Sunday, May 29, 2005

Gov. Mike Easley Likes the Death Penalty

Reviewing ... several death-row inmates across the nation have been exonerated by DNA evidence or investigations that have shown misconduct or errors in their trials. Support for a two-year moratorium on death sentences has grown in North Carolina because of these sudden reversals of fortune. According to the N&O, more than 30 communities in North Carolina, including Charlotte's City Council, have called for a moratorium, as has a growing list of religious groups. This coming week, the N.C. House is scheduled to consider a bill to create a moratorium and allow time to study whether capital punishment is fairly meted out.

But The Guv has thrown cold water on that initiative. He said, through his spokeswoman, that he "supports the death penalty and does not see a need for a moratorium at this time. If such a bill is passed, the governor will give it careful review" ... meaning he'll veto it? Sounds like that's what he means.

A veto would then require three-fifths vote in the legislature to override. Doubtful that would happen.

Let the killing continue.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Beware of Centralized Power

Consider this:

"In 1995, the government created about 3.6 million secrets. In 2004, there were more than 15.5 million [secrets], according to the government's Information Security Oversight Office. The White House attributes the rise in information the public cannot see to the security threats in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world. But experts on government secrecy say it goes beyond protecting sensitive security documents, to creating new classes of information kept private and denying researchers access to documents from past presidents. 'We have never had this kind of control over information,' said Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. 'It means policy is being made by a small clique without much public scrutiny.' "

"A small clique"? Rove, Cheney, and ... oh yeah, the guy who's actually the president.

And if that doesn't concern you, consider this:

"Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) has been assigned by GOP leaders to look for new ways to provide oversight of the federal courts and tougher discipline for judges. In a recent interview he said some judges have 'deliberately decided to be in the face of the president and Congress.' Senate Republicans are weighing legislation to limit court authority, as well."

They're NOT going to put up with an independent judiciary. That's what "the nuclear option" was all about.

Jehovah Makes Helpful Editorial Suggestions

After praying to God, Rev. Creighton Lovelace of Danieltown Baptist Church in Forest City (see previous post, down-column) decided his "flush the Koran" sign was perhaps not the most salubrious step he's taken lately, so the sign has come down. "When I posted the sign in front of the church, it was my intent only to affirm and exalt the Bible and its teaching," said Rev. Lovelace. "And do you know a better way to exalt the Bible than insulting heathens?" Okay, he didn't actually say the second half of that sentence. But still.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Southern Baptist Welcome Wagon

Rev. Creighton Lovelace, pastor of the 55-member Danieltown Baptist Church in Forest City, N.C., has posted a sign in front of his church reading "The Koran needs to be flushed."

"My creed is the Bible, which tells me I am supposed to stand up and defend my faith," Rev. Lovelace said, "which includes being deliberately provocative, sunk in ignorance, and dedicated to spreading hatefulness through my corner of the world." Okay. He didn't say the second part of that, but still.

The Rev. Lovelace's cheerful little sign has drawn national attention. "Christians often ask themselves, 'What would Jesus do?' " said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "I don't think Jesus, who is loved by Muslims and mentioned frequently in the Quran, would use such hate-filled and divisive rhetoric."

Charles Kimball, a religion professor at Wake Forest University, called the church's decision to put up the message "highly inappropriate and deliberately provocative."

Even Richard Land, who heads the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the minor mullah who came up with iVoteValues last year, criticized Lovelace's decision: "If we want other people to respect our religious symbols and documents we need to respect the symbols and documents that they believe are sacred. What positive purpose does this serve? None. It's not going to make it easier to evangelize Muslims or foster respect for our religious beliefs."

Ohio Water ... Evidently Laced With Gall

First, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Oh.) ... breaking ranks, joining up with the Gang of 14 to "sell the Republican majority down the river," as the drug-addicted Rush Limbaugh had it yesterday on his radio show. ("Traitors! Weasels! Towering midgets!")

(Incidentally, we've been silent on the Senate compromise averting the "nuclear option," wondering ourselves if this is a decision we want to celebrate, or deplore. We tend to TOLERATE it, since the Limbaughs of this fragile world, along with Mullah Dobson and all the other little mullahs, have been in a thrashing rage since Monday night. When they're upset, we're closer to content. But one warning note: when we feel ourselves beginning to like Sen. Lindsey Graham of S.C., as we were beginning to do yesterday, just a smidgeon of an iota ... then we have to worry about what powerful hallucinogenic may have been added to OUR drinking water!)

Anyway ... back to Ohio and its other Republican senator, George Voinovich, who yesterday upped his own ante of maverick uppitiness by sending a letter to all his Senate brethren urging them to vote against John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador ... for the friggin' good of the nation: "In these dangerous times, we cannot afford to put at risk our nation's ability to successfully wage and win the war on terror with a controversial and ineffective ambassador to the United Nations."


" is unusual for a Republican to break ranks so publicly with President Bush." You ain't just whistling Dixie, Bubba!

Maybe this is the start of some rolling infection of STATESMANSHIP among the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, an acknowledgement that just because you have the POWER to be dickheads, you don't always HAVE to be dickheads.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Virginia Foxx Votes Against Stem-Cell Research

Madame Virginia Foxx was one of 194 members of the House of Representatives (all but 14 of them Republicans) to vote against H.R. 810 today, the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act." The law was sponsored by Republican William Castle of Delaware and drew some 50 Republican votes. (The same bill will probably pass the Senate, which El Presidente has promised to veto ... bless his heart.)

