

MeanDean Takes Charge

With Howard Dean's election to chair the Democratic National Committee all but assured for tomorrow, amazing who's coming round. Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, who hated Dean's guts last year, told the WashPost, "The job of party chair is different from party nominee. The party chair needs to be an ardent partisan. You can't send a vegetarian to do a red-meat job."

But he's too liberal! The WashPost offers a little historical perspective on that particular whining point:

"Sixteen years ago, after a Massachusetts liberal [Dukakis] lost the presidential race to a Republican named Bush, Democrats selected as their chairman a man with deep roots in the liberal wing of the party. Republican strategists claimed the election of Ronald H. Brown Jr. showed that Democrats did not care about the concerns of ordinary Americans, and southern Democrats worried that the party was writing off their region. Four years later, under Brown's chairmanship, Clinton won the presidency."

But he's nuts!

Yes. Crazy times call for crazy people. We're all nuts. Total loons. It's only natural that we'd want one of our own kind to lead the band ... a red-meat blue-stater!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Magic of "Pre-Screening"

The N&O says El Presidente in Raleigh this a.m. was "rewarded" with "38 rounds of applause" before he left the building. Amazing that an invitation-only, pre-screened audience of Republican donors and not a few Bush idolators would give the man such a warm welcome.

State of Virginia Getting Right With God

You may have been justifiably distracted by the news that U.S. female soldiers turn out to be every bit as adept with torture as their male counterparts, or with the news that El Presidente lied about the costs of his Medicare drug prescription benefit but that we should believe him totally that his privatization of Social Security won't cost us the ole homestead, or the news (by the way) that North Korea is admitting it has nuclear bombs ("So whadda ya gonna do about it, Bubba?") ... you might have been distracted by that piling on of future shock to notice that the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate are busily amending their state constitution to mandate no gay marriage while also mandating prayer in schools and other public buildings.

Guess that means that while a gay couple is NOT getting married in the courthouse they can simultaneously engage in loud praying that the current regime some day gets its comeuppance.

The Battle Over Provisional Votes Heats Up

An article in this a.m.'s Charlotte Observer suggests that the Democratic majorities in both the N.C. House and Senate are not going to take the N.C. Supreme Court's disfranchising of over 11,000 voters last Friday (provisional ballots) lying down. No, they're at least in an alert, sitting posture now. Maybe they'll even get up on their feet.

What's afoot is that the state Republican Party, emboldened now by the five Republican justices on the court who know a Main Chance when they see one, are not only targeting the Superintendent of Public Instruction office (which June Atkinson won by 8,500 votes) but also Democratic county commission sweeps in both Mecklenburg and, yes, Watauga counties.

Local Republicans had many employees of the local Board of Elections working long hours to gather up all the documents pertinent to provisional votes in Watauga County -- including the precinct voter logs -- to try to prove that Mr. James Coffey really should still be chairman of the board. They rushed those papers down to their party headquarters in Raleigh, where right now presumably round-the-clock intercessory prayers are being pronounced in their general direction.

I've seen the figures from Watauga on how provisional ballots tallied up, and my memory is that Republicans won more votes from provisional ballots than Democrats. Wouldn't it be poetic justice if the Republican push to disfranchise voters ended up hurting their own vote tallies?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Foxx's Anti-Illegal Alien Bill May Hurt Refugees of Religious Persecution

The Sensenbrenner bill, "The Real I.D. Act," to force illegal aliens to also drive illegally, gathered opponents from the "faith community" yesterday, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and World Relief, a program of the National Association of Evangelicals. They are joined by Human Rights First and Amnesty International in opposing the Sensenbrenner bill because it "would hurt refugees fleeing religious persecution" and because it is being mainlined to passage, bypassing full committee hearings. (Why are the Republicans prepared to rush the bill through? "Sensenbrenner's proposals were among measures that stalled an intelligence overhaul bill last year. To move the bill, House leaders removed the measures and told Sensenbrenner he could piggyback his measures on the first 'must pass' legislation on the House floor this session. That's likely to be the Iraq and Afghanistan wars spending package.")

