Letters to the editor

Dog’s shooting raises questions

Animal control in Asheville is enforced unequally.

A friend of mine who lived on Cranford Road was bitten by a dog that had bitten two other neighbors. The dog was impounded for 10 days and returned to the owner with instructions to keep the dog inside the fence and put up a warning sign.

A neighbor’s dog on Virginia Avenue escaped its fenced area and went to another neighbor’s yard. This neighbor called the police. The police came — four or five cars full — and stealthily, with no sirens. By this time the dog had returned home.

Another neighbor was an eyewitness to four police officers with guns drawn, aiming at the dog that was standing doing nothing in her own yard. Firing towards an occupied house, the police killed the dog and then fined her owner for the dog being “at large.” The owner was at home, but did not know of the problem until he heard the gunshots.

This dog had not bitten anyone. The eyewitness repeatedly said, “They had no business shooting that dog.”

Compare this with the treatment of a rabid coyote that was captured alive after biting three people on the same day this dog was killed (Jan. 9).

–Sylvia Montgomery

[Editor’s note: According to Lt. Rae Ferguson with the Asheville Police Department, who was one of the responding officers on Jan. 9, police were called to Virginia Avenue by a resident whose brother was reportedly being attacked by a loose dog. According to Ferguson, the dog then attacked two of the responding officers. “The officers had no choice” but to shoot, she said. Lt. Ferguson also noted that the dog had been previously deemed dangerous by Animal Control and was on “preventive measures” (required to be restrained on owner’s property) — although this was not known to the police until an Animal Control representative arrived after the dog was shot.]

Don’t buy Leef’s rush to the bottom

Having come to the UNC system during the past year, the article “What Price Education?” [Jan. 4 Xpress] caught my attention. Invoking the word “socialist” with the force of a four-letter expletive, author George Leef criticizes North Carolina for its publicly financed support for higher education. Sorry, Mr. Leef, your name-calling doesn’t scare me, and your criticism of the state’s system is rooted in shortsightedness and flawed assumptions.

Leef claims that students benefit from education, not the public whose taxes pay the bills. Leef may want to live in a state where the majority of citizens get by on a high school diploma — or less — but I don’t. Communities with largely uneducated populations spend less on educational institutions, but they spend more on welfare, food stamps, indigent healthcare, juvenile justice and jails.

Citing Virginia and South Carolina as models, Mr. Leef’s rush to the bottom would have North Carolina retreat from its support of higher education to join those at the nation’s lowest ranks. Yes, Virginia is a low-tax state, but at what cost? Virginia’s system of higher education has been slammed by aggressive tax cuts. During the 1980s, Democratic Gov. Douglas Wilder cut higher education budgets by more than $400 million, dropping the state to 44th in the nation in spending per student. By the time his predecessor, Republican Gov. George Allen, came into office and proposed another $50 million dollar reduction to higher education, even fellow Republicans had had enough.

An important contributor to Allen’s successful campaign, a graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Law School, was quoted as saying: “Higher education was really in the pits.” According to the Business Higher Education Council, as tuition charges soared, “public institutions became some of the most expensive in the land.” UVA Online reported that the salary at Virginia’s flagship institution, the University of Virginia — founded by none other than Thomas Jefferson — “ranked in the 48th percentile when compared with peer institutions in 1999-2000.”

And things were worse at less prestigious schools. States with lagging support for higher ed lose talented faculty who flee, looking elsewhere for adequate compensation and benefits. Students are leaving as well, after several schools implemented a cost-cutting measure that favored last-minute cancellations of scheduled courses, sometimes leaving them without the courses they need to graduate. By 2004, Virginia ranked 37th in per-capita spending on operating expenses for higher education.

In contrast, North Carolina’s support for higher ed ranks it sixth in the nation. To me this is a laudable achievement. While taxes paid into colleges’ coffers can be thought of as an expense, they should be considered an investment as well. Talk about jump-starting the economy. College graduates earn more and, in turn, pay more taxes. But a more important consequence of having a well-educated public is the ability to apply knowledge broadly to creative problem solving and, thus, give back to communities.

— Anna Fariello
Visiting Assoc. Professor and Project LeaderCraft Revival Project, Hunter LibraryWestern Carolina UniversityCullowhee

“Give to everyone who begs from you”

It is very difficult to get well if one has received the wrong diagnosis. In a recent letter to the editor [“Panhandling Solution,” Jan. 25], Mr. King superficially diagnoses our problem as panhandling. He sees homeless people as the problem, when the real problem is homelessness.

It is a typical scenario of blaming the victim and diverting attention away from the real issue: that human beings, citizens, do not have safe, affordable housing. Why? Herein lies the need for a deeper diagnosis.

