Letters to the editor

New Oak Ridge facility raises disturbing issues

I wonder how many readers are aware of what the [U.S.] Department of Energy has planned for the Y-12 nuclear bomb plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn.? This is the only facility in the country that continues to build nuclear bombs. The DOE is proposing to significantly expand the site by building a new special-materials facility and a new highly enriched uranium facility. These developments would open the door to a completely new bomb-manufacturing complex. In such, rather than old bombs being destroyed, they would be upgraded. And bomb parts would be manufactured for new bombs. Presidents Bush and Putin have been discussing reducing nuclear stockpiles to less than 1,500 bombs each, but these plans call for maintaining 6,000 new bombs. What gives?

The other aspect that I am concerned about is the environmental impact. DOE did issue an Environmental Impact Statement, but that EIS was based on information collected when Y-12 was operating at 10-percent capacity. Even then, toxic wastes polluted the area around the plant — in both ground water and air — with hazardous chemicals, solvents, nitrates, metals and volatile organic compounds.

This proposed expansion threatens a nuclear-reduction plan, as well as creates ever more toxic wastes in our environment. This plan makes our world increasingly unstable and unlivable. To find out more bout what’s happening at Oak Ridge, go to [the Web site] www.stopthebombs.org. There will be a major protest at the facility on April 8. Hope to see you there.

— Lori B. Girshick

Hawks is fighting a futile war

It seems to me that Charles Hawks is fighting a war with no enemy [Commentary, Feb. 21, “Forgotten black Confederates”]. He apparently believes that there is an army out there “still waging battle against the South today.” I know of no such army. Nor do I know of any historian — or any person of my acquaintance — who claims that “the entire conflict … was nothing other than Northern liberators trying to free black men from the evil clutches of white Southerners.”

There were, of course, a great number of idealistic young men who fought and died to liberate slaves. There were also young men who were drafted and were, at best, ambivalent about the war. And there were young men who evaded the draft, either by dodging it or by paying someone to take their places.

Prior to the Civil War, the North had slim grounds for moral superiority. Many in the North had profited from the slave trade, for instance, and many employers treated the Irish — and other groups — horribly.

But in the end, it was the North that freed the slaves at the cost of many Northern lives and, a century later, it was the North that fostered Civil Rights (and again, not without a certain amount of hypocrisy and guilt for the North’s own treatment of minority groups; in fact, it can be argued that, because the South’s acceptance came so hard, and with such violence, that it was in some ways a cleaner and truer break with its past).

Joe Farrington’s story should be told, not because he is some sort of “hero of the old South,” but simply because the full story should be told. We can then argue whether Mr. Farrington and other black soldiers of the Confederacy were victims of the Stockholm Syndrome, or simply afraid of change, or — as Mr. Hawks seems to believe — just loving the life of the slave.

— Robert Peltier
Hartford, Conn.

Furniture dealer or charity?

I have been a resident of Asheville for roughly 11 years and have been witness to some wild events, but unfortunate enough to see recently what has to take the proverbial cake. I’m not exactly what you might consider a wealthy citizen. Between my girlfriend and myself, we make enough to get us through the day and keep the creditors at bay. Needless to say, we, like many others, have had our rough spots in the past 10 years of our relationship. Nearly everyone in Western North Carolina of the “blue collar” bracket could probably tell you a tale of plant shutdown, layoffs or cutbacks. That is why I felt compelled to send this little story to the Xpress for others hopefully to read.

The other day I found that due to hard work and two years of “pinching pennies,” I was finally able to join the “global community.” I finally purchased a computer and, due to the limited confines of our home, felt it best to dispose of a sleeper sofa that had until recently served us well when guests chose to stay overnight while in from out of town. I did consider attempting to sell the sofa, but upon further consideration felt it might be better to call a charity and see if someone less fortunate than I could possibly get some use out of it. Now granted, we’re not speaking of something fresh off the floor of Heilig-Meyers, but we’re also not talking about a nest for vermin, either. A little bit of lifting and true understanding of the human condition could have made some less fortunate soul’s day; but upon arrival of the Salvation Army pickup service’s truck, a careful inch-by-inch inspection by the driver (who will remain nameless) revealed a three-eighths-inch hole in the underside of one of the cushions. Now keep in mind that I was trying to give this sofa to a charity for donation to someone who did not have things that I have been fortunate enough to attain. However, I was informed that not only did the three-eighths-inch hole prohibit the driver from taking the sofa, but that said driver “probably knows some folks that could use it, but I don’t have a way to get it to them.” I was then told that furniture picked up by the service was to be resold for cash to fund the Salvation Army, and that this particular item would fall under the category of “unusable.” Now you can imagine how I felt, knowing that I had only three hours previous removed this “unusable” piece of furniture from my very own living room. Which leads me to the question of: furniture dealer or charity? You decide.

