Sunday, December 31, 2006

"I did cut my nose off to spite my face, and I guess I'm paying the price. I don't think any of us realized … what the future was going to be."
Buncombe County resident Beth Woody, who voted against county-wide zoning in 1999 and who now regrets that vote, quoted in the Asheville Citizen-Times
The 1999 public vote for/against zoning in Buncombe County was a non-binding referendum. Some 55.6 percent of those who voted said no to zoning, impelled partly by a no-zoning scare campaign not at all unlike the scare campaign that carried Watauga County over a cliff in 2001. The people who benefitted the most in both counties were big-time developers.

Now looky here ... at how some of those no-zoners in Buncombe are ruing the day that they decided that planning for the future was a communist plot. Apparently, development is even more out of control in rural Buncombe than it is in rural Watauga. But both locales are getting exactly what they asked for. Now they'll have to BEG for land-use planning.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


North Carolina's new minimum wage of $6.15 an hour goes into effect Monday.

So does a new lobbying ethics law meant to curb some of the pay-to-play abuses of the Jim Black era.

Political parties not named "Democrat" or "Republican" will have an easier time staying on the ballot. If their candidate for governor or president gets 2 percent of the vote in 2008, they won't have to gather signatures to get on the 2012 ballot. The threshhold had been 10 percent.
On the other hand, the state income tax rate for the super-rich goes down to 8 percent from 8.25 percent.

Today's NYTimes profiles a ten-year-old municipal-worker health plan in Asheville that covers 450 city employees for diabetes prevention:
...the city of Asheville has given free diabetes medicines and supplies to municipal workers who have the disease if they agree to monthly counseling from specially trained pharmacists. The results, city officials say, have been dramatic: Within months of enrolling in the program, almost twice as many have their blood sugar levels under control. In addition, the city's health plan has saved more than $2,000 in medical costs per patient each year.
Diabetes is the bane of the Krispy Kreme-loving South, but the Asheville experiment in counseling and preventative care is being copied all across the country.

Way to go, you bunch of ever-lovin' hippies!

Read all about it.

ADDENDUM ... Similar scene at campaign event in Nevada. And Chapel Hill gets jiggy wif 'im today.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Congrats to Virginia Foxx for introducing a joint Congressional resolution in the waning hours of the lame-duck House (now blessedly a dim memory) celebrating the Christmas tree industry ... without mentioning the heavy reliance of said industry on legal and illegal immigrants. Foxx's resolution is utter "crap," according to Reason magazine, the libertarian-leaning celebrator of free markets.

"Look, I came to do big things, and we're still going to try to do big things. Regardless of my popularity and the Congress, I'm going to try to do big things."
Pres. George W. Bush, quoted in today's USAToday
Huge tax cuts to the very wealthy ... $$$

Government favoritism to big Pharma, big oil, you name it ... $$$$

A wildly unsuccessful Iraq war ... $$$$$

Presidential meglomania ... priceless.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


There are those close to me who believe that the Democrats will win the presidency in '08 NO MATTER WHAT (pretty much). There are those holding that opinion who AREN'T close to me, too, those wishing bad tidings on all Democrats everywhere, yet they recognize the reality that El Presidente has made such a botch that a Democrat -- almost ANY Democrat -- will be elected to the highest office in the land in two years.

I ain't there yet.

And so far, none of the likely or announced candidates is sweeping me off my feet.

I'm afraid that jaded attitude applies to Sen. John Edwards too, who has his campaign website up and who put on jeans and an open-necked shirt this a.m. in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans to announce his candidacy.

Much as I like the guy. And admire his populist message about poverty and fairness. As a pure matter of "strategery," he'd be better for us here in the South, certainly, than Hillary or Obama. But I'm concerned about the lack of experience. I'm concerned that Dick Cheney made Edwards look like a lightweight in the vice-presidential debate in '04. I'm concerned that Edwards' brief sojourn as a U.S. Senator was not exactly memorable (his reputation in some knowledgeable circles was for an unresponsive and poorly run congressional office). I'm concerned that he not only LOOKS callow but IS callow.

All of which is going to make a gagging meal if I end up having to eat my words in a year-and-a-month, after the Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina voters pick the nominee. Which I will do.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


We just came from Virgil Goode territory in central Virginia, and the only people we talked to about him seemed to think he's a genius (in his own right) for "standing up" against the Muslim tide threatening to sweep all of the Christians out of the House of Representatives.

You remember Virgil Goode, don't you? Looks a lot like N.C.'s own Walter Jones and behaves a little like him, too? As in the heroic bravery of "freedom fries" and this sentence from ole Virgil: "I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way." That's telling 'em, Virg!

Anyway, it's instructive ... the calisthenics Americans are willing to put their moral compasses through to avoid admitting that a leader of their political persuasion said something really, REALLY dumb and then refused to apologize, making him an idiot in addition to a poltroon. But some voters in Virginia have earned their representation in Congress. Priceless.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


We'll be shut down until December 27th. We can only hope that every last one of you follows the bright star of your choice to the revelations that give meaning to this long year just ending, and to the new one beginning. And stay out of those seasonal affective disorders, please!

See you next Wednesday.

It was the first case of its kind, evidently. A Texas jury has found that a wind-power farm -- in fact, the largest in the world near Abilene, Tex. -- did not create a private nuisance.

People are saying this is REAL significant for the future of wind power in this country.

Thanks to Stumpy for the tip.

I know I'm on something of a tangent, writing about movies, but some of you who found my detour into Civil War history a huge self-indulgence, may be relieved to come back to good ole right-wing sexual politics in post-9/11 America, as witnessed in an amazing recent documentary film, "The Education of Shelby Knox."

The film is set in Lubbock, Texas, the nearest city of any size to where I grew up at least a century ago. Lubbock, where no one ever tells their children about sex but where the teen pregnancy rate and the teen STD rate is among the highest in the nation, is as familiar to me as an old glove. I know these people and their attitudes. I know that they've dealt with change very slowly, and, by the way, ineptly. (It's a mere coincidence that the young George W. Bush's first foray into electoral politics was a losing campaign to represent this district in the U.S. Congress. He first learned how to seem conservative in and around Lubbock.)

The Lubbock of 2003 and 2004 is no different from the Lubbock of 1960. Nothing much has changed, and ignorance can still kill you.

When I was in high school, there was no sex education, only sexual abstinence, preached relentlessly by every parent and in every pulpit. 'Course, sexual abstinence was a total mirage and a confounded lie. Oh, some of us were abstinent to be sure, the backward ones, the unpopular geeks and bookworms. But not the popular girls and boys, the cheerleaders, the football and basketball stars. They were having plenty of sex. At least that's what they told the rest of us.

Teen pregnancy was a constant in school. The youngest girl I have memory of was 14 when she got knocked up and got hustled out of sight. In that day, if you got pregnant, you got kicked out of school. Many girls disappeared mysteriously from our ranks.

Oh, but didn't the boys talk! They bragged about themselves, naturally. But more importantly they told stories of the wild girls who could be had, like Mozelle, who supposedly took on the entire football team one night in a wheat field. That was true fame in our little world, and us male virgins looked on that girl as a kind of gorgon. We wanted her but dared not meet her gaze. She might turn us to stone.

Then something almost happened. A renegade science teacher in my freshman year of high school, noting the raging brush fire of hormones around him, decided it was time we actually learned some facts, so he read aloud to us (in a totally uninflected monotone and without looking in our general direction) from a sex education manual, stuff like this: "The clitoris is a small bud-like formation located where the top of the inner vaginal lips meet. It usually conceals itself under a small hood of skin, but when sexually aroused, it expands and emerges like a polyp or tab."

Were we embarrassed" Certainly, the virgins were. I turned a hot crimson and sunk so low in the seat, by butt was hanging unsupported over hard oak. Nobody could look anybody else in the eye. 'Course, some of the guys and girls were giggling furiously, 'cause they knew all about this stuff. Or thought they did.

The "science lesson" did not change one blessed thing. He read the manual to us, and then it was over. And we went right on with the ineffable trajectories of our lives as ignorant little sons and daughters of the soil. The mythology continued to be passed by word of mouth ... like, it's impossible to get someone pregnant the first time, and better know the magic properties of the "hot Coke douche," and masturbation will make you go blind.

Oh, we were flattered in our ignorance by the swaggering of the most knowledgeable among us, who rated girls by the ease of their seduction at the local drive-in.

So I know a great deal about Lubbock, Texas, and am both amazed and chagrined that not one thing has changed in going-on 50 years. Singer/songwriter Butch Hancock of The Flatlanders Band summed it all up: "Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love." That statement is the epigraph used on screen at the beginning of "The Education of Shelby Knox." (And you can savor the multiple ironies of that on your own time.)

