Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

Author: Durwood (page 2 of 18)

Vote “biblical standards!”

December 24, 2017

I clipped a letter that appeared on this page submitted by a gentleman from McDowell County:

“As a Christian, I am writing this to Christians. We should make decisions and take actions based on biblical at all times.  Christians need to be careful when they vote.  This is a time when we who claim to be followers of the true Holy God must stand up for clear biblical standards.  What are the candidates’ positions on issues that are clearly addressed in the Bible, the Word of God?…Remember, even though that voting booth you will be in will be closed to the public, our God is all-seeing and all-knowing.”

And oh yes, he specifically mentioned homosexuality and abortion in the letter. That indicates to us that he is an evangelical.

In the senatorial election in Alabama in December, 80 percent of self-identified evangelicals voted for Roy Moore.

“We pledge ourselves to…”

Asheville Daily Planet, January 2018

If Democrats are to win big in 2018, they need to come up with a strong message. Right or wrong?

If Democrats are to win big in 2018, they only need to run against Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Right or wrong?

Both are right. They aren’t alternative strategies.  They’re our pow-bam one-two punch.

Ever since we woke up to Donald Trump as president-elect, the Democratic volcano has rumbled. Women marched.  Resistance groups organized.  Silent spectators  suited up.  Thousands announced as candidates.  Money poured in.  Democratic energy lit up the country.

But while Democrat momentum built everywhere, TV pundits clucked that Democrats will miss their opportunity if they don’t have a message.

So Democratic leadership, last July, thudded out what they call “A Better Deal” platform. It’s a tedious Best of Bernie rerun – a $15/hour minimum wage, for example, cracking down on corporate monopolies, banning “right to work” laws in the states.

Nancy honey, Chuck old man, that’s not what we meant by a message.  The Senate seats we’re defending are in dark-red places like North Dakota, Montana and Indiana.  A Better Deal is a bad deal for those guys.  I wouldn’t run for Congress in North Carolina on that platform.

But then Virginia popped, and Alabama. Now we hear pundits saying, “Maybe Democrats don’t need a message after all.  It’s enough to run against Trump and Republicans.”

After all, Democratic Drive is fueled by anti-Trump anger, fear, disgust, embarrassment, frustration. Wouldn’t our zealots snarl at any candidate wearing the scarlet-letter R?  Yes, they would.

But snarls aren’t enough. We also need a creed.  We should be part Australian Shepherd and part pit bull – smart and passionate.

To change the metaphor, some gladiators, called dimachaerus, fought with two swords, one in each hand. No shield, they defended themselves with one of the swords.  I want an army of dimachaeri, who can state clearly the Republican menace as they deliver the liberating Democratic message.

So what is that message?

A message of constant contrast. A message of moral Democratic government to come in the context of immoral Republican government we’ve got now.   Yes, a message of right and wrong, a message of morality!

We can quickly list Seven Deadly Sins from the six years of GOP majority in the General Assembly: lying and other deceptions, arrogance, favoring the rich and powerful over ordinary people in tax reform, injustice in voting, vengeance against their opponents, greed for power, neglect of our children and other vulnerable citizens.  Seven sins?  There are probably 70!

Let their wrongdoing be the context for our rightdoing! Actually, “The Right Thing” world be a better name for our agenda than “A Better Deal.”  Our message should be overarched with strong key words that describe our commitments to govern well:  Fairness, Servant Leadership, Cooperation, Openness, Authenticity, Truth.

Then we commit ourselves to specifics. National Democrats hit on exactly the formula we should use.  Under the proposal,  “Raise Wages and Create 10 Million New Jobs” in the full text of “A Better Deal,” they write:

“We pledge to fight for good-paying, full-time jobs with a promising future for 10 million Americans.”

I’m suggesting that, first, we state the Republican wrong as context, and then we contrast with pledges to principled governance. For example, Republicans cut taxes for the rich, cynically calling them “job creators.” That’s our context. Then: “We pledge ourselves to SERVANT LEADERSHIP,” with specific proposals that directly impact our constituents’ livelihoods.

