Letters to the editor

Video surveillance is a two-way street

Reading about the three video cameras at Pack Square [Letters, Nov. 4] brought to mind a conversation I recently had with a friend about the massive invasion of privacy that the electronic, video and computer technology has brought into everyone’s life — except for those few who have opted out of the credit-card and computer modality, don’t vote or have a driver’s license, and live far out in the woods in a remote cabin.

Yes, I said, these electronic intrusions are something to worry about. But what can we do about it? How about forming an activist organization and lobby legislators, put out a newsletter, and, eventually, we’ll get new laws written to protect us from all these privacy invasions?

No, she said. The technology is so widespread that even the most comprehensive legislation will do little to stem the tide. What might be more effective is to turn a one-way street into a two-way street.

What do you mean? I asked.

Well, she said, right now, something like the downtown video cameras you mentioned are pointed at the citizens. They are being monitored at the police station. They are putatively observed for the sole purpose of traffic control. But of course, as anyone knows, any other activity — including loitering, dope smoking, criminal stuff — will inevitably be observed, taped and recorded. This may be a good thing. Rather than trying to bring those cameras down, why not insist that even more cameras be installed, but not only looking out at the populace, but in at the police station and the jail, to be monitored by a citizens’ panel to make sure there is no unlawful or unseemly behavior going on at those places?

That way, said my friend, the authorities would face the same scrutiny as the ordinary citizen faces, and they may be more judicious in using the cameras inappropriately.

Well, I said, that is surely an interesting idea. But I don’t think the local officials will ever do it. Do you?

— Julian Price

Support Tier 2 automotive-emissions standards

A rite of autumn is upon us with the introduction of the 1999 automobile models. We are seeing glitzy ads of racy sport cars, powerful jeeps and spacious sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) — often shown with beautiful vistas in the background.

What none of these ads show, however, is what comes out of the tailpipe. Motor vehicles are a primary source of urban smog, a major health risk of our times. According to a recently released report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Clean Air Network, unhealthy levels of air pollution were recorded in the United States on more than three out of every four days this summer. Of all states but California, North Carolina had the highest number of unhealthy “smog days” (68 days) and violations of the new federal health standard for ozone pollution between April and early September (517 violations).

Smog has been shown to trigger asthma attacks and other acute respiratory illnesses in tens of millions of Americans. Smog also gets in the way of our beautiful mountain vistas here. In light of these facts, it is alarming that the 1999 models show little improvement in emissions control.

We now have the opportunity to toughen vehicle-emissions standards for the 21st century. This winter, the Environmental Protection Agency will introduce the next level of standards, called “Tier 2,” to be implemented in 2004. To be effective, these standards need to put an end to lax emission controls on minivans and SUVs, require stricter diesel standards and sulfur reduction in gasoline, and ensure the widespread use of clean, advanced-technology cars and fuels.

Strong “Tier 2” standards are critical to protect Americans and the planet from the damage caused by pollution. Please be supportive of these measures in any way you can.

— Vance Reese

Police did their job at Bele Chere

The people who staged the parade during Bele Chere [“Battling dragons,” Nov. 4] were asking for what they got. They knew their actions were going to cause a clash with police.

To say they didn’t know they needed a permit is the response of an idiot. And we all know that anybody who could construct such a fine dragon can’t be an idiot.

Police only enforce the law. That’s their job. We actually pay them to do this. If you give them a hard time about it, you can expect them to use force. They don’t have to be Mr. Nice Guy. And besides, they just might be having a bad day, having to work during Bele Chere and all.

Here’s a few kernels of wisdom to anyone who is thinking about staging a similar parade next year: If you don’t have a permit, and you don’t cooperate, expect to be tossed around a little.

Or maybe you would prefer to operate on the premise that after last summer’s confrontation, the police have wised up, and they’ll let you go around parading your stuff.

— Gerald Zajd

Big Brother prefers crack

I’d like to respond to Mr. Minter’s letter about North Carolina’s (now unconstitutional) drug tax law [Letters, Nov. 4].

I live a block away from a crack neighborhood. We have had several bleary-eyed zombies in the yard, asking for money, even poking their heads through our kitchen window to interrupt a telephone conversation in order to beg a few dollars — bolder than mere drunks. On any given day, there is a crowd on the sidewalk selling crack: drive-through service.

I wonder where all the cops have gone — out harassing those maniacal pot-heads, I assume.

I’ve been offered crack in my neighborhood by an overly excited lady on her way to score some. She casually mentioned her job as a teacher’s assistant at a local elementary school.

But drug taxes were not an appropriate response to crack addiction. Drug taxes may have punished some cocaine dealers, but many relatively innocent people and their families suffered ridiculous losses as a result of this taxation.

