Friday, December 31, 2021

The Family That Did So Much to Destroy Appalachia


I just finished the first of my Christmas books, "Empire of Pain" by Patrick Radden Keefe, and I'm a little agitated by the confirmation that the Sacklers of OxyContin fame have indeed "gotten away with it." None of that large connected clan of three generations of pill pushers -- none of them have ever been materially punished for their part in literally creating the "opioid epidemic," while benefitting outrageously from the human destruction. 

Okay, footnote: The Attorney General of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, named Purdue Pharma and individual Sacklers in a civil complaint in June 2018 that ran to over 270 pages, but the Sacklers successfully blocked her by putting Purdue Pharma into bankruptcy. So I incidentally learned -- surprise! -- that when a company is in bankruptcy, all other suits and complaints against it are put on hold. I didn't know that. But it's key to why the Sacklers haven't paid personally yet for their ethical and moral crimes. 

However, they have begun to pay in humiliation. Some of the museums that they funded lavishly and which put their names prominently on display, like the Sackler Wing at the Met, have been chiseling those names off its granite. Some cultural institutions, which in the past have received millions in philanthropic money from various Sacklers, have now begun to say "no thanks, cause we don't want to be associated with you people any more." The Sackler's poor, exploited, milked company, Purdue Pharma, suffered plenty. It's been charged and fined as a corporate entity and some of its executives (who were most assuredly not Sacklers) got sentenced, and it's now a shell in bankruptcy court. None of that destruction touched the Sacklers personally, nor the bulk of their money.

Here's the thing that allowed the Sacklers to become celebrated philanthropists: For many, many years, the elite crowd in NYC and the mavens of major institutions, like the Met, Harvard University, Oxford, the Louvre -- they simply didn't know (and perhaps didn't want to know) how the Sacklers were making their money. The family had always been secretive. They obscured the connection between themselves and the marketing of pills --  especially after OxyContin became a hot topic.

The Sacklers have evaded accountability through a combination of ruthless tactics, highly paid lawyers, a willingness to go after anyone publicly complaining, and fat influence at the highest levels of government. I think it's fair to say that the Sacklers in the now three generations of the family effectively corrupted the regulatory obligations of both the FDA and the Department of Justice. Family bosses knew how to compromise a federal regulator by offering him/her a desk and a big salary at Purdue if they ever got tired of low-paid government work. At the right moment, the Sacklers knew key people in the Department of Justice (particularly during both the George W. Bush and Trump administrations), when Justice should have been seeking justice for false advertising and various types of fraud. 

Instead, billions (that's no exaggeration) were going directly into the pockets of the Sacklers (and into off-shore accounts where the government can't reach it). Profit from OxyContin soon passed $3 billion a year. Meanwhile, for the overdosed dead, the Sacklers showed little sympathy. Drug addicts were the "scum of the earth" who had only themselves to blame for their addictions.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) a most mild-mannered, bowtie-equipped member of Congress, said this to David and Kathe Sackler, when they testified in a Congressional hearing titled "The Role of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler Family in the Opioid Epidemic":

"Watching you testify makes my blood boil. I'm not sure that I'm aware of any family in America that's more evil than yours."

Reading Keefe's book brings me to the same place.

In that Congressional hearing, the two Sacklers (Kathe representing the "A Side," descendants of the middle of the original three brothers who started the company; David representing the corporate "B Side," descendants of the youngest of the three original Sacklers) had just told Rep. Cooper and the other members of the committee, in sometimes testy tones and always with a billionaire's aplomb, an inability to read the room, that they did not know that OxyContin was addictive, that they had not and never would do anything wrong in the making and marketing of any medication, and why are you people persecuting the inventors of a medical miracle for pain control?

Keefe reports opinions that Richard Sackler, the inventor and prime marketer of OxyContin, simply lacked empathy. Had no understanding of and hence no sympathy for the suffering of others. If you're looking for a mortal flaw in not just Richard Sackler but in the whole corporate enterprise, "lack of empathy" will suffice. (We've had plenty of experience very recently with that type of human being.)

Hulu's "Dopesick" First Made Me Curious About the Sacklers

I really wanted to read "Empire of Pain" to learn about Richard Sackler in particular. I was riveted by actor Michael Stuhlbarg's portrayal of him in the Hulu series "Dopesick." Very good series. Focuses on the hills of Appalachia in Virginia, which was indeed the birthplace of Victim Zero, the first recorded death from OxyContin overdose. That drug (and then heroin, when there was no Oxy) ravaged Appalachia starting in 1996, and it's only fitting that "Dopesick" the series chose locations in Clifton Forge and other Virginia small towns for filming. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond served as the famous "Sackler Wing" at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. Robert Gipe, a brilliant comic writer out of Harlan County, served as a script advisor. "He vetted every single detail," said writer Beth Macey, who had published the book "Dopesick." She signed on to write and help produce the Hulu series and wisely set aside her own bestseller to write a much broader script that went way beyond the local reportage that she had done for the Roanoke Times. 

Michael Stuhlbarg as Richard Sackler,
in the Hulu series "Dopesick"

Keefe's "Empire of Pain" must have supplied much of the Sackler history that Macy used in her script. All the stuff about those contentious Purdue board meetings, with the A Side and the B Side sniping at one another from opposite ends of a very long table -- all that came out of Keefe's book.