Lubbock High School is still under the thumb of organized religion, which evidently equates ignorance with righteousness. The school system allows an evangelical pastor, Rev. Ed Ainsworth, free access to preach "abstinence only." One 17-year-old girl recognizes the utter dumb sameness of the failure to deal honestly with teen sex and decides to do something about it. She leads a (doomed) crusade to get sex-ed into school.

But get this: Shelby Knox is a born-again Christian, with loving conservative Republican parents, who believes in "God, family, country, in that order," who goes through a "celibacy ceremony" organized by the Rev. Ainsworth in which she promises herself and her parents that she will refrain from sexual activity until she is married. She also has the good sense to see that when teenagers break the abstinence pledge, which, gosh, they do, they have no information whatsoever to protect themselves, because information has been ruled immoral by the church and by the church's patsies, the school system.

Seeing Shelby Knox wrestle, sometimes naively, with the local power structure, especially a school board led by a man we later discover is having a torrid affair with an employee, is riveting. The heart and soul of the film is Shelby's touching relationship with her parents, especially her dad, who would do anything to make this all go away but who stands with his daughter at public meetings because he feels he must support her. And her mom, who ends up marching with Shelby in a gay-rights protest against homophobia.

One of Shelby's gay friends says to her (and this is the best line in the movie), "If there were more Christians like you, we'd be in heaven."

A group of seminary leaders and other evangelicals apparently want to "counsel" other pastors who are doing in secret what Ted Haggard and Paul Barnes were doing in secret -- having sex with other men -- before those secret lives erupt into public scandal. No, they DO NOT want to deal with the fact that Haggard and Barnes did not choose to be attracted to men. Rather, they want to talk pastors out of their inclinations, since, after all, homosexuality is purely a "life-style choice."

You can read all about it here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Politics takes a 142-year-old right turn here, but the newest issue of the Appalachian Journal is too interesting to pass up (published quarterly by the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University). This new issue contains a fascinating trove of materials delving deeply into the guerrilla warfare that marked the Civil War in the mountain south, most particularly in the North Fork neighborhood of Ashe County (just over Pottertown Gap from Meat Camp in Watauga County).

The Appalachian Journal is not available on-line, but you can go here for information on how to order this particular issue (Vol. 34:1, Fall 2006). Cost, $10, cheap! (Disclaimer: I was for 28 years the editor of the Appalachian Journal and still do some freelance editing and consulting for it, but I had no hand whatsoever in the materials I'm discussing here.)

Here's what got me so engaged:

1. In this issue -- the publication of a family history (an excerpt at least) by William Albert Wilson, whose father, a Confederate lieutenant home on leave, was bushwhacked by Union sympathizers in 1864 while plowing his Ashe County cornfield. Shot in the back, according to family lore (and what innocent man was ever shot in the chest?).

The victim, Isaac Wilson, was a prominent citizen soldier who had joined up with the Confederate States of America at the Boone muster field early in the war. It was June 17th, 1864, and Isaac was home on leave. He needed to cultivate his corn patch.

Supposedly, Wilson was the victim of mistaken identity, but nobody really believes that. Wilson had a cousin also named Isaac Wilson, also a committed Confederate, who had, as a matter of fact, riled up Union sympathizers by enforcing the "conscript" law (the draft) on a mountain boy, Jack Potter, who did not care for it. "Enforcing the conscript" does not quite do justice to what the other Isaac Wilson did: he shot Jack Potter dead for refusing to join up with "The Lost Cause."

So it was mainly Potters -- Jack Potter's father and his two brothers -- who shot William Albert Wilson's father in the back. Except there were two non-Potters involved, and thereby hangs much of the drama in this tale. One of them was Tom Stout, who was Isaac Wilson's closest neighbor. He had Potter connections through his wife Liz. The other, Silvers Arnold, was a furrin troublemaker from adjacent Johnson County, Tenn., where Unionists were thick as grasshoppers.

The murder of the plowing Confederate soldier unleashed a vortex -- reprisals, extra-legal executions, eventually six dead men and as many widows. (Beyond these killings, Wilson records 19 total killings in the North Fork community "war.")

The deceased Isaac Wilson and his wife Caroline Greer were partisan Confederates and better off than most of their neighbors, who were mainly Abraham Lincoln men. The Wilsons were among the first families of their section, and they claimed kinship to Sarah Boone, the sister of ole Dan'l. They were also "Democrats," by the lights of those days. They owned hundreds of acres in a county where the majority was landless. They had fine household furnishings, some of which Caroline felt obliged to bury a little while later.

The Republicans all around them were mainly former Whigs, but mountain Whigs, not rich. Some of them may have worked for the Wilsons. (Wilson writes, "It was hoped some of the neighbor women would join in ... and that most of the field would be cultivated by the time my father had to leave.") None of them owned slaves, not even the Wilsons, though there was one slave, "Letty," resident on the Wilson farm when Isaac was shot. According to Wilson's account, Letty was supposedly taken in by the Wilsons to "shelter her" because her legal owners had fled from the area.

Point is, the mere presence of the slave Letty on the Wilson farm visibly allied them to the Southern planter class. In this part of Ashe County, the Civil War was considered a rich man's war. The presence of Letty further isolated the Wilsons in the neighborhood. Isaac Wilson evidently considered many of his neighbors "slackers," and Isaac's wife Caroline Greer Wilson "never forgave anyone who turned his back on the Confederacy. She regarded them as plain traitors." In other words, the vibe was very bad in the North Fork community.

Immediately following the murder in the cornfield, the author's Aunt Polly got on the plow-horse to ride for help, but the only safe haven was two miles away, at Mr. Alfred Sutherland's, "the nearest place she could be sure of assistance," a very revealing phrase about the tensions in that neighborhood.

On the way to Sutherland's for help, Aunt Polly, trying to manage the balky plow-horse, encountered two women with their heads together, talking. One was Peggy Potter, an "outspoken Confederate" and a close family friend, though she was kin to the other side; and Liz Stout, Peggy Potter's sister-in-law and the wife of conspirator Tom Stout, the Wilson's nearest neighbor. Family lore says that Liz Stout, when she heard that Isaac Wilson had been shot, said "thank goodness" under her breath, not out loud but audibly, so's Peggy Potter could repeat it soon afterward in the Wilson house. So much for the supposed mistaken identity.

Peggy Potter hurried to the Wilson home to render aid and comfort, but Liz Stout said she'd better git on home, 'cause her man "had come in drunk," an obvious fiction ginned up earlier to cover Tom Stout's hand in the murder. Later, when Stout was taken, he was indeed in bed, "pretending to be drunk," but he was marched out and eventually given a sober lynching by the Home Guard.

The triggermen, who got away into Tennessee, were Andy Potter Sr., Andy Potter Jr., and Andy Junior's brother Rube. Apparently, the earlier killing of their brother Jack Potter by the Confederate conscripter also named Isaac Wilson had driven them a little nuts. When they shot Isaac in the cornpatch, they had already been on a murder spree and were known locally as robbers. They went straight from the Isaac Wilson bushwhacking to the attempted murder of the other Isaac Wilson. They left the second Isaac Wilson for dead in his burning house, and promoted the story that they had mistaken one Isaac for the other. But Andy Potter Jr. had married Isaac's own first cousin, so they must have known each other.

The capture of the last conspirator, Silvers Arnold, who mainly acted as look-out, involved Liz Stout again. Liz's husband Tom was by now captured but not yet lynched. Liz was first cousin of chief conspirator Andy Potter Sr., and she was evidently holding secret congress with Silvers Arnold in the woods near home in the days following the murder. A posse of three followed her path, came on Silvers suddenly, who nevertheless offered no resistance. That same day they marched Silvers to within sight of the cornfield where Isaac Wilson fell, and there one of the posse shot Silvers dead. Said, "Let him lie there and rot." Which is exactly what he did. When his family finally came looking for him, it was a Stout youngin who pointed him out: "There he lies, all swole up and black as the devil." Wilson writes, "I think best not to tell who fired the fatal shot. I would say, however, he wore the uniform of a Confederate soldier." In other words, the death of Silvers Arnold offered political, if not poetic, justice.

The captured Tom Stout was actually forced to attend the funeral of Isaac Wilson (and almost immediately afterward he was lynched in custody, supposedly on his way to being turned over to Confederate Home Guard authorities in Watauga County).

