Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Okay, You Got My Attention

This morning I've been reading reviews on Rotten Tomatoes of "Pandora's Promise," a documentary on nuclear energy by filmmaker Robert Stone that we watched yesterday. It makes the case that much of what we've been told about nuclear energy is hyped-up fear-mongering and that nuclear is the safest and cleanest alternative to the poison of fossil fuels, particularly coal.

But ... Robert Stone? The guy who made the first Earth Day film? The guy who did the anti-nuke film "Radio Bikini" about the A-bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. He's changed his mind about nuclear energy, as have Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, and a number of other well known environmentalists who are interviewed in "Pandora's Promise."

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima ... the major nuclear disasters of our era, the names that send a chill down spines, and the Exhibits One, Two & Three for why nuclear energy is unsafe, unwise, and deadly. Stone faces those negatives head-on, goes to all three locations and tests the radiation levels with those little yellow monitoring devices.

Famous anti-nuke activist and liberal hero Helen Caldicott claims that 1 million people died at Chernobyl and that there's been a massive cover-up, for which no evidence exists. Pretty hard to cover up 1 million dead bodies. For sure, 50 people did die almost immediately at Chernobyl, and rare cancers will likely take others as the years advance. But compared to deaths directly linked to respiratory ailments linked to air pollution caused by fossil fuels ... well, you can make up your own cost-benefit analysis of nuclear power vs. fossil fuels. Wind and solar -- "renewables" -- aren't even on the playing field and likely never will be.

A younger generation will have to decide our direction, and the ones I've talked to since yesterday don't even seem to know that being anti-nuclear is supposed to be a birthmark of liberalism. Only conservatives are supposed to be pro-nuclear energy, but perhaps that's breaking down, and perhaps it should.

Stone proves that at least some of the anti-nuclear chatter has been gleefully propagated by the oil and gas industry, that the newest generation of nuclear reactors cannot melt down (Chernobyl didn't even have a containment building and Fukushima was old technology positioned on the assumption that no tsunami would ever reach higher than three meters). If I believe Robert Stone, I get a higher dose of natural radiation on a transcontinental plane ride than I would get standing next to a modern nuclear reactor.

I found "Pandora's Promise" a challenging and thoughtful film. You might too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Governor Knucklehead

What do we think about a governor of North Carolina who thinks the law he is signing is unconstitutional, but he signs it anyway?

As a member of the Council of State said this weekend -- someone who is in meetings with this governor every week and knows him rather well -- "he doesn't know what he doesn't know." Put another way: He doesn't know that he doesn't know things that we'd all be better off if he knew.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Best Book of the Year

Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance by Carla Kaplan is the most thoroughly researched, best written, and most intensely interesting book I've read all year (and I've read a lot of books).

"Miss Anne" was a dismissive slang term used to refer to white women by many urban black people in the early decades of the 20th century. The "Miss Anne" of this wonderful non-fiction study was often a rich white woman who wanted to be a part of the great flowering of African-American art during the 1920s and '30s -- the period often called "the Harlem Renaissance." Langston Hughes came out of it. So did Zora Neale Hurston and a bunch of others.

"Miss Anne" wanted much more than to be merely "a part" of the cultural ferment producing great writers and artists in those decades. Some of them wanted blackness itself as a part of their own identities. A wealthy dowager like Charlotte Osgood Mason, with a Park Avenue address and many servants, actually claimed, "I am a better Negro than most of the Negroes I know." That claim was accompanied by patronage -- cash money -- offered to black writers she liked but whom she also wanted to control. Her patronage came with iron strings attached.

Other Miss Annes married black men, or had public affairs with them, thus cutting themselves off from respectable white society of the day not to mention from their own families. Josephine Cogdell, the daughter of wealthy, racist Texans (her father was a Klan member) married African-American journalist George Schuyler at a time when inter-racial marriage was unheard of and even unthinkable. Josephine wrote in her diary the night before her wedding: “To my mind, the white race, the Anglo-Saxon especially, is spiritually depleted. America must mate with the Negro to save herself.” Her marriage was ultimately not a happy one.

The desire of Miss Anne to experience what was culturally and even legally forbidden is but one of the ironies in this totally fascinating book. While Charlotte Osgood Mason celebrated "Africanness" and "the primitive," she was also a thorough-going anti-Semite and a control freak who wanted "her" black artists to do as she said. She was in fact a more modern version of a slave-owner, and Zora Neale Hurston was justified in resisting her control.

No other book I've read more successfully unpacks the paradoxes, the inconsistencies, the raging hormonal cross currents, and the ego-inflating self-deceptions that infected the whole topic of race in the early 20th century, and which still infect it. I can't help thinking of President Obama as a latter-day recipient of the projected fears and desires of his white "patrons" (not to mention his white haters). Such paradoxes and cross-currents might destabilize the strongest personality.


