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op frIn the Sept. 19 edition of The Smoky Mountain News, there were some disturbing quotes from some of the local candidates for the N.C. legislature in regard to the importance of funding the NC Pre-K program (formerly known as More at Four). This is a program that offers a stimulating educational environment for at-risk children so that healthy brain development is encouraged and kids are ready for kindergarten. As one who has worked with some of the wreckage of this population of children for years, I can say that this is a program that is serving a critical need for our communities. It is taking some of our most fragile children and giving them opportunities to learn and play while teaching and reinforcing basic social skills at a very critical developmental age. Yes, it costs money. But it is either pay now or pay later, and I promise you the pay later option is much more expensive both in dollars and wasted lives.

The presidential debates of the 2012 election are now behind us. Barack Obama, the Democratic incumbent president running for re-election, and Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee and former governor of Massachusetts, made their pitches to the voters who watched them engage one another for almost five hours on three separate occasions.

op frOn any given Saturday morning for the past 20 years, I would roll out of bed, crank up the coffee machine and some Rolling Stones, throw on some running shorts and a tank top, and head out to the gym, eating a chalky protein bar on the way, the Clash or Elvis Costello urging me on along Highway 209. For a certain species of human being, the gym is like that old television sitcom “Cheers,” a place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. Just think of treadmills as barstools and protein shakes as draft beer, and you’ll get the picture.

art frI’ve always believed in the adage that success builds success. It’s one of life’s truisms that anyone with eyes wide open sees very plainly, and it holds true in business, education, politics and the arts. That’s why Haywood Arts Regional Theater’s State II project will succeed, and I can’t wait until it’s up and running.

The plan for HART — which has called its Performing Arts Center on Pigeon Street home since 1997 — is to construct another building that will house a second full theater, a full kitchen, apartments for visiting performers, dressing rooms and storage areas. The theater will be smaller than the 250-seat main stage venue but larger than the intimate Feichter Studio Theater that houses up to 75 spectators. HART supporters have embarked on a $1 million fund-raising campaign.

op frCould you imagine how different it might feel to be an American today if the ideas of individual freedom and secularism that took root in Enlightenment Europe and the American colonies beginning in the 1700s had flowered in the Middle East at the same time?

The recent demonstrations against America and the killing of our ambassador and consulate employees — though admittedly these acts were carried out by a small minority — got me thinking about this. But then two relatively mundane stories I read in our own newspaper brought the issue full circle.

op frBy Savannah Bell and Don Livingston

In his re-election campaign, President Barack Obama cannot count on the support of many of those who voted for him with enthusiasm in 2008. The condition and mood of the country do not favor his chances of serving another four years in the White House.

The economy has not yet recovered from the Great Recession that spawned so much hardship, anxiety and misfortune across the land. Far too many Americans remain out of work and many have even abandoned their efforts to find jobs. People are struggling to pay their mortgages, pay their bills, and even put food on the table. For far too many Americans it is getting harder to make ends meet. The American dream appears out of reach for too many families. And President Obama, as most presidents do, is receiving more blame than he deserves for the pain and uncertainty gripping the nation.

op frA trusted friend surprised me the other day. At his child’s elementary school, it had been decided parents should not walk their children into the classroom in the mornings. Seems such habits, according to the school officials, foster dependency instead of independence.

I laughed at first, thinking of my friend’s sense of humor. He knows I’ve always taken a keen interest in my own kids’ schooling, and I was sure he was kidding me. No joke, he retorted.

op frSince I was old enough to talk, I’ve been told that being an American was something special, something I could take great pride and assurances in, and that my dreams and aspirations were indeed possible here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

This notion seemed logical as a child since our family always had shoes to wear and plenty to eat, a warm house in winter and presents under the tree every Christmas. We were never shot at, our town was never attacked by enemy forces, nor had anyone I knew ever been imprisoned without just cause and due process. I grew up respecting and honoring our public officials, knowing that they were working hard to protect our national interests, our individual rights and our position as a world leader promoting liberty and justice for all.

op frEven though there’s little room for compromise, I’m going to step into the fray.

Haywood County commissioners are trying to come up with a policy about Confederate flags and whether they should be allowed at the Confederate memorial that adorns the courthouse lawn. The flags — tiny, hand-held ones at that — were offensive to at least one person who raised the issue to the county, but I suspect there are many others who find the symbol just as offensive but are keeping their mouths shut.

op frCount me among those who hope the MedWest affiliation between Haywood, Jackson and Swain hospitals survives. Otherwise, I fear none of the three hospitals will survive, but instead be swallowed up or severely marginalized in within a decade.

It’s been a tumultuous four years for the hospitals in the counties west of Buncombe. Despite the bumps in the road, though, there seems now at least a path — via the management contract with Carolinas HealthCare — for the three hospitals to move into the future serving pretty much the same role in their communities they’ve been serving for decades.

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