Open Journals


Leave a comment

Commissioner Brenda Vaughn’s conspiracy theory problem

McDowell County Commissioner Brenda Vaughn has a tendency to spread conspiracy theories and hoaxes on her public Facebook profile while simultaneously using that profile to campaign for re-election.

In April 2018, shortly after Vaughn was sworn in as commissioner, two of her posts caught my eye.

The first was a picture of President Clinton next to some text which suggested Clinton helped cover up the death of Vince Foster. (her post has since been deleted) (here is an article that explains this conspiracy theory)

The second, which was much less shocking but points to a broader issue of Commissioner Vaughn having difficulty discerning what is and is not factual, was a hoax image claiming that Starbucks refused to serve Iraq veterans (this post was also deleted).

To be clear: the posts did not originate from Vaughn, she simply chose to share them on her account.

I emailed the McDowell News shortly after because it seemed noteworthy that a public official was using their platform in this way. The McDowell News did not respond until I emailed them again five months later in late September 2018.

On September 27, 2018, Vaughn posted a story from FrontPage Magazine, which was founded by David Horowitz and peddles conspiracy theories and half-truths. (her post is still up as of today, 10/27/2018) (saved screenshot)

The story’s headline: “Kavanaugh Accuser’s Lawyer is Vice Chair of Soros Funded Org Opposing Kavanaugh.”

The frequently-referenced boogeyman of the right, George Soros, has now been referenced by a local county commissioner. (Here is an article by Talia Lavin which helps lay out why these posts about Soros are anti-Semitic.)

When I saw that Vaughn posted the story, this again seemed noteworthy, so I emailed the McDowell News again. The editor of the McDowell News responded this time, and he stated they would print a letter to the editor “about my concerns” if I wanted to submit one. I appreciated the offer, but I chose not to do so. To be frank, since their guidelines required the publication of my first and last name and a partial address, I did not feel safe or secure in doing that and I did not feel as though I could adequately explain or describe the issue within their word limit.

Given the anti-Semitic implications of referencing George Soros, I thought it might make sense if the McDowell News questioned Vaughn, but I suppose they did not want to go down that route.

Although Vaughn does not have the broad reach of a federal or state representative, she does have some reach locally and she is choosing to use her Facebook account, which she also uses to campaign and speak as a county commissioner, as a way to spread those conspiracies. (saved screenshot)

On October 23, 2018, it was reported that an explosive device was found at Soros’ home. Throughout the week, other prominent Democratic leaders were targeted with similar devices.

On October 26, 2018, the alleged mail bomber was arrested. He apparently shared and bought into conspiracy theories related to George Soros.

That is ultimately why I contacted the McDowell News: because what Commissioner Vaughn is doing is dangerous and reckless. Spreading conspiracy theories, particularly those that revolve around specific people or groups of people, will feed into a broader hysteria which can have real consequences.

Even if it is in on a local, small scale, Vaughn helped stoke conspiratorial thinking and fear by posting that article. If she did so unintentionally, she is incapable of scrutinizing what she reads on the internet. If she did so intentionally, she is an enabler of anti-Semitism and dangerous conspiracy theories.

Public officials must be aware of what it is they share to the public, especially when they do not know who may be reading what they share.

The week of October 22, 2018 was a week of domestic terrorism which culminated in a shooting at a synagogue by someone who, based on initial reports, was fed a steady diet of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Much of what is mentioned above is specific to Vaughn sharing the Soros article since I thought it was especially thoughtless given the broader implications. Going forward I will catalogue additional posts/shares by Vaughn if there are any. I believe elected officials need to be held to account, and I will attempt to do so.

UPDATES:

November 3, 2018: Vaughn shared a post that reads, “Tired of Trump haters blaming Trump for separating illegal families? THE LAW WAS PASSED IN 1997 by Bill Clinton.
An inaccurate and misleading share by Vaughn. (saved screenshot)

November 6, 2018: Vaughn wins her election for McDowell County Commissioner comfortably, coming in at the number one spot out of five candidates on the ballot.

