Thursday, July 31, 2008

Column for July 31, 2008

Are wastewater reclamation efforts actually bad for the American family?

I read with interest recently about how the Town of Benson was going to move forward with a three million dollar waste water reclamation and recycling project. The US Department of Agriculture is lending Benson $886,000 towards building an eight mile wastewater reclamation pipeline to one customer. The customer, a plant nursery, would use the water for irrigation of decorative and other non food source vegetation. Other possible future use could be for watering golf courses, sod production irrigation, and pasture lands.

Water reclamation is not a bad idea. I am all for recycling used water, often called "gray water" for purposes of irrigation, construction, and other non-potable purposes. If the water is just going to waste anyway, then I say it is a great move to do so. However, I have a slight problem with the US government paying for a small town like Benson to build a pipeline to reclaim said water for the benefit of one customer and the hope of adding more. Why should people in Arkansas or California be contributing to the project here in North Carolina?

Projects like this are what I consider to be pork barrel spending. Sure, some people may benefit. However, it is not the job of the federal government to act like an unending pool of money to be siphoned off for special or experimental projects.

When building or expanding the town's water supply is the time to innovate and include the gray water reclamation lines. I remember that the proposed ethanol plant in Selma was planning on using gray water for its plant. However, there was no such line or reclamation efforts existing anywhere. One would have to be built from the far side of Smithfield all the way in to Selma's fringes. That of course would have been funded by tax dollars in one form or another.

Government grants are TAX DOLLARS. Never forget that fact. Whenever some town applies for a grant to revitalize its downtown, for people to renovate their homes, or whatever, we are talking about tax dollars. Multiply those local expenditures times the tens of thousands of other communities in this nation and you can see why we have such a huge budget in our federal government.

Government loans are probably even worse than grants. Why do I say that? Because the federal government taxes us citizens to get the capital. Then they turn around and lend it to municipalities like Selma or Benson, as is the case in this instance. Then the town has to pay back borrowed tax dollars with funds it derives from...yup, you guessed it, tax dollars. In essence, we are being taxed twice for the same funding.

The federal government has no business being in the lending industry. It has no business redistributing the wealth of its citizens. People wonder why I am passionate about such waste and why I decry it so. It is because it truly impacts each and every tax payer in this nation. There are some who pay no taxes. Even people who pay very little taxes often get back more money than they paid the government by nature of the earned income tax credit and the recent tax rebate incentive package.

In the 1950's, women were primarily stay at home mothers and wives. The man of the house went to work in the morning and came home in the evening. They usually lived comfortably on one salary. Nowadays, that is virtually impossible for many Americans. It means that more and more families can not survive on a single income so now both parents have to work. It means that children are placed in day care so that a stranger can raise the children instead of their own parents. It means that there is a lot more economic pressure that stresses out couples and fractures their marriages. It means that women have lost the sense of femininity and compete with men in the work place instead of glorying in the role of a mother that they were created to perform. It means that the high taxation rates have short changed our youth instead of helping them. It means that welfare queens can have more babies and get more money instead of marrying a man and settling down. It undermines the family. The ironic thing is that such pork barrel spending is intended to benefit the population it destroys by driving the cost of government and subsequently taxation higher and higher.

I am not adverse to spending money on actual infrastructure projects that benefit everyone. For instance, I saw a lot of apparently sewer line construction going on in my neighborhood over the past few weeks. That is something we need to maintain since it serves a vital interest of the entire town. I am all for improvements and replacements when needed. A gray water pipeline, however, would not benefit most citizens, much less all of them. It would be a small population deriving benefits from the pockets of the majority. That is why we have so much spending in our nation and why we can not have "The Donna Reed Show" type family arrangement anymore. The squeeze has been put on the traditional family model and that foundation has been cracking for decades now.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Column for July 24, 2008

Usually, I am the one asking questions. Not today.

It is hard to believe that this column concludes two full years of writing this column here at "The Selma News". I wish to offer my sincere gratitude to you, the readers. Whether you like my opinions or hate them, I thank you. I have gotten a lot of feedback over the last two years. Much was positive, a lot was negative. All I care is that you have been reading, which is both humbling and stimulating to me at the same time. I also wanted to thank Rick Stewart, the editor of this paper, for the extraordinary opportunity he gave to this big, ol' opinionated shmoe.

