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  • Divide and Conquer

    Supposedly late one night in Tennessee in the 1960’s after the last bottle of bourbon was finished, President Lyndon Baines Johnson said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The quote has been verified however; whether he said it after the last bottle of bourbon was finished is up for debate. President Johnson was from Texas, he grew up in the South and understood the politics of racism from the inside, and he saw it as a ploy to divide and conquer. I have wondered for years how people could be convinced to vote against their own self-interest, and here was President Johnson, putting it out there on how to control some poor, uneducated and uninformed white folks. But those were simpler times, and the people he was referring to could find jobs, manufacturing was strong, imports were not as prevalent, you didn’t need to tell people to “Buy American.” When they bought, they bought American. Equal rights laws were just coming into existence so while it was tough for many whites they were still doing better than most of the best colored men, and people like LBJ knew just how to use that to their advantage. It is apparent that many of our modern day politicians have taken a page or two from President Johnson’s playbook and they have added a few of their own that revolve around several ideological beliefs. Belief number one is that “they” are coming for your guns but we are here to protect that right, the second is that “they” believe in killing babies but we are here to protect babies, then there is the one that “they” are trying to take GOD out of our lives but we are here to protect your religious rights and finally “they” believe that it is okay for same sex marriage and partner rights and we are here to protect the natural order that we believe that GOD has deemed. Now add those strategies to the reality that it is tougher today for the people he was referencing to distinguish themselves as better than the best colored man (black man), brown man or yellow man and that is a problem. Consider President Barack Obama, no matter how hard you try, it is hard to convince yourself that you are better than this colored man that is the Ivy League educated President of the United States. So many are left with questioning his legitimacy as a way to validate their value and they become hell bent on discarding anything that has his fingerprints on it even if it is against their own self-interest. There is no doubt that racism was at the heart of it. However; I would argue that President Johnson’s revelation was more about “classism”, and a way for those with money (the upper class) to control the lower working class without the actual system of aristocracy that existed in Great Britain. The colored man was a convenient pawn. And the upper class has continued to manipulate the lower working class by simply refining their strategies to divide and conquer. In the early 1980’s President Ronald Reagan introduced the concept of “trickle-down economics” convincing many lower working class people that they need to allow companies and the well off to do better. Because when they do better it trickles down to them, and unfortunately some poor, uneducated, uninformed working class people have been waiting since the 1980’s for the economics to trickle-down to them. And that is one of the problems that we now face, because we have not seen trickle-down economics and it has to be somebody’s fault and this is where the ruling class has gotten really good, they have now convinced some poor, working class folks that all of their problems are the result of “them” black, brown and yellow people, you can toss in big government just to add a little spice. They and government are the ones taking your jobs, we did not outsource them; “they” are the ones looking for handouts, while the real numbers show that the largest percentage of entitlements do not go to minorities. And here we are at healthcare repeal and replace, every analysis you find suggests that the proposed changes will affect the poor uneducated folks backing Trump and the Republican Party disproportionately, but we march on because “Obamacare” isn’t good, it can’t be. Remember it came from the illegitimate president, so while it will hurt us to repeal it, it has to go. We have to hope that people in this country wake up before it is too late, not just with healthcare but with many complex issues that we face, that they go back and read the words of President Johnson and remember that there are people out there who believe what he believed: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” People, we have to stop emptying our pockets. Samuel P. Martin, is the Publisher of The Birmingham Times, (Alabama) T

  • School vouchers are not a reliable option

    Public education continues to be challenged by charter schools, budgetary constraints, salary and retention of teachers, resegregation of public schools, changing demographics of schools, public funding, poverty of students and public will for education. Many people in this country would agree that educating children is one of the most important functions of an effective government. In America, primary and secondary schools are mandated to provide a public education to all children without charge and paid for in part by taxpayers. A common belief among supporters of education is that education is important to the growth and development of citizens, and is the core principle in support of our republic and democracy. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools purport that “all children should have the opportunity to achieve at a high level, and charter schools are meeting that need: charter schools are closing the achievement gap. They are raising the bar of what’s possible- and what should be expected – in public education; and a higher percentage of charter students are accepted into a college or university.” If this is true, we should dismantle every public school and send all students to charter schools. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as many charter schools are not meeting this lofty projection and additionally are not available for many students, as charter schools tend to be very selective. Moreover, charter schools don’t have the same oversight as public schools. School boards, administrators and teachers are charged with the responsibility for ensuring every child has access to a high-quality education. Parents expect accountability from educational oversight professionals to evaluate the success of public schools. There are successful charter schools, but there are many that are not successful and are not held to the same standards of public schools. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos supports school choice and believes this is a much better alternative for public schools, an alternative that allows parents to decide where their children will go to school, utilizing public funding. Secretary DeVos said, “We all live with the fact that the current structure of education is outdated and ultimately is not geared toward what is right and best for students. I suggest we focus less on what word comes before ‘school’—whether it be traditional, charter, virtual, magnet, home, parochial, private or any approach yet to be developed – and focus instead on the individuals they are intended to serve. The problem is not how much we’re spending; the problem is the results we’re getting. Charters alone are not sufficient. Private schools alone are not sufficient. Neither are traditional schools.” Secretary DeVos’s argument sounds reasonable. However, a deeper analysis should be undertaken to assess what is not working in underperforming public schools and fix it, rather than taking public dollars and allocating them to an ill-advised voucher system. We agree with Secretary DeVos that what is important is focusing on individual student performance to achieve the results needed for America to compete in a global economy driven by science, reading and math. The concept advocated by DeVos is based on educational choices. Unfortunately, choice alone is pointless when quality is absent from those choices. A key question to ask is: Will the proposed “voucher system” have sufficient dollars for to pay for school choice and be equal to or greater than a taxpayer funded public education? There is no easy answer to public education. Charter schools are not the answer. The secondary question: How effective are charter schools? The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University Institute linked overall improvement of the charter school sector to charter school closures, suggesting that while charter schools as a whole are not getting better, the closure of bad schools is improving the public system as a whole. This fragmented system of education is not what is needed to improve student performance. With a greater focus on improving our communities, we also improve education. In other words, public schools are a reflection of the communities they serve and deserve full public funding, not school vouchers that have not proven to be a reliable equalizer for an equitable public education.