— Benny Worth

Don’t make teacher’s aides drive school buses

If you are a flight attendant, are you forced to fly the plane? If you are a nurse, are you forced to drive the ambulance? Of course not. But if you are a teacher’s aide, you are forced to drive a school bus. Should you refuse, you are fired. Should you attempt, but fail, you are fired. Yet, even if you pass but feel uncomfortable behind the wheel, you are still forced to drive. As if public education doesn’t have enough problems, Asheville City and Buncombe County Schools have decided to try and kill two birds with one stone — the benefits obviously being a small financial savings for the school systems. The cost is the safety and well-being of the children. Not only are they being carted around by inexperienced, uncomfortable bus drivers, they are also losing loving, helpful mentors in the classroom. While school administrators are driving around in brand-new Mercedes SUVs, children are crying over the loss of true companions. What does that say about our priorities? If you oppose the system, please express yourself to school administrators or superintendent.

— Adina Arden

An attack in broad daylight

It is March 10, a Saturday afternoon around 2 p.m. and a beautiful sunny day. It is a bit chilly, but after a few days in the 30s, 50 degrees feels pleasant. I am parked in front of the federal courthouse on Otis Street with the windows rolled down. I have parked so I can see down Wall Street to watch for my fiance as I wait for him to get off work. Normally, I drive down Wall Street and pick him up at the door, but today is nice, and I figure he can walk down and meet me at the street entrance. I sit there for a few minutes and balance my checkbook and watch other people walking the streets and enjoying the weather. As I wait, I notice a middle-aged white male approach my car. I assume his car is the one parked behind mine, and I lightly note his presence.

I become acutely aware that he is outside my car window when I hear the guy say, “Hey, bay-bee. … I’m horny. … Awwww, baby touch me. I’m horny. Ahhhh, I’m horny …” or at least words with the same effect. I swing my head around and see his genitals exposed and him fondling himself. Totally taken aback, I yell something like “Get away from me!” … He’s not going anywhere. I’m still yelling, and I realize that my keys are in the ignition. I start to grasp my keys to start the car. All the while, he’s mumbling that he loves me and I’m so beautiful … blah-blah-blah.

When he recognizes that I am about to make a getaway, he reaches through my window to grab me. I feel his hand on the side of my neck as I lean over the passenger seat to get away from him. I peel out and howl down Wall Street (my apologies to anyone who felt unsafe) to my fiance’s workplace. Thankfully, my fiance had just left work and was walking down the cobblestone street. My first reaction was to ask my fiance to beat this loser up. I didn’t know what to do. Was this guy for real?…

This may seem like a minor event to some of you reading this page. But as a rape survivor, this brought up all of those feelings and images from three years ago. This guy saw me sitting there and saw an audience waiting to happen. I know it had nothing to do with me personally, other than [that] I am female. But he still got his jollies off of making me want to throw up, crawl into a little ball and throw up some more. This isn’t a minor event to me. I have the mental picture of this weirdo jiggling his limp penis at me and reaching towards me. It really shook me up. And it infuriated me.

The creep is a white male, about 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, mid-40s, with brown hair and a full beard and mustache. That day, he was wearing a baseball cap, Top-Gun-like sunglasses, a red pocket T-shirt, a blue denim jacket, blue denim jeans and white tennis shoes. He was carrying a few books or magazines, perhaps to “shield” himself to the public. There was a couple holding hands and walking up Otis at the time this happened. They may have seen this guy reach in my car as I sped off and nearly hit them entering Wall Street.

