Leading from the Left

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bush, Babies, and Bigotry

In his year end press conference today, President Bush was asked if, given Mary Cheney's pregnancy, he would now support changes to laws so that LGBT families were better protected. Surprisingly, he didn't say "No." Instead, he said he would always support reviewing current law to ensure that all American's are treated fairly. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, but these words do represent a slight repositioning for the president.

Below is a copy of an opinion piece by New York Times columnist, Frank Rich. Frank makes some excellent points. Could the tide be turning?

The New York Times:

COLUMN: Mary Cheney's Bundle of Joy

By Frank Rich

Sunday 12.17.06

IT'S not the least of John McCain's political talents that he comes across as a paragon of straight talk even when he isn't talking straight. So it was a surprise to see him reduced to near-stammering on ABC's `'This Week'' two Sundays after the election. The subject that brought him low was the elephant in the elephants' room, or perhaps we should say in their closet: homosexuality.

Senator McCain is no bigot, and his only goal was to change the subject as quickly as possible. He kept repeating two safe talking points for dear life: he opposes same-sex marriage (as does every major presidential aspirant in both parties) and he is opposed to discrimination. But because he had endorsed a broadly written Arizona ballot initiative that could have been used to discriminate against unmarried domestic partners, George Stephanopoulos wouldn't let him off the hook.

`'Are you against civil unions for gay couples?'' he asked the senator, who replied, `'No, I'm not.'' When Mr. Stephanopoulos reiterated the question seconds later—`'So you're for civil unions?''—Mr. McCain answered, `'No.'' In other words, he was not against civil unions before he was against them. His gaffe was reminiscent of a similar appearance on Mr. Stephanopoulos's show in 2004 by Bill Frist, a Harvard-trained doctor who refused to criticize a federal abstinence program that catered to the religious right by spreading the canard that sweat and tears could transmit AIDS.

Senator Frist is now a lame duck, and his brand of pandering, typified by his errant upbeat diagnosis of the brain-dead Terri Schiavo's condition, is following him to political Valhalla. The 2006 midterms left Karl Rove's supposedly foolproof playbook in tatters. It was hard for the Republicans to deal the gay card one more time after the Mark Foley and Ted Haggard scandals revealed that today's conservative hierarchy is much like Roy Cohn's milieu in `'Angels in America,'' minus the wit and pathos.

This time around, ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage drew markedly less support than in 2004; the draconian one endorsed by Mr. McCain in Arizona was voted down altogether. Two national politicians who had kowtowed egregiously to their party's fringe, Rick Santorum and George Allen, were defeated, joining their ideological fellow travelers Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed in the political junkyard. To further confirm the inexorable march of social history, the only Christmas season miracle to lift the beleaguered Bush administration this year has been the announcement that Mary Cheney, the vice president's gay daughter, is pregnant. Her growing family is the living rejoinder to those in her father's party who would relegate gay American couples and their children to second-class legal or human status.

Yet not even these political realities have entirely broken the knee-jerk habit of some 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls to woo homophobes. Mitt Romney, the Republican Massachusetts governor, was caught in yet another embarrassing example of his party's hypocrisy last week. In a newly unearthed letter courting the gay Log Cabin Republicans during his unsuccessful 1994 Senate race, he promised to `'do better'' than even Ted Kennedy in making `'equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern.'' Given that Mr. Romney has been making opposition to same-sex marriage his political calling card this year, his ideological bisexuality looks as foolish in its G-rated way as that of Mr. Haggard, the evangelical leader who was caught keeping time with a male prostitute.

There's no evidence that Mr. Romney's rightward move on gay civil rights and abortion (about which he acknowledges his flip-flop) has helped him politically. Or that Mr. McCain has benefited from a similar sea change that has taken him from accurately labeling Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson `'agents of intolerance'' in 2000 to appearing at Mr. Falwell's Liberty University this year. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that among Republican voters, Rudy Giuliani, an unabashed liberal on gay civil rights and abortion, leads Mr. McCain 34 percent to 26 percent. Mr. Romney brought up the rear, at 5 percent. That does, however, put him nominally ahead of another presidential wannabe, the religious-right favorite Sam Brownback, who has held up a federal judicial nomination in the Senate because the nominee had attended a lesbian neighbor's commitment ceremony.

