Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thanks for something

Gordon over at Scrutiny Hooligans has a post up that lists the earmarks Congressman Heath Shuler has brought to NC-11. The first item grabbed my attention. So this, cross-posted at Scrutiny Hooligans:
$282,000 AdvantageWest (Henderson/Buncombe)
I thank the congressman for funneling some money to our local development agency. But I’ve had my eye on AdvantageWest for years. In my estimation, they have consistently underperformed in achieving their stated goals.
Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1994, AdvantageWest is a non-profit public-private partnership whose primary focus is marketing the North Carolina mountains to corporations seeking to relocate or open a new facility, expand an existing business within our region, and those who might otherwise improve the quality of life for citizens within our region through activities such as filmmaking, entrepreneurship and tourism.
Or maybe, they’ve simply underperformed in achieving attracting good-paying manufacturing jobs to this area (to replace the thousands we’ve lost).

I was [an observer] at AdvantageWest in 2004 when the governor parachuted in to take some of the credit for Jacob Holm locating a nonwovens plant on Sandhill Rd. 70 jobs - sweet. And since then?

Coats North America (Cherokee County): -98 jobs, 2008
Stanley Furniture (Graham County): -450 jobs, 2007
Western Forge (Cherokee County): -170 jobs, 2006

1,400 jobs were lost in 13 days in Haywood, Buncombe, McDowell and Mitchell back in 2004.

Recently, a friend who wants to start up a small CNC machine shop asked the Asheville Chamber of Commerce what help they could offer him. They offered him the door. Manufacturing, it seems, is too blue collar, and not the kind of “new economy” business they want within the city limits.

AdvantageWest, the Asheville Chamber and local leaders need to get a clue: thousands of laid-off factory workers won’t likely land filmmaking jobs, or “new economy” jobs writing software in trendy Biltmore Ave. storefronts. Our local economy is slowly being hollowed out to where only those who don’t need work (or bring theirs with them) can afford to live here.

Worst of all, that may not change until local moguls awaken to find a shocking shortage of waiters and housekeeping staff.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The guy can give a stump speech.

Former president Bill Clinton spoke in Asheville last night, promoting Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House. Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans:
Pres. Clinton was convincing, and sold Sen. Clinton well. Good speech and good points. Most telling was when Clinton asked for a show of hands: “Raise your hand if you know somebody without health insurance at all.” Somewhere from 40-50% of the crowd raised their hands.

Clinton surveyed the crowd and said, “This is the only country in the world where you could get that answer - the only rich country. This is the only country in the world where anybody could ask the question at election time.”

Mrs. Blue and I went without in 2003 and 2004 after I got laid off and COBRA ran out. He got me where I live.

I visited the new Obama HQ earlier in the day and was frank about going to hear Bill to fish for volunteers for the fall campaigns. 2500 potential volunteers in one place was an opportunity not to be missed. I’ll be at the Obama event at the Orange Peel on April 17 too, for the same reason.

Hillary Clinton supporters we met last night who said they would vote for McCain before they’d vote for Obama might want to think that through some. That goes equally for the Obama supporters who say the same. You want to shoot yourselves in the foot? I’ll loan you the gun.

Both our remaining candidates and their supporters owe this country better. We owe the world better. Republicans win when Democrats who don’t get their way take their balls and go home. Bill Bennett probably has probably placed bets on that happening - with good odds.

For all of the wonky policy talk to make any difference, we first have to win. We have to pull together when this nomination is resolved. And we have to work together to get out our vote.

Ideals are nice, but to both Obama and Clinton supporters I’m frustratingly practical. I don’t care that Obama has the chance to be the first Africa-American president. I don’t care that Clinton has the chance to be the first woman president. I don’t care which candidate claims the most experience, or who gives the best speech or whose husband does. They’re nice perks. But I want the candidate who has the most potential for energizing volunteers, for attracting new and crossover voters. I want the candidate who has the most potential for coattails, for helping new Democrats win office on the local, state and national levels. I want the Democrat who is going to make turning out our vote this fall the easiest. I want the candidate who is going to make the GOP’s job the hardest.

Elections are a numbers game. Bottom line: 50% + 1 wins. If on November 5th, there is a Republican president-elect, none of the trash talk about which Democrat is better or more qualified ain’t worth squat.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

One step forward, two steps back

Study: N.C. family needs $42,841 a year

The average family of four in North Carolina requires $42,841 per year to provide for basic needs, according to a report from the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

And it's even worse west of Statesville.

Although per capita income for the Asheville MSA for 2006 was approximately $30,789, the last time I looked it up, the breakdown showed that figure significantly inflated by rental, retirement and investment income. People earning wages earned proportionately less.

