The Militarization of Buncombe County:
Vote Bill Branyon for Buncombe County Commissioner, District 1
Buncombe County's new Mascot?
The F-35 Lightning:
Designed to "Rule the Skies" until 2070.
Welcome to the website:
I'm an Alabama native who's lived in Asheville for about 40 years. I've written over 100 articles and op-eds for the Mountain Xpress over the last 30 years, many about Buncombe County government, and was one of about ten people who worked on the Xpress in its first couple of years, late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was called The Green Line. See the biography section of the website for more biographical info ...
Positions concerning the Pratt and Whitney, F-35 Plant
After securing our county elections from intervention and fraud, and controlling Covid, the central plank of my candidacy is:
A. To form a committee to investigate the County Commission's, and Jack Cecil's, secret contract with Pratt and Whitney to build F-35 parts and determine why it cost almost $100 million in citizen tax money subsidies
B. To find out whether Mr. Cecil and the Commission plan to recruit many other weapons factories to Buncombe County as many facts indicate
C. To demilitarize the current contract with P & W or break it
We need to discover:
Why are the Commission and Mr. Cecil possibly turning our formerly, mostly peaceful, County economy into a war-promoting one, into perhaps a major cog in America’s obviously out-of-control Military Industrial Complex, with plans to recruit many more weapons’-making factories in addition to Pratt and Whitney?
For instance, Mr. Cecil, (John Francis Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil IV, first cousin to the owner of the Biltmore Estate), who donated $6 million dollars worth of land for the P & W plant, said in Asheville.com News:
"The vision for this facility [P & W] to become a lighthouse location of innovation for the aerospace industry and for our region, was inspiring. " Jack Cecil (First Cousin to the Biltmore Estate Owner)
And that beautiful plot of land on the banks of the majestic French Broad that Mr. Cecil donated comes from a 1000-acre, undeveloped plot owned by Mr. Cecil. So, does he and the County Commission plan about nine more other killing-machine factories there?
In addition, the bridge to the P & W plant is five lanes. Surely you don’t need a five-lane bridge for one factory? Then there’s the $35 million new interstate exchange. For one factory? How many more weapons plants do the County Commission, Mr. Whitesides and Mr. Cecil plan to ram down the throats of Buncombe County’s peace-loving citizens?
2. Why, when the majority of Buncombe County Democrats voted for the military-budget-cutting Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have our county commissioners become enthusiastic supporters of the most expensive weapons system in American history, the $1.7 trillion or more F-35 program?
My opponent, Al Whitesides, who voted in favor of the P & W subsidies and all these other actions.
3. Why was the County Commission, Mr. Whitesides, and the state of North Carolina so willing to vastly subsidize the Pratt and Whitney plant by almost $100 million dollars? This figure is according to the think tank, Responsible Statecraft, funded by conservative Charles Koch and liberal George Soros. (See asterisk (*) below for details).
The $100 million figure doesn’t include taxpayer money that will be paid by the US military to finance the 20% of the wages of F-35 parts at the P & W plant, (20% being the percent of the plant dedicated to making F-35 parts) which over the 50 years of the F-35’s projected service, comes to about $550 million.
Surely those hundreds of millions could have attracted some other less destructive industry, say a clean energy plant, or one making mountain bikes or kayaks, or art supplies, or more beer … something in keeping with the peaceful, artistic, fun- and nature-loving character of the people of Buncombe County?
Asheville, the county seat of Buncombe County, may no longer be known as the Paris and San Fran of the South, the New Age Mecca or the Land of the Sky, but instead become known as Land-of-the-Sky Rulers, the Merchants-of-Death Metropolis, the World War III City. We may be trying to replace the void where the racist Vance Monument used to be with a militaristic symbol, an F-35 plane model.
Shedding Light on Smoke-Filled Back Rooms
Furthermore, Buncombe County needs to investigate how this new weapons factory was force fed to our citizens. This includes:
1. The Non-Disclosure Agreement signed by the County Commission so that the details of the P & W deal will never be known. I'm not insinuating nefarious behavior on the part of Mr. Whitesides or the County Commission. But I am contending that it was illogical and unnecessary and hiding some aspects that us citizens should know.
NDA’s are usually made to prevent land prices from skyrocketing when land purchasing begins. But Mr. Cecil virtually gave the needed land to P & W for $1, so why did we need an NDA for that? Because the Commission gave P & W the kitchen sink, or because they plan to try to bring many other weapons’ factories to Buncombe County, or ???