  • Do the right thing

    President Trump has made the decision to reverse the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA program), putting more than three-quarters of a million young people at risk for deportation. So how did we get to this point? In 2001 Congress introduced the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known widely as the DREAM Act, to assist individuals who met specific requirements and gave them the opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college to have a path to citizenship. This Act has failed to pass Congress after many attempts. Former President Obama announced on June 15, 2012, that his administration would no longer deport illegal immigrants who matched certain criteria outlined in the proposed DREAM Act. From 2012 to 2017, about 800,000 people have registered through DACA, giving them a reprieve from deportation. To deport these people who have lived as Americans is wrong and places yet another racist stain on America. Have we not learned from slavery, from the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, and from the Trail of Tears when we forced the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands? This is not the America we believe in. Americans don’t punish children for an act over which they had no control. The DREAMERS were raised in America, and many have completed their education, they serve in our armed forces and they contribute to the mosaic that is America. U.S Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, said it best: “We as Americans do not hold children legally accountable for the actions of their parents.” He went on to say, “We must confront the nation’s out-of-date immigration policy.” We agree. Our elected leaders have to enact laws that are humane and respectful of children whose parents brought them to the United States. “President Trump’s decision to end DACA should break the hearts and offend the morals of all who believe in justice and human dignity,” said U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California. “This cruel act of political cowardice deals a stunning blow to the bright young Dreamer’s and to everyone who cherishes the American Dream.” Let’s be clear. The president is catering to his base with the ending of DACA and the six-month delay; yet he is right to challenge Congress to take on this tough legislation and do the right thing. A critical question is:” What happens at the end of the six-month period if Congress fails to pass legislation on this important issue?” The stakes are high and this Congress has yet to pass any significant legislation since Trump’s inauguration. The president has said he “loves the dreamers” and yet has made this decision to end DACA and create great anxiety for people who deserve a definitive decision on their future. We don’t argue that there is accountability on both sides. But we strongly believe that the president and Congress need to show leadership and not play political football with the lives of people who have and, if given the opportunity, will continue to contribute to the greatness of America.