Foxx'll claim she voted for stem-cell research ... H.R. 2520, sponsored by rabid pro-lifer Rep. Christopher Smith of N.J., the "Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act," which is all about umbilical cord blood and NOT embryonic stem cells, which most scientists agree hold the most promise for miracle cures of genetic diseases. H.R. 2520 also passed today, with only one vote against. That was the easy vote.

Madame Foxx choked on the big one.

Business Leaders Dis Social Conservatives

Very interesting article in this a.m.'s WashPost about the cooling of Republican business groups on the social conservatism of El Presidente's second term.

"Economic conservatives grew restless during the first Bush term, when federal budget surpluses turned to yawning deficits, federal spending soared and the Republican-controlled Congress passed a Medicare drug benefit that marked the largest new federal entitlement since Lyndon B. Johnson was president."

But rather than fiscal restraint in the second Bush term, we're getting Terri Schiavo, John Bolton, and the "nuclear option," all pushed to a great extent by the American mullahs of the Christian Right.

One informed opinion has it that "the business community is no longer the GOP's base."

The Anti-Science of the Bush Administration

New from the administration of El Presidente, who evidently eschews knowledge like the cooties:

"The southwestern regional director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has instructed members of his staff to limit their use of the latest scientific studies on the genetics of endangered plants and animals when deciding how best to preserve and recover them." (NYTimes story today here.)

Don't confuse us with facts, especially new facts.

Can you believe the know-nothingism of this administration? "...all decisions about how to return a species to robust viability must use only the genetic science in place at the time it was put on the endangered species list -- in some cases the 1970's or earlier...."

Advancements in scientific knowledge ... not to be tolerated.

Same goes, obviously, for stem-cell research and new evidence on global warming.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Unconsionable Judicial Activism of Priscilla R. Owen

The Texas woman judge, Priscilla R. Owen ... whose nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals provides the current pretext for the "nuclear option" .... We've been hearing what Alberto Gonzales wrote about her, while they were on the Texas High Court together. Saw the context today in the WashPost.

There was this case, involving an unidentified 17-year-old girl, Jane Doe, who sought an exception to a Texas law requiring minors to notify their parents or guardians before undergoing an abortion. The law provided several ways to bypass the requirement, including a showing that the minor was "mature and sufficiently well informed" to make the decision herself. The Texas high court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of Doe, with Gonzales in the majority and Owen among the dissenters. Gonzales wrote his own concurring opinion, in which he defended the court's ruling and attacked Owen's minority view:

"Thus, to construe the Parental Notification Act so narrowly as to eliminate bypasses, or to create hurdles that simply are not to be found in the words of the statute, would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism."

Now that he's a high-caste official for El Presidente, Gonzales is having to eat those words.

They were wise words then, and they still are. The Religious Right is all about judicial activism. But not just "liberal" judicial activism. They're about attacking a largely make-believe "liberal" bugaboo as a cover for trying to slip in the real thing, a religious activism that says America "went wrong" along about 1900, what with women's rights, government aid, corporate control, name the demon of your choice. All such laws are seen as "meddling" with the Constitutional Order.

It's a fundamentalist's world that Bush's crazy judges are wanting to bring to pass, and may the Good Lord protect us all.

You Go, Joe!

Haven't been a fan of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), and was apprehensive about his being one of "The Gang of 12" trying to reach compromise with the Republicans' planned "nuclear option." But, according to the WashPost today, Lieberman argued passionately in a speech on the floor of the Senate to preserve the right to filibuster a judicial nominee he believes is not qualified. He also said it is essential that judicial nominees should be able to muster votes from more than one party. "That's what's on the line here," he said. "The institutional requirements of 60 votes is one of the last best hopes of bipartisanship and moderation."

Immoderation is exactly what the nuclear option is all about.

Virginia Foxx Opposes Stem-Cell Research?

The looming show-down between El Presidente and members of his own party in the House of Representatives over embryonic stem-cell research leaves Virginia Foxx looking more and more like Tom DeLay's toadie.

Looks like the House has the votes, including at least 30 Republicans led by Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), to pass H.R. 801, the "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005." Yesterday, El Presidente, who has NEVER vetoed a bill in his over four endless years in office, promised to veto this one (you are free to speculate on why, but the result is the same: ignorance triumphs). Talk, shall we? about "the Culture of Death"?

Where's Virginia Foxx on this issue? She's certainly NOT listed among the over 200 co-sponsors of the bill on the House website. She's opting for ignorance? A fine example to set. But she's also got Catholicism, the Terri Schiavo rhetoric. Well, she did not always think so, until it got politically necessary to climb out on that particular theocratic limb (thank you, Vernon Robinson). The intrepid former warrior for the Equal Rights Amendment has gone all Nearer My Pope, to Thee.

According to the WashPost, H.R. 801 would still prohibit federal funding for the creation of embryos solely for research purposes. But it would allow research using embryos stored at fertility clinics and donated by couples who no longer need them. These unused embryos are routinely trashed but are, in the screwed up politics of our day & time, sacred relics, or rather, political footballs suitable for being kicked down the field by the likes of Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. "Dr." Virginia Foxx has made her nest among such as these.

And is afraid of them to boot.

Vernon Robinson Watch

You remember Vernon Robinson ... the seriously hateful Winston-Salem alderman who accused Virginia Foxx of being a liberal during last summer's Republican primary and run-off elections for the 5th Dist. congressional seat.

He's baaaaack.

But not for long, maybe. He's challenging Ferrell Blount of Pitt County as chair of the state Republican Party. The Republicans are convening today in Asheville to elect their leadership, and incumbent Blount has raised Robinson's ire by -- what else? -- not being sufficiently anti-gay.