Homelessness was created by more than 20 years of bad public policy designed to benefit those at the top and to strip the core value of taking care of each other. Homelessness is maintained and needed by a system that is about wealth creation and profit, a system built on an artificial compulsion to consume and the need for cheap labor to keep prices low (always). The underbelly of this system is that some have too much, while others do not have enough to survive; some have huge houses, and others have no home at all.

Asheville has already taken the egregious step of making it illegal to ask for help. Mr. King’s letter proposes making it illegal to give help. (Both of these are seemingly unconstitutional — the former being a protection of free speech and the later protected under freedom of religion, as most religions have a tradition of giving alms to the poor.)

Panhandlers make us uncomfortable. They prick our conscience and make us feel guilty. And that is the way it should be. We need to be reminded of the injustice that our system creates and the human faces of those who are hurt by this injustice: children, women and men.

Perhaps that is why Jesus is decidedly pro-panhandling. He says in Luke, Chapter 6: “Give to everyone who begs from you … . Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Mr. King also suggests making citation fees go to agencies serving people who are homeless, which only serves to further depersonalize and distance ourselves from people and takes away our choice to give to our sisters and brothers. These agencies are necessary and important, but the client-services model should not replace human compassion and connection. The real solution is people getting involved personally in relationship with people who are homeless, and working together to change the system that creates homelessness and poverty.

We should take the advice of the one sometimes called the Great Physician, who discerned the injustices of his own time and whose mission statement in Luke 4:18-19 makes clear that the call is to walk in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed and to dismantle unjust systems.

— Rev. Chrystal Cook

A civics lesson in homelessness

In a letter from Paul D. King [“Panhandling Solution,” Jan. 25], I learned something about the homeless I never would have thought of.

I have heard that the “homeless problem” is that “those people” are worthless, lazy bums; I have heard that the “homeless problem” is caused by the downside of our capitalistic society; I have heard that it is caused by churches and civic organizations not doing enough. But this is the first time I have heard that the “homeless problem” is caused by people being generous to those less fortunate.

Mr. King’s line of thinking would suggest that fines collected from men doing business with prostitutes should be given to Helpmate. Hmmm, not a bad idea at that …

— Gerald L. “Moss” Bliss
President, Asheville Homeless NetworkAsheville

Fringe benefits in abundance

As a performer and as an audience member, I was excited, challenged, inspired, stretched and thrilled by my experience with this year’s Asheville Fringe Festival. The festival provides a unique opportunity in this area for artists to present works-in-progress and offbeat material to audiences willing to go to the “fringe” edges of the arts. Just the existence of such a festival inspires folks like me to try stuff out that we would not normally make time (and spend money) to put together.

The act I presented with my friend Antanas as part of The Mars Explorer Show (at the Future of Tradition Studio) was a huge leap for me artistically. Antanas and I spent dozens of hours together, digging into our attitudes toward the Future, Tradition, and the “of” that links them. (Does that sound fringey? Yep!)

We chose to do an improvisational performance with a loose structure that led from oneness into the duality of you/me and future/tradition, returning to oneness at the end. Incorporating traumatic stories from our past, particularly stories of growing up queer, we discovered in front of an audience how these stories interwove and led us into a remarkable sense of intimacy.

After the Friday night show, the exposure left me feeling raw. Refocused for a second appearance on Saturday, using entirely different personal material in our spontaneous “show,” I found myself deeply moved, elated, exultant. And with the perspective of the days that have passed since then, I view this as one of the high points of my lifetime work in reality-based theater.

I want to thank all the organizers of the festival, and particularly Onca and Ilsa from Future of Tradition, for making this extremely rich experience possible.

— Mountaine Mort Jonas
Mars Hill

The public’s business is no tea party

In recent discussions about your article [“Backroom Discussions,” Jan. 25] on discussions conducted by certain Buncombe County commissioners, some have suggested that our commissioners have a right to assemble guaranteed by the Constitution and they are only exercising that right.

I’m sorry to differ. I don’t see this as a “right to assemble” issue at all.

Yes, private citizens do retain that right in the conduct of their own personal affairs and should not be interfered with by the government in the exercise of that right. But it is an assembly of private citizens who have loaned elected officials the power to do the people’s business, and when those officials assemble it is specifically for this reason. Those proceedings, their intentions and their results should be announced and published, and the public invited to participate. That is, those proceedings should not be conducted in secrecy. It is my business that they are conducting, not their own.

When county commissioners meet officially, it is not a tea party for their own pleasure. They meet to carry out sworn public duties.

— Tim Peck

Thank God for being regular

Thanks to a paper that a lot of people consider liberal.