Being what is commonly referred to as a conservative individual, I run across a good many people of like minded passions and beliefs. Since I am very active on the internet, I tend to interact with people from all over the country and world. Recently, I was contacted by someone who runs a web site that opposes John McCain's election to the Presidency. The owner asked to interview me about my views on John McCain. Since I have shared my view points on Barack Hussien Obama, I wanted to share some of my views on John McCain, for the sake of equality. Here is the content of the interview.

Q: How would you self-identify politically? What are your general opinions about the role of government?

A: I would identify myself as a classic liberal. The term libertarian could be used, just not referring to the political party so named. Some would use the term conservative. I am probably most closely aligned with the likes of Barry Goldwater in most of my political philosophies with a few exceptions. I am not affiliated with any party at present.

The purpose of government is fairly well enumerated in the preamble of the US Constitution at the federal level. "...establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity". Other than that, there is not much need for government. Highways ensure liberty and the general welfare. Welfare programs do not. Courts ensure justice. Hate crime legislation does not, nor do laws such as Sarbaines-Oxley or McCain-Feingold. Maybe I just made that clear as mud.

However, I also find a good definition in Romans 13:1-4 "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil."

Government is there for the purpose of ensuring that the evil doers are punished, protecting those that do good. Government is something invented by God himself and therefore should be taken as something sacred rather than for personal gain.

Q: What are your reasons for opposing the candidacy of John McCain?

A: John McCain is not a "conservative", if I am to pick a term. He may have filled Barry Goldwater's seat in the Senate, but he is no Goldwater. He tends to be weak on items such as border security, the farce of global warming, on free speech (see previous comment on McCain-Feingold) rights, and wants to grant amnesty to millions of law breakers who entered this nation illegally, thus opposing the justice and common defense issues of the purpose of government.

Q: Do you advocate any of the other candidates as an alternative? If so, why? If not, why not?

A: My main support would be for either Ron Paul or Chuck Baldwin. Baldwin is on the Constitution Party ticket and will never win. Ron Paul will not win the GOP nomination and has little support from the mainstream of the party. Ron Paul, though I disagree with him on some policy issues such as our presence in Iraq, is the ONLY candidate who truly supported liberty and a return to the original values of the Constitution. Chuck Baldwin espouses the CP values, with which I find myself fairly closely aligned. However, most CP folks are disgruntled GOP who are arrogant and ineffective. At least this is the way at the state party level here in NC. Ergo, I have disassociated myself with them. I can elaborate more on my differences with Ron Paul later if you wish.

Q: Is there any Vice Presidential pick for McCain that could get you to "hold your nose" and vote for him? (If so, why? If not, why not?)

A: Nope. First off, who ever remembers the VP? I personally remember all the VPs since I first started paying attention to the government in my elementary school days. Does the general populace pay attention? Probably not. I have a hard time finding people who know who Dick Cheney is. How many VPs have actually ascended to the Presidency in my lifetime? Only one, and he was not elected to that office. Gerald Ford was appointed VP after Spiro Agnew resigned under the provisions of the 25th Amendment. That was over 30 years ago and is not in the forefront of the knowledge or remembrance of millions of Americans. Since the VP does not make policy except to act as President of the Senate, I do not find that VP candidates are a means of sway for my vote. We would still get McCain as President, our chief executive.

Q: At this point, who do you think will win the general election and why?

A: I believe that Barack Obama will win. Why? Voter apathy, ignorance, and seduction. There are so few people educated on Constitutional principles, know the history of this nation, that follow traditional Christian values, and believe that they should provide for themselves rather than be taken care of by the world's system, we are doomed to become a socialist nation. And yet we will have the same document called The United States Constitution to which we claim to adhere.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Column for July 17, 2008

Three items that made me go "Hhhhhmmmmmmm"

As scant as the news has been here in Selma the past month or so, I still find things over which to muse right here in this very newspaper. In reading the July 10th edition, I found three stories that made me go, "Hhhhhmmmmmmm." Maybe I am just one who ponders the great mysteries of life as well as employs critical thinking. Maybe I am just a bit pessimistic. Either way, I am able to find fodder for my column.