The funeral of Isaac Wilson was bizarre for other reasons. The wife of Alfred Sutherland, the man Aunt Polly rode to for help, started shouting with religious fervor during the funeral sermon, and Turk, the Wilson family dog, became excited and "literally tore [Mrs. Sutherland's] clothes away." Mrs. Sutherland was rescued by Letty the slave and led into the house. You could spend all day unpacking the ironies in that scene.

Something was clearly up in this neighborhood beyond a mere Civil War. The tensions between families and between neighbors were certainly exacerbated by the national conflict, but longstanding animosities based on kin and class seem equally potent. Because openness and forthrightness are essential for trust, neighbors with veiled motives were especially disdained, as witnessed in Wilson's definition of "bushwhacker," which opens his narrative: " who profess to be neutral and refuse to join either side, openly, but as individuals, or in small bands, using ambush tactics, attack, kill or plunder the homes of those unable to defend themselves."

The hatred between Wilsons and Potters had escalated over the marriage of Isaac Wilson's niece to the same Andy Potter Jr. who helped kill Isaac. The niece was at least implicated in trying to lure Isaac Wilson into east Tennessee ("she wanted to see him once more before his departure") where he presumably could more easily be killed. When Isaac declined to cross the state line to see his niece, the Potters came into Ashe and dispatched him.

Like most "chronicle" histories, where names and deeds are recounted in the prose equivalent of a droning monotone, Wilson's family history is not easy to read and digest. He calls the names of almost 300 distinct individuals (and if I've gotten relationships 100% correct here, it'll be a small miracle). Connections are rarely made. Context is sketchy at best. His history takes careful reading and re-reading to piece the story together. Maddeningly, Wilson never does say what happened to the Potters who got away into Tennessee.

2. Also published in this issue ... an insightful and essential critical unpacking of Wilson's family story by University of Georgia historian John C. Inscoe, who explains how the brutal internecine Civil War blood-letting between loyal Confederates and disgruntled Unionists throughout the Mountain South got gradually sanitized in the decades after the war into a "remembered" history that tended to forget the deep and lethal differences in neighborhoods and even in families. That's some of why Wilson's account is so valuable: it opens the door on something deeply closeted in mountain history. Most "official" local histories written in the decades following the Civil War did not mention guerilla warfare. Since those histories were usually commissioned and printed by county elites, who also happened to be usually the old Confederate families, the official accounts spoke of great unanimity in support of the Confederacy. "The solid South" became in fact a campaign slogan meant to build and maintain the hegemony of the Democrat Party.

Inscoe points out that Wilson's narrative is not an eye-witness account. The boy was less than three years old when his father was murdered in the cornfield. The family history, though, represents something just as valuable, a received family remembrance, and as such it speaks most loudly of the pain and sacrifice of ... women. It is Wilson's mother Caroline whose point of view is most reflected in the narrative. She was strong, brave, resourceful, intolerant, uncompromising, and, in her own eyes, morally and politically superior.

Women kept the history, stoked the memories of victimhood, and taught their children to hate. Inscoe recounts the words of a Federal soldier who came into contact with rebel women refugees from the mountains: "I heard them repeat over and over to their children the names of men which they were never to forget, and whom they were to kill when they had sufficient strength to hold a rifle."

Not that Wilson's family history is hateful. It's arduous, certainly. It's full of the pain of irretrievable loss. And he obviously took some understandable pleasure in the retribution visited on the fake "neutrals" who murdered his father. The point is that his account is unquestionably lopsided, representing not just the lore of Lost Cause posturing but the lore of outrageously wronged women. (There's so much more than the murder of Isaac Wilson in this history. You can see for yourself if you get this issue of Appalachian Journal. We are told that the full Wilson MS will be published by the Center for Appalachian Studies as a book, with historical commentary.)

One other thing: a British researcher, Martin Crawford, has published a book, "Ashe County's Civil War: Community and Society in the Appalachian South" (University of Virginia Press, 2001), which covered the Wilson-Potter feud, so this is not exactly new news. Inscoe on Crawford's work: " county in what was once the Confederate South has as sophisticated, as comprehensive, and as insightful a history of its Civil War era as does Ashe County." Clearly, I must get his book! (You can too, here.) Crawford evidently downplays class and family and emphasizes how the North Fork war reflected national politics.

3. I'm in the short rows now! (This started out to be a note of passing interest and has turned into magnum opus, which is Latin for "big fat pain in the butt.") Last item of great interest in this issue of the Appalachian Journal: Pat Beaver's meditation on North Fork "cultural politics," then and now, based partly on the coincidence that she lives (and has lived for 30 years now) in the very Ashe County community where Isaac Wilson died, in fact, in an 1890-era home lived in at one time by another son of Isaac and Caroline, "Bob" Wilson, a brother of the author of the family history, at the corner of Brushy Fork Rd. and Baldwin Gap Rd.

Beaver, too, emphasizes the relative wealth of the Wilsons in the North Fork community, and their Democratic attachment to the Confederate South. The Wilson family descendants are still prominent in the North Fork community. Some of them are now as strong for the Republicans as they had been once for the Democrats.

Beaver ends with an account of the radical transformation taking place in North Fork: gated communities, including one being marketed to lesbians. These vacation-home developments are being sold up north and elsewhere with "romantic and utopian rhetoric to draw prospective landowners to the North Fork," where they can live completely divorced from any family connection or knowledge of the dark history of this place.

4. My own footnote: historical memory demands that present-day Democrats understand the history of their own party. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party that came out of the Civil War was the party of landed elites who eventually carried out the racist policies of Jim Crow. Had I lived in 1864, there's no doubt in my mind that I would have been a Republican.

'Course, times HAVE changed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has been named head of the DCCC (if that doesn't ring a bell, skip this post). He's replacing Rahm Emanuel (and no doubt will have to repaint, as well as reupholster, every surface in sight in the DCCC office).

Chris Van Hollen's claim to fame was beating a very popular (and moderate) Republican woman, Connie Morella.

Number One question: Does Chris Van Hollen hate Howard Dean?

Article in this a.m.'s N&O discusses the incredible power that has accrued to Jim Black as speaker of the NC House (8-year tenure) and to Marc Basnight, president pro tem of the NC Senate (14-year tenure). Nothing has gotten done without these two gentlemen saying okay. Basnight shows every intention of going on for another 14 years, while Black has taken a header onto the ice and will be replaced.

At least one candidate for the job is urging the House to change the rules to impose term limits on speakers of the House. Fine, say some, but term limits have to apply to the president pro tem of the Senate too, or we will be handicapping ourselves in the give and take.

We agree with that. Much as we'd like to see the grandees of House & Senate brought down to mere mortal dimensions, it would be patently unfair for the House to impose term limits on its speaker while the Senate consolidates its power. Bad idea.

Monday, December 18, 2006


We've been hearing about U.S. House Rep. Virginia Foxx's behavior at a public forum on the ASU campus the day after Watauga County handed her her posterior on a platter in the Nov. 7th elections.

Bits and pieces have been melding.

Madam Foxx was greeted, apparently, with less-than-enthusiastic cheers when she was introduced to an audience of ASU faculty and students. She said out loud that, well, she guessed she was in for some "smart aleck" remarks from such an audience: "I can tell you didn't vote for me."

Then aided by an undergraduate moderator who apparently felt obliged to belittle fellow students who didn't kow-tow to the Foxx talking points, she aped the pro-Israeli line of propaganda, evidently suggested to her by the American Israel PAC (AIPAC). These talking points led the Congresswoman into such cul-de-sacs as stating that Palestinians prefer to live under Israeli control (yeah, and everything's hunky-dory in Iraq too!).

And why not? Madam Foxx accepted an all-expenses vacation to Israel in 2006, with her husband fully paid for too ... almost $14,000 worth (see the record here, scroll down to #155) That's the way you get a congresswoman to parrot, angrily, your propaganda.

For she WAS angry at that ASU forum, and finally an eye-witness has come forward to write it up: "She either chose to simply avoid answering the question that was asked -- as many politicians often do -- or replied by responding in a condescending manner that suggested she had no use for someone who holds a legitimate, yet differing opinion than the one she holds" (Letter to the Editor, Watauga Democrat, 18 Dec. 2006).

She relied on prepared notes (a handout?). She was very belligerent. She mocked her constituents. She was a right royal bitch.

Down, girl. We know you're used to acting this way with lesser human beings, but it's beginning to draw attention.
Or, How to Turn a Good Boy into a Nazi

I stumbled across a sinister subculture in doing research about the HBO series "Rome." White supremacists hold the patricians of ancient Rome in high regard, as exemplars of the blond race. Patricians were "Nordic," apparently, and thereby ancient first cousins of the Third Reich.

