Sunday, January 16, 2022

Second Chances


Jesse Jones, a composite inmate based on multiple case profiles, was released from a North Carolina jail in 2018. Charged with a non-violent drug crime, and with little means for proper legal defense, he took the advice for a plea bargain from his assigned, overworked public defender. After serving a 9-month sentence, he prepared for his reentry into society. He left the jail with no financial means, lacking even a form of transportation. No one picked him up. The kinds of support structures most have, Jesse has always lacked.

Jesse is one of the millions of people diagnosed with a mental illness, which has made holding a traditional job difficult, especially when he cannot afford treatment, a frequent reality for Jesse. His working-class background made him resilient and able to improvise to survive. He got prison because he lacked money and is out of prison without money.

Formerly incarcerated people, like Jesse, re-enter a society invested in their past. Background checks, even to rent an apartment, often filter them out. Finding steady employment is equally daunting, forcing them into further desperation. They’re caught in a catch-22. There are always boxes to be checked on job and apartment applications, prohibitions on voting, restrictions on travel. Is it any wonder that, according to the North Carolina Justice Center, our state has a 40% recidivism rate? 

The branding of people as felons for the rest of their lives proves the system has little pretense for true and fair reentry. If the entire point of incarceration is rehabilitation, why label someone with a permanent stigma? Once branded “felon,” our Jesse and many more like him face the prejudice – or at least the skepticism – of potential employers and landlords alike. In 2019, of the 212,048 felony charges statewide, only 14.2% were for violent crimes; 85.8% were for nonviolent offenses. But all are lumped together as “felons.”

The failures of our justice system are a frequent point of political discourse. Wouldn’t most people, regardless of a political party, agree that the justice system as it stands is broken? Everyone is comfortable with yakking about policy but fails to truly grasp the individual lives in ruins. Policies like minimal sentencing, targeting of poor or marginalized neighborhoods, and for-profit prisons have to change, no doubt, but we also have to acknowledge we’re failing people like Jesse Jones in the process. People’s lives aren’t policies passed 30 years ago.

Simply put, people deserve second chances. Systems designed to keep people down only increase the chance of another incarceration. As a response to these inequities, folks in the High Country have founded the High Country Reentry Collaborative. The Collaborative has some ambitious goals: The creation and production of video testimonials, showing the faces and personal experiences of individuals impacted by incarceration; help with job placement in a rehabilitation-friendly place of employment; and the cataloging of the resources available to those in our community.

If you’re looking to support the fledgling Collaborative, you can email (highcountryreentry@gmail.com) to find ways to support or get involved!


Jon-Dalton George is a member of the Boone Town Council.

Friday, January 14, 2022

NC Oath Keepers Implicated in Federal Indictment for Seditious Conspiracy

 

Just spent a couple of hours studying the Federal indictment for seditious conspiracy against 11 members of the Oath Keepers (full indictment text here. It's 48 pages of riveting details -- the intensive and comprehensive planning, the weapons, the belief in an evil shadow cabal that's trying to steal the presidency).

Kept finding North Carolina mentioned: A combat training exercise organized by the Oath Keepers, a "North Carolina QRF Team" (Quick Response Force), the hunt for a boat for a potential amphibious assault across the Potomac River (not making that up) ... it's all detailed below, taken directly from the indictment.

Here's the thing: No North Carolina member of Oath Keepers is ever mentioned by name. In fact, the indictment goes out of its way to keep individuals unidentified. They're not targets of this indictment.

Why not? The indictment makes clear that a group of North Carolina Oath Keepers formed a QRF team and actually occupied a room at a Comfort Inn in the Northern Virginia suburbs, with a room full of heavy weapons, on stand-by for a full-on shit show at the Capitol. But they did not go to the Capitol that day. They went home instead. But before that... Being on military stand-by for possible violence at the Capitol seems remotely conspiratorial to me (and grandly comic, when you think about it).

NC Oath Keepers have evaded conspiracy charges. Or maybe other indictments are coming.