"Robinson complained that a Republican-held state Senate seat in Wilmington 'was lost to a lesbian.' He was referring to state Sen. Julia Boseman, who is the first openly gay member of the Senate. And he criticized Blount for voting for Joann Davidson of Ohio for co-chairwoman of the national party, calling her 'a pro-homosexual rights candidate.' " (N&O coverage here.)

Blount fought back with his own anti-gay bona fides, pointing out that he single-handedly barred the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group, from setting up a booth at last year's state GOP convention in Greensboro. Blount to Robinsons: You wanna see bigotry? I can show ya bigotry.

(And incidentally, Jon Stewart had it right on The Daily Show recently when he pointed out that the most vocal anti-gay Republicans all end up being outed as ... G-A-Y. So it's only a matter of time, Vernon, before we find out what's stored on your hard-drive, if you'll pardon the reference.)

So irritated have the national Log Cabin Republicans become with North Carolina's brand of anti-homosexual bigotry that the group is spending $5,000 this weekend running ads on local Asheville cable channels accusing party leaders of being intolerant. Duh.

"The commercial starts with footage of former President Reagan's speech to the 1992 national convention in Houston. It quotes Reagan as saying, 'Whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears.' The 30-second commercial then says the Republicans have a choice of following Reagan's lead in uniting the party or following the 'intolerant social agenda' of the likes of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Pat Buchanan and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania."

The early money was on Blount to win reelection as state party chair, leaving Robinson free to challenge Virginia Foxx next year in another primary. He might make some headway against her on his favorite topic if he notices that she was behind a $6.2 million loan (out of Agriculture Department money) to the Blowing Rock Community Arts Center, which as most people know has featured dramatic work by an openly gay author. Can't you see Vernon's direct-mail letter to 5th Dist. farmers? "Your Congresswoman, Virginia Foxx, took over $6 million out of the tobacco buyout program and gave it to people who want to put gay-themed plays on stage to corrupt your children!"

Works for me.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Watauga County Budget

The Watauga County Commission held a public hearing last night on the proposed budget for fiscal year '05-'06, and only two people spoke against the 5-cent tax increase to fund a new high school ... Madelyn (Karen) Carter and former county commissioner Allen Trivette. (The only other speakers were begging the commissioners to spend more money, particularly on their non-profits, departments, or burning causes.)

Carter alluded to her belief in a massive conspiracy that is trying to deprive her of her land, a plot that apparently commenced the moment the first colonial governor proposed taxing property. Make that sacred property. In a fore-taste of next year's local political campaign, Carter actually used the term "taxing and spending," and referred to the 5-cent increase in the rate as "oppressive."

Trivette was infinitely more charming: "It's a lazy, wasteful County Commissioner who raises taxes." Having attended two days of the commissioners' budget "workshops" in March, for a total of 11 hours, and two days of budget "negotiations" this month, for a total of another 8 hours ... and having seen the vast pile of budget papers these commissioners had to wade through for untold hours not tallied up in public meetings ... I think we can safely lay aside Trivette's charge of laziness. These guys work for practically nothing and are expected to show up for many, many meetings of other boards, commissions, and civic and church groups. Lazy? We believe it's a lazy ex-commissioner that relies on such cheap shots.

And "wasteful"? Not hardly, no how. The Sheriff didn't get all he was asking for. The school system, even, didn't get all it was asking for. Many departments are looking at cuts. It's a lean budget.

Trivette's "lazy & wasteful" charge doesn't fly. A couple of other reasons for why Commissioners might be forced to raise taxes: "a belief in the future," as Commission Chair Jim Deal terms it, i.e., the importance of education, and the fact that the previous Board of Commissioners, with Allen Trivette sitting on it, was neglectful and at times outright hostile to education. That previous group of commissioners was bent on an ideological course that said ... cut taxes no matter what, damn the consequences. Don't think of the future. Think only of your braggin' rights: "We cut taxes." Meanwhile, both the schools and the sheriff's department suffered.

Another "driver" of a local tax increase can be traced to another group of ideologues in Washington, who are busily shoving "no child left behind" mandates down the food-chain to the local level, with no funding to pay for them, and shoving increasing responsibility for social safety-net mandates onto local governments, because they too must give tax cuts to their richest friends. Where is national Republicanism taking us? ... to greater tax burdens on us local folks for the sake of letting Bush's corporate cronies off the hook. This is NOT a tax-cutting regime. It's a tax-transference regime, and it's all landing on us at the bottom.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Don't Look for Unbiased Supreme Court Judges in Raleigh

The N&O is reporting that two North Carolina Supreme Court justices, Paul Newby and Edward Brady, attended the Raleigh rally last week in favor of a constitutional amendment outlawing homosexual marriage. At the rally, reported on in this space in an earlier posting, speaker after speaker got up onstage to warn the crowd about "activist judges" poised to allow same-sex marriage in our state.

According to Ruth Sheehan, neither justice spoke at the rally, neither carried signs, and neither was recognized from the stage. But they were recognized by a reporter.

Sheehan asks a pertinent question: "Should judges, especially Supreme Court justices, appear at events in support of controversial issues that could one day come before their court?"

The judicial canon of ethics was amended in N.C. two years ago to allow judges the right to attend, preside over, and speak at events sponsored by political parties, including fund-raisers. They can also attend issue-oriented events as long as they do not speak before the crowd.

But still.