Certain contemporary fascist types worry out loud and unabashedly about "impure" blood infecting "superior races" and point to the rather lax intermarriage of the ancient Roman patricians as a lesson in what not to do. Witness this: "the blood of the Plebeians was to mingle with the Nordic [patrician] upper classes. This was the first step in the downfall of Rome, sure to bring evil even though its effects were slow." (Caution: the website linked above is white supremacist to the core.)

Those lines were written by Roger Pearson, a British-born fascist who was for a time a member in good standing of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Pearson noted with approval that "the oldest element in Roman law" provided for the killing of misshapen children, and he quoted Seneca: "We drown the weaklings and misshapen. It is not unreason but reason to separate the fit from the unfit."

Well, okay then!

No wonder Adolph Hitler admired ancient Rome, considered it an earlier Aryan empire to emulate.

Germany's Nazi past, especially the way the Nazis turned good boys into SS officers, is probed effectively in a new German film, "Before the Fall," written and directed by Dennis Gansel. (German title: "Napola," which was an acronym for "National-politische Erziehungs-Anstalt" or "National Political Education Institute," the training schools where young boys judged "Nordic" enough were sent to learn Nazi doctrine about race purity, to develop perfect military obedience, and to hone certain killing skills for warfare.)

"Before the Fall" helps us understand the process those boys went through, why it felt good to them, even life-affirming to turn over their free will to an abstraction. Gansel's film, though, carefully explores the experience of the doubters among the boys, of those who questioned, i.e., the "weak" who needed drowning. Seneca's line quoted above becomes a pivotal plot point in "Before the Fall."

One would like to know how Gansel's film was received by German audiences, many of them (we're led to believe) still in denial about the Nazi past. For that matter, one wonders how the film might be received by the mass of Americans, many of them all too ready to condemn as traitors anyone who questioned our own supreme leader's foreign policies during the last six years.

The Rev. John Henry Walker, senior pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, has pleaded guilty to nine felony counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, and lying to federal authorities, yet his congregation voted 181-32 yesterday to express confidence in Walker's leadership.

He's a silver-tongued devil, evidently: "A good preacher," said a church member. "If he done wrong, the Lord will take care of it when he gets up there."

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Finally, a student at UNC-Greensboro has taken issue with the logical absurdity of "free-speech zones" on campus. She held a free-speech protest outside the designated free-speech zone and was promptly charged with an infraction. The very existence of free-speech zones, and the further rule that intended free-speech exercises in those zones require a two-day notice to the proper authorities, is only proof that free-speech is actually not free at all on the campus of UNC-G.

If we were that child's parents, we'd finance her court dates until a wise jurist declared the whole apparatus unconstitutional. Which surely some (even dim) jurist will do soon.

We recall that ASU some years past trotted out a similar proposal for their campus in Boone. Don't know what ultimately happened with that, though the howls of derision may still be ringing in some administrator's ears. If ASU actually has free-speech zones, we trust someone will enlighten us.

Two large Episcopal parishes in Virginia have voted overwhelmingly to quit the Anglican communion and join up with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a rival group formed by Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who has called the growing acceptance of gay relationships a "satanic attack" on the church.

And women in the clergy too, since the presiding bishop of those seceding Virginia parishes is a woman.

The devil takes many forms.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Soy is making kids 'gay'
, WorldNetDaily

'Splains Rev. Ted Haggard, who was known to cruise the Silk soymilk counter at the Boulder, Colorado, Albertson's.


An article posted on NC Conservative takes the NC Republican Party to task for funding only one race for the NC House and leaving all the others unfunded ... including David Blust's race for the NC Senate. 'Course, Democrat Steve Goss was also unfunded by the Senate Democratic caucus, so you might say the Goss-Blust contest was decided on the merits, without the influence of outside money. Amazing how that happens sometimes.

Friday, December 15, 2006


An admitted illegal immigrant working at Congresswoman Sue Myrick's stepson's restaurant in Charlotte, Blue Restaurant & Bar, tells a Charlotte Observer reporter that all the 20 or so Latinos, including the illegal ones, working at the restaurant know very well that Congresswoman Myrick won reelection my making THEM her number one campaign issue. Yet she's perfectly happy to have them washing her stepson's nasty pots & pans.

"She's famous," the illegal worker said of Myrick. "We all know who she is. They say she won because of the Latinos."

Myrick's dodge is that she has no control over her stepson's business. She just spends hundreds of dollars there entertaining "big heads."

Myrick's excuse is so similar to Virginia Foxx's, who can always claim -- when it becomes public that her landscaping business has always depended on undocumented workers -- that she's given the business to her daughter and son-in-law. Has nothing to do with her.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


North Carolina led the country last week in reporting increases in applications for unemployment benefits. Therefore, Madam Virginia Foxx praises the Bush economy: hope is that we will continue the policies which have helped us create a strong and vibrant economy....
She's got hers. What else do you expect?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

10,000 -- approximate number of distinct religions, world-wide
270 -- number of religions with at least a half-million adherents
34,000 -- different denominations, sects, or groups within Christianity alone
4,684 -- different Christian denominations, sects, or groups in the U.S. alone
63 -- different Baptist groups, just in Watauga County

Yet MINE is the ONE TRUE RELIGION. God told me so. The rest of you are all going to hell.

Thanks to Stumpy for the link to (The last statistic listed above is not found on this site, nor is it accurate, but it isn't that inaccurate, either.)

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, who's already announced he won't run for governor, has signed on to an appeal asking the federal courts to protect reporters who do not want to divulge the identities of confidential sources. (Here, but you'll have to scroll to the bottom)

Where does Bev Perdue stand on this?
...Billy [Graham] wears old suits that ... look like they came from a JCPenney store, unlike [his son] Franklin [Graham], who collects handmade cowboy boots and leather jackets....
WashPost, 13 Dec. 2006
Fascinating article in yesterday's WashPost about the struggle inside the family of 88-year-old evangelist Billy Graham. Eldest son Franklin, the jet-setting, fast-driving heir to the family business and director of Boone's own Samaritan's Purse, wants to bury his parents in Charlotte on the grounds of a kind of fundamentalist theme park, complete with talking cow (we're NOT making that up). His mother Ruth, 86, opposes those plans. She insists she'll be buried in the mountains of western North Carolina. Her youngest son Ned, Franklin's little brother, sides with his mother, as do at least some of their three sisters.

It's a little creepy that Franklin is willing to plan his future fund-raising around the buried bodies of his parents as part of a tourist trap in Charlotte.

Jim Black says he will not be a candidate again for the speakership of the N.C. House, a job he's held for four terms.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Mr. Matthews bears a strong resemblance to a yappy dog that won't stop barking over a very small bone, but he'll be doin' his thang today on the campus of UNC in Chapel Hill ... with Sen. John Edwards as guest. It will air live at 5 p.m. on MSNBC (Channel 36 on the local Charter cable) and will replay at 7 p.m.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Ho boy! Watauga County gets mentioned as the negative example of what sensible people in Alleghany County DON'T want their community to become:
"If this development goes on unchecked, you're killing the goose who laid the egg," said [Milly] Richardson, 48 [a newly elected county commissioner]. She has lived in Alleghany all her life and raises cattle on a farm that has been in her family for six generations.

"If all the farms are subdivided, you're killing the beauty you had .... You have to have some control," Richardson said.

Alleghany County was lagging behind the rest of western North Carolina. But it's done what Watauga County politicians have never had the guts to do: zone the sucker.

In May, county commissioners adopted a countywide zoning ordinance after a fight over a lawnmower racetrack near second homes on Mountainview Road, south of Sparta, made the issue a high-profile one.

The county also adopted a high-impact ordinance that would control where polluting industries could be built, after Maymead Materials Inc. announced its intention to build an asphalt plant about three miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Though the county had a subdivision ordinance in place when fights over the racetrack and asphalt plant broke out, these new land-use regulations go a step further, said Paula Presnell, a real-estate broker in Sparta.

Developers want to protect their investments, and zoning ensures that a racetrack or an asphalt plant cannot pop up next to a subdivision -- or anywhere -- without first going through county government, which now restricts those types of land uses to certain areas.

Haven't studied the Alleghany ordinances, but we assume that the phrase "without first going through county government" means that there's a public hearing process in place to allow neighbors of any proposed development to raise competent, material, and substantial evidence about how such a development will damage their health, safety, or property values. Such evidence legally has to be taken into account ... the very mechanism that Watauga County badly needs.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


And who's involved? Yep. Jim Black.

This is just a wild guess, but I'm thinking that Netflix is the greatest product-delivery system in the history of the universe. By means of Netflix I was able to see, over the course of a few days, the entire 12 episodes of HBO's 2005 drama series, "Rome." Durn good.