Another context: Republican arrogance and deception in redistricting after the 2010 census. Then: “We pledge ourselves to FAIRNESS. We will use an independent commission to redraw district boundaries for General Assembly and Congressional seats. We will not gerrymander to favor our candidates.”

First we say it, then we do it.


It takes 2 wings to fly

Citizen-Times, 12/4/17

The suppertime phone call was a solicitation – for a political organization supporting “the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.” The lady was most likely a paid hustler, so I spared her my question: Why?

I mean, why would “the progressive wing of the Democratic Party” be raising money specifically for themselves?

Actually, I don’t want to know why. I’m afraid they’re funding candidates for a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party. I’m told it’s openly discussed.

A letter of mine appeared on this page in May of 2016. Its opening line was: “I wish Bernie Sanders hadn’t run for president.” I went on to say: “My concern is that Sanders can open the gate for a Republicn to win in November. And that would mean a far-right Supreme Court for decades – and American oligarchy. As I talk to Sanders believers, more often than not, I hear strong anti-Hillary feelings – some so strong they would not vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination.”

And indeed, a lot of Sanders Democrats in WNC, I’m told by Sanders Democrats, didn’t vote for Clinton. It happened.

Now Bernie is back. And he’s a-stirring. His new book is called, “Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution.” Yikes. And he headlines every appearance with his most provocative proposition: universal health care. He staged a grand introduction for his “Medicare for All” bill.

I have no doubt that America will someday have universal health care. It’s inevitable. In countries that have it, like Scandanavia, everybody says that peace of mind is worth the higher taxes.

But North Carolina ain’t Norway. Democrats here aren’t political revolutionaries. I’m not a political revolutionary. Universal health care is not something we can promise to voters now.

Our job as Democrats right now, progressive or non-progressive, is to take the General Assembly away from Republicans. Their common denominator has been power:  keeping it and extending it.   They’re our only target.

Absolutely, the “progressive wing” should run candidates in primaries. Democrats live in a big tent. But after the primary, all Democrats must be arm in arm behind the winner.

When Tom Perriello lost the Democratic primary for governor in Virginia this year, he headed an organization to help elect Democrats in the general election. And united Democrats won!

Elizabeth Warren gave a speech (Google, “warren netroots nation 2014”) that listed 10 powerful progressive beliefs – and she stated them as moral, inclusive principles. In contrast to Bernie, she understands Democratic unity.  Democrats of all kinds are Democrats because they share one basic belief ithat sets us totally apart from Republicans: “Government for the People!”

Pitting Democrat agaqinst Democrat for Party control is full-blown crazy. Who wins such a battle? The same self-serving Republicans we’ve got now, that’s who. (I belong to Indivisible. We resist Trumpism; we’re not dividers.)

When gerrymandering goes down in court, it’s Democrat time —  if we don’t beat ourselves. In fair elections, Republicans must answer to the voters.

As somebody has said, it takes two wings to fly.

Will Trump people regret?

Asheville Daily Planet, December 2017

Robert E. Lee never wrote is memoirs. Of course, he only lived five years after the War.  But his papers seem to say that he didn’t want to revisit some of his life decisions.  You see, he was a man with regrets.  All his adult life, for example, he regretted taking the free education option of West Point.  He wanted to be a civil engineer.

Some people are like Lee. They regret – things they did in the past, something they didn’t say, an opportunity they missed.  They engage in self-reflection or self-criticism.

Other people are not like Lee. They shrug off their past.  What’s done is done.  Or the past is somebody else’s fault.  Or they purposely “live in the moment.”

I’ve wondered recently about people who work in the Trump White House – will they regret their time there. I particularly wonder about three people: Donald Trump himself, John Kelly and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

I’m going to make predictions here on how these people will feel when their time with Trump ends. Without doubt huge events lie ahead for Trump.  I can only base my predictions on the present continuing into the future.  Here goes.

