Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Media/Political Establishment Take Aim at Berger

The Gushing Continues...
A recent Star News article titled "Decade-long plan on New Hanover Commissioners agenda", by Kevin Maurer, who just joined the newspaper earlier in January, talks about the recent strategic planning session facilitated by a consultant for a cost to taxpayers of $36,000. Maurer, a quick study in the ways of slanted Star News editorializing, quickly uses the opportunity to divert the subject from the mission of the commissioners to the commissioners individually - namely Brian Berger, who he takes gratuitous potshots at. A move sure to get him in the good graces of Tricia Vance and Bob Gruber, whose mission is to use the paper as a bully pulpit and propaganda mill for the local establishment.

Maurer states,
Berger, in particular, has been at the center of the board's shifting politics after winning a narrow election on a platform of changing the status quo. While his message resonated with some voters, a few of his fellow commissioners said he is too focused on politics and beholden to a minority in the county.

The obvious spin is evident in the statement that Berger won a "narrow election". Berger, who did receive a few less votes in the initial primary against Bill Caster, within the realm of recount, handedly defeated Caster in the primary runoff. In the November general election, Berger and Rick Catlin soared to the top of the list to win decidedly over Deborah Butler and Sid Causey. According to the Star News' own figures, Berger won with a total of 31,403 votes; second to Catlin with 37,095. According to the official election results published by the Board of Elections, the final numbers were: Catlin: 37,592; Berger: 31,846; Butler: 24,647; and Causey: 24,516. Hardly a narrow victory for Berger, who clearly won by over 7,000 votes.

The article continues by suggesting that a few of his fellow commissioners believe Berger to be "beholden to a minority in the county". Berger, the second highest vote-getter, who won his seat with a definitive victory, had the clearest message on the campaign trail; a message that obviously resonated with voters, hence his win. The Star News clearly exposes itself as a biased media source by implying that Berger accidentally slipped through the cracks, and only answers to a lunatic fringe; hardly a distinction that they dare apply to Catlin, who beat Berger with a smaller percentage than that which Berger defeated Butler by.

It is clear, by the virtues of sheer reason, that it certainly was not a minority who aligned with Berger's message of smaller, less intrusive, more efficient, and less costly government - but a large percentage of the electorate, who have grown sick and tired of local government's self-serving, expensive ways. Berger would do well to satisfy those who got behind him; something politicians have done since the beginning of time - answer to their constituents. Somehow, no doubt because of Berger's unconventional ideals, the Star News suggests that he not serve with those in mind that elected him, but rather play ball and conform to that which he campaigned against.

The article continues,
"We are going to need to have consensus on how we get there and going into the strategic planning it can't be about a political agenda. It has to be about what is best for the county," said Chairman Jonathan Barfield, the only Democrat on the board. "There are 200,000 citizens here and if you look at the election that Mr. Berger got elected in and it is just a small fraction of those citizens actually voted in that election. I think when you start making votes that appear to be on party lines or a particular group's agenda, it thwarts the progress of the county."
Barfield's idea "consensus" is go along to get along, and don't make waves. He apparently believes that he and he alone has the monopoly on understanding what exactly is best for the county as a whole, even though his is an agenda that has led to higher taxation and a bloated government. Furthermore, Barfield suggests that those who aligned closely to Berger during the election season are invalid distractions that need not be heeded. Barfield is advocating for mob rule, and desires for Berger to abandon principle, and get with his program, already in progress. Although he himself answers to those who elected him, Barfield believes that the same should not apply to Brian Berger. Barfield's idea of "thwarting the progress of the county" is voting against his personal agenda, and being an advocate for less government and lower taxation, principles which were cornerstones of Berger's campaign.

The Star News continues the assault,

Berger, who defeated Caster in a runoff to get on the ballot, said he is still working to grasp all of the issues facing the board, but defended his approach to the board.
"The learning curve has been very steep and I have a lot to learn still," Berger said. "I am trying to be reasonable, rational in my approach to issues . ... I am hoping the other board members respect where I am coming from and I certainly respect where they are coming from."
The suggestion is that Berger has to "defend" something. Standing for what he does is invalid, and therefore not defensible. Forget that his explanation of his positions is in no way defensive, the Star News says it is, because their goal is to discredit, malign, and marginalize those who do not conform to their extremely biased views.