  • White supremacy and civil war monuments

    My thoughts and feeling about the recent demonstration and violence in Charlottesville and the events that followed are like the rivulets in a delta, crisscrossing in a haphazard way, but in the end, all headed to the same place. That place is that white supremacy, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and violence against people, to terrorize them or because of their beliefs, are all antithetical to democratic values and to human decency. There can be no innocent or good participation in them. The series of events of the week left me swirling. They included: The Charlottesville white supremacist protest and the counter-protests; The increasingly common, protester caused, death by automobile of a young woman; Overt anti-Semitism by the marchers, and a report of the fear and courage of one Charlottesville Jewish synagogue; The emotional, thoughtful and intense reaction of my own Beth El congregation; My reflections on the relative privilege and security of American Jews; The moral ambiguity of response of President Trump—and his dog whistle, or overt, condoning of white nationalism; The toppling of a confederate statue in Durham, and the false rumors of a KKK march; My late-to-the-game understanding of the history of the erection of these Civil War monuments, and their intended statement of white supremacy; and My own, coincidental, trip to the Crockett—Miller Slave Quarters outside New Bern. Monuments: I am convinced that the Civil War monuments were primarily erected as a statement of white supremacy, intended to remind the black residents of the American South of white control and to intimidate them. The Durham monument was erected at the County Courthouse in 1924, in the Jim Crow era of NC. To say monuments should be preserved as a lesson in Civil War history is like saying we should have monuments honoring Hitler to remind us of the horror of the Shoah. Free Speech: Though I vehemently disagree with the tenets of this alt-right movement, I defend their right to have those beliefs, to speak and to march. But they do not have a right to incite, encourage or engage in violence. Honestly, I also have a problem with their right to publicly spew or teach hate, which should be clearly condemned by leaders of all stripes. But if speech doesn’t incite violence, I don’t think it should be officially punished. It’s a harder question for me how private people should respond. For example, is it okay for private employers to fire employees who spew hate on their off time, but don’t bring their hate or violence into the workplace? Jews: We are on the inside and on the outside in America now. We are, relatively speaking, well educated, well-resourced and positioned well to have our voices heard. So, it’s hard to imagine that in this part of the 21st century, Jews will be the target of de jure or widespread oppression. But isn’t this what the Jews in Germany thought in the early 1930’s? Jews rightfully feel anguish at the rise in overt anti-Semitism in America today. So how can we appropriately be self-protective, without putting our angst at the center? We need to respond both self-protectively as Jews and courageously as Americans who have a duty toward people of color, immigrants and Muslims who are more vulnerable and less secure than we are. Perhaps this is an opportunity for an authentic alliance between Jewish communities and other groups that are targets of white supremacist hate. The President: What seems important about his moral ambivalence and his condoning or support of white supremacy, is that we prevent his messages from normalizing these ideas and activities and that we prevent white nationalism from becoming a legitimate movement. Rumors: It seems likely people connected with the people that toppled the Confederate statue in Durham started the false rumors of a KKK march in Durham on Friday. I am not sure what information backed up their tweets, but being part of a just cause doesn’t make it acceptable to be irresponsible. These rumors bred significant anxiety and disruption in Durham. They have a “cry wolf” effect. Next time, we will all take them less seriously, even if next time we need to be taking precautions. Neither side should use social media to spread unsubstantiated rumors. More on Monuments: By coincidence, a week after the march in Charlottesville I spent a morning in New Bern at the Crockett Miller Slave Quarters and the adjacent cemetery, which houses the remains of 522 former slaves and freed men in unmarked graves. Ben Watford has spent his retirement preserving this history. He was informative, and his sincerity was deeply moving. He told us about the realities of slave life; how Union General Burnside took in the thousands of runaway slaves who sought protection during the Civil War; life in the Jim Crow South; his own life growing up poor and black in Hertford County in the 1930’s and 40’s; and how the US Marines carelessly “lost” the grave markers for 521 of the black people buried in the cemetery when they were building Cherry Point in 1941. He told us all of this without bitterness, but with commitment to the need to understand the truth of these times and the human causes and impacts of these events. These physical remains are the monuments that need to be preserved, and we and our children need to reckon with that history. Leslie Winner, former Executive Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and former N.C. Senator TWEE

  • Hate should have no place in our nation

    The violent events that transpired in Charlottesville were very disturbing and a terrible sign for our country and the nation. Three people lost their lives. Heather Heyer and Virginia State Troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates were killed during the hate-filled rally. We like to think that the great majority of Americans don’t exhibit the kind of hate we saw on full display in Charlottesville. We know there is racism and bigotry in our country. We witnessed the vile names former president Barack Obama was called, along with the bigotry towards his wife and children. We witnessed the shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on the evening of June 17, 2015. During a prayer service, nine people (including the senior pastor, state Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney) were killed by gunman Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist. Roof confessed to the shootings in hopes of starting a race war. And now Charlottesville. Three vivid examples of racial hate in our nation. Some have argued there are a small number of people who harbor these types of hate. Some argue that the election of America’s first black president was the tipping point for some who are concerned with losing the country. When we hear people say, “Take our country back,” the question is, take it back from whom? Other Americans? This is a dog-whistle for some that America should continue to be a white-ethnocentric nation. The truth is, the diversity in our nation makes us the most unique nation in the world and has led to America being the greatest nation the world has ever seen. The nation will continue to grow and become even more diverse. All we need do is look at the children being born in this nation. The Public School Review reports: “It has been an ongoing trend for nearly two decades—while the total number of students in American public schools has risen, the percentage of those students who are white has steadily fallen.” According to the Pew Research Center, in 1997, over 63 percent of the 46.1 million U.S. public school students were white. Today, white students comprise just 49.7 percent of the 50 million students enrolled.” This fact may contribute to the hysteria and hate of the alt-right, Nazi, white supremacist and KKK marchers as they shouted, “Jews will not replace us. Blacks will not replace us.” These comments from the marchers indicate an underlying fear that they are losing their position as the majority group in the United States and thus are espousing hate against Jews and blacks. When you evaluate hate groups in the United States, you may be surprised to know they reside in every state in the Union. Led by California’s 79 hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports there are 917 hate groups in the United States. Surprisingly South Carolina has a low number of 12 and Florida has 63. The growth of hate groups peaked in 2011 at 1,018 and declined by 25% or 234 in 2014; and grew by 133 groups or 17% in 2016. Mind you, these groups represent anti-Muslim, KKK, anti-government and black separatist groups. Hate is hate, regardless of who promotes it. The question is, what can be done about this, given the lack of moral leadership from our elected president and Congress? The answer is, we the people have to step up and hold our lawmakers accountable and replace them if they lack the moral courage to do what is right. We the people have to set the example of loving thy neighbor for our children, for young people and each other to build bridges of respect, while rejecting hate. We must join together with our work colleagues, our churches, our institutions of higher learning, our schools and our neighbors, and fellow countryman. We cannot afford to allow fringe groups to hijack our nation with hate. We have to show each other and the world that we are a nation of immigrants and we continue to be exceptional by resolving our differences in a respectful and collaborative way. We are an exceptional nation, and it is up to us to maintain our exceptionalism.