It’s easy to say that the Big Guy will never regret anything. He’s said on many occasions, like he did with Anderson Cooper, “Why do I have to repent or ask forgiveness if I am not making mistakes?”

But look at it this way. Here’s a guy famous for a lifetime of big real estate deals, who had been given the title, The Donald.  Here was a TV star with class and power and millions of fans.  And this guy, maybe just for the kick of it, runs for president and gets elected – and in so doing exposed himself as ignorant, unpatirotic, without ethics or morals, a liar and betrayer nd more.

Trump might, of course, find great success against North Korea or bring Arab-Israeli peace and smile and gloat in retirement. But if the present continues and turns terrible for him, he will regret.  When he’s famous as a fool, he will regret.  His no-apologies persona is nothing but a bully’s bluster that won’t be there when he’s alone with himself.

John Kelly was the ultimate Marine. He rose through the ranks, from teenaged recruit to four-star general.  He went into retirement in 2016 as a superstar.

In less than a year, he joined the Trump Administration, and like a good military man, he declared: “I work for one man. His name is Donald Trump.”

In uniform, he was a link in the chain of command. Everything was in a straight line. His job was to receive orders from respected men above him and lead those below him in carrying them out. And he was good at it.

Now the man above him has no straight lines, and Kelly is the office lackey. Trump sent him out before the press, metaphorically naked, to defend his side in the Gold Star widow quarrel . His prepared remarks were excellent. But disaster came at the end. He revealed elements of himself that his Marine uniform had concealed.  He called African-American Congresswoman Frederica Wilson – a friend of the Gold Star family – a loud “empty barrel” and blasted her with an anecdote that proved to be entirely erroneous. He has refused to apologize.

He came off as unreasonable, a hair trigger, even a lair and a racist. The shining general went dull in a hurry.

Then in the context of defending Trump’s “both sides” reaction to Charlottesville, Kelly went out of his way to say “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” Yeow. The entire 19th century was one compromise after another to hold the Union together! And Kely comes off as ignorant.

Will Kelly wish he had retired peacefully, with general adoration? You bet he will. His White Houe time makes us think far less of him..

Sarah Huckabee Sanders? Not many words needed for her.

She touts herself as a “person of faith.” She apologized to her fundamentalist parents for a barroom allegory she used to illustrate tax reform.

But almost every day, she’s telling lies like beads on a string – some she gets from official talking points but some she makes up on the spot.

Faithful to her faith? No, she’s a serial liar. But will she regret her lapses? Heck, no. She’ll be a hero among evangelicals for standing with Trump!




History flips

Asheville Daily Planet, November 2017

Sometimes history repeats itself. Sometimes history flips. Sometimes history does both.

This is the story of two North Carolina political parties in two different times and how they governed. It’s the remarkable story of how events in one century have been repeated in another – but in reverse.

The two parties are of course Republicans and Democrats. The different times are the 1890s and the 21st century. To help in this crisscrossing narrative, let’s call the 19th century parties D19 and R19, and let’s call today’s 21st century parties D21 and R21.

D19 had controlled North Carolina since 1870. Their tool for maintaining power was a law that gave the legislature control of county commissions, thereby keeping R19 from holding any power at all.

But in the statewide election of 1894, R19 took control of the General Assembly. Immediately they returned power to local governments. They limited interest on farm loans. They reversed D19 voter suppression. And they raised taxes for schools.

Most people here in the western mountains were Republicans. I would have been, too.

That period of R19 rule in Raleigh in the 1890s was the brightest light that shined in 19th century North Carolina. They passed laws that met the people’s needs. They performed well – for four years.

Then in the election of 1898, the Republican Party in North Carolina was demolished. D19 campaigned as “the white man’s party,” and they terrorized R19 voters, especially blacks. D19 won 93 of 118 seats in the General Assembly. And the shining light of North Carolina dimmed for decades.

Democrats had always been the party of slavery. When they took control of the General Assembly in 1898, they moved quickly to disenfranchise Negro – and poor white – voters with poll taxes and literacy tests. The 1890s ended with one-party rule through voter suppression.