I had originally planned to be in another town with some friends for the 4th of July celebration. Unfortunately, those plans got canceled at almost the last minute, so I came to downtown Selma to enjoy the fireworks with some family members. For a small town, Selma does put on a great fireworks display each Independence Day. I actually consider July 2nd to be Independence Day, since that is when Lee's Resolution was passed calling for said independence, but that is another discussion for another day.

My method of counting must be very different from that of event organizers. It never fails that I see far fewer people at an event than gets reported in the media. Whether it be the .5 Million Man March, a political rally, or a small town fireworks display, the quoted number of people always exceeds what is readily obvious by two to three fold. I believe that in this case, ten fold. Somewhere, the decimal point was moved when it was reported that "approximately 4,000 to 5,000 people attended throughout the evening".

Shifting gears now, I pop the clutch and roll on to our pending increase in our utility bills. I have heard from some of my readers over the past two years (I am now beginning my third year of writing this column) that they are dismayed at the high electricity bills here in Selma. I read previously that we were going to look at approximately a 12% rate increase in our utility bills. We are also getting a trash collection rate hike and a property tax hike.

It is my understanding that Selma, by nature of its association with Electricities, is a wholesale customer of Progress Energy. What that means to us as customers is that we are prone to more capricious fluctuations in the price of electricity than normal Progress Energy (I still catch myself referring to them as CP&L) customers. Retail customers of Progress Energy are protected from wide price fluctuations by the state's regulatory commission. By regulation, wholesale customers are not subject to such wild market price protections. By the time that retail customers have been even notified that the regulatory agency has approved a price hike for them, we who buy our electricity from the town's monopoly have already been socked with the increases. I got this information directly from a former Selma town manager, so I figure that the description here is accurate.

I have no problem with the town using the electrical grid in town to make money provided that there are several things that will come along with the process. First, that we as a town can use the profits derived from the sale of electricity, water, and sewer services to offset property taxation as a regular, ongoing source of revenue. State regulatory agencies have a problem with that concept, so our budget often reflects that we have a deficiency in funding, and hence the tax increase we are getting. This is not the entire reason, I am sure, but it is certainly a contributing factor. What is the sense of making a profit from a venture if you can not use the revenue as you see fit? If we are not able to use the profits to go towards our general fund, then we need to price the utility rates so that we do not have any profit at all.

For that matter, we should ponder selling our electrical system to Progress Energy and let them provide 100% of the service. That will save us the expense of the employees, vehicles, materials, and operational burdens of having such a utility department in house. If we can get the same service from a private company, then we should seriously consider it. If we can sell the entire system to the power company and make a huge profit from the sale, we can roll back some property taxes and perhaps get a lot of other items taken care of that we could not previously afford as a town. Just food for thought.

The last item that tickled my fancy was the list of some 41 items that our illustrious mayor has given as successes and failures. For almost three years, I have simply said, "Where's the list?" We heard constantly that there was a list of things that the then candidate for mayor and later mayor elect had as his goals for Selma. When the Republican Party was in its "hay day" in 1994 and were elected in landslide elections, they came up with the "Contract for America". This was a list of the things they wanted to get accomplished and pledged to work towards. They made this list readily available and we could look over the list and measure results. We have not yet had this privilege as citizens here in Selma with the promised 50 item agenda. Even with this article in the paper, we still do not have this privilege.

There are only 41 items on this list, and many of them are simply a listing of what has been accomplished, not what was on the list from three years ago. Ergo, we can not as citizens measure the results of what we were promised. Some of the items on the list were obviously not on a list of goals, since they came about long after the envisioning of the original list. A couple had nothing to do with the mayor or town council, and a few were in the works before the mayor even took office.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for listing the achievements and progress made in town. I applaud progress in areas in which progress was needed. I am sure that some of the items so enumerated in the newspaper were originally planned as part of the infamous list of 50 that we kept hearing about but were never afforded the opportunity to read. I am all for adding to a list once it has been started. I am saying that in all fairness, since we as citizens were promised progress on an undisclosed list nearly three years ago, perhaps it is time to compare and evaluate. Had the list not been heralded by the mayor, I would not be so critical in my discernment. However, a promise made that is not known as to its content has no way of standing up to scrutiny or measurement. That is the way I look at it. Since the list was again brought up in the newspaper, I find it fair to bring up a demand for a metric and disclosure of said list. That way, we as citizens can say whether or not we were wise in our choice for mayor; that we can say "well done" or "we want more accomplished" and hold elected officials accountable. We citizens are, after all, the ones that are being represented, cast the votes, and the ones who foot the bill for the town.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Column for July 10, 2008