  • Why Congress hates Medicare for All

    Health insurance companies provide Republicans and Democrats in Congress with inordinately large campaign contributions. The health insurance lobbyists spend lavishly on our US Representatives and Senators. Improved Medicare for All would put health insurance companies out of business and would end the money on which our representatives depend. Thirty-seven countries spend less on health care and have better outcomes than we do in the US. For the most part, those countries have modeled their health care systems on the US Medicare model. Moving all citizens to Improved Medicare for All would be a no brainer. The system is already in place. Here’s what Improved Medicare for All would look like. All citizens would be issued Medicare cards at birth. In addition to covering traditional health care and preventive services, eye care, dental and hearing would be covered. Emergency, hospital and doctor’s office services would be covered. There would be no premium to pay, no co-pays and no deductible. Did you read that last sentence? There would be no premium to pay, no co-pays and no deductible. To get health care services, you would simply present your Medicare card. This is how it would be paid for. Currently, the insurance companies pay about 80 cents of every dollar they take in for health care. Of that 80 cents, 30 cents is spent by the doctor’s office (or hospital, etc.) to seek approval for services or file claims ( That leaves 50 cents to spend on actual health services. With Improved Medicare for All, approximately 2 cents would be spent by the doctor’s office to file a claim for payment. That leaves 98 cents to spend on actual health care. As outlined in House Bill H.R.676, Improved Medicare for All would be paid for with a progressive tax. The top 60% of wage earners would pay 6%. The remaining 40% (earning about $53,000/year or less) would pay a 3% payroll tax. Employers would also contribute. ( H.R.676 is the Improved Medicare for All bill that has been introduced in the House. More than 100 of our representatives are co-sponsors of the bill. Unfortunately, very few of them are likely to vote for it. In 2012, the health care industry provided our representatives with nearly $59 million in campaign contributions ( Our lawmakers are not going to give up that money easily. Our only solution might be to remove all incumbents from office in 2018 and replace them with people who will commit to voting for H.R.676. Remember, they were elected to work for us, not for the health care industry. The time and energy Congress has spent to desperately help health insurance companies with “repeal and replace” is tragic. Improved Medicare for All is the easiest and most logical fix. It just makes sense. Improved Medicare for All is a no brainer. Please read more about it at Beth Jezek Beth Jezek is retired and lives in Asheville