In that decade, we had a back-and-forth trilogy: bad D19 government, then excellent R19 government, then return of atrocious D19 government.

A century passed, and our political parties crisscrossed. D19 became R21.

The Democratic Party of 1898, with its voter suppression, evolved into today’s Republican Party. And on the other hand, people today who share the old R19 commitment to public education, fair elections, and maximum participation in voting are in today’s Democratic Party.

And we have seen the same alternation of good and bad government in our time, but in reverse of the 1890s.

As the 21st century arrived, Americans looked at a map of the United States and saw an aura that glowed around North Carolina. Successive D21 administrations had taken us from a society that looked backward, in the manner of our Confederate neighbors, to embrace an open-ended future.

We were enlightened. Our university system was second to none. We invested in public schools. We protected our natural beauty. We valued innovation and creativity. The Research Triangle is a treasure.

Then R21 messed with an election. Days before the election of 2010, R21 dropped a series of misleading mailbox fliers into key races, and they took over the General Assembly.

And R21 began right away to douse the glowing aura that D21 had established for us over decades. We all know their legislative atrocities – voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering, war on teachers and public schools, extending their power over local governments.  And they lied and lied.  As a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill put it: “It’s hard to see why any political ideology demands its adherents constantly lie about their motivations.”

In the 1890s, I would have been a Republican because their concern was citizen needs, not maintaining power. I’m a Democrat today for the same reason.

In the 1890s North Carolina experienced bad D19 rule, then good R19 rule, then bad D19 rule. In this century, we’ve experienced good D21 rule and now terrible R21 rule. This century’s trilogy is yet to be completed – with good D21 rule.

It will happen. The glow will once again shine. If not next year, then 2020

Underfoot worries just a bit

Asheville Daily Planet, October 2017

Professor Cyril Underfoot is a quirky old relic of academia – renowned in his field of study but locally, a nut case. Students call him “Dr. Undertree” because he doesn’t meet one-on-one in his office with female students. He never married, never came close. He has no friends, only professional colleagues. He makes (actually, funny) jokes about patriotism.  He loves to watch his favorite movies again and again, still on VHS.

Underfoot is an authority on the tensions between John Locke’s ideas of government by the people and popular movements that go wrong and become dictatorships.

For all his expertise in government theory, he has never had the least interest in politics. His enjoyment lies in looking backward in history, not in following what he calls “democracy’s great obscenity.”

He did like – no, he enjoyed – Ronald Reagan as president. He said his economic policies came from “a Styrofoam tower,” but he loved Reagan’s sense of humor. He plagiarizes Reagan jokes, especially the one about the three-legged chicken.

A year ago, however, he happened to see Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the GOP convention on TV. As he listened to Trump’s promises of “law and order,” his mind was eerily drawn to Benito Mussolini’s rise in Italy in 1922.

As a result of Trump’s speech, he followed the presidential campaign with mild interest. He once said with a knowing smile: “I’ve seen you before, Donald Trump – many times, in many countries.”

Then one Wednesday in November, he followed his neat daily routine and went out for the local newspaper.

He brought his paper over where his coffee and glasses waited. His usual interest is Eastern Europe’s trend toward dictatorship. But that morning, the front page screamed, “TRUMP TRIUMPHANT!”

Underfoot’s first reaction was a chuckle. Then he broke into a long, resonant, rib-cracking laugh.

He managed to cough out the final words of “Planet of the Apes,” when Charlton Heston sees Lady Liberty half-buried in beach sand: “They really did it! Those maniacs!” And he sputtered it again: “They really did itThey really did it!”

He went to his computer immediately and subscribed to the New York Times. “This is going to be fun,” he said out loud.

Underfoot had watched during the campaign the Trump assertions that he might have to expand libel laws to let him sue newspapers and how his generals would obey his orders. Trump was in Underfoot’s wheelhouse.