For those who are cheered by seeing the Rovian politics of wedge issues start to fade, the good news does not end with the growing evidence that gay-baiting may do candidates who traffic in it more harm than good. It's not only centrist American voters of both parties who reject divisive demagoguery but also conservative evangelicals themselves. Some of them are at last standing up to the extremists in their own camp.

No one more dramatically so, perhaps, than Rick Warren, the Orange County, Calif., megachurch leader and best-selling author of `'The Purpose Driven Life.'' He has adopted AIDS in Africa as a signature crusade, and invited Barack Obama to join the usual suspects, including Senator Brownback, to address his World AIDS Day conference on the issue. This prompted predictable outrage from the right because of Mr. Obama's liberal politics, especially on abortion. One radio host, Kevin McCullough, demonized the Democrat for pursuing `'inhumane, sick and sinister evil'' as a legislator. An open letter sponsored by 18 `'pro-life'' groups protested the invitation, also citing Mr. Obama's `'evil.'' But Mr. Warren didn't blink.

Among those defending the invitation was David Kuo, the former deputy director of the Bush White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In a book, `'Tempting Faith,'' as well as in interviews and on his blog, the heretical Mr. Kuo has become a tough conservative critic of the corruption of religion by politicians and religious-right leaders who are guilty of `'taking Jesus and reducing him to some precinct captain, to some get-out-the-vote guy.'' Of those `'family'' groups who criticized Mr. Obama's appearance at the AIDS conference, Mr. Kuo wrote, `'Are they so blind and possessed with such a narrow definition of life that they can think of life only in utero?'' The answer, of course, is yes. The Christian Coalition parted ways with its new president-elect, a Florida megachurch pastor, Joel Hunter, after he announced that he would take on bigger issues like poverty and global warming.

But it is leaders like Mr. Hunter and Mr. Warren who are in ascendance. Even the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at Mr. Haggard's former perch, the National Association of Evangelicals, has joined a number of his peers in taking up the cause of the environment, putting him at odds with the Bush administration. Such religious leaders may not have given up their opposition to abortion or gay marriage, but they have more pressing priorities. They seem to have figured out, as Mr. Kuo has said, that `'politicians use Christian voters for their money and for their votes'' and give them little in return except a reputation for bigotry and heartless opposition to the lifesaving potential of stem-cell research.

The axis of family jihadis—Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association—is feeling the heat; its positions get more extreme by the day. A Concerned Women for America mouthpiece called Mary Cheney's pregnancy `'unconscionable,'' condemning her for having `'injured her child'' and `'acted in a way that denies everything that the Bush administration has worked for.'' (That last statement, thankfully, is true.) This overkill reeks of desperation. So does these zealots' recent assault on the supposedly feminizing `'medical'' properties of soy baby formula (which deserves the `'blame for today's rise in homosexuality,'' according to the chairman of Megashift Ministries), and penguins.

Yes, penguins. These fine birds have now joined the Teletubbies and SpongeBob SquarePants in the pantheon of cuddly secret agents for `'the gay agenda.'' Schools are being forced to defend `'And Tango Makes Three,'' an acclaimed children's picture book based on the true story of two Central Park Zoo male penguins who adopted a chick from a fertilized egg. The hit penguin movie `'Happy Feet'' has been outed for an `'anti-religious bias'' and its `'endorsement of gay identity'' by Michael Medved, the commentator who sets the tone for the religious right's strictly enforced code of cultural political correctness.

Such censoriousness is increasingly the stuff of comedy. So are politicians of all stripes who advertise their faith. A liberal like Howard Dean is no more credible talking about the Bible (during the 2004 campaign he said his favorite book in the New Testament was Job) than twice-married candidates like Mr. McCain are persuasive at pledging allegiance to `'the sanctity of marriage.''

For all the skeptical theories about the Obama boomlet—or real boom, we don't know yet—no one doubts that his language about faith is his own, not a crib sheet provided by a conservative evangelical preacher or a liberal political consultant on `'values.'' That's why a Democrat from Chicago whose voting record is to the left of Hillary Clinton's received the same standing ovation from the thousands at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church that he did from his own party's throngs in New Hampshire. After a quarter-century of watching politicians from both parties exploit religion for partisan and often mean-spirited political gain, voters on all sides of this country's culture wars are finally in the market for something new.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On Rudeness, Anger, and Religion


Below is a copy of a thought-provoking essay written by retired Episcopal Bishop John Spong. Spong, as you may recall, was the New Jersey bishop who wrote and spoke often about sexuality and Christianity. During his career he was criticized stridently by religious conservatives who felt threatened by his openness and acceptance of LGBT members of the faith.