 

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Unclean Water (2017)

I decided to continue searching and tracking reports of unclean water for 2017 like I did for 2016. The list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure I missed multiple stories. (Feel free to contact me if there are any that should be added.)

The United States has an infrastructure problem. It is going to get worse and stories like this will continue to come out. The swift gutting of environmental regulations coupled with the expansion of destructive and extractive industries will only expedite the process.

Deeper investigations into systemic infrastructure failures should be conducted and answers as to why they continue to happen in the richest country in the world should be given.

The tragedy of Flint, Michigan seems unmatched in these stories, but it’s difficult to know their extent. How much neglect is involved? Did elected officials turn a blind eye? How much harm is done to the public’s health? What will be done to correct these problems and prevent them?

  1. Sumter, South Carolina
  2. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  3. Oscoda, Michigan
  4. Englewood Hospital, New Jersey
  5. Atoka, Oklahoma
  6. Medway, Massachusetts
  7. Chapel Hill-Carrboro, North Carolina
  8. Austin, Indiana
  9. Montgomery, New York
  10. Fairview, West Virginia
  11. Oberlin, Ohio
  12. Lincoln County, Idaho
  13. Monroe, Indiana
  14. Longford, Kansas
  15. Marion County, Georgia
  16. Pascoag, Rhode Island
  17. Tampa, Florida
  18. Hoboken, New Jersey
  19. Columbus High, Georgia
  20. Central High, Tennessee
  21. Brownsville, Texas
  22. Erie County, New York
  23. Leadwood, Missouri
  24. Duquesne, Pennsylvania
  25. Airway Heights, Washington
  26. San Carlos neighborhood, California
  27. Terlton, Oklahoma
  28. Lindsay, Oklahoma
  29. Arverne, New York
  30. Asheville, North Carolina
  31. Falmouth, Massachusetts
  32. Keystone, Iowa
  33. Charlestown, Indiana
  34. Lubbock, Texas
  35. Rayne, Louisiana
  36. Vinton, Virginia
  37. Hillsboro, Illinois
  38. Jeanerette, Louisiana
  39. Spencer, Tennessee
  40. Wilmington, North Carolina
  41. Mechanicville, New York
  42. Enterprise, Louisiana
  43. Prague, Oklahoma
  44. Claremore, Oklahoma
  45. Wellington, Colorado
  46. English Mountain, Tennessee
  47. Raleigh, North Carolina
  48. Canton, Ohio
  49. Trenton, New Jersey
  50. Fleming-Neon, Kentucky
  51. River Oaks, Texas
  52. Nebo, Illinois
  53. Belmont, Michigan
  54. Laurel, Maryland
  55. Smithville, Missouri
  56. Norton, Massachusetts
  57. Mannford, Oklahoma
  58. Baltimore, Ohio
  59. Mahomet, Illinois
  60. Signal Mountain, Tennessee
  61. Alpena Training Center, Michigan
  62. Park View, Iowa
  63. Teviston, California
  64. Waverly, Virginia
  65. Ionia Township, Michigan
  66. Tacoma, Washington
  67. Birmingham, Alabama
  68. Pearland, Texas
  69. Haysville, Kansas


Leave a comment

Physician-assisted death should be legalized

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published March 7, 2017. Digital scan of the issue here.

———————————————————

By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

Terminally ill people should be able to die in a dignified and humane way if that is what they want.

Physician-assisted death is legal in California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Colorado and Montana. These states — with the exception of Montana, where it was made legal through a court ruling — have so-called “death with dignity” statutes. The District of Columbia recently legalized it as well.

Under these statutes, doctors can prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill adults who request it. The patient must be deemed mentally competent and have a prognosis of six months or less to live. The process is filled with safeguards and checks to ensure the patient is making an informed decision.