On the other hand, Catlin shows promise as far as the Star News is concerned. He has been a government insider for better than 20 years, and will certainly get on board with the Barfield/Star News way of doing things. The subtle approval of his positions is apparent:
Catlin, on the other hand, said getting up to speed is not an issue.
"On a number of issues, I am ahead of the curve," Catlin said. "It is not matter of being up to speed, it is a matter of doing my due diligence."
Catlin has focused a lot of his work on coastal and environmental issues like new air quality standards. He thinks the board will gel soon, especially as members work more closely in the coming months on the strategic plan.
"We are all different. I focus on the issues and the problems and not on the personalities," Catlin said. "Their hearts are in the right place and we probably have more in common and I will try my best to make it that way."
The presentation of Rick Catlin  is in huge contrast to that of Berger. Catlin has it together, is dialed in, knows the issues, and is doing his job well. Plus, his extensive experience in environmental issues is of utmost importance, and validates him as a politician well-deserving of the almighty Star News' favor.

It takes Maurer 2/3 of the article to actually get to the subject mentioned in the headline. However, the ink and time invested in the attempted destruction of Brian Berger is well spent, and closely aligns with the underlying mission of the Star News. In his short stint thus far, Kevin Maurer is no doubt quickly gaining the affections of the top brass over at the Star. Ignoring facts for the lure of spin and distortion is a cornerstone of what passes for journalism, and Maurer shows promise. Discrediting local leaders with any conservative leanings has become a timeless tradition, and no doubt a badge of honor that the Star News holds dear.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wilmington Arts Council? Hold onto your wallet...

Armed with new vigor, social "progressive" activists in both the private sector, as well as several elected officials, are pitching hard for another Wilmington Arts Council - yet one more taxpayer-funded bureaucracy to further bloat a ridiculously over-sized local government with excesses and expense.

Typical arts council schlock -
what would we do without
stuff like this?
The original Wilmington Arts Council fizzled out in 2002; however, we are assured that this one has the keys to success. What exactly are those keys? Well get this - economic development. That's right. An arts council whose secondary focus is the arts. As if economic development weren't a term that already commits us to more tax obligations every budget year, than anything else that government does outside of core services. Currently, both the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County dole out piles of our cash every year to agencies completely unaccountable to the taxpayer, in the name of almighty "economic development".  Groups like Wilmington Downtown Inc.(WDI), who regularly hosts arts functions downtown in the name of economic development. WDI utilizes tax dollars to market small one time exclusive art viewings, music shows, theater, and other entertainment under the guise of "economic development" - and does so without the inconvenience of ever having to prove that such activities benefit the taxpayer in any substantial way. WDI, an economic development agency, seems to have economic development as its secondary focus, and art as its first. They have tried to push the "art = economic development" model for years, and they still aren't even self-sufficient.

Wilmington Industrial Development (WID) is another agency whose prime objective is economic development. The city and county both have an iron-clad contract with WID that holds the taxpayers responsible for their funding for years to come. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are absorbed by this group, made up of hundreds of local business and political power players; who operate comfortably out of the pesky view of the public. Who needs all those people poking around wondering where their money is going?

The new Wilmington Arts Council is going to be focused on tourism as well, as if this is some undiscovered territory that holds the key to unlocking all of the secrets to fixing or local economy. The city and county both fund the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau who already man the task of tourism development. We now need an arts council to supplement their efforts?

Philip Gerard, who sits on the arts council steering committee, and who is of course a professor at UNCW in the creative writing field, said “Wilmington is missing out on major dollars,” referring to the lack of an arts council; which, according to Gerard, is the reason for our financial plight.

Back in 2008, Wilmington City Council prescribed a taxpayer-funded survey by the NC Arts Council, whose findings determined that the Cape Fear region should in fact create an arts council within the next 12-18 months, and appropriate a budget of over $200,000. Imagine that - and arts council being paid to survey the need for a potential arts council finds that yes - we need an arts council.

Knowing that money is tight right now, and spending has gotten out of hand, the steering committee is trying to sell its bill of goods under the economic label - even touting that an arts council would equate to jobs. Using the language of the times, their argument is amazingly gaining traction. The committee claims that 5% of the area's jobs are in the creative industry, and therefore, an arts council is needed. They tell us that we have seen an "incredible drain" of artists and creatives since 2002, and therefore, an arts council is needed. "It's an economic development issue", recites City Councilwoman Laura Padgett from the playbook. Interestingly, she has urged other members of city council to view funding the arts council as an "investment", which has positive connotations with the current cabal in power.

Making capital investments with tax dollars seem to be what elected leaders on council pretend that their job consists of. Just ask Mayor Bill Saffo, who just received an award for his visionary leadership and capital risk for the convention center project, in which he used other people's money, against their will, with no risk to himself whatsoever. Wilmington City Council views itself more as a private sector board of governors; yet they are not required to earn their revenue through pesky private sector constraints such as "supply and demand" and "competition". Theirs is taken by force and spread around at whim like candy to whatever feel-good project happens to be on the front burner at the time.