Sheehan predicts, "If same-sex marriage does come before the court, Newby and Brady can now be certain they'll be asked to recuse themselves from voting." Asked, yeah. But will they recuse themselves, or, like Antonin Scalia, tell their challengers to go pound sand?

We don't know, but we can certainly guess.

In a Galaxy Near You

Hadn't thought I'd be interested in seeing George Lucas's last installment of the Star Wars epic -- since the last one I paid to see, "The Phantom Menace," purely sucked -- but now it appears the right wing is going nuts on how "Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith" covertly bashes the Bush administration. So now, in my never-ending quest to send my soul to hell, I may have to break down, shell it out, and go.

According to today's NYTimes, one conservative website, "Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood," has added Lucas to its list of boycotted entertainers (and not because he's been making unwatchable films but because he supposedly thought a negative thought against El Presidente). We gotta check this out now, and I just know I'm gonna hate "Episode 3."

At the Cannes Film Festival, Lucas evidently made oblique comments that have fueled the politics. He said that he had first devised the "Star Wars" story during the Vietnam War. "The parallels between what we did in Vietnam and what we're doing in Iraq now are unbelievable," he said.


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Treating Dissent as "Terrorism"

New evidence has emerged that the FBI was being used to attempt to intimidate anti-war protestors as suspected "terrorists" prior to last summer's two major party political conventions. Highly dubious "suspicions" were being employed as "pretexts" for FBI agent "visits" with dissenters, their neighbors and friends.

Fishing expeditions.

These are the police-state "freedoms" so loudly touted by our pious brethren on the right? Freedom from dissent was surely uppermost in Jesus Christ's mind as he drove the money-changers from the Temple, right?

The Argentinization of America

Look out when the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution agree on something!

Yesterday in a joint meeting on the economic outlook for the U.S., economists from both the Heritage Foundation and Brookings Institution agreed that a "budget nightmare" is coming, brought on by El Presidente's run-away spending, coupled with massive tax cuts. One of them suggested that it will turn the United States into Argentina. The Argentina of a collapsed economy and riots in the streets. That Argentina.

When? "The model [of over-spending and under-taxing] blows up in the mid-2040s."

"To do nothing," which is precisely what El Presidente's handlers intend, "would lead to deficits of the scale we've never seen in this country or in any major industrialized country." U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker forecasts U.S. debt and obligations at $45 trillion in current dollars -- almost as much as the total net worth of all Americans, or $150,000 per person. Balancing the budget in 2040, Walker said, could require cutting total federal spending as much as 60 percent or raising taxes to 2 1/2 times today's levels.

The Republican regime currently in control does not care. Vice President Cheney has said, "deficits don't matter." President Bush simply ignores projections that show deficits exploding in the near future. They want to strangle government, knock everyone but themselves off the feeding tubes, and the fastest way to that conclusion appears to be bankruptcy for the whole nation.

The Coming Nuclear Winter

Interesting "inside baseball" article in this a.m.'s WashPost on how exactly the Senate Republicans intend to achieve their "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules in respect to filibusters.

Here's how they'll do it: Debate actually started this morning at 9:30 a.m. over one of El Presidente's judicial nominees, Priscilla Owen. Either tomorrow or Friday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and other Republican senators are likely to file a motion seeking cloture, or an end to debate. One session day must pass before a vote to end debate, once a cloture motion has been filed. Presumably the vote to end debate would fail, falling short of the necessary 60 votes. At that point, with Vice President Dick Cheney presiding (as is his right), Senator Frist will rise to object that Democratic filibustering of judicial nominees is out of order. Cheney (surprise!) would rule that Frist is absolutely, purely, unconditionally correct, even super-Christlike. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would then object and ask that the ruling of the chair be tabled. Most Republicans would then vote against the Democratic motion, upholding the ruling. Then the Senate would move to a vote on Owen, and a precedent will have been set that it takes 51 votes, not 60, to cut off debate on a judicial nomination. That's the "likely scenario," as ferreted out by ace reporter Mike Allen.

(Turns out it didn't take all that much ferreting, since this scenario was included in an article published last fall in the "Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy" by Martin B. Gold, a partner at Covington & Burling, who is also a former floor adviser to Frist, and Dimple Gupta, a former Justice Department lawyer who was hired in March by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. Someone named "Dimple" is plotting Republican legal strategy!)

Part of Allen's article also turns up the interesting sidebar that the Republican-appointed Senate parliamentarian, Alan S. Frumin, is dead-set against this "nuclear option" and has told Sen. Reid that he would rule against it ... if asked. "But a senior Republican Senate aide confirmed that Frist does not plan to consult Frumin at the time the nuclear option is deployed. 'He has nothing to do with this,' the aide said. 'He's a staffer, and we don't have to ask his opinion.' "

Personally, we're weary of the Democrats' tendency to cave. This morning on C-SPAN, Democratic callers were beginning to say "maybe these judges won't be as bad as we think." "Maybe Godzilla will become vegetarian." Yeah. We can always pray.

If I were a Republican Senator (one can fantasize, given enough gin), I might be thinking of setting a new precedent for confirming judicial nominees in light of the future, balefully starring them in their collective face ... PRESIDENT HILLARY CLINTON. We know they're going to be delighted that they mucked around with the rules when the second President Clinton begins sending up her judicial nominees. But these guys -- especially Frist -- don't think 30 minutes past their need to placate the Religious Right.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Thanks a Whole Friggin' Lot, Newsweek!

Newsweek's retraction of its short report on Koran desecration at Guantanamo allows the True Believers now to assume that the whole Abu Ghraib scandal was made up and promoted by the "liberal media" and that all other bad news for the Bush administration is just pure press bias.

