What the world needs now is another think tank

A group of local progressive community activists has created the Vance Policy Institute, whose initial goal is to bring greater openness and transparency to local government operations and decisions in Asheville and Buncombe County.

The newly formed “think tank” is the creation of local blogger Gordon Smith of Scrutiny Hooligans, former Xpress writer and editor Cecil Bothwell, and fellow community activists Jim Barton, B.J. Snow and Michael McDonough. The institute is named after the 19th-century N.C. senator and governor, Zebulon Vance of Asheville — namesake of downtown’s obelisk monument.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the group’s intent, though it appears to be just a precursor to a greater effort to help shape public policy on a wealth of local issues:

“Vance Policy Institute (VPI) is a newly formed think tank dedicated to identifying problems and providing effective policy solutions for issues in Asheville and Buncombe County. VPI is rolling out its first policy ‘white paper’ at Tuesday’s [Dec. 4] County Commission meeting during the public comment period. From the paper:

‘The Vance Policy Institute’s mission is to explore, propose and advocate sound public policies. We are committed to enlightened, systemic changes in both Asheville municipal and Buncombe county governments through a process that identifies significant problems, considers solutions from all stakeholders, then proposes only those policies that will result in the greatest good for the greatest number.’”

For a fuller report on the new think tank, check out the Dec. 12 issue of Xpress.

— Hal L. Millard, staff writer


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47 thoughts on “What the world needs now is another think tank

  1. Nam Vet

    How can this new “progressive” think tank be effective when the “thinkers” are still stuck in the idea that they can make socialism work even though it has failed over and over again? My guess is that the timing of this coincides with the fact that the fauxprogs on Council are now NOT in the majority. Poor comrade Freeborn is gone, replaced by an evil republican. So Cecil and Gordon want to to a little agitating for a voice as that phantom 4th progressive Councilor? Can’t do it guys. The Council is SEVEN elected representatives and the people have spoken. They have given a resounding NO to partisan elections and punished those that tried to ram it down our throats. MoveOn.org…just “move on”. :)

  2. older than dirt

    I agree with you, it sounds like a knee jerk reaction to me. Oh , and brother Freeborn needs something to now if they need members.

  3. Joey

    Socialism has failed? Someone should tell Great Britian, Sweden and Canada.

  4. Nam Vet

    Joey,if you’ll do some real research, you’ll find there are plenty of problems in those countries. In Sweden a few years ago, the socialists were voted out because of government employee corruption and the misuse of the welfare system. The workers got tired of supporting young mothers for life and unending unemployment benefits. Same in The Netherands. Socialist-liberals voted out for much the same reasons. Plus people were tired of the total lack of absolutes, like allowing child pornography and public drug use. France just threw out their socialist government and went with a conservative. Canada’s taxes are sky high. You have to wait a long time for many hospital procedures. The Canadians who have somehow escaped having all their money confiscated by the state, go to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, USA for their healthcare.

    There are a lot of negatives to socialism. High taxes, low productivity as a result, and inept government management. It is un-American. If you think socialism will work better, go to one of those countries you admire and check it out for yourself.

  5. Nam Vet

    It is ironic that the local “activists” have chosen Governor Zeb Vance’s name for their “think” tank. Governor Vance was a Confederate States of America field grade military officer in the War Between the States. He later served as our governor during that war of northern aggression. Later a senator, after he was “paroled” by the busy-body northern aggressors. Vance was no “progressive”. He is a conservative hero of North Carolina and the South. A curious choice by the fauxprogs. Curious.

  6. Jimbo

    Great! Another self important, special interest group self ordained to be singular radical voice for the huddled masses and “silent majority” of which they know absolutely nothing about. Asheville really is an impressive place with so many people who are so abundantly qualified to tell everyone else how they should do anything. Oh wait. They aren’t qualified until they actually do something themselves. So basically they’re only qualification is knowing how to find fault and complain. That’s got the makings of a great “think tank”. What could possibly go wrong with such a well conceived enterprise?

