Sunday, February 29, 2004

MeanDean, Unpacked

An important, loooong article by Howie Kurtz in this morning's Washington Post, based on impressive access to Dean for America insiders, about the internal "civil war" that raged in the Dean campaign, primarily between Joe Trippi, the fotched-on campaign manager from Washington, D.C., and Kate O'Connor, "the quiet, shrewd, low-profile Vermont confidante who never left Dean's side." Seems clear that in the clinches, O'Connor had more power than Trippi.

It's all here ... the financial mismanagement, the stupid little resentments and conspiracies among staff, the inability to handle the media.

But what comes as something of a shock -- make that a big, jaw-dropping wha-a-a-a? -- is Kurtz's assertion that Howard Dean never really WANTED to be president.

Kurtz writes, "In different conversations and in different ways, according to several people who worked with him, Dean said at the peak of his popularity late last year that he never expected to rise so high, that he didn't like the intense scrutiny, that he had just wanted to make a difference. 'I don't care about being president,' he said. Months earlier, as his candidacy was taking off, he told a colleague: 'The problem is, I'm now afraid I might win.' "

You can read the whole article here (but you have to register, and it's free).

Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Epicenter for Meth

Another big article -- this one from the Associated Press -- datelined BOONE and all about the scourge of methamphetamine and the war on it being led by Sheriff Mark Shook. Surely someone is working on a movie script by now.

The Politics of Gay Marriage

Daily Kos has a MOST interesting post here, where someone has gone to the trouble of googling all 100 Senators to get their on-the-record comments about George Bush's proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment. The conclusion (which seems pretty solid to us) is that the amendment is already "toast."

Which is actually what astute political analysts were saying approximately one minute after the Prez made his speech about it last Tuesday ... that he KNEW it would never make it through Congress, that he cynically realized he was only tossing a symbolic hunk of red meat to the Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson foot soldiers ... that he's counting on the move to win him more extremist votes than lose him moderates.

The problem for Karl Rove NOW is that the TV screen is full of the faces and voices of REAL people, actual non-abstractions lining up to get married in San Francisco and now in New Paltz, New York (and where else by next week?). It's gotten much harder to hate gay marriage in the abstract when real gay couples in the flesh are so palpably well-meaning and good-hearted and family-fricking-oriented in front of all our faces now (excepting perhaps Rosie O'Donnell). Which perhaps helps to explain the article in today's New York Times with interviews of highly religious fundamentalists saying, "Maybe we ought not mess with the U.S. Constitution over this."

Wouldn't it serve them right if this blatant wedge-driving and hate-mongering backfired spectacularly on them?

Bush League Science: Opinion Comes 1st

The evidence of President Bush's war on science continues to pile up. (For starters, see this earlier post and its internal links.)

The Washington Post today adds to that with a report on Bush's firing of two members of his handpicked Council on Bioethics -- "a scientist and a moral philosopher who had been among the more outspoken advocates for research on human embryo cells." Maybe they deserved firing. We don't know. But the three new members of the council that Bush put in their place make one wonder: "a doctor who has called for more religion in public life, a political scientist who has spoken out precisely against the research that the dismissed members supported, and another who has written about the immorality of abortion and the 'threats of biotechnology.' "

It's not science ... it's politics. (Side-note: as Carl Bernstein said on Joe Scarborough's show last night on MSNBC, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is "not about Christians and Jews. It's about Right and Left." It ain't religion ... it's politics. Side-note 2: reportedly, President Bush has requested a private White House screening of Gibson's film, a.k.a. "The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre." Everything into and out of this White House is politics.)

One of the dismissed members from the bioethics council, Elizabeth Blackburn, a renowned biologist at the University of California at San Francisco, said she had no warning she would be fired and had not heard from the council's director, University of Chicago ethicist Leon Kass. According to the WashPost, she said she believed she was let go because her political views do not match those of the president and of Kass, with whom she has often been at odds at council meetings.

Michael Gazzaniga, a Dartmouth neuroscientist who also sits on the council, said he was "upset" by Blackburn's ejection. "She was one of the basic scientists who understood the biology of many of the issues we're talking about," Gazzaniga said. "It will be a loss for sure."

But what is a loss for science here is a gain for the brand of political correctness that this White House practices.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Greenspan Needs To Go

Josh Marshall, on the Greenspan bombshell of yesterday ... RE Let's torpedo Social Security: "Create the deficit with upper-income tax cuts; shrink the deficit with Social Security benefit cuts. That sort of typifies the Bush-era Republican shell game on fiscal policy. And it's what Alan Greenspan said today on the Hill. But Greenspan did the White House no favors with this one."

Why no favor? Because it sorta sends a shiver through a large portion of the voting public to have its worst fears about this crew confirmed by The Oracle at the Federal Reserve.

Please recall that Howard Dean -- bless his large heart! -- called for the firing of Alan Greenspan back on January 23rd, saying that Greenspan "had become too political."

The full quote: "If he lacks the political courage to criticize the deficits, if he was foolish enough -- and he's not a foolish man -- to support the outrageous tax cuts that George Bush put through, then he has become too political and we need a new chairman of the Federal Reserve."

Howard Dean is proven right once again, not that anyone in Washington will give the good doctor the credit.


The Winston-Salem Journal published a blistering editorial yesterday against our State Senator Virginia Foxx, and it appears for all the world like she is caught red-handed in a developing scandal involving the violation of at least the spirit of campaign finance laws, if not the letter. (This editorial followed up a news report by David Rice on Sunday, detailing specifics from her campaign reports.) The W-S Journal, at least, believes that the charges are "worthy of a full review by the Federal Election Commission."

"Foxx's Lame Excuses" opens by comparing Foxx to Bill Clinton, a comparison guaranteed to wound to the quick any garden-variety Republican politician (not that there's anything common about Virginia). Seems that Foxx has been raising money for her congressional campaign (where she is limited to $2,000-per-donor) by laundering the money through her state senate campaign committee (where her limit-per-person is twice as generous, at $4,000). "Foxx's use of state campaign funds for purposes that will help her congressional effort are troublesome," says the W-S Journal, and could be a violation of federal law. (See this earlier item we posted about Foxx's being caught raising money for her state senate campaign, published in the Raleigh News & Observer. She's notorious state-wide. And see this, about her fund-raising coupled with her tireless poor-mouthing.)

Apparently Senator Foxx has attempted to explain away the expenditures out of her state senate account as "constituent services," amounting to some $34,746 in supposed constituent service, for a state senator who has consistently spent an average of $5,000 on those expenses. The Journal comments on this discrepancy: "What voters have here is a politician who thought she could fudge on the rules and then talk her way out of trouble."

As if the Bill Clinton comparison wasn't wound enough, the Journal then rubs a little salt into the cut: "Foxx also tries to hide behind the veil of ignorance. She didn't know of some improper spending, and she only learned of it only when contacted by reporters. That sounds like the excuse that Meg Scott Phipps, the state's soon-to-be-imprisoned former agriculture commissioner, used when confronted with evidence of fraud in her campaign. Phipps had been a judge; Foxx has been a senator for 10 years. Both know enough to closely oversee their campaign's spending."

The Journal editorial ends with this zinger: "Her record in Raleigh is one of self-righteousness toward all with whom she disagrees. Now she's the one who messed up, and she expects voters to believe that she's as innocent as a lamb. No one's going to buy that, and the FEC shouldn't either."

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Howard Dean Legacy

No less a centrist Democrat than Ruy Teixiera, co-author of "The Emerging Democratic Majority" and a strategist with close ties to the "New Democrat" organization that propelled Bill Clinton into the White House (the Democratic Leadership Council) ... Teixiera has written on his own blog about Howard Dean as a "third force" in Democratic Party politics. Says Teixiera, now that the Vermont doctor is out of the race, "the temptation will be great to just forget about Dean's movement." Not a cool move. Dean revitalized the Democrat Party with a "transformative process" which must be honored, copied, propagated, and nurtured. To ignore that transformative energy, as many top-level national Democrats seem bent on doing, or -- worse -- to try to punish or silence those who supported Dean, as some of our suicidal national leaders are inclined to do (some of the same ones beating up on Ralph Nader like the Roman soldiers in Mel Gibson's new movie ... you know who you are, James Carville!) ... to diss Dean and what he accomplished is to willfully choose failure in 2004.

Andrew Sullivan on the Gay Marriage Amendment

This is well worth reading on El Presidente's move yesterday to divide us over sexual orientation, from an avid supporter of Bush's in the last election and right through the war in Iraq. He ain't supporting him any more, it seems.

Craven Cowards

The North Carolina state legislature did not approve the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, until 1971, 50 years after it had been ratified by enough OTHER states to become a part of the Constitution.

The North Carolina state legislature did not approve the 26th Amendment, giving 18-year-olds the right to vote, until it had already been ratified by enough OTHER states to become a part of the Constitution, also in 1971.

But there are many scum-suckers right now in our state legislature, like House Republican Speaker Richard Morgan, who are just ITCHING to get a chance to pass a ban on gay marriage, which would become the 28th Amendment. Or like State Rep. Russell Capps, a Raleigh Republican who sponsored North Carolina's 1996 law banning same-sex marriages. Capps said he would just be pleased pink to introduce the amendment in the North Carolina General Assembly, as soon as it clears the U.S. Congress.