Madame Virginia Foxx signed onto the Sensenbrenner bill as one of 115 co-sponsors and proudly wrote an editorial in the Watauga Democrat about how she's protecting the 5th Congressional District from foreign terrorists. The Catholic Madame Foxx might want to check in with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. They have a very different "take" on the bill. So does the National Association of Evangelicals, since Madame Foxx often "passes" as a Baptist.

The religious groups listed above seem dubious about the claim that the Sensenbrenner bill will do much of anything to protect us from terrorists but seem pretty certain that the bill WILL protect the USA from such hair-raising threats to our freedom as "women fleeing persecution, sexual trafficking and children who have been abused ... for slave labor and other political refugees." The Republican zeal to limit freedoms will evidently sweep up at least some of "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

None of whom gave Madame Foxx any campaign contributions, so there's an end of that.

Bush in Raleigh Tomorrow

El Presidente is bringing his Bamboozlepalooza Tour (thank you, Josh Marshall!) to Raleigh tomorrow ... which is curious. He went on the road last week primarily to red states with Democratic senators, carrying an implied threat: if you don't support my plan to privatize Social Security, we will VAPORIZE you. Coming to North Carolina, a red state that voted for him twice, which also has two Republican senators who openly and whole-heartedly support privatization, is a bit more puzzling. Says N.C. State political scientist Andy Taylor (yes, that's his name), it's a "bad sign" for Bush that he's coming to North Carolina, since only two Republicans in the state's delegation in the U.S. House (Myrick of Charlotte and newbie Patrick McHenry of the 10th Dist.) have said they favor privatization.

According to the N&O:

"Rep. Howard Coble of Greensboro said he finds the idea of personal accounts 'inoffensive' but does not see the system as in crisis.

"Rep. Walter Jones of Farmville said he'll wait and see what comes out of Congress.

"Even Rep. Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk, who praised Bush's State of the Union address as magnificent, is not sold on private accounts."

Even Virginia Foxx? Oh my.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Virginia Foxx Favored Privatization of Mental Health Care

Though Virginia Foxx has been cagey in her public utterances about President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, she was very open in the North Carolina Senate about her enthusiasm for the privatization of much of state government.

Take the care doled out by the state to the severely mentally handicapped. Foxx led the charge to privatize the mental health program in the state.

In May 2002, amid rising alarm that the mandate to privatize mental health services was going to put chronically disturbed people in local emergency rooms, Foxx was quoted as blithely unconcerned:

"My attitude is that if you have funds that are sufficient to pay for a service, that entrepreneurs will show up," she was quoted in the Business Journal. "If you build it, or if you allow it, they will come."

Monday, February 07, 2005

Madame Foxx, Smelling S**t

It's not enough, apparently, for the Watauga Democrat to publish non-news news about Madame Virginia Foxx and her every press release ("FLASH! Virginia Foxx Scratches Own Butt!"), but now the formerly esteemed hometown rag has taken to publishing her editorials about how she's serving the N.C. Fifth Congressional District by making sure that the illegal aliens working the Christmas tree farms will be stopped for driving without licenses to their poorly paid jobs. She is just not going to stand for these people getting driver's licenses without proof of citizenship. She is sooooo principled. ("States must withhold licenses from illegal aliens," Watauga Democrat, 7 Feb. 2005, p. 6 ... not posted to their web site.)

Most revealing quote: "Don't get me wrong. I am one of the strongest advocates of state rights that you will find. However, ..." Blah, blah, blah. Never fret, Madame. We get you, totally!

The Sensenbrenner bill that she's signed onto as a proud cosponsor ("Real I.D. Act") is actually her feint toward establishing conservative bona fides (RE: Vernon Jordan's charge that Madame Foxx is actually a gay-lovin' closet LIB-RUL), something safe and extreme that she can advocate without fear that it'll arouse any sizable opposition in her safe Republican district.

Meanwhile, where does she stand on the phase-out of Social Security? Betcha a dollar she's following the White House speech code and calling them "personal accounts" and aping the party line that she would never -- no, never! -- be in favor of "privatization." Though she was plenty in favor of "privatization" when she was in the N.C. Senate. Just ask ASU employees.

