Letters to the editor

Don’t confuse animal issues with political bullying

I have just read an Xpress article dated Oct. 4, 2000 about the problems with the animal shelter [“Commissioners lie, animals die”]. It is interesting how individuals find self importance on issues like this. I have found that these people lead lives so bereft of interest that any issue, even ones they have no passion for, brings them forward with their expert opinions. Unfortunately, history has shown us that once this type of political bullying begins, it continues long after the initial issue has past. The real issue of the animals is now secondary. Too bad for us.

— K. Hamilton
Vancouver, B.C.

Political races are business as usual without real campaign-finance reform

While Ralph Nader has been locked out of the debates, this election cycle is expected to bring a record $600 million to TV stations for political ads that are often misleading. A cleaner Democracy would have allowed wide public review of Nader’s information and critical views especially about NAFTA and Free Trade legislation. How is this going to change without real campaign-finance reform?

Most striking contrast: Ralph Nader and Al Gore both believe real campaign-finance reform is important. George Bush and the Republican leadership do not.

Please utilize information from Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, or the AARP to determine which campaign-finance reform measures are real, and which are phony.

— William Anthony
Redwood Valley, Calif.

The Emperor’s new clothes

Don’t you just love the Emperor’s new suit? It’s made from a multi-trillion-dollar federal budget surplus, and candidates of the two major political parties are falling all over themselves in their eagerness to spend it. They have different plans, of course, but they are united in their belief that enormous sums of our money are theirs to deploy. Actually, the money isn’t there — and probably never will be.

1. Politicians tell us that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is forecasting multi-billion-dollar surpluses in the federal government’s budget for each of the next 10 years.

Not true. The CBO forecasts economic conditions two years ahead, not 10. For the next eight years, it makes projections (not estimates, not forecasts) of surpluses and deficits according to a mechanical spreadsheet formula controlled by Congress. The current formula shows real gross domestic product growing by 2.6 to 2.9 percent while consumer prices increase only 2.5 percent every year. The interest rate on federal debt holds steady at 5.7 percent each year, while the government’s discretionary spending (defense, air traffic control, fighting forest fires, etc.) increases not one penny. How realistic is that?

Obviously, federal deficits and surpluses are affected by many factors over which no Congress or administration has much control. (Think recessions, wars and natural disasters, for openers.) Robert Solow, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, says the size of any surplus is “fundamentally uncertain, and more uncertain the further ahead we look.” There are just too many variables, as we know from experience with our own budgets.

2. The way the federal government calculates the current budget “surplus” is seriously flawed.

Social Security’s results are included in the budget. Since the program has collected more than it has paid out to date, it is in surplus and offsets deficits in other areas of the budget. If Social Security is placed in a “lock box,” a major part of the current “surplus” will vanish.

It gets worse: When the Baby Boomers retire, Social Security will go into deficit and change from a benefit to an enormous burden on the federal budget. [The] CBO has recently warned that Social Security and Medicare expenditures are on track to produce severe deficits that will “drive federal debt to an unsustainable level” (Asheville Citizen-Times, Oct. 8, 2000, page 1).

On top of all that nonsense, the federal government has enabled itself to spend money that is not accounted for in calculating budget deficits or surpluses. This off-budget authority includes such “emergency” expenditures as the 2000 Census. Since off-budget expenditures require the payment of real money from the treasury, we can’t know whether any claimed surplus is genuine unless we know how much off-budget spending has occurred.

3. We are told that the current surplus is being used to pay down the federal government’s debt. But the debt is not going down.

See for yourself: Go to www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd and click on “Popular pages,” then on “The public debt to the penny.” You’ll see that the debt was $4 trillion in 1992 (remember Reagan-Bush?) and rose to $5.66 trillion on Sept. 30, 1999. It increased to $5.77 trillion by March of this year, but was down to $5.66 trillion in early October — the same as at this time last year.

If the debt didn’t go down, where were the surpluses? I’m no economist, but I think the Emperor risks pneumonia (and arrest) if he ventures out in our fall weather wearing that new suit.

— John D. Johnston, Jr.
Asheville

Big Brother is watching

As a self-acclaimed (and frequently accused) anarchist, I usually do not try to involve myself with the politicos of Asheville. But when civil rights are becoming more and more ignored by our city’s government, I can’t help but become outraged. The events that I am witnessing happening right here in our community are not only a threat to everyone’s individual freedom, but also unconstitutional and oppressive. These violations should not be allowed to happen in a supposedly democratic country, but are. And right here in your hometown.

First of all, are you aware of the fact that there are two video cameras (poorly hidden, I might add) stationed down on Lexington Avenue? The first one is directed toward the sidewalk, underneath a balcony that overhangs there. The second one is right above it, on the other side of the balcony. One peers down and spies on the people who are strolling by. OK, maybe someone wants to have a security camera up to watch their balcony, to deter burglars and to catch on video if someone were to climb up it and break into their apartment. A person has a right to protect their home and all their possessions. They have a civil right to use that video to prosecute.