I was long ago obsessed with the ancient world. Chalk it up to boredom on the landlocked plains of West Texas. In high school but more so in college -- where I finally had access to a library -- I delved into everything ancient and monumental. I had encouragement from a raft of big-budget Hollywood movies -- "Quo Vadis" and "The Robe" in grade school, "Ben Hur" and "Spartacus" and Liz Taylor as "Cleopatra" in high school (among many others).

Let's be honest. The ancient Rome virus actually first infected me in a church pew. We went to church three times a week. The world of Jesus was constantly pictured for us, from paper-cutouts-on-flannel-board Sunday School lessons to the story-telling of the preacher -- often hyper-realistic renditions of the Crucifixion, down to the nails going slowly into Christ-flesh.

Lotta Roman soldiers, not to mention Pontius Pilate, figured prominently. They were symbols of the dangerously non-Christian.

In other words, Hollywood Romans put baking soda into my teenaged Christian flour. While those movies reinforced my Christian sense of exclusivity (certain people were going straight to hell) on the one hand (get a load of those effete emperors, Jay Robinson in "The Robe" and Peter Ustinov in "Quo Vadis"), the spectacle of that whole opulent world fizzed my bottled religion.

(What makes a tourist, after all? George F. Will said it: "Something in us is drawn toward what we are ashamed of being drawn toward.")

Hollywood wasn't stupid. Along with the silk and marble, swords and shields, carousing and slaughtering to beat the band, Hollywood always, always threw in some pious Christian gospel. Remember the wild ending to "The Robe"? The soundtrack swelling with strings and chorus, angels in heaven singing, as the Christian hero (a former noble Roman) and the Christian heroine entered the Colosseum to be martyred. Wow.

That kind of Christian context -- call it judgment day -- has done gone and took a hike in HBO's "Rome." (Serious warning: this series is NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN. Nor for adults prone to the vapors.) This is the heavily researched, historically accurate depiction of a society where morality is strictly a personal choice.

What's right and wrong in "Rome"? Jonathan Stamp, historical consultant: "Whether or not an action is wrong depends on whether people more powerful than you approve. You were allowed to murder your neighbour or covet his wife if it didn't piss off the wrong person. Mercy was a weakness, cruelty a virtue, and all that mattered was personal honour, loyalty to yourself and your family."

That's what I'm talking about! This is ancient Rome-as-Mafia. Godfather patricians (literally in Latin, "the fathers"), protecting their families and their fortunes ... largely by inducing tons of retainers to swear allegiance and to be willing to die for them. Noble men in that culture were not afraid of blood -- ultimate acts, performed hand-to-hand. Ambitious men (and often their wives) were completely capable of murder. After all, Julius Caesar gets snuffed on the floor of the Senate by fellow senators.

"Rome" features mutilations, stabbings, beheadings, you name it. At one point, a teenage girl says of her conniving mother, "I'll tear her throat out with my teeth," and you realize she absolutely would.

"Rome" opens in the middle of a bloody battle. It's 52 B.C. ("before Christ," remember). It's the battle of Alesia, when Julius Caesar's 60,000 professional soldiers cut 160,000 "barbarian" Gauls to shreds. We're up close in the battle, watching two working soldiers, the first, a centurion warrior, giving orders to the second, a member of his squadron, a plebeian legionary, a professional foot soldier armed with shield and short sword. The legionary is savage in battle, difficult to control. Except for him, the whole squad acts like a Borg collective under the command of the centurion.

But "Rome" is not primarily about big battles. It's not. The (very) few pitched battles we see are staged up close and intimate, with no more than 60 extras, so there aren't any spectacles of the "Spartacus" type. No, the spectacle here is all about the intimate workings of a class-and-caste social system, dominated by a few hundred old families from the same racial stock who grew rich on the labors of people they disdained as inferiors. Both the centurion and the plebe warrior are of that lower class.

The fact that in "Rome" we meet the plebeian soldiers before we meet the patricians tells you a great deal about the tone of this drama. The patricians, the bosses, are descendants of an original Indo-European tribe (some say the were Nordic blonds) who invaded the Italian peninsula from the north and came to dominate it through aggressive warfare. Eventually, they established themselves the masters of a native, ethnically distinct population who sunk into plebe status, free after a fashion, yes, but still essentially working-for-the-man, as craftsmen, tradesmen, foot soldiers to the aristocrats.

For hundreds of years prior to the events depicted in "Rome," the plebeians had grown restless. Only patricians sat in the Senate; only patricians served as priests. All the laws, all the taxes, all the revered customs were written to protect the wealth and power of the small patrician class. Even a not-very-swift plebeian could see the basic inequity.

A universal fiction held everyone in check, that Rome was a "republic" of equals. Everyone paid obeisance to that ideal, even though it didn't in fact exist. The only equals were the descendants of the 300 or so first families, oligarchs who treated each other with a certain amount of deference but who had not much respect for anybody else.

HBO's depiction in "Rome" begins at a time when some plebeians had managed to climb higher in the society. There's a plebeian tribune, for example, who actually had veto power, and a handful of plebeian senators. Working-class men were running for local magistrate and other public offices. Religious observances, however -- the entire priesthood -- was still reserved for the upperclass.

Some patricians were aligning themselves politically with plebeians. Such a one was Julius Caesar. He added plebes to the Senate. He even added Gauls. Julius Caesar may have been a Democrat, but not necessarily a liberal one. He needed these lower-caste allies to help establish himself as Number One.

The conservative Patricians who murdered J.C. feared the growing power of the plebeian class. They feared losing their grip. They feared the plebes so much they were willing to cede power to a single ruler, an emperor, Octavius, subsequently known as "Augustus." These historic events following the death of Caesar will provide the content of the second season of "Rome," set to premier on HBO this January.

"Rome" offers lessons about empire. Empire perpetuates itself, at least in this example, by conquest and plunder. Slaves were a coincidence of plunder.

The HBO series makes it clear that slavery was justified intellectually by means of pure eugenics. Your typical Roman of either class thought slaves were slaves because they chose to be slaves, by surrendering, by being genetically weak. Slaves were not people, not Romans, not of us. Beat them, kill them, toss their bodies into the rubbish heap. No bigger deal than changing tapestries in your villa.

Not that the patricians didn't treat their A-number-one house slaves as trusted intimates. Caesar himself keeps Posca, his Greek slave, at his side always. Posca is valued administrator, CFO of the army, spy, Mr. Fix-it. He would die for Caesar, and he does.

Body slaves stay with their masters and mistresses in the most intimate moments. There are many sex scenes in "Rome" that feature an audience of slaves. The wicked lead patrician woman, Atia, at one point rolls off the naked Marc Antony and asks her slave for water. Not two feet away, observing everything in stony silence, the slave woman hands over water in a fine blown-glass cup.

There were second-hand slaves, rental slaves, top-end slaves, low-end chattel -- a regular Wal-Mart of bought flesh.

One of the great revelations of "Rome" is that, though this society was certainly pre-Christian, it was not irreligious. It was obsessively religious, as a matter of fact, with gods and goddesses worshipped everywhere, prayed to at every hour, starting at the hearth of every patrician and plebeian home, where the Lares and the Penates, the household gods, offered protections for the family. All gods were important; the gods of a conquered culture were simply added to the pantheon (which partly explains how Jesus Christ got such a foothold so quickly). All gods demanded prayers and sacrifices, usually something involving blood.

We're not making any claims that "Rome" is a stand-in for our American empire of the neocons. The series is certainly too dedicated to factual and realistic history to attempt a cheap shot like that. But the 12 episodes did make us thoughtful about the implications of empire -- the inevitable corruptions of character, the hidden injuries of class, the spiritual degradation of both master and servant under the cruel institution of slavery. Christianity was probably the best thing that ever happened to Rome. America could actually use a little unpoliticized Christianity itself.

Friday, December 08, 2006


It's bad in Iraq. That help?
George W. Bush, at a press conference, 7 Dec. 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I just encountered the most interesting sentence:
For far too long, pro-abortion activists have succeeded in depicting abortion as a matter of a woman's choice...
"Abortion as a matter of a woman's choice" instead of ... WHAT? What's the alternative to that locution? "Abortion as a matter of the government's choice," "abortion as a matter of the church's choice," "abortion as a matter of Nathan Tabor's choice"?

Sheesh. When's the last time Nathan Tabor got pregnant? Why do men like that feel they have the God-ordained right to poke their noses into that particular issue?