But what is truly disheartening is that we'll have to hear from her every time she decides to sign onto Congressman Mugstomp's "Bill to Sound Patriotic While Bludgeoning Baby Seals to Death," about how pious and all-for-states'-rights she is.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

"Creation Care," Growing Green Movement Among Evangelicals

The WashPost is rife with news today about growing pressure among evangelicals to include stewardship of the planet earth, "creation care," among God's mandates to human kind. A statement signed recently by more than 1,000 clergy and congregational leaders in about 35 states, "God's Mandate: Care for Creation," says "there was no mandate, no majority, or no 'values' message in this past election for the President or the Congress to rollback and oppose programs that care for God's creation."

Well, hallelujah!

"The statement objects to Bush's policies on global warming, toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants and lack of emphasis on conservation."

The National Council of Churches is circulating the statement to 250,000 clergy and lay leaders across the country.

For more, see this and this in today's WashPost.

Spying on the Rs

Intensely absorbing account by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, about successfully posing as first a Bush volunteer and then as a paid Bush campaign staffer in Florida (thanks, again, to Stumpy). Here's what the late departed Andrew Sullivan would call "the money quote":

"The problem not only with fundamentalist Christians but with Republicans in general is not that they act on blind faith, without thinking. The problem is that they are incorrigible doubters with an insatiable appetite for Evidence. What they get off on is not Believing, but in having their beliefs tested. That's why their conversations and their media are so completely dominated by implacable bogeymen: marrying gays, liberals, the ACLU, Sean Penn, Europeans and so on. Their faith both in God and in their political convictions is too weak to survive without an unceasing string of real and imaginary confrontations with those people -- and for those confrontations, they are constantly assembling evidence and facts to make their case.

"But here's the twist. They are not looking for facts with which to defeat opponents. They are looking for facts that ensure them an ever-expanding roster of opponents. They can be correct facts, incorrect facts, irrelevant facts, it doesn't matter. The point is not to win the argument, the point is to make sure the argument never stops. Permanent war isn't a policy imposed from above; it's an emotional imperative that rises from the bottom. In a way, it actually helps if the fact is dubious or untrue (like the Swift-boat business), because that guarantees an argument. You're arguing the particulars, where you're right, while they're arguing the underlying generalities, where they are.

"Once you grasp this fact, you're a long way to understanding what the Hannitys and Limbaughs figured out long ago: These people will swallow anything you feed them, so long as it leaves them with a demon to wrestle with in their dreams."

Saturday, February 05, 2005

N.C. Supremes Disfranchise 11,000 Voters

In a decision with HUGE ramifications, an all-Republican North Carolina Supreme Court (lone Democrat Justice Sarah Parker recused herself) yesterday threw out 11,310 ballots cast on November 2nd by "provisional" voters who were not in their home precincts at the time they voted.

That means someone registered in, say, Deep Gap, who had moved to Beaver Dam but forgot to notify the local Board of Elections of the move, who subsequently went to the Beaver Dam fire station to vote and was told by the Beaver Dam elections officials that though they couldn't find him on their rolls, he could vote "provisionally," until the Board of Elections could verify that he was indeed a legally registered voter of the county. When he was subsequently confirmed to be a registered voter, that vote ultimately counted.

But no way, says the persnickety N.C. Supremes, who've decided that the poor hapless schlimazel who didn't change his address but who happens to be a citizen of these United States and who may have voted in every election prior to this one and who hardly ever performs gay marriages or aborts babies, is nevertheless thrown out as a voter because of a technicality.

These judges love a technicality. It doesn't hurt their feelings, either, that their decision also perhaps renders the election victory of June Atkinson as Superintendent of Public Instruction invalid. That just doesn't hurt at all, not that Republican judges would ever reach a highly technical disfranchising of over 11,000 voters in order to advance the cause of the North Carolina Republican Party. Perish the thought.

Or just perish.

(Wonder how the Supremes rationalize the fact that in "early voting," no one votes in his/her home precinct? Or perhaps they would like to throw out all early votes too, which would have the benefit of giving Watauga County back into the arms of James Coffey and Allen Trivette.)

The matter has been remanded by the Supremes back to a Wake County Superior Court to decide just exactly how to deduct those 11,000 votes. A state-wide recount appears necessary. Atkinson could lose. She was ahead of Fletcher by about 8,500 votes on election day. And she's already sworn into office and serving.

