Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Column for Dec. 1, 2011

During recent a Republican Presidential candidate debate, Newt Gingrich was asked about his views on the killing of “enemy combatants” who are American citizens living overseas and actively fighting against America during a state of war (such as Anwar al-Awlaki). A member of the press tried to chastise Mr. Gingrich saying that the “rule of law” required a court of law to take the decision to kill an American “citizen”. Personally, I found Gingrich’s answer brilliant and on target (if you pardon the pun). Newt Gingrich is often one of the smartest people on stage during debates, but I don’t know that he will be a successful candidate and capable of taking The White House in the next general election.

I recently had the same conversation with a friend of mine from high school. I take the side of Newt Gingrich which is that someone who is actively pursuing war against America need not be convicted of treason before he can be a target of war. My friend, Roger, a career military man, takes the opposite opinion, in that he believes that the Constitution requires that a bad guy be tried and convicted of treason before we can whack him because he is technically an American citizen by birth, regardless of where he currently resides. With Roger’s permission, I am sharing the conversation.

Me: [sharing a video clip of the relevant part of the debate] “Gingrich gets it correct and this media hack moderator is a bonehead.”

Roger: “Troy, are you kidding me? Guilty under review? Where is that in the Constitution? The alleged (likely happened but we still have an obligation to try a US citizen before we execute them, especially when we have the capability to bring them to justice, as we did in the case of Awlaki) crime Gingrich describes is TREASON. Treason happens to be the only crime specifically outlined in the Constitution. Article III section 3:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

“This is just populist drivel for him to get himself elected. Mind you, I'll vote for him if he is the nominee for one simple reason, HE IS NOT BARACK OBAMA.

“It really saddens me that the Constitution that I swore to defend and did defend for 21 years is so easily ignored.”

Me: “No, I am not kidding you. Where is it in the Constitution that someone who is actively engaged in war activity against the US (which is indeed defined as treason under the Constitution) and is resident in another country shall be captured, tried, and convicted rather than eliminated? The populist drivel is that he must be captured, tried, and convicted. When the individual is an active enemy, he is to be considered as such, regardless of his nationality. That is just common sense. If it means targeting someone actively involved in combat against the country, I do not see where the Constitution requires a criminal trial rather than an act of war during war.

“I am well aware of Article III Section 3. I taught on the Constitution and US history for about four years. Attacking your enemy in combat, regardless of the individual's nationality is not ignoring the Constitution. It would be different if we were no longer in a state of active warfare and the individual captured, or even that this scumbag was captured as a POW. THEN, we would have a case for a criminal case of treason and a reason for a trial. That is the nature of war. If a scumbag gets taken out during a wartime operation, c'est la guerre.

“If in the 1700's General Arnold was taken prisoner (and if the Constitution was in force then. But the Articles of Confederation did not have a provision for defining treason, only about extradition for, or as a reason to be able to inhibit freedom of speech in Congress) then there would have been a reason for a trial and a charge of treason. If he was shot and killed during an attack on the enemy, I can not fathom for one moment that there would have been a debate whether or not it was wrong to have put a musket ball through his head while engaged in warfare...”

The conversation was longer than this, but it is a relevant discussion about the future of our country and how we conduct our affairs. On the one hand, the arbitrary power of an executive to declare someone an enemy combatant and summarily execute them could lead to a slippery slope and the killing of American citizens at home or abroad without a court trial. On the other hand, it is also a matter of properly, efficiently, and swiftly conducting wartime operations in the case of scumbag terrorists plotting our demise.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Column for Nov. 24, 2011

I am looking at the charter for The Town of Selma,. I am looking for its general contractor’s license or business development license therein. I am also reading through NC General Statues Chapter 160A, which specifies how towns are to operate. I am not a lawyer and won’t drag through every jot and tittle, but I don’t see the power of a town to become a venture capitalist. The only thing I have read that even remotely comes close is “A city may contract with and appropriate money to any person, association, or corporation, in order to carry out any public purpose that the city is authorized by law to engage in.” That would be a very broad interpretation.

I do see the power of a town government to regulate certain business, just not to create or subsidize them. Towns are given the right to levy taxes for various purposes, including “to provide public auditoriums, coliseums, and convention centers”, the key word being public. One statute (160A‑279) says, “Whenever a city or county is authorized to appropriate funds to any public or private entity which carries out a public purpose, the city or county may, in lieu of or in addition to the appropriation of funds, convey by private sale to such an entity any real or personal property which it owns; provided no property acquired by the exercise of eminent domain may be conveyed under this section; provided that no such conveyance may be made to a for‑profit corporation.”