2. The suddenness of the announcement of the plant, the little time allowed for debate, and the fact that all but one speaker during the miniscule amount of time allowed for discussion were against it indicate a complete lack of transparency. Had the County Commission obviously already made up its collective mind, regardless of what their constituents thought?
3. My opponent Mr. Whitesides said in an interview with Reject Raytheon, the group opposing the P & W plant, that:
"I’ve been against every war since World War II, from Korea forward, including the Vietnam war that I was in, even though I was in the Navy. We have fought wars that didn’t even benefit this country. What did we get out of it but a lot of lost lives and in some cases the reputation of the country?" Al Whitesides, Buncombe County Commissioner District I
And so that logic dictates that Mr. Whitesides would oppose a weapons plant, knowing it will almost certainly not prevent future wars, and will almost certainly be used to inflict horrible, illogical carnage as other US fighter planes have done in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan — among many other countries around the globe. These are wars that have usually been good for nothing but creating more violence and hatred towards the US, wars that make us less safe. But they didn’t oppose the plant Why?
Meanwhile Jack Cecil is related to Viscount Robert Cecil (Lord Edgar Algernon Robert Gascoyne Cecil to be exact) who won the Nobel Peace prize for his extensive efforts in forming the League of Nations, precursor to the United Nations, as well as his efforts in the International Peace Campaign, which worked for disarmament. Yet Buncombe’s Mr. Cecil wants to make the County a center for making arms — and, if history is any indicator, more war. Why?
4. With the P & W deal and the French Broad River Parks deal, (which involved tearing down the Asheville Speedway) the Cecil/Vanderbilt family has shown they sometimes have the power to intervene in our democratic processes.
Mostly the Cecil/Vanderbilt Buncombe interventions have been wonderfully benevolent, from the beautiful Biltmore Estate being a basic element in our economy, to instituting scientific forestry in Pisgah Forest, to making craft job opportunities. Most recently they include Jack Cecil’s magnificent developments of Biltmore Lake, Biltmore Park, and The Bramble in which he kept up to a third of each natural forest and shared commons.
Mr. Cecil would be my choice for Zoning Czar for Buncombe County if we’re going to let the county continue to grow as fast as it appears to be growing. But are we going to let him also decide, with the unanimous aid of the Commission, that Buncombe County become known as the Merchants-of-Death Metropolis?
No accusations of dishonesty or fraud: I'm not accusing the County Commission or Mr. Cecil of dishonesty, of profiting illegally, fraud or any legal wrongdoing. I hold all them in the highest esteem and feel they are very honest and forthright people. However, I do question the decision making process, and what was decided.
Fictional Arguments Supporting P & W
I accept the dubious points that political and journalistic supporters of the Pratt and Whitney plant have made.
1. That “only” 20% of the plant will be dedicated to making parts for war machines. That’s like subsidizing the Mafia and saying since they have scrumptious restaurants and rollicking night clubs, we should ignore the 20% of their business that’s murder, extortion and racketeering.
However, the 20% of the P & W plant will almost certainly be much worse than the Mafia, providing weapons that may kill millions, maim tens of millions and devastate country after country, creating ever more homicidal hatred against America, making us ever less safe.
2. That the subsidies are not real money taken from Buncombe County citizens but are tax breaks given P & W once they employ certain numbers of people. It is real money. These massive tax breaks, $27 million alone from Buncombe County, $100 million worth of subsidies in all, would just as well apply to environmentally sustainable factories, a solar panel factory, or a mountain-sports equipment plant.
And regardless, the $27 million is money that will not be used to improve the lives of us living in Buncombe County, but instead will be used, in all probability, to make us less safe and more militant.
3. That the argument that Buncombe County’s renouncing the F-35 parts plant will have no effect on America’s war policy. This is a nihilistic argument born of extreme cynicism about our country’s march towards more horrible wars, as well as a misunderstanding about how democracy works. As a county commissioner I will support the idea that local action has global ramifications.
The outrage over Pratt and Whitney has already generated a powerful response, the aforementioned Reject Raytheon Coalition. (See their website and Facebook site). Their bi-monthly demonstrations have been ongoing since the news of the plant emerged.
Were Buncombe County to reject the P and W plant and refuse to become just another cog in the enormous American arms manufacturing industry, it may ignite a national soul searching as to where all this weapons production is heading. That’s how the Civil Rights Movement became powerful … local actions affecting national policy. We will not be alone in this but can join over 30 other cities who are involved in the War Industries Resistance Network, WIRN.