As outcomes go, this one seems designed by Karl Rove.

The problem with Newsweek's story was not the single source, since many corporate and government scandals have depended on single brave whistle-blowers. The problem is that the single-source began to back away from his/her account. (Story in today's NYTimes.)

Stories of prisoner abuse and the use of religious taboos to psychologically break Muslim prisoners have been swirling for months. Our own Attorney General is on the record excusing torture. It's not as though a single retracted story in Newsweek is responsible for the ill-will toward America in Muslim countries.

But why are we wasting our breath defending the Mainstream Media? They're huge corporations just like the guys who jerk El Presidente's guy-wires. They've shown no particular care for calling out this bunch for their lies. So I plan to lose no sleep over their careless crash-and-burn.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Death and Resurrection

Our absence from this space was due to a death in the family in West Texas, so I've been to a Baptist funeral since last we talked, touched family, and laughed at the old stories told by the aunts. Funerals are like births in many ways -- they bring relatives trailing from far off to eat cassaroles together, and dry brisket with yeast rolls, and to marvel at the pure stubbornness of human life and its persistence in the face of bad odds.

That part of Texas, in the high, flat, dry Panhandle, is soooo Republican and so very depressed. My little home town is a virtual ghost-town. More people in the cemetery now than on the tax rolls. One more new grave was wedged into those ranks as of Friday, and I saw around me at the graveside service a diminishing line of my revered elders on the march inevitably toward the same sad treeless plot that's been the local burying ground since 1890. There's sadness in that, but also comfort. In death we get to lie in the same congregation we struggled through life alongside, sometimes fighting, often laughing, always eating together.

"Let her go now. Let her lie in the embrace of her people for eternity, who scratched the soil for food and thanked God for the least blessing."

It will take us some time to sort through the emotions we feel at loss, not only the loss of family but the loss of civic structure. The town I grew up in was a vibrant place. On Saturdays on main street, you had to elbow your way through the strollers and the shoppers and the gawkers and hawkers on the courthouse square. Everybody came to town. It's resoundingly deserted today, the rows of storefronts facing the courthouse on two sides, empty shells now and quickly falling into ruin. There's not even a grocery store in town. Something blew all the people away. Or a space ship landed and teleported them out of this dimension, pausing long enough to loosen every last shingle in sight.

The people left behind don't seem to notice the disappeared, or else have consciously decided to ignore the obvious in hopes the trend will miraculously reverse itself. On Friday I realized too late I had violated a local taboo when I spoke aloud about the desolation. I got a look from the secretary of the Baptist Church that would normally be reserved for a three-year-old acting up during the sermon. Her look said, "Have a little respect, will you, please! We don't talk about how depressing this place has become." And I can appreciate that.

The de-peopling of rural West Texas is not isolated. The rural landscape all across this nation is dotted with abandoned farms and ruined homesteads, dead and dying towns that once thrummed with expectation, and I can't help noticing who has profited by those deaths. The cities have bulged with the displaced, ready to work for any wage at practically any job. Masters of the universe, a.k.a., the captains of industry ... they like a little human misery and desperation amongst their workforce.

Interestingly, the country people being swept into the labor markets of huge corporations have been convinced that the local politicians talking about aborted babies and queer fear will also somehow protect them from the accelerating whirlwind of urbanization and sub-urbanization and global corporatism. And that is what makes me really sad -- the recognition that fear is such a potent political weapon and that people can be distracted from what is actually happening to them.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

QueerFear on Parade in Raleigh

They expected thousands, millions!, of gay-hating North Carolinians to show up yesterday outside the legislative building in Raleigh to demonstrate their demand that the state legislature pass an amendment to the state constitution outlawing gay marriage. (North Carolina is one of 39 states that have existing laws recognizing only heterosexual marriages as valid. But...) Organizers of the Raleigh anti-gay rally had star speakers, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, on hand to stir up the godly. Who mainly didn't show up.

For all that hooplah, they got a thin crowd.

"All it would take is one ruling by the state Supreme Court, and homosexual marriage would be legal here," roared Bill Maier, an assistant to James Dobson, a Colorado Springs child psychologist and radio personality who founded Focus on the Family. Evidently, Mr. Maier hasn't met the members of the North Carolina Supreme Court.

So far at least, the anti-queer constitutional amendment shows no signs of advancing in the state legislature. But rest assured that the N.C. Republican Party, through their church auxillaries, will be passing the Kool-Aide right on into the 2006 general election season. It's best not to let those church people grow idle, lest they begin to notice the Bush economy.

Evidently, God Has Left the Building

The Rev. Chan Chandler, the politics-preaching pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church who led the ouster of members who voted Democrat, resigned last night and drove away into the darkness with his wife. (Asheville Citizen-Times coverage here.) "It's really sad that all this happened," said one of the reverend's hardcore supporters, a woman who also left the church. She said she would no longer attend East Waynesville Baptist Church. "I'm not going to serve where there are so many ungodly people." Because, see, Jesus most certainly did NOT say go unto all the world and preach the gospel. Thirty-five right-thinkers followed Chandler out the door and apparently out of the church.

The N&O says that Chandler did not apologize for the division he caused and said only that "his underlying concern was to save unborn babies from abortion." Evidently, Democratic women of the church were holding Wednesday night abortion sessions instead of Women's Missionary Union meetings.

Chandler's theology of "agree with me or go to hell" is of course the prevailing style in all fundamentalist movements, world-wide. Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, spoke about the tsunami of self-righteousness: "When you believe in an inerrant Bible, then the next step is to have an inerrant interpreter and then an inerrant morality."

