Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why Republicans Fail at Government

Congressman Mark Meadows of the North Carolina 11th Congressional District became a major instigator and cheer-leader for last year's government shutdown, which cost his own national-park-heavy congressional district millions of $$ in tourism.

Asheville Citizen-Times columnist John Boyle was in on an interview with Mr. Meadows last week and tried to pin down the congressman on his current thoughts about the wisdom of shutting down the government. Makes for a very interesting column.

Boyle's lede:
Well, I guess he sort of, grudgingly, reluctantly — with a hint of “maybe I did it, maybe I didn’t” and a dash of “wild horses dragged me into it” — owned it.
Republicans hate government, but when they try to destroy it or mangle its operations, they run away like Monty Python players when they succeed in their agenda:
Last fall, CNN tagged Meadows, a freshman legislator, as the “architect of the brink,” a reference to a letter Meadows penned last August in which he suggested to Republican Party leaders that they work to dismantle Obamacare by cutting off federal funding .... Meadows got 79 fellow House members to sign it, forwarded it to House leadership, then ran from it like it was a nuclear bomb once it went off and federal campgrounds, parks and picnic areas shut down, costing dependent business owners and vacationing Americans millions of dollars.
GOP conservatives hate government, especially government run by a black man, which makes them terminally inept at running government, and they're unfailingly mendacious about admitting their true motives.

Incidentally, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx did not sign the Meadows letter calling for the government shutdown. But she did vote against ending the government shutdown on October 15, 2013, thus upholding her extremist credentials.

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."
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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We Have NOT Forgotten the Anal Acoustics

Apparently, this story isn't apocryphal, and I've always loved those deadpan moments that Queen Elizabeth gave us 400+ years ago. Once upon a time, the Earl of Oxford broke wind in Her Majesty's presence and was so embarrassed that he left Court and didn't return for years. When he did show up again, the old Queen looked at him and commented, "My Lord, I had forgot the fart."

I'm reminded of that piece of royal irony when viewing the new Thom Tillis television ad:

Mr. Tillis clearly wants us to forget the fart, the three-plus years he's presided over the dismantlement of what's good and even noble about North Carolina among all over Deep South states. Notice that the one job he fails to mention in this TV ad is the job he's held as Speaker of the NC House. But when he talks about "the mess" that's been created, he wants us to think "Washington." I think "Raleigh," and I think Thom Tillis.

Nice try, Mr. Tillis! But the odor of your deeds hangs heavy in the air.

Don't You Love the Smell of Republican Panic in the Morning?

It's becoming clear that the real reason that Art Pope resigned as state budget director is that his Republican troops in the General Assembly, so expensively elected in 2010 to take North Carolina down the smelly rabbit hole we're now buried in, are about to get some comeuppance from the voting public. Pope is the grand strategist Daddy Warbucks of the Right-Wing Takeover, and apparently the knuckleheads need him now more than ever. He quit state government in order to save it, at least his twisted version of it.

Thomas Mills details the approaching tsunami through recent polling of individual races for General Assembly seats, where Republican incumbents -- even in gerrymandered districts thought to be safe for Republicans -- are experiencing dissatisfaction and underwater polling numbers. Mills says that their "fix" for their own dismal lack of popularity is to begin early the usual deluge of negative mail, mainly saying Obamacare as often as possible and trying to tie their Democratic challengers to the Washington of Barack.

Ain't working. Their "favorability" rankings are actually worse than Obama's in state polling.

We've braced ourselves to see the nastiness that incumbent Republican House member Jonathan Jordan has in store for challenger Sue Counts. Mills doesn't mention how Jordan is polling, but we happen to know that it ain't good news for him.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Another Stinkbomb in the NC Budget: GOP Makes It Harder To Challenge Their Bad Laws

Republican lawmakers in Raleigh don't like it when judges rule that their laws are unconstitutional.

So they've been in a perpetual snit because of developments like these:

1. The notorious Right-to-Life-sponsored "Choose Life" vanity license plates, passed by the Republicans in 2011, never made it to the street because U.S. District Court Judge James Fox in November 2011 temporarily blocked the law, and then ruled in December 2012 that the plates were unconstitutional "viewpoint discrimination," a judgment subsequently upheld unanimously by a 4th Circuit Court ruling.