After watching the Hulu series (with Stuhlbarg's malign mystery as Richard Sackler), I got my hands on Macy's bestseller first (hattip JDG), hoping she was the source about the Sacklers. But, no, Macy's book is strictly reportage about the people of southwest Virginia touched by the opioid epidemic, particularly the families of the dead. In the TV series, the Michael Keaton character (the doctor who himself gets addicted) and the young woman coal miner and her family -- those are made up amalgamations of many people Macy had known, or known about. Meanwhile the Sacklers barely get a mention, nor do the various government lawyers dogging them and amassing a case against them, like the lawyers out of the Western District of Virginia and the FDA official played by Rosario Dawson. Macy's book goes into none of that, but Patrick Keefe does.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Don't Look Up


What a movie for Christmas Eve! Season of hope and renewal, coinciding (more or less) with the Winter Solstice, when the sun decides to return to us, and Adam McKay's "Don't Look Up" proposes the sun won't come back. Ever.

For an end-of-the-world movie, it actually delivers ... the end of the world. I sat there for the first two hours wondering if Adam McKay would actually do it. He did it. But the tone of the movie leading up to that "conclusion of the species" is so Adam-McKay-clever -- satiric thrusts and wicked jokes about how narcissism makes us dumb (this McKay World is ruled by a blond, trifling president, played pretty brilliantly by Meryl Streep, and by the Q Score of a varnished pair of TV anchors on a popular feature news show, "The Daily Rip" -- played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry, having way too much fun) -- that biting tone of poking the bear of self-absorption did not entirely prepare me for the last 30 minutes, when McKay admits that human potential deserves reverence even as it faces its own extinction.

I was actually moved by Timothee Chalamet's performance as Yule, a skateboard dogtown boy with a hat turned around backwards ("I'm FirePuma142 on Twitch. Do you game?"), who turns out is possessed of a sweet disposition and a talent for praying a sincere prayer over a last supper. The moment absolutely floored me. The only Black character in the whole film (Rob Morgan as head of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, a real thing) sits at the table and hears Yule's prayer. "You got some church game, man," he says. That scene could make you love the human race.

The ending of "Don't Look Up" moved me in unexpected ways. Leonardo DeCaprio nails the long arc of a serious academic astronomer of limited achievements who first discovers the trajectory of an Everest-sized meteor, who goes from the urgency of terror and a need to ride like Paul Revere to an unhorsed hanger-on seduced by his own celebrity (he officially achieves the status of an "A.I.L.F.," which you can translate for yourself; first word is "astronomer"). He redeems himself. His instinct at the end, when the end is inevitable because not one, not two, but three attempts to fly rockets to explode and divert the meteor have failed, he wants to go home to his estranged wife and his two teenaged boys, achingly good young men. At that last supper, he says to everyone, "We really did have everything, didn't we? I mean, when you think about it."

Chalamet in "Don't Look Up"

That's of course the message: gratitude for what we have could actually lead us to save what we have. More than just a ribbing about how stupid we are, "Don't Look Up" delivers a solution that still resides in our genes (alongside the gene for destruction), a capacity to love and to protect what we love.


I could bend your ears a lot longer about other characters, other actors portraying them ... like Jonah Hill as the president's son, the little prick she's appointed nepotistically as her chief of staff, who gets the lion's share of funny lines. He's an idiot and doesn't know it. He talks like this when he wants to feign sympathy: "There's dope stuff, like material stuff, like sick apartments and watches, and cars, um, and clothes and shit that could all go away and I don't wanna see that stuff go away. So I'm gonna say a prayer for that stuff. Amen."

Or Jennifer Lawrence as the new-age doctoral student who first discovers the comet. She's got the big picture and does not get seduced by notoriety, but she's as buried in the petty details as everyone else. She discovers that an Army general has charged her for snacks meant to be free in the White House, and she will not let it go. It's as big an issue with her as the comet named for her.

Ariana Grande, hilariously cast as a self-absorbed pop star whose breakup with her boyfriend currently dominates social media and broadcast media too. One critic labeled Grande as "a good sport" for taking a role that could be seen as an unintentional self-parody, the young woman whose fame has throttled her maturity. This scene, where the Grande character, glitsy singer Riley Bina, sits in a TV greenroom with the two astronomers played by Jennifer Lawrence (as Kate Bibiasky) and DeCaprio, waiting to go on-air:

Riley Bina: You guys discovered a comet? That's so dope. I have a tattoo of a shooting star on my back.

Kate Dibiasky: Oh.

Dr. Randall Mindy: That's terrific. We heard about your breakup too, so we just wanna say... We're very sorry, right? We're real sorry. You seem like a... great person.

Riley Bina: Why don't you mind your own business, you old fuck?



I know that professional critics are divided on this movie. Some of the reviews have been unnecessarily savage, implying a smugness about McKay that I don't see and don't accept. If you can't hold a mirror up to current society without being accused of conceited motives, we've gone so brittle as a culture that we deserve to shatter.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Update on NC Insurrectionists Charged for Jan. 6th Assault on Capitol


Almost a year ago a large crowd of stirred-up Trumpists stormed the U.S. Capitol. That assault caused at least $1.5 million in building damages, led to the deaths of five people, and injured scores of police.

Reporter Michael Gordon has done the leg-work tracing where the charges against 14 North Carolinians currently stand:

Brad Bennett -- former Mecklenburg Co. resident, wellness coach, and survivalist. He's charged with six crimes, one a felony that could send him to prison.

Aiden Bilyard -- from Cary. "Photos show the 19-year-old shooting chemical bear spray at a line of police officers and later using a baseball bat to break out a Capitol window, which he and scores of other rioters used as a portal to the Senate side of the building."