I love art. I am an artist myself. I know many artists, I am married to an artist, and art is a way of life for my wife and I. However, never have we had a conversation that consisted of our artistic endeavors being in any way restricted by a lack of a taxpayer-funded arts council. Of all of my artist friends - not one of them has ever mentioned that "if only we had an arts council, then we could pursue our art". Art is a tough way to make a living. Many factors are involved - not the least of which consists of finding a location that is affordable, so that the pittance one receives through his/her creative ventures has the ability to provide for their sustenance. Not having as many artists in our area is not a symptom of having no arts council, it is a symptom of having too many councils, and boards, and authorities, and convention centers, and economic development agencies, and all of the other progressive projects that take money away from that which local government must provide.

Our crime rate is embarrassing. Our streets are deteriorating. Traffic is mayhem. Every government-controlled board and authority has been rife with problems, constantly needs more of our money, and cannot seem to do their job properly. Now they are telling us we need yet another one. Artists are leaving because they can't afford it, and they could go somewhere else that runs efficiently, making their lives easier.

Arts council serve no purpose other than another notch in the resumes of those in power who try and outdo themselves everyday by spending our money on feel-good projects that they can attach their names to. The $200,000 a year required to fund this organization is a large amount of money that we don't have - money that could go toward roads and public safety; both of which are in dire need of attention. But those aren't sexy projects that get anyone's name on a plaque, require a photo-op, or a much-hyped ribbon cutting ceremony.

You want more art and artists? Cut government to the bone across the board. Attend to that which government should be focused on. Artists everywhere will see a beautiful, well-managed, affordable river city; friendly to their cause; and flock here, as they once did.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Giffords Tragedy Becomes Political Helter-Skelter

This past Saturday, January 8th, I had the misfortune of reporting live on the radio what was right then breaking news; that an inconspicuous Congresswoman from Arizona had been shot in the head by a lone crazed gunman. After announcing the unspeakable tragedy that occurred, I prognosticated what type of political melee this event would devolve to, and how the right, the Tea Party, and the leaders in conservatism would be blamed for this. Turns out, I was not only right, but underestimated the level to which this would take place.

The facts about the incident were convoluted with conjecture at that time - and little has changed. However, we now know more about the shooter, Jared Loughner.

Loughner was an apolitical individual according to his high school friend, Zach Osler, who said on ABC's Good Morning America "He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn't listen to political radio. He didn't take sides. He wasn't on the left; he wasn't on the right.". We now know that Loughner had an obsession with Congresswoman Giffords that went back as far as 2007; before any type of newfound Tea Party existed. We now know that Jared Loughner was a cultist of sorts with shrines and skulls and what-not in his backyard. We know that he liked conspiracy theory documentaries. We know that he was a fan of Hollywood psychological thrillers that delved into the darkness of man's consciousness, such as "A Scanner Darkly" and "Donnie Darko". We have found out that his reading list consisted of the father of communism's writings, Karl Marx; and Hitler's Mein Kampf. The guy is disturbed beyond comprehension; and if the initial argument was that the Tea Party influenced his actions; since we have found out that he absorbed no Tea Party rhetoric or followed conservatism in any way - then can we shift the blame to that media which he did consume - the mad rantings of paranoid tinfoil hattists, megalomaniacal dictators, and Hollywood schlock?

We know that Gabrielle Giffords is a former Republican turned blue-dog Democrat; hardly the type of divisive, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi-type leftist that would be the focus of Tea Party ire. She is a staunch supporter of gun rights, and supports tougher border security. Gabrielle Giffords was virtually unheard of to people outside of Pima County, Arizona in this past election season - because she did not fit the template of the most liberal candidates that the Tea Party fought at a national level.

Given the overwhelming evidence of fact, it is not only logical; but absolutely conclusive to deduce that the right, the Tea Party, and/or conservatism at large had absolutely nothing to do with the actions of a crazed lone gunman who committed a reprehensible act of violence.

We also now know that the left-leaning media hotheads will never let facts stand in the way of paranoid delusions that they themselves evaluate as having political progress and gain attached to them. Virtually everyone from Keith Olbermann (who was on the air when the gun barrel was still warm) to our own Tricia Vance and the Star News editorial board has weighed in on this, attempting to blame the right and the Tea Party for this tragedy.