North Carolina Is Being Run By Stupid People

The North Carolina General Assembly -- bless their (tiny, desiccated) hearts and their (total lack of) vision -- ended the incentive program that had built the film industry in North Carolina to the third largest in the whole country.

They instead put in a puny, emasculated incentive that The Hollywood Reporter called "nearly useless." Turns out the NC GOP hearts polluting industries (coal ash, anyone? how about fracking?) far more than they heart a non-polluting, jobs-creating industry like motion pictures.

“It’s disappointing,” the Motion Picture Association of America said in a statement Thursday, “that the new grant program included in the budget agreement will prevent North Carolina from remaining competitive in attracting this prominent source of in-state economic activity.”

And then there's this:
Spokespeople for ABC, CBS and Fox could not confirm their plans, but one studio executive said: “It definitely doesn’t bode well for future new production there, or for the terrific infrastructure of production, personnel and vendors they’ve built up in the state.”
In North Carolina, the first term Gov. Pat McCrory and the Speaker of the House Thom Tillis — a candidate for Senate —had both been vocal backers of film incentives until recently. However, as the state has seen a number of conservatives, Libertarian and Tea Party candidates elected, they have shifted to either a neutral position (the governor) or opposition (the speaker).
One big reason the North Carolina incentive legislation failed is because the Koch Brothers-backed nonprofit Americans for Prosperity bought radio commercials as the debate was going on that slammed film incentives. The ads were part of a larger campaign to eliminate a range of state-funded development programs.
"The money coming in from the outside has hurt the North Carolina programs for business development," said Rep. Susi Hamilton, a Democrat who fought to retain incentives. "The Americans for Prosperity spent a lot of money to try and end the program and unfortunately they have the ear or our leadership and appear to be successful."
ADDENDUM
From BlueNC this morning:
CAROLINA COMBACK’ OR ‘NORTH STATE STAGNATION?’ -- There’s hardly a road-side vegetable stand or machine shop that opens in North Carolina these days that Gov. Pat McCrory and his Department of Commerce don’t seize the opportunity for a news release or ribbon-cutting to announce new job creations. It’s seemed McCrory announces new jobs in the 10s or 20s while South Carolina announces them by the thousands. In the two years that McCrory’s been in office, even with the tax cuts enacted specifically to attract more industry and jobs, the number of new jobs announced has dropped 17 percent; the new job project inquiries dropped 16 percent; new projects announced dropped 8 percent; and total capital investment in new and expanded businesses has dropped 56 percent. Many of those in the Commerce Department who’d been involved in business recruitment in the previous administrations have been dismissed and not taken on by the new private enterprise that has taken over the state’s job-hunting efforts. It appears to be a high hill for the new enterprise to climb, not only making up for the ground lost the last two years, but also dealing with making up for jobs, in a variety of sectors including new energy and films, that will be headed elsewhere because of the elimination of various tax incentives and state assistance.

The Guv Turns a Toxic Shade of Green


Friday, August 22, 2014

No Early Voting at ASU, But Aceto Takes Fire

Naturally, the three-Republican majority (+ Malcolm) on the State Board of Elections declined to restore an Early Voting site on the Appalachian State University campus, where one has been in the past for many years (Winston-Salem Journal coverage). The State Board of Elections (+ Malcolm) are protecters of the status quo, which happens to be in This Year of Grace partisan Republican.

Received these observations from someone at the hearing yesterday:
Watauga Board of Elections Chair Luke Eggers ... nowhere in sight. He's ceded his position to the other Republican member, Bill Aceto.
Bill Aceto claimed that, in his mind, an Early Voting polling site in the ASU Student Union is unacceptable, that no election can be lawfully conducted at the Student Union because of "all those entrances" the board can't control and the voluminous reports of problems with the buffers, which they can't possibly manage. Board of Elections Shadow Chair, County Attorney Four Eggers, should know from his past Board service that there were zero actual complaints/reports of such problems. Bill Aceto should have known that too. State Board of Elections member Josh Malcolm took Aceto to task for that claim, calling it "disingenuous, at best."
Josh Malcolm also took Aceto to task for standing before the State Board of Elections apparently asserting that his Early Voting plan duplicated from the May Primary couldn't possibly be improved "for the benefit of voters." Aceto's chosen Early Voting sites in the May Primary proved extraordinarily inefficient. Costs per voter were 4 times the cost at the courthouse site. But Aceto could recognize "no improvements" to be made.
Republican State Board member Paul Foley claimed that if there were a need for any other Early Voting site, it would be at the "urban" Beech Mountain precinct (with a 2012 population of 319 persons) . This after having visited the town of Boone for the very first time ever in February. Perhaps Foley had been talking to Shadow Watauga Chair Four Eggers, who also happens to be Beech Mountain town attorney.
Then the "capper quote" of the day, coming straight from the mouth of the Honorable Chairman Josh Howard, on what to do with his board's perennial Watauga problem: "My first instinct would be to make a motion to trade Watauga County to Tennessee." Harks back to what he said in 2013, that no doubt Wataugans would be better served by picking its Board of Elections members from "the first three names listed in the phone book." That comment insulted twice as many Republicans as it did Democrats!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Breaking News: Judge Rules Republican Voucher Scheme Unconstitutional