Sen. John McCain is surrounding himself with hit men and creeps. He's added Terry Nelson as his campaign manager. Nelson is the bright boy behind the "Harold, call me!" blond bimbo ads attacking Tennessean Harold Ford. Nelson had been hired by the Republican National Committee to put some blood 'n' sinew into saving Congress from Democrats. He stuck in a little racism. Before that he had been political director of the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign.

According to the Huffington Post, Nelson was fired as an advertising consultant by Wal-Mart because of complaints over the Ford spot. More than that, he's been mentioned in two criminal investigations, both the New Hampshire phone jamming case in 2002 (in which someone has gone to jail) and in one of the Tom DeLay money-laundering charges (in which no one had gone to jail -- yet).

Mary Cheney, daughter of the right wing's saint of mean, Dick Cheney, woke up pregnant. She's in a 15-year committed lesbian relationship with Heather Poe. How dare they try to bring a child into a loving relationship where there's no resident penis!
News that Cheney's openly gay daughter, Mary, is pregnant has ... touched a raw nerve, as advocates for conservative family values struggle to reconcile their loyalty to the Cheneys with their visceral opposition to same-sex relationships -- and particularly to raising a child without a father.
Johanna Neuman, LA Times
Andrew Sullivan:
James Dobson's Nightmare
Mary Cheney is pregnant and will have a child with her wife of almost twenty years, Heather Poe. Except they live in Virginia which, with the enthusiastic backing of the Republicans, has declared itself homorein, and so no legal protections for Cheney's and Poe's marriage or custody of their child will be available. There is surely coming a point at which the sheer dissonance between what the GOP base believes and the way even the most conservative vice-president in modern times deals with the reality of his own family must surely prompt some kind of Republican adjustment.

Naaaw, ain't gonna happen. The Gays are just too valuable to the GOP as symbolic evil.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Democrat Massa Is Gonna Crack the Whip

For much of 2006, the Congressional work week started late Tuesday and ended by Thursday afternoon -- when, that is, the House wasn't off on recess, which was often. When the gavel comes down on the 109th Congress on Friday, members will have worked a total of 103 days.

(Even while at home, which was a lot, they sometimes worked just as hard to stay out of sight of their constiuents.)

But Madam Foxx better fasten her seatbelt:

Culture Shock on Capitol Hill: House to Work 5 Days a Week

So much legislation to oppose, so little time, eh, Madam?

The Republicans' answer to being asked to actually work for those hefty salaries?
"Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.)
WashPost, 6 Dec. 2006
Why not just go ahead and say, "If we work more, we let the terrorists win."
A headline like this is just a pure gift:

Flatulence forces plane to land


According to NC Blue, Liddy Dole will not run again in '08. This news was first broken by Lane Hudson, former junior staffer with the Human Rights Campaign who worked in a Michigan field office. It was Hudson who first got hold of the Mark Foley "are you hot?" e-mails.

Hudson "claims that in the aftermath of the Republican Party's failure to secure their majority in the US Senate, Dole has become so 'completely demoralized' that she is no longer interested in standing for re-election."

We'd been hearing, too, from Raleigh that Dole won't run, but it wasn't about being "completely demoralized." It was about a completely debilitating degenerative disease, the name of which I'm too superstitious to print.

(NOTE: The internal link in the posting on NC Blue, referred to above, wouldn't work for me, and I wasn't able to Google Lane Hudson's new website either, "News for the Left." Curious.)

So George W. tells Brit Hume on Fox News, because, you know, you're among FRIENDS on Fox, and you can send some pretty naked messages:
Laura and I are sustained by the prayers of millions of people. Now that's hard for some to -- I guess, chew on.

What did he just say? Did he just say some Americans resent prayer? Did he say that? Weasel.

Printed here in Salon. You'll have to watch a short commercial to access it.

This is the 1,900th post on WataugaWatch and, as it happens, our third anniversary. Believe it or not.

David Bonior, a former top Democratic congressman from Michigan and a key ally of organized labor, is expected to manage John Edwards' likely 2008 presidential campaign.
[N&O, 6 Dec. 2006]

The "two Americas" theme and "economic disparities" will play strongly with Northeast and Midwest swing voters? I'm just asking.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


The situation in Weaverville -- a trailer park rezoned to accommodate a Super Wal-Mart, the 50-some families told to get out in 180 days and take their "manufactured homes" with them -- is so similar to what happened in Boone a few years back for the building of the Fairfield Inn.

Very precisely similar. Except that the Boone Town Council at the time was shamed into taking action to help the mainly poor, sick, and disabled residents relocate. Lynne Mason, a social worker at that time, became a local hero working on behalf of the displaced, raising money tirelessly from the faith community. It was on the strength of that volunteer work that Ms. Mason was subsequently elected to the Boone Town Council.

Weaverville appears to have thrown its trailer park citizens to the wolves, and the new developers of the property are doing their bit too to increase human misery. They have delivered eviction notices.

It costs a minimum of $1,800 to move a mobile home to a new location. Some of the older ones can't be moved at all. What do people subsisting on minimum wage, or living on Social Security, do?

The Weaverville town council doesn't know and apparently doesn't care. Instead of humanitarian public policy, or any care for the poorest citizens, the people of Weaverville get ... a Super Wal-Mart.

What is wrong with this picture?

Monday, December 04, 2006


Next door in the NC-10, wet behind the ears congressman Patrick McHenry waltzed to reelection on November 7th, but this letter from a Republican constituent (posted at NC Conservative) might cause him some pause.

We particularly perked up at this:
...he also lives a questionable lifestyle -- in terms of 10th-District conservatism -- with character and ethical issues. According to many witnesses, he's inclined to big shindigs with free-flowing alcohol. More Republicans now see this side of him, but they held their noses and voted to keep the district from Democrat hands.
The words "questionable lifestyle" usually indicate something a little more, um, colorful than merely hanging out in the presence of alcohol. What are we tip-toeing about here?


Consider Chatham County.

Situated to the southwest of Wake County, mainly rural Chatham is being engulfed by suburban sprawl from Research Triangle and Chapel Hill (especially Chapel Hill). At the last census, the population of Chatham was approaching 60,000.

It's a majority Democrat County, with a majority Democrat County Commission. Trouble began to bubble when the Chatham commissioners turned a cold (some might say "hostile") shoulder to "slow-growth" advocates who were worried about the trends: more subdivisions, more strip malls, and more soul-less traffic. After the elections of 2004, the slow-growth people -- representatives from several resident groups -- formed the Chatham Coalition, which began to raise money for slow-growth candidates.

The Chatham Coalition targeted especially the Chatham Commission's chair, Bunkey Morgan, a "car-wash entrepreneur," who was principally blamed for the anything-goes, growth-at-any-cost building boom of the last few years.

Bunkey Morgan was challenged in the May primary by a fellow Democrat. In fact, three new slow-growth Democrats challenged the entire old Democratic guard in that primary, and all three insurgents won. Earthquake! Bunkey Morgan was out, even after lending himself $50,000 for the primary campaign and then raising more, including another $14,000 from out-of-county developers.

We should say Bunkey Morgan was DEFEATED, not out, for up until today, when the new board was finally sworn in, Bunkey Morgan had seven long months of lame-duck-hood to do his worst. And his worst was apparently what he did.

Between the May primary and today, the old Chatham County Commission did the following (among other things):

They approved additional hundreds of new homes and sub-divisions without comprehensive planning.

They entered into long-term contracts that may effectively tie the hands of the new commission for years to come (including a $32 million water contract with Harnett County).

They awarded millions of dollars in economic incentives to entice Maryland-based ISP Minerals Inc. to open a rock quarry near Siler City, despite the outcries of citizens concerned about flying rock dust.

Talk about poisoning the well.

But two things the old guard did really stand out as brazen and provocative:

They wrote a contract with their 10-year county manager, who had been their pro-growth instrument all those years without a contract, that will cost the new board thousands of dollars to get out of (and evidently this new board will NOT want that old apparatchik to continue in his job).

They redrew the district lines for county commissioners and placed a proposal on the November ballot to change commissioners' elections from countywide to districtwide. Transparently, the scheme would have allowed Bunkey Morgan to run again in two years, rather than waiting four. To their credit, the voters rejected the scheme to redraw district lines on November 7th, just as they rejected Bunkey Morgan and his whole crew in the May primary.

As the new progressive Democratic board of Chatham County commissioners takes office today, they survey the wreckage left by fellow Democrats who long ago stopped doing the will of the people in favor of ... doing favors for big-money.

You can read about part of this history in today's N&O here.

No one fainted. Civilization didn't end (we think we would have heard). No one protested, though a woman in the front row got a little twitchy. End result: practically every elected official in this Republican-majority county is now a Democrat.

