op frBy Doug Wingeier • Columnist

As I write this, I have just returned from a tiring but exhilarating day participating in the Moral March on Raleigh. My wife and I joined 18 others from Haywood County — friends both black and white — plus 260 others from the Asheville area and untold thousands from across the state and beyond. We rose at 3 a.m., rode buses five hours each way, marched nearly a mile each way between Shaw University and the state capitol, and heard some rousing speeches and stirring music.

The rain held off. The crowd was in a festive mood. Many carried signs like “North Carolina: First in Teacher Flight,” “More Art, Less Pope,” “Haywood County for Health Care,” and “Welcome to North Carolina: Set Your Clocks Back 50 Years.” A medical doctor’s sign said: “I got a raise, but my patients who are poor got a death sentence.” Mine read: “I March for Voting Rights for All” and “Funds for Public Schools not for Vouchers.”

op frThe Smoky Mountain News published an excellent analysis of the controversy centered on the current legislation called the “Opportunity Scholarship Program” in the Jan. 29 issue (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/12377). SMN Staff Writer Holly Kays presented this material in exemplary form. 

I was particularly struck by the quote that is attributed to Rep. Roger West, our elected official from Marble. He said, “I think anybody that wants to make a decision to go to a private school, they ought to be able to do it, and they ought to be able to recoup what the state allocates for each student.” This seems like a strange system of reasoning to come from a representative who has sworn to uphold the laws of North Carolina (based on our constitution). Since 1789 North Carolina has provided public education opportunities for all of her citizens. Few would claim that the system has been perfect. Few would claim that our elected officials have acted perfectly all of the time. This, unfortunately, is one of those times when a group of elected officials has used very poor judgment. This will entangle state/local agencies and organizations in a costly legal battle to overturn this bad legislation.

op frBy Doug Wingeier • Columnist

Debate is picking up these days on help for the unemployed and low-wage workers. Congress is balking on extending unemployment compensation. The media and public are going back and forth on raising the minimum wage. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida are demanding (and often getting) a penny more per pound for the tomatoes they pick. And fast food and big box employees are taking matters into their own hands by going out on strike to demand better wages and working conditions.

 The emergency unemployment insurance program for the long-term unemployed expired on Dec. 28, leaving 1.5 million unfortunate folk in the lurch. Since it was implemented in 2008, more than 24 million Americans have received these benefits, which have helped them to pay rent, feed their children, and keep the lights on. In addition to the 1.3 million who stopped receiving benefits last month, if the program isn’t extended, an additional 3.6 million will lose access to this vital lifeline by the end of 2014. This program doesn’t just help the long-term unemployed. Failing to extend it would also be a huge drain on the economy, eliminating an estimated additional 240,000 jobs.

op frThe ramifications of one particularly disturbing directive passed in the last session of the General Assembly is unfolding right now in every county in North Carolina, and it promises to provide some spirited political drama that just about no one saw coming when it passed.

Legislative leaders decided they would provide meager pay raises of $2,000 over four years — yes, a whopping $500 a year — to 25 percent of teachers in each of the state’s school systems. The lawmakers decided it was best to leave it up to each school system to decide how to conjure up a fair formula to decide which teachers would get a raise and which wouldn’t.

op frDoug Wingeier • Columnist

My oh my! Looks like the long arm of Israeli surveillance has reached out to us way down here in the mountains of Western North Carolina (see column to the left). I hadn’t thought the experience of a peace-loving octogenarian professor worthy of such attention. But I do appreciate the opportunity to respond.

SEE: Columnist’s anti-Israel tirade distorts truth

What I wrote in that Dec. 25 column was mainly an account of what I personally have seen and experienced in the “land of the Holy One” — not an exercise in ideology or biblical interpretation. In addition to what I mentioned, I have personally experienced the following:

op frIn numerous newspapers in late November 2013, it was reported that six U.S. Forest Service (USFS) employees from Western North Carolina were awarded “Law Enforcement and Investigations Awards” by the USFS for their roles in “Operation Something Bruin,” a four-year, multi-agency investigation targeting bear poachers in Western North Carolina and surrounding states, resulting in arrests in February 2013.

It had also been reported earlier that the National Wildlife Federation bestowed "prestigious conservation honors" on Sgt. Chad Arnold, an officer from Charlotte with the Special Investigations Unit of the N.C. Wildlife Commission. Arnold was named "Wildlife Enforcement Officer of the Year", and the Commission was named the "Natural Resources Agency of the Year," according to a press release from the N.C. Wildlife Commission.

op frEach new year brings out the list-makers, pundits and critics who catalogue everything from the year’s best movies, books, and music to predictions regarding politics and the economy for the next 12 months. With the exception of composing my own personal lists from the past year — “Ten Things I Would Have Done Differently” would be easily written — I lack the qualifications to compose any sort of compendium, including one for books, for 2013.

Yet I do find myself compelled to make a list of favorite books. Several readers of this column, and many of my students, have over the last years asked for such a list, and I would send them three or four recommendations, selections often plunked down without any real effort or thought. Having pondered the matter this week before the new year, I found myself wondering what I would put on such a list if I was, say, limited to a small shelf of favorite books.

op frDoug Wingeier • Columnist

Some years back I spent the Christmas season in the Land of the Holy One. (It is not the land that is holy, but the One who was born, lived, died, and rose there.) This was one of my several sojourns in Israel/Palestine over the years. My strongest impression at that time (and conditions have only gotten worse since) was of the oppression my Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters — along with their Muslim neighbors — were enduring under the Israeli occupation. I was struck with how similar this was to the Roman oppression of local inhabitants in the time of Jesus.

op frJohn Beckman • Columnist

The discussions and debates regarding health care on both the local and national levels have been going on for years as people everywhere have tried to come to grips with rapidly rising costs, a huge number of uninsured people and loss of benefits from  providers. The volume of the discourse has risen to screaming new levels since the passing of the national Affordable Care Act and the botched launch of the website enrollment in recent weeks. The controversy has given rise to many instant geniuses on both sides with much of the opinion being offered short on fact, insight or applicability to the real world the rest of us inhabit. 

What seems to be missing in all this is addressing the underlying question: How does our great nation get health services to those who need it in an affordable, efficient, ethical manner?

op frI was trying to sell myself to my prospective new boss, Scott McLeod. I may not know anyone in the Haywood County area yet, I told him, but don’t worry — I’m a horse person. We have a network. 

So as soon as I knew I’d been hired, I got in touch with all the horse people I’d met with connections in this part of the world. My old friend Katherine, who grew up riding ponies in Asheville, put me in touch with Connie Moore, a fellow-rider who lives in Haywood County. Maybe you know Connie. I got on the phone with her and quickly got all sorts of great advice about boarding barns and other practicalities. 

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