Grayson Sherrill -- from Cherryville. Now accused in an amended complaint of several acts of felony violence inside the Capitol, including assaulting a police officer with a metal pole.

Laura Steele and Charles Donohoe -- named in a new Dec. 14 criminal complaint filed by the District of Columbia against two paramilitary groups (Oath Keepers and Proud Boys) who the government says helped plan the Capitol siege. Steele is a former police officer accused of being part of a multi-state conspiracy by the Oath Keepers to storm the Capitol. She's charged with at least one felony. Donohoe is "an alleged member of the right-wing Proud Boys who federal prosecutors say helped plan and direct the group’s activities during the mob attack."

Matthew Wood -- from Reidsville, "who originally told the FBI that he entered the Capitol only to avoid being trampled, but was caught on camera urging the mob to attack police."

Lewis Cantwell -- from Sylva, charged with six crimes and, "according to court records, appears to have backed off from entering a guilty plea."

Chris and Virginia Spencer -- from Pilot Mountain. The only husband-wife team of defendants. Virginia Spencer has pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge and is to be sentenced Jan. 7. Chris Spencer has pleaded not guilty. "Normally, a misdemeanor charge in the Capitol cases has not carried a prison sentence. But in a December sentencing memorandum to Virginia Spencer’s judge, prosecutors noted for the first time that the Spencers brought one of their children, a 14-year-old, to the riot. The family took part in one of the first waves that stormed the building, briefly entered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite, and joined another mob that massed outside the House chamber when the representatives were still trapped inside, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Collyer wrote. Virginia Spencer’s 'participation in a riot… combined with the defendant involving her minor child renders a sentence of incarceration both necessary and appropriate in this case.' ”

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Doomscrolling (Revisited)


I posted this a year ago on Xmas Eve. I rediscover it now as still applicable, if not more so (and I'm in no mood to capitalize on poor Madison Cawthorn's divorce):

Is there a better word for 2020? Doomscrolling (noun) -- the act of consuming an endless procession of negative online news, to the detriment of the scroller's mental wellness.

Yeah, that's me.

Every morning, scrolling headlines and taglines and come-ons and click-bait, my mind sinking deeper and deeper into a black pool. Just this blooming morning: "Highest Levels of Microplastics Found in Molluscs, New Study Says";  "Portugal outrage after Spanish hunters massacre 500 wild animals"; "Trump’s last-minute outburst throws pandemic relief effort into chaos"; "Could Trump declare martial law to try to steal the election?"; "Trump vowed to drain the swamp. Then he granted clemency to three former congressmen convicted of federal crimes"; "A President Unhappy, Unleashed and Unpredictable."

We're doomed, folks.

I wrote a Christmas letter. First time in years. I got calls from all over the country -- especially from Texas -- asking either directly whether I might be suicidal, or implying it by tiptoeing around the topic. I ain't that. I ain't suicidal. Sometimes I yell at the TV. Sometimes I yell at myself. Not out loud. Not yet, that. I've not become the guy who goes through the grocery store muttering angrily (though for social distancing, it ain't a slouch of a motivator).

Fact is, I don't go to the grocery store. Because of the risk of infection, natch. That's an oppressive topic that didn't make the first national headlines I saw this morning. My expanded scrolling to North Carolina yields this: "NC COVID hospitalizations hit another new high as deaths top 6,300." The virus darkens every corner of life, doesn't it? No need to ask really, with so many of us at home alone rather than with extended families. The virus is ever present and, just incidentally, deadly to people like me and mine.

“Doomscrolling can be a harmful habit, and detrimental to your mental and even physical health.” 
--Stephanie J. Wong, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist

know, Dr. Wong, but it's hardwired in me to crave the news every morning. Habit? Like drugs? You bet. I very well know that bad habits can produce depression, which can be a bottomless pit. Here's another word for the year: catastrophizing: focusing on the negative aspects of the world in a way that makes it more and more difficult to notice anything positive. "When you experience stress – whether it's low-level stress from doomscrolling or a sudden, stressful event like a car crash – your body kicks into overdrive and releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol." The fight-or-flight response -- built into us by evolution, to save our butts from fang and claw, but "long term activation of this fight-or-flight response has been linked to digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, weight gain, anxiety, sexual side effects, and high blood pressure, as well as many other health issues."

Gee, thanks, Doc, like we don't already have enough stress.

So what does Dr. Wong recommend? "Avoid all social media." Unrealistic. But also this, a really good suggestion: "Practice gratitude." It's Christmas Eve. I'm in a warm place. I have my partner for life here with me, along with wonder dog Jake, and we have gifts prepared for one another. Pam's making a Pekin duck tomorrow, and we've got movies queued up for all day. Fuck everything else.

Monday, December 20, 2021

You Can't Win Races Without Candidates


Before the courts stepped in, candidate filing for 2022 in North Carolina went on for two-and-one-half days, beginning at noon on Monday, December 6, and ending at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 8, by court order. There was a rush to file among Republicans. There was a rush not to file among Democrats.

Filing won't crank up again until after the trial on the merits of lawsuits filed against the Republican redistricting, followed probably by appeals to the NC Supreme Court. After that, who knows? Maybe different districts. Maybe a higher interest among Democrats.

If the current lack of Democratic enthusiasm/bravery doesn't turn around ... I don't want to finish that sentence. But the numbers below represent above all else the deleterious effects of extreme partisan gerrymandering.