Spong, a North Carolina native and graduate of UNC-CH, was awarded an honorary degree last May from the University. He relates, in this essay, rude and angry comments he recieved from the Dean of the UNC Medical School William Roper. I'll let Spong's story speak for itself, but this incident raises an important question: "Can Dean Roper separate his prejudiced views from his work?" Normally, I would give someone the benefit of the doubt; people do have a right to hold personal viewpoints, no matter how antediluvial. But this incident calls into question William Roper's judgement.

Read below and decide for yourself....

August 22, 2006

Understanding Religious Anger

One of the things that always surprises me is the level of anger, often expressed in acts of overt rudeness, which seems to mark religious people. It appears so often that I have almost come to expect it, or at the very least not to be surprised by it. A recent episode simply made the connection between religion and anger newly indelible in my consciousness.

It occurred last spring when I attended, at their invitation, the graduation ceremonies of a well-known university. Indeed, I was to receive an honorary degree. There was much conviviality connected with this event. We were entertained royally by the president of the university and his wife. We saw former classmates. Families gathered to share this transitional moment with a graduating son or daughter. It seemed to be a very pleasant occasion.

When the procession formed to begin the ceremonial walk into the arena, there was a panoply of color marking the assembly. The black caps and gowns of academia were bedecked with bright and varied hoods, representing the doctorates earned by the members of the faculty and reflecting the school colors of the awarding universities. Harvard's crimson was immediately identifiable, as well as the unique form of the doctoral hoods from the storied universities of Cambridge and Oxford. My place in this lineup was in the company of some of the university's deans. While we waited for the signal to begin the procession, I introduced myself to my nearest companions. They were all cordial until I introduced myself to the Dean of the Medical School. It was not a time for small talk for this man. He could not have possibly known that he and I would be together in the procession, so what followed was clearly spontaneous and unplanned. He obviously had strong feelings about me and could not miss this exquisite opportunity to give expression to them. I had never met this man before this moment, but my expectation was that one whose career in medicine had been so successful that he had become the dean of a major medical school would have a broad perspective on life. I was wrong. He was bitter and small-minded, caught more in his narrow religious agenda than in his academic excellence. We had barely unlocked hands in our introductory handshake when he said, "I wish I did not feel this way but I think what you have done to the Church is both reprehensible and destructive. I regret that this university has decided to honor you today." I was taken aback not by the content of his remarks, since I have dealt with threatened religious people many times before, but by the inappropriateness of his comments. This was neither the time nor the place for this tirade. I was after all an invited guest in his world. Yet, he simply could not contain his feelings. I tried to parry his comments by saying something like: "I'm sorry we don't have time to discuss this here, but you must realize that the world has undergone a vast intellectual revolution in the last 500-600 years and if the Church is to stay in dialogue with that world then the Church must also change. However, this Dean was in no mood to let go; he had the bit between his teeth. "You totally ignore the truth of those first 1,300 years of Christian history," he retorted, his anger still rising. "Would you want to practice medicine in today's world equipped only with the medical knowledge available in the first 1300 years of Christian history?" I enquired. At that moment the conversation ended because the music started, the stately procession began its journey into the stadium where literally thousands were gathered. As we walked in silence I could not help but wonder at the rudeness of this Dean, who had so great a need to express his anger that he violated the good manners of his university. I learned later that this doctor was part of a conservative Christian congregation. Somehow, religious convictions seem to give people permission to be rude.

A similar incident occurred in the summer of 2005, when I was the guest lecturer at the Highlands Institute for American and Philosophical Thought in Western North Carolina. I had been there for the past three summers, and had always met with a warm and positive reception. However, on this particular night, a local fundamentalist decided to achieve his fifteen minutes of fame. About midway in the lecture, this man stood up and drew sufficient attention to himself that I stopped speaking and enquired if there was something wrong. "I'm feeling sick," this gentleman replied. So I responded, "There is nothing I'm saying tonight that is more important than your health, so let me pause until you get whatever help you need." "You don't understand," he retorted, "I'm sick of you." Somehow this man felt that his religious convictions justified his interruption of a lecture attended by more than 250 people. It never occurred to him that this behavior was rude to me, rude to the audience and that it reflected little more than his own anger. I learned later that he was a member of the Community Bible Church and that he had been encouraged to take this action by fellow members of his fundamentalist church. Once again if one is acting 'in the name of God,' both anger and rudeness are apparently justified.