I hope that they might be reading this now. If you are, please contact the Asheville Police Department. I don’t think that this was this guy’s first time. And it most likely won’t be his last. What if he tries to do this to some little girl? He touched me. What will stop him from touching someone else? If anyone has witnessed this guy do the same things to them or someone else, please contact the APD. My rapist may have gotten away, but I’ll be damned if this guy will stay free to do this to another girl. Obviously, this guy needs some help and he needs to be caught.

— Name withheld

The wars on drugs and communism

The movie Traffic has had the salutary effect of increasing the discussion about the War on Drugs. This would be fine, except the continued use of the phase “War on Drugs” perpetuates misconceptions about drugs in general and about the potential real hazards inherent in the use of particular substances. Drugs and drug users are the Communists of the turn of the century. They are demonized. Official agencies of government create hysteria about them. Thousands, if not millions, of innocent peoples’ lives are irrevocably harmed in the course of attempting to rid the land of this menace.

Just as we almost destroyed Vietnam to save Vietnam, we are now destroying the lives of many Americans in the belief that we are saving them. Some people were able to justify the destruction of the Vietnamese people because that war was about real estate and who would own it — not about people. There can be no such justification for ruining lives in the course of trying to keep people from using drugs. The War on Drugs will not be won by putting more “resources” into it, any more than the Vietnam War would have been won by increasing our commitment. Vietnam was unwinnable because [the war] was based on faulty assumptions. The same is true of the War on Drugs.

The drugs that governmental agencies — particularly law-enforcement and criminal-justice agencies, but also educational, physical-health and mental-health organizations — would like us to not use or use less of or use only in certain circumscribed modes are mood-altering substances. These are chemical compounds that improve our mood when we take them. They make us feel better. They are categorized in many ways. There are legal drugs and nonlegal drugs. There are prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs. There are social or recreational drugs. There are controlled substances, some of which have legally accepted uses and some of which don’t. There are substances that are used because of their mood-altering properties that are not meant by their makers to be used that way. The War on Drugs targets users of these substances irrationally and inconsistently.

Among the mood-altering drugs that have the most profound health consequences in the United States are alcohol and tobacco, which, aside from caffeine, are the least regulated of the commonly used substances of abuse. Adult users of these substances are not made into criminals for the simple act of obtaining them or having them in their possession. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 people will die this year in this country due to the effects of using tobacco products in the way in which the manufacturer intended them to be used. Some 150,000 will die from causes related to the use of alcohol. While alcohol has some medicinal properties, its primary use throughout history has been as a mood enhancer. Alcohol also is potentially toxic.

Another drug which has many more medicinal uses than alcohol, and which is also used because of its mood-enhancing properties, is marijuana. Marijuana is not toxic. That is, unlike alcohol, there is no known lethal dose of the drug. Yet adult users of marijuana face the real possibility of serving long sentences in prison or other criminal sanctions for merely having marijuana in their possession or for talking to others about obtaining it.

Of course, the use of mood-altering substances is potentially dangerous to some people in certain circumstances. Hundreds of thousands — possibly millions — of lives each year are negatively affected by the use of these drugs. Addiction — to alcohol and tobacco, no less than to cocaine, heroin and Ecstasy — and its attendant social costs are real problems of which I am acutely aware, having worked in the field for almost 30 years. If we were to choose, however, to put the resources now going into the War on Drugs into family-support programs, education, community building and economic development for the most marginalized in our society (instead of making sure the rich can get richer), we might reduce some of the conditions that lead some people to use mood-altering drugs in destructive ways. Telling people not to use drugs and punishing them for doing it will not change drug-using behavior. It is time — well past time — to acknowledge that the War on Drugs is misguided and therefore unwinnable, and that the use of mood-altering drugs is not a threat to civilization. Any more than, as it turned out, were communists.

— Robert Wilson

Green Party condemns bombing

The Greens/Green Party USA condemns George W. Bush’s bombing of Iraq, as well as the ongoing sanctions imposed against that country. A spokesperson for the Greens, Elizabeth Fattah, termed the bombing “an aggression against a sovereign country and a violation of human morality as well as international law.”