Once it passes the U.S. Congress, the new amendment will have seven years to be approved by at least three-fourths of the states, or a total of 38. Morgan and Capps are eager to deliver the Old North State to the Will of Intolerance.

So are Senator Elizabeth Dole ("Unfortunately, a constitutional amendment is now necessary to preserve marriage as the union between a man and a woman," she said in a statement), Republican congressmen Walter Jones and Robin Hayes, and -- get this! -- N.C. Democratic Congressman Rep. Mike McIntyre, from Lumberton. "We do not need a few judges trying to redefine marriage," McIntyre said Tuesday.

It's going to take North Carolinians expressing themselves to these fine North Carolina politicians to change their (small) minds. You can do that via e-mail by going here for Senator Dole and here for Congressman McIntyre (you have to register, but you should do it!).

The "Cascade" Effect

We just read a most interesting article about a psychological experiment conducted in the 1950s at Princeton University ... where roomfuls of subjects were shown sets of vertical lines. Only one set had lines of even length, while the others were plainly uneven. "The subjects were then given the seemingly trivial task of identifying which pair of lines were the same. But there was a trick: Everyone in the room except for one person had been instructed beforehand to give the same incorrect answer. The real subject of the experiment was the lone unwitting participant, and the real test was of an individual's ability to disagree with his or her peers." And the experiment showed that people who under normal circumstances would have no difficulty whatsoever distinguishing the truth sided with the incorrect majority about one-third of the time. This tendency in many of us to go along with the majority when we don't necessarily trust our own instincts or perceptions is known as "the cascade effect." Columbia Unviersity sociologist Duncan Watts uses this (now famous) research to make a biting point about why John Kerry is right now on the verge of becoming the "cascade effect candidate" for president.

The cascading of opinion is also known as "social decision-making," where the options we choose, from the church we attend to the skateboard we buy, are influenced by what others have already chosen. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, and it goes on ALL THE TIME. Says Watts, "After all, the world is a complicated place, and other people often do have information that we lack. So, we can often do reasonably well, or at least no worse than the people we are copying, by letting them do the hard work for us."

Trouble is, writes Watts, sometimes the people we're relying on to have done the hard work aren't working at all. "When everyone is looking to someone else for an opinion -- trying, for example, to pick the Democratic candidate they think everyone else will pick -- it's possible that whatever information other people might have gets lost, and instead we get a cascade of imitation that, like a stampeding herd, can start for no apparent reason and subsequently go in any direction with equal likelihood. Stock market bubbles and cultural fads are the examples that most people associate with cascades, because they are generally accepted to represent 'irrational' behavior."

Watts implies that John-Kerry-the-most-electable is very much an irrational cascade of opinion, mainly because he won both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, involving statistically an infinitesimally small proportion of the voting Democrats in this country, but he won those contests in close succession, and voters in other states "cascaded" their opinions based on their assumption that the people in Iowa and New Hampshire must know something about John Kerry that has not yet manifested itself to the rest of us.

The fact is that John Kerry is still a hopeless stiff -- "Lurch" -- that not many people even like, but the cascade effect has worked its dubious magic. And here we are, about to go down over the rocks.

Boone: Beware of Wall to Wal-Mart

A story developed by The Financial Times says that Wal-Mart, the biggest corporation in America, has also become the biggest buyer of congressmen and -women, stacking them up in Washington like cord-wood. Wal-Mart's political action committee (PAC) is currently the leading U.S. corporate donor to congressional and senatorial campaigns.

What's somewhat surprising is that this buying of legislators by Wal-Mart is just now becoming the case. Following the lead of its country-boy founder, Sam Walton, who never saw much point to the Federal government and never had much truck with it during his lifetime, the corporation he left to his family has traditionally spent very little money trying to influence Washington types. "Wal-Mart's lobbying style still reflects its corporate obsession with keeping costs as low as possible."

But times have changed: "The company is facing dozens of lawsuits over its employment practices, as well as challenges from local governments that have tried to block its expansion as a way to protect smaller retailers. Trade unions that have watched well-paying grocery jobs disappear to non-unionized Wal-Mart stores have launched a series of attacks against the company. And with trade emerging as a hot election year topic, Wal-Mart would be the biggest single loser from any restrictions on imports, particularly from China."

Boone's local Wal-Mart, in fact, is wanting to expand into a "SuperStore" at the expense of the vital small-town retail trade we now have in place. The Watauga Democrat has editorialized against the expansion, saying that "Boone can avoid it." Boone can ONLY avoid it if the Board of Adjustment finds the proposed superstore out of compliance with the Unified Development Ordinance -- you know, "the UDO," which County Commissioner Keith Honeycutt loves to sneer at in front of his good-ole-boy buddies. But the Board of Adjustment has to vote on Wal-Mart's request for expansion, and the same County Commissioners who flock with Keith Honeycutt have been busily stacking that Board for the last year with pro-corporation yes-men (including a major developer and the man who wanted to put an asphalt plant on the New River). If Boone had the right to pick all its own people for the Board of Adjustment, we wouldn't have this situation. And the Watauga Democrat might want to take note of just who is to blame, if and when the vote goes in favor of Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Nary a Discordant Note Shall Be Heard

You can go to the Charlotte Convention Center on Thursday to protest George W. Bush's cash-grab (a $2,000-a-plate fund-raiser), but don't expect to actually see the Prez or for him to actually see you. He probably won't, because you'll likely be herded into one of those infamous "free-speech zones," which means precisely the opposite of what those words say. There IS no free speech when El Presidente comes to town.

For example, an anti-Bush protestor in Columbia, South Carolina, just last month refused to remove himself and his sign protesting "No Blood for Oil" in Iraq to a "free-speech zone" a half-mile from where the Prez was due to speak. For that outrageous act of terrorism, which used to be known as free speech in this country, the protestor was arrested and fined $500.

According to the Charlotte Observer, "The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in September, citing 13 instances in which anti-Bush protesters were arrested or forced into remote 'free speech zones,' while Bush backers or the general public closer to the president went unchallenged.

"In some cases, the protest zones were out of sight, on the other side of a building, fence or line of buses, the suit says."

You can read more about the fears and concerns of those in Charlotte organizing the protest against Bush's visit there this Thursday here.

Profile in Courage

Well, President Bush is not just "troubled" any more about the horrible, earth-shaking, civilization-ending, God-defying heterosexual-marriage-threatening prospect of same-sex weddings. Fearing the right-wing of his own party far more than he fears the judgment of history, he came out today for a Constitutional Amendment banning homosexual marriage, which would be the first time, I believe, that an amendment to our Constitution would actually limit access to equal treatment for a group of our citizens.

Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson should be dancing a self-satisfied jig right now, arm-in-arm, if it weren't for fear that someone in their churches might, you know, think these two reverends seemed a little light in the loafers.

Our favorite gay right-wing pundit Andrew Sullivan said on Chris Matthews' Sunday morning show this past weekend that Bush will lose more than he gains by this move. Increasingly, what Sullivan writes on his blog sounds like he's arguing himself into voting for someone other than Bush this year.

So Let's Hear from Virginia Foxx About How Corporations Are Overtaxed

A recent report done by Ernst & Young for the pro-business lobby, Council on State Taxation, ranks North Carolina's business tax burden among the lowest in the nation. (Council on State Taxation's home page here; the PDF file of the report here)

With Watauga County's own property tax rate literally the lowest of the 100 counties in the state, it certainly ought to be clear that taxes on businesses aren't the problem for promoting economic development in this county. Affordable housing, transportation, a well trained workforce, available water & sewer ... these are the barriers.

So listen closely if and when our County Commission starts talking about additional dollar inducements (as in tax breaks) to lure "manufacturing" to the county. As the Ernst & Young report shows so clearly, to continue to ask regular tax payers to shoulder more of the burden in North Carolina, for the sake of big business, is just not fair. They can pay their share. It's low enough.

Here's an article in today's News & Observer about pro-business groups in Raleigh trying to downplay or even cover up this report!

Monday, February 23, 2004

Bush, Fundamentally Un-American

This astute passage, from former Dean staffer and North Carolinian Mathew Gross:

"...The anger towards Bush that so many pundits and journalists find unfathomable isn't unfathomable when you consider the larger historical identity of America. It's an identity that George Bush's presidency deeply offends, and all the photo-ops of Bush clearing brush on his ranch and driving his pickup and looking like the Marlboro man doesn't change the fact that many people sense in his presidency something fundamentally un-American, a pride that has become hubris, a plundering of the national treasury, a rapacious husbandry of our national inheritance. It's a feeling that won't be captured in polls, or in endorsements...."

We're so glad to have Gross repatriated to North Carolina and blogging in the Chapel Hill area.


Officials in New York City are now estimating that protesters at the Republican convention, set to convene at Madison Square Garden between August 30th and September 2nd, might climb to one million unhappy campers (according to this story in the New York Times).