Those two experiences set me to thinking about the relationship between religion and anger. It is far closer than most people seem to realize. Sometimes the sweet piety of religion serves to hide anger even from the awareness of the angry one, though it is obvious to everyone else. Is it anything but anger when religious people describe what is in store for those who do not believe their way? Is the threat of hell, which is spoken so freely in religious circles, not a projection onto God of the anger inside the one consigning another to a place of eternal torment? Is there much difference between a person saying in hostility: "Go to hell!" and a preacher threatening a congregation with that same destiny? When one looks at the history of religious persecution, which has included such things as excommunication, torture, and the burning of heretics at the stake, there is ample evidence of hostility associated with Christianity. When one adds to that the Crusades designed 'to kill the infidels,' a history of anti-Semitism, and the wars between Catholics and Protestants, the picture of religion as a source of anger in human society, victimizing people in every generation, becomes clear.

In moments of social upheaval, religious anger becomes very apparent. Most of the anger that was displayed during the movement to emancipate women came from the Christian Church. Most of the anger displayed in the current struggle over justice for gay and lesbian people emanates from the Christian Church. It is very hard to deny that underneath the sounds of religious conviction, there is a boiling cauldron of anger that seems to be an unrecognized part of the religious experience. Step one, therefore, is to recognize it. Step two is to understand it.

Religious anger seems to manifest itself first and most stridently in those religious traditions that claim to possess absolute certainty. It is only when one believes that one possesses the whole truth of God that one finds the need to persecute those who do not accept your version of truth. What that behavior reveals is that the frightened human psyche needs the certainty of religion, no matter how narrowly defined, in order to feel secure. Christianity has developed many security-giving idols inside its traditional formulations, infallible popes and inerrant scriptures being two of them. How rational, for example, is it for anyone to say: "Since my God is the true God and your God is, therefore, a false God, I have the right to hate you, to persecute you or even to kill you?" Yet all of these expressions of anger are found inside the Christian Church.

The second thing that religious anger reveals to me is that organized religion feeds the expression of self-hatred in its people. There is certainly much self-negativity in traditional Christianity with its doctrines of 'the Fall,' its emphasis on the depravity of human life, the need to be rescued, and the guilt-producing idea that "Jesus died for my sins." The liturgies of Christian churches are constantly calling their worshipers such things as 'a wretch,' 'a worm,' 'one unworthy to gather up the crumbs under the divine table,' all interspersed with the plea to God to 'have mercy, have mercy, have mercy.' Are these not expressions of self-directed religious anger?

If one absorbs negativity from any source long enough, one cannot help but become negative. When one is denigrated in worship over a sustained period of time, one inevitably projects this denigration onto others as anger. It is necessary for survival. Does this not help us to understand why prejudice is greater among religious people than among non-religious people; why slavery, segregation and other overt forms of racism have been the pattern of that region of our country that we call 'the Bible Belt;' and why the 'Religious Right' even today is more supportive of war as an instrument of national policy than any other segment of our national population? Each of these attitudes reflects religiously justified violence.

Has religion in general and Christianity in particular degenerated to the level that it has become little more than a veil under which anger can be legitimatised? What happened to that biblical proclamation that the disciples of Jesus are to be known by their love? How does religious anger fit in with the Fourth Gospel's interpretation of Jesus' purpose to be that of bringing life more abundantly?

Perhaps the time has come to recognize that Christianity was never meant to be about religion; it is to be about life. The achievement of personal security is the goal of religion. The ability to live with integrity in the midst of the insecurity of life is the goal of Christianity. Religion seeks to control life with guilt. Christianity seeks to free people to be all that they can be. There is a vast difference. Perhaps it will take the death of religion to open us once again to the meaning of Christianity, even 'Religionless Christianity.' For the purpose of Jesus was not to make us religious but to make us fully human.