My guess is, that hasn't changed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

False Witness

As campaign season ramps up, we'll be seeing more and more political spam in our in-boxes. If my in-box is any indicator, 98% will be distortions and lies. What's increasingly disturbing about this information superhighway trash is what its proliferation says about our relationship with reality itself. Truth, it seems, is now an endangered species.

New York Times Magazine weighed in on Sunday, March 16. Internet rumors such as Obama-is-a-Muslim die hard:
The Obama-is-a-Muslim rumor does not seem to have hurt the candidate’s fortunes, at least not yet. But the myth’s persistence illustrates a growing cultural vulnerability to rumor. Journalists typically presume that facts matter: show the public what is true, and they will make decisions correctly. Psychologists who study how we separate truth from fiction, however, have demonstrated that the process is not so simple.
Psychologist Ian Skurnik studied the phenomenon at the University of Michigan, using health claims, finding . . .
. . . it helps to know how our brains suss out truth from fiction. To determine the veracity of a given statement, we often look to society’s collective assessment of it. But it is difficult to measure social consensus very precisely, and our brains rely, instead, upon a sensation of familiarity with an idea. You use a rule of thumb: if something seems familiar, you must have heard it before, and if you’ve heard it before, it must be true.

The rule obviously invites many opportunities for error. The seniors in Skurnik’s study couldn’t remember the context in which they had heard the health claims (research shows that we are quick to forget “negation tags,” like whether something is said to be false or a lie), so they relied, instead, on a vague sense of familiarity, which steered them astray. Repetition, psychologists have shown, easily tricks us. Kimberlee Weaver of Virginia Tech recently found that if one person tells you that something is true many times, you are likely to conclude that the opinion is widely held, even if no one else said a thing about it.
Some say, FoxNews?

But it's the enthusiastic distribution of scurrilous Internet rumors I find disturbing. Among the right wing, electronic poison pen letters go around like wildfire. Some I receive have had as many as seventy-five e-mail addresses attached. (Have none of you people ever heard of a blind copy? Your e-mail addresses are being compromised. Got it?)

After years of lies and propaganda from the highest levels, the ability to distinguish truth from fiction has itself been compromised. Point out that they're being used as propagandists by propagandists, and friends and relatives still persist in spreading lies. Either because they can no longer distinguish them from the truth, or because the lies are more fun, or because they just don't care what the truth is if it conflicts with what they'd rather believe.

As Rick Perlstein observes in his new book, we have arrived in Nixonland.
Nixonland, which will be published by Simon & Schuster, takes its title from a coinage of former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, who once described “Nixonland” as a place with “no standard of truth but convenience, and no standard of morality except sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call.”
The greater irony is how many of our friends among the religious Right gleefully play along. You know, the people convinced that liberals are to blame for the decline of values in this country. The ones who quote Matthew and caution that we "become what we behold." The people obsessed with putting displays of the Ten Commandments in courthouses. Including the Commandment about not bearing false witness.

Until recently, what I receive came from the Right. But even that may be changing. This weekend a friend reported receiving one of the poisoned-Barak letters. Only not from a right-winger, from a relative.

After my friend pointed out that the entire thing was bogus, his relative replied, "I know, but I'm a Hillary supporter, so I forwarded it anyway."


Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Man Between War and Peace

Thomas P.M. Barnett profiles head of U. S. Central Command, Admiral William "Fox" Fallon, in this month's Esquire.

With a cooler head than the administration's war cheerleaders, Fallon has earned the ire of the Bush administration for opposing Bush's Iraq "surge" and for not joining in on the saber rattling over Iran. (Emphasis mine.)
As with Pakistan, Fallon keeps his powder dry when he deals with Iran. He doesn't react like Pavlov's dog to inflammatory rhetoric from inflammatory little men.
Goodness, to whom could Barnett be referring?

Described by Secretary of Defense Gates as "one of the best strategic thinkers in uniform today," Fallon is too busy trying to find answers to problems than to demagogue them.
On this trip, he's been shepherding a new bridge that links isolated Tajikistan with Afghanistan. The potential here is huge: Tajikistan is 95 percent mountainous and extremely food dependent. Its main asset is its untapped hydroelectric capacity. Afghanistan presents just the opposite picture--food to export but most of the country lacks an effective electric grid.

So what should America be pushing first in both states? Free-and-clear elections for massively impoverished populations, or whatever it takes to get Tajikistan's resource with Afghanistan's resource? Which path, do you think, would scare the Taliban and Al Qaeda more? To Fallon, there isn't even a question to answer.
No wonder neocons don't like him.