--The above is an excerpt from a letter sent in response to a Feb. 20 story titled "Children of Nature: Pagan parenting comes out of the broom closet."
Picking "Our Values"
U.S. Sen. John Edwards' vote against Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi last week brought him under attack by Republicans who said he'd failed to stand up for, as Rep. Walter Jones Jr., R-N.C., put it, "our North Carolina values." Interesting phrase, "our North Carolina values." Indoctrinated as we are by thousands of Jesse Helms commercials, and Jesse-inspired commercials, we understand what those words mean. They mean white. When you hear "our values" in a political context, it's always coming from somebody white and it's always a dig at somebody for helping the blacks, even when--as Jones did--he disguises it as somehow about "the rights of the unborn."
Jones, for example, represents "our values." His daddy was a legendary Democratic congressman, and he was a Democratic member of the legislature until Walter Jones Sr. retired prior to the 1991 reapportionment. Part of daddy's turf went into a new majority-black district, the rest into another district that Walter Jr. ran in and won--as a Republican. Black voters are no longer part of Junior Jones' calculus and he's moved sharply to the right ever since.
We mention this, however, mainly to show that "our values" isn't a partisan thing, and here's why: Lots of older folks in both parties were segregationists back in the day, but they've since learned to be merely against "quotas" and "special rights." So it's traditional among conservative Democrats and Republicans alike not to go too far back in a man's past, lest his recent, murky record start to become clear.
Pickering, nominated by President Bush to sit on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, is a typical case in that sense. As a law student, he wrote in support of Mississippi's ban on interracial marriage. In the '60s, he opposed the KKK but signed an open letter favoring "our Southern way of life." In the '70s, as a state senator, he backed the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission's notorious rear guard efforts. But, he's wised up since then, at least on the surface. He's befriended black neighbors in Laurel, his hometown, and they supported his nomination even as the state NAACP opposed it.
According to tradition, then, Pickering could fairly expect Southern senators in both parties to cut him a break. Some Southern Democrats, like Georgia's Zell Miller, reportedly were prepared to do so if Pickering's nomination reached the Senate floor; in a 50-49-1 Senate, where all 49 Republicans were backing their president, just one Democrat would have sufficed to get him confirmed. But Pickering never made it to the floor because, in the judiciary committee, Edwards broke with tradition and took Pickering apart.
Edwards grounded his opposition in a 1994 case in which Pickering went to extraordinary--some said extra-legal--lengths to avoid sentencing a defendant in a cross-burning case to the extra jail time required for "hate crimes." Pickering's off-the-bench efforts to soften the charge were at best inappropriate, Edwards argued. Moreover, they should be seen in the light of a 1993 ruling, in which Pickering openly complained about the principle of "one person, one vote," and Pickering's continuing history of fighting civil rights laws and the Voting Rights Act--rulings on which he's been overturned repeatedly by the 5th Circuit, hardly a liberal redoubt.
What emerges from the Pickering case is this: He's not an overt racist any more, but he is no friend of minority rights either. So is that enough, in 2002, to be a judge on a Southern appeals court?
Edwards' answer: No, it's not enough.
No Easy Fix on Medicaid Drugs
An e-mail making the rounds of the Triangle's affordable health-care community offers a cautionary tale about a hot-button issue: prescription drug coverage for the poor and elderly. The message describes a campaign launched by a shadowy group in New Mexico against a bill aimed at lowering the price tag for drugs covered by Medicaid, the states' health-care program for the poor.
Although no similar bills have been introduced in North Carolina, reducing the tab for prescription drugs is certainly on the minds of state Medicaid officials.
The reason? The General Assembly's asked for a $17.7 million cut in the program's spending. And prescription drugs are now the single largest line item in the state's Medicaid budget--costing $1.1 billion this year.
The e-mail cites a story in the Albuquerque Journal about a drive to squelch a bill setting up an official list of discounted drugs for New Mexico's Medicaid recipients--a move that would save that state $1.5 million. Leading the campaign is Seniors Over 60, a group claiming to represent elderly citizens. Trouble is, the article says, advocates for seniors have never heard of the group and it isn't listed as an official lobbying organization or registered as a corporation in New Mexico. Many suspect the record-breaking-profit-making pharmaceutical industry is behind the campaign to kill the drug bill--a claim industry spokespeople deny.
What's undeniable, health analysts say, is that spiraling drug costs are helping push Medicaid budgets into the red in states across the country. In North Carolina, two factors are at work, says Daphne Lyons, deputy director of Medical Assistance: "The costs of drugs are going up and more people are getting prescriptions and using them." Largely as a result of these increases, the gap between what Medicaid spent and what the state planned for last year was $100 million, Lyons says. By 2003, it's expected to widen to $250 million.
State Medicaid officials have been meeting with drug company representatives to talk about more substantial price controls in use in other states, including preferred drug lists--such as the one proposed in New Mexico--and deeper discounts for Medicaid prescriptions.
The reaction so far has been less than enthusiastic.
Mary Anne Rhyne, a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline insists the company "hasn't ruled anything in or out," though she declined to go into detail about specific price-control strategies under discussion with the state.