2. In January 2014, a judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled that the Republican law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound procedure is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment rights of physicians and patients. The lawsuit was brought by several North Carolina physicians and health care providers on behalf of themselves and their patients as a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law passed by Republicans in 2011.

Read more here:
3. In February of this year, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood temporarily halted a program that provides vouchers to pay for private school tuition.

4. In April, Special Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton issued a preliminary injunction against the Republican move to eliminate teacher tenure.

5. May 16, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the law eliminating teacher tenure is unconstitutional. Hobgood said that the law passed by Republican lawmakers in 2013 violates constitutional rights that protect contracts and prevents governments from taking a person’s property.

Senate leader Phil Berger had something of a conniption about Hobgood’s tenure ruling, calling it “a classic case of judicial activism,” which is the line they always fall back on when justice goes against them. 

Berger and his Buds set about writing a law to make it more difficult to challenge the constitutionality of acts passed by the General Assembly. They couldn't really do anything about Federal courts, but they sure as hell did just mandate a wholly new and novel procedure for state courts (it's never been done in any other state before, according to the News&Observer). They slipped their "innovation" into the big budget bill signed by Governor Squishy last week.

What Did They Do?
Under McCrory's signature, if you now want to challenge the constitutionality of a General Assembly law, you have to sue in Wake County, and then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will appoint a three-judge panel to hear the case, slowing the process and making summary judgments less likely. Also written into the new law is a provision that any law being challenged can still go ahead into effect if the three-judge panel rules against it and while their ruling is on appeal. It can take years for appeals to advance, so a bad, bad law passed by that bunch of bad, bad people in Raleigh really can't be stopped until the challenge reaches the state's Supreme Court. Hand-picked judges. Delays in receiving injunctive relief. Yeah, we trust that kind of chair-stacking!

The Republican senator assigned to manage this monster provision onto that piece of paper that Gov. McCrory signed, Buck Newton, hilariously said, "We think it will create efficiencies and is a good, common-sense way to streamline the process." By which we take it he actually meant precisely the opposite of what he said.

One of the people who has been most vigorously pushing this deformation of justice is one Frances DeLuca, president of Art Pope's Civitas Institute. Even more hilarious than Sen. Buck Newton's comment, DeLuca said, “You’d have to think hard to remember a time when we had this number of laws declared unconstitutional in this quick a time. Maybe some were deserved...."

DeLuca seems to think that the quickness of the rulings against the laws is the problem and not the laws themselves. (Well ... maybe some deserved to be ruled unconstitutional. Ha!)

DeLuca, incidentally, was thoughtfully appointed by the Republicans in the General Assembly to the state's Ethics Commission, and he delivered an opinion on Friday about the governor's apparent ethics problem regarding the non-reporting (and subsequent dumping) of a large amount of Duke Energy stock. DeLuca is a little bit DeLooney. But he's also a major string-puller for the brand of extremism we're all saddled with.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Governor Bimbo

Gov. McCrory's long history of covering up business connections that benefitted said businesses through the mechanism of his "public" service, all successfully performed because of a total lack of governmental transparency.

Somehow the word whore springs to mind.

He works for those who are best positioned to feather his nest. Always has. Always will.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

McCrory and the Smell Test. Hint: He Doesn't Pass It

On April 15 of this year, Governor Pat McCrory filed a financial disclosure statement with the NC Ethics Commission, as required by law. In it, he claimed to own no -- zero -- Duke Energy stock as of December 31, 2013.

In May, Gov. McCrory filed a supplemental financial disclosure statement in which he continued to maintain that he had owned no Duke stock in 2013.

It comes to light this morning that indeed he didn't own any Duke stock by April, or by May of 2014, because he had sold it all shortly after the big Duke ash spill on the Dan River, which happened on February 9. His lawyer is now saying he sold his Duke holdings some time between February 14 and April 15. The lawyer is also not saying how much that stock was worth, but it has to have been worth at least $10,000 to fall under disclosure rules, and clearly the holdings did fall under disclosure rules.