NC House

Out of a total of 120 seats, Republicans are running in 64 of them without a Democratic opponent (so far)

Democrats have filed in some 17 seats with no Republican opponent (so far)

NC Senate

Out of a total of 50 seats, Republicans have filed for 31 of them with no Democratic opponent (so far)

Democrats have filed in only 3 seats with no Republican opponent (so far) 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

If You Dine With the Devil, Better Use a Long Spoon

Roe on the left, with Youngkin

Jeff Roe is a Republican political consultant who guided Glenn Youngkin's recent successful campaign to become Virginia's governor. Roe had a fraught history with Donald Trump going back to the 2016 Republican primary when he was working for the Ted Cruz for President campaign. He advised Youngkin to enthusiastically embrace Trump during the primary and then get the hell away from him for the general election -- which actually worked and which majorly pissed off DJT.

The Washington Post recently reported that Roe was forced to get himself to Mar-a-Lago to smooth Trump's ruffled feathers. Trump was said to believe that Roe had "belittled" his role in Youngkin's win. And it's true enough that "after winning the GOP nomination and Trump’s endorsement, Youngkin stopped dropping Trump’s name."

Trump had told the “John Fredericks Radio Show” ("America's Godzilla of the TRUTH!" which broadcasts out of Goochland, Va.) that “the only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement. When they try to go down a railroad track … ‘Oh, yeah, love Trump. Love Trump. Okay, let’s go, next subject.’ When they do that, nobody, they don’t — they never win. They never win. They have to embrace it.”

Youngkin was still walking that tightrope when he gave his first post-election interview to Fox News's Tucker Carlson (the faint praise for an unnamed DJT got noticed): “We had help from everybody. We had a huge support from the Latino community. You know, the president made a call and asked everybody to get out and vote. And we had big turnout in southwest Virginia. We saw parents turn out.”

When you have an ego as large as Trump's and you're mentioned after the Latinos -- why, boy, you got some groveling to do!

"Roe told others privately that he did not want Trump to visit the state and that it would be harmful to Youngkin, according to a political operative who spoke with Roe about it. Trump told Roe that he would like to see his supporters publicly given more credit for the victory, two people familiar with the meeting said. Trump called Youngkin several times to give him advice in the race and talk about the numbers in the state...."

Youngkin's win, without throwing himself into Trump's arms, is supposed to signal that Trump's influence in the Republican Party is fading. That's a fiercely debated topic. But when you have to make your pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring, you're not a free man.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Modeling Masculinity


“A great man is hard on himself; a small man is hard on others.”

Reading about what motivated state Senator Jeff Jackson to bow out of the US Senate race and endorse his rival Cheri Beasley sparks inevitable comparisons with other politicians, some of them right here in North Carolina seeking office right now. Jackson's exit was the honorable thing. He had been told by his consultants that he couldn't win the Democratic primary next year without going negative on Cheri Beasley. Recent polls showed Jackson behind Beasley in a two-person race. The only way to climb back up was to tear Beasley down. That's what the consultants were advising.

Jackson told Michael Graff, “We decided not to do that. Not because I have a particular problem being critical when I think it’s fair, but just in her case, it would not have been honest. She has over a decade of exemplary public service to her name. And the prospect of suggesting otherwise on television ads, was just a non-starter with me.” That is more than honorable. That models a masculinity free -- or damn near free -- of self-interest. Manly self-sacrifice for the good of the many (in this case, "the many" being the NCDP).

Comparisons are odorous (said Dogberry), but also however oh so delicious. Look now at the Ted Budd for Senate faction. You've been seeing how they're treating poor pathetic Pat McCrory, right? I know Ted Budd did not (supposedly) have anything to do with those attacks (which have included TV hit-pieces), but he is said to benefit from them, and he hasn't so far as I know ever distanced himself from them. Ted Budd ... hence and therefore (and this is how comparisons work, chums) not a good man.

Alex Jones wrote a great piece about toxic masculinity, how it blossomed under Trump and swept the old Republican party rudely aside, until what's happened -- see -- is that Mark Robinson is the most popular Republican elected official in the state of North Carolina. Mark Robinson is a giant dick. He plays a swaggering bully with a booming voice who can deliver a sermon tongue-lashing like a tent preacher.

Which brings us to the topic of toxic masculinity. (You know me: I've been reading.) A male gene, present in some and not in others, produces constant anxiety about "gender performance," and not just performance in the bedroom, so that making a show of manly dominance becomes the best medicine for doubts (with emphasis on show; an audience is required). Performative masculinity appears to be a symptom of a psychological bundle of neuroses now defined as "precarious manhood," wherein "men experience anxiety when it comes to their manhood and masculinity, or masculine gender identity." In extreme cases anxiety can lead to acting out, violence, or at least physical aggression. Or he might just refuse to protect even himself and his loved ones by masking up. He can't admit any fear. Trump made fun of people wearing plague-masks, and so did Fox News, and suddenly it was a matter of endangered manhood to comply with any "mandate."

Since we're all here in the theater with our popcorn, here are some other displays of what Alex Jones was writing about:

Congressman Madison Cawthorn once upon a time not so long ago had himself filmed punching out a punky tree, and posted this performance of heroic manhood to his social media:

I can't post here the new Bo Hines for Congress introductory video, but you can view it easily on his Twitter feed. He's proud of it. He spent a lot of money on it. It's a show of aggressive manhood. Alex Jones: "The piece shows him vigorously pumping iron and doing pullups in a gym bedecked with a prominently displayed Back the Blue flag. Over a background of rock music, a tough-guy’s voice says Hines will bring 'North Carolina gridiron values' to Congress. Message: This guy is a stud. Vote for him."