[NOTE: Names in ALL CAPS are codefendants in the Federal indictment. For the complete list of names, and their bases of operation, see this DOJ doc. QRF stands for Quick Response Force. Numbers reference paragraphs in the indictment]


Acts in Furtherance of the Conspiracy


24 On December 12, 2020, the North Carolina chapter of the Oath Keepers held a training session that, according to the leader of the chapter, would be focused on: ‘vehicle operations, road blocks, vehicle recovery, convoy operations, .. . setting up hasty ambushes, and reacting to ambushes, but the first thing we are going to do is fall into formation when we assemble.... TDS ‘planned to, but did not, attend that training.

45. In late December, CALDWELL identified the Comfort Inn Ballston, in Arlington, Virginia, as the location that the QRF would use as its base of operations for January 6, 2021. CALDWELL shared the location of the hotel with WATKINS and the QRF team leader for the Carolina Oath Keepers group that traveled to Washington, D.C., for January 6, 2021. The North Carolina QRF team leader reserved three rooms and paid for one of the rooms; MEGGS paid for the other two rooms. One room was occupied by the North Carolina QRF team; the second room was occupied by the Arizona QRF team, including VALLEJO; the third room was occupied by the Florida QRF team. These QRF teams used the rooms to store and guard the firearms that they ‘and other co-conspirators contributed to the QRF.

51. On January 2, 2021, CALDWELL received a message from the North Carolina QRF team leader, stating “FLA. 2 men back, 12 to 15 going in DC.”

52. On the evening of January 2, 2021, MEGGS posted a map of Washington, D.C. in the Leadership Signal Chat, along with the message, “1 if by land, North side of Lincoln Memorial, 2 if by Sea, Corner of West Basin and Ohio is a water transport landing!!” MEGGS continued, “QRF rally points. Water if the bridges get closed.” In response, the North Carolina QRF team leader wrote, “My sources DC working on procuring Boat transportation as we speak.”

60 On January 4, 2021, CALDWELL sent an email to the North Carolina QRF team leader with the subject line, “NEW MAPS RELATIVE TO HOTEL AND INGRESS FOR QRF,” and attached several maps as image files.

65. On January 5, 2021, as MEGGS  and co-conspirators were unloading their weapons, he messaged RHODES, “Yes we are just outside of town unloading at QRF on our way in. Left [the North Carolina Oath Keepers leader's place] at 4:30 am[.]"


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Sheri Everts Accused of COVID Mismanagement

 

I've been hearing for literally weeks about AppState faculty's beef with Chancellor Sheri Everts about her lax policies regarding COVID, especially considering the current spike in Omicron which has coincided with the opening of the spring semester and in-person teaching. The faculty I hear from -- and see mentioned now in the press -- allege that Everts is unresponsive to faculty questions and complaints and -- worse -- simply absent from any collegial conversation about the best plague decisions. Faculty say Everts now goes into an automatic "defensive crouch" when challenged about anything -- which is just another form of hiding out.

What does the majority of faculty want? A recent faculty survey found that some 63.5% of the 441 faculty respondents said the university’s current COVID protocols will not allow the university “to continue to function normally, in a manner that permits them to provide a high-quality education to all of our students, without disruption, for the full spring semester” [reporter Joe Killian]. And...

Nearly 63% said they think it is either likely or very likely they will have to move their courses entirely online in the next few weeks due to COVID infections.

Overwhelming majorities also supported allowing faculty members to control the mode of instruction in their classes, requiring proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test for admission to all on-campus events and requiring all students, regardless of vaccination status, to undergo testing prior to the start of the semester.

The majority of respondents — 76% — said they would be willing to hold courses online for the first few weeks of the semester, until the current omicron-driven surge of infections peaks.

...so far the university’s administration hasn’t been willing to take any of the suggested steps.