  • Don’t ever underestimate importance of education

    Not very long ago in a county not very far away, I stopped at one of those strip malls, the kind lined with ugly, squat storefronts that were punched out in assembly-line quantities during the late 70s and early 80s. The kind of strip mall where one month said storefront might be a restaurant, the next month a chain video store, the next a tattoo parlor and, finally, just the next in a line of boarded-up windows. This particular strip at this particular time was enjoying a bout of prosperity and featured a pretty good pizza place and a decent Chinese restaurant, separated by, if I remember correctly, an accounting firm. The wife had requested I pick up some something on the way home, so I’d phoned into the Chinese place. I’d parked and was walking toward it when I saw a gentleman lurking around the front of the place, cupping his hands and trying to peer inside. (For whatever reason, a lot of restaurants seem to have a limited budget for lighting. That, combined with the aged, thick plate glass, made it almost impossible to discern what was on the other side of the glass at this particular establishment). Back to the story: This guy was acting hinky as all get-out, furtively trying to peek in, shuffling around, trying again. After years spent working in downtown Asheville, I’d developed a pretty good eye for panhandlers and folks with, shall we say, behavioral disorders. This was different. The man was about my age, was wearing clean if a bit-dated clothes. And something was clearly making him jumpy. I was reaching for the door when he turned to me. Bracing for a tale about his car being broken down and needing money for a bus ticket, this instead is what I got: “Is this the pizza place?’’ A pause as he lowered his head a bit before looking up again. “I can’t read.’’ If you ever start feeling sorry for yourself, remember that story. I sure do. I don’t know how this particular gentleman fell through the cracks, how he came to find himself in the most prosperous nation in the history of the planet without a survival skill most of us take for granted. I didn’t ask. I steered him to the pizza place, got the eggrolls and went home. I did feel like I’d been gut-punched. Do every time I think of it. I guess, in a way, that tale is a bit reassuring. There was a time in this state when education was slipshod. In the earlier part of the 1800s, North Carolina, where huge swaths of the populace couldn’t read, was considered the most poorly educated state in the South. Forward-looking leaders recognized this, took steps to boost public education, and by the outbreak of the Civil War the Tar Heel state was considered one of the best-educated. Education efforts ran in fits and starts after the war and during reconstruction, but boomed at the turn of the century, when the state embarked on a massive school-construction program that churned out the average of about one new school house a day between 1900 and 1910. Longer school years, free textbooks, school lunches and the like were bricks added to the education foundation as time went along. So now we take it for granted. But with a new school year set to begin, we shouldn’t. We should realize it took a lot of effort, foresight and political courage to get to where we are today, enjoying an enviable public education system. And it’s dangerous to assume it will always be there. It took work to build. In a very real sense, much of that work is under assault. All it takes is neglect – ho-humming when funding gets cut or shifted, when civics or art gets dropped to save a dime, for example – to let that work be chipped away. That chipping away has begun. Some of it, seeking alternatives to public schools that are truly broken, is acceptable. Some of it, the folks wanting to switch the pot of public money that represents about two-thirds of the state budget into unaccountable private hands, is largely not. There’s a cottage industry out there that spends its days vilifying teachers and administrators, tarring honorable people, for little reason but a desire to get their mitts on that pot of gold. As school starts back, keep that in mind. We’re fortunate in Western North Carolina to have communities that wholeheartedly back their public schools. Remember to say so to a teacher. Public education is something we can’t afford to lose. The results would be bad. The outcome, at least as I experienced that day not so long ago, looks pretty damned uncomfortable. Jim Buchanan is projects editor for The Sylva Herald. Published with permission from The Sylva Herald.

  • A profane star shoots across our screen, fizzles out

    “The Mooch showed up a week ago,” a foul-mouthed Anthony Scaramucci told a New Yorker writer last week. It was perhaps the only sentence he spoke not bristling with more profanities than there are fruit in a fruitcake. I was shocked, and I’m no sweet innocent lass with a pure tongue. In truth, my language is sometimes overly salty for good company. But The Mooch surpasses anything I’ve ever heard when it comes to sheer crudeness and mind-boggling nastiness. Somebody needs to stick a bar of soap in that guy’s mouth. Then, this same somebody should inform The Mooch, that swaggering sack of self-adulation, he might at least feign humility by speaking in first, not third, person when referring to himself. Who does he think he is, the president of the United States? You might remember The Donald, during his campaign, talked about women’s private parts in the most vulgar of ways. The Mooch’s comments to the New Yorker, however, The Donald ever-so-piously deemed “inappropriate.” Here is the key takeaway, boys and girls: Men’s dingalongs are unmentionables. Women’s privates, however? Fair game. The Donald selected The Mooch despite The Mooch’s coming across like a bad caricature of “The Fonz,” he of Henry Winkler sitcom-television fame. The Mooch even sort of looks like The Fonz. There’s the coiffed hair, that slick, slimy look, an overlay of untempered, heedless bravado. Now, of course, The Donald has sacked The Mooch, a mere 10 days after appointing him White House communications director. Scaramucci, I barely had time to learn how to spell your name, and poof, you are gone. When these two men were conversing, surely The Mooch, to have won The Donald’s appointment to such an illustrious, important post – spokesman for the most powerful person in the world, at least before we lost the world’s respect – must have spoken sans language that included [delete], [delete] and [delete], or [delete], [delete] and [delete]. And The Mooch, while in The Donald’s presence, must have never threatened people as he publicly threatened other White House staff members. “The Mooch showed up a week ago,” a foul-mouthed Anthony Scaramucci told a New Yorker writer last week. It was perhaps the only sentence he spoke not bristling with more profanities than there are fruit in a fruitcake. I was shocked, and I’m no sweet innocent lass with a pure tongue. In truth, my language is sometimes overly salty for good company. But The Mooch surpasses anything I’ve ever heard when it comes to sheer crudeness and mind-boggling nastiness. Somebody needs to stick a bar of soap in that guy’s mouth. Then, this same somebody should inform The Mooch, that swaggering sack of self-adulation, he might at least feign humility by speaking in first, not third, person when referring to himself. Who does he think he is, the president of the United States? You might remember The Donald, during his campaign, talked about women’s private parts in the most vulgar of ways. The Mooch’s comments to the New Yorker, however, The Donald ever-so-piously deemed “inappropriate.” Here is the key takeaway, boys and girls: Men’s dingalongs are unmentionables. Women’s privates, however? Fair game. The Donald selected The Mooch despite The Mooch’s coming across like a bad caricature of “The Fonz,” he of Henry Winkler sitcom-television fame. The Mooch even sort of looks like The Fonz. There’s the coiffed hair, that slick, slimy look, an overlay of untempered, heedless bravado. Now, of course, The Donald has sacked The Mooch, a mere 10 days after appointing him White House communications director. Scaramucci, I barely had time to learn how to spell your name, and poof, you are gone. When these two men were conversing, surely The Mooch, to have won The Donald’s appointment to such an illustrious, important post – spokesman for the most powerful person in the world, at least before we lost the world’s respect – must have spoken sans language that included [delete], [delete] and [delete], or [delete], [delete] and [delete]. And The Mooch, while in The Donald’s presence, must have never threatened people as he publicly threatened other White House staff members. Here is the second takeaway, boys and girls: There is no sin in acting and thinking like a lout; in fact, you can aspire to hold one of the most public positions imaginable. Just make sure you tone it down, won’t you, when talking to reporters who, while taking a breather from making up fake news, might just record and publish your remarks. I’m relieved The Good General, new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, apparently forced The Donald to exfoliate The Mooch, perhaps as a condition of employment … “It’s The Mooch or me, boss. You gotta choose.” But, I’m doubtful Our Last Hope can curb The Donald’s excesses for long, or successfully quash The Donald’s compulsion to tweet whatever floats through his head. We can pray, however, The Good General can successfully turn The Donald’s attention away from The Manly Man in Russia and toward North Korea, where The Great Leader, Kim Jong Un, seems to have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching, The Madman says, “the whole U.S. mainland.” This raises the unpalatable possibility we, The American People, could wake up one fine morning only to find ourselves Blown to Bits. Quintin Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald. Published with permission from The Sylva Herald.