Shortly before the Inauguration, Underfoot put two 8×10 photographs in a proper envelope addressed to “The President-Elect, c/o the Secret Service, Trump Tower, 725 5th Ave., New York, NY 10022.” On the back of one photo he had written, “Benito Mussolini speaking to adoring crowds.” The second photo was the iconic shot of the executed Mussolini hanging upside down on meat hooks from a gas station in Milan with howling mobs all around. Underfoot wrote on the back: “The crowds no longer adore. The speaker no longer speaks.” The return address used his full name, Ph.D., and home address. He smiled as he made a pot of coffee for the FBI when they came. They never did.

For months, Underfoot read the Times with some eagerness. From time to time, he would mutter something to his waggy-tail mutt of a dog – like in late May when Trump called for the Senate to change its rules to make legislation easier.

“Sloppie,” he said, “we both know the man is an ignoramus. He makes me laugh, sure, but there’s something more about him that keeps me stroking my beard. He lacks the political skill and discipline of Hitler or even Robert Mugabe. He’s like Viktor Orban in Hungary in his nationalism, but Orban is politically slick. Orban is somebody to worry about. Not Trump. And yet, ha-ha, here I am, still talking to you about him.”

Then last week, he sat on his deck, looking far away. He’d been reading Times columnists and investigative reporters about the Mueller investigations. “Third World, Sloppie, that’s all he is. Money, money, get power, get rich.” Then he paused. “But Third World presidents do terrible things to become dictators, don’t they?”

I wish Sanders hadn’t run

Citizen-Times, May 2016

I wish Bernie Sanders hadn’t run for president.

I have no quarrels with most of Sanders’ beliefs. He sees a future for America that all of us should hope for.

And he’s right that historic changes, like women’s suffrage and civil rights, happened out of great movements, not incrementally.

And it’s apparently true that he was an effective leader as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He wasn’t just talk.

My concern is that Sanders can open the gate for a Republicn to win in November. And that would mean a far-right Supreme Court for decades – and American oligarchy.

As I talk to Sanders believers, more often than not, I hear strong anti-Hillary feelings – some so strong they would not vote for Hillary if she gets the nomination.

And if Sanders does win the nomination, I worry that America isn’t ready to elect a 75-year-old “Democratic Socialist” whose non-religious belief in God sounds like old-time humanism.

I wish he weren’t in the race, but he is. I wish he’d feel satisfied and go home, but he won’t.  He’s doing too well.  So I guess I’ll just wish away the worst-case, Republican disaster.

Ambition to be president

News-Record, August 23, 2017

“The brash and undeserving forge ahead.”

This is a quote from somebody, I forget who. Google doesn’t carry it. It has come to my mind on occasion over the years.

I thought of this saying recently when I heard about people who have begun to organize to run for president in 2020 – setting up committees and schmooozing big Republican donors.

I don’t know a lot about these people, but one thing I do know: they are ambitious.

I don’t have anything against ambition. If I were to speak to high school students, I’d urge them to be the best they can be. I admire entrepreneurs.

But I don’t think we get the best candidates for president from a pool of people with ambition for power or self-fulfillment or other ego-driven motives.

A Republican observer used an interesting phrase to describe this kind of person: “If the Republicans have lost a lot of seats in the Congress, and they blame Trump for it, there are people who will emerge who are political opportunists.”

I’d like to see both parties set up search committees to seek out people who would, simply, make the best president – smart with vision and problem-solving skills, team-builders, articulate speakers. I’m convinced there are humble, tough-minded people who would fit the Founding Fathers’ ideal.


Dictator Donald

August 15, 2017

In 1925, three years after he took power in Italy, Benito Mussolini took the title, Duce. When Adolph Hitler took power in Germany, he took the nickname, Fuhrer.

After Francisco Franco won the Spanish Civil War in 1939, he called himself El Caudillo.

All three titles mean the same thing: “leader.”  And all three titles were specifically used to mean, “dictator.”

So here I am one marning watcing TV news, and there is President Trump addressing a hall full of ecstatic followers in West Virginia. Idly sipping coffee and listening to Trump’s usual rant at the media and the Special Prosecutor, I heard him say:  “They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership you won.”