Physician-assisted death is often confused with euthanasia and is therefore viewed more negatively. Euthanasia means the physician administers a lethal dose of medication whereas physician-assisted death means the patient ingests the lethal dose on their own. Around one-third of those who request the medication decide they do not want to use it after all — that they have the choice to do so at all is the important part.

The number of people who request and use the prescription is low. In 2014, 155 terminally ill patients in Oregon made a request and 105 of those patients used it. In 2015, there were 218 requests and 132 uses.

According to a Gallup survey from 2015, 68 percent of Americans think physician-assisted death should be legalized. Regardless of the question of legality, an increasing number of Americans also believe physician-assisted death is morally acceptable. In 2015, 56 percent said it is acceptable compared to 45 percent just two years prior.

Twenty-four states, including North Carolina, are considering similar bills this year. Rep. Pricey Harrison plans to reintroduce her Death with Dignity Act this session. The bill was attempted in 2015 — a first of its kind in North Carolina’s legislative history — but it never made it out of the Judiciary Committee.

There has been some pushback. In February, Congress attempted to overturn the District of Columbia’s law but they were unsuccessful. A similar attempt was made in Montana by their legislature but they were also unsuccessful.

Death with dignity laws are far from perfect as they are somewhat narrow in what they allow, particularly the limitation requiring a prognosis of six months or less to live. Alzheimer’s, for example, is a degenerative disease that can last for years. Since these laws state a patient must be considered mentally competent, they would likely be unable to make the decision by the time they have six months left to live. Despite the shortcomings of the laws, they are a good start since most terminally ill people have no choice whatsoever.

More states should work to adopt these policies and attempt to improve any weaknesses or flaws that are found. No one should be refused the right to die in a humane and controlled way if they are suffering from an incurable disease or illness. No family, friend or otherwise should be forced to watch a loved one in anguish simply because they cannot legally or safely choose to end their own life.


Leave a comment

We cannot afford to ignore climate change

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 28, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

———————————————————

By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

Climate change needs to be addressed immediately in a meaningful and substantial way before we reach the tipping point.

Reports of the symptoms of a warming Earth seem to be steadily increasing. A new study published last week in Nature found oxygen levels in oceans worldwide dropped an average of 2 percent in the last 50 years — in some areas there was a decrease of more than 4 percent. If the trend continues, this has catastrophic implications for marine life and ultimately the entire food chain.

At our current pace, the World Health Organization projects climate change will result in 250,000 additional deaths per year attributable to more heat waves, malnutrition from increased famines and the spread of diseases like malaria. Some scientists think that projection may be an underestimation.

A 2014 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned, “Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty more difficult, further erode food security and prolong existing and create new poverty traps.”

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization found sea ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic at record lows. Occurrences of floods and droughts will increase, and that is just the beginning.

The effects of climate change will lead to political instability. With rampant, international political instability, it is unlikely any concrete steps would be made since the focus cannot be on climate change at that point. It will be too late. The focus would then be on scrambling to relieve angry, impoverished and dying populations.

Some studies, such as “Quantifying global soil carbon losses in response to warming” published in Nature, suggest we are already beyond the prospect of reversing climate change, but its effects, at least, can be mitigated.

The longer we wait to take action, the more extreme the bare minimum solutions become. The more extreme the solutions become, the more politically unappealing they will be. The more politically unappealing those solutions are, the less likely they are to become a reality.

We can focus on it now before it is too late, but those who have the power to enact and enforce change do not seem to be concerned about the threat — they would much rather bow to pressure from lobbyists and make a quick buck.

The evidence is abundant and readily accessible. Our current administration and the majority of Congress, however, seem resolute in their decision to roll back environmental regulations and ignore the evidence.


Leave a comment

Trump’s travel ban is a direct result of a failed war on terror

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 21, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

———————————————————

By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

The unwinnable war on terror creates fear, justifies disproportionate, ineffective domestic and foreign policies and wastes trillions of dollars.