My wife and I were arrested a few years ago for “manufacturing” marijuana. Aside from the threat of prison and the cocked gun at my head, we received a tax bill for $250,000. That’s a lot of money to owe the government for 10 female marijuana plants. Our bank account was seized ($1,200). Our spending money was taken from my wife’s purse ($50). When we asked what were we to buy groceries with, we were told to apply for food stamps.

The North Carolina Department of Revenue settled for a $14,000 lien against our home, only after several tearful visits by my wife. The $250,000 judgement was then filed mistakenly on my father’s credit report. Mr. Herb Revenver said the clerical error was my fault, because I grew the pot.

To me, it seems obvious that the authorities are more uptight about pot than crack. I believe that the use of crack is more tolerated than the use of pot, because crack tends to debilitate the user to a rather (politically) harmless state of existence.

For example, how many crackheads will you see at a rally protesting governmental stupidity? You will see plenty of pot users, God bless them. Big Brother doesn’t want to be noticed; he’d rather you be scrambling to buy a fix.

— Marcus Chatfield

The business dynamics of modern-day prohibition

With great interest and amusement, I read a recent letter [Letters, Gary James Minter, Nov. 4] drawing parallels between Prohibition-era gangsters and their modern-day counterparts.

Those old-time thugs were exploiting a bad law, an unprecedented restriction of free trade: the prohibition of alcohol. “Moonshine” poisonings were another unintended side-effect of that era’s folly: Profit from the illegal market created by the flawed 18th Amendment encouraged many citizens to distribute home-distilled liquor.

At least two lessons loom from Prohibition: 1) It created and/or enriched organized crime; and 2) it removed alcohol from regulation, causing dangerous substitutes to proliferate.

Fast-forward to the present day. People in cities large and small across the land actually seem surprised that gangs prosper on their turf. They’re also shocked by new and powerful drugs, often concentrated versions of older concoctions: case in point, crack, which is the “new coke.”

Cocaine distributors needed a way to exploit a market (which undeniably exists) with a more compact and profitable product. It works just like the legitimate business world, only with more urgency, because stealth is a key to successful smuggling. Smuggling is necessitated by prohibition (duh!). Thus, crack was born. It lives, too, often with devastating results.

Crack is the moonshine of modern prohibition. Bloods, Crips and their ilk are the Capones and mafiosi of modern prohibition.

It will be interesting (and tragic) to see what’s next in the moonshine/crack continuum. One thing seems certain: More compact and profitable drugs will be created and distributed, unless they’re regulated.

It’s common knowledge that, as the population of young people increases, crime generally increases. So it’s odd that drug use among the young has increased dramatically (according to many recent and well-publicized reports), yet the crime rate is dropping like a rock. Maybe the youth population is falling off much quicker than I’m aware.

Equally fascinating: Since the mid-1980s (when states nationwide raised the drinking age to 21), we’ve seen the sharp rise in drug use among the young. Drug dealers do not ask for IDs. Show me a high-school student who finds it easier to buy alcohol than marijuana, and I’ll show you a bridge for sale, cheap.

Prohibition creates and sustains organized crime, makes banned products easier for the young to access, and creates demand for more dangerous products. These aren’t the effects we’re seeking, are they? Yet the problem worsens, and hysteria continues. The dead horse is beaten back to life again, only to find that he still can’t push the cart anywhere. It’s overloaded with our tax money.

Not long ago, I saw a public-service announcement warning against the dangers of drugs, followed by an ad urging men to ask their doctors to prescribe a hair-loss drug. Could there be a greater irony, a greater display of hypocrisy? I came of age when marijuana decriminalization appeared imminent. Now the culture’s “authorities” emphasize the dangers of marijuana so disproportionately that all credibility is lost, making the truth (read: “heroin is dangerous”) impossible to convey. Then we wonder why heroin use has skyrocketed. A child raised on the “Just Say No” campaign discovers that smoking a joint has not shattered his life, so maybe the “grown-ups” are wrong about other drugs, too. Hello?!

About once a month, we see a news story heralding the interdiction of a truckload of contraband. Rest assured, every truckload intercepted makes the news so that enforcement agencies of various jurisdictions can hail their own efforts; they have budgets to maintain or increase. But this is a very big country, so we should also be assured that every bust is a very rare event. Untold billions are spent. It’s more cost-effective to buy a screwdriver for the U.S. Army.

I’m tired of throwing away my tax money down a policy hole which only enriches gangsters, endangers the youth of America, and undermines confidence in authority. To top it all off, prohibition has been an excellent excuse to erode individual liberties and property rights. And that’s not a free or fair trade.

— Brian Allgood

Thanks for the memories

I recently spent a month — Sept. 9 through Oct. 9 — with my father, George, in your beautiful, cool, funky and spiritual little city.

Everywhere I go, I pick up all the little alternative-press papers, to get to know what’s going on and the feel of the city and its people.

I found your paper almost right away. It made me feel right at home — for back here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, we have a similar publication called City Pages.

I was so pleasantly surprised that you had Mountain Xpress. It helped me get involved with Asheville right away — the good restaurants, bars and nightclubs, movies and movie theaters, stores, and goings-on like the Oktoberfest at Grove Park Inn (or whatever that place is called up there), Kituah at the Civic Center, the Greek Festival … all the assorted classes and groups, churches, etc. I had a wonderful time with my father in Asheville, thanks to you guys.

Another thing: I was so struck by (besides the beautiful mountains all around) the people. I’ve never been South, and I was so impressed by the “Southern hospitality.” I love you guys’ accent and how friendly and polite you are! How refreshing after the stoic Swedes, Norwegians and rough Germans of Minnesota.

There was Clayton Wefel: He has this beautiful little art gallery downtown at 35 Patton Ave. My father and I got lost after the Kituah festival, and Clayton walked us six blocks to our car! …

There was this young African-American lady at the Tunnel Road Wal-Mart who was so helpful to us at getting our pictures developed; her name was Anika.

There was this cute young redhead named Marti, a transplant from Alabama, who is my father’s neighbor and a great waitress at the Laughing Seed vegetarian restaurant.

There were Peter and Jana Week, who welcomed my father and me into their Sathya Sai Baba spiritual group and are just great people all around. In fact, I was so impressed with it that they helped me find the spiritual group here in the Twin Cities metro area. Also, thanks to their friend Krishna.

There were so many more people everywhere that I cannot list and remember all their names — people at the grocery store and liquor stores, at gas stations where we got directions when we got lost, etc., etc.

But most of all, I just wanted to thank you guys at Mountain Xpress. I brought or sent several copies of your paper back home and passed it all around to my special friends. They, too, were impressed with your publication, your city, your people and your mountains.

P.S. [Where I live] is a good place to visit: In spite of the fact that you freeze your ass off in the winter, and the mosquitos bite it off in the summer, you can go fishing year-round.

— Natalie Rekucha

American values ’98

We are the United States of America, the world’s most powerful nation, and we have just held our last election of a century — and a millennium. Ours is the country whose foundational beliefs of freedom and democracy have become the inspiration for countless human beings around the globe to stand up, speak out and lay down their lives.

In every corner of this planet — from South Africa to Central America to Eastern Europe to Tiananmen Square — hundreds of thousands of people have died fighting for what we have. And here we are — the superpower — careening into history with our elected officials behaving disgracefully, in a manner that is unacceptable for grown men and women.

This has gone far beyond the confines of political ideology, and the cost has been exceedingly high. Our dignity as a nation is in shreds, and the damage to the office of the presidency will take years to be repaired — if ever.

We are all responsible for this mess. We, the public, can whine and complain, but it is our apathy and lack of involvement in the political process that has created the power vacuum that is currently feeding our elected officials. We have traded in the pursuit of freedom and justice for the pursuit of status and wealth. Our huge moral crisis has nothing to do with sex or so-called “family values.” It has everything to do with being greedy and power-hungry.

Instead of striving to accumulate knowledge, wisdom, compassion and integrity, we have become so warped in our perception of what is of value that we are accumulating piles of Beanie Babies and the latest brand-name-of-the-minute. While we are fervently chasing the call of the next trendy jingle, our individual rights are being traded in for political donations, and we just keep on blindly following the corporate piper’s song.

The most profane scandal in all of this is not Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair with a 21-year-old intern, nor is it the Republican majority’s insatiable quest for power at all cost, nor is it the press’ salacious handling of the story.

The most hideous and appalling scandal is that all of those people in all of those other countries who have suffered torture, who have been maimed, and who sacrificed their lives have done so because they desperately want the very basic things that we ourselves are ripping apart and throwing away.

During the infamous 1994 midterm election, when the “Republican Revolution” took place, only 42.2 percent of the registered public bothered to vote. We Americans would do well to remember that was the same year that people in South Africa stood in line for days in order to vote for the first time in their lives.

The voter turnout for this year’s election will be available on Nov. 24.

We are not children. We have choices in how we are going to behave and what we are going to place value on. The question is how are we going to choose, and what will be the consequences of those choices? It’s up to each one of us as to what we will bring into the next century and the new millennium.

— Kendall Page

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