  • Fox showed a civility that is sorely lacking

    In February, The Sylva Herald featured Phyllis Fox on the front page; it was to join with town of Sylva officials in honoring the pioneering, female small-business owner for receiving the annual Volunteer Service Citizen of the Year award. Everyone, including Phyllis, knew because of cancer, her time could be limited. Indeed, this fine person left the good earth on July 19 at age 75. The ceremony I attended that night at Town Hall was joyful, however, not sad. The gathering served as an opportunity to highlight Phyllis’ devotion to the town, honor her work with young people and celebrate her efforts on behalf of numerous groups and programs. She was co-owner of Sylva Insurance Agency for more than 50 years; served on the local hospital board; spearheaded downtown revitalization efforts; helped found the Jackson County Athletic Hall of Fame; and much, much more than I could possibly list here. She had tears in her eyes. I didn’t know Phyllis particularly well, but her tearing up made me tear up, too. She was so clearly and openly touched by the outpouring of respect and love. What struck me, too, was the complete absence of, the total irrelevance toward, the absolute who-gives-a-darn about partisan politics. No one gave it a thought. It simply did not matter. Phyllis was a diehard Republican. She served for years as local party chair. Most of those who were so proudly touting her accomplishments? They are equally devoted Democrats. Phyllis was a delightful person, said Frank Burrell, a former Jackson County school superintendent and Sylva-Webster High School principal. He serves as chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Party. “She was special. I can’t say enough about her,” he said. I called him to check the accuracy of my line of thought: This political polarization we are experiencing isn’t necessary. People can respect and enjoy those of different persuasions, while holding firm to and fighting for one’s beliefs … as Phyllis Fox helped demonstrate. Frank agreed, saying he thought I was onto something worth pursuing. So I’m trying, though I admit it’s difficult to fully articulate what I’ve been pondering on since she died. No, since before she died. I’m weary of watching Americans being so blasted hateful toward one another, because one is a Democrat, another is a Republican. And within those two broad categories, liberals fighting with moderates; moderate conservatives fighting with hardline conservatives. Frank and Phyllis had fundamental disagreements, politically speaking. But, they didn’t throw their individual, so-called “values” in each other’s faces in vain attempts to gain some nonexistent moral high ground. Because, actually, these two shared basic values. A belief in selfless community service; respect for every individual; giving children opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. If it was about helping kids, Phyllis was a veritable ball of energy, according to Frank, who likewise devoted his professional career to the same pursuit. “When I was at the high school, when we started a boosters’ club, she worked tirelessly to see it through. Any project, she was always willing to help. She just thought about the kids, that came first for her,” he said. Burrell hesitated, then said he figures Phyllis probably worked as hard to advance Republican ideals. He said, “whatever she focused on, she went full bore.” “Phyllis was a strong Republican. But, I never saw that side,” he said. “She could rise above. We never had a problem.” Quintin Ellison is editor of The Sylva Herald. Published with permission from The Sylva Herald.