John Shelby Spong

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Brilliant Move by John Edwards

John Edwards is about to make it official. He's running again for the presidency! I'm glad for our country that he's decided to run again. Senator Edwards is one of those public servants who entered politics for the right reasons. He's not self-serving, he doesn't grandstand, and he works on real problems that effect the lives of real people.

The fact that he's spent the last few years working on poverty tells us everything we need to know about Senator Edwards. The divide between rich and poor has been increasing for far too long, but while other national politicians sit on the sidelines he rolls up his sleeves and tries to do something about it. Good for him.

Edwards' choice of New Orleans as the venue for his announcement is brilliant. First, it gives him a backdrop to talk about poverty, class, and race---the "Two America's."

But announcing in New Orleans does something else, something that might even be more important for Senator Edwards. It reminds us all that the presidency matters. The competency of the man or woman who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue trickles down and affects us where we live.

Katrina, and the federal incompentence at responding to the destruction in New Orleans, was the beginning of the end for the Bush administration. Personally, I think the talking heads in DC and New York mis-judged the long term impact of Katrina on our political establishment. Not only did Katrina expose the Bush adminstration's general incompentency, but she also exposed the downside of small government rhetoric being taken to the extreme.

Americans want a goverment that works; when Americans need disaster relief, they want to know that they can count on the government to be there. Bush promised a smaller goverment, but instead delivered no goverment--at least no effective goverment.

When middle America realized that Bush had mismanaged the most basic of government services, they lost faith in this president's ability to govern. And the long list of incompetencies that followed--the mismanagement of the war, a sluggish economy, high gas prices, corruption--these things were all symptons of the disease the American people diagnosed in New Orleans.

So, John Edwards' choice of announcing his candidacy in New Orleans is a brilliant strategic move. In one fell swoop, he'll remind us of America's great potential--our vision for a just society--and our great recent failure--electing a president who squanders our strengths. Could John Edwards be the person to lead us out of this mess?

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Equitable Library Service

A recent decision by the Board of County Commissioners has led some in the community to question the BOCC commitment to library services. The perception of a lack of commitment is unfounded, in my opinion, but misperceptions in politics are powerful and have to be addressed.

In November, the County Commissioners announced plans for a new 25,000 square foot Orange County library centrally located in Hillsborough. The swift decision to create this new facility in Hillsborough has led to some consternation amongst advocates for a branch library serving the Southwestern portion of the county.

The new Hillsborough facility is desparately needed. Our county needs a new, improved facility that will meet the needs of Central/Northern Orange County in the 21st century. The current Orange County library is old and cramped, and I fully support the construction of a new facility.

Additionally, I firmly believe the Board of Commissioners is committed to following through on the 2004 Library Task Force report--a report that called for BOTH a new, larger central library in Hillsborough and a southwest branch library located in Carrboro.

But the advocates for a southwestlibrary are right to keep pressure on the Board of Commissioners to lay plans for a branch library in Carrboro.

The primary sticking point, in my opinion, is the issue of cost sharing. A year ago, the previous BOCC told Carrboro that they expected the town to pay 50% of any branch library located in the Town of Carrboro. This formula bears an undue hardship on Carrboro for the simple reason that smaller towns have a smaller budgets and shallower revenue streams. To understand Carrboro's objection to the proposed cost-sharing formula, it's important to understand the full impact. Let's look at a hypothetical example.

Say that a new libary cost $2 million. Under the County's proposed 50-50 cost sharing formula, Carrboro would be expected to cough up $1 million. Here's where the financial hardship arises: for Carrboro taxpayers, $1 million equals roughly 8 cents on their tax rate. For county tax payers on the other hand, $1 million equals less than 1 cent on the tax rate.

It's also important to recognize that under this scenario Carrboro's tax payers would be paying twice. Yes, twice. They'd be paying through their Carrboro taxes AND their county tax assessment. How fair is that?

Another key problem in the 50-50 proposal floated by the previous BOCC is that the southwest branch library will serve a large portion of southern Orange County, not just Carrboro residents. So the commissioners currently expect Carrboro tax payers to fund a library that will serve a large portion of folks outside the town limits.

The County does not expect the residents of Hillsborough to pay 50% of the costs of a libary there. Nor do they expect Cedar Grove or Efland to pay 50% of libaries located there. So, why single out one community in the County to bear a burden not borne by others?