Seems like everybody (and their dog) is planning to be there (and not because they want to be near the charming Tom DeLay):

"Organizers have gathered in a private loft in SoHo, in offices owned by the United Federation of Teachers near Wall Street, in a church in the East Village, and in offices around the city. The groups have names like United for Peace and Justice and Not in Our Name, and their intentions run the gamut from wanting to shut the convention down to holding the Labor Day parade on Thursday, Sept. 2, the day President Bush is scheduled to accept his party's nomination.

"There are people planning tent cities to accommodate protesters from across the country, lawyers' committees to assist those who are arrested, legal observers to monitor the police, and baby sitters, dog walkers, translators, medics, even clergy members. All are working to help protesters overwhelm the positive message Republicans are hoping their convention generates...."

Okay, who's gonna charter the buses from Boone? Somebody take the initiative here and let the rest of us know where to meet with our sleeping bags!

Cataclysm O' Nine Tails

When WataugaWatch first launched back in December, we were trying to keep up with some of the major environmental threats we were hearing about, particularly those initiated by the Bush administration through quiet rule changes inside their own departments or by blithely ignoring any evidence not congruent with their ruthless extractive philosophies (for examples, see this and this and this and this -- but this repetition grows tiresome. There was so much of it, an environmental crisis approximately every 37 minutes, that we finally more or less gave up trying to alert our readers to even a fraction of the really scary stuff.

Then we see this today, reported in The Guardian, as though our worst fears will now be confirmed only by the foreign press: "Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters." That's the lead. And here's the 2nd graph:

"A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world."

And Jerry Falwell thought The End would come with homosexual marriage!

Is this secret report true? I am reminded that certain mind-boggling "events" have recently been reported by British tabloids that didn't exactly pan out, like the capture last month of Osama bin Laden. (You remember that, don't you?) But this article comes from The Guardian, one of the most respected and trusted news outlets in the Western Hemisphere.

So let's see ... a secret Pentagon report that the White House is suppressing ... and why? "The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority."

Considering our previous posting about the Union of Concerned Scientists' coming out and saying publicly that Bush has been distorting scientific fact for political purposes, why would we even doubt that a Pentagon warning of environmental cataclysm within 20 years would be stuffed through the paper shredder of this administration?

Meth-odd in Our Madness

We have made the New York Times, and not in a good way! In today's issue, in a story datelined BOONE, N.C., and including interviews with a school counselor, Sheriff Mark Shook, a social worker, and Andy Mason, the mountain scourge of methamphetamine is explored in some depth, including the appallingly high number of meth labs busted locally in the last year.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

The Commissioners Retreat

"Retreat" in this case is the noun, not the verb, as our county commissioners show no signs of doing like the verb and retreating on any of their particular philosophical biases. But they spent over eight hours in a coffee-and-sweetmeats "retreat" Friday night and Saturday morning, hearing reports on "the state of the county" and what the future holds. Below, some notes on what got said. And what didn't.

First, it must be pointed out as somehow symbolic of just how serious this Commission takes its job ... that they DID NOT KEEP ANY OFFICIAL RECORD. No minutes were taken! No tape recording. No video recording. No nothing. Many important things were uttered by the county staff and by significant county volunteers to the County Commission's working committees ... yet no one thought it important enough to keep an official record. We have only the notes made by independent citizens, acting as mute observers of these proceedings. Reporters for the print media were there, and we look forward to reading their accounts. But in the meantime, the following is what struck us as important:

School Funding: Everyone knows that the current taskforce studying needs at Watauga High School is about to deliver a high-ticket set of recommendations. The Commissioners seem just as surely destined to take the easy way out ... put the whole thing (whatever that turns out to be) up for a public referendum, probably as a ballot initiative on November 2nd, at the same time as the general elections. The high school is already like the Titanic on its way down -- taking on water, overcome by too many students, the pipes exploding, and music teachers riding pianos into the cold dark sea. Everyone's speculating on what the recommendations will be: one new high school? two new high schools? two new middle schools tied to a massive renovation of the existing high school? Throwing a kink into estimating the future: an actual declining projected enrollment (as the county ages out into On Golden Pond Retirementland) and the fact that the last bond issue for the schools (passed in 1992) still has millions and millions owed on the principal & interest (not scheduled to be paid off until 2015). Declining enrollments, incidentally, trigger a drop in state funding, dollars which mainly go to personnel. People will lose their jobs. This is a potential disaster of ... Titanic proportions, where genuine leadership and courage would be desirable, but don't look for genuine leadership and courage from this Gang of Five, as the County Commission seems bent on committing the future of the schools to a bond referendum that will, without leadership and courage, be defeated. Commissioner Honeycutt at least pays lip service to education; commissioners Blust and Trivette are not unexpectedly devoid of inspiration on this particular issue. Commission Chairman Coffey and Commissioner Hodges, who hold the balance of power, are inscrutable.

Watauga Medics (the private, publicly subsidized ambulance service): County Manager Rocky Nelson signaled to the commissioners that he would like the ambulance service to raise its rates (did you hear that quite clearly?) so that the county can cut its subsidy. Commissioner Hodges took that bait and spent a good deal of talking-time tsk-tsking about the current contract not allowing charges to "non-transports." So beware, sick & feeble Wataugans! The contract comes up for renewal at the end of this year, and it's likely the County Commission plans to save some money at your expense.

Planning for the Future. Planning & Inspections Director Joe Furman opened his report Saturday morning by admitting that "everything in my report is both controversial and will cost money." Joe took the proverbial bull by the proverbial short-hairs: "Failing to plan is planning to fail," he said, quoting the hoariest chestnut available, before recommending that the County Commission spend some money (literally, anywhere between $5,000 and $75,000) launching a new strategic planning process -- a "visioning," Joe grandly called it, to deaf ears -- that would involve much citizen input. "Citizen participation is essential," Joe said, which caused Commissioner Trivette a mild eruption of dyspepsia about his "people" getting run over by the better-educated and then, in a stunning admission, considering the way he ran for office last year, Trivette's admitting that "Planning is not as bad as it's been made out to be, but it's the approach." There was begrudging consensus for Joe to at least develop and present a concrete plan for planning. Stand by for news!

Economic Development. The Economic Development Commission, led by banker John Brubaker, took the stand, and this was the part of the two-day retreat that woke everyone up with the electric possibility that a fist-fight might break out at any minute. The give and take between the commissioners and these business high-rollers bordered on the hostile, with the advantage going to the EDC. (Never mentioned but clanking around that cold room in the Department of Social Services like Marley's Ghost was the fact that most of these business leaders had supported the "scenic byway" status for the Doc & Merle Watson Highway, which the commissioners, to a man, stoutly opposed.) Commissioner Honeycutt tried to clear the air: "We all know there's been some bickering going on. Let's put it behind us and get something done." The getting-something-done comes down to hiring a full-time director of economic development, which the commissioners seem resigned to doing (and even Allen Trivette at one point seemed to be advocating for a really high salary), but the Commissioners also signaled that they want to micro-manage what this person does. (And that in a nutshell is this County Commission's particular pathology: they can't stand to relinquish any control or power to anyone else. And there was grumbling on the EDU about being reduced to the status of mammaries on a boar hog over this lack of power.) Commissioner Hodges, who had not much to say previously about the dire state of the high school, came vividly alive during this discussion, even at one point saying, "Is this board committed enough to economic development to put some money behind it? We may have to raise taxes to get there," a suggestion that landed like the passing of gas in a church ... best ignored, lest someone think you even noticed it. It seems a special shame that some truly innovative ideas had been prepared for this retreat and put into the commissioners' briefing binders that were totally ignored or not discussed ... something called the "Rural Entrepreneurs Development Program" and a proposal by the Watauga Arts Council for turning a vacant building into an artists' work and marketing space. These innovations stimulated no discussion and not even any discernible curiosity among our County Commissioners. To a man they seem more interested in putting their money into something they can immediately understand ... hiring a director of economic development that they can also subsequently fire in a year because he's brought no big factories to Watauga County.

Affordable Housing. What's the point? Without available land (and this board is not interested in purchasing any) and without water & sewer (see below), this is a government that does not believe that government can do anything to solve problems like this. They did take the wan "initiative" of looking at some county-owned vacant property at the landfill, to see if access can be gained to it for future development.

Water & Sewer. Here's the crux of almost every development problem facing the county, and Commissioner Honeycutt is the sole commissioner who seems to get it. He gets the problem all right, but he reduces it to "their playhouse is bigger than mine!" childishness. The bottomline: Boone has the "excess" water and sewer capacity at the moment; the county would like to get its hands on that excess capacity; but the county does not intend to follow any of the development rules that Boone has put in place. Honeycutt in particular passes up no opportunity to bash Boone and its Unified Development Ordinance (reduced to a sneering emphasis by Honeycutt: "the U-D-O-O-O-O!"). He sees no reason whatsoever that the county should have to follow Boone's rules and regs, while it highjacks its water and sewer to enrich private developers who aren't particularly careful about set-backs, buffers, density, parking, etc. The commissioners were particularly miffed that the towns of Boone and Blowing Rock have been having conversations about connecting their water systems, without involving the county commissioners in those discussions. "We need to be a player," whined Commissioner Blust, who added that he was ready to threaten Boone that the county just might "go off on its own" and develop its own water and sewer systems ... as empty and pathetic a boast as we heard during the two days. If the county had the will or the way to do that, it would not be directing such spite and envy at the town of Boone.