(You remember Bo Hines, right? He's almost as young as Cawthorn and has been a district-shopping itinerant who may have settled finally on running for Congress in the CD 4. Hines is a Madison Cawthorn acolyte. Cawthorn introduced him to Trump.)

Or Ted Budd, the Trumpist choice for US Senate, who's obviously six times the man that Pat McCrory could ever claim to be.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Jeff Jackson Is Getting Out of the Senate Race


Jeff Jackson, who's been running hard (and we thought, effectively) for the US Senate seat, is reportedly bowing out and endorsing Cheri Beasley -- probably today. WRAL appears to have been the first with the news yesterday after 5 p.m. that Jackson "was expected to announce his plan to drop out as soon as Thursday morning." No explanation. No rationale.

People will ask, naturally, "Did something happen?" As in something bad.

If this move helps Cheri Beasley win that Senate seat, Jackson's announcement may may end up looking very cool, a self-sacrifice for the good of the Republic, let alone the state of North Carolina.


Just posted in the NewsObserver:

Many rumors circulated in North Carolina’s political circles Wednesday night about what is next for Jackson’s political future. [Political scientist Chris] Cooper said it could be that his campaign had information indicating that he couldn’t win. 

“I think it’s equally as likely to be him trying to set himself up for a future run,” Cooper said. 

He added that Jackson is not known to run negative campaigns and that may have been his only option. He also pointed out that Jackson may have realized he’s a white male running against a Black female for a nomination by a party that is trying to be inclusive and diverse. 

“He’s a Democrat and when the Democratic Party establishment runs counter to your interests, it makes sense to try to figure out how to make friends rather than make deeper enemies,” Cooper said, saying this could be a smart long-term strategy for Jackson’s career.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

What the Republicans Have To Choose From in NCH109


The Incumbent Republican

One Donnie Loftis got appointed to the Gaston County seat (Dist. 109) in the last week of October to replace Rep. Dana Bumgardner who had passed away. WRAL immediately outed Loftis as enthusiastically attending Trump's nullify-the-election/insurrection on January 6th, but he said he absolutely, positively didn't enter the Capitol building (though he was close enough to catch teargas in the face). He bused with other fiery hot patriots to D.C., and on the bus back home he posted this on Facebook:

“I got gassed three times and was at the entrance when they breached the door. I spoke to many service members, and we all agreed that we didn’t want to be there, but we had no other choice. They don’t get it that they work for us. And I mean that in a respectful way.” (Source: Gaston Gazette)

A 30-year Army veteran with combat experience, Loftis served two short terms -- separated by years -- as a Gaston County Commissioner. He last held office in 2012. He could never gain a second consecutive term. Last time he tried, he got beaten in the primary. He also tried twice to win the NCH109 seat but couldn't get through either the 2004 or the 2012 primary. Doesn't seem very popular in Gaston County. So how did he get appointed? He was the pick of the Gaston County Republican Executive Committee, "after considering the nomination of three individuals and through two rounds of voting" ( Any more detail than that will take snitches inside (but I strongly suspect that old friends and relatives of the deceased Dana Bumgardner were not happy with the Loftis appointment ... see below).

He was a very public Trumpist in Gaston County before he ever thought of storming the Capitol. Somehow Loftis got to be chair of the board of directors of CaroMont Health Inc., a very large regional hospital chain, and was forced to resign in 2020 when his Facebook re-posts of COVID-19 conspiracy theories got into the public bloodstream, along with his calling Gov. Cooper a tyrant for that initial stay-at-home order. The Gaston Gazette says he got himself reappointed to the board of Caro-Mont and is still serving, but CaroMont's website does not list him

When Donnie Loftis was presented in the House chamber on the Monday evening of November 1st, all the Democrats in the chamber walked out rather than attend his swearing in.

The Loftis Challengers (so far)

Lauren Bumgardner Currens, the daughter of the late Rep. Bumgardner, has been the number two in the Gaston County GOP since 2015, and she was one of the three nominees for appointment to the seat. Her Twitter account defines her with stark gender norms -- "Mom. Wife. Candidate for NC House 109" -- but she's no country mouse -- more country club. She posed with House Speaker Tim Moore when she served a year as a house legislative aide, and I am betting she's banking on the family legacy. [Apologies! Just realized that I left unsaid the obvious thing: Lauren is the former rep's daughter.]

Bumgardner has left virtually no trace on social media except for the Twitter feed and a very thin Facebook page.

But her filing statement ain't so attractive:

"The message coming from the citizens of Gaston County to the Far-Left Democrats is clear. Stop indoctrinating our children in schools. Stop tearing down statues of our Founding Fathers. Stop overtaxing our families. Stop hating America."

Jesus. Stop being so goddamn unoriginal, Lauren.

That's the same bullying posture that all the Trump soldiers now ape. How is she different from Loftis? She looks better and maybe just missed the bus.

Ronnie Worley is currently serving his second four-year term on the Gaston County Commission. He was the third person initially nominated to replace Bumgardner. Worley is a former mayor of Cramerton and a retired state Highway Patrol trooper. He doesn't sound crazy:

“This campaign will be about accountability and getting government working again," Worley said in a Nov. 23 release stating his plans to run. "As we come out of the pandemic, we have seen too many systems in government fail. We need to get state government working again. We need a focus on citizen service – not mandates and extended executive emergency powers.