The current cost sharing plan on the table needs to be revisited, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to reevaluate the county’s position on sharing the cost of that facility. I am looking forward to exploring other options so this much anticipated facility can be built expeditiously.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Congratulations, Alice!

Long-serving Orange County Commissioner, Alice Gordon, received a well-deserved honor this week when she was named a 2006 Goodman Award Winner for Exemplary Regional Leadership by an Elected Official. The Goodman Awards are given out once a year by Leadership Triangle.

Alice is a hard-working, dedicated elected officlal who gives tirelessly to the community. She certainly deserves the recognition. Hats off to my colleague, Alice Gordon.

Here is a portion of the press release that Leadership Triangle sent out when announcing this year's award recipients.

"Durham, N.C. (Dec 8, 2006) – Leadership Triangle is proud to announce the fifth annual Goodmon Awards, recognizing individuals and organizations that exhibit outstanding regional leadership. The awards were presented on December 11, 2006, at an awards dinner presented by Leadership Triangle at American Tobacco Campus, Bay 7, Durham, N.C.

As communities across the Triangle come to understand the importance of working together, regional thinking and regional cooperation become more essential to our individual and collective well being. Yet, we have few mechanisms in place for rewarding such regional foresight and action. As a result, Leadership Triangle has established these annual awards in honor of James F. Goodmon to recognize leaders in our community who are regionally minded - and who exhibit that frame of mind in their personal and professional lives.

2006 Recipient: Alice Gordon, Orange County Commissioner

Alice Gordon has been an Orange County Commissioner for 16 years. During that time, she has proactively addressed regional growth while enhancing the quality of life that defines the Triangle. An unsung champion and distinguished leader, Alice’s work focuses on two areas: environmental protection and regional transportation.

In her quiet, methodical manner she displayed passion, vision, and leadership in promoting and helping to implement the first comprehensive county land acquisition program in North Carolina: The Lands Legacy Program and the new environmental department essential to its operation.

In six years the award-winning initiative has protected more than 1,700 acres of the county's most important natural and cultural resources, including farmland, parkland and critical natural areas. Among the notable acquisitions are the New Hope Preserve on the Durham - Orange County boundary and the Little River Regional Park and Natural Area which spans the two counties.

Alice has been at the forefront of regional transportation leadership for a decade, and has served as an officer or executive committee member on several regional boards including a multi-jurisdictional policy board of elected officials directing urban transportation planning for Durham, Orange, and northern Chatham counties. More recently, she spearheaded the creation of the new TTA Hillsborough - Chapel Hill bus route, a huge step toward inter-city connectivity. Alice currently chairs of the Triangle Transit Authority.
Alice's accomplishments in the areas of environmental protection and regional transportation have made significant contributions in addressing the rapid growth dilemma that challenges our Triangle home, and make her truly worthy of receiving this award."

Congratulations, Alice. A well-deserved honor for a hard-working elected official.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hoping for Compassion

By now, most of you are aware of the deportation procedings being initiated against local resident and artist Sima Fallahi. For those of you who may have missed the story, check out the N&O article.

I don’t know Sima well. I’ve met her on a number of occasions: when she displayed her artwork at Carrboro Town Hall when I was still Mayor, at Weaver Street Market, and at Carrboro Day. So, I can’t pretend to know why she left Iran or why she chose to live in our community.

But I can say, unequivocally, that she does not belong in Iran. Some people don’t ‘fit’ their place of birth. They’re the round peg trying to fit in a square hole. The lucky ones can strike out on their own and make a life for themselves in a new town or a new country. Sima is one of those people. She doesn’t belong in a patriarchal society that does not value the worth of women. She doesn’t belong in a place that punishes women who step outside the approved social and religious mores. In true Carrboro style, Sima is free spirit who wants nothing more from life than to create art, live happily, and raise a wonderful child.

Did Sima break the law by staying in the US without an appropriate visa? Yes, of course. But laws must be tempered with compassion and with understanding of the complexities of the human condition. I believe we must ask ourselves a series of questions. Does any public good come of sending her back to a country from which she is estranged? What does the US gain by forcing her to return to a lifestyle and country that does not value or understand women like her?