  • Time to Fully Fund Our Environmental Watchdog

    Governor Roy Cooper has asked the General Assembly during its Aug. 3 special session to approve about $3 million in emergency funding to pay for investigation and regulation of threats to the state’s drinking water. Good for him. The Wilmington StarNews reported in June that the Chemours plant in Fayetteville was discharging the unregulated contaminant GenX into the Cape Fear River, a water source for New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick counties. Cooper directed the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to investigate. After their intervention, Chemours voluntarily stopped releasing GenX. GenX is in the same fluorochemical family of man-made compounds as C8, which has been linked to cancer. Researchers found in 1999-2000 that 99.7 percent of Americans already had C8 in their blood, exposed through a variety of sources, including Teflon, Scotchgard, and firefighting foam. GenX replaced C8 in 2009 after lawsuits contended that drinking water contaminated with C8 caused cancer. DuPont and its spinoff company Chemours was ordered to pay a $670.7 million settlement for releasing C8 into the air and Ohio River since the 1950s. The federal Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to write the regulations to implement the Act and sets clean water standards. The EPA delegates regulation of the Act to the state. In recent years, North Carolina’s legislature has diminished this regulatory power by systematically defunding and dismantling the DEQ. There are simply fewer regulators, according to a 2015 EPA audit of how DEQ implements the permitting process that allows Chemours to discharge into the river. The backlog of permits continued and Chemours’ permit expired in October 2016. Chemours is now capturing and shipping GenX to Arkansas for incineration. Cooper has said the state would issue a new permit, but would not allow the company to release GenX. Chemours discharged the compound under a loophole written into a 2009 EPA consent order. The document stated that GenX was so toxic that it could not be discharged under one manufacturing process, but could be released in undetermined amounts under another as a byproduct. For people exposed to the chemical since 1980, when the plant first starting releasing GenX, long-term exposure remains a concern. Dr. Detlef Knappe, one of the authors of the published research that led to the initial StarNews story, told attendees at a June 29 public forum in Wilmington that even at very low levels, GenX and similar compounds could remain in the body and accumulate for a long time especially if people continue to ingest them. GenX also isn’t the only unregulated contaminant found in the state’s drinking water sources. New Hanover’s Sweeney plant effectively treats most of the 1.4- dioxyene in the Cape Fear, Dr. Knappe said, but it is a concern for communities upstream on the Haw River. Chromium 6 has been found in private drinking water wells near coal ash plants. Dr. Knappe’s group also found six other compounds related to GenX in the Cape Fear. Chemicals are entering the environment continually, Dr. Knappe said, and it’s difficult for researchers to identify them since information about their structures is confidential business information. Dr. Knappe’s study was based on samples taken beginning in 2012. What levels of GenX were in the water before then? There is no available public data. Cooper has asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to undertake a public health assessment of any potential long-term health effects of GenX. This also is a positive step. Before the General Assembly approves Cooper’s request, legislators who in June delivered about $1.8 million in budget cuts for 2018-2019 to DEQ will have to perform the political equivalent of turning around an oil tanker in the Cape Fear. But it can be done. After StarNews reporter Vaughn Hagerty’s first story on GenX in the Cape Fear appeared June 7, a lightning-swift grassroots reaction spread throughout the community. Wilmington Democratic Mayor Bill Saffo and Woody White, Republican chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, presented a united front against Chemours. Following Chemours’ disclosure that they were intentionally releasing GenX, White and Saffo emerged from the meeting with a palpable, shared outrage. They jointly advocated for answers and called for Chemours to stop all discharge. This has occurred and levels of the chemical have dropped below the goal established by NC DHHS. Legislators have loosened controls on businesses in recent years, in an attempt to stimulate economic growth. But at what cost? Legislators should swiftly approve Cooper’s request.