At the close of the retreat around noon on Saturday, Commissioner Coffey remarked that it would take a 15- to 20-cent increase in the tax rate to fund all the stuff that had been presented to them (translation: "dream on, suckas!"). Allen Trivette said he had been hoping to reduce the tax rate again this year. To which Commissioner Hodges answered, "Pretty soon you're going to be talking about cutting that dental insurance again, Allen."

Trivette's main contribution to the retreat's agenda was a request to the County Attorney to make sure that pet tigers (oh my) are prohibited by an exotic animal ordinance (I'm not making this up).

So many incredible and seemingly insurmountable problems facing us ... and such untapped creativity already here in our midst for tackling those problems ... yet it all comes down to regulating tigers.

The "Book" on Bush

This sobering summation of the Bush II presidency -- "the most radical, messianic and misleading presidency of modern times" -- is backed up and discussed at length here. By one of the co-authors of "The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)Leads America" (no, not Eric Alterman, one of our favorite bloggers, but the other one, Mark Green).

Seeing Is NOT Believing

I usually start my day with the New York Times, to get it over with, but I didn't arrive there today until way up into the jaded afternoon hours, when I'm already way too beaten up by the news to take The Gray Lady with aplomb, so reading this headline, "Disenchanted Bush Voters Consider Crossing Over," and the purported reporting that goes with it, just made me angry. The story is just nothing short of a cruel, hip-wagging tease with absolutely no consequence but is meant to ignite the flames of hope, sort of like putting Britney Spears on stage at a nursing home. "This Republican X, who happily voted for George W. Bush in 2000, says he'd rather vote for a dead wharf rat in 2004." What a waste of ink! Six or seven, or even sixty or seventy such examples of "local color" add up to precisely nothing, and desperate Dems in this post-Ralph Nader moment might remind themselves that the corporate media destroys those whom they first make glad with such nonsense.

The Nader Message

This morning on Russert, Ralph Nader had a good many things to say, and he said them forcefully and well. To wit:

"...there's a democracy gap. There's just too much power and wealth in too few hands, increasingly giant corporations, hands that have no allegiance to our country or our communities, other than to control them or to abandon them. They have taken over Washington .... Washington is now a corporate-occupied territory. There's a 'For Sale' sign on almost every door of agencies and departments where these corporations dominate, and they put their appointments in high office. The Congress is what Will Rogers once called 'the best money can buy.' Money is flowing in like never before that sells our elections. What does that mean to the American people? It means that corporations are saying no to the necessities of the American people. They're saying no to health insurance for everyone, no to tax reform, no to health and safety standards, no to stopping corporate welfare [from going] into hundreds of billions, no to straightening out the defense budget, which is bloated and redundant, as many retired generals and admirals [have] said, no to access to our courts. It's time for people to say yes, and we need more civic and political energies inside the campaign to challenge this two-party duopoly that's trending toward one-party districts all over the country...." (Read the entire Meet the Press transcript here)

The great unstated in Nader's pitch is that because we now have no Howard Dean, that with John Kerry as the Democratic candidate, the "duopoly" -- the Dominance by The Two (Republican and Democrat) -- will carry on apace and must be challenged. And Kerry's not going to do it. No, Kerry's NOT the one.

And who can disagree with that? Nader is right, of course, that the reason he, little Ralphie, is such a threat to the Democratic Party is that the Democratic Party has become such a congregation of MeToo corporate suck-ups. Witness the much publicized revelation of John Kerry's compromised position on "special-interest" money (Washington Post headline, January 31, 2004: "Kerry Leads in Lobby Money: Anti-Special-Interest Campaign Contrasts With Funding").

Nader feels that it's the "liberal Democratic intelligentsia" that has accepted and rationalized the sorry state of their party, and it's mainly the liberal intelligentsia that's spitting mad at him for running. This is what he said this morning on Meet the Press: "...the liberal intelligentsia has got to ask itself a tough question, Tim. For 25 years they have let their party run away from them. For 25 years they've let their party become a captive of corporate interests. And now they want to block the American people from having more choices and voices, especially young people who are looking for idealism, who are looking for a clean campaign, who are looking for the real issues in this country instead of the sham and the rhetoric that masquerades for political campaigning."

Anyone paying the least attention for the last several months will recognize that Nader is picking up the Dean mantle here, though the Vermont governor's name was never uttered.

And it IS a powerful argument that the Democrats have only themselves to blame (themselves and the Democratic Leadership Council, who made corporate pandering an art form and through the success of one Bill Clinton took over the seats of power in the Party of the People). Instead of only bashing Ralph Nader -- which I've done plenty of myself -- we might better ask why this party is so vulnerable to the message Nader is delivering and why this party got so defensive when Howard Dean stepped forward and starting telling people, "You have the power, you have the power, YOU HAVE THE POWER." Certainly, the Democrat Party under Terry McAuliffe does NOT have the power. McAuliffe was admitting that he had "begged" Nader not to run, had offered him a corner office at the DNC ("Vice Chair in Charge of Sitting By the Door"?), when Terry McAuliffe might better have spent his time asking a simple, soul-searching question: How did we become so vulnerable to a little man with a big "fight the power" message?

Looks like Democrats had all better be going to Plan B ... to take back the majority in at least one house of Congress, to at least slow down the full-bore assault on liberty, the environment, equity in education and health-care, and world peace that is surely coming like a black frost in the second term of George W. Bush & Company.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

More on Nader

One of our favorite bloggers, Josh Marshall, has some pretty stiff words for Ralph Nader ... "this latter-day political narcissist ... call him what he is: an enemy of progressive change in this country and a cat's paw of the Republican party ... this pied piper of political oblivion ... he has apparently abandoned even the pretense that he is in the race to create a viable third party in American politics. If he runs, it would now be strictly on a platform of vacuous moral posturing and self-aggrandizement." Whew! Took the words right outta my mouth!

But Marshall isn't too worried about the damage Nader might do to the Dems, because Josh doesn't think he has a following any more. I ain't so sure about that.


If you'd like to get proactive in urging Ralph Nader to butt out of the 2004 presidential race -- for the good of humanity! -- go here and take the recommended steps.

When Democrats Behave Like Republicans

We all know about the infamous "free speech zones" when President Bush comes to town. For example, when Bush visits Charlotte soon to pick up a pile of cash, protestors will be herded into a small compound in South Carolina, or somewhere out of sight and sound of El Presidente.

Now the National Democrat Party is taking a page from the Bush playbook, planning to corral "protestors" (read "Dean supporters") at the Boston convention in July somewhere far away from the sight and sound of delegates (according to a story in the Boston Globe).

Makes us sooooo proud of the Party of the People!

Friday, February 20, 2004

It Just Gets Worse & Worse

Not an hour after AP ran a story on their wire that Ralph Nader will "probably" announce on Sunday (on Russert) that he's running for President as an independent, Faux News is up on air saying Nader's definitely running.

And there was great rejoicing in Karl Rove's office.

What, Ralph? Not content to throw the White House to George W. the first time? Going for a repeat performance? Itching for opprobrium?

Petition the DNC

Go to this site if you want to sign onto a complaint and petition being brought to our national leadership at the Democratic National Committee, because of the way Terry McAuliffe (in particular) behaved toward Howard Dean (in particular, though he isn't named in the petition). Consider this the first of probably several steps many in the Democratic Party are determined to take to insist that "the party of the people" start behaving like it's the party of the people and not the Party of the Washington Insiders.

A Crack in the Dam

We posted yesterday about the snowballing of state opposition to Bush's "No Child Left Behind." But it is a campaign year, ain't it? This morning here comes the first clearest evidence anyone would ever need that the word is going out from the Bush Department of Education that the harsh rules and consequences written into "No Child Left Behind" are about to be bent or even broken to stem the tide of Republican defections in all those state legislatures.

(Insufficiently) Holier Than Thou

"Evangelicals Frustrated by Bush," says the Washington Times headline today. Here, you be the judge.

The 5th Congressional District Circus

Among the several Republican candidates to replace Richard Burr as 5th District congressman is one Nathan Tabor, "a Kenansville millionaire who has built his campaign on the support of local clergy." (Tabor is apparently struggling with Winston-Salem city councilman Vernon Robinson, another 5th District candidate, for the title of Champion of the Religious Right. Robinson, for his part, pulled the stunt of putting up a granite Ten Commandments monument on city property during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, which the city promptly removed.)

Robinson is now being fingered as the source of a hoax email purporting to come from "Pastor Randy" and also purporting to support Tabor by "praying for him." "Dear Fellow Christian Prayer Warrior," the bogus email begins. "Nathan Tabor desperately needs your intercessory prayers today." Why? "Please pray that it be God's will that Nathan will not have to spend one second behind bars," the email message reads. "He is barely more than a child himself."

Classic Republican dirty trick (though employed in this case against a fellow Republican) ... implying that Tabor is about to go to jail over something serious (which is never actually spelled out). The Raleigh News & Observer reports that indeed Tabor did get a traffic ticket in Wilkes county for speeding and for having an expired license. "His court date was Thursday [yesterday], and he was in no danger of going to prison."