AppState's protocol for COVID
accused of being mainly PR



Everts' fear of her own faculty -- or her ingrained disdain for them -- possibly goes back a couple of years (some would say farther than that):

Tensions between Everts and students and faculty at App State have been escalating since August 2020. At the time, the university’s Faculty Senate voted “no confidence” with regard to Evert’s leadership, over the campus’s handling of COVID-19. A no confidence vote is rare in UNC System history. [Joe Killian]

Killian also reports on an open letter that a prof of sustainable development (who also happens to be a former health economist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sent to all students, alleging that the university is “failing to provide the leadership, guidance and support that students, faculty and the broader community needs”; followed by a mass email response to students from Everts' office alleging that the prof was peddling "misinformation"; which provoked followup questions to Everts' office from the press and from faculty demanding "what misinformation?"; and then finally an attempt at explanation from Everts' flack sent to reporter Killian that does not pass the smell-test among faculty.

Stella Anderson, a professor of management, said that Everts' administration is the worst case of mismanagement she's seen in her 29 years at the university. “It’s an unmitigated disaster,” Anderson said. “The administration and leadership failures and bone-headed communication is really astounding .... I’ve been at the table for a lot. I know good management and leadership and I know when I’m not seeing it.”

The chair of the AppState faculty senate offered the best explanation for Everts' intransigence: political shit ineluctably rolls downhill:

“The era we’re living in now in North Carolina higher education history is truly a hegemony,” Dr. Louis Gallien said. “You have a majority of Republican legislators who appoint the Board of Governors. The Board of Governors in turn appoint the Boards of Trustees. The Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors choose the chancellor. So you have a hegemonic philosophy of leadership and management those groups have. And it is not totally in sync with traditional shared governance principles.”

Sheri Everts is not about to buck the real bosses.

Hegemony, incidentally -- the word -- is just a fancy academic way to say "the power derived from the inability of any group to think and act independently."


The 'Tough Shit' Ruling in the NC Gerrymandering Trial

 

I did not want to get out of bed this morning because I knew what was ahead of me. I refrained from posting anything late yesterday about the 3-judge ruling in the gerrymandering trial -- they sided with the defendants, the Republicans in the General Assembly -- because I wanted to read the opinion of the court. It's 260 pages long. I groaned at the thought of slogging this morning through that appalling hoard of sapience.

But then I discovered that Jeffrey Billman had read it for me. The three-judge panel — "two Republicans, one conservative Democrat, all white, and all selected by Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby" — amazingly, agreed with the Democratic plaintiffs' facts and figures which proved that the Republican gerrymander was an extreme example of partisan power-grabbing:

The new US Congressional district map "is the product of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting."

Based upon mathematical analysis provided by the plaintiffs, the State House and Senate plans are extreme outliers that "systematically favor the Republican Party to an extent which is rarely, if ever, seen in the non-partisan collection of maps.”

In other words, the judges agreed with and accepted the Democrats' expert witnesses and their characterizations of the new maps, citing example after example, Billman says, for over 100 pages.

But then (and nevertheless) ... dum dum DUM:

The judges spent the last third of its tome explaining in exhaustive — and often meandering — detail why, even though the plaintiffs had proven their case and were clearly right on the facts, they wouldn’t get in the way of the General Assembly’s Republicans selecting their own voters, even though “judges, just like many of the citizens they serve, do not always like the results they reach.”

Like John Roberts of the US Supremes, these judges essentially say there's nothing they can do about it. I pluck here just a couple of their pieces of rare logic for finding that Republican extreme partisan gerrymandering will go on with their blessing:

The General Assembly has never forbidden itself from drawing legislative districts that benefit its own members. 

In 2019, a three-judge panel found that the legislature’s maps were extreme gerrymanders under the state constitution, though the General Assembly never asked the state Supreme Court to review that decision. That ruling, this three-judge panel said, was “instructive and persuasive,” but not “binding.”

"Instructive and persuasive"? I am persuaded that these three judges are not immune to the human condition of occasionally (?) having their heads up their own asses.