“Government at every level is failing the average citizen and average family,” Worley said.

Compared to Loftis and Bumgardner Currens, that's soft soap. No grabbing for the easiest divisive one-liners. No apparent instinct for bullying. Sure, there's the "no COVID mandate" boilerplate, but it's under- rather than overstated. 

The most telling piece of evidence about Worley came following the Charlottesville racist rioting in 2017 when local Black leaders requested the Gaston commissioners to remove the Confederate statue at the entrance to the county courthouse. At first, Worley and his fellow commissioners took no action. Then later, this:

"Maybe I didn’t have the political courage to say, ‘Yeah, we need to move it,’ although I probably knew then," Worley said....

Now [2020] he says it’s time to move the monument.

"So I’m thinking well, how would a Jewish person feel if they had to look at a swastika? Maybe Black Americans feel the same way looking at this monument to the Confederacy and what was a symbol of hate to that population," he said.

Worley, a retired state trooper and former mayor of Cramerton, says his conviction came from not only the current national upheaval over race but from talks with local Black people who say the symbolism makes them skeptical about the justice system. 

Good God. This man probably doesn't have a prayer in the Republican primary. He made the about-face on the Confederate soldier monument in July 2020, way after all filing for a primary was completed. He had no primary opponent and no general election opponent in 2020. Will the MAGA crowd now get delayed revenge for his apparent race treason?

Monday, December 13, 2021

Even Mark Meadows Thought It Was Hare-Brained?


The January 6th investigating committee has announced that it plans to seek contempt of Congress charges against former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. At the end of the NYTimes article detailing the evidence against Meadows are four paragraphs about a most interesting additional piece of magic that turned up as an attachment to one of Mark Meadows' emails: 

...a 38-page PowerPoint document containing plans to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory. That document, which Mr. Meadows provided to the committee, urged Mr. Trump to declare a national emergency to cling to power and included an unsupported claim that China and Venezuela had obtained control over the voting infrastructure in a majority of states.

Mr. Meadows’s lawyer has said he provided the document to the committee because he had received it by email and did nothing with it.

Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel who has promoted false claims of election fraud, said that he had circulated the document among Mr. Trump’s allies and among lawmakers on Capitol Hill in the days before the mob violence. Mr. Giuliani has identified Mr. Waldron as a source of information for his legal campaign.

Mr. Waldron told The Washington Post that he had visited the White House several times after last year’s election and spoken with Mr. Meadows “maybe eight to 10 times.”


They did a PowerPoint presentation about how to seize the presidency. Somebody asked a retired Army colonel to build that PowerPoint, or else the retired Army colonel freelanced an illustrated rationale for armed insurrection, because of his unhinged devotion to DJT.

Meadows certainly knew plenty about all sorts of schemes, but according to his lawyer, he "did nothing with it" (with that particular PowerPoint, at least). If we believe that denial ... and I think I'm inclined to believe it.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Watauga County Needs a Minimum Housing Code


Guest Post by Jon-Dalton George, Boone Town Council:


Housing gets talked about a lot these days. Those holding public office frequently explore policy solutions to the many problems, including affordability, accessibility, safety, and fairness. These are knotty issues, but the fight for fair housing is both noble and necessary. 


Still, few in the decision-making process have taken the easiest first steps for renters. North Carolina ranks 49th in “Renter-Friendliness,” a metric composed of ten common features of the landlord-tenant relationship, including security deposits, rent increases, warranty of habitability, and the eviction process. With the current and likely continuing composition of our state's General Assembly, North Carolina's poor ranking seems destined to stay that way. But fair housing isn’t just a fight in Raleigh. Municipalities and counties can, and in some cases have, taken steps to help improve the lives of renters.


Minimum housing codes are a way for local governments to establish guidance for acceptable living conditions. A minimum housing code can be bare-bones, seeking to address only broad structural damage that is obvious in its threat to a renter's safety. Or as nuanced as examining the conditions which give rise to mold and seeking to set a standard for the building's owner. Whatever the case, they provide a tangible guide for renters on what their landlords can and cannot get away with. 


With proper funding of inspectors, and a clear, accessibile process for reporting problems, local governments can provide relief to renters seeking aid without needing a lawyer or forcing a tenant into a courtroom. 


Looking to the NC General Assembly to fix the substandard housing that plagues our communities is not the solution. It’s time for the local level of government to show creative solutions to the housing problems the state legislature refuses to act on. The town of Boone has passed a minimum housing code, and so has Blowing Rock. Isn't it time that Watauga County also defined minimum housing standards and set guidelines for enforcement? 

Friday, December 10, 2021

The Pirates Take Chapel Hill


Hattip to reporter Joe Killian for posting a link to the editorial in Science, "Universities are not political prizes." It opines about the accelerating legislative push in some states to politicize higher education. Cowed administrators quickly learn to comply:

Take the recent incident involving the University of Florida, which blocked liberal professors from testifying as experts in a lawsuit that challenged the state’s voting laws. The university rationalized that as a public institution, it must remain neutral when the real reason was that it didn’t want to anger political overlords.

That article doesn't mention the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but it could have -- where right now and ongoing there's a bloody pirate-ship boarding by besuited swashbucklers sailing the high seas under the banner of Berger/Moore in the NC General Assembly. 

"Universities are not political prizes"? Yes they are.