In last week’s “The Selma News”, I read with interest the article on The Rudy Theater. The article did not seem clear on the ownership status of the theater, though the verbiage did mention "the Rudy Theater will transition from your company to the Town of Selma..." That leads me to believe that the theater is privately owned by them, not the town. Thus, I checked with one of our elected officials on the matter and verified this. It also seems that the concept of Selma becoming a theater owner, partner, or builder was something sprung upon the Town Council, which makes me wonder about some of the politics behind this whole plan. I am wary of the idea of a town of only 6,100 (according to the town’s own web site) going into debt to finance a sizable private business venture.

If the property belongs to the theater production company, why would the town consider using taxpayer money to renovate/expand/rebuild a private business? Though The Rudy is a nice thing to have in the town, I have a hard time believing that we generate enough tax revenue from either the theater or its patrons to pay for the public expenditure for its expansion. If we are looking at building a new facility, why? If Rudy Theatre Productions could afford to buy The Rudy and even do some renovations, they can build a new facility more to their liking themselves. For the town to consider both building a new facility and taking over the old is a double cost in that we will pay for the new construction plus for any renovations and upkeep of the old facility.

Just on principle alone, I would have a problem with the concept of the town paying for a private facility. Why would we subsidize the leisure activities of a few people? First, the majority of Rudy patrons are probably not local townspeople. I see buses come in from all over for their quality shows, and I doubt seriously that they heavily patronize our local establishments. Especially since, we have no restaurants to speak of in downtown any more, so we are not getting sales or meals tax revenue from them. Next, if the people are from out of town, why would the town subsidize residents of other municipalities to partake of their chosen leisure activities like live shows?

This is my major quibble with the building of sports facilities for football, basketball, and baseball teams. A sports team owner decides that he wants a nice, new stadium and threatens to leave town if he doesn’t get one. The town, state, and county involved generally capitulate and either perform major renovations (a la Five County Stadium) or build something new (like Charlotte, Minnesota, or other major sports areas) and the taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars to support the leisure activity of sports fans and for the employment of professional athletes. At least with major sports teams, the local economy generally sees a big benefit for hotels, restaurants, facility rent, naming rights, concessions, sales, local employment, etc.

I personally like to go to the firing range, but the town does not supply a shooting range for my enjoyment. There are more people who own firearms in Selma than go to the Rudy, I guarantee. Why would we not enjoy taxpayer subsidy for our recreation? Is it fair to subsidize one activity over another? For what purpose? The prestige of having a theater in our town, even if it is of little economic benefit? If we are going to subsidize businesses, since Selma chose to become "The Antique Mecca of the South", why would we not subsidize privately owned antique business to attract more patrons and boost sales tax revenues and the occupancy rate of downtown businesses? Why this one niche of business over others?

Let’s ask the citizens of Roanoke Rapids and Halifax County how the public expense of building a performance theater worked out for them. I drive to Roanoke Rapids regularly for business and pass by the empty theater often. They had a tenant with some major backing lined up and even performing regularly. Millions of dollars and several legal actions later, the town has ended up owning the entire complex and is deep in debt.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for allowing The Rudy to expand their own facility and am in support of even using the designated revenues set aside for marketing through The Johnston County Visitors Bureau to promote the theater along with other attractions in town. I am just not in favor of the town building their facility for them at taxpayer expense.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Column for Nov. 17, 2011

I did not get to watch the municipal election results as they came in on television last week. I got home from vacation on Monday, and tried the best I could to catch up with all the stuff one has to do when coming back to work after a week off. I did manage to wade through some 600 or 700 emails, handle some communications, pack a suit case, go vote at my neighborhood polling place, and eventually head to Durham. After working there for the afternoon, I took off for Charlotte, which is where I am as I write this column. I watched the election results via my laptop computer and the County Board of Elections web site. That was good enough for me.

I read the vote count for the Selma mayor’s race and the town council race. I checked several web sites for local news outlets, as well. One local news outlet got the reporting wrong and it is still wrong as of this writing. It said that we have three seats on the Selma Town Council and the mayor’s position that were filled in the election. The last I knew, we had two of four town council seats up for election every two years and the mayor up for election every election cycle.