    I’ve got an idea. If they’re so truly concerned about what’s “the greatest good for the greatest number”, how about we take anyone and everyone who’s sure they are qualified to dictate what’s best for everyone and how local government should run, and put them all together in one group. Then lock the door and only let them out after all these various self righteous individuals can agree on a name for their new group, or the shape of their meeting table. Only after which do they get to come out and talk to anyone else about how to do anything in our community. Should keep them busy for about 6-8 years or so.

  7. Gordon Smith

    Hi again Jimbo,

    Great to see you participating here. Participation and citizen interest are, in my mind, symptoms of a healthy democracy. VPI aims to offer policy solutions to those willing to consider them. Here’s hoping that if you had a really good idea, folks would consider it, too.

  8. Gordon Smith

    Regarding Vance, via Cecil Bothwell:

    “As for the name “Vance” — it’s true old Zeb was a mixed bag. Like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington he was a slave-owner, yet unlike Abraham Lincoln he refused to cancel habeas corpus when all of the other Confederate states dumped that basic right. At the same time he was a staunch defender of Jews in an era when Jews were subject to widespread vilification and discrimination. The monument in Pack Square is iconic and celebrates the fact that one of Buncombe’s progeny became Governor and a U.S. Senator without too much focus on his shortcomings. We adopted the name as emblematic of this city and county, just as the U.S. capitol uses the name of Washington without thinking overmuch about his slaves.”

    On Vance, from me:

    “- excellence in policy and law
    – great influence at a young age
    – excellent oratory
    – insistence on the Rule of Law. NC was the only southern state that didn’t suspend the writ of habeas corpus
    – focus on religious tolerance”

    So do y’all have thoughts on government transparency and how it can be improved? I’d love to hear your thoughts as to the substance of our initial policy offering.

  9. joey

    “government employee corruption…tired of supporting young mothers for life and unending unemployment benefits…allowing child pornography and public drug use…have to wait a long time for many hospital procedures…”

    Hmmm…sounds just like here, except people can’t even get into a hospital for procedures. Canada has just recently refunded taxes to it’s citizens. And I have lived in Amsterdam, Paris and have close friends in Canada.

  10. Jon Elliston

    Gordon asked:

    “So do y’all have thoughts on government transparency and how it can be improved?”

    You betcha — as members of the press, that’s a big concern of ours, and I’m happy VPI took on this topic as your initial offering.

    One resource for you, and for anyone else interested in the state of open-government law in North Carolina, is the free, online edition of the North Carolina Press Association’s monthly newsletter. Each issue features columns and updates on transparency issues and lawsuits. It’s fascinating to keep up with the matter in that publication, because you learn just how dynamic our open-government laws are in this state, which is to say that they change all the time due to litigation and such.

    The current issue, which you can download here — http://www.ncpress.com/ncpa/ncpress.html — features an interesting commentary from the NCPA’s First Amendment and Legislative Counsel, John Bussian, on the issue of state law regarding government personnel records. The issue he addresses will be of particular interest to those who followed the “flag arrests” story — wherein Sheriff Duncan refused to release much in the way of information about whether the deputy was sanctioned by the department.

    I know of a few other NC-specific open-government resources, which I’ll try to pass on a bit later today.

  11. DonM

    It’s a little difficult to find in the various sources provided in MountainX articles about Vance, but he was also a life-long Freemason and his “Scattered Nation” speech is thought to be a tribute to his great Jewish friend, Samuel Wittowsky.

    “…Some believe his speech to be a tribute to his close Jewish friend and Masonic brother, Samuel Wittowsky, a Polish-born Jew from Charlotte, NC. Wittowsky and Vance formed a close bond while they both served as lawyers in Charlotte. When Vance died, Wittowsky carried him to his final resting place in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, just as he had carried him by carriage to Washington when Vance was imprisoned at the end of the war. Legend has it that Wittowsky offered his carriage for transport when Vance had difficulty in seating his portly body on horseback to make the long trip. The trip, reportedly cemented the relationship of the two men. Wittowsky and Vance and possibly Pack were all members of the Freemasons. Vance, as noted earlier, was a member of the Mt. Hermon Lodge #118 in Asheville, which was eventually in 1913, located in the Richard Sharp Smith building, the Scottish Rites building, on the corner of Broadway and Woodfin. It is uncertain if Pack was also a member…”


    Yup, ol’ Vance was quite a mixed bag, indeed!