The governor has found a patsy to take the fall for this cover-up: Bob Stephens, McCrory’s general counsel. He's taking the blame. He was "confused," he says in a prepared statement.

McCrory twice signed statements that claimed he owned no Duke Energy stock as of December 31, 2013, immediately following his quick divestment of that stock on the heels of one of the worst ash spills in the country. No, he wouldn't have known a thing about that! Because Mr. McCrory generally doesn't know anything about anything.

Thank Gawd we have a governor who is so totally out to lunch.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Breaking News

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond has refused to delay its ruling striking down Virginia's gay marriage ban, which means that same-sex couples could begin marrying in the state as early as next week.

Look for the End of the Freakin' World any minute now. (At least, expect Tami Fitzgerald's coif to catch fire.)

Bothered But Not Disturbed

Another District Court judge in Wake County, Anne Salisbury, has dismissed trespassing charges against another five Moral Monday protesters who were part of the massive wave of arrests at the General Assembly last summer. Judge Joyce Hamilton had similarly dismissed charges against a different five last week, citing the recent Supreme Court ruling about protesters at a Massachusetts abortion clinic.

"These folks had every right to do exactly what they did, and the way in which they were ordered to leave was unconstitutional," defense attorney Scott Holmes told Judge Salisbury yesterday. The judge agreed.

"The evidence is that the General Assembly was able to do business without interruption. So it clearly didn't disturb them," Judge Salisbury said in dismissing the charges against the protesters.

Hattip: WRAL.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thom Tillis Is Uncomfortable with Virginia Foxx ... But Then, Aren't We All?

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Thom Tillis, that slickster with a horse to ride, is trying to distance himself from positions taken by the U.S. House Republican caucus, than whom no one is more extreme than Rep. Virginia Foxx (or, for that matter, the rest of the North Carolina delegation with an "R" after their names).

On repealing Obamacare: “Republicans have to have an answer to the when-you-repeal-it-what-are-you-replacing-it-with question,” he said. “We owe the American people a solution to the problem.”

The Tillis solution, such as it is, would be a kind of off-ramp, a deceleration zone, or a kind of (cement) parachute for those now on Obamacare (and thankful for it!), so that they don't hit the hard ground of Republican austerity with too many internal injuries. “Any repeal measure needs to be married with how do you provide a landing, or a transition, to some of those who are on Obamacare,” Tillis said. Yeah ... that'll work!

"On last year’s government shutdown, Tillis tried to make clear that he would not have supported it, but he took care not to demean the motives of the Republicans who did. 'I think what some of the members did was well-intentioned,' he said, but 'you’ve got to fund government operations.' ”

Apparently, in the Tillis lexicon, "well-intentioned" means "idiotic," but he doesn't want to offend the Virginia Foxxes of his world.

Good luck with that, dude.

Friday, August 08, 2014

So Proud

Pat McCrory signed the new Republican budget yesterday in Raleigh. You can look at the photograph of the signing in the Raleigh News&Observer. Four white men stand behind him. One of them is Art Pope, who just resigned as Budget Director but who is evidently proud to own this particular budget.

James at BlueNC points out that of the 68 House members and the 33 NC Senators who voted for this budget revision, only two of them showed up for the signing and one of those two isn't even running for reelection.

Writes James, "House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg), who could use some positive publicity these days, wasn’t around. Nor was Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) standing with the governor. The other five folks standing with the governor when he signed the budget were all paid members of his staff."

Leaving The Guv pretty much by himself in being proud of that mound of hash.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Hidden Stinkbomb in the Republican Budget

At this very hour, Governor McCrory is signing the new Republican state budget in Raleigh. Did he read it? Does he understand it? Does he even care?

Because news has just emerged today of a provision written into education funding that even Republican members of the General Assembly say they didn't know about. "Two leading House Republicans said they learned of the provision after they voted for the budget."

Since 1933, the state of North Carolina has always based budgets for education on projected enrollment for the next year. In counties with rapid or even steady growth, that funding formula is crucial. Local school systems use the formula, and depend upon it, to hire teachers and plan their own budgets.