The email also mentions other "crimes" from Tabor's youth and even takes a nasty little jab at the youthfulness of Tabor's wife: "The writer mentions that Tabor has a 21-year-old wife who is 'too young to live on her own while her husband is in prison.' It also refers to Tabor, whose family company makes soy supplements for menopausal women, as the 'soyboy playboy.' "

Confronted with the suggestion that it was his campaign that initiated this email smear, Vernon Robinson issued a written statement that virtually howled like the proverbial struck dog: "No one in this campaign is or knows Pastor Randy [obviously not, since he's a totally fictitious character]... If Nathan Tabor has a complaint about all of this information coming to light, he has no one but himself to blame for his past behavior. It looks like Pastor Randy is simply trying to help him out."

Naturally, we're rooting for Vernon Robinson to win this Republican primary. Anyone of his high moral caliber certainly needs to be carrying the banner for the Godly Party.

When Ironic Things Happen to Unironic People

You just gotta love Virginia Republicans. They seized control of both houses of the Virginia legislature in the late 1990s promising "to end the annual tax on cars, support business and reduce government spending." And here they are running smack into the reality of trying to run government services on fumes. So we have the delicious spectacle of the Virginia House of Delegates proposing to raise taxes $520 million by ending special tax breaks on businesses, insisting that they pay their fair share, and the Virginia Senate gave preliminary approval yesterday to an even bigger tax hike, $3.6 billion over two years.

"It's an odd, odd situation," said a Democrat member of the House of Delegates. "The Republicans have driven a major stake between the business community and their caucus. It's been wonderful to behold!"

Said a rueful Republican member, "When you leave your base, you get Wizard of Oz results. In fear, they vote for this tax increase, then they realize they've royally screwed their base."

Ah, the chickens coming home to roost!

Shut Up & Take Yer Poison!

There's seemingly no end to the jaw-dropping developments dealt us every day by this current governmental regime, but even in a daily news cycle that would wipe the smile off the Cheshire cat's face, this headline in today's Washington Post caused a sharp intake of breath:

Pesticide Testing on Humans Is Ethical, Science Panel Says

Reading is believing:


It is ethical to test pesticides and pollutants on human volunteers in order to determine whether environmental safety standards can be lowered, a top panel of scientists said yesterday in an opinion that is expected to strongly influence government policy.

Many scientists and ethicists have argued that such research is never justified, and yesterday's unprecedented verdict by the National Academy of Sciences took environmentalists by surprise.

The pesticide industry has vehemently supported such tests for years, arguing that current regulatory limits on exposure to environmental toxins are overly cautious. Manufacturers of pesticides and companies that produce pollutants say human studies will demonstrate that higher levels of toxins in the air and water are not harmful....


No mention that I can find that the chemical corporations have yet persuaded the Bush administration that involuntary testing is also all right. But that's bound to be coming, no? In the meantime, they'll take what they can get: that is, we're inevitably going to be poisoned at a faster rate, folks. I posted a piece yesterday ("Bush Responsible for Global Smarming") reporting on the protests of a group of scientists that the Bush administration is systematically distorting scientific fact for political gain. Add that evidence to this. And have a fine day!

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Foxx Hunt

According to an item in this morning's Raleigh News & Observer, State Senator Virginia Foxx seems to be raising money for both her U.S. congressional race and her N.C. senate seat.

"Foxx, one of a squad of Republicans running in the 5th Congressional District, said Wednesday that she's not running dual campaigns.
When the N.C. Assisted Living Association offered to hold a reception for her, Foxx said she didn't know organizers were going to try to raise money. The invitation to the Sunday event in Winston-Salem asked guests to make checks payable to the Virginia Foxx for State Senate Committee. Foxx said she didn't see the invitation beforehand.

" 'I still haven't seen the invitation,' she said.

"A sleet storm kept attendance low, Foxx said. She raised about $600 that will go into her legislative campaign fund, even though she's not seeking re-election to her state Senate seat."

The old "didn't see the invitation" defense. For a politician who prides herself on knowing absolutely everything about everything, her protestations of ignorance in this particular instance ring false. Like so much else about her.

Opposition to 'No Child Left Behind' Is Snowballing

First, Vermont said it would not spend any state money implementing President Bush's 'No Child Left Behind' education "reform" act.

Then Virginia adopted a resolution critical of the law and asking for a state waiver from its provisions.

Then the Utah House of Representatives passed a law saying no "local" monies could be used to implement what the federal government wasn't willing to pay for.

Now then. "Over the past few days, Republican legislators in Arizona and Minnesota have introduced bills that would allow the states to reject parts of No Child Left Behind or opt out of its provisions. The legislatures of at least 10 other states ... have adopted resolutions critical of the law or requested waivers from the Education Department."
(Story in this morning's Washington Post)

"While the protests have yet to become a nationwide rebellion, some analysts predict that the movement to opt out of the program will gather momentum as more and more schools are put on watch lists required by the law that designate them 'in need of improvement.' As many as half the schools in some states have failed to meet the law's complicated definition of 'adequate yearly progress' in student test scores, triggering a range of costly remedial measures and sanctions."

Bush Responsible for Global Smarming

Yesterday a group of scientists and researchers, including 20 Nobel laureates, issued a strong report charging that the Bush administration has "systematically distorted scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry at home and abroad." (Story in this morning's New York Times).

DISTORTED SCIENTIFIC FACT! Maybe not since the Dark Ages have rulers taken such a ruthless approach to knowledge.

The scientists "accuse the administration of repeatedly censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists, stacking advisory committees with unqualified political appointees, disbanding government panels that provide unwanted advice and refusing to seek any independent scientific expertise in some cases."

The full report and the list of 60 prominent scientists who signed it can be found at

To get down to specifics, "according to the report, the Bush administration has misrepresented scientific consensus on global warming, censored at least one report on climate change, manipulated scientific findings on the emissions of mercury from power plants and suppressed information on condom use." But then, what dickhead ever wanted to use a condom?

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Burr is Bragging About This?

Congressman Richard Burr was in Boone early this week campaigning for U.S. Senate. In his exclusive interview with John O'Dowd for the Watauga Democrat (not yet posted to their site), he bragged that he was an original sponsor of what ultimately became the infamous Medicare Bill, passed and signed by the Prez late last fall, which "offers prescription drug benefits for Medicare beneficiaries." To brag this way, Burr has to depend on North Carolina voters NOT knowing:

1. The new bill forces seniors to pay sharply increased premiums and give up their Medigap policies to stay in traditional Medicare. For these reasons, seniors will be increasingly herded into private plans or HMOs. Private insurers do not guarantee premiums, can drop patients, and change coverage. And because private companies can cherry-pick the healthiest to be insured, the bill just about guarantees that the average costs for those remaining in traditional Medicare will rise. The bill caps premium increases and federal contributions to Medicare, guaranteeing that it will do exactly what Newt Gingrich always wanted: make it whither on the vine.

2. There are no provisions in the new bill to get insurance or pharmaceutical companies to limit costs. While private industry is free to wheel and deal in lowering costs for drugs, the new law prohibits Medicare from using its negotiating power to lower prices.

3. A provision allowing re-importation of U.S.-made drugs from other countries was dropped from the final bill. Many Americans currently save between 40-60 percent by buying their drugs in Canada. No longer.

4. Medigap policies that cover prescription drug costs will no longer be allowed. Millions of Medicare beneficiaries have bought private insurance to fill gaps in Medicare. The new legislation outlaws the sale of any Medigap policy that would help pay drug costs.

5. The new law gives private insurers the right to ration access to drugs funded by Medicare. Insurer-created committees decide what types and kinds of drugs to cover, and how high to set the payment for each drug. Citizens have no say.

6. Millions of retirees stand to lose their company-sponsored prescription drug insurance. The new bill gives $70 million to corporations which currently offer retirement drug benefits, to "encourage them to continue," but it does not say they "have" to continue. We might better call this provision corporate welfare: "take the money and run."

7. Your Children and Grandchildren Will Foot the Bill. This new law will add at least $400 billion (that number has already jumped to over $500 billion in official estimates and some economists say it will actually be about $700 billion) to the national debt over the next 10 years. The new bill holds big changes for younger workers that could prompt employers to pass on higher health-care costs and move the country away from work-based health coverage to a system that makes you fend for yourself. Anyone who has ever had a serious illness knows this is a travesty for working, middle-class families.

8. Your tax dollars provide a Corporate Payout, with no strings attached. The new Medicare bill has an assortment of provisions that has nothing to do with providing prescription drug benefits to seniors. The Pharmaceutical industry will get $139 billion in additional profits over the next 10 years. Private insurance companies will get $12 billion in "incentives." Private businesses will get $86 billion worth of payments and tax benefits, and HMOs will get $12 billion in tax dollars to skim healthier people out of the current Medicare program, leaving the oldest and sickest in a pool all alone.

Call Burr's bill by its more proper name: the Pharmaceutical Industry Relief Act of 2003 (with thanks to Billmon for that moniker!).

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Chandler Appears To Be Winning in Kentucky

Just checked the early returns from Kentucky's 6th Congressional Distrist special election, and Ben Chandler is way ahead of Kerr, about 58 percent of the vote to her 40 percent.