And then you start looking for kindling, to build your wee bonfire of the vanities.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Virginia Foxx Gives Us a Godliness Update

Congressperson Madame Virginia Foxx spoke at the local Lincoln Day Dinner hosted by the Watauga County Republican Party (Watauga Democrat coverage here). We read it for you so you don't have to:

WHAT SHE SAID: "The House of Representatives is truly the people's House."

WHAT SHE MEANT: We're gonna privatize the hell outta the joint!


WHAT SHE SAID: "The Republicans have wonderful leadership right now. They are godly people, their feet firmly on the ground, with great common sense."

WHAT SHE MEANT: When you keep both feet on the ground, it's much harder to have sex on a desk. Common sense tells you that.


WHAT SHE SAID: "I spend about four hours a day meeting with constituents."

WHAT SHE MEANT: Sometimes it takes even longer to get the money out of them.


WHAT SHE SAID: "The Democrats have been pretty much a party of 'No' this session."

WHAT SHE MEANT: The way the political system is supposed to work, see, is for us to tell everyone what we want, and then everyone salutes. Why do the Democrats hate freedom so much?


WHAT SHE SAID: "Their leader, Nancy Pelosi, gets on TV all the time and all she does is lambast Republicans."

WHAT SHE MEANT: I wonder where she gets her hair done? I love her 'look,' but not in a gay way. More importantly, can I hire her PR firm?


WHAT SHE SAID: "We have a great agenda and we're moving our agenda."

WHAT SHE MEANT: "I've made great movements all my life, except for that brief time I was on a boiled egg and banana diet. That was rough."


WHAT SHE SAID: "While they're focusing on our leadership and trashing our president, we are getting things done. We passed a budget, and it's a good budget and cut spending at the federal level for the first time since Reagan."

WHAT SHE MEANT: Okay, it's a mess. Worst. Budget. Ever.


WHAT SHE SAID: "I don't think people in political life should exempt themselves from the laws that apply to other people."

WHAT SHE MEANT: "I voted to exempt Tom DeLay from the ethics rules, but that's different. And as a member of Congress, I have a much better retirement plan than the rest of you, who rely on -- what is it? -- 'Social Security'? Which is broken. Definitely broken. So if you want greater retirement security, it's simple: get yourself elected to Congress! Otherwise, what's the matter with you? Can't you wean yourself from the Federal government? Sheesh!


WHAT SHE SAID: "The Democrats' backs are against the wall, and they are determined to take back the House. It's going to be a tough year."

WHAT SHE MEANT: I've been in the minority before, and I'm damned if I'm going back! God intended me for greater influence, and exemption from the speeding laws.

The N.C. Law Against Cohabitation

All you North Carolinians out there shacking up without the niceties of a wedding license ... LISTEN UP! In 1805 the good law-makers of this state passed a law banning cohabitation without marriage, and listen to me, O my brethren, shacking up is still illegal! Carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or 60 days in jail. And according to a tattler that we listen to, there are some 144,000 unmarried couples living together in this state (and that doesn't even begin to count the same-sex couples! there's only so much shuddering immorality we can take at one time).

Thank goodness there's at least one public official who upholds the law (if somewhat selectively)! Sheriff Carson Smith of Pender County found out that one of his dispatchers, Debora Hobbs, 40, was living in sin with her boyfriend. The sheriff ordered Hobbs to cease and desist, or get married, or quit her job. Since she and her boyfriend didn't want to get married, she quit her job. In March, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, she sued, seeking to get the anti-cohabitation law overturned.

Legal experts seem to think she's got an excellent case. But in the meantime, the rest of you 144,000 had better be holding your breath and abstaining from illegal fornication.

Women Coming Back to the Democrats?

"The Gender Gap," an advantage Democrats had among women voters (until the candidacy of John Kerry) seems to be coming back, according to a polling memo released yesterday and published this morning in the WashPost. The poll found that women "picked unnamed Democratic congressional candidates over Republicans by a 13-point margin." The issues driving this turn-around are all economic: "...concerns like retirement, health care and economic security are trumping the sorts of homeland security concerns that dominated women's issue agenda before the last election."

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said that she agreed with the general conclusions. "Women, if left to their own devices, are going to tend and trend Democratic. That is absolutely the case," she said. "Women are still congenitally Democratic -- and I'm the Republican pollster saying that."

Monday, May 09, 2005

A Democrat Fat-Cat

You may not remember that you were asked to vote on an amendment to the N.C. constitution last November, a complex proposal to let local governments issue bonds to buy land and build streets and utilities for private development without putting the issue to local citizens for approval. The issue squeaked by 51 to 49 percent (among those who bothered to vote). We were among those who voted "no!"

The Sunday N&O published a lengthy profile piece on a political Mr. Fixit, Ken Eudy, head of the second-largest PR firm in Raleigh who engineered the win on that bond-financing referendum. When the proposal was first brought to Eudy by Charlotte officials, it was called "tax-increment financing." "Are you nuts?" Eudy reportedly said to the amendment's backers. N.C. voters had twice rejected (overwhelmingly) similar proposals to spend taxpayers' money to benefit private enterprize, so Eudy launched a complete makeover of the proposal, getting rid of the "radioactive" original name ("tax-increment financing"), and otherwise obscuring the real purpose of the amendment. Gee thanks, Mr. Eudy! If you can confuse the issue sufficiently, maybe the public will bite ... which is exactly what happened.

Salt in this particular wound ... Eudy's a big Democrat. Used to be executive director of the state party. Big donor to Beverly Perdue.