It is not about liberal or conservative. It definitely is not about Democrat or Republican. It is not about freedom and choice, either. It is about being open and transparent, period.

Transparency and openness in government must be the number-one priority. Just recently [see “Backroom Discussions,” Jan. 25], we found two democrats and one republican — note small letters — violating the open-meetings law. We found the staff of an organization that is supposed to represent all of the county commissioners in the state, doing the same thing. And we found a staff member that earns over $125,000 of our hard-earned tax dollars present at that meeting, too. It appears as if they all do it all of the time.

The most arrogant thing is that, when confronted with this problem, both a democrat and a republican acted like it’s not a big deal. Well, it is a big deal, and we, the voters, are owed an apology and commitment to never do this again.

Thank you, Mountain Xpress, for being the one to report this. Thank you, Jerry Rice, for being there. The total disregard for we-the-people is shown every time they, the elected-to-serve, refer to Jerry Rice as a “regular.” Well, thank God for the regular Jerry Rice, and I do believe we need to do something about elected officials that have such a pious attitude toward the ones they are elected to serve.

Keep it up, and both the democrats and republicans will be suffering when the true Democrats and Republicans unite to bring back good, open, honest political debate.

— Don Yelton

You asked for it, folks

The Buncombe County commissioners secured our election process by voting to use paper ballots in the upcoming election cycle. I think they acted/voted as they did because:

• They knew that the people of Buncombe County favored paper ballots.

• They read the available information, and they do not trust the voting machines, either.

• They saved the county at least $1 million, possibly more (money that would go to ES&S, an out-of-state, Republican-owned company that would have control of the secret source code that tabulates the votes, and that would likely make large campaign contributions from our former tax dollars to Republican candidates in upcoming elections).

• The citizens’ tax dollars will now be spent paying county residents to count the votes, and those tax dollars will re-circulate here and help the local economy.

The commissioners did the math, and they know that we can hand count votes for the next five election cycles (or more) for what we would have spent on unreliable machines. By then, the technology in the equipment offered for this election cycle may be obsolete, or a new law may make them obsolete, and we would be forced to purchase new equipment — as some other N.C. counties are doing at this time.

When the voting-machine companies realize that we will not purchase machines containing secret operating/source codes, then (if the companies want to stay in business) the companies will make the secret code available for public scrutiny, and they will concentrate on building machines that are totally mechanically reliable and user-friendly.

I give a big thank you to our commissioners! (All except Bill Stanley voted for paper ballots.) I fully approve of their decision and will support them and the Buncombe County Board of Elections in every way possible.

I urge you to support this brave, conscientious action! I urge you to flood the Board of Election office with offers to work the polls, help count the paper ballots, observe the count and do anything else necessary to make this voting process come off smoothly, so that the naysayers will be left speechless. The commissioners have secured the voting process and have given us our paper ballots, like we wanted. Now it’s up to us, the citizens, to get involved and do our part to make our democratic process work (and get paid for doing it!).

Alice Silver at the Board of Elections (250-4205) already has a list of poll workers/counters/volunteers started. Besides myself, I know several other people whose names are already on that list. Yours should be, too. You say you want your country and voting process back. It’s time to put up or shut up. It can’t happen without you. Get involved in your precinct. Call Alice Silver and find out what she needs for you to do.

— Clyde Michael Morgan

Goliath will be going down

The local opposition to yet another Wal-Mart in Asheville is a noble but futile endeavor. A 21st-century David-and-Goliath tale in which Goliath always wins. Like a malignant tumor, Wal-Mart will not be stopped in its ravenous campaign for total conquest of all consumer markets, be they in North Carolina, Mexico or Europe. The beast knows no bounds. It is well fed by cheap (and typically poor) consumers who look only at price and not the true costs of Wal-Mart and the like to the local economy, workers rights and the environment. The bottom line is: If people really gave a damn, Wal-Mart wouldn’t exist. But those low prices suck us all into a mass delusion that there is no price to pay for things being cheap.

The best approach to Wal-Mart is to let it continue on its ascendance [to the] ultimate finality of collapse, since it is a business model that cannot be sustained. There is simply no such thing as infinite growth, and even Wal-Mart will hit a wall.

Wal-Mart and all of the Sprawl-Marts will face their inevitable fate as the world [reaches] peak oil and environmental decimation takes hold. The resulting economic collapse will necessitate a complete restructuring of society, and like the house of cards they are, all of the big boxes will be the first to go.

It’s these issues that we need to deal with and prepare for. Fighting Wal-Mart is pointless; better to put one’s energies into the paradigm shift that will have to occur for us to continue as humans. Wal-Mart will take care of itself; we need do likewise.

— John C. Tripp

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