Now, there's something to make us feel a little better.

Kentucky 6th District Race

The special congressional election in Kentucky today -- to replace Ernie Fletcher, who was elected guv of the state in November -- has turned out to be one of the costliest in Kentucky's 6th District history ... with a total of $4.4 million spent by both sides (a lot of it coming in from out of state). If Kentucky election officials are correct that turnout will be dismally low today, the final tally may show that the two contestants -- former Attorney General Ben Chandler, the Democrat, and state senator Alice Forgy Kerr, the Republican -- will have spent about $100 a vote. They evidently think the bragging rights alone are worth that, and certainly the national leaders of their respective parties think the costs are a drop in the bucket (nothing less than President Bush's perceived re-electability is on the line for the Repubs, in a state that Bush carried easily in 2000 and that Bill Clinton carried in 1992. Chandler is leading Kerr, according to the polls we've seen).

And here's the best part: whoever wins will have to stand for reelection come November. And both Kerr and Chandler has already declared their intentions of being on that ballot, no matter what happens today.


Instead of apologizing for spreading salacious gossip about Sen. John Kerry, which has now been categorically denied by the alleged Other Woman, Matt Drudge just can't bring himself to give it up.

Now he seems to be whining that, well, "the woman" invited speculation with "flippant remarks and [a] flirtatious manner," so it's not exactly his fault that he caused a firestorm of unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo. But it is. It's his fault.

The N.C. Agricultural Commissioner Race

After Meg Scott Phipps resigned her job last June 6 as North Carolina's Commissioner of Agriculture, Gov. Mike Easley appointed Britt Cobb, a 31-year veteran of the department, to take over as interim commissioner through til January of 2005. Then Cobb announced he would be a candidate for the job in the general elections of 2004. Easley hasn't exactly endorsed him, according to the Raleigh News & Observer, but he essentially anointed him by appointing him to the job.

There's something of a power struggle going on between ex-Gov. Jim Hunt and present Gov. Easley over the future of this office. Hunt has endorsed former state rep. Tom Gilmore for the job, and Gilmore and Cobb will be facing one another in the July 20th state primary. Gilmore seems to have won the backing of much of the Democratic power structure, while Cobb gets good marks for his stewardship of the department from employees.

This may be one of the hotter races on the primary ballot this year.

Monday, February 16, 2004

When Is a Breast the Tip of an Ice Berg?

Failing to follow his father's sage advice and wading deep into politics, Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic enterprises, told a convention of religious broadcasters meeting in Charlotte yesterday that if they didn't reelect George W. Bush, there'll be Janet Jackson breasts flooding out of every TV screen in the nation. (Raleigh News & Observer article here) Gay marriage! Cats and dogs together!

My, my my! No mention by the very reverend Mr. Graham that the corporate consolidation of media power, which brought us the Super Bowl in all its empty glitz and continues to bring us The End of Critical Thinking on a daily basis, has been exacerbated by the Bush administration (as editorialized against this very day in the New York Times by William Safire). That instead of standing firm against "the garbage" on TV, Mr. Bush's presidency has meant the wholesale unleashing of the corporate dogs. Anything for a buck.

But depend on Franklin to miss the real story, wholly distracted by a breast.

FLASH: A Definitive Denial

The AP is reporting a strong & blunt denial by The Other Woman in the budding Kerry scandal. Not only that, but her parents say all the press reports and rumors are nothing but lies and that they intend to vote for Senator Kerry.

Let's hope that ends it. And that the people responsible for all this are properly exposed.

No Touch-Screen Voting in Watauga Co. This Year

The continuing bad word out there about "touch-screen" electronic voting machines, especially those made by Diebold Corp. (Paul Krugman's column back on Jan. 23rd, among many other sources) led to a call to the director of Watauga County's Board of Elections.

Because the guidelines and the regulations for implementing the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 are still being wrangled over and developed at the Election Assistance Commission, the local Board of Elections has felt no particular hurry to rush into buying any of the new voting systems currently on the market. One thing is certain: Diebold equipment is not even being considered in Watauga County.

However, what IS being considered doesn't make us feel any better. During "early one-stop" voting in the general elections of 2002, the local Board of Elections did experiment with an Advanced Voting Solutions machine and is considering that company's machines and other ones produced by Election Software and Systems (ESS) for purchase in 2005. The word out on both Advanced and ESS is not any better than the word out on Diebold. (Here's just one link of many.) All local boards of elections in the country are under a federal mandate to do something about out-moded methods of voting by 2006.

Doing something about out-moded punch cards is one thing. Putting Big Brother in charge is quite another.

Too Much 'Sun' Gives Us an Excedrin Headache

The British tabloid The Sun continues to lead the foreign press on The Other Woman, the alleged Kerry sex scandal, and here's an obviously not too recent picture of her and a story which claims she's already done a TV interview about her liaison with Kerry which is being held tight until there's more evidence. We figure they'll develop the rest of their evidence about the time it's too late for Democrats to nominate someone else and just in time to destroy Kerry as a scummy liar.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Warning We Got in Boone

Last Friday, David Orr, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College in Ohio, spoke at the First Baptist Church in Boone on the topic "The Corruption of Patriotism and the Environment in the Age of Terror," talking-points extracted from his new book forthcoming in April from Island Press, "The Last Refuge: The Corruption of Patriotism in the Age of Terror."

It was a sobering talk, even for 2 o'clock in the p.m. in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church.

Dr. Orr opined that this year's election is not just the most important of our lifetime. He feels it may well be the most important of our entire national history, because at no point in our previous 200+ years has the Constitution been under such threat from radical forces which will do anything to maintain and enhance the unprecedented power they have already amassed. The presidency, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Judiciary, all under their sway ... and mass media too, which is corporate to the core and therefore does nothing but skate happily across surface events without ever bothering to ask probing questions about why we're being distracted by the trivia that fills our lives ... who's boinking whom, who's flashing what, who's wearing what designer's outfits?

During the Q & A session which followed his talk, one young man in the audience questioned Dr. Orr's admission that he would be voting for John Kerry, if Kerry turns out to be the nominee, even though Kerry would not necessarily be Orr's first choice. The young man, representing Boone's nascent Workers Socialist Party, said something to the effect that philosophical purity was more important than expediency.

To which Dr. Orr responded, "If Bush and Company win in November, don't you understand that there will be no progressive movement in the United States? They won't continue to allow it."

A conclusion not lost on those of us old enough to remember the McCarthy witchhunts and the John Birch Society ... but something that did not impress the young purists in the audience, who are just waiting for Ralph Nader to declare, so they can be sublimely pure and participate unwittingly, we guess, in the Final Solution for Democracy. It's awful, but I understand entirely where they're coming from. Understand their frustration while rueing their need to be ideologically pure at all costs. Life -- especially now -- is just too short.

The Good Ship Lolly-Poop?

We've been trying to repress the replayed images of this since it happened on Friday, but there's nothing to be gained from denying Reality:

General Wesley Clark on Friday in Madison, Wisc., ENDORSED John Kerry by saying to the Senator, who was standing not three feet away from him on the stage, taking on water (and we couldn't make this stuff up if we tried!), "Sir: Request permission to come aboard."

Doesn't anybody ask the general AHEAD OF TIME what he's planning to say?

Meanwhile, John Kerry gave the definitive denial Friday morning on the Imus show of any truth whatsoever in the Drudge allegations of marital infidelity, and the mainstream media appears at the moment to be taking the man at his word. But WOE UNTO HIM if it should come out otherwise in, oh, say six months, that he was lying all the time. Or if there are other 20-somethings with long hair waiting in the wings for Drudge to dig up. We're going to be as terminally upset with the senator as we were with You Know Who. Mainly because he'll lose the election over it, and we deserve better this year! We deserve better from the man that the media has nominated and which the media will enjoy destroying.

Allen Trivette's Talking Points

For those of you who missed it, and because the Mountain Times does not put their letters to the editor up on-line, we're reproducing verbatim here the letter that County Commissioner L. Allen Trivette published over his name in last Thursday's Mountain Times:


Dear Editor:

At a time when we should all be working together to bring higher paying jobs and affordable housing to our country, a small special interest group continues to harp on scenic byways. The NCDOT appears to have conspired with these people to force land use controls when clearly the majority of residents do not want or need zoning. The NCDOT seems to have taken control of what have always been local issues. I have always tried to represent all the people of our county and to see that their interests are protected. I don't believe Governor Martin intended the Scenic Byway program to intrude into county government or to take businesses and land away from local residents.

I have addressed many questions to Mr. Charles Tomlinson of NCDOT. These include, how did NC 194 N become a scenic highway? Who requested the designation? When was the hearing held? How was this done without informing local residents? Have traffic accidents, serious injuries and death increased on this road after the designation? How do we request "Scenic Byway" designation be removed? What is being done about the Billboard regulations and under whose jurisdiction does non-compliance reside? What is the definition of a "Scenic Byway"? Why is the new US 421 a "Scenic Byway" and old US 421 not? What is the death toll on new US 421 and how many speeding tickets have been issued on that road since it opened? It is time that these questions were answered, so we can move on to solving the problems that have been created by this interference.