Sworn in today:

County Commissioners
Mary Moretz
William Ralph Winkler III (returning for his second term)
John Cooper

Len "L.D." Hagaman

Clerk of Superior Court
Glenn Hodges

Also sworn in: three members of the Board of Education and two Water & Soil Conservation Dist. officials.

Jim Deal was prompted reelected Chair of the Board of Commissioners and William Ralph Winkler, Vice Chair.

And they got down to business ... which included hearing that some $95,000 annually is being spent out of county coffers to deal with diseases associated with obesity and a resolution from the Economic Development Commission to make "finding water" a top priority.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Contained in this Rob Christensen article are reasons we and many others admire Larry Kissell, the plain citizen who came within 330 votes of beating Robin Hayes in the NC-8 and some of the reasons Rahm Emanuel gives us heartburn.

...elects acting state chair Linda Daves of Charlotte to fill out the term of the disappeared Ferrell Blount. N&O coverage here.

...elects acting state chair Linda Daves of Charlotte to fill out the term of the disappeared Ferrell Blount. N&O coverage here.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


John McCain was in Winston-Salem last night, helping Dick Burr raise $100,000. He gave an interview to Rob Christensen of the N&O, but there's no other newspaper coverage in the state that we could find.

He wants to increase the size of the Marine Corps and the Army by at least 100,000 -- 80,000 Army and 20,000 Marines -- but is against a draft, or rather, he thinks a draft would be politically impossible. He naturally wants to send a fair proportion of those new soldiers to Iraq, to beef up that war.

Recruitment for the all-volunteer Army is struggling right now to stay up with demand. Where's he going to get all those new soldiers without a draft?

McCain's hawkishness makes him look less electable today than it did a year ago. Bush's stubbornness may make Iraq an even bigger issue in 2008, and how does that help McCain?

But what's another 390 jobs in this stupendous Bush economy?

Friday, December 01, 2006


This dude, Thomas Shaller, who's written an important new book ("Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South"), was featured on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" a week ago Wednesday, and he was a fascinating guy to listen to ... especially coming just days after the election and the Democrats' complete sweep of our own Watauga County, which, last time we checked, IS in the South, even if it's in that part of the South where the ground's uneven. (The C-SPAN website lists the Shaller program as still available -- in fact, as one of its "most viewed" recent programs -- but I've been unable to get it to play on my machine. Oh well.)

Shaller's main point (and you'll forgive me if I get overly academic here, in keeping with Shaller's profession as an academic political scientist) is "F**k the South. It's racist, backward, and basically uninterested in the full fruits of democracy."

Or, as summarized by Rick Perlstein in the New Republic, "The South is likely to become more Republican in the decades ahead," and Democrats can make and keep the Republicans a mere regional party, and the best shot at a Democratic majority "in the immediate term is to consolidate electoral control over the Northeast and Pacific Coast blue states, expand the party's Midwestern margins, and cultivate the new-growth areas of the interior West."

The South is getting more bigoted, more backward, more "conservative" if "conservative" means willfully ignorant, according to Shaller, and that's a message I'm not particularly eager to hear, coming off the biggest Democratic win locally since the 1st decade of the 20th century. Nobody I know wants to hear that. Like, "Psst! The place where you live basically doesn't matter in the greater scheme of American democracy. In fact, the commonweal would be better off without it."

Yet, what if Professor Shaller is right (as Perlstein vociferously argues in the New Republic column linked above ... free registration required)? What if Hillary Clinton can afford to lose the entire South in 2008 and still win the presidency? "For the first time since 1953, the party that dominates the South is the minority party in Congress," Perlstein notes, as though that settles EVERYTHING about the future: "The South is simply irrelevant now for the future political direction of the nation."

I can't accept that. Although I thought Shaller was a bright fellow and well worth listening to, I don't want him to be right. I don't want the local victories of 2006 to be written off
finally as "how the Democrats lost the South (and good riddance)." I don't want Rahm Emanuel empowered. I want Howard Dean empowered.


Our archives have been inaccessible for a few days but are now fully restored. We'll save you the details about the glitch. Sorry for any inconvenience that may have created.

"BRockBlue" posted down-column an interesting account of Madam Virginia Foxx's silent reception in the Blowing Rock Christmas Parade. Blowing Rock used to be as reliably Republican as any precinct in Watauga County, but it wasn't for the Madam this election season. She lost Blowing Rock to Roger Sharpe by a couple dozen votes.

She has herself to blame. She was arrogant and high-handed with Blowing Rock citizens over the clear-cutting-of-the-Globe flap, scolding Blowing Rock town council officials for allegedly "putting pressure" on her. In the Foxx lexicon, you are unjustifiably "putting pressure" on her if you ask her for something she doesn't want to do. And don't you DARE do that!

Wonder if Foxx will be in the Boone Christmas parade tomorrow? She might get booed in Boone, which went for Roger Sharpe by a much wider margin.

So it's true, is it? that they eat their young?

The N&O reports this a.m. that Republican mullah Coy Privette, past executive director of the Christian Action League and current member of the Cabarrus County Commission, is spending all his time trying to kneecap fellow Republican and candidate for governor in 2008 Bill Graham. The message: Bill Graham ain't no CONSERVATIVE. Privette, who is also a Baptist preacher, launched a new website yesterday, (It's all about purity, as in "Bill Graham doesn't have any, while Coy Privette DOES.")

You may have seen Graham's mug on your TV set during the past year. First he was yelling about the state's gas tax. Closer to the November election, Graham switched his yelling to illegal immigration. He was still on as of last Sunday, on local Channel 18, during "NC Spin."

According to the N&O, Graham's already spent $1 million on these quixotic TV spots, trying to build a name for himself prior to running for governor. Preacher Privette intends to build a name for him, too.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

WHEN WILL MADAME VIRGINIA FOXX hold an actual town-hall meeting and allow her constituents to ask questions, to which she supplies actual answers?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Answer: Approximately NEVER!
Wal-Mart sales for November fell for the first time in a decade ... whereabouts of Supreme Deity in doubt.

H. Lee Scott Jr., the chief executive of Wal-Mart, has ordered nine days of animal sacrifice and auguries. "We will paw through pigeon entrails until we get an answer for why God has forsaken us," Scott said.

Apparently, they don't make 'em any dumber than Sigma Chi at Chapel Hill.

First, they get outed for breaking the Greek code of conduct (forcing their pledges to drink alcohol, verbally harassing them, depriving them of sleep, and making them perform menial tasks), and when the Daily Tar Heel headlines their punishment (suspension until 2009), members of the fraternity run all over campus stealing more than 10,000 copies of the newspaper.

Elemental logic: We steal papers. Nobody read. Nobody know what asses we are.

Now the fraternity president has 'fessed up to the theft, and the fraternity will pay substantial money (the "high four figures," according to the N&O) in restitution.

Elemental logic (reprise): Act like asses and then like jerks, and the whole world's gonna hear about it.
NOW IT'S THE STATE GOP's TURN ... to struggle publicly over power.

Ferrell Blount, who up until Election Day a couple of weeks ago was state Republican Party chair, resigned abruptly November 7th before all the votes had been cast and counted, and he ended up looking like the ship's captain who abandoned the boat at the first sign of a leak.

The struggle to replace him is getting interesting. Linda Daves of Charlotte, who has been vice chair of the state party through four chairmanships (i.e., a loyal party hack), is now acting chair in Blount's absence, and she says she intends to seek her own two-year term when the party has its state convention next spring. In the meantime, she's called a meeting of the state executive committee for this Saturday to formally appoint someone to complete Blount's unexpired term. Everyone seems to think it's going to be Linda Daves, at least the N&O suggests she's the front-runner.

Enter senators Liddy Dole and Richard Burr, who tried (but failed) to postpone the meeting and vote on Saturday, because evidently they have no faith that a party apparatchik like Linda Daves is the one to lead the children to the Promised Land. The senators are apparently pushing for Bob Ingram of Durham, the former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. (Apparently, he can get good drugs cheap.)

Main problem with Bob Ingram? He's been playing the Big Pharma game of buying politicians in both parties, so his contributions over the years will make for a fun parlor game this winter.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Going Very Up-Scale on Our Up-Slopes

Lengthy, in-depth article in "The Mountain XPress" (out of Asheville) about the implications of so much "outside money flood[ing] into nationally marketed, high-elevation resort projects" in western North Carolina. We're talking BIG money, of which the $150 million worth of unimproved house sites sold at Laurelmor on the opening day of that "offering" is a mere pale foretaste.

The real estate bonanza "is enough to send chills up the spines of many WNC residents," i.e., us peons, as we contemplate the future. The article mentions the downside of "sprawl" and environmental degradation, never mind the annoyance of more white Infiniti limousines blocking the fire lanes outside Harris Teeter.