Some of the most ridiculous allegations arise out of the blogosphere; such as a blog with the official-sounding moniker "American Chronicle", in which the writer who calls himself "Christian Church" writes:
Conservative Tea Party Activists from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas say they will picket the funeral of Christina Greene, the 9-year-old girl who was murdered in cold blood during the Tea Party sponsored assassination rampage in Tucson, Arizona last weekend.
Gifford now lies in a hospital after Tea Party activist Jared Loughner shot and wounded her. Six others, including a federal judge and Christina Greene, were murdered by Loughner in cold blood. Tea Party activists in the state are calling the murder spree an "event." And they are using publicity from these murders to fundraise for their cause. Some Tea Party activists have pledged to use the money they raise to help defend the killer in court. Many Tea Party activists are calling Loughner a "hero."
These allegations are so unbelievably absurd, that they border on libelous. Referring to the insane Westboro Baptist Church crowd as "Tea Party activists" defies all logic. The extreme religious group is known for their hellfire and brimstone approach to all that they deem immoral, and regularly chant and wave signs that read such absurdities as "God hates fags" and the like. However, their motivation is not and has never been political; but merely religious extremism. Church offers no proof or evidence of his claim that Tea Partiers are using this incident to raise money, defend the killer, or are referring to Loughner as a "hero". That his paranoid and divisive mind can concoct such allegations seems to be sufficient enough to publish such dreck.

Here locally, the all-seeing, all-knowing Star News editorial board was quick to offer its wisdom on the issue, dutifully plagiarizing on the leftist template as of late, and exploiting the tragic death of 9-year-old Christina Green to futilely defend their position:
But the incident sparked a long-overdue national discussion, and it’s worth asking: What kind of example are we setting for the Christina Greens of the world when what passes for political discourse in this country consists of name-calling, foot-stomping refusal to compromise, schoolyard-bully tactics and putting elected officials “in the cross hairs,” even figuratively speaking?
Other candidates, including Southeastern North Carolina’s Ilario Pantano, staged campaign events around weapons and used gun lingo in their speeches and campaign platforms.
Someone who disagrees with us on a political question is not merely wrong but an evildoer who hates this country and wants to hand it over to terrorists. “He’s a communist.” “She’s a wingnut.” “Take back America!” As if one group of Americans has a greater right to the country than the rest of the citizenry.
All that shouting threatens to silence the voices of reason, and that in turn hurts our democracy.
Our "democracy" is actually our Constitutionally-limited Representative Republic. Part of that distinction consists of a Constitution, which affords a Bill of Rights to citizens; among which the very first being the right to free speech. Posing a more severe threat to us all would be to limit or regulate what free speech is - which is apparently what the Star News is advocating for.

In the aftermath of the rampage perpetrated by Major Malik Nadal Hasan in Texas, the left was forgiving, even coining a new medical term to explain his actions - "pre-post-traumatic stress disorder". The president and other leaders of the left urged restraint of the national discourse. We were told to not jump to conclusions. We were informed of Hasan's "demons" and even suffered his being painted as some sort of social victim. Hasan was a Muslim, and fit the mold of someone which would draw the sympathy and defense of the left for his actions.

When Amy Bishop, the socialist, vehement Obama-supporting professor at the University of Alabama Huntsville shot and killed three of her colleagues at work, the story was virtually buried in the media. There was certainly no allegation that leftist rhetoric played a part in her actions, and the difference was that the right agreed. We were all able to chalk up that tragedy as nothing more than a psychotic sociopath acting out her evil on others.

However, when a person fitting the exact same psychological profile; with a history of disturbing behavior; and even stalking his victim for years shoots a Democrat member of Congress, suddenly restraint is out the window. Conjecture is king. Blame is delivered to political enemies with haste. Emotional response become fact. Rhetoric becomes discourse. Insanity becomes reason.

To blame the right, talk radio, the Tea Party, or any other faction of conservative media or vehicle for the actions of Jared Loughner; when no such connection exists even in the slightest regard; while giving a pass to that which he did consume on a regular basis, and which could conceivably incite rage and violence in an unstable individual, such as the mad ravings of documentary filmmakers who blamed the Bush administration for 9/11 and the world's ills at large; the darkest of Hollywood's psychological films; and the insane writings of madmen - is absolutely ludicrous. It is a position that defies rationality and reason. It is a precedent which must consume one's credibility in order to proceed.

The American political left suffered a sounding defeat in this past election season. Their tired message of "social progress" still comes without jobs, wealth, prosperity, freedom, or well-being. Their discourse does not connect with the American people at large. They have not been able to show any positive gains in any area of our society as a direct result of their political positions. They are desperate, and have devolved to investing everything they have left into attempting to tear down and destroy their opponents with libelous innuendo and irrational delusion. They work to try and regulate the very voices and opinions of those whom they disagree with. They attempt to manipulate the rule of law for their own agenda. They gladly sacrifice Representative Giffords, and any other victim who fits the template on their ill-conceived altar of political gain. Their mission is not to try and apply their message in a potable manner, and lift themselves up; but rather accept their position at the bottom and attempt to pull down their opposition to some sub-level below even themselves, with the desperate hope that in the end they will finally connect with the citizenry, after destroying all other avenues of thought that stand in their way.