Or perhaps Mr. Cecil and the County Commission assume that the next American war will make sense and not be so destructive. But how can they believe that given the history of US wars since World War II? And those next wars appear to be with Russia (as now may be happening in Ukraine) and China. Do we want Buncombe County’s best interest to be promotion of World War III? The F-35’s ability to carry the B-1 variable yield nuclear bomb means Buncombe may become a major contributor to a war that destroys civilization.
Of course, Buncombe’s rejection of Pratt and Whitney may have little effect on America’s war machine. But the stakes are so great that it should be crystal clear that we have no other choice that makes even the remotest sense. That we have to try everything we can to slow or stop our march to ever more war, ever more hatred of the US, making us ever less safe, and ever nearer ever more devastating wars, and maybe to World War III.
4. It's a done deal. But almost nothing is done that can't be reversed. Our contract with Pratt and Whitney could be modified or broken. This may entail paying a fine, but the fine surely won't be anywhere near the nearly $100 million dollars that we're subsidizing the plant for already. The resulting legal battle might bring this issue to national attention.
5. Weapons make America more safe. The Congressional Nye Committee in the 1930s concluded that weapons manufacturers, what it called Merchants of Death, were partly responsible for the US entering World War I to pursue profits. Greg Hayes, chairman of Raytheon, stated in Forbes magazine just last month that:
"[W]e are seeing, I would say, opportunities for international sales. We just have to look to last week where we saw the drone attack in the UAE, which have attacked some of their other facilities. And of course, the tensions in Eastern Europe, the tensions in the South China Sea, all of those things are putting pressure on some of the defense spending over there. So I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.”
Greg Haynes, CEO of Raytheon, parent company of Pratt and Whitney
Certainly, some degree of weapons' manufacturing makes us safer, but having a weapons industry publicly encouraging war, and knowing that the Iraq War I and II, Afghanistan, and Vietnam only decimated those populations and made the US less safe, as well as many other US interventions since World War II, proves that the US needs to control the Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned about, and Buncombe County could be the leader in that opposition.
Thus, if elected, I will organize a committee to investigate the County Commission’s P & W decision, and Jack Cecil’s part in it. The Committee will also explore ways to tear down the factory and replant the thousands of trees and animal habitats destroyed for it, and/or to substitute a peaceful factory in the present building. And finally, the Peace Committee will find ways to prevent future efforts to changing Buncombe County’s economy from a peace-loving one to a war-loving one.
As a candidate for County Commission, I will oppose the militarization of Buncombe County. I've already investigated and written about it extensively in the Mountain Xpress. See my articles in the Mountain Xpress already opposing it: (Buncombe County Marches Off to War$$$ and High Anxiety: Welcome to Buncombe County’s New Mascot.) Instead, I'll support green industry that will enhance the livability and prosperity of our County.
Candidate for District 1 of County Commission
* Responsible Statecraft (an organization supported by conservative Charles Koch (yes, the Koch brothers) and liberal George Soros) figures about Pratt and Whitney Subsidies:
Bill Branyon, candidate for County Commission
Other Platform Positions
Though my candidacy will focus on the Pratt and Whitney deal, I unfortunately do not think it is the most pressing issue facing Buncombe County’s citizens. It’s probably the third most pressing issue, but one that is ripe for challenge because of its recency and far-reaching consequences.
The two issues that are more pressing are:
Protecting 2024 election workers, polling places and results from intimidation by local Republicans trying to overthrow the democracy at the behest of former President Donald Trump, and our Congressman Madison Cawthorn. This may require 24/7 guarding of local election officials, poll workers and especially the results of the voting.
We need to realize that in the next three years we will have to save not only voting rights from Trump, Cawthorn and their legions of supporters, but also the Bill of Rights. For not long after it is no longer legal to vote, or the vote becomes a sham, civil rights may erode so quickly that all human rights will soon be at risk.
I will enlist the services of the International, Nonviolent Peace Force, which helps minimize violence all over the world. They will help us train Democratic Party members to watch over the election and protect the vote and poll-workers. I also will employ the hundreds of Buncombe County members of William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign in this endeavor.
2. Ensuring that Buncombe’s citizens are as safe as possible from Covid, while also allowing as much freedom as possible for us to go about our business and recreations, for businesses to stay open, and for human contact to be safely maximized. This will include further promotion of vaccinations, testing and mask wearing; further understanding that if you’ve had Covid and can prove it then you have good immunity; and constant input from county and national epidemiology experts to keep revising the laws, suggestions and measures given the current state of Covid in the county, nation and world. I myself have been vaccinated and boosted, but have not had Covid, as far as I know.