This case calls for compassion and flexibility, two things all too often lacking in US immigration law.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

New online newspaper

A group of UNC undergrads have started a new on-line newspaper focused on Carrboro. It's got a nice, fresh look to it and they've done a great job. It's worth checking out; here's a link to their first article...on me.



Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Swearing In

On Monday I was sworn in as Orange County's newest member of the Board of Commissioners. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for electing me to this position. I am humbled by the faith you've shown in my abilities and promise to do my utmost to represent your interests. I am excited about the opportunities to work on environmental matters, school funding and education, and social services. Below are my remarks Monday night after the swearing in ceremony.

"I would like to begin my remarks by publicly thanking retiring Commissioner Steve Halkiotis. While Steve may be retiring from this position tonight, Steve is not by nature a retiring, shy person. His great strength as a County Commissioner was his passion, energy, fervor, and the color commentary he brought to county government.

Steve set the bar high, and we are indebted to his service and dedication to our community.

I humbly thank the people of Orange County for electing me to this position. I will do my best to serve your needs.

And as we embark upon a new term of the Board of County Commissioners, we have an opportunity to take a step back and cast a fresh eye on county needs and county goals.

Taxes. Let’s start with taxes. The County’s tax rate has increased every year for the past 18 years. Eighteen years in a row of tax increases. That is not sustainable, and on a number of different levels is just plain wrong.

In a community in which we often TALK about affordability, I believe we are obligated to look deep into the causes of those increases and make some changes. As your new county commissioner, I intend to do so.

Environment. Orange County has a well-deserved reputation for being a leader in land conservation. Our Land Legacy program is a model.

In the area of energy use and energy efficiency, however, there is room for improvement. Energy use is emerging as a critical environmental issue, as a component of any realistic plan to address global climate change, and as a matter of economic and national security. Orange County can do our part to address energy use.

There are an infinite number of steps the county can take to address energy use by government, business, and citizens at large.

Tonight is not the night to explore in detail those options. However, I submit that Orange County can emerge as leaders in North Carolina on these issues by taking steps to reduce Orange County’s energy consumption by doing the following:

§ improve efficiency by in lighting and appliances
§ increase the availability and use of alternative means of transportation
§ require or encourage the use of LEEDS standards
§ increase the use of alternative fuels by both county government and our citizens.

Technology. Local governments, including Orange County, must begin to treat technology as an infrastructure need---like water and sewer, roads and sidewalks, and parks. Technology has revolutionized how we do business, how we are educated, how we live and how we work.

Those with access to technology get ahead, and those without fall behind.

There is a digital divide in Orange County—between rich and poor, white and non-white, and—perhaps most dramatically—between urban and rural.

This digital divide threatens to leave segments of our community behind while at the same time giving great advantage to other parts of our community.

Orange County must take steps to ensure that technologies--such as high speed internet, mobile telephones, wireless access—are available county wide. Regardless of where you live in the county, you deserve to have access to technology because without that access you will fall behind your neighbors in the technology age.

Library Service. I believe the Board of Commissioners is committed to following through on the Library Task Force report.

And I am fully supportive of the new county library being planned in Hillsborough. Our county needs a new, improved facility that will meet the needs of Northern Orange County in the 21st century.

The Library Task Force report also calls for a county library to serve Southwest Orange County, located in Carrboro. As your county commissioner, I will work diligently to ensure that a county branch library is built in Carrboro. Additionally, I look forward to working with my colleagues—particularly the chair and vice-chair—to reevaluate the county’s position on sharing the cost of that facility.

I believe the formula previously proposed by the Commissioners bears an undue hardship on smaller communities like Carrboro. I am looking forward to exploring other options so this much anticipated facility can be build expeditiously.

School Merger. We have many pressing needs and priorities in Orange County. I believe school merger is an issue that is best laid to rest. I will not support revisiting that issue.

School merger battles distracted us from focusing on issues that need to be addressed ASAP for the good of the county as a whole---issues such as the achievement gap, funding equity between the two school systems, and much needed renovations to the older schools particularly in Northern Orange.

It’s time we laid school merger to rest and focus on the immediate needs of our schools and the children they educate.

Again, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the people of Orange County for electing me to this position. I will do my utmost to represent your interests regardless of where you live, how much money you make, the color of your skin, or your sexual orientation.

This is a great county in which to live, and I intend to do my part to make sure it stays that way.

Now, let’s get to work!