We have an even bigger question that needs answering: Who makes decisions for Watauga County, the citizens through elections or the appointees at NCDOT? It is time for the NCDOT to answer questions and to operate in good faith and with respect for all citizens of our county and state.

L. Allen Trivette


While we don't know who's doing Mr. Trivette's composition for him, several points are crystal clear:

1. Notice the words "special interest group ... have conspired" in the first paragraph. People who supported the Scenic Byway -- including many moderate Republicans in the Chamber of Commerce, the elected town councils of Boone, Blowing Rock, Seven Devils, and Beech Mountain -- are in Trivette's universe a "special interest group" that "conspired" to

a. import "zoning" into Watauga County under cover of scenic beauty;
b. deprive honest citizens of affordable housing and good jobs, which we would be closer to having were it not for those special interests who conspired to get a scenic byway instead.

2. Notice the locutions "we should all" ... "the majority of residents" ... "I ... represent all the people" ... "local residents." It's an interesting habit of mind that defines "we," "the majority," "all the people," and "local residents" as only those who agree with Mr. Trivette. What are the rest of us? Clearly, something akin to cockroaches.

3. The real assault in this Mountain Times letter is on the "Scenic Byway" designation for Hwy 194 and on the NCDOT. Mr. Trivette put this issue on the agenda for the County Commission meeting on January 5th, over a month ago, and we're taking the liberty of republishing here what we wrote at that time, since it's still germane:

Signs of the Times: Commissioners Vent Over Scenic Hwy (first posted Jan. 5, 2004)

At Monday morning's Commissioners meeting (Jan. 5th, 9 a.m., County Courthouse), the words "Sign Ordinance Discussion" appeared on the printed Agenda, and everyone braced for impact.

All the commissioners have been hopping mad since the State Board of Transportation overturned their wishes and declared the new Doc & Merle Watson Hwy a "state scenic byway" (all documented in an earlier posting, "Government by, of, & for Land-Owners" [Dec. 16, 2003]). The stated purpose of Allen Trivette was to de-designate the existing scenic status on Hwy 194, or demand that the state de-designate it, because "the people don't want it." So we figgered something might come up for a vote today.

It was crystal clear this morning, if not painfully, 4-Advil clear, that the commissioners have been victimized by their own propaganda against the scenic road, with that Saint of Longsuffering, County Planning Director Joe Furman, beating his head against the weathered rocks of their willful ignorance as to what the state scenic designation does and does not do.

First, just so's we're all clear, here are the facts: Scenic byway designation regulates off-premise signs only. Every landowner along the new road who requested it got direct driveway access onto the new road. You'll see those "driveway cuts" out there along the road, if you look, where the curbing clearly cuts in to allow for a driveway. There are many of these driveway cuts. All of them imply and in fact assure future business or housing development. In fact, some of that development has already started on some parcels (also plainly evident if you just look). Any businesses establishing at any of those driveway connections would be allowed by right to put up on-premise signage to advertize their businesses. The only signs prohibited on the new road are off-premise signs, i.e., billboards.

But the Commissioners, some of them anyway, persisted this morning in their public preference for alleging that a massive plot has been foisted on poor people by educated "outsiders." At one point, Trivette angrily asked Furman, "If they want a mobile home park that can be seen from the new road, would that affect that?" and Furman wearily responded, "No, a mobile home park is not a billboard." What Commissioner Trivette meant, what he was getting at, is that according to Trivette, those good people of Watauga County needing or wanting a cheap, safe, and comfortable mobile home would be inevitably subjected to the unfair prejudices of the wealthy "outsiders," who seem to always fight mobile homes and very often in a snooty, condescending way. This is the "Company Line" among the Commissioners -- all of them -- that those "outsiders" have used the government intrusion of a scenic highway as backdoor zoning, so that a bunch of uppity, over-educated elites won't have to see any unpleasant mountain reality, i.e., poor folks living in mobile homes. This is called stereotyping and is reprehensible, both when it's employed by uppity, over-educated elites (about people who live in mobile home parks) and when it's employed by County Commissioners (about people who ain't from around here).

Digression on Mobile Home Parks: I've lived in them, visited friends and family who lived in them -- my father died in Texas while living in a mobile home. I understand the economic relief they represent. I also recognize that some developers seem to be willing to subject the dwellers in mobile home "parks," as well as the neighboring landowners to those "parks," to land-use abuses that benefit precisely no one but the developer. I’m talking about cramming umpteen mobile homes as close together as possible on a bare hill where there's not a tree beyond the sappling stage for shade, with no playground for children, no common area, and where there's also no access to city sewer, leading to questionable or outright illegal sewerage systems that present problems or hazards to neighboring properties or to the health and welfare of the people living in the mobile home "park." That's what I'm talking about.

But Trivette thinks he understands something different about me, that I disdain mobile homes and the people who live in them, while what I disdain is the greed of rich men that makes them dangerous to other life.

The truly fascinating footnote to history that emerged at this morning's meeting: Apparently, back in the mid-1980s, the state mandated, because the federal government mandated, that North Carolina had to control off-premise signage in order to continue receiving federal funding for highways. The state informed Watauga County in 1985 (? we've asked for the document to pin down the date), along with many other backward-looking counties, that since this county wasn't zoned (duh), the state had the right to impose its own permitting process on billboards. (You see what a lack of zoning leads to, boys?) So even if he wanted to, Joe Furman would have no power to issue a sign permit for a billboard, even if the commissioners, in their rage, decided to rescind the county's own "scenic" designation for Doc & Merle Watson.

But the commissioners would not let go of their willful misinformation. Joe Furman kept repeating, "This applies only to billboards." At the end of the meeting, commissioners Coffey and Blust still seemed clueless about off-premise vs. on-premise signage. So there was no vote taken on the issue. The discussion rambled off into a general frustration that the commissioners could think of no clear way to stick it to the people who stuck them with this scenic byway.

One of those people, evidently, is John Cooper, whose Mast Store got mentioned twice in what can be legitimately labeled spitefulness. "Well, couldn't the Mast Store put up a sign?" "No," came the answer. But that didn't change attitudes among the commissioners. And thus the manifest good deeds of one private citizen earns the emnity (and reprisal?) of public officials.

Exasperated, Trivette snapped at one point: "How many people have driven on that road since it opened? How many speeding tickets have been issued?" Naturally, Joe Furman didn't know the answers to those questions, which were asked to satisfy Mr. Trivette's theory that too many cars traveling too fast equals a major superhighway, which logically therefore cannot be "scenic," since "scenic" attracts slow-moving rubberneckers from big cities who couldn't find their ass with both hands and a head start. (Part of which we agree with.)

Running county government and setting public policy when motivated by revenge, spite, anger based on misinformation, WHAT HAVE YOU ... seems like a crazy way to run a government. And basing your entire political philosophy, let along your public and private life, on a rabid fear that somewhere, sometime, in this galaxy or in the next, someone is going to use "zoning" to prevent anything -- ANYTHING -- well, that's evidently just a risk that some men are willing to tie themselves, and their fellow citizens, into knots to avoid.

Go Figure: 27,000 Defense Contractors Are Delinquent on Their Taxes is reporting that the news in government circles is that a Government Accounting Office audit shows that "U.S. defense contractors failed to pay the federal government billions in taxes and, in some cases, may be guilty of criminal offenses."

"More than 27,000 defense contractors owe the federal government about $3 billion in unpaid taxes as of September 2002" There's plenty of specific detail at the link above, if you've got the stomach for it. The GAO audit report is actually titled (and you gotta love it!), "DoD Contractors Abuse the Federal Tax System with Little Consequences."

"Little Consequences" ... the fitting epitaph on the last three hair-raising years.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Bush Military Records Prove Nothing

The Bush White House chose 6:30 on a Friday afternoon, leading into an extended weekend, to dump a big wad of paper on the press corps, claiming this was everything, anywhere about George W.'s National Guard service.

Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times, however, was not particularly impressed by that big wad of paper: "... the hundreds of pages of National Guard files contain no new evidence and are unlikely to change the basic standoff between Mr. Bush and the Democrats, which is where, when and how often the president showed up for duty from May 1972 to May 1973 .... The only document in the two-inch-thick stack that puts Mr. Bush in Alabama in that period is a document that the White House released on Wednesday, a copy of a dental exam performed at Dannelly Air National Guard base in Montgomery on Jan. 6, 1973."

Friday, February 13, 2004

The Father Calls Kerry "A Sleazeball"

We have to go to England for this news, as no major U.S. media has yet picked it up:

"PRESIDENTIAL hopeful John Kerry was branded a 'sleazeball' last night by the parents of a young woman he allegedly tried to woo."

The article also names the young woman, who has allegedly both spouted off some "bizarre" stories about Kerry and also fled to Africa, where she remains. One story circulating is that Kerry paid her to get out of the country.

Kerry was on Imus this morning denying there was any story to tell and therefore nothing to explain nor apologize for.

The "Off-Shoring" of American Jobs

For those who might have missed it, earlier this week N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, said that the outsourcing of U.S. service jobs to foreign countries, or "off-shoring," was "a good thing." It's only "the latest manifestation of the gains from trade that economists have talked about" for centuries, said Mankiw.