Those average daily attendance calculations for the coming year have been disappeared from the budget McCrory is signing. The bottom-line is that the state will no longer automatically pay for enrollment increases. County school systems will now have to wait each year until the General Assembly passes a new budget to know how much money they'll have to hire teachers, fund special education, or even staff the school lunchroom.

The change means that the funding of enrollment growth in schools is now purely optional in North Carolina. It opens the door for Our Visionary Rulers to simply mandate that class sizes must grow, teachers must strain even harder to keep up, while meanwhile the for-profit education industry will be as pleased as punch to take those students who can pay.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

News Flash: Art Pope Resigns

Just minutes ago, in a classic Friday afternoon news dump, Gov. Pat McCrory announced that NC Budget Director and Puppet Master Supreme, Art Pope, "has resigned."

The company line is that Pope had agreed to do the job for just one year, and to do it for $1 in salary.

Under Mr. Pope's administration of the state's economy, that $1 in salary has broken the bank.

Sign of the Times

Interesting demographic research by North Carolina county on how many residents are now non-natives. The state-wide average is 42% non-natives. Watauga County is above that average (see the graph at the link) in non-native residents.

Or, put another way, Watauga County ranks 24th (out of 100 counties) for having the most non-native residents.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Eye Witnesses to the Dysfunction

Raleigh political guru Gary Pearce published an account by a General Assembly insider about what went on among the ruling Republican junta during the closing days of the session:
Legislative Republicans treated each other last week just like they’ve treated the state’s citizens for the last two years: with meanness, impatience, and a lack of caring, respect and statesmanship.
The multiple procedural failures also highlighted a desperate leadership void and lack of knowledge about how to govern. The inability to adjourn the session in an organized fashion left the process in turmoil, with no one exactly sure what’s going on. A civilized adjournment requires some communication between the House and Senate, and that apparently just doesn’t happen anymore, especially with a distracted Speaker.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate lobbed hand grenades at each other over the coal ash legislation. It’s unclear whether the failure of this legislation was incompetence, a conspiracy or a last-minute desire to protect a large GOP financial contributor. None of it makes sense when House members tried to amend a conference report. Everyone knows you can’t do that.
 This mess would be laughable except for the dire consequences to the state.
Veteran WRAL political reporter Laura Leslie added her own perspective:
This is what happens when you've got testosterone-soaked under-40s running your "negotiations" -- a term I'm using loosely here. There's something to be said for knowing how things work, and even more to be said for having enough perspective to keep your ego out of it.
A whole bunch of puffed-up men, stepping on their own weenies. North Carolina pays the price.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Tillis Can't Run From His Record

Sen. Josh Stein: Republican Budget Is Killing Rural Hospitals

Sauce for the Gander

Toward the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that "no-protest" zones around abortion clinics in Massachusetts were unconstitutional infringements of free speech (McCullen v. Coakley).

Last week in Raleigh, Wake County District Court Judge Joyce Hamilton referenced McCullen v. Coakley in dismissing trespassing charges against five Moral Monday protesters. Hamilton was appointed to hear hundreds of the charges against Moral Monday protesters who occupied the NC General Assembly building throughout last summer.

Judge Hamilton also indicated that she may have ruled incorrectly in other cases of Moral Monday protesters that have already been heard. Some of those protesters were fined. Hamilton is expected to issue an order this week that may have sweeping implications for all Moral Monday protesters who were arrested and prosecuted last year, over 900 in total.

"In trying to compare the actions in North Carolina to the Massachusetts case, defense attorneys contend the [General Assembly police] chief let demonstrators come into a zone inside the Legislative Building and exercise free speech and then declared the area a no-speech zone.

"Such action violates free speech rights, the attorneys argued in trial after trial before the U.S. justices issued their ruling."

Sunday, August 03, 2014

What the New NC Budget Is Really All About

This is a budget drawn up by panicked legislators on the eve of midterm elections. That’s reflected in the rush to do something for teachers by cutting of health and welfare benefits for poor people who don’t have much of a voice in elections. The budget reduces subsidized child care for the poor and cuts Medicaid payments to hospitals....