  12. shadmarsh

    Hey Don,

    Is there some “internet law” about mentioning the Freemason’s in a thread? Do you now have the dubious distinction of being “that person”? Just curious.

  13. DonM

    LOL! Of course not! It’s a matter of historical fact about Zeb Vance.

    Snarky Nazi analogies are quite a different matter, though. Hence the “internet law.” No citations are issued; rather, it’s just usually a thread-killer.

    Merry Christmas!

  14. shadmarsh

    Thanks Don, I will be sure to make a sacrifice to Baphomet in your honor.

  15. DonM

    Wow, shadmarsh. You’re battin’ .000. Why on Earth would you want to sacrifice anything to Baphomet? Are you romantically linked to the ancient lore of the Knights Templars?

    It has zero to do with Freemasonry. Keep at it, though and I’m sure you’ll hit SOME erroneous trifecta of tripe. Merry Christmas!


  16. shadmarsh

    I dunno DonM. I guess it is sort of like wishing an Athiest Merry Christmas? (while all the time knowing that it wasn’t Merry Christmas that you meant, but “Up Yours”…)

  17. DonM

    LOL! You hit the trifecta! I’ve wished everyone a Merry Christmas for well over half a century. You make of it what want.

  18. Nam Vet

    Gordon, WHY weren’t you concerned with government transparency when your like-minded fauxprogs were in the majority? When they tried to bamboozle the Asheville into partisan elections? By the way, are you a member of MoveOn.Org?

    My ideas on what your group should do? Get out in the community and DO something to improve living conditions for the less fortunate. Donate your time and money to the food bank, meals on wheels, the Salvation Army. Go down to Pritchard Park and HIRE the “homeless” there and give them some useful work to do.

  19. Nam Vet

    I find it humorous that some of the northern transplants call Governor Vance a “bigot” because he commanded CSA troops, and was our venerated Civil War governor. He had some slaves. Slaves sold into slavery by other blacks in Africa. Then shipped to Southern ports by NORTHERN ships, usually home-ported in Boston. And the northern ship captains are the ones who “bought” the slaves in the first place, forever marrying the north to the slave trade of the 19th century.

    I find it comical that northerners are some of the biggest bigots around. Bigoted against the entire SE region of the country, that they ironically have called home. Northerners who forget their own racist pasts and try to scapegoat the South for their own failures. Look at NYC in the 1930s-1940s. Balkanized neighborhoods according to ethnicity and cultural background. Blacks and other minorities may not have been under formal segregation laws, but nonetheless were victims of widespread DISCRIMINATION that kept them in low income service jobs and living in the worse parts of town.

    More northern racism? When Jackie Robinson was the first black to be allowed into the all-white major league baseball world (all northern teams by the way, there were no Atlanta Braves at that time), he encountered sickeningly rabid racism from his own fellow NY Yankee team mates, and from the fans in the stands. He was called the “N” wordconstantly…and worse. 1947 NYC. Full of racism. So before northerners throw stones calling us racist, better boardup your glass house.

    Here are some quotes from a true white supremacist racist. A man many northerners mistakenly think was a statesman.

    “”I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”
    –Abraham Lincoln

  20. Gordon Smith

    Nam Vet,

    I’ve always been concerned with government transparency, and I’m sorry I couldn’t get this sort of policy inititive started earlier. Things in life come as opportunity and energy allow. I’m sure you know what I mean.

    I’m not a member of MoveOn.org though I did aid in their phone banking operation in the run up to the 2006 elections as we were working to get Democrats elected across the nation.

  21. Nam Vet

    Good answer Gordon. I would like transparency no matter who is in the majority. Especially concerning sweetheart deals between Council, County employees, and the real estate development business.

  22. Gordon Smith

    Nam Vet,

    Maybe I should know from seeing it on these boards, but what’s a fauxprog? And, if as I assume, it means someone who only pretends to be a progressive, what is a “vraiprog” or true progressive in your mind?