Nationals of the seven countries which President Trump tried to impose travel restrictions on have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015, reports Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

Trump signed the executive order — which courts have already blocked — under the pretense of ensuring national security by protecting Americans from terrorists. We are not in any more danger of being killed in a terrorist attack than we are of our furniture crushing us to death.

Americans are incredibly fearful about a problem that does not pose a significant threat.

In 2016, the Pew Research Center reported the economy and terrorism were the top two issues for voters— 84 percent and 80 percent respectively. In 2008, those percentages were 87 and 68. Americans are now less concerned about the economy and more concerned about terrorism.

Numbers from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. State Department lay out a sharp contrast. For every American killed by an act of terror domestically or abroad in 2014, more than 1,049 died because of guns. The trend of gun-related deaths steadily rose since 2001 while the number of deaths by acts of terror plateaued.

The military drone program, which was first used under former President George W. Bush and then expanded under former President Obama, has been used in at least six countries.

Our use of drones helps with the recruitment of people willing to commit acts of terror. The Islamic State group is the latest terrorist organization to take advantage of fearful communities after civilians are killed, sometimes intentionally, by our bombs. We have targeted funerals, weddings and hospitals in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen — one of the countries included in Trump’s executive order — resulted in widespread famine after farms and agricultural facilities were bombed.

Yemeni cancer patients are unable to receive treatment due to shortages. The situation is worsened by the fact humanitarian groups are effectively crippled in conflict zones; they cannot provide aid to those who need it most.

We export terror to these countries, import fear into our own and then have the audacity to deny asylum to the refugees we helped create.

After 15 and a half years of the war on terror, there are now reports the Department of Defense may propose the U.S. send ground troops into northern Syria. There is no end in sight.


Leave a comment

The Democratic Party will recover if it chooses to

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 21, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

———————————————————

By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

If Democrats want to reverse their massive losses, they must refocus their message and their efforts to organize.

Since 2010, the Democratic Party managed to lose approximately 1,000 legislative seats across the country. Republicans now control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships and they are in complete control of 25 states. Many of those states — including North Carolina — have veto-proof Republican majorities, meaning even if there is a Democratic governor, the legislature can override the governor.

A good first step in the long and difficult process of regaining power is to expunge and replace the ineffectual leadership of the Democratic National Committee. The DNC is responsible for organizing and supporting the Democratic Party at all levels of government.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who began to serve as the DNC chairperson in 2011, stepped down in 2016 after leaked emails revealed coordinated efforts to assist Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries. The DNC chairperson is supposed to remain impartial during the primaries.

Schultz perfectly exemplifies the embarrassing level of detachment from the poor and working class Democrats have demonstrated over the last few decades.

She received contributions from payday lenders and defended the industry despite the fact lenders often target single mothers and minorities, trapping them in an endless cycle of debt. She opposed the legalization of medical marijuana, effectively denying sick and terminally ill people a form of relief. In an almost comical display of elitism, it was reported she tried to use her influence as chairperson to score seven tickets to “Hamilton,” the Broadway show, through the DNC finance director. Tickets cost around $200 each on the lower end and about $850 a pop for the best seats.

Schultz was then replaced in the interim by Donna Brazile. While Brazile was a political analyst for CNN, she shared debate questions with Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, giving Clinton an unfair advantage going into the debates. Once questioned about her unethical move, it was clear she was sorry for being caught, but not because she felt bad about her actions.

Schultz was ultimately unsuccessful as chair of the DNC since she neglected to properly fund down-ballot campaigns and therefore neglected the infrastructure of the party. But there is some hope. A few weeks ago, Brazile did what many establishment Democrats have avoided: admit failure. She made it clear, “We made some serious mistakes and some strategic errors.” She is right, and it is time to reset the DNC.