We lost a strong leader with the passing of Jesse Helms

I read with sadness about the passing of Jesse Helms, longtime North Carolina Senator. Helms, like him or hate him, was a staunch conservative, often being called "Mr. No". I certainly wish that more elected representatives had the word "no" in their vocabulary. Helms was a straight shooter, which I admired greatly. You always knew where Jesse stood on issues. That is a noble quality in a man. I truly do not like politicians (or your average garden variety of person, for that matter) that waivers and you never know where he or she will stand. Politically, I had a hard time faulting him on many things. This quote from an internet web site, speaks volumes to me. "He was an outspoken conservative who opposed communism, tax increases, abortion, gay rights, affirmative action, food stamps, secularism, and government-funded healthcare." It takes guts to stand against some of these sacred cows that are so beloved by the socialists in our country. I wish we had 100 men just like Jesse Helms in the United States Senate.

I do not support some of Helms' apparently racist views. I have read many of them on the internet over the years, as well as in various media. I do, however, support his conservative view points. He was never politically correct in his approach to politics. Neither am I. He was also very witty in many of his "off the cuff" remarks. I laughed numerous times when he made comments directed at one of my least favorite Senators, Ted Kennedy. I have met and spoken briefly with Ted Kennedy, but I detest his politics, as did Helms. One example of a Helms jab at Kennedy was after having heart valve surgery. He remarked, "It's no piece of cake, but it sure beats listening to Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor." I concur.

It is quite possible that Ronald Reagan would never have been elected President without the help of Jesse Helms. In 1976, Reagan received a strong push for the GOP nomination over incumbent Gerald Ford. Of course, Ford won the nomination and went on to be defeated for President by Jimmy Carter. However, the strong showing made by Reagan with the help of Senator Helms, set up Reagan to be the next GOP nominee in 1980.

Helms chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was actually a very powerful position. Senator Helms' influence in that position were felt internationally, as Helms had an effect on the USSR, Cuba, and was the first legislator from any country to address the United Nations Security Council.

Before the 1994 election, the GOP were a minority in the Senate and House of Representatives. In 1994, the tide turned for a while, as the rest of America caught up with the Jesse Helms brand of conservatism. Alas, those same representatives and the public at large soon forgot those same principles.

I still have a taped interview that an old friend of mine did with Senator Helms in the early 90's. Perhaps sometime soon, I will digitize it and put it on the internet. In that interview, Jesse Helms spoke of his views, his background, and his faith. If anyone wants a copy, please contact me.

I did support Senator Helms' stance in opposition to the Martin Luther King holiday, though for slightly different reasons. He thought it was a travesty to support that holiday based upon King's alleged ties to communist organizations. He also was aware of King's philandering. The latter is partially my lack of support for that holiday, but certainly not the entirety of my opposition. I loved his stance against homosexuality, and a host of other conservative principles that most so called conservatives today dare not touch because a lack of spine.

I have done some reading up on Senator Helms over the years, and especially since his passing on the early morning of July 4th. By the way, what a magnificent day to have one's life end, on a day we celebrate freedom and the principles that made this country great.

One evening, I had the distinct pleasure of having dinner with a lady who lives here in Johnston County. This young lady (now married with children) served as a clerk or legislative assistant of some sort in Senator Helms' office in Washington, DC. She apparently kept up with Jesse over the years. She said that he still met with friends and associates, though his dementia had taken its toll on him. It was obvious that this lady had a lot of fondness for the late senator. She recounted several stories of her time spent working for Senator Helms.

Oddly enough, that dinner was one of the things that helped to seal my departure from the Republican Party. I was a charter member of the county GOP men's club. That particular night, we had invited the lady speaker and her husband to share about her time with the senator. As it turned out, I was the only one to show up from the Johnston County GOP. Had I not taken my wife with me, the invited guests would have outnumbered the hosting party. I found such a lack of commitment and attendance not only rude but despicable. It was that sort of poor leadership that made me realize how ineffective the GOP really is. That was a portion of my reasons for leaving, but a strong portion.

