Thursday, October 25, 2007

Column for Oct. 25, 2007

The whack jobs are coming to Johnston County

This Saturday, Johnston County will be invaded by bats. Not the type that are mice with wings, but the sort that are affectionately referred to by some conservatives as "moonbats". I don't take direction from any conservative group or individual to form my opinions, but I am all for agreeing with an apt descriptor if it fits. And in this case, it does.

Every so often, you will see people protesting along Highway 70 in Smithfield near the Johnston County Airport. There is a big rally planned for this Saturday in downtown Smithfield as well as a protest at the gates of the airport. The wing nuts at "NC Stop Torture Now" sometimes stand outside the gates of the airport to protest against Aero Contractors, Inc. Aero Contractors is a business that provides essentially a taxi service for the U.S. government. They provide transportation for prisoners of war (or if you prefer, enemy combatants) to and from Guantanamo, Cuba for alleged CIA directed missions.

These moonbats claim that the flights that the CIA charters are for the purpose of transporting prisoners for the purpose of torturing them. Keep in mind that these torturous acts are alleged, not proven. People think that somehow protesting a taxi service is going to stop CIA activities. As a matter of fact, looking at the event sponsors, I see groups that are activists that protest and boycott companies like R.J. Reynolds because some illegal alien laborers have died in fields while planting or picking tobacco. R.J. Reynolds has nothing to do with the planting and harvesting of tobacco; they purchase the harvested crop and process it. The same concept baffled my mind when organizations started boycotts against Mount Olive because farmers from whom they bought cucumbers hired illegal aliens under working conditions not conducive to their personal favorable opinions.

Some event sponsors have put out allegedly theologically authoritative treatises on the idea of these CIA flights, but their position paper claiming to be a religious perspective relies on quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. instead of Biblical quotations. When I see more quotes from a man or an agenda than from the standard for the religion itself, I lend little credence to the document or its author.

Many of the rally sponsors are groups that are known to be theologically liberal groups that preach a social gospel rather than a Biblical standard, groups that are known communists and socialists such as Code Pink, impeachment advocates, Amnesty International, and the like. That alone would turn me off to their message.

I am not going to get into a debate over whether or not torture is a viable means of intelligence gathering or even ethical. I don't have sufficient space to get into that in my column. I will say that I do not for one minute consider what many liberal whining protesters call torture to be actual torture. Our CIA does not exactly get medieval on prisoners and the detainees don't exactly look like they were just staying in a hostel in Slovakia (a la the movie "Hostel"). If it were the case, we would be hearing about it both loud and often. As it is, waterboarding, humiliation, and sleep deprivation are far from barbarous acts that maim and kill and not considered torture in any rational individual's consideration. Besides that, radical Islamists think nothing of beheading and actually torturing our soldiers, civilians, and contractors in the Middle East. Ergo, I have little sympathy that Abdul had to put ladies' underwear on his head or went without sleep for the last 48 hours.

To me, protesting a taxi service is like protesting against Ford Motor Company that people use their cars to drive drunk, or protesting Yellow Cab and Greyhound because rapists and murderers use their transportation services to flee a crime scene or jurisdiction.

I have had my Christian faith questioned by these same whack jobs, since I am not willing to come out and condemn these flights out of little old Johnston County Airport. I am all for Aero Contractors making a living off from providing transportation services, regardless of for whom. Hey, I wish I could get in on that lucrative business deal myself. I have no problem flying old Abdul around in a private jet. The pilots don't engage in alleged torture, they fly the plane, which is what they are being paid to do. If you want to stop torture and the CIA run operation, try protesting in Washington DC or CIA headquarters.

I am not going to stop eating cucumbers or buy Mount Olive pickles because some immigrants are working in harsh conditions in harvest fields. I am certainly not going to stop supporting private businesses prospering at our local airport for providing a shuttle service. Actually, I may very well bring my bullhorn and work as a counter protester in favor of common sense.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Column for Oct 18, 2007

Change the charter, change the town for the better

Every odd numbered year, there are elections in municipalities across the state. Some have already transpired, others are yet to come. I love local government and always have. It is interesting to see how different towns in North Carolina and even across different states run their affairs. What I enjoy about local government is the "hands on" ability, especially in smaller towns. I have kept watch on some elections in towns that are of personal interest to me.

In my capacity as a technician for a very large media company (company policy strongly discourages me mentioning their name, though it is not specific to me alone), I travel frequently across North Carolina. On Monday, I got to travel to Fayetteville to do some work and see the various election signs in different towns. Some towns, because of their size, have different districts or wards, depending on what they happen to be called in that municipality. I am a big fan of district voting, especially when it comes to county elections, and even for municipal elections.