More on the Haywood County Jihad

The N&O has a picture of pastor Chan Chandler up in today's edition, and we invite you to gaze into that hard face of early 21st-century fundamentalism. All he needs is a turban. He's already got the narrowed angry eyes of the fanatic.

The brouhaha at East Waynesville Baptist Church has apparently made all the tabloid-style TV shows, which we don't watch, as well as many of the network morning shows, which we also don't watch, so much so that maybe the Rev. Chandler has commenced to worry a little about what he's done. Through his lawyer, The Rev said, "No one has ever been voted from membership of this church due to an individual's support or lack of support for a political party or candidate." A baldfaced lie, according to every news report and the testimony of church members on Chandler's side in this purge. But perhaps he's actually worried about his IRS status as a tax-exempt institution. (There are limits, after all, to strict fundamentalism, especially when it comes to money.)

CNN says the pastor has been spooked by the media storm and is trying to call it "a great misunderstanding." The Asheville Citizen-Times says that the service at the church yesterday -- with ousted members, their lawyer, and several members of the media in attendance -- was the first in months where the sermon was NOT political in nature.

In this diary on dKos, 'southlib' reports on interviews with various church members that go a good deal beyond what any regular news reporter has so far turned up ... that the real shock troops in Rev. Chandler's dictatorial administration of the church are a cadre of "brainwashed" teenagers who hooted, clapped, and cheered when the nine or so ousted members walked out of the deacons meeting a week ago. (Thanks to Irmaly for the link.)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Baptist Mullah of Haywood County

This kind of stuff is probably going on a lot more than the mainstream press guesses -- godless reporters! -- but our own western North Carolina Baptists have hit the national spotlight, and not in a pleasant way.

Last October just prior to the national election, Rev. Chan Chandler, pastor of East Waynesville Baptist Church, preached a fiery sermon against abortion and homosexuals and concluded his remarks by demanding that anyone planning to vote for John Kerry for president should leave the church. Apparently, a few church members obliged him on the spot. But this past Monday, at what was supposed to be a deacons' meeting at the church, a group of about 20 of Chandler's supporters voted to oust nine members who apparently weren't. Those nine were voluntarily followed out the door by another 40 who said that what was going on not only wasn't biblical, it wasn't even Baptist.

Fellow pastor Robert Prince III of First Baptist Church of Waynesville said he was appalled to hear about what was going on but had noticed a lot of Southern Baptist ministers endorsing President Bush in November's election. "One rule has been to speak to issues but not to endorse particular candidates," he said. "It's a disturbing development that Baptist pastors are crossing this line and are endorsing specific candidates."

The N&O managed to talk to one of the ousted members, Isaac Sutton, 75, a deacon who was voted out after 12 years at the church: "He [Chandler] went on and on about how he's going to bring politics up, and if we didn't agree with him we should leave. I think I deserve the right to vote for who I want to." Naive Southern Baptist, that one!

Selma Morris, 78, a member for more than 30 years and the church treasurer: "I told [pastor Chandler], 'You owe God an apology, and you owe the congregation an apology, because you used his pulpit for political purposes.' You don't do that in a Baptist church." Used to, Selma, but since Karl Rove got hold of the church reins, things are a little different now.

A Good Decision in the State Supreme Court

Missed getting this up yesterday, as EarthLink had our Internet service down for 24 hours, but the state Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that local governments in North Carolina can't sue their citizens because those citizens demand records or access to meetings. A no-brainer, you'd think.

Background: Tom Boney, publisher of The Alamance News, challenged a closed Burlington City Council meeting in 2002. Boney said the city had no business closing that particular meeting on that particular topic (whatever it was), and he threatened to sue the town. Hearing that, the town of Burlington preemptively sued Boney, bringing the notion of "slap suits" to a new historic low. Burlington to Boney: "You threaten to get information out of us, and we'll sue your ass." Plus a local trial judge allowed the suit against Boney to go forward, and then ruled that the closed meeting of the city council was legal.

Boney fought back, first with the Court of Appeals, which agreed with him. But the Town of Burlington appealed to the state Supremes, which Thursday said, "You're kiddin', right?" Thank God.

Boney is a former legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, but despite how much we might disagree with his politics, his right to hear and see what local government is up to should be sacrosanct. And now the state Supreme Court has made that obvious assumption official: a city or county government cannot preemptively sue its citizens to prevent them from finding out what's going on.

Boney spent about $45,000 to have his rights upheld. We certainly hope he's successful in recovering that money from the town of Burlington. Otherwise, there's a second major miscarriage of justice: that to uphold a citizen's right to information, that citizen must resort of an expensive legal process. Ain't right.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

What's the Matter with Kansas?

The great conservative push to put American education under the thumb of religious orthodoxy is off and running in Topeka, Kansas, today, as that state's Board of Education, dominated by people more impressed by superstition than science, launches a "hearing" on whether evolution shouldn't be officially undermined in all that state's schools by creationism, which is being carefully marketed as a pseudo-science called "intelligent design."

It's a rigged hearing. The conservatives on the Kansas Bd. of Ed. out-number their opponents 6-4, and they've set this up as a kind of "state trial" of evolution. And actual scientists have obliged them by deciding to boycott the whole enterprise (though the first article linked above says scientists are getting more militant about combatting the forces of ignorance trying to railroad American education).

"Intelligent design," said paleontologist Leonard Krishtalka, "is nothing more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo."

