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op congressBy Don Livingston • Guest Columnist

Congress is not our most popular branch of government, not by a long shot. Its lowest job approval rating, according to one respectable polling organization, was 9 percent late last year. Earlier this year, this polling firm found that only 13 percent of the respondents in its scientific survey felt that Congress was doing a decent job. Congress’ average job approval rating since pollsters began probing for such feedback in the 1970s is around 33 percent. That’s certainly nothing to brag about.

op frBy Doug Wingeier • Columnist

Good news! General Mills has recently announced that — in response to consumer pressure — it has removed GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) from its original Cheerios cereal. And Post has done the same with Grape Nuts. These are victories for folks like me who like our morning bowl of cereal but are wary of food products that are untested for consumer safety and identified by some studies as giving cause for concern. It’s too soon to celebrate, though, as General Mills has 11 other types of Cheerios (such as Multi-Grain and Honey Nut) that still contain GMOs.

op frBy Mark Swanger • Guest Columnist

Regardless of their magnitude, all disasters — natural or man-made — are local events and require an immediate, coordinated response from local government to protect public health, safety and welfare.

This function is called Emergency Management, and, in the aftermath of national tragedies such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, not to mention incidents like our own two 500-year floods in September 2004, many local governments have adopted ordinances to allow for a better, quicker response to disasters. These Emergency Management ordinances, which are heavily regulated through state and federal laws, give local governments the authority to quickly mobilize the resources needed to protect our citizens when the unexpected occurs.

op frWords sometimes change meaning. It may take a few years, but it happens, and it especially happens in politics.

A comment was recently posted on www.smokymountainnews.com in response to a column I wrote two weeks ago about the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority’s request to hike the room tax. The column covered several points, among them my support for increasing the room tax.

 

Within that commenter’s post was this gem of a line: “Scott McLeod, liberal publisher of The Smoky Mountain News and his band of Socialists ….”

op frBy Doug Wingeier • Columnist

For some years now I have been promoting fair trade products as a means of helping organic farmers and cooperatives in the Third World get just prices and living wages, improve living standards, educate their children, build stable communities, and protect the environment from toxic chemicals destructive use of land and water. 

My wife and I use fair trade coffee, tea, cocoa, and chocolate from farmers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and Palestinian olive oil — all organic, high quality, and reasonably priced. I sell it at cost, and have encouraged its use at church functions. My interest in this has grown out of visits to coffee farms in Nicaragua, Colombia and Chiapas, Mexico, where I have seen first-hand the struggles of farmers who operate at the mercy of the fluctuating world market with prices set in New York, unpredictable weather patterns, an invasive and destructive rust, and exploitative middlemen called coyotes who buy cheap at the peak of the season from small farmers with no storage facilities. I encourage you to join me in bringing your purchasing and dietary practices into conformity with the values of compassion and justice for the “least of these.”

op frSome teacher a long time ago explained to my class of intro to political science undergrads the difference between a statesman and a representative. The statesman, once elected, votes his conscience and does not necessarily bend with the whims of voters; the representative votes according to the wishes of their constituency. That’s a notable difference. What’s confusing, though, is when a leader goes both ways, depending on which is most convenient.

 

As Haywood leaders try to convince Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, to support a hike in the room tax from 4 to 6 percent that almost everyone who holds elected office in the county favors, I was reading what she had said about the tax and trying to figure out where her opposition is coming from.

op frBy Doug Wingeier • Columnist

Recently my wife and I attended the showing of a documentary film on animal rights. When the floor was opened for comments after the film, two members of the audience made the point that, while the cruel treatment of animals in laboratories and factory farms depicted in the film was deplorable, not all farmers and scientists should be “tarred with the same brush.” Immediately, they were jumped on by several vegans and animal rights activists in the crowd — to the point that one of the dissenters fell silent while the other stormed out in an angry huff, charging that he was being treated disrespectfully.

op frBy Martin Dyckman • Guest Columnist

Even authoritarian regimes like Russia’s pretend to respect the right to vote. The contrast with authentic democracies is defined by these factors: the ease or difficulty of actually casting a vote, how honestly it is counted, and whether it even matters.

Democracy in North Carolina is failing miserably on two of them.

First, the Republican majority in Raleigh rigged the voting districts to guarantee their control of the General Assembly even before the people’s votes are cast and counted. The parties are contesting barely half the seats this year. Nearly a third are entirely unopposed.

op fr“The less you know, the more you believe.”

– Bono

Quality journalism is a powerful force. I’ve been fortunate to be able to witness that truth often during my career in the newspaper business. I’ve seen stories that helped the afflicted, honored the deserving, and brought down the powerful. I’ve been involved in stories that brought tears of joy to a mother’s eyes and tears of regret from an arrogant leader. I’ve held my notebook in hand and listened to someone who asks us for their trust tell such bald-faced lies it shocked even a jaded reporter.

op frBy Clark Lipkin • Guest Columnist

I am the vice chairman of the Jackson County Planning Board. I presided over the public meeting to discuss the proposed revisions to the Mountain and Hillside Development Ordinance (MHDO) at last week’s Jackson County Planning Board meeting. I have some thoughts that I think are important to share with the public about that meeting, and about the proposed revisions. These thoughts are my own, and I do not speak for the planning board as a whole, or any other member of the board.

I think the biggest lesson I take from my experience on the board is how difficult it is to understand another person’s viewpoint. I saw a lot of people struggling with it at the public meeting. Many people who spoke failed to understand that two rational, honest people can have entirely different opinions about what’s best for Jackson County. Mature people know this, and then do two things: explain their position, and listen and attempt to understand what the “other side” has to say. People who can’t do this hurl threats and accusations of greed, corruption and ignorance at people whose opinions differ from their own. I saw both kinds of people that night.

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