At its [recent] meeting in St. Louis, the GPUSA National Committee was unanimous in condemnation of the air strikes. “We call on Greens in the U.S and around the world to join protests against the bombing and to support efforts to provide the people of Iraq with medicine, food and other humanitarian needs,” said Fattah.

“Around 500,000 children have been killed in Iraq over the past decade, as a result of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. government and the United Nations,” said Mitchel Cohen, an activist with the Brooklyn Greens. “In addition, thousands more have suffered from picking up anti-personnel weapons such as cluster bombs left over from U.S./U.N. bombardments, and from leukemia and other deadly illnesses caused by ‘depleted’ uranium contamination in the water and soil — the U.S.’s standard operating procedure: Low Intensity Nuclear War,” Cohen continued. “In fact, since December 1998, 317 people have been killed and 936 wounded directly by U.S. and British bombings. There have now been five days of U.S./British attacks on Iraq since George W. Bush’s inauguration on Jan. 20. The Greens/Green Party USA demands an end to the sanctions as well as to the U.S.’s continued military attacks against Iraq.”

GPUSA is a membership organization for Green Party activists, with 55 local and 19 state affiliates. GPUSA believes that social justice, ecological balance and peace presupposes a fundamental democratization of political and economic institutions.

— Lisa Thurman
Green Party USA
member, WNC Chapter

The more things change …

I was recently watching a video of that old 1948 thriller Key Largo, with Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Lionel Barrymore.

I practially fell out of my chair at one point, when Robinson (playing a gangster as only he could) says to the good guy (Bogart): “Let me tell you about Florida politicians. I make them out of whole cloth, just like a tailor makes a suit. I get their name in the newspaper. I get them some publicity and get them on the ballot. Then after the election, we count the votes. And if they don’t turn out right, we recount them. And recount them again until they do.

Remember: This was 52 years ago.

— Ray Anders

Aides driving buses compromise kids’ safety

Do you have children enrolled in the Asheville City School system? Are you aware that because of administrative policies, teacher assistants are forced to get their CDL for school-bus driving? Do you know that these assistants are transporting your kids, even if they do not feel comfortable behind the wheel?

Instead of hiring only professional bus drivers, Asheville City Schools (and recently Buncombe County) have been enforcing this policy, to get both positions (teacher assistant and bus driver) for the price of one. As a result, many assistants have lost their roles as teachers and counselors in the classroom because they do not feel comfortable driving around a 30-foot-long, 13-ton bus with precious cargo at stake. For example, an assistant at Isaac Dickson Elementary School was recently fired after successfully completing [part of] the bus driver training. Although willing, she was not permitted to retest. The loss of salary and benefits is not as painful to her as the severance from the children with whom she built strong, helpful and loving relationships. The tears of the children in her classroom force us to ask the question: How is this good policy?! If an assistant passes the test, they are still driving around inexperienced, without another adult and with up to 40 lives at risk. If they protest or fail, they are yanked from the classroom, even if their performance there was beneficial to the children.

If you are upset or concerned about this unjust and unsafe policy, please make your voice heard. Contact ACS Superintendent Karen Campbell at 255-5304, or write to 85 Mountain St., Asheville, 28801. Call or talk to the administration at your child’s school. Find out who is driving your children and if they are qualified and feel safe doing so.

— James G. Cooper

The system offers skewed logic

In response to Elizabeth Lendrum’s letter concerning my skewed logic about new jails [March 7], I would like to say a few things.

First, I want to make it clear that, though someone may end up in jail, that does not necessarily make them a criminal. Plenty of people are arrested without due cause, especially if they do not conform to current social-system standards of proper dress and behavior. Ms. Lendrum implied in the last paragraph [of her letter] that I am a “disgruntled criminal” — intelligent, but a criminal nonetheless. I find this attack on my personal experiences to be rude, unfounded and completely judgmental, considering the fact that I am just expressing my opinion. Judge not …

Secondly, a new jail should not be considered in the same category as a new animal shelter, fire department, hospital or even a homeless shelter (though that is what a new jail will likely become), because jails are not meant to help. They are meant to punish, not rehabilitate, and when someone is sent to jail they are deeply and severely affected. Ms. Lendrum’s inexperience in this matter is obvious, fortunately for her. She represents the part of the population that supports decisions of greedy policy makers simply because they do not have an opinion of their own. I am simply trying to get people to consider the consequences before investing millions of our money in a criminal factory (“If you build it, they will come”). I am entitled to my free expression as much as anyone else, and being a taxpayer makes me even more vehement about these matters of such social import and consequence. Since I have experienced the cruel and unjust inhumanity found in our modern jail system, I feel compelled to speak out on this issue and make my point clear.

