Letters to the editor

Read Greenspan’s lips

When he left his post recently, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan was heartily praised by Republicans and Democrats alike for his policies, the ones that have helped give us such a healthy economy.

In May, he appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee to give them a status report on the economy, and answer questions.

Twice, Republican members asked him what he thought ought to be done with the budget surplus, and in both cases, he gave the same answer: It should be treated with great care and not squandered. We should not act hastily until we have a better idea of the true extent of the surplus. He avoided suggesting any specific use for it. But both times, he indicated a tax cut was not called for now.

Finally, as Greenspan was about to leave, Chairman Bill Archer decided to wrap things up in his own clever way, and asked, “If you had to choose between a tax cut or spending programs, what would you do with the surplus? If you had to make a choice,” he emphasized.

Greenspan realized that Archer was determined to trap him, but his sense of responsibility obliged him to answer. He admitted that with only those choices, he would choose a tax cut. Triumphantly, Archer released him with profuse thanks.

Now, Archer is proposing a huge tax cut, either to ignore what Chairman Greenspan recommended, or to presume the people don’t know what he recommended.

— Allen Thomas
Asheville

Talk about smear … a defense of civil-service laws

It is unfortunate that the debate over Asheville’s civil-service law, which includes the “rule of three,” has become so clouded by the label of “racism.” While I am sure that many of those who are involved in this debate mean well and want to see equality in hiring, attacking the law is a misplaced effort.

Civil-service laws were created in the 1920s to protect municipal employees (city, county and state) from the whims of partisan politics. It was an attempt to protect experienced and qualified employees, and the municipality they work for, from favoritism and corruption. Over the years, these laws have been eroded away by administrations that didn’t want to be hampered by “rules” that would ensure fairness in hiring and promotions, and give employees an impartial body (a Civil Service Board) to hear their grievances.

The city of Asheville, too, has also long wanted to do away with civil service (and anyone who has ever used the term “good ol’ boy system” will understand why). But thanks to the Asheville Fire Fighters Union, those attempts have so far failed. The last time the city tried to weaken the civil-service law in 1995, it used the excuse that the ‘rule of three’ was the reason that more minorities were not being hired. At that time, investigative reporter Calvin Allen did a story asking just that very question [Xpress, “The short end of the stick,” March 8, 1995]. According to this report, the shortage of minorities being hired for higher-paying jobs had little to do with the ‘rule of three’ and more to do with the city not following its own Affirmative Action Plan, adopted in 1988.

The majority of cases that are brought before the Civil Service Board by city employees are, indeed, ones of favoritism in the work place and/or because the city has failed to follow its own policies and procedures.

Racism certainly exists within the city of Asheville, but it is hardly due to civil-service laws, which exist to protect the employee and, ultimately, the citizens of the city of Asheville, for whom these employees provide services.

Those of us in organized labor care very much about equality in hiring, promotions and, most importantly, how the employees on the bottom are being treated (or mistreated) — those who do the bulk of the work for the city.

I would ask those community leaders and state legislators who are rightly concerned about racism in the city to please go look in departments such as Streets, Sanitation and Water; find out what the pay is, what the working conditions are, who the ‘temporary’ employees are who work full-time with no benefits and no job security, only to be laid off when they are used up. This is where the discrimination is.

The International Association of Fire Fighters, statewide and locally, has long been a fighter for the rights not only of its own members, but for all Asheville city employees, and municipal employees statewide. In 1959, when the N.C. state legislature passed laws prohibiting municipal employees from belonging to unions and prohibiting them from having collective-bargaining rights — it was the Fire Fighters union alone that took [the fight] all the way to federal court, where the first portion (employees not being allowed to belong to a union) was found to be unconstitutional.

All working people have much to thank the Fire Fighters union for. That they have been so unfairly smeared with the label of “racism” is untrue and unfortunate. You will not find stronger defenders of the rights of working people.

I hope all those who were so quick to want to point a finger at the civil-service law will follow this story and see what, in fact, will happen to hiring in the future.

— Laura Gordon, president
WNC Central Labor Council
Asheville

Dissection: gross but scientific

How nice for Stewart David to vent his spleen about the Discover Science Summer Camp at the Health adventure [Commentary, “The Health Adventure teaches violence to children,” July 21]. He quoted Einstein, discussed early childhood development, quoted statistics about humanity’s abuse of our fellow animals. What I want to know is this: Did Mr. David talk to any of the parents or instructors or — heaven forfend! — kids who participated in this camp? Somehow, I don’t think so.

My daughter participated in two weeks of Science Camp: “Dr. Frankenstein’s Brain Lab” and “Mystery Science.” Yes, the titles are gross, but doesn’t Mr. David realize that kids this age love gross stuff? Snot, farts, guts, brains. They aren’t squeamish and whiny, like grown-ups, and they view with awe and excitement all the yucky inside bits that make our bodies such elegant machines.

Science Camp gave these kids a view of how living creatures work, and they loved it. The teachers and other professionals who led this exploration imparted knowledge, as well as a sense of fun, to the proceedings. Yes, a sheep’s brain was dissected, and my daughter participated in that. She learned that life is a mystery and that all of us, as scientists, can learn many aspects of it. She did not learn to go home and torture our cats.

There is cruelty (on an intra-species, as well as inter-species, basis) and animal testing, in my opinion, is done far too frequently and thoughtlessly in our culture. But to assume that dissection leads to violent behavior in young people is disingenuous and logically flawed.

These empowered young scientists are not “desensitized to violence.” On the contrary, they have a well-developed sense of the toughness and resilience of life. They’ve learned to ask questions and seek the answers themselves.

Perhaps Mr. David’s energy and indignation might be better served by researching puppy mills and chicken “farms.” Or by opening a free spay/neuter clinic.

— B. Ballard
Asheville

The beast in us: a political reality check

Presidential non-candidate Elizabeth Dole was in the area to speak to 200 or so $150-a-plate voters. Did she speak in a local population center like Asheville to reach a broad base of voters? No. Did she speak in an impoverished rural area in need of jobs and medical care? No. She spoke at the Lake Toxaway Country Club, a place in need of tax relief and fresh caviar.

It’s no accident that Ms. Dole appeared at the regional summer playground of the wealthy. A potential presidential candidate needs to raise a lot of money to feed the beast that we call our political system. Elizabeth Dole is no different from any other serious presidential candidate (except that she would admit to having worn women’s underwear).

Under our current “system,” a candidate must raise a lot of money to produce and place ads on the voting public’s television screens. The networks and local television stations charge a lot of money to do this. People and corporations that can afford to help with this noble cause get the ear of the Candidate. The Donor is thus more likely to be recognized at the capital when legislation of interest to that Donor comes before the Successful Candidate.

Does a typical working-class or middle-class individual or group of individuals have this kind of political influence? I suspect not. Do rich people and global corporations have this kind of political influence? Check out the legislation that gets passed in Washington.

Of course, the Successful Candidate will not bite the hand that feeds him or her by passing real Campaign Reform Legislation. He or she will make a good show of it. However, campaign reform will always fail to pass, by a vote or two. Politicians are addicted to the money it takes to get elected.

The networks can always offer free airtime. But that would shift power away from large corporations. Guess who owns the networks?

We can help by ending our addiction to the media outlet that is piped into virtually all of our homes. Stay away from your Television during Campaign Season (which happens to coincide with Football Season).

Then you can invite all the candidates to your community to debate all the issues important to you.

Not that I think any would show up — but it’s something to hope for.

— Norm Hermann
Etowah

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