But the biggest downside will be the higher cost of living that trails the perambulations of the super-wealthy like a contrail. We'll all be engulfed in that cloud of laughing gas otherwise known as inflated land values. Suddenly, my little scrub acre will get the tax re-val it so DOESN'T deserve, and I'll turn bitter, whining Republican (pace M.K. Carter) under the cruel yoke of property taxes.

The upside, they tell us, is that the filthy rich will be paying big bucks into our county coffers to own their upscale retreats, the implication being, we suppose, that the rest of us will pay less. But that line of thought reads like a non sequitur to us, because (numero uno) comparisons are odious and (numero tuo) if my own tax bill is higher next year because Mr. Billionaire bought a mountainside this year, then it hardly matters how much HE's paying. Does it?

The only hopeful thing that might come out of this land-acquisition virus among the out-of-towners would be an expanded homestead exemption, which would as a matter of fact shift the tax burden toward non-resident owners and which will have to be passed by the state legislature. That proposed exemption was championed by successful candidates Steve Goss, who won his seat in the NC Senate, and by Mary Moretz, who intends to introduce a resolution supporting it to the Watauga County Commission (possibly as early as next week).

At the moment, the only thing slowing down the basic underlying problem of a massive invasion by the super-rich, and the factotums who cater to them, are certain land-use restrictions, like steep-slope development ordinances, which are coming on in many western N.C. counties almost as fast as the land-grab.

Welcome to America, You Devil-Possessed Heathen

A 19-year-old Polish exchange student's account of spending quality time in a Winston-Salem home -- "My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists" -- was published (in English) in "Der Spiegel Online." Part of it is believeable, though much of it reads like a clueless Paris Hilton confessional about survival in the yucky midlands of America. In other words, he's pretty much a typical teenager, and his account is maybe more than anything a testiment to the universalizing of teenager disaffection with authority.

Whether he got the details right may not be as important as understanding his version of what happened as a prevailing European stereotype of "George Bush's America" ... Bible-totin' and intolerant.

The boy's story, and his inability to deal successfully with Southern folk culture, reminds me of what the Greensboro writer Fred Chappell once said was the best possible answer to the question, "Son, do you love Jesus?"

"Well, I like 'im."

The Wages of Sin Are Puny Cash Flows

So God does pay attention to the bottomline. From The Hill's "Under the Dome" (scroll down)

Some Christian conservative groups say both Wal-Mart and the Republican Party have "forsaken God." And just as the GOP took a hit in the elections earlier this month, the groups say the retail giant's lower-than-expected November sales figures are the wages of that sin.

Why are sales below estimates? "It is for the same reason things went south for the Republican Party this past election cycle," read a statement by the Rev. Flip Benham and Pat McEwan, with Operation Save America and Operation Save Wal-Mart. "Wal-Mart has forsaken God and it has forsaken the people who love Him."

The groups led protesters on Nov. 24 to picket the "gates of hell" -- that is, Wal-Mart stores around the country. They say Wal-Mart, like the GOP, has strayed from its founding principles, set by founder Sam Walton, citing Wal-Mart's dispensing of "Plan B" contraception and the fact that the retailer is a corporate member of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

Speaking of a Plan B, our own Sen. Liddy Dole is now dressing in sackcloth and ashes and is sitting by the gate, begging alms for the poor:

In an urgent appeal to donors this week, Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, the chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, beseeched contributors to "help us retire our debt."

Stumpy shared the Senator's desperate e-mail a couple of days ago, and now the AP has picked up on the story.

Maybe old King Lear was right:

The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices
Make instruments to plague us.

May We Hold Your Coats?

If there's gonna be fisticuffs, we trust they'll be televised.

Newly elected Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) admits he got so angry at El Presidente at a private White House reception immediately following the election "that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief" (according to The Hill).

In this corner, wearing the rawhide trunks ... The Thief of Baghdad, The Stem-Cell Mauler ... He's hell with the quick jabs, but can he go the distance? Handicappers say he may have a glass jaw.

And in this corner, wearing his son's combat boots ...
Jim Dandy Webb, The Virginia Whirlwind ... A tough close-fighter with a mean upper cut and a history of going the distance.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"We Don't Need No Stinkin' Poor"

Rev. Joel C. Hunter, president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, has stepped down, saying the group resisted his efforts to broaden its agenda to include reducing poverty and fighting global warming.

The poor we'll have with us always, the Christian Coalition is saying. But The Gays ... The Gays must be dealt with NOW. While they're hot.

They Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges

Two of twelve new sheriffs in western North Carolina have no law enforcement experience and say they have no plans to get the basic training ... the newly elected sheriffs of Graham and Swain counties.

Must be a story there about the characters they replaced!

We are very fortunate in Watauga to have elected a sheriff who may just be the most thoroughly trained law enforcement officer in the whole state.

Richard Burr Heads for the Center

Hard to find fault with the speech Sen. Richard Burr made yesterday in Chapel Hill. The N&O reporter paraphrased the gist of what he said: "The South, and North Carolina in particular, must sustain itself as a center for biotechnology, top-rate universities and quality of life .... The key to fulfilling this promise, Burr said, is public education."

He's been seduced by "the education racket," looks like. And notice his tacit endorsement of evolutionary science. Whoa.

This is how he spun illegal immigration: "The state's booming illegal immigrant population proves that the immigrants fulfill a need, Burr said, but he would like a federal verification process to vet their criminal histories and limit their stays in the United States." There's not a whiff of Foxxism in that statement. Why, it's downright moderate and even -- gulp -- statesman-like.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Filthy Lucre

Touching story -- I almost wept -- in the NYTimes about how a "physician-scientist” named Robert H. Glassman, after a decade in private medical practice, decided he wasn't getting rich fast enough, so he left his medical practice and signed on as a medical consultant with a Wall Street investment firm. Now he's a multi-millionaire and ever so much more satisfied with himself. He says he's maybe 10 times less smart than some of his Harvard classmates but many times richer.

Yes, Virginia, the rich have no souls.

"The nation lacks enough doctors in family practice, where the median income last year was $161,000." Family practitioners? Peasants!

"It was not our goal to create masters of the universe," said James Aisner, a spokesman for Harvard Business School. "It was to train people to do useful work." Quaint. Feeling a little guilty are we, Harvard Business School? Talk to the hand!

Who said this: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Who said that wasn't any of those new "masters of the universe" being created and promoted in George W. Bush's America and denied by the Harvard Business School. No, it wasn't.

Not So Fast With the Coronation There, Bucko

The headline in today's N&O says Beverly Perdue has the "early edge" in the Democratic race to succeed Mike Easley in the governor's mansion, but then we discover that

1. The "poll" was conducted for the Civitas Institute, the Pope-funded right-wing think-tank, which is the last place we want to turn for insight into the thinking of N.C. Democrats. And

2. The "early edge" that Bev is said to have is a big ole 24 percent of people claiming to be Democrats, with some 54 percent undecided. Big freakin' deal.

Obviously, the majority haven't paid any attention whatsoever to who may or may not be on the ballot in 2008. A fair percentage of the 24 percent who said they favored Perdue probably did so because she's the most familiar name. Maybe she reminds them of a brand of processed chicken.

Black Marks

The N&O finally gets around to outing the ever-so-apparent ... connection (the French would discreetly call it une affaire de coeur) between Speaker of the N.C. House Jim Black and his former staff member/paid lobbyist Meredith Norris. Some had worried earlier in the year that these shenanigans could bring down Democratic government in Raleigh, but they appear only to be bringing down Mr. Black. No one expects him to be reelected to the Speaker's chair again, even if he somehow manages to survive this very close election (which still isn't settled).

The sneak-around sex is one thing. The buying and selling of influence is much worse.

The incipient Black scandals were a difficult hot potato for state Republicans to hurl at Democrats in the campaigns just concluded. Were we going to sit still and be lectured about morals and ethics by the party that's been running Washington through the cash wringer for years?

Poor Gene Wilson (bless his heart!) attempted to drag Jim Black into his reelection battle against Cullie Tarleton, sending out a mailer that attempted to make local politics out of Black's alleged misdeeds. But the message was so muddled -- "It's time for a change!" hardly works as a rallying cry for a 16-year incumbent! -- and the scandals so distant to most people not in the Raleigh in-crowd that the mailer just fizzled. Like everything else Wilson tried.

But the Black poultry has only just begun to come home to roost. By the New Year, we suspect the political ground of the state Democratic party will have so shifted that Mr. Black will find himself alone, as if on a vast wind-swept tundra.