Finally, I wish for us all to consider what it means for someone to be what Ms. Lendrum calls a “deserving criminal.” Are the criminals the homeless sleeping in parks arrested for trespassing, the people smoking marijuana in their own car, or the “suspicious” man trying to walk home — arrested for resisting arrest because he would not show his ID? Or should we point the finger at the Vietnam vets drinking on the sidewalk, the vandals colorizing the drab urban environment, or the [African-Americans] who “fit the description of a suspect?” These are the kind of people put in jail, filling it to capacity because there’s finally enough cops to catch all these buggers. Now we need another jail so we can make sure at least 10-percent of Asheville’s citizens are locked up on any given day. The irony is that the real criminals are the ones devising these political power ploys, putting people behind bars for more state and federal funding so they can raise their own salaries and tighten control on the general public. More laws, stricter sentences, waiving of Constitutional rights — all in a day’s work for the Man-Who-Would-Be-Authority. If any of you support the War on Drugs, yet use aspirin or any prescription drugs, your hypocrisy is filling our jails with people trying alternative medicines and herbal remedies. Consider that the next time your drug-dealing doctor signs your Prozac prescription. This ridiculousness never seems to end: Prejudice, hypocrisy, greed, power lust, hate, imprisonment … it’s all connected.

So let’s recognize the skewed logic is not in one man’s opinion but in the system itself. Why are those in power so quick to build a new jail, yet continuously ignore the cries of the youth for attention, acceptance and positive direction? When one speaks out for more love, not more imprisonment, he is shunned as a criminal and his points are rejected. People, I know you love your way of life, but the time has come to stand up for the freedom of your brothers and sisters. Love is the answer.

— J. Moon

Tobacco survivor fosters Eckerd policy change

Here’s an update on Eckerd Drug Company’s firing of tobacco survivor Elizabeth Estes for refusing to train store associates to use “suggestive sales techniques” to push cigarettes and profit from customers’ addiction to nicotine [Commentary, Feb. 28, “Eckerd fires tobacco foe”].

Since I wrote that commentary — and joined with others to send letters of protest to Eckerd CEO Wayne Harris — the company has changed its sales policy. Store associates are no longer instructed to entice customers to buy more cigarettes.

This change in policy is a victory for Elizabeth Estes and a fitting tribute to her parents, both former smokers who died of tobacco-related illnesses. Despite the contribution she’s made to the company, however, Eckerd has refused to reinstate Ms. Estes in her job.

And Eckerd still excuses itself for selling a lethal and addictive product, maintaining that selling cigarettes is “legal.” Slavery, segregation and genocide have also been “legal” at times in our history.

The legality of inhumane acts is irrelevant. Participating in the death of more than 400,000 Americans annually due to tobacco-related illness and helping involve hundreds of thousands more in drug addiction is a shameful practice, no matter how much it contributes to corporate profits.

The death dealt out by tobacco-related illness is relatively private; it’s not as public as the carnage that a battlefield produces. Eight years of the Vietnam war killed 58,000 Americans. Each year, tobacco-related illness kills seven times that number of us.

Whether or not selling a deadly product is legal, enacting a massacre is not acceptable. The fact that selling cigarettes is legal does not diminish the magnitude of the atrocity or decrease the immense suffering that tobacco products cause.

People interested in reducing the health effects of tobacco use in Buncombe County are meeting the evening of Thursday, March 22 in Asheville. For information, call health educator Erin Braasch at the Buncombe County Health Center, 250-5048.

See tobacco survivor stories and photos on the WEB at http://www.tobaccosurvivors.org

— Lisa Sarasohn
program coordinator for SAVE of NC GASP

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