This is mischief-making with democracy that justices George Wainwright, Beverly Lake Jr., Mark Martin, Edward Brady, and Paul Newby will long be notorious for (remember Paul Newby? He won in this last election as the biggest "conservative" in the field, and now he's got his first notch on that tight little belt of his).

These "Bitter Greens" Taste Sweet

Just discovered a new Watauga County blog devoted to organic gardening and a "liberation politics based on food," "Bitter Greens Journal," done by Tom Philpott at Maverick Farms (which itself has a dynamic website).

We've been to a dinner at Maverick Farms, a memorable occasion in every way. Now add to that the stimulating cross-polination of Tom Philpott's blog.

He's a recovering journalist (a stock market columnist for Reuters, among other writing jobs) and a sharp observer of government policy. More than that, he and the entire Maverick Farms crew represent the best in entrepreneurial vision that makes Watauga County such a stimulating place to live.

Long may they thole, and toughly!

Crusader Nation?

The Fourth National Survey of Religion and Politics, sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, was conducted in November and December 2004 following the presidential election (thanks to Stumpy for passing on the link here). The poll (in-depth interviews with 2,730 Americans) reveals increased religious polarization (no surprise, that) but also contained the following conclusion that strikes us as a wee bit counter-intuitive:

"Mainline Protestants, considered a strong Republican constituency, divided their votes evenly between President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry, producing the highest level of support for a Democratic presidential candidate in recent times from that religious group."


But wait. I had given scant attention to that key modifier "mainline," which apparently takes in a whole bunch of wealthy Episcopalians and Methodists and Presbyterians who don't generally bully people with born-again sanctimony.

This next conclusion is also unexpected, perhaps:

"Modernist Protestants (78%) and Catholics (69%) strongly supported Kerry, increasing their votes and turnout for the Democrat (71% and 70%, respectively) over 2000." (You'll have to read the full report to find out what Pew means by "modernist Protestants.")

Then here come the doubters, the atheists, and the agnostics: "The Democratic Party candidate gained ground among voters who were unaffiliated with major religions compared to 2000 (up 5 percentage points to 72%), but the turnout of those voters remained unchanged (52%)."

But here's the real challenge for the Democratic Party:

"The Republican incumbent's biggest gain came among Latino Protestants (63%), who moved from the Democratic column in 2000 to the Republican column in 2004."

The mainstream media branded this election the triumph of "morals" and "values" over ... whatever the opposite of morals & values may be imagined, but the Pew study is considerably more modulated in its conclusion:

"Foreign policy and economic priorities were far more important to the overall vote than social issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage. However, social issues were more important to Bush's religious constituencies. In contrast, economic issues were more important to Kerry's constituencies."

Imposing religiosity on the nation was "more important to Bush's religious constituencies." So the flexing of all those mullah muscles right now in decreeing what cartoons are acceptable, what thoughts, thinkable, run the very real risk of quickly over-reaching and turning off the majority. Especially, perhaps, when it comes to intolerance.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Fear and Manipulation

Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" last night had it exactly right: El Presidente is using the same campaign tactics of fear, by means of outrageous lies, to convince people that Social Security needs "saving" (i.e., phasing out) ... just as he convinced the majority a couple of years ago that we had to invade Iraq to save ourselves from nuclear holocaust.

In his state of the union address, he reportedly said, "Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options." And then promptly went on the road to campaign-style events where the only people allowed in the room were avid supporters. Fargo, N.D., residents suspected of being liberals were blacklisted from the event. So much for "open" and "candid."

And he just plain lied about Social Security being "bankrupt" by 2042. Well, let's get his exact language: "By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt." Maybe he was equivocating with that conditional verb 'would.' You know what equivocation is, don't you?

As E.J. Dionne said today, El Presidente "has decided to exaggerate and mislead by way of frightening the American people, especially the young. It's bad politics, worse policy and a terrible shame."