Oh no, Trump used the L-word!

We all know how Trump admires dictators. Putin, he said, has been “far more of a leader” than Obama. Kim Jong-un is a “smart cookie.”

He ran the privately owned Trrump Organization like a dictator, and it‘s clear that’s how he thinks the presidency should be run.

I smiled over my coffee that morning, however. Mussolini and Hitler both proved themselves inept in the end, but they had the political skill to gain power. Trump has proven himself inept at the beginning. Dictator Donald? Nah.

Sea level rise is unlawful!

Asheville DailyPlanet, September 2017

This column asks one multiple-choice question: Are Republicans in Raleigh: (a) cynical, (b) ideologically berserk, (c) stupid, (d) pathetic, or (e) all of the above? Before you answer, read the case study that follows.

North Carolina has had a Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) since 1974. From their website, “The commission designates areas of environmental concern, adopts rules and policies for coastal development within those areas, and certifies local land use plans.”

In 1996, a science panel was added, organized by Dr. Stan Riggs, a distinguished geologist at East Carolina University, to advise the CRC on inlets, beaches, sea level rise and storm patterns as they make their long-range plans.

It’s a terrific idea. North Carolina has 2100 square miles of low-lying coastline and inadequate barrier islands, and here’s a government commission with critical responsibility receiving the best available scientific advice.

This arrangement worked well for 14 years. The meetings, Dr. Riggs said, were “truly exciting learning experiences.”

Let’s see: 1996 + 14 years. Right. The GOP takeover of the General Assembly.

Almost immediately (April 6, 2011) a bill was filed that bars state agencies from adopting any “rule, policy or planning guideline that defines a rate of sea-level change.”

Two weeks after the bill passed, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that sea-level rise at Cape Hatteras and northward is accelerating four times the global average.

And a Scientific American blog quipped: “[North Carolina] can escape sea level rise…by making it against the law.”

But irony and humor were lost on the GOP legislature. They cut the CRC from 15 to 13 members and replaced eight environment-friendly members.

In 2010, the old CRC had issued a report, based on best science, that projected a 39-inch seal level rise this century – enormously relevant data that would have guided how long-lasting roads and buildings should be built and guided where development should not be allowed.

But Republicans dismiss science. They listen to developers and real estate interests, big donors to the GOP, who don’t want negative thoughts to discourage prospects.  And state agencies are doing their bidding.

A year ago, Dr. Riggs resigned from the science panel. Scientists remaining give credit to Riggs for a 2015 report that shows greatest risk in the northern barrier islands, but it got no hearing. “We were playing games,” Riggs said of the panel.

Prior to 2010, North Carolina was a national model for sea level preparation. The new CRC has reversed all that. They decreed that studies would only look at 30-year projections, instead of 100 years, which means preparation for only an eight-inch rise. And they’re allowing outrageous development.

The Raleigh News & Observer tells of one such development: “Sunset Beach West would… have 21 eight-bedroom houses with individual septic systems, wells and power generators next to a state nature preserve in an area with a fragile dunes system and the potential for flooding. The area is so unstable that federal regulations prohibit public utility connections.”

When the town of Sunset Beach challenged the CRC decision, the General Assembly considered a bill to de-annex the development land from the town.

OK, now we’re ready for the multiple-choice question, and since I can’t hear your answers, I’ll give mine.

Cynical? Ideologically berserk? I say the GOP is not being ideological in their actions on sea level rise in North Carolina. I don’t think they are motivated by any beliefs on climate change. They just hide behind ideology. The Republican Party in North Carolina bows down to one idol: keeping power. And that makes a god of developer money.

The people on the coast are the clear losers – those who live there already and the poor suckers who buy houses that will certainly have to be moved. And don’t forget future generations.

Republicans aren’t stupid. Their values are upside down, but they’re very skilled at politicizing everything.

Pathetic? Anyone who admires slippery slime in their politicians would say no, Republicans in Raleigh are not pathetic. And the rest of us would also say no to calling them “pathetic.” We’re looking for a more depraved word.



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