Personally, I was glad to see the outcome of the mayoral race. I have made no secret of my dislike for the methods of leadership employed over the past six years. I don’t like bullies or dictatorial leadership. I don’t like forced annexation, tax hikes, corporate welfare incentives, or wasting money on frivolity.

Congratulations to Cheryl Oliver, our new mayor elect. I believe in giving praise where praise is due. Mrs. Oliver ran a good campaign, which I expected after seeing her previous campaign for town council. She has been articulate, willing to listen, and laid out her views. I have not always agreed with all of her views, but I can appreciate that she has been able to articulate and defend her views. I can only hope that Mrs. Oliver serves with the same enthusiasm and slant on things as she has shared with me in conversation.

I know that Tommy Holmes was out campaigning this year, probably more than previous years. On a personal level, I like Tommy Holmes. I wish that his message was deeper, broader, and more articulate than “don’t raise taxes”, but that message apparently resonated with voters. When I ran for town council six years ago, I was relatively unknown, could do little campaigning, and Mr. Holmes got just 14 more votes than I did. I compare that to the latest vote where he garnered more votes than anyone else, including an incumbent and a long time public servant and former councilman. He seems to have worked harder this election. I know that Tommy came by my home while I was on vacation and he got to speak with my mother-in-law, who was house, dog, and babysitting while my lovely bride and I were out of the country.

In looking over the election results for neighboring Wake County and was sad to see that Heather Losurdo lost her runoff election for the Wake County School Board. The boldness of the school board in reversing the insanity of busing children across the county may eventually be reversed with a progressive, liberal majority again in Wake County.

As I wrote, I was stuck in Charlotte for the night of the elections. In Charlotte, Democrats swept a huge majority for town council and won the mayoral race. There looks to also be a shake up in the Mecklenburg County School Board. I don’t know what Charlotte and Wake County voters are thinking, but apparently they have not yet had enough of higher taxes, high spending, and Communist like social engineering.

There is one thing that I do know. There is another election coming up in just a few months for the Presidential Primary season. Also, there is another municipal election coming in another two years. Two years after that, every person just elected for town council and boards of education will be up for re-election. Every few years, we get the chance to change course and fix wrongs. That is the wisdom of our republican form of government.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Column for Nov. 10, 2011

I wrote about voting with your feet several weeks ago. I just ran across another such instance. My lovely bride too the family automobile to an automotive service establishment for its routine service. I tend to have this performed on regular basis. For years, we have been taking our personal and my company vehicles there for oil changes.

With this particular establishment, I had taken my company vehicle there just a week prior for service. I noticed that the management and staff seemed to have changed since my last visit. Certainly the demeanor of the personnel and level of service I got was less than to which I was accustomed. Still, when the family mini-van needed service, my wife and I figured that this place would be fast, even though it was slightly higher priced than I like to pay.

When the wife came home with a bill of over $130 for an oil change, my curiosity was raised. The company had performed unauthorized service on our vehicle. When I called them to inquire about it, I was informed that my wife had authorized the work, which is something she emphatically denies. Knowing that my wife is not prone to telling falsehoods, I had confirmed with her ahead of the phone call as to the details of the experience. Basically, the manager there called my wife a liar. Well, they just lost my business, my company’s business, and that of my family and friends.

By the time this column is published, the local municipal elections will have taken place. Whether I wrote this weeks or a day in advance, I would not yet be able to comment on the results because of publishing deadlines. I want to know that a candidate is well informed, has looked at the issues, and shares most of my values before I will consider voting for him or her. I wrote earlier about not having found any election guides yet on the internet, but I read the one for the municipal election in the October 27th edition of “The Selma News”. I must admit that I was disappointed in what I read there. How in the world does someone running for local elected office turn down the opportunity to have their views published in the local newspaper? Three candidates only had, “Declined to comment” listed by their names. I can only assume that someone running for office believes that they can do better than the current crop of representatives already in office. That means that you have to convince voters of that concept. I specifically look for local candidate interviews and responses to issue questions.

Some of the candidates that did answer slightly disappointed me as well. On the one hand, one candidate “would like to see more police officers on the street and more programs for the senior citizens.” Then the same person says “under no circumstances I feel taxes should increase. I feel taxes should be decreased.” Well, we can’t have it both ways without substantial cuts in personnel and services elsewhere. We get the level of services for which we are willing to pay. If we are not willing to cut some services for the benefit of other ones we deem as more worthy and/or raise taxes, we can not afford more police on the streets.