But in the case of the second camera, there is without a doubt only one intention of its presence: political motivation. The party or parties responsible (dare I say the APD?) have placed it directly in the direction of the Natural Mystic Coffeehouse at a perfect height and angle that would allow for events that take place in their parking lot to be recorded. This is no mere coincidence. It is a well-known fact that the Mystic and their parking lot has become a location in which the more liberated and leftist youth hang out. Many of them choose an anarchist lifestyle that has become stereotyped by the government as threatening. Still, that is their right, and the city has no right to spy upon them. That is nothing short of police profiling. In fact, the Constitution of the United States was designed to protect us from such civil violations. If we the people — meaning us, the members of our community — allow such an oppressive act to happen, then we eventually will also allow democracy to become fascism. So please, citizens of Asheville, this is my call to arms to you. Only we the people can prevent this atrocity from going on any further.

— Charles Green
Asheville

Live and let live

I would like to address an issue that I see in these commentaries every week, that I see at work every day or when I go to get a cup of coffee after work. It’s this contagious hatred that seems to be plaguing our society. There are exceptions to every rule but, ironically enough, it’s the people that I’m addressing that will probably get enraged with what I am about to say.

This disease stems from our fixed ideas that we have discovered the ideal way of life and we want others to experience this. The problem, as I see it — whether it is religion, financial status or health — is that we constantly fail to recognize that everyone has to find their own path to happiness. What makes you elated may actually make someone else feel repressed and frustrated.

Idealistically speaking, if we spent more time focusing on our own well being and happiness, that would be the contagious factor — contrary to getting frustrated and upset because someone doesn’t want to conform to your own [lifestyle]. Now I’m not suggesting we be selfish and disregard other people’s feelings, but simply enjoy the fact that — even though they may not live like you — they’re happy. As long as what somebody else does doesn’t directly affect you, why should it bother you?

There will always be external factors — such as our jobs, relationship conflicts or even traffic jams. Just try to remember that we all go through them, and start redirecting your anger toward the root of the problem and not at each other.

Oh, yeah. I would like to emphatically emphasize that this is simply an opinion. You’re not going to agree with everyone, and you don’t have to.

— Chad Hildebran
Asheville

Sidewalk counselors encourage self-determination

This letter is in response to the last two paragraphs of Hassan Pitts’ letter [Xpress, Sept. 27] regarding Helen Gordon and free speech.

I agree that women who come to Femcare for an abortion are “in the midst of one of the most emotionally delicate moments of their lives.” However, I disagree that the presence of sidewalk counselors discourages self-determination.

Pitts wrote, “The clients of Femcare already made their choice.” Some have. But many women, sadly, are being coerced by a mother, a father, a boyfriend or someone else. Sidewalk counselors are present to help the young woman exercise self-determination, not parent determination or boyfriend determination.

For five years, I stood as a sidewalk counselor looking into the plaintive eyes of many women and dialoguing with them. Over and over again, women went into Femcare after expressing to me their felt needs to protect or please someone else. They said it was not their wish to have an abortion. I felt their pain — and still feel it.

Sidewalk counselors outside Femcare are Afro-Americans, Hispanic and Caucasian. They reach out to women from all cultures and backgrounds. The women they talk with are in difficult situations. They need help. They need a listening ear. They need a friend. Abortion seems their only alternative. Panic strikes.

One young mother I talked with was about to get rid of her baby so her stepfather wouldn’t know she was pregnant. She feared him. She was unaware of a beautiful maternity home and loving house parents that were available to her. When she knew the facts and alternatives, she was able to make a real choice.

Another young woman who came to Femcare out of fear (among other reasons) learned that there were people who really care and is now the happy mother of a 4-1/2-year-old child, a delight not only to herself but to the grandmother as well.

Another mom, whose child is now 4, told me that she was a sensitive person. “I would have ended up on a psych ward,” she said. “I couldn’t have lived with it. Thank you for being there. You saved my life.”

Still another young mother who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl last May continues to work through a sense of guilt that she almost killed her beautiful child.

To the terrible sadness of a mom who stops by to say, “I already did it,” sidewalk counselors offer post-abortion counseling by compassionate women who themselves have had abortions.

I know of no one more loving or compassionate than Helen Gordon. She speaks in gentle conversational tones. May she continue to be a voice in the wilderness speaking to the hearts of confused, abused and hurting women offering hope and help.

— Faith Johnson
Asheville

Richard Vinroot no supporter of education

As a former educator in the community-college system of Florida, it disturbs me to hear the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Richard Vinroot, be so negative about education in North Carolina while stating that he is for education in our state. Vinroot stresses “teacher competency” on his platform. This is political rhetoric that sounds good but is so very negative in practice. Einstein was quite competent in his field. However, he would have made a horrible elementary or junior-high-school teacher. The definition of a competent teacher is one who excites his students to learn all they can about a subject. Being a competent expert in your field does not automatically make you a good teacher.

Vinroot’s second position on his platform is “merit pay.” Sounds good, but it doesn’t work. For a faculty member to get merit pay means making sure your superior remembers you in a very positive light, because he is the one who is going to approve your pay increase. Merit pay has absolutely nothing to do with being a competent teacher. It has everything to do with politics.

His third position is to favor school vouchers — another very strong statement against public, tax-supported education. For a man who says he favors education, this is his strongest statement against it. Vouchers will reduce funding to public schools, which will do nothing but fuel Vinroot’s passionate fire against public education, as competent teachers leave for better paying and less stressful jobs. Richard Vinroot, you can do better than this.

— Phil Burton
Arden

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