  23. travelah

    It is a false progressive, one who claims the title progressive when in fact their idealistic notions tend to be regressive and opposed to any notion of progress. An example would be the leftist minded soul who decries the sprawl of this metropolitan area while loudly protesting the alternative of building up rather than out. There is no reasonable solution to the problem in the mind of the false progressive because any solution offends their stalemated mindset. Another example would be the politician who attempts to impose Nixionian tactics on an electorate with the effect of stymieing electorate participation. Asheville seems to have an eclectic collection of false progressives.

  24. shadmarsh

    For more on travelahs insightful psychological analysis look for her book “Everyone is stupid except me: My life as a hater of progressives, fauxgressives, and Lutherans” available from Wing-nut books.

  25. Nam Vet

    Gordon, a ‘fauxprog’ is a person who talks leftwing ideals, but lives like a republican. Or as a hypocrite according to the issue. Example: Al Gore. He decries our use of fossil fuels and it’s effect on ‘global warming’, yet he himself lives a very carbon-intensive lifestyle. He flies everywhere in a private jet. The jets use enormous amounts of fuel. Al Gore lives in a large mansion and has a monthly electric bill of $3000, according to news reports in the past. He is eager for “the other guy” to sacrifice on energy consumption. He evidently thinks he is above living as he preaches.

    Local examples of fauxprogs are the “progressive” members on our own Council. Holly Jones, Brownie Newman, Robin Cape. All voted for the Ellington Hotel, a richman’s holiday “boutique” hotel that will cause a lot of problems for downtown Asheville. Our skyline will be spoiled with this tribute to transplant New York City jerks. Lots of traffic congestion and skyrocketing property taxes that will drive many mom and pop businesses out of downtown. Then we will just be left with the wealthy ex-Manhattanite “hobby” businesses. You know, the foo-foo boutiques with the cutesy names.

    A true progressive WALKS THE TALK. That says it all. If you are in favor of helping the poor, stop talking about it and DO something, personally. Too many just agitate and want people’s taxes raised for a bigger welfare program. Just talk, especially since many believe someone else will be paying the increases (the mythical “rich”) and not themselves. If you are a local politician who talks of helping the less powerful, you do not ruin downtown by signing onto a monstrosity like the Ellington. Ah can’t you just envision opening night with all our “progressive” politicians riding up in LIMOSINES to be feted by the real estate lobby? :)

  26. travelah

    shad, no way… I know some great Lutherans. Luther’s Bondage of the Will is a wonderful theological read.

  27. Gordon Smith

    Thanks for the explanation. I think you’re just recycling the concept that informed the creation of the word “hypocrite”, but I know from experience it’s fun to come up with new and exciting words.

    I’m not sure how else Al Gore would get around the world to twist arms and enlighten leaders, nor am I sure about how his carbon offsets figure into your logic. I’m not sure how your two-dimensional up vs. out self-inflicted debate has anything to do with serious analysis of development.

    If there are fauxprogs, are there also fauxcons? Folks who pretend to be for limited government and more liberty but who vote against those things over and over and over? Folks who use government “handouts” when they advocate against them. Folks who call themselves “strict constitutionalists” while demanding that church and state combine?

    Just curious if you’ve explored the other side of the “faux”ness. Thanks again.

  28. PatD

    Nam Vet.
    You make a good point on Al Gore not walking the talk but, at the same time, what he and many others have shown to all of us ‘oil addicts’ is not something to be ignored.

    Well said on the Ellington. This city, with it’s so called progressive leaders, is no different than the rest of this (once) great country. It’s all about the dollar and about absolutely nothing else. Selling out is what we seem to do best these days.

    You wrote earlier about socialism etc. The Netherlands allowing ‘child pornography’. Where on earth are you getting such ridiculous information?

  29. Nam Vet

    Pat, nice to see you agree on Gore and the Ellington. On child pornography in the Netherlands, I may have either mispoken or the law has been changed. I researched the net and couldn’t validation my original remark. As far as my remarks about problems in Europe and Canada with socialized medicine, the information is plainly available through research of news articles. Canada, I have personal experience with, having 3 friends who live there. They have told me about the high taxes and poor service there.