The budget was built around one overwhelming political goal for lawmakers seeking re-election and especially for House Speaker Thom Tillis, who will face a statewide electorate as the GOP’s nominee for U.S. Senate. That goal was to approve a pay raise for the state’s 95,000 public school teachers. With teacher pay near the lowest in the nation, Republicans dreaded going before voters without having addressed the problem.

The goal was accomplished, at least for the purposes of campaign claims. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger was hailing the budget’s inclusion of a teacher raise averaging 7 percent as “the largest teacher pay raise in state history.”
Tillis joined in declaring it a major step forward. “It’s the most significant positive message we’ve made to education in decades,” he said. “We worked hard to make sure we could deliver the promises we made.”
But that Republican claim comes with serious caveats. For one, the percentage is reached by folding funds used for longevity pay – a year-end bonus for veteran teachers based on time of service – into the overall raise package. If a teacher gets a 7 percent raise but loses a 3.2 percent longevity payment, it’s not a 7 percent raise. And teachers lose longevity pay for good, while all other state employees retain the benefit.
Finally, most of the boost goes to the newest and lowest-paid teachers while veteran teachers gain little, and the pay scale tops out at $50,000 – $3,000 less than the current schedule.
When it comes to math, teachers are a tough group to fool. Most will see this raise for what it is: a grudging and belated pay increase inflated by shifting benefits and dressed up as a campaign talking point. Mark Jewell, a vice president with the N.C. Association of Educators, said, “From what we’re hearing from educators across the state, they are livid about this salary proposal.”
Beyond the smoke and mirrors aspects, there’s also a serious issue about how the pay increase will be sustained. The $282 million cost of the raise is supported in part by extra money from the lottery and one-time sources – reserve funds and federal grants. With the GOP’s excessive tax cuts projected to cost the state $700 million this year and a total of $5.3 billion over five years – $800 million more than originally projected – it’s not assured the state will be able to afford the raise next year, let alone increase it to lift North Carolina salaries from embarrassing to attractive.
Some of the best aspects of the state budget are what it didn’t do to teachers. It dropped the Senate proposal to take away teacher tenure – the basic right to due process in firing situations – and it didn’t go forward with the Senate’s plan to support a bigger teacher raise by eliminating 7,400 teacher assistants....
Gov. Pat McCrory, who said the budget bill reflects his priorities, said he will sign it.

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Yes! Just Go Home, You Extremist Ideologues and Sorry Nincompoops

The extinct Dodo bird
The NC Senate adjourned and left for their home districts in the wee hours last night, and the NC House will be following them today or tomorrow. As Molly Ivins once said, "Every village reclaims its idiot."

They did nothing about the coal ash spill and Duke Energy's plan to charge all of us electricity consumers for the costs of cleaning up their shit.

Shifting teachers’ longevity pay into their salary schedules to fake a bigger pay raise is a gyp that a first-grader could see through.

A recent report from the General Assembly’s fiscal staff that taxes cut last year will amount to a shortfall of about $700 million this year, and a total of $5.3 billion over five years – $880 million more than projected -- is the baseline revenue problem that The Honorables do not acknowledge and can not overcome. So their budget claims that it will balance itself with the Education Lottery and by raiding the "rainy day fund." Smart?

Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center said, “The knowledge that there is a higher cost to the tax plan passed last year is not reflected in this budget, which calls into question whether this budget is really sustainable, not in the long term but even over this fiscal year.”

Perhaps the General Assembly could open a revenue-generating concession called "Smoke 'n' Mirrors R Us."

North Carolina is spiraling down just like Kansas, and you know what's happening right now in Kansas, right?

Foxx in Prime Time, Ready or Not

It's always a proud day for the 5th District of North Carolina when our Congresswoman makes The Daily Show, as she did last night. In the clip below, she's first shown glowering behind Congresswoman Candice Miller at 2:30, waiting her turn to speak. Then, at 3:08, The Madam speaks, with commentary following by Jon Stewart.