Here's what happened at the meeting yesterday of Chapel Hill's Board of Trustees (as reported by Joe Killian), "a special meeting held largely in closed-session":

...the board took the unusual step of not publicly disclosing what they were voting on or using any names or titles. Instead, they voted on three “action items” that were not publicly described and then abruptly adjourned after the vote. [All votes were unanimous with the exception of student representative Lamar Richards, who voted no on one and abstained on two others.]

After fielding questions from reporters throughout the day, UNC-Chapel Hill media relations released a letter from Chancellor Guskiewicz making the announcement shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday. “The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees approved the Chancellor’s recommendation to appoint Dr. Chris Clemens as executive vice chancellor and provost of the University.” ...

The executive vice chancellor and provost at Chapel Hill serves as chief academic officer (why faculties fear provosts) and CEO, the university Number Two, with immense police powers.

So who is Dr. Chris Clemens and why would the Chapel Hill Board of Trustees keep his name secret during that BOT vote? Hmmm. Are they ashamed?

Chris Clemens, Provost, UNC-Chapel Hill

Joe Killian:

Clemens has been at the center of controversy over the creation of a program at Chapel Hill called the “Program in Civic Virtue and Civil Discourse,” which Clemens and others described as a “conservative center” going back to its inception in 2017. [Donors remain anonymous.] Clemens has since denied the program will be explicitly conservative.

Clemens has described himself as “among the most outspoken conservative members of the Arts & Sciences faculty at UNC for many years, sponsoring the college Republicans, Carolina Review and several other student organizations.

Clemens trained as an astrophysicist but climbed the administrative ladder, currently senior associate dean for research and innovation in the College of Arts & Sciences. "Two UNC Board of Trustees members and one member of the search committee confirmed to Policy Watch that Clemens’s conservative credentials made him an attractive choice for the Board of Trustees and UNC Board of Governors with close ties to the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly."

Mimi Chapman, the chair of the faculty, published an ominous letter to the "University community" in the Daily Tar Heel on the eve of the BOT's secret vote, in which she warned that "the Chancellor is under significant pressure to make a particular choice. Based on the information that is being relayed to me by multiple sources, our trustees and the UNC System are dictating his choices to the point that he really has none to make."

It's not clear that Chapman was referring to Clemens, but it's logical to think so, right?

Mark Walker Doesn't Trust Donald Trump


Mark Walker
We've been following the high-level scheming of Madison Cawthorn and Donald Trump in easing Mark Walker out of the US Senate race in North Carolina, to clear the way for Ted Budd to defeat Pat McCrory in the Republican primary next March May. All the principals met at Mar-a-Lago last weekend and we thought it was settled that Walker would switch his campaign from Senate to Congressional Dist. 7

But Politico published this morning that Trump, or Walker, or possibly suspicion itself threw a clod into that churn:

...On Saturday, former Rep. Mark Walker got Trump’s word he would endorse Walker to run in a newly drawn congressional district if he exited the Senate race, a shift that was expected to serve as a boost for Budd.

But on Thursday, after days had passed without an official endorsement announcement from Trump, Walker said he will remain in the Senate race for now, and he will continue to consider a House run through the end of the year....

Come on, guys. When did Donald Trump ever throw a gullible subordinate under the bus? 

Thursday, December 09, 2021

At Least It's Not an Assault Rifle


Ruger .22 with Vortex scope

The Parent-Teacher Org (PTO) at Freedom Trail Elementary in Elk Park, Avery County, is raffling a .22 rifle with scope as a fundraiser, and I think that's okay, since those kids at that school come from a hunting culture in a woodlands setting, and that rifle is clearly meant as a useful tool for tramping the woods. It's okay if the majority of parents don't think the gun raffle is a political billboard for Trumpism. Odds are, it's not, or probably it would have been an assault rifle. It's just that with more and infinite school shootings, the raffling of a gun by a public school PTO jars the psyche.

(Why the Freedom Trail PTO Facebook page doesn't mention the gun raffle is mysterious. The gun will be given away on December 17th. I know about the raffle because someone showed me a $5 ticket (or "5 chances for $20") which prominently mentions the Ruger 16953 American 6.5 Creedmor .22 with Vortex Crossfire scope, which will go to the lucky winner in a drawing. "You do not have to be present to win." Second prize, $100 Walmart gift card.)

Freedom Trail Elementary -- despite what you may be thinking -- is very much part of the Avery County Public Schools and not a private nor religious enterprise. Its public nature, plus the gun raffle, would probably spark a tsunami of criticism if Elk Park were a major metropolis. The gun pretty much fits the culture, and gun opponents might want to cool their jets. The .22 rifle in question is bolt-action.

NC Supremes Step In


The North Carolina Supreme Court overruled the NC Court of Appeals yesterday, halted filing for 2022 elections, moved the spring primaries from March 8th to May 17th, and ordered an expedited trial on the merits of the various lawsuits challenging the new district maps passed by the Republican majority in the General Assembly. The trial on the merits of plantiffs' complaints must be finished by January 11th (yikes! if you're a lawyer arguing either side) and will be heard (I'm assuming) by a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges appointed by Chief Justice Paul Newby.

The Supremes' order also expedites any appeals after the trial. Appellants will have only two business days to file.

There goes Christmas!