The movement pushing "intelligent design" set out to undermine evolution in a slightly more subtle fashion than did the courthouse-square preachers of the 1920s, but their purpose is precisely the same: to cow scientific consensus to the will of religious orthodoxy. They mask their agenda under the "reasonable" proposition that they are debating unproven theories, but their agenda isn't education at all: it's more Terri Schiavo-ism, the political correctness of the Christian Right.

DeLay Cronyism Bits Tom in Ass

Gosh, you'd think when the Republican Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives stacks the ethics committee with his best buds ... you'd expect it to STAY stacked, wouldn't you?

But under the increased public scrutiny that DeLay has drawn of late, two of his congressional friends that just got added to the ethics committee in January -- expressly to protect DeLay from ethical challenges -- have had to recuse themselves from participating in the upcoming investigations into their leader. (NYTimes coverage here.)

Both Lamar Smith of Texas and Tom Cole of Oklahoma have agreed to take no part in any action relating to Mr. DeLay. Why? Because they both gave $5,000 each to a Tom DeLay "defense fund." Would sort of make their objectivity in judging the man slightly questionable, no? Interestingly, it appears that Mr. Smith and Mr. Cole were forced to recuse themselves by their own Republican committee chair, Doc Hastings of Washington state, who is justifiably concerned about appearances. (But get this: two other Republican members of the ethics committee -- Melissa A. Hart of Pennsylvania and Judy Biggert of Illinois -- have received political contributions from Tom DeLay, but so far they're claiming their independence.)

With the recusal of Smith and Cole in any DeLay investigation, the Democrats would have a decided majority on the committee. What will deter Democrats, however, will be the other Republican "nuclear option" of mutually assured destruction, the circular firing squad, for the Republicans will insist on launching investigations on two Democrats for every one Republican brought to the bar.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

N.C. Religious Leaders Call for Death Penalty Moratorium

More than three dozen religious leaders delivered a letter to North Carolina's legislators and The Guv yesterday, calling for a two-year moratorium on the death penalty, while its application is studied for fairness (see here: scroll down). The same group made a similar pitch in 2004.

The N&O says that some 166 congregations have signed onto the moratorium movement, which may be significant. Though we can't find this morning the list of religious leaders who signed this most recent appeal, the 2004 letter is note-worthy for the almost complete absence of Southern Baptists. Hmmmm.

"Culture of Life"? Only when it involves a fetus or the brain-damaged poster child of self-righteous presumption.

N.C. Senate Democrats To the Filthy Rich: "Who's Your Daddy?"

The N.C. Senate Democrats unveiled their proposed budget yesterday. So much to wince at, so little time:

$500 million in cuts to services to the poor.

A half-percentage point reduction in the corporate income tax rate.

And a 0.25-percentage point reduction in the income tax rate for high earners.

What was supposed to be a temporary half-penny sales tax increase adopted in 2001 will be made permanent -- a tax that disproportionately burdens low-wage earners.

A new sales tax on candy, and increased taxes for satellite television service and liquor -- the new "sin" taxes, in other words, aimed at the pleasures taken by people of modest means.

A pay raise of 2 percent or $500 -- whichever is greater -- for state employees. The minimum annual state employee salary would be raised to $20,112, a.k.a. "poverty." Retirees in the state system would receive a 2 percent cost-of-living increase. However, state employees will still face higher co-pays and deductibles for health insurance. Call it a wash. (We like our state employees needy!)

The bill would also create a lottery for North Carolina and ban one of its chief competitors -- video poker.

The biggest sacred cow in this budget, other than corporate fat cats? Higher education (and another reason to hate the eggheads):

"Education leaders praised the spending plan, which fully funds costs associated with increasing enrollment and provides a $48 million discretionary fund for public schools. Community college faculty and administrators would receive an additional 2 percent pay raise. 'We are extremely grateful that the Senate budget keeps reductions in the university's operating budgets as low as possible, and that it provides the university with the flexibility to make required cuts in a manner that minimizes harm to each campus,' UNC President Molly Broad said."

The Senate Democrats were planning to vote this budget today, despite opposition from Republicans. But that will only signal the really hard work to come: negotiating with the N.C. House, which has a significantly different version of tax-and-spend.

ADDENDUM: Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch has more in-depth analysis of the N.C. Senate's budget here. He calls it "scandalous."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Governor No-Show

The Guv missed another Democratic Party function. The annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner held in Cary on Saturday proved too taxing on the Guv's busy schedule. Having seen his hand-picked candidate for the chairmanship of the state party rejected earlier this year, the Guv appears now to be in a permanent snit with the new party leadership.

Observed the N&O today, "Easley's absence didn't hurt attendance. There were 400 people at the $100-per-plate event. That was more than last year...."

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Republican Take-Over of Public Broadcasting

Lengthy article in today's NYTimes about the on-going GOOPerfication of the Public Broadcasting Corporation, whose Republican chairman, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, admits publicly he's trying to purge public TV and radio of its "liberal bias," meaning precisely that criticism of the current regime is not to be tolerated.

Last year Tomlinson secretly contracted with a Republican operative to keep tabs on the political leanings of guests on "Now with Bill Moyers." Moyers's guests included many conservatives, like Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition; Richard Viguerie, a conservative political strategist; and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. But because Moyers also felt free -- imagine that, in the land of the mullahs! -- to criticize abuses of power, he was persona non grata.

Tomlinson's a former editor in chief of Reader's Digest, speaking of "balanced" journalism. Last November, following El Presidente's reelection, Tomlinson told a meeting of members of the Association of Public Television Stations in Baltimore that they should make sure their programming better reflected "the Republican mandate." He later claimed he was joking.

Some friggin' joke!