Britt Cobb Concedes Ag. Commissioner Race to Troxler

Britt Cobb probably did the right thing in conceding the still undecided race for Agricultural Commissioner to Troxler, especially as the State Board of Elections seemed poised to set a dangerous new precedent in these sorts of cases ... the consideration of 1,412 affidavits that Troxler had collected from among those 4,000 voters whose ballots were lost in Carteret County. Turning an election outcome into a contest of who can collect the most post-election affidavits from supporters seems about as bad an idea as having electronic voting devices with no paper trail.

Torture's Just All Right With Us!

The following senators with 'D' after their names, designating their putative political affiliation, voted FOR Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General:

Landrieu of Louisiana
Liebermann of Connecticut
The Nelson Twins (Nelson of Florida and Nelson of Nebraska)
Pryor of Arkansas
Salazar of Colorado

All the rest of the Ds -- 35, plus Jeffords of Vermont -- voted not to confirm Gonzales. (Baucus of Montana, Conrad of North Dakota, and Inouye of Hawaii did not vote. There was a sale on, apparently, at Hecht's.)

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Some Facts Behind the Bush Push to Privatize Social Security

From the indispensible Facing South, e-mailed updates from the "progressive Southern news report":

Percentage of current Social Security beneficiaries that reside in the South: 33

Of 9 states with the highest percentage of children receiving Social Security benefits, number in the South: 8

Of 11 states with highest percent of elderly poor, number in the South: 8

Year that George W. Bush predicted Social Security would "go broke" when running for Congress in Texas in 1978: 1988

Amount per dollar that goes towards administrative costs under current Social Security system, in cents: 1

Amount per dollar that President Bush says would go towards these costs under his proposal: 5

Average amount that has gone towards administrative costs in other countries that have privatized Social Security: 15

Amount that finance industry stands to gain from privatized retirement accounts, in billions: $940

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

And a Child Shall Lead Them to Hell Sometimes

Researchers from the University of Connecticut questioned more than 100,000 high school students, nearly 8,000 teachers, and more than 500 administrators and principals and found waning support among American high schoolers for First Amendment guarantees of free speech.

The two-year, $1 million research project, titled "The Future of the First Amendment," was commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Among its other cheerful findings, the study found that more than a third of the teenagers think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.

"These results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous," said Knight Foundation President and CEO Hodding Carter III. "Ignorance about the basics of this free society is a danger to our nation's future."

Amen, Bro!

No Draft Coming, Never a Draft, No

The pacifist Church of the Brethren reported that they received a visit from a Selective Service official who asked church officials to "dust off longstanding alternative service programs that allow conscientious objectors to serve in two-year domestic service projects in lieu of military service."

The Selective Service's explanation for the visit? "Selective Service officials have insisted that there are no plans to reinstate the draft. They said Alternative Service Director Cassandra Costley stopped by the Brethren Service Center simply because she was in the area."

Gosh, I was in the neighborhood and saw the light on. How you guys doin'? Not that we're bringing back the draft, or anything!

And a Child Shall Lead Them

While Rev. James Dobson beats a drum against teaching tolerance, the students at Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tenn., "a picturesque village nestled in the green Appalachians," took on a Holocaust-awareness project in 1998 that will warm your heart (even if its normal temperature is sub-zero). The kids at Whitwell, trying to grasp the enormity of 6 million human beings snuffed out by the Nazis during World War II, began collecting paper clips, one for each of those 6 million Jews. The idea came from a movement among Norwegians during the war of wearing paper clips on their clothing in defiance of the Nazis and in solidarity with Jews.

Whitwell, Tenn., mind you, is just about 100 percent Protestant. No Jews, few Catholics, majority Southern Baptist ... but those kids warmed to the project, which actually took years to complete. Several classes came and went, and the project went on, each succeeding class adding new dimensions, new information ... and, incidentally, new layers of media attention. We remember seeing an article in the Washington Post at least four years ago about what Whitwell Middle School was trying to accomplish.

Over those years, as news of the project spread, paper clips began to flow in from all over the world. Donors sent money too. Holocaust survivors came and spoke at the school. Students and local churches joined forces to build a Holocaust museum on the school grounds, using a railcar that once transported Jews to the Nazi death camps during World War II. The railcar was acquired by two German journalists in Washington, and the money the students raised paid to have it shipped intact from Europe. That railcar now stands on the Whitwell Middle School grounds holding not only the 6 million paper clips the students set out to gather but another 5 million to represent the many other groups persecuted by the Nazis (including, with all due respect to Rev. Dobson, German homosexuals) ... a neat encapsulation of the enormity of a crime based on bigotry.