Just about every candidate mentions the high rate of rental properties in town. I often wonder if this is a real issue to some, considering the rental property interests of some on the Town Council, but that is another issue. I agree that we have a disproportionate amount of renters in town. However, that will not change unless we make living in our “Charming Place to Be” enticing to new residents who would purchase homes.

All but two candidates discussed the need to keep taxes on the low end. One danced around the issue, and the other only stated that any tax increase would correspond to increased expenditures.

So, what does any of this have to do with the recent experience at an oil change shop? I just hope that we citizens and taxpayers don’t ask for one level of service, get something other than what we asked, and have to pay significantly more than we wanted or expected. If we do, more potential businesses and residents will be dissuaded from coming to our town.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Column for Nov. 4, 2011

It is an odd numbered year. Signs are all over town for local candidates, whether they are large plywood ones, cardboard ones, or plastic ones. It must be municipal election season. This is pretty much an open letter to any candidate running for municipal office, in any town, but primarily my own.

I don’t know the position of every candidate running for office in my hometown. There are incumbents who have a voting record that I have followed. There is at least one candidate from whom all I have ever heard expressed for years has been, “Don’t raise taxes”. There are candidates with whom I am not familiar and have heard nothing about their views. As of this writing, I have looked for articles and questionnaires about candidates, but so far nothing has been found. I am writing this column a few weeks ahead of time, so I can understand why that may be the case.

The first thing I would say to candidates is to not be afraid to do what you were elected to do. If you were elected to stop irresponsible spending, then do just that. If you were elected to keep the tax rate down, lower utility costs, etc., then stand firm and do it. Do not let bullying tactics and political pressure keep you down. I was telling two candidates that I really want to see an end to dictatorial style leadership in my town. They were in full agreement.

As a citizen, I am interested in eliminating the superfluous spending on stupid stuff. I commented years ago about how the Town of Selma has Christmas lights on all year long and was criticized for my stance that it is tacky, a waste of electricity, and unnecessary. I stand by those comments, especially when I drive through town at night and see so many strands and bulbs that are burned out or non-functional throughout downtown. What a waste. Other wasteful things were the hiring of consultants for an unused “streetscape” plan, for a proposed new town hall, and for someone just to apply for a historic neighborhood designation. The historic neighborhood designation would realistically only benefit those who had older homes and have their personal egos stroked by having a house so designated. Those thousands of dollars could have been much better spent on fixing sidewalks, cleaning up the curbsides of town streets so they are not jungle-like, and many other projects.

I keep hearing one common theme from citizens and the couple of candidates with whom I have had the pleasure of speaking. That is about lowering the high utility bills in our public power community. I agree that something needs to be done, but it is probably more involved than just trimming rates. In reality, we need to divest ourselves of the electricity business and let private industry take it over. There would be more regulatory protections, lower rates, and we would get the exact same product. By and large, if a business provider can be found in the phone book, we probably should not have government doing the job.

I am a big proponent of personal freedom and property rights, unless those rights infringe upon my own. This can apply to forced annexation and the extension of planning jurisdictional authority. We do not need to greedily bring in more square miles in order to grow our town. We need to offer a better climate for growth. It seems that there are some sorts of businesses we can’t keep going in town. We do need a better approach to downtown development. I was opposed to the all antiques, all the time concept fifteen years ago and still am, as just one example.

Speaking of business development, I am not a fan of incentive packages for business. We need to be judicious if we are going to use them at all. I read about an incentive package the Town of Selma is giving to a Wendy’s franchise to build at Exit 97 off the interstate. Quite honestly, it is a good location and a serious business would be building regardless of an incentive, but at least the package offered was not a huge one. If it goes awry, or even well, taxpayers can get the short end of the stick, as with Dell, Verizon, FedEx, and other businesses that relocate to North Carolina.

Even Sysco was a successful failure as an “incentive”. Though Sysco came to Selma, the company calls the Selma facility its Raleigh Division, the facility has not necessarily employed a bunch of Selma residents or attracted hundreds of people to live in Selma. Even their vice president bought his house in Clayton, not Selma. There is so much more that I could write, but brevity is not my friend this week.

So, candidates for public office, know that citizens are looking for common sense, fiscally responsible, and freedom loving governance. Hopefully, the citizenry will hold you accountable to these standards.