By the end of February, the next chairperson of the DNC will be elected. If the Democratic Party hopes to become revitalized, Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota is the candidate likely to make that a reality. He has emphasized a bottom-up approach rather than the top-down strategy Democrats have focused on over the last few years. His platform states, “We must energize Democratic activists across the country and give them the tools to build the party from the bottom up. Beyond a 50-state strategy, we need a 3,143-county strategy.” He understands the importance of organization at the local level; it is the keystone of political power.

Grassroots mobilization is absolutely required if Democrats, liberals, progressives and leftists hope to gain any leverage. Centrist Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Joe Manchin are not going to strengthen the party. They are the reason the Democratic Party is in the shape it is.

Instead, people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Keith Ellison and Sen. Bernie Sanders should be supported and their message amplified. Pay attention to their ideas because if there is a platform that will resonate with and inspire people, it is theirs.


Leave a comment

Clinton’s campaign should serve as a lesson to Democrats

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 7, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

———————————————————

By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

Hillary Clinton lost the election through a series of strategic failures, uninspiring and hopeless messaging and an overall incompetent candidacy.

Clinton arrogantly neglected the industrial Midwest and assumed support for her was secured in those states. Michigan in particular has been placed under the microscope since then in order to better understand what happened, and it exemplifies how her campaign floundered on a larger scale across the country.

Virgie Rollins, a Democratic National Committee member on the ground in Michigan, told Politico she had “never seen a campaign like this.” She described to Politico how Clinton’s campaign failed to pay attention to the collapse she was watching unfold in slow-motion among women and African-American millennials. Rollins said her requests for organizational and monetary assistance from Clinton’s campaign were ignored.

The ineptitude is staggering: Clinton raised $350 million more than Donald Trump and still managed to drop the ball. Her campaign had 489 field offices nationwide; Obama’s campaign had 789 in 2012.

One-third of nearly 700 counties in the industrial Midwest that voted for Obama in both elections decided to support Trump this time around, according to the Washington Post. Out of 207 counties that voted for Obama in either 2008 or 2012, 194 sided with Trump.

Their decision to vote once again for the candidate promising hope and change should come as no surprise. What should be surprising is the astounding incompetence demonstrated by the Clinton campaign — the campaign that lost for the second time to a populist candidate. To be sure, progressive and right-wing populism are not the same, but populist rhetoric seemed to be the driving factor in getting voters out in an election that favored the anti-establishment candidate. Obama ran on hope and change and Trump promised his own brand of it. One would assume Clinton and her staffers might learn a thing or two over the course of eight years.

Instead of learning anything, Clinton portrayed herself as a pragmatist: a “progressive who likes to get things done.” She offered a message not of hope, but of settling for less. She promised potential voters universal health care would “never, ever come to pass.” As her challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned on a minimum wage of $15 — as well as universal health care — Clinton apparently thought it wise to tone down the ambition: she suggested voters settle for $12.

Clinton has a history of coziness with banks and an incredibly hawkish record compared to other Democrats. In an attempt to combat Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Clinton’s campaign reacted predictably: they began to use the phrase “America is already great.” None of this was inspiring.

One crucial takeaway from this election should be that people need something to vote for, not something to vote against. The average voter did not and will not base their vote on political calculation. The average voter does not participate in the same electoral stratagems campaign staffers and policy wonks do. It was up to Clinton and her campaign to reach the average voter, and they failed to do so. That she won the popular vote and still lost the election should speak to how terrible of an operation she and her campaign ran.

Clinton — and many of her staffers, voters and supporters — thought she was entitled to Obama’s voting blocs from 2008 and 2012 simply by virtue of her experience and existence. Their hubris proved to be a mistake.

The Democratic Party overall warrants critique and contempt for their impotence — particularly their failure to win legislative seats, ongoing since 2010 — but any and all scorn directed at Clinton and her campaign is absolutely deserved. The Clinton campaign is to blame for its loss, not the voters. It is the responsibility of a campaign to give the electorate a reason to vote for its candidate; votes are earned, not owed. It is vitally important for Democrats to recognize and embrace this now unless they want to lose again.