  • POTUS, He zigs and zags

    Understanding Donald Trump’s behavior has left most of the political class a bit befuddled. As journalists and pundits have documented, President Trump doesn’t adhere to previously agreed-upon norms of civility, doesn’t follow a clear policy path, and communicates in a style that he calls “modern-day presidential” but that most view as beneath the office he holds. When we expect Trump to zig, he zags. When we expect him to cower, he lashes out. When we expect him to join hands with members of his party, he attacks them. One reason we find Trump’s actions so confusing is that those of us who study, follow and weigh in on politics have assumed that he is motivated by the usual goals. The traditional view of politicians holds that their primary goal is re-election. Applying this view, we would expect Trump to be disturbed by his record-high disapproval ratings. After all, it’s difficult to get re-elected if more than 55 percent of Americans do not approve of your behavior. This doesn’t appear to hold for Trump, however. Rather than stopping the actions that have resulted in a record-low approval, he’s instead continued (or even accelerated) them. Another, more high-minded, view of politicians is that they pursue policy goals in service of an ideology. Take Paul Ryan, for example. Regardless of whether you approve or disapprove of the speaker of the house, it is clear that he pursues a consistent set of policy priorities. And these policy priorities are in service of a particular view of the proper role of government. Once again, however, this doesn’t seem to apply to President Trump. Instead, Trump pursues different policy goals, depending on the day (and often, depending on the time of day). When one policy seems intractable, he merely pursues another one. Some have offered a more sinister view of Trump’s motivations—arguing that his primary motivation as president is to make more money. While this might make good fodder for left-leaning conspiracy theorists, I don’t believe this explains his actions. After all, if making money was his primary goal, he would have been foolish to run for office. Yes, he may be making money by having foreign diplomats stay in his hotels, but even that profit pales in comparison to what he would make were he still officially at the helm of the Trump organization and spending all of his time running that empire. So, if it’s not re-election, good public policy or wealth, what is Trump’s primary goal? After six months of observing his presidency, I offer that his primary goal is to take the scarcest non-renewable resource in American public life—attention. From appointing his family to high-level positions, to the bottomless trough of outlandish tweets, to his seemingly ill-timed golf outings, the vast majority of Trump’s behavior seems to be aimed at simply drawing our collective attention to him and his actions. If attention is his goal, Trump has had a successful presidency. As just one simple example, on July 26, Trump’s name appeared 26 times on the first page of and 24 times on the front page of New York The only other person mentioned more than once was John McCain, who, despite returning to the Senate after a diagnosis of brain cancer, was mentioned just four times. Understanding Trump’s motivation helps make sense of a presidency that often seems aimless and distracted. It also helps us predict (and therefore understand) when he is likely to make seemly unpredictable speeches or responses. Most importantly, it can remind even his most vehement detractors that Donald Trump is not a man without purpose. He is not a man who is acting out of ignorance. And he is not exhibiting irrational behavior. He is simply a man who has an unusual goal that he is reaching with remarkable success. Christopher Cooper is professor and head of the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University.

  • Voter Integrity push launches, crashes

    So the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity has issued a request for voter information from the states, and the result so far has pretty much been like the scenes from a “Roadrunner’’ cartoon after Wile E. Coyote has opened up his latest package from the Acme Corporation. As in, it’s blown up in ol’ Integrity’s face. This is understandable, as the information asked for by the Commission more or less parallels the information requested in an e-mail from a deposed Nigerian prince hoping you’ll help sneak his fortune out of the country (with a hefty cut for yourself, after a small investment on your part). As in: “dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.” As of this writing 44 states had, to varying degrees, turned down the request. Two states told the commission to jump in a lake. (Technically, one lake and the Gulf of Mexico). North Carolina’s letter was sent to Elaine Marshall. Elaine Marshall is North Carolina Secretary of State. The North Carolina Secretary of State doesn’t handle elections. The people who do said they’d be happy to provide info that was already publicly available. Now, the big Commission O’ Integrity was set up, in my view, to provide some cover for the current president’s claims that millions upon millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election. Claims that have zero proof. Claims that have always had zero proof. To review, back in the early 2000’s, various groups set out to say people were voting illegally left and right, or illegals were voting left and right. The Bush administration set out on a scorched-earth campaign to prove the claims accurate, firing a number of U.S. attorneys who weren’t enthusiastic enough in the hunt along the way. When all was said and done, a five-year voter fraud probe yielded 86 criminal convictions, many of which appeared to have more to do with people filling out paperwork wrong on misinterpreting eligibility rules. A later study from Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School found 31 cases of voter impersonation between 2000 and 2014. That’s out of more that one billion votes cast, a rate of one per every 32 million votes cast. There’s a reason for that. In-person voter fraud, long the case for Voter ID laws, is stupid. The odds of an election official knowing the person you’re trying to vote for, or knowing you, are fairly high, especially in intimate smaller precincts such as can be found here. It reminds me of the story of Reggie Harding, a 7-foot-tall former NBA player back in the early 1960s who turned to crime. He put on a mask and tried to rob a local establishment, which prompted the clerk to take one look at the 7-foot-tall thief and say “I know that’s you, Reggie.’’ The quick-witted Harding replied, “It ain’t me, man.” But the voter-fraud theory has arisen again, featuring a great many of the players who have been pushing it for a living all along. A new darling in those circles is a fellow named Chris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, who co-chairs the Integrity group. Kobach favors a multistate database of voter information (I assume the info request from the commission would establish a national database) called Crosscheck. In theory Crosscheck sounds great – it matches birthdates and names, and flags anyone who looks like they’re double-registered. In practice, researchers recently found it spits out 200 false positive for every voter who’s legitimately crossed the line. Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School told The Washington Post an expanded Crosscheck would be “a recipe for massive amounts of error … when you’ve got hundreds of millions of records, and thousands of John Smiths, trying to figure out which of them is your John Smith without making a mistake is well nigh impossible.” Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t sound like much of a way to restore integrity to elections. Then again, it would take some integrity to restore some integrity. At least the states are showing some in this episode. Jim Buchanan is special projects editor for the Sylva Herald. Published with permission from The Sylva Herald.

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