Other issues that I will key on include:
3. Development: I believe we’ve reached an optimum amount of development in the county and maybe gone beyond that. I propose that we have a county-wide referendum on whether we want more development, and if so, how much more.
If we vote to try to restrict development in the county, then we should establish rigorous zoning laws that reflect this. In addition, Buncombe’s neighborhoods are mostly now long-established entities and I’ll give them the power to control development within themselves, while having substantial power to control development around their borders.
Other development issues include:
A. Affordable Housing: Institute rent controls in selected areas (such as the River Arts District or low-income neighborhoods) rather than using the affordable housing crisis to justify building ever more, poorly-designed, so-called, affordable housing developments. Work with Governor Cooper and the Democrats in the state legislature to accomplish this. Should Republicans obstruct, explore imposing rent controls regardless of Raleigh’s mandates.
Many local governments have successfully opposed state and national governments before, most recently in declaring sanctuary cities for immigrants, as Asheville has done. Another example is local governments defying governors such as George Wallace demanding “massive resistance” to integration, or the way in which local governments deemphasize the enforcement of strict anti-marijuana use laws. Thus, not obeying state governments has been successfully done many times before and surely a farsighted, individualistic county like Buncombe can do it again.
And surely there are few better times than now to refuse to obey aspects of North Carolina state government power since it is currently controlled by the mostly treasonous Republicans who want to overthrow our democracy. A Republican Party who even in their best, non-treasonous times, only want to exploit North Carolina's people and land for maximized profits, regardless of the often horrible side effects such policies bring.
B. Buncombe County is a wonderful place with freethinking culture, great art and music, and beautiful scenery that could easily attract hundreds of thousands of more people. If, after the referendum, we do decide to allow more people and more development into our county, we should only certify beautiful or innovative architecture and people- and nature-friendly housing developments. Hence, I will try to ensure that all developments that are about 10,000 square feet or more are reviewed by the County Commission for architectural qualities, life-nurturing amenities and environmental effects.
As noted in the anti-militarization section, I would hope Jack Cecil would become our Zoning Czar in great control of promoting this because of the wonderful developments he’s made in Biltmore Park, Biltmore Lake and the Ramble.
I’ll also identify forested areas left in the county. and work to ensure they stay forested and wild, such as the Big Ivy forest recently in the news.
I will not interfere with efforts of small landowners, say those owning two acres or less, to add barns, apartments or other buildings on their property, as long as the additions are no larger than about 3,000 square feet and their neighbors are not reasonably upset about the additions.
C. Freeze property taxes in neighborhoods. We want people to stay in their houses, not be forced to leave them.
4. Scientists tell us that we have only a few years to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency, conservation and sustainable energy production if we’re going to avoid massive and irreversible damage to the planet due to climate change. This warning would inform every decision I would be called upon to make as a commissioner. It will include efforts to protect Buncombe's tree canopy and vegetation cover; my north-south train idea (see below): efforts to force Amazon, Fed Ex and UPS to use electric trucks in Buncombe County; efforts to transform the Lake Powatan Electric plant to sustainable fuels, and efforts to promote electric and hybrid cars with recharging stations and other subsidies from federal funds.
5. Decriminalize most currently illegal drugs. Not make them legal, just remove their handling from the criminal justice system. Expand drug rehab centers. Expand DWI checkpoints. In general, follow the harm reduction approach to psychoactive drugs whenever possible.
6. I will work with Just Economics to secure a Living Wage for all county residents which, according to JE is now $17.30 an hour. If that is unsuccessful, I'll work with Governor Cooper and Democrats in the state legislature to obtain in Buncombe County at least a $15 minimum wage, or hopefully the $17.30 living wage, to replace the brutally inadequate, $7.50 minimum wage now mandated by Raleigh. If that proves impossible, consider instituting in Buncombe County the $15 to $17.30 minimum wage regardless of what Raleigh mandates.
Again, Asheville is so attractive to millions of people that we can afford to play hard to get. If you’re going to start a business here, you have to pay a living wage. And the county should help already established businesses pay this new minimum wage if they can prove overwhelming economic hardship.
Again, why obey Raleigh Republicans, most of whom are treasonous and want to overthrow the US democracy, and even on their best, non-treasonous days, want to exploit North Carolina's people and land for maximized profits, regardless of the horrible side effects?