Up, Up and Away
When Paula Sumner read the newspaper advertising inserts about the recent opening of The Streets at Southpoint mall in Durham, she wasn't worried about her wardrobe, her checkbook or even about traffic. She was worried about balloons.Sumner was concerned that the giant balloon launch planned as part of the mall's opening ceremony would be hazardous to birds and animals. "I've read about animals who eat balloons and then can't eat their own food," says Sumner, who works as a family nurse practitioner at Duke Eye Center. "They end up starving to death."
She says the marketing manager she reached at Southpoint headquarters was polite, but noncommittal about the launch and her suggestions that the balloons be donated to Duke Children's Hospital instead. When Sumner tried the number listed in the advertising flyer, she says a woman who took her message hung up without asking for her phone number. When she called back, she says the woman hung up on her again.
Jeff Johnson, the mall's marketing manager, says the receptionist was trying to handle the huge rush of calls coming in about the opening (120,000 people visited Southpoint on opening day). He says balloon launches are "part of the trademark" of the mall's parent company and of the four other mall openings they've done recently, questions about balloons haven't come up.
So are balloons really dangerous to wildlife? While she hasn't seen any scientific studies on the topic, Sherry Samuels, animal director at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, says the conventional wisdom is, "Yes."
"It's all stuff that ends up out in the wild for animals to do things they aren't meant to do with it," Samuels says.
For her part, Sumner watched news reports of Southpoint's opening day--which included the balloon launch--but by then her anger had cooled. "I will go there sometime," she says. "I don't care if they saw me as crazy. A polite response would have been nice."
Billy Graham's Basement Tape
For decades, the Rev. Bill Graham, North Carolina's uber-evangelist, has counseled the deeply flawed men we Americans keep electing to the White House. Many presidents, including George W. Bush, have called on him in times of tribulation, but none were closer to him than the most sinful of all: Richard Nixon.Graham met with Nixon dozens of times, and advised and assisted him with all sorts of political initiatives. Even as the administration unraveled over Watergate, the preacher stayed close to the president.
As he huddled with Nixon in the Oval Office, Graham probably assumed that the conversations were personal and confidential. What he didn't know was that Nixon was recording every word with a secret tape recorder tucked under his desk.
It's an enduring historical irony: The tapes Nixon made to protect himself ultimately forced him out of office, as Congress used them to obtain evidence of his abuses of power. Now, almost 30 years later, the recordings are catching up with people like Graham who spoke to the president behind closed doors.
The National Archives just released another batch of tapes from the Nixon White House, and, as with previous disclosures, the recordings are forcing a re-evaluation of prominent personalities. Plenty of people make damning comments on the tapes, but no one's reputation will be sullied more than Graham's. Nixon's hidden microphones caught the evangelist at his worst.
The offending conversation occurred on the morning of Feb. 1, 1972, directly after a White House "prayer breakfast." Nixon and Graham spoke for an hour and a half, with White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman sitting in and taking notes. The conversation bounced all around the political landscape, and the men spoke frankly about sensitive topics.
Astoundingly, the tapes record Nixon and Graham bantering about their shared view that Jews control the media. Nixon raised the issue, then Graham ran with it. Part of the conversation went like this:
Graham: "This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain."
Nixon: "You believe that?"
Graham: "Yes, sir."
Nixon: "Oh, boy. So do I. I can't ever say that but I believe it."
Graham: "No, but if you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something."
When Nixon asserted that a "powerful bloc" of Jewish media executives was out to get him, Graham backed him up. "That's right," he said. "And they're the ones putting out the pornographic stuff."
Later in the conversation, Graham qualified his remarks--but just a bit. "A lot of Jews are great friends of mind," he said. "They swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I feel about what they're doing to this county, and I have no power and no way to handle them."
To which Nixon responded: "You must not let them know."
Well, now we know. Graham, who has, over the years, labored to make inroads with American Jews and been a staunch supporter of Israel, also indulged and encouraged Nixon's anti-Jewish streak.
Graham, who is 83 and in ill health, responded to the disclosure with a terse statement issued through his spokespeople. "Although I have no memory of the occasion, I deeply regret comments I apparently made in an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon," he said. "They do not reflect my views, and I sincerely apologize for any offense caused by the remarks."
If Graham's memory is truly failing him, he might consult the detailed diaries of H.R. Haldeman for reminders of what he said. Published in 1994, the notes of Nixon's Chief of Staff offer an insider view of the administration's machinations.
They also fill in some historical blanks. Shocking as it is, the tape of Graham's chat with Nixon is incomplete, because several portions were edited out by the National Archives prior to release. Haldeman's account suggests that Graham had more to say about Jews and the media than is revealed on the tape.
His diary entry reads: "There was considerable discussion of the terrible problem arising from the total Jewish domination of the media, and agreement that this was something that would have to be dealt with. Graham had the strong feeling that the Bible says that there are Satanic Jews and that's where our problem arises."
The Nixon tapes, even the ones with gaps, continue to demonstrate how much voices from the past can haunt the present. There was a time when Graham was viewed as a sage adviser to the commander in chief. From now on, any complete account of his White House visits will take note of the fact that he served as an echo chamber for the most anti-Semitic president on record.
Send all digs, ribs, jabs, barbs and tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call David Madison at 286-1972 ext. 154.
Trotline is illustrated by V.C. Rogers.