Like him or hate him, North Carolina and the nation have lost a great leader and statesman in Jesse Helms. I can only hope and pray that we eventually have more men like him in our government some day.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Column for July 3, 2008

A trilogy on the Strategic Plan. Will there be another sequel?

I resisted the urge to write about the Selma budget, the recent Supreme Court rulings, and a few other things of interest to me. I figured that I would keep on track with my column and continue with the Strategic Plan critique only because there are a lot of things worthy of consideration for the future of Selma.

When I lived in Raleigh well over a decade ago, I had a pastor who used to live and preach here in Selma in a church he founded. I remember him telling me how people in Selma tended to be stiff-necked and rebellious. I filed that information in my memory bank for later use.

So is the opening of chapter three of Selma's Strategic Plan. "…there is a perception of the town that is less than favorable within the county and area as a whole." After talking to more people over the years, I have found this to be true of Johnston County in general and even more so of Selma. Some of the stereotype (as with all stereotypes) has some basis in truth, some of it fallacious.

Selma does have a reputation for being a high crime, drug infested town. We have a reputation for having a lot of illegal immigrants and low class of residents. A lot of that can be attributed to the high percentage of rental housing in the town, I am sure. We have a reputation for having a lot of dilapidated houses. Some of these things have been worked on by the town council. Right or wrong, these are the perceptions the town faces.

One quote I chapter 3 is "…it has been determined that Selma is visited by travelers off the interstate as well as others that drive in from one or two hours away. The missing demographic is local area residents. The primary reason for this is reputation." Sorry, but this is entirely false. The reason is that Selma has a theme for a downtown shopping district; antiques. I go downtown to visit town hall, a restaurant or two, a thrift store once in a blue moon, for civic meetings, the post office, dry cleaning, and a pharmacy. Seldom do I have the need for an antique store. I have visited several of the downtown antique merchants when shopping for something specific I will not find at my local department store, such as a gift or a desired item. I try to visit a different dealer each quest and usually find what I am looking for somewhere. I may not spend a lot of time or money, but I try. The truth is, however, that the majority of residents around here just are not in the market for antiques and that is what we have in abundance.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this concept. I simply do not shop at stores that do not offer what I want and I do patronize stores more often that do. Ergo, I visit Wal-Mart more often than I do antique stores. That is how the marketplace works.

Because of this truth, I find naïve the statement, "The Town Councilmembers and management of the town should be asking themselves, have I shopped in every business downtown? If there is a special event such as birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc. do I buy gifts in Selma?" If the answer is no, then why not?" The typos were actually in the report, and are not mine. My answer is that not everyone on my gift list wants old stuff. It sounds simple, but it is true. That is part of owning an antique store. I owned both a bookstore and a vending business for years. If people wanted video games instead of books or fresh sub sandwiches instead of candy bars, they spent their money elsewhere.

There was a tea room that failed miserably in this town. It was because of a poorly run business and having products nobody wanted, not because of a lack of support. A new restaurant is in that same space and is flourishing. That is because the owner offers what people want during convenient hours and at a price people are willing to pay. That is just plain business and simple economics.

The report talks about the appearance of the town at its entrance points. It discusses that the entrances at the interstate and from various other routes are less than attractive. Exit 97 looks like a typical interstate interchange. It is partially true that appearance may be a factor in failing to attract visitors or residents. We do have a cemetery, a propane dispensing facility, a repair garage, a trailer park, a gasoline pipeline tank farm, and the like as entrance ways to the town. However, there is not a heap big amount we can do to change those things. I wish we could.

There was another interesting quote in chapter three. "It is imperative that the boards and commissions have more diversity and representation of all the citizens of Selma. There should be an effort to recruit for these boards to balance the representation." I actually agree wholeheartedly with this quote. The only problem is overcoming the apathy of the many. There is a perception that a few handle a lot of the town affairs; that a select few are maintaining control in the town. I have heard this numerous times and I also have this same feeling, myself.

There are over 36 pages in the report and I am only on page 12. Out of these dozen pages, I have gotten three columns worth of commentary and critique. I still have all sorts of notes I took in the margins and in the text of the report, but I only have so much space each week in which to compose. I will be happy to personally offer a forum whereby town officials, committee members, and the public can discuss this further, make explanations, ask questions, etc. Of course my personal feedback is always available upon request.