Several weeks ago, I documented a problem with an annexation ordinance passed earlier this year, as there was no two-thirds majority vote on the first introduction of the ordinance for a vote and there was no second vote within 90 days. That is one problem that could have possibly been alleviated with something I have advocated for Selma for some time.

According to Selma's town charter, "The Town Council, hereinafter referred to as the "Council", shall be the governing body of the Town. The Council shall be composed of four (4) members and the Mayor. Four (4) Council Members shall be elected at large by all the qualified voters of the Town for staggered terms of four (4) years or until their successors are elected and qualified. The mayor shall be elected by all the qualified voters of the Town for a term of two (2) years or until his or her successor is elected and qualified." I am not a fan of at large elections, except for those positions that make sense to have at large voting because of the breadth of the constituency.

Having true district elections in a town such as Selma would allow citizens to have a more direct influence on their elected officials and foster an even closer connection to Town Hall. It is also, in my opinion, more in the true spirit of a representative republic. This concept works well for other towns, and I feel it would work better for Selma.

There are currently two election precincts in Selma. The east precinct is about twice the size of the west precinct, based upon simple population and registered voters. What I propose for consideration is that the town seek to amend its town charter to increase its electorate numbers and at the same time, subdivide into precincts, wards, or districts, depending upon the pleasure of your vocabulary. I would love to see the east precinct split into two halves, thus yielding three districts. Two representatives from each district would be members of the Town Council, bringing the total number of Councilors to six plus one mayor elected at large. One member of each ward would be up for election each odd numbered year, for terms of four years, just as the existing pattern follows.

One argument used against district elections, as was the case when Johnston County was considering this very thing for apportioning the School Board members by district, was that it would tend to harm so called "minority candidates". I am sorry, but that argument does not fly with me and it never has. An elected representative does just that, represents all constituents. Do Bob Etheridge or Charles Hester represent only Caucasians because of their skin color, or do they represent every person in their respective constituencies? It is not a matter of needing to put someone from a so called minority group on an elected board. If people are willing to vote as a block to elect someone because of skin color and need the wider base of support in order to accumulate sufficient voters to put someone in office based upon race, then I say that they have short changed themselves and have not fielded a good candidate. Elections should never be about race, they should be about issues and governance.

If Selma went to the concept of district municipal elections rather than at large elections and at the same time increased the number of Town Council members, we may very well have a better success rate of ordinance passage when needed, a better balance or blend of constituency, foster closer neighborhood ties, have less areas go basically unrepresented as has been the case for years, would increase the likelihood of having a quorum when needed, and may increase the spectator entertainment value for those of us who watch council meetings. Sure, it will take a change to the town charter, but it will be worth it. The "more perfect union" concept of a better representative republic awaits towns like Selma.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Column for Oct. 11, 2007

As good as warm mashed potatoes or rotten tomatoes?

When you stick your head above the crowd, sometimes you get some tomatoes thrown at you. Sometimes you simply enjoy the view. I sometimes get to do both. This week I got my share of both. The tomatoes I get are usually people who have never actually read anything I have written with comprehension, either in this column or on the internet. Most likely, they have not listened to my talk show, either.

I have had the good fortune of being able to write this column for over a year now, and have been afforded several opportunities I would not normally have. One pleasurable such recent opportunity was to meet many of my readers at Selma's Railroad Days and get feedback from them. I can not count the number of people who came up to me and said that they read this column each week. For that I am grateful and humbled. I was warmed by the kind words spoken to me. Sometimes I wonder if people are actually taking the time to read, and the feedback I received did my heart good. People from here in Selma, from just outside of Selma, as well as people from Goldsboro, and even Virginia took the time to talk to me and comment upon this weekly excursion into the rantings of an ordinary guy with opinions that took advantage of a more than ordinary opportunity to write. Thank you, each and every one of you, for reading.

One thing about Railroad Days that I personally would like to see is a return to the theme of the railroad and Selma's heritage of being a railroad town. There is nothing wrong with a street fair, but I had people from out of town ask me if I knew where the railroad exhibits and railroad themed stuff was. Quite honestly, I did not know. For future reference, I was told that the Jernigan Building and Union Station both had railroad exhibits. I know that the railroads play an ever dwindling role in transportation in America, but since I live less than a block from the tracks, I have a hard time forgetting that we are still a railroad town. Another person asked me where the spike driving competition was being held. Quite honestly, I could not answer that one, either, since I did not bring my event brochure with me. I probably need to do so next year.

I am not criticizing the event; I would just like to see more of it and its theme. Our Parks and Recreation staff work hard at making the event a success, and this year was no exception. I was pleased to see the crowd. The live band at the intersection of Railroad and Raiford Streets was very enjoyable. I was singing and dancing right along with many of their cover songs. I am still singing "She's a Brick...House" in my head as I write this column, since that song started the second music set after the intermission. The food smells were exquisite along Railroad Street. I love to watch people. I have always been observant of the different sizes, shapes, colors, apparel, and attitudes of people as they walk around.

One interesting thing about watching the parade is the number of "beauty queens" that participate. There is Miss Junior Miss This, Little Miss That, Miss So and So Realty, Miss Railroad Days, Teen Miss Queen, Junior Miss Queen, Little Miss Queen, Tiny Miss Queen, Teeny-tiny Miss Queen, Toddler Miss Queen, Newborn Miss Queen, and Embryo Miss Queen. Each was practicing their rotating wrist beauty queen wave to perfection.

At least at a sizable event like Railroad Days, we get to see some of our County Commissioners, Clerk of Court, State House Representatives, and even our Congressman. It has been a long time since I got to say hello to Leo Daughtry or Tony Braswell. Hey guys, come around more often. I am sure some of us would love to talk to you more. I know that I would.

Of course, no parade in Selma would be complete without tractors. You have to put tractors in a parade, as long as they are before the fire engines. The good thing about dragging out the John Deeres and Farmalls is that unlike horses, they don't leave gifts in the middle of Raiford Street.

For those of you who have contacted me about the column, I thank you, even those of you (and there have been a couple) who had negative feedback. As a side note, for those of you who do choose to leave a negative opinion via email, voice mail, or other means, you will get a lot better results if you don't just hurl baseless accusations, spread rumors, call names, cravenly hide behind anonymity, or just ignore the facts. Just a thought.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Column for Oct. 4, 2007

So call me liberal…no, not that kind.

There are great mysteries of the universe that I still do not comprehend. The safety label on a curling iron that reads "For external use only!" is one such mystery. I don't understand the need for such a label, and will never comprehend the sort of person who needs that warning. Sometimes people must do stupid things and need the obvious stated to them.

One such mystery I ponder is the use of the term "liberal" by liberals. The various definitions of the term liberal can actually be quite diverse, even contradictory. As an adjective, liberal refers to "of or befitting a man of free birth". That is my definition of liberal, and in my estimation, the classic definition of liberal. As a noun, a liberal should be one who thinks, promotes, and exercises liberty.

Liberals can also be said to be those who adhere to the political thought of liberalism. Liberalism according to one definition by Merriam-Webster, is "a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity". The modern liberalism in today's America is far from that definition.

Another definition is actually a paradox in itself. Merriam Webster's dictionary also defines liberalism as "a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties". The definition I gave pertaining to spiritual and ethical content does not pertain, for the most part, to what are today considered civil liberties. Unfortunately, what have become known as "civil liberties" are nothing more than excuses for sin and bondage. The Christian definition previously quoted also does not inherently believe in the goodness of the human race. It is quite the opposite, actually, hence the need for Christ in Christianity.

Just Monday I heard Gubernatorial Candidate Beverly Perdue espouse the desire for the expansion of Medicaid to include any and all people who are allegedly too poor to afford medical coverage. Doing so will cause the rest of the state's taxpayers to shell out for their medical coverage. I pay for my coverage. I have the liberty to elect to take the coverage or not. Nobody is forced to pay for my medical costs. Millions of people have and exercise the same choice. That is liberty.

Forcing people to pay for the medical costs of others may come under another definition of liberal, "given or provided in a generous and openhanded way". Unfortunately, the generosity is at the expense of others who are forced to pay for the generosity of some politicians. Money is extracted by force from the citizenry to pay for the things that other citizens work to obtain. This is inherently antithetical to the concept of liberty.

In Christianity, we are told that "the poor you will have with you always". We are also told to be generous as people and as a Body. According to the definitions shown herein, we are supposed to have ethics, be generous, and promote liberty. Where is any of that in a government doing it forcibly for us? Why is this the case? For one, we as a nation of Christian people have abrogated the responsibility of liberal generosity to a worldly government. Another reason is the paradox I described. The human race is not inherently good, it is inherently corrupt.

It is precisely because of that corruption that people do not take personal responsibility for their own personal welfare and that of their families. It is because of that corruption that those in power use that same power to take money from people by force and give it to others. It is that exercise of power that enslaves the recipients and fosters the loyalty of the enslaved to keep those who gave unto them in power to perpetuate the cycle.

Given the definitions of liberal and the current status of what is considered liberalism, why would anyone ever vote for someone that displays those ethics? Those who believe that people are basically good and the government should step in to help all people at all times at the expense of the liberty of others are just plain enemies of freedom, progress, and ethics. I much prefer the classic definition of liberal and choose to be one; someone who thinks, promotes, and exercises liberty.