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Trumpists Brutalize Pat McCrory


With former Congressman Mark Walker reportedly getting Trump's blessing to leave the US Senate race to run instead for Congress in the 7th CD -- thus giving Trump-endorsed Ted Budd a clearer field for beating Pat McCrory in that Senate race -- we're not surprised to see McCrory-bashing come to a quick boil among those allied with Trump. This multi-page, full-color “report” on McCrory has hit the mails and is pictured in today's News and Observer editorial pages:

From the accompanying editorial:

It’s the kind of ferocity that’s usually saved for a general election, and it’s a signal to Republicans that if you run against Trump-backed candidates like Cawthorn and McCrory opponent Ted Budd, the worst attacks against you might come from inside the house. It’s also notable that this isn’t coming from the Budd campaign, but an outside group — the kind of national intrusion into state politics that Republicans invited with their unrestricted approach to campaign funding.

Most of all, it’s a reminder that Republicans brought this upon themselves when they courted the worst elements of their base, when they dismissed coarseness as principled passion, when they embraced a president with no boundaries. Now that president and the Republicans he leads have turned on their own with delight. It won’t end with McCrory, and it will discourage decent Republicans from running in the future, further cementing the GOP as a radical and ruined party.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Cawthorn and Trump Settle North Carolina's Hash


A couple of days ago we speculated about what was going on at Mar-a-Lago between Mark Walker, Madison Cawthorn, and DJT. Turns out that political novice Bo Hines was there also, and between the four of them, they've divvied up Congressional seats to keep out of each other's way. (Thanks to Jeffrey Billman at The Primer.)

Bo Hines is migrating his political aspirations (yet again!) from the 7th CD to the 4th, where there's already a bunch of announced Republican candidates, including NC House member John Szoka. (Congrats, John! The Trumpists now consider you toast.)

With Bo Hines gone, Mark Walker has a clearer field for the 7th CD. He, with Trump's blessing, intends to elbow aside another clutch of lesser-known Republicans.

Michelle Woodhouse gets the Cawthorn/Trump nod to take the 14th CD away from both Chuck Edwards and Bruce O'Connell. (Memo to Edwards and O'Connell: toast and toast.)

Young Madison is taking the credit for this master plan, seconded by the ineffable endorsements of Trump.


Monday, December 06, 2021

BREAKING: Appeals Court Halts Candidate Filings


The NC Court of Appeals put a temporary hold on candidates filing in any and all legislative districts covered by the recent remapping -- US Congress, NC House, and NC Senate -- while the court weighs a legal challenge to those districts. How long the hold may last -- that goes unanswered.

Appears that candidates for other local offices can go ahead with filing, which opened today at noon.

Also unclear if the ruling represents the thinking of a 3-judge panel, the whole court, or merely a simple majority.

Watauga County, Allegedly Negligent in Policing The Cottages


A complaint was filed in Watauga County Superior Court last week seeking a declaratory ruling that Watauga County is guilty of its own negligence in that it "has failed to prevent repeated illegal discharges of wastewater that directly compromise the lands and waters within its jurisdiction. These illegal discharges have resulted in over 70,000 gallons of untreated wastewater, and 2.3 million gallons of treated wastewater, to be spilled into local waterways, all released by the Cottages of Boone ... in 2021. As the Cottages repeatedly discharged wastewater in violation of State law, [Watauga County] repeatedly failed to act reactively or proactively to prevent future incidents." "The Cottages of Boone" is a high-density development off Poplar Grove Road with 894 bedrooms that cater to the college student population. 

Plaintiff Adam Zebzda alleges that the county attorney went easy on The Cottages. In October 2021 -- following not one, not two, but three illegal discharges of treated and untreated waste water, some of it raw human sewage -- the county attorney sent a letter to the management and owners of The Cottages notifying them that they had been declared a "public nuisance." The letter said the county was prepared to use its police power to insure that The Cottages clean up its act. The letter did not address any Federal environmental impacts caused by thousands of gallons of student feces flowing untreated into tributaries of the Watauga River. According to the complaint, "independent water quality testing conducted by local environmental organizations revealed e. Coli levels twice the legal limit ... downstream from the Cottages." That was in September 2021.

Instead of following up with civil or even criminal penalties assessed against The Cottages, the county granted a 90-day extension for correcting the "public nuisance." No fines, no civil penalties, "no formal enforcement action."

Deep in the complaint one finds this specific allegation:

There is no possibility that the Defendant [Watauga County] was not aware of the Cottages’ illegal wastewater discharges, due to the extensive local journalistic reporting of the incidents. Further, the Defendant was aware of the community’s significant concern from these incidents, as shown in email correspondence between the Plaintiff and County Manager (Exhibit “F”).

In fact, the Defendant was aware of such significant community concern that it chose to mislead the public. Rather than take actual action to address the Cottages’ environmental threats, the Defendant reported that it had partnered with AppHealthCare to “respond to complaints in support of protecting the health of the public,” as reported by the Watauga Democrat on November 16 of 2021 (Exhibit “G”).

Reporting claimed that “due to ongoing violations, Watauga County has issued civil penalties in the maximum amount allowed by law to the Cottages of Boone for noncompliance,” with the Ordinance. Per the email conversation between the Plaintiff and County Manager, this was proved false as the only penalty was the issuance of another meaningless notice of violation. The Defendant has not yet issued a public correction to its claims. Rather, it chooses to continue misleading the public in an apparent attempt to silence community concern.

Exhibit “F:” Email correspondence between the Plaintiff ( and County Manager Deron Geouque ( in regard to the Cottages of Boone, dated November of 2021

Exhibit “G:” Staff Report. “AppHealthCare, Watauga County Release Statement on Cottages of Boone.” Watauga Democrat, 16 Nov. 2021,