  30. travelah

    Gordon, you are right that there are false conservatives however a strict constructionist (not constitutionalist) would not argue that state and church be combined but that the constitution be understood within the context of it’s original intent. That intent was not the removal of Christianity from public life but the avoidance of established sectarian groups endorsed by government at the expense of another. A strict constructionist would recognize, rightly so, that there is no phrase “separation of church and state” found in the constitution nor does Jefferson’s letter providing the phrase have any bearing on constitutional intent. With that understanding, a conservative is a strict constructionist while not all strict constructionists are conservative.

  31. Gordon Smith

    So what does a fauxcon look like? I see your point re: constructionism, but i don’t really have a clear idea on what an analagous hypocrisy would look like on the conservative side.

  32. Nam Vet

    Gordon, of course there are hypocrites on the right. There are plenty of hypocrites everywhere. And we are each at least a bit hypocritical in our lives, because we are all human. It is notable though when a public person stands on their soap box and preaches one thing, then lives the opposite way. Either through blind denial of their own faults, or through the worst kind of hypocrisy, living contrary and not caring about the discrepancy. Perhaps we should coin the term “fauxrightists” to describe the conservative hypocrites. :)

    As far as separation from church and state, my interpretation is that the founders did not want an official state mandated religion, like England had at the time with the Anglican Church. They didn’t mean we should not mention the word “God” in public business. In fact, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, our currency, the Federalist Papers, and many other founding documents, mention “God”. So my stance is that the word God is good, but designating Christian over, say Buddhist, is not right. A generic use of “God” meaning “Higher Power” is OK with me and I think in keeping with the original intent of Jefferson and our other founding fathers. “In God We Trust”.

  33. travelah

    Huckabee looks like a Fauxcon to me. He is running on a conservative platform yet has no shyness with regard to taxation.

  34. shadmarsh

    Yeah, but he really hates the gays, and science doesn’t that make up for his love of taxation?

  35. travelah

    shad, no, that just puts him on the same level as the fauxprogs who hate Christ and money in other peoples pockets.

  36. shadmarsh

    So would you say is it true that Ron Paul is the only “true” Conservative running then?

  37. travelah

    shad, no, Ron Paul is a true cracked pot. The Republican field is adrift and in need of a charismatic leadership to refocus itself. The leadership, in my opinion, should reflect the qualities and visions of men and women such as Barry Goldwater, Margaret Thatcher and William F. Buckley among others. The country will need it to recover from an administration of the carpetbagger Senator from New Illiarkanyoark who obviously woke up 9 months ago and decided to run for President.

  38. shadmarsh

    You realize that Margret Thatcher is English right? She has, to my knowledge at least, never held office in the United States…and now that I think of it I don’t know if her gender has ever been clearly established either.

    It is interesting that you describe Ron Paul as a “cracked pot” (not that I disagree) but among the GOP field he seems the most sane.

  39. Nam Vet

    Gordon, pardon me. “Fauxcon” IS a better term for conservative hypocrites.

    Ron Paul IS NOT a crack pot. He is a rare politician who walks his talks and means what he says. He is a libertarian running on a republican ticket. He is the only good choice on that side of the aisle. And Al Gore is the only good choice on the other side of the aisle. A friend told me tonight Gore is finally rattling his “if I run” sword. Hope he does. Carbon-intensive hypocrite or not, he has a lot of good points. And is very electable. Gore can pull republican and independent voters, which is needed for any clear democrat victory. And Ron Paul hasn’t much of a chance. So for me it’s…GO AL GO!

  40. travelah

    shad, why would you think conservatism is defined by US citizenry? I could have included Reagan and Churchill as well.

  41. Rob Close

    Yeah, Thatcher is a solid example of a conservative. When i was in england a few years ago, nearly everyone i spoke to about politics had glowing things to say about her. #1 was her focus on getting people to stop renting & start owning their homes instead. Solid economics.

  42. travelah

    Thatcher is highly respected at home and abroad however like her peer, Reagan, she is still on the receiving end of a lot of vitriol and absurd ad hominems from leftist and other radical shortsighted souls. When the books are written later in this century, she will be listed among the great leaders in the world during the 20th century along with Reagan.

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