The Whitwell project attracted documentary film makers from Washington, who had their own prejudices and stereotypes of Southerners, particularly Southern mountaineers. They came to Whitwell Middle School to talk the principal, Linda Hooper, into letting them film the students and teachers. At first Principal Hooper refused, fearful of the stereotyping power of those cameras. When she relented, she warned the film makers, "If I let you make this film and you make my children look like a bunch of rednecks, I will eat your heart for breakfast. And if you make the people in this town look like a bunch of hicks, I will eat your heart for breakfast."

Whatever stereotypes of rednecks and hicks the film makers brought with them, they shed them over the months they filmed in Whitwell, and the result of their efforts, a documentary film titled simply "Paper Clips," premiered in Los Angeles last November 24th to kudos. It would be a wonderful thing if it came to Boone and other small towns in Appalachia, where kids sometimes wait a lifetime to see anything positive reflected about them in big-city media. And this is positive.

Salisbury, N.C., Study Links Asphalt to Heightened Suicide Rate

Until yesterday, we had missed this news about research into the health hazards posed by asphalt plants. It's been slow to seep out, though the research was first presented at the 17th Annual U.S. Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress in San Diego back in December, and the Salisbury Post did run a long article on January 16, 2005. Otherwise, we've seen no mention of this explosive information anywhere in the state.

Dr. Richard H. Weisler, adjunct professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, along with a team of researchers, investigated a statistically significant elevated suicide rate in two Salisbury, N.C., neighborhoods (Milford Hills and Meadowbrook) that are directly downwind of two asphalt plants on Jake Alexander Boulevard.

The two "census blocks" under investigation contain 1,561 people. In a population of that size, during a 10-year period, two deaths by suicide would be expected. In the Salisbury case study, between 1994 and 2003, six suicides occurred, three times the expected rate. And as the Salisbury Post article pointed out, the study did not include suicide attempts, including one last summer in which a man doused himself in gasoline and tried to ignite it.

The suspect ingredient in asphalt manufacture which might be causing the problem is hydrogen sulfide, a respiratory irritant that is known to affect brain neurochemistry. Dr. Weisler suggests that hydrogen sulfide might affect the brain's hypothalamic area, which is involved in the body's ability to deal with stress. Too much hydrogen sulfide equals a reduced ability to cope, Dr. Weisler hypothesizes.

The World Health Organization has a 10-minute exposure standard to hydrogen sulfide of 5 ppb (parts per billion). The California 1-hour standard is 30 ppb. Between 1994 and 2001, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) had one of the weakest standards in the nation for regulating hydrogen sulfide emissions, officially allowing 1,500 ppb. In 2001, NCDENR estimated that the average maximum hydrogen sulfide level in a large part of the two Salisbury neighborhoods was 215 ppb, with several residences near the asphalt plants exposed to as much as 860 ppb. But the sad truth is that NCDENR can only estimate what it in fact rarely actually measures. In 2003 the state's Environmental Management Commission voted to set the acceptable level of hydrogen sulfide at 86 ppb, down considerably (!) from the previous 1,500 ppb, but so far the state isn't enforcing that standard because of political pressure.

And what's NCDENR's response to Dr. Weisler's study? They do not acknowledge an increased risk of suicide. But when you're in the business of permitting basically whatever emissions come out of asphalt production, what are you going to say? "Yes, we are exposing our citizens to harmful levels of hydrogen sulfide, not to mention deleterious levels of benzene, toluene, and other petroleum-based neurotoxic chemicals, but the paving lobby is just too powerful and politically well connected to do anything about it."

Incidentally, the same census blocks in Salisbury have already been under scrutiny for having high cancer rates, particularly primary brain tumors ... other research that NCDENR does not acknowledge has anything to do with the polluting industry they are permitting. NCDENR has rarely, if ever, turned down a permit for a proposed asphalt plant, including three different plants proposed in Watauga County since 1997, all defeated by zoning, with no help from the state agency which is supposed to be looking out for our collective well-being.