"Appropriating taxpayer funds to unaccountable schools does not accomplish a public purpose," Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood said today in ruling a private school voucher scheme passed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly unconstitutional.

State lawmakers created the voucher program last year. Hobgood ruled that the private schools which would be beneficiaries of the voucher plan can discriminate in their admissions and don't have the same curriculum and teacher certification standards as North Carolina's public schools.

Under the long-running Leandro school funding lawsuit, the General Assembly is required to ensure students receive a sound education, and Hobgood said lawmakers can't delegate that authority to "unregulated private schools" and to parents "who have self-assessed their children to be at risk."
"It appears to this court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into non-public schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound, basic education in public schools as mandated by the Leandro decision," he said. "The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public, taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything."
Judge Hobgood has been on the receiving end of GOP spite about other rulings and was largely the target of the recent provision slipped into the budget bill that will prevent individual judges from ruling on the constitutionality of laws passed by the Republican majority in the General Assembly.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Say What? Thom Tillis Brings in Mitt Romney To Campaign For Him?

How bad must it be for NC House Speaker Thom Tillis and his quest to oust Kay Hagan?

Mitt Romney? Seriously?

The avatar of the 1%? The coiner of memorable sayings: "Corporations are people, my friend!" Or our favorite: "I like being able to fire people."

No, really, why Mitt Romney? Because fabulously rich people feel comfortable around him, and Thom Tillis really needs to raise a lot of money right now?

We do notice that the Mitt Romney appearance in Charlotte yesterday involved a private fundraiser and not a public rally. Who would want the most notorious political loser of the last cycle standing next to you on a public platform?

Boone ETJ Residents Are Almost Unanimous: "We Want Boone's Protections!"

The public hearing last night before the Watauga County Commission over what to do about land-use protections in the (former) Boone Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) was lopsided by a wide margin. The vast majority of speakers said they wanted the county to provide the same protections they had depended on under Boone's zoning regs before Senator Dan Soucek succeeded in eliminating those protections.

By my count, only three of the speakers last night expressed joy that the ETJ had been stripped naked by a law passed in Raleigh. One of those speakers, Margaret Buck, seemed to tie land-use planning to the evils of educational standards (Common Core) and ultimately to a communist plot in the United Nations. Well, okay then.

During a pre-hearing press conference held by "Citizens for Local Control" (emphasis added ... and, take that, Dan Soucek!) -- a group formed by residents of the ETJ -- we learned that there are over 2,400 parcels of land in the ETJ and some 1,500 families.

Residents of Seven Oaks, Sunny Knolls Acres, Jordan Cook Road, the Locust Hill neighborhood, Snaggy Mountain, Homespun Hills, and Fieldstream all voiced the same concern and often said they had bought their homes in the ETJ because of the zoning protections. They are feeling very exposed and vulnerable now. Most said that they were not polled or surveyed about what they wanted. One speaker asked, Who wanted the ETJ destroyed?

As if to answer that question, up popped Jeff Templeton, who perhaps more than any other individual had propelled Senator Soucek into his project to eliminate the ETJ. Mr. Templeton said he thought it was fine for these other neighborhoods to have some protections, but he doesn't want regulations imposed on undeveloped land in the ETJ (and you're free to make whatever inferences come to mind). Mr. Templeton also joined the chorus at the hearing asking for a two-year moratorium on "polluting" industries while new regs are considered.

By "polluting industries," most people seemed to finger a certain concrete plant off Roby Greene Road, and the Radford Quarries rock crushing operation, and a possible asphalt plant (Radford Quarries has twice before attempted to install an asphalt plant in the ETJ, both defeated because of Boone's zoning).

County Commission Chair Nathan Miller, who has lawyered for the concrete plant, did not show up for the hearing, which was interesting. The meeting was presided over by Vice Chair David Blust.

The whole issue of zoning the ETJ was referred to the Watauga Planning Board, which is tasked with coming up with a plan to be presented to the County Commission. Don't expect any action before the Fall elections.

In the meantime, a moratorium on certain kinds of development while the Planning Board studies the issue is highly doubtful, with the current Republican domination of the County Commish.