Typical economist. Knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Not only rabid Democrats jumped on his statement. Some rabid Republicans did as well. Like N.C. Congressman Walter B. Jones, Republican of Farmville, who felt led to write a letter to President Bush about it. "Anyone who believes it's a good thing to ship U.S. jobs overseas and to send Americans to the unemployment lines should not be advising the president of the United States," Jones wrote.

North Carolina Republicans have good reason to be nervous about the jobs issue. Which is exactly why Republican candidates for both the 5th and the 10th district seats in Congress this year have already been running TV spots, promising to do something about it.

Big Brother Is a Pious Fraud

John Ashcroft is defending the subpoenas his department has issued against a half-dozen hospitals, seeking the medical records of women who have had late-term abortions. No surprise there. But Ashcroft's blatant prejudice is instructive: "Mr. Ashcroft said the records were essential to the department's courtroom defense of a new law banning what he called 'the rather horrendous practice of partial-birth abortions.' ... Mr. Ashcroft told reporters that 'if the central issue in the case, an issue raised by those who brought the case, is medical necessity, we need to look at medical records to find out if indeed there was medical necessity.' "

In other words, if people want to fight our taking away their liberties, then we will subject them to other intrusive violations of their privacy.

"Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of the Bronx, said, 'All Americans should have the right to visit their doctor and receive sound medical attention without the fear of Big Brother looking into those records.' "

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Kerry Scandal ... Old News?

This is in from a reader of this site, minus any link. So take it for what it's worth:

FROM CONRESSIONAL QUARTERLY'S CRAIG CRAWFORD: 'Drudge item on Kerry intern issue is something Chris Lehane (Clark press sec'y) has shopped around for a long time -- it was one reason the Gore vetters in 2000 shied away from Kerry as a running mate choice -- their conclusion that it wasn't bad enough to disqualify him, except for the fact that they couldn't risk it as they were trying so hard to distance themselves from Clinton's personal failings (note: Lehane worked for Gore at the time -- and briefly advised Kerry during this campaign). The Kerry camp has long expected to deal with this, and have assured party leaders they can handle it.'

Kerry Scandal?

Since I can't get to the Drudge Report myself, I'm taking this text off the Bush Wars blog:


**World Exclusive** **Must Credit the DRUDGE REPORT**

A frantic behind-the-scenes drama is unfolding around Sen. John Kerry and his quest to lockup the Democratic nomination for president, the DRUDGE REPORT can reveal.

Intrigue surrounds a woman who recently fled the country, reportedly at the prodding of Kerry, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

A serious investigation of the woman and the nature of her relationship with Sen. John Kerry has been underway at TIME magazine, ABC NEWS, the WASHINGTON POST, THE HILL and the ASSOCIATED PRESS, where the woman in question once worked.


A close friend of the woman first approached a reporter late last year claiming fantastic stories -- stories that now threaten to turn the race for the presidency on its head!

In an off-the-record conversation with a dozen reporters earlier this week, General Wesley Clark plainly stated: "Kerry will implode over an intern issue." [Three reporters in attendance confirm Clark made the startling comments.]

The Kerry commotion is why Howard Dean has turned increasingly aggressive against Kerry in recent days, and is the key reason why Dean reversed his decision not to drop out of the race after Wisconsin, top campaign sources tell the DRUDGE REPORT.

Try to get to the Drudge Report. Traffic is heavy.

The Hall of Mirrors

In this presidential campaign, we've gone in circles, lost in the media funhouse, rounding a corner repeatedly in the last two weeks to meet the famously sagging mug of one John Kerry, staring balefully in our general direction, while the media pipes in the message, "He's the one, he's the one, he's the one who can beat Bush!"

Considering the track record of these particular media whores, I'm not at all energized by the fact that they're nominating our presidential candidate for us.

William Saletan in Slate magazine has an interesting column on this fascinating but overall debilitating process. Voters in the first dozen or so primaries and caucuses are clearly marching on the media's treadmill, picking not the candidate who agrees with their values and hopes but the candidate they've heard is electable. Exit polls clearly show this, and Saletan's analysis of them proves devastating.

We feel desperate when we read such things, not so much because of a loser like Kerry but because of the prospect of a winner like Bush ... and a Second Term for his bunch of freedom termites ... with who knows how many Bush appointments to the Supreme Court. The Drake University subpoenas, the Northwestern University hospital subpoenas ... oh, those are just the beginning!

Eliminating 'Disparities' the Easy Way

The Bush administration has been caught altering the truth about U.S. racial and socioeconomic health disparities ... for political gain. And we are shocked, SHOCKED! (News of this in Government Executive magazine)

The Bushies, through its Department of Health & Human Services, was set to release the first annual "National Healthcare Disparities Report." In a June 2003 draft, the report "found 'significant inequality' in health care in the United States, called healthcare disparities 'national problems,' emphasized that these disparities are 'pervasive in our healthcare system,' and found that the disparities carry a significant 'personal and societal price.' The final version of the report, however, contains none of these conclusions."

Someone went through the report and Xed out almost every instance of the word "disparity," cutting 28 of 30 references in the "key findings" section.

The censorship was noticed. Eight House members, led by Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., complained to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson in January that the report was "yet another example of the administration's manipulation of science to fit its political goals."

Thompson admitted on Tuesday of this week that his department at ... "erred" in rewriting the report, and he plans to release it as originally written.

The Matrix Asserts Itself

Michelle Goldberg in Salon reveals that the subpoenas issued in Iowa against Drake University and some Catholic anti-war activists was not the action of a rogue U.S. attorney but part of an insidious web of government intrusion and snooping to clamp down on dissent.

What can I say? I'm old enough to remember the communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. We're getting there again ... and mighty fast!

More Hair-Raising News

We posted to this space a couple of days ago a story first reported in Crain's business journal of Chicago, that John Ashcroft's Department of Justice had subpoenaed the records of women who had received late-term abortions from Northwestern University hospital and from hospitals in New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and that a federal judge had quashed the subpoenas (see below, "If You're Not Feeling the Chill, You're Wearing Way Too Many Clothes").

The New York Times is out this morning with an update about this. While the good judge in Chicago slapped Ashcroft's hands away from those Northwestern University medical records, a Manhattan judge, Richard Conway Casey, is not only upholding the subpoenas as legal. He's also threatening sanctions against Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Weill Cornell Medical Center and St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, all in New York City, if they don't comply and turn over the records of hundreds of women. Judge Casey threatened to "even lift a temporary ban he had imposed on the government's new abortion restrictions, if the records were not turned over."

The temporary ban Judge Casey mentioned is the one he imposed last November to block the newly passed Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act (which President Bush was all too happy to sign into law). According to the Times, Casey said last week that he was prepared to lift that injunction and possibly clear the way for the government to enforce the law if the records were not produced.

That's an interesting example of "judicial temperament," no? To first decide that a federal law probably violates the Constitution and then threaten to impose that law anyway, as punishment, if some doctors won't violate patient confidentiality to satisfy the anti-abortion zealot occupying the highest chair in the Department of Justice.

For his part, Ashcroft's Justice Department is saying that in its opinion (and I am not making this up) "individuals no longer possess a reasonable expectation that their histories will remain completely confidential."

You know, there's a March for Choice in Washington, D.C., on April 25th, and I've just made up my mind that I'm going. It's time to get back in the street, folks. And if others would like to get onto one of three buses going to the event from Boone, North Carolina, you can e-mail your request for a seat directly to or

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Scalia's Got a Pair of Brass Ones

Can you believe that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is signaling that those who've raised ethical questions about his going on a duck-hunting jaunt with Vice President Dick Cheney, while also being scheduled to sit in judgment of the VP's refusal to reveal his secret dealings behind the Bush Administration's Energy Bill ... that those critics can just eat it. Scalia indicates that he has no intention whatsoever of recusing himself from the case. That's the bottomline. (All according to USA Today) Can you believe it? You can? Well, I guess you're right. It's totally believeable.

6th District Kentucky House Race

This is the horse/house race to watch!

Ben Harris Chandler, the former Democrat Attorney General of Kentucky and recently defeated in his run for governor by Ernie Fletcher, is now running for Fletcher's old House seat in a special election scheduled for next Tuesday, Feb. 17th, and he appears to be winning!

The Lexington Herald Leader has now endorsed Chandler, lamenting the heavy importation of out-of-state Republican money, "a multimillion-dollar mudslide ... so repulsive that voters could hardly be blamed for ignoring Tuesday's special election."

The best that the Herald-Leader can find to say about Chandler's Republican challenger, Alice Forgy Kerr? "Kerr is a pleasant, well-meaning person who is way over her head in the Kentucky Senate. In six years in the legislature, her few accomplishments have come about when Republican leaders attached her name to a Democrat's bill. Nothing in her earlier experience qualifies her for Congress."

And if nothing else motivates Kentucky voters to pick Chandler, consider the baleful influence of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in the process: "McConnell, who hand-picked [Kerr] as GOP nominee, promised to 'do whatever it takes' to bury Chandler's political ambitions under an avalanche of Republican money. It's that mountain of money that's turned this campaign into the ugly, unintelligible muddle that it is."

McConnell, naturally, was a chief opponent of campaign finance reform and is married to Bush's Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao.