Saturday, December 27, 2014

'If I had a hammer'

There's been much discussion about the apathy of young voters during the recent mid-term election. Many have moaned about their lack of interest in doing their part to strengthen our democracy by casting their ballots. Others have opined that they are so self-involved that they lack any interest in the world of politics that is shaping their future.

I was on the fence until recently  listening to a radio interview with Peter and Paul, the surviving members of the Peter, Paul and Mary folk trio who became popular in the early 1960s. Listening to the music prompted me to mentally go back into that time when we Baby Boomers were young.

In the '60s, some in my generation carried on with life just as their parents had - not questioning authority, not standing up for what they believed and not grabbing hold of an idea and working to make it reality. They just accepted that those in political power were working for the country's best interest.

And then there were the rest of us - the marchers, picketers, letter-writers - the rebels.

We began our growing up years right after the end of the war to end all wars - World War II. In the decade or so following the war, life for most was good. The economy was rolling, schools were crowded but adequate and there was plenty of time to play ball, skate and get into mischief.

I faintly remember when Dwight David Eisenhower was in office but my first clear recollection of presidential politics is of John F. Kennedy campaigning. My parents sat in front of the black and white television each night and watched one of the network news channels. That was a time when "cable news" wasn't in existence so the competition between the networks was based on reporting the news first and getting it right the first time.

The networks weren't trying to carve out niche audiences such as those prevalent today on the cable stations. Today's general cable focus is more about pandering to particular biases instead of just reporting the facts. It reinforces divisiveness and preconceived ideas instead of providing facts that viewers can decide whether to accept.

But even before cable, there were those who sought to influence more than inform. Kennedy was slandered daily because he was a Roman Catholic, and there had never been a president who wasn't Protestant. The presidential hopeful didn't take the criticism lying down and marched into the lion's den by addressing the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers, many of whom had disparaged him to their congregations. Kennedy spoke of the importance of religious freedom and the need to keep politics and religion separate.

His speech has become even more relevant today. To read his address in its entirety, click here.

The war in Vietnam was never a declared war but the imposed draft fed the monster for much of the '60s and '70s. Friends, brothers, neighbors often came back from the horrific battles in coffins or with both health and mental health problems that continue to affect many.

We had enough of trying to comfort their mothers. We marched, protested and voted.

Big chemical corporations, logging companies and polluters were ruining the environment so we said "enough" and once again let the politicians know that we were watching. Congress began passing environmental regulations to protect water and air quality and the natural environment.

But then as we became older, life got in the way of paying attention to what our government was doing. We were raising families, paying mortgages, getting our feet wet in the new computer age and becoming enamored by cable television. Life jumped into warp speed and while babies and money were being made, things got out of whack in the world around us..

Campaigns began being all about how negative one's opponent could be portrayed - and the light of truth began to dim.

And then came Sept. 11, 2001 - the day that broke our hearts and shut down our senses. The scenes from that day will remained burned into our memories - that is, those of us old enough to both remember the events and comprehend the numbness that it left us with.

When the towers were collapsed, many of the current generation - many are our grandchildren - were in elementary school. Their biggest fears were based on such things as getting a low grade or getting caught dipping into the cookie jar after being told not to.

But their lives changed that day and not in a good way. For years, as they watched television, threat alerts were streamed across the bottom of the screen. Traveling by air meant going through security, taking off shoes, being scanned and patted down, and even more if one happened to have an Arabic name or coloring.

Instead of being told that the terrorists being feared were a radicalized group that claimed to be Muslims, there has been a constant barrage of insinuations that all Muslims are terrorists. Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph proclaimed themselves to be Christians but not all Christians were held responsible.

"Cable news" fed the fear with outrageous claims often based on fabrications. Sites full of hate and misinformation popped up on the internet and their offerings were accepted as facts because...well, it was on the internet.

The country was mostly in support of going into Afghanistan in an effort to find Osama Ben Laden and his organization. Our troops were making progress and running the Taliban out of the county, thus allowing greater freedom for the people there. But then, based on claims of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, many of the troops were redeployed to Iraq. This left Afghanistan under-supported militarily and led to the loss of countless lives - both civilian and military.

Iraq was a mess. The country was destroyed and there was no stability when we pulled out - there also were no weapons of mass destruction found.

The Taliban re-entered and has taken control of many areas of Afghanistan and ISIS is claiming portions of Iraq as it sweeps through that region. Schools are being closed as children - particularly girls seeking an education - have been targeted. The entire region has become destabilized.

At home, there is a constant barrage of accusations hurled back and forth between the parties, and Congress has changed its focus from conducting the business of the nation to constantly castigating the opposing party in hopes of winning the next election. No work is being done.

Corporations and billionaires are deciding elections through the use of dummy nonprofits, PACs, and out and out bribes. I get just one vote - they are buying millions.

Wall Street and the banking industry, both of which have been so crooked and reckless that they almost put the country into a depression, have gone on unscathed while taxpayers bailed out the banks to keep them from closing. Although it is obvious that many laws were broken, no one has been prosecuted. Paying the price of bad behavior seems only fit for the common man, not millionaires or billionaires or corporations.

Congress has refused to lower interest rates on student loans but has passed laws to make it easier for banks to commit the same crimes again. Politicians have cast the poor, the old, and the sick as something less than what is worthy of our efforts and attention. They would rather give handouts to Wall Street than a hand up to their constituents.

On the front of newspapers and online publications, the torture committed while interrogating alleged terrorists is being reported, but no one is being held accountable. No one is being prosecuted.

And on the same pages, some decry normalizing relations with Cuba because, they say, Cuba is guilty of human rights violations. Do atrocities against human beings only deserve punishment when some other country commits them?

We have allowed big money, ideology and fear to take over this country. We - the Baby Boomers -  are handing down to our grandchildren a world and a country that seems out of control.

Now back to my original pondering - are the young people of today guilty of apathy or being self-centered?

No. They are suffering from lack of hope.

It's time that the Baby Boomers take the younger generation by the hand and show them how to take control. Teach them how to make their voices heard and their votes count. Teach them how to discern rhetoric from fact.

Teach them how to find their hammer, bell and song and then use it.

It's time for us to find ourselves again. You might want to start here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An uninformed voter is dangerous to democracy

Be an informed voter by finding out the facts about the state issues. Read DEMOCRACY MATTERS by clicking here.DEMOCRACY MATTERS

Friday, March 7, 2014

Protect what remains of separation of powers

The North Carolina Constitution's Section 6. calls for the separation of powers. The mandate is simple and to the point: "The legislative, executive, and supreme judicial powers of the State government shall be forever separate and distinct from each other."

Nonpartisan judicial races are under attack by Art Pope and his friends. Although not elected to office, Pope, through the use of his vast fortune, controls the Governor’s Office and both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly. He dictated the redistricting plans, the State’s budget and much of the legislation that is hurting North Carolinians – many of the issues are being or will be challenged in the higher courts. But the good news is that Gov. McCrory is happy to be part of Pope's cabinet because it leaves him time to hand out cookies and try to clean the egg off his face.

The campaign finance laws meant to keep party politics and big-monied special interests from deciding judicial elections and influence court decisions were done away with or changed under his direction. He saw to it that the public campaign fund that helped level the judicial playing field was abolished. And he upped the cap on individual contributions to judicial candidates from $1,000 to $5,000. In other words, he set the stage for special interests to buy special favors. And now he is fundraising for his choice for the Appellate courts.

Ask most who they are casting their votes for in the judges' races and the question often will be met with a blank stare or a giggle and silly remark such as "everyone who has four letters in their first name."

Because judicial candidates are supposed to be nonpartisan and are forbidden to discuss pending or probable cases coming before their courts, it can be difficult to determine who to support. The outcomes in these elections often are determined by whim rather than reason. And now that the door has been opened to millions of dollars being used by outside interests - frequently from out of state - and used primarily for negative advertising, the winners can be those who are going to be beholden to others.

During the 2014 elections, three judges will be elected to the 15-member North Carolina Appeals and four justices will be elected to the seven-member North Carolina Supreme Court. The seats are for eight years and will have substantial impact on whether justice is served for the next several years.

The only way that I know to get a feel for whether a judge is sticking to basing opinions on statute, Constitution and case law is to look at their actions while serving as judges. And those who know me won't be surprised that I've done just that.

I've chosen to support three Appellate court candidates -  Appeals Court Judge Mark Davis is running to retain his seat; Appeals Court Judge Sam "Jimmy" Ervin IV  is seeking a seat on the NC Supreme Court; and Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley wishes to remain on the bench. 

Justice Beasley was the first black woman to win a state-wide race without being first appointed when she was elected to her former seat on the Court of Appeals. Previous to that, she served for nine years as a District Court judge. She stepped up to the Supreme Court upon appointment by Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Before being appointed to the Appeals Court, Judge Davis handled more than 65 appeals in the NC Court of Appeals, Supreme Court of North Carolina, and the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit so has the right experience to hear and decide cases.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice, when Judge Ervin ran for the NC Supreme Court in 2012, it became one of the most controversial and expensive judicial races in the country. Together, Art Pope and his friends in partisan organizations - both inside and outside the state - spent more than $2.5 million on negative advertising aimed at defeating Ervin. 

Whenever I see negative political campaign ads, I always have to wonder why - if the candidate they support is so excellent - why don't they spend the money promoting their favored candidate rather than attack the opposition. Can't they think of anything nice to say about their own candidate?. Every time you see a negative ad against anyone, you might want to ask yourself the same question. 

Hugh Morton showed us years ago how pennies can add up when he had school children collect change to use toward the purchase of the USS North Carolina so that it could avoid the wrecking ball and instead, find a permanent home in Wilmington. He launched the Save Our Ship Campaign and the result was that of the 1.1 million North Carolina schoolchildren, 700,000 gave at least a dime which totaled - in today's dollars - more than $2 million.

Campaign money is no different - whether $5, $25 or $5,000, if everyone gives what they can afford, it will add up and help tip the scales in the direction needed to have  free, unbiased and unbeholden courts. It will help balance the scales and put the blindfold back on Lady Justice.

I hope you will join me in supporting them. There is no doubt that a lot of cloudy money will be used to try to defeat these candidates. Few, if any, of us have the financial means to match the corrupt money pouring into races, but we have something better - our vote - and together, we can help make up the difference in campaign contributions.

Together, we can help save this last bastion of separation of powers continue to stay above politics. So brothers and sisters, can you spare a dime...a dollar...a grand?

Meet the candidates and enjoy a continental breakfast from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Friday, March 21, at the Pier House at Hilton Gardens in Kitty Hawk. The limit on contributions to judicial candidates has been increased to $5,000 per election cycle. Checks should be written to each of the individual candidates. 

If stopping by the breakfast to meet the judges, please RSVP by email to

To learn more about the judges, go to their campaign websites at

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Humans are part of nature, too!

How did I become an environmentalist who doesn’t trust environmental agencies and organizations? It took a life time...

As a child, I spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s house in a small coal mining town in West Virginia. Marmet is a “company” town where much of the housing and employment are controlled by the mine owners. The other major employers are the chemical plants including the DuPont chemical plant in nearby Belle.

Trains carrying coal rumbled by daily and, although the tracks were off limits, I frequently made a mad dash to snatch a piece of coal that bounced out of the open train cars. There was a wealth of play potential in the black lumps. They were light, so I could throw them at a target or, even better, maybe at one of the many cousins who always seemed to be visiting. And the softer ones made a great alternative to chalk for writing and drawing on things.

One of the highlights of my day was when my grandmother would allow me to throw out the garbage all by myself.

The house was raised about five feet so that the creek that ran about three feet away wouldn’t flood it when the water was high. After it passed the house, the creek disappeared into a culvert and eventually made it into the Kanawha River.
Taking the trash out meant slinging the paper bag over the porch railing into the creek so that the waters could wash it away. Six decades ago, it was a common practice and didn’t carry with it the same problems found today. Most households generated little trash and garbage. Left-overs were eaten or fed to livestock; glass jars containing vegetables, jelly, pickles and the like were saved to use for next canning season; milk and soda bottles were glass and were returned to the store to collect the deposits. There was no plastic or excess packaging from already-prepared foods.

All the plumbing probably also drained into the creek.

The sky was always blue and that didn’t seem unusual until I was older and realized that the always-blue sky was my misunderstanding. It was the air that was blue. There were few, if any, environmental regulations in the 50s and the blue tinge was from the unregulated chemicals belched out of DuPont’s smokestacks. There also was a foul smell but, as with many odors, after a while, one ceases to smell it.

A couple of decades passed before I began to think about the importance of protecting the environment. Villager dresses, circle pins and loafers were replaced with mini-skirts and tall boots. When I finally became interested in nature and natural resources, I had graduated to long skirts, blue jeans, hiking boots and flannel shirts.

Like many, with three young children and a lot of work that came with living in the mountains of Colorado, I depended on environmental organizations for news about the environment. If they stated something as fact, initially, I never questioned it. But as my understanding of science and environmental politics expanded, I found myself fact-checking newsletters and releases to see if they were accurate – often they were misleading. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt – perhaps the writer had misunderstood the topic.

Because of my understanding environmental science and the related law, as a journalist, I often was assigned stories about environment and government agencies that are tasked with its protection.

One particular story showed how devoid of fact that some government environmental agencies’ statements are.

A large number of dead turtles washed up on Corolla’s beach and drew the attention of the National Marine Fisheries Service. A statement was issued that it was thought to be caused by commercial fishing vessels because one was seen in the vicinity the day before the turtles were discovered. Also noted was that the turtles were sent to the state vet school for further study.

The necropsy results showed many had died from a wasting disease. And a large number of them had hook and lines in their stomachs or wrapped around their bodies. I asked why NMFS had not corrected the earlier statement and was told that the hook-and-line deaths were probably caused while fishing from piers and inadvertently catching the turtles. The answer was a mind-blower – “Because they can’t help it and can only cut the line to get it off the pole.” They left the public with the impression that commercial fishermen were responsible for the deaths although they knew otherwise.

I took a break from journalism to work for the North Carolina Fisheries Association as vice president of communications at the beginning of the work on the State’s Fisheries Reform Act. Part of my job was to visit with commercial fishing groups along the coast to find out what was acceptable to them and tell them how to get their voices heard.  Because the fisheries varies along the coast, the ideas were broad – except for one item that was universal. They knew more regulations were coming and they wanted the biggest problems addressed – loss of habitat, wetlands and declining water quality.

For more than a year, all the environmental groups in the state agreed and vowed to back the request. It made environmental sense. After a lot of hard work by a lot of smart people, the draft legislation was sent to mark-up before being introduced in the General Assembly.

I represented the commercial industry at the mark up session. Lobbyists and/or directors of every major environmental group in the state were at the table. Together, we reviewed the bill’s language and there were no surprises until we got to the part about the creation and implementation of Coastal Habitat Protection Plans to address the loss of habitat, wetlands and water quality. As previously agreed, it was included in the draft legislation, but there was no effective date for the plans. It just noted that the plans were to be developed and implemented – at some point. Thinking it was just an error, I quickly noted that the “hammer” was missing. It was so open-ended that the state could wait a century before giving thought to it.

There was absolute silence for several minutes. Finally, Bill Holman, later the director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, simply said, “You’re right.” My impression was that Bill also was unhappy with the omission.

I didn’t stop arguing for it to be corrected but no one responded except for the attorney who drafted the bill. She said that if an effective date was added, the General Assembly wouldn’t approve it.

The combined members of all the organizations at the table had enough strength to get just about anything we collectively wanted. I finally realized that the environmental groups had traded “the hammer” for something else that they wanted and weren’t going to share just what that something was.

More than 10 years later when the Coastal Habitat Protection Plans finally became a reality, one of the environmental groups sent out a letter-to-the-editor taking credit for getting the plans. Of course, there was no mention of the fact that they had contributed to causing them  to be delayed by a decade.

Environmental groups can and have had positive influence but often misstate the facts, usually to create the impression of a looming crisis. As groups have grown larger and larger, much of the effort has shifted from the core mission of helping to protect the environment to fund-raising to obtain revenues needed to pay the tab for growing administration cost. An easily provable fact is that if there is not a perceived crisis, donations are lower.

An old newspaper adage that’s rarely said aloud anymore – although still frequently followed – is “If it bleeds, it leads. If it doesn’t bleed, cut it with a knife.”  The same can be attributed to some of the nonprofit environmental groups that go to extremes to make situations sound 10 times more critical than they are. And they refuse to accept that the fact that humans are part of nature.

Little more than a decade ago, King Cove, Alaska residents asked for permission to extend a dirt road through the wildlife refuge to Cold Bay. The refuge cuts off King Cove residents’ access to hospitals that can take care of critically ill or injured patients. The only options available to reach the hospitals was by boat or helicopter, both nonstarters when the weather is bad. Environmentalists, backed by former Vice President Al Gore, stopped a bill which would have allowed clearing the last seven miles needed to reach Cold Bay. The road was to be for emergency use only but the environmentalists argued that it would destroy habitat needed by wildlife.

The late Sen. Ted Stevens was so outraged that he managed to get millions in appropriations to add a clinic, a new airstrip and other improvements to try to help solve the problem. For a while, ferries were put into service but that ended a couple of years ago because of extremely high maintenance cost and because they also were shut down in bad weather.

King Cove’s population is about 1000, half of whom are indigenous Native Americans. Last year, they went back to Congress and again asked for permission to build the emergency-use-only road because there have been more than 10 deaths that could possibly have been prevented if they had had proper level of medical care. Again, because of the influence of environmental organizations, the answer has been no. I have to wonder how anyone who would fight to save a salamander couldn’t do the same for a human being.

The fight continues over replacing the Bonner Bridge and ensuring access to Hatteras Island. Whether the replacement should be beside the existing bridge or go into the sound has become a circuitous argument. But the continued suggestion that ferries should be the preferred option has been consistent for decades. If the groups don’t understand why that won’t work, they need only to look at their own handiwork in King Cove – Defenders of Wildlife has a hand in each. And to say that man shouldn’t be living on the island is about 400 years too late. He does and he is part of that environment. There can be solutions that take humans into consideration.

And the negative impacts from the Off Road Vehicle rules are not only ignored, they are the subject of many out and out lies. For the past few years, the increasing amount of occupancy tax collected has been used to try to say that shutting off miles of beach to vehicles and pedestrians has increased business on Hatteras Island. That is not true and the tax collected only reflects how much is charged. Increases in tax rates, increases in rental prices, IRS mandates to start taxing services such as bike rentals, linens and cribs and other such items are reflected in the taxes collected. The amount is not an indicator of how many visit the island.

I choose to live in an area surrounded by a National Wildlife Refuge because I love nature. I have a strong belief that everything around us is a gift from God and that we have a moral responsibility to take care of it, appreciate it and to ensure its viability.

Man can be and often is destructive if left to his own devices so while many are advocating that regulations be done away with, I know that we must rein in activities that destroy this gift. At the same time, God made man as part of this nature world and that, too, must be acknowledged. In many ways, it is difficult to decide which is worse – over reaching environmental groups or groups that think there should be no controls. They are both doing damage to nature that includes man.

There are solutions but to get to them, the rhetoric and self-serving power struggles have to be put to the side. There are solutions but it is going to take those of us in the middle to find them.

I would like to find a solution that would allow Marmet residents to continue to earn a living while being able to truly see blue sky instead of blue air and breathe clean air instead of coal dust.