7. Race relations (Reparations): Immediately begin dispensing Covid Relief Funds and other funds to African-American entrepreneurs, to African Americans who want to buy a home, or who want to get an education. Listen to and try to enact many programs advocated by The Racial Justice Coalition, YWCA, NAACP, Poor People's Campaign, and other groups.
8. Latinos: Sanctuary City Status of Asheville and other local municipalities reinforced. Listen and try to enact programs advocated by Latino activist groups including: Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Accion, Asheville Latin Americans Achieving Success, etc.
9. Women: Continue to promote equality of opportunity, pay and access for women of all races and ethnicities working with Our Voice, The National Council for Women, Women's March on Asheville, and other women's groups.
10. Whites Males: $17 minimum wage and free counseling for white males as over 500 years of white male supremacy becomes a thing of the past. As well as counseling for all those damaged by white supremacy.
11. The Arts: Caps on rents and rental spaces with priorities for art and music creators. More public, county-sponsored art and music, and more county involvement in terms of grants.
12. Bike Trails: A safe trail, separate from streets, along the French Broad to Brevard and Hendersonville. A safe trail from UNCA to the French Broad River Greenway. A safe trail to Marshall and Black Mountain. These trails can often be easily built by using old railroad tracks.
13. North South train: Instead of adding ever more lanes to I-26 and attracting ever more polluting cars and traffic snarl and tension, we should use existing tracks to create light rail from Hendersonville to the South Asheville. Then have transfer stations to city transport vehicles. Toll booths should be set up along all major entrances to Asheville as is done in New York City, to charge at least $10 for workers to get into our superior cultural and economic space.
14. Humanitarian and Community Safety approach to homelessness: Ensuring any tent gatherings have enough food, warmth, and drug rehab to not menace surrounding communities, with the ultimate goal of getting all homeless into decent shelter without attracting more homeless to the city, and eventually employed with their own housing Listen closely and try to enact recommendations from Asheville's homeless advocacy groups including the ABBCM, Helpmate Inc., Homeward Bound, MANNA FoodBank, Crossroads of Asheville, Mountain Child Advocacy Center, Homelessness Initiative Advisory Committee and Subcommittee on Child and Youth Homelessness The Women and Children’s Safety Coalition Buncombe County Domestic Violence Initiative: Community Assessment Team, Cross System Dialogue Work Group, High Risk Team
15. Farm preservation: Preserve the farmland Buncombe County now has, and expand it if possible.
16. Job Creation: Use hotel taxes and other revenues to attract good jobs that are not making weapons and that pay at least $17 an hour.
17. Consider establishing an Economic and Religious Reconciliation Peace College: Perhaps in the new Pratt and Whitney building. Buncombe County is one of the most free-thinking counties in America and so a natural for such a college.
The goal of the college will be to teach people that we are all capitalists, socialists and anarchists to some degree, and to learn to peacefully have discussions about how much of these three economic theories we want in each particular economic sector, such as the health care sector. For instance, the biggest socialist organization in American government is the military, but no one calls it socialist even though it's government owned, operated and funded.
Also, the college would teach how discussions between Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, New Age-ists and etc. can be carried on peacefully, respectfully and fruitfully.
Someone must lead the nation and world from its current destructive economic and religious paths, and it has become obvious that American state and federal governments will not accomplish this any time soon. It may be up to freethinking Buncombe County and other such counties. That is, it may be up to grass roots initiatives.
18. Help to assuage loneliness and isolation in Buncombe County, a debilitating and proliferating state that has been amplified by the Covid Crisis. This will include promoting clubs of common interests such as is done in Denmark, promoting safe venues and effective social means for finding mates and other friends, regardless of race or sexual orientation. Create opportunities to share housing. Make Buncombe safe for friends and lovers! The goal is to create as much happiness in Buncombe County as possible while putting much less emphasis on making as much profit or development as possible, which I believe is the current goal of most leaders in the county.
19. Education: To successfully serve our next generation of citizens, we need to look at reducing class size, increasing teacher pay, providing adequate funding for teaching assistants and for substitutes.
20. Work with Labor and Management to follow the Memorial Mission nurses and promote unionization of many sectors of the Buncombe County economy, including the restaurant and hotel sector. Also work to overturn Raleigh's prohibition against unionization for government employees including teachers, city and county workers, etc. The belief that labor and management must be hostile to each other can be transcended, as it has to a great extent in England, France, Japan, Germany and many other countries.
See Biography section of website for BB bio.