“Despite our disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our State to ridicule," write the judges on their way to justifying the corruption of democratic principles, "this Court must remind itself that these maps are the result of a democratic process” -- meaning that because the Republicans who drew them were all elected to office, then their self-interested power-grabs are by definition within the sacred realm of the "democratic process."

There's much more detail and many interesting side-trails in Billman's account, and having wound up a considerable head of pissed-off steam in his analysis, Billman ends this way:

...if the best we can do is throw up our hands and say that the General Assembly has an absolute, unassailable right to gerrymander itself into power indefinitely, then this state’s democratic institutions are—pardon my language—well and truly fucked.

As is the whole nation if voting rights aren't also protected.

This really remarkable piece of judicial reasoning now goes directly to the Supreme Court on appeal. Immediately. It ain't over.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Did Mark Walker Just Tell Trump To Pound Sand?

 

Came across an "exclusive interview" that former Rep. Mark Walker gave Channel 11 in Greensboro, and it appears that Donald Trump's attempt to get him out of the US Senate Republican primary and into a Congressional race instead has failed.

It's all about Walker's faith. "I don't run one way or the other because of the odds or what's on paper," Walker said. "I do something because it's in my heart." (Was he right on the threshold of announcing that God called him to run for Senate?) "I'm all about compassion." But next breath: "We've got to make sure we lock that border down."

Anyway, about that "pressure" from DJT to drop out of the Senate race in favor of Ted Budd's candidacy. Walker admits that he was invited to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump by the Club for Growth, the super-PAC that has already pumped $5 million into promoting Budd.

During the meeting, Walker said Trump offered his endorsement to run for the U.S. House in exchange for leaving the Senate race to help Rep. Budd.

"I'm always grateful if someone wants to look at our body of work and say we want you back in the U.S. House," Walker explained. "I don't look at it as pressure. Are they wanting to encourage me to look at a U.S. House seat? Yes. But I don't feel pressure."

Walker is either obtuse about how Trump operates or he's deliberately one-upping the weasel while holding an unmelted pat of butter in his mouth. Indeed, Walker went on to criticize Trump in an oblique way, like any good Baptist pastor might:

As for the impact of Trump's endorsement [of Budd], Walker expressed some regret at the rhetoric from the former President -- and some North Carolina Republicans -- about whether the 2020 was "stolen" or "rigged," claims that have overwhelmingly been discredited and debunked by courts and even GOP-led commissions in several states.

"You can get out there, increase your social media following, say the most outlandish things .... Anybody in the political arena can make an argument. It's what makes the viewer feel good. It's what sells on your cable media. But show me the member of Congress, male or female, that's out there making a difference. A lot of times America doesn't know their names."

I'm impressed that he would be so forthright about the baleful influence on Trump on the prevailing mode in the Republican Party. 

His staying in the Senate race gives the advantage to Pat McCrory in the May primary, no?


Monday, January 10, 2022

Thom Tillis In Talks To Prevent Another Trump Coup

 

Sen. Thom Tillis was outed as being part of a bipartisan group of senators discussing changes to the 150-year-old Electoral Count Act, presumably to clarify procedures so that another Donald Trump can't lean on his vice president to throw out electoral votes.

Can't say I'd be opposed to such a reform, so good on Thom Tillis for learning at least one lesson from DJT.

But it comes out that the discussion was the bright idea by Republican senators to distract the Democrats from pressing for a voting rights law. "Here, take this little piece of anti-Trumpism, and then shut the hell up about keeping the right to vote easy, free, and fair!"

The bipartisan group of senators was convened by that champion of women's rights, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who's always eager to spoon pabulum. Her guardianship of women's rights got us Brett Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett, so we should quake with fear that she might turn her hands to voting rights.

The whole gambit appears really a means to entice Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Sinema away from doing anything foolish for voting rights -- like ending the filibuster to pass the law. Reforming the Electoral Count Act might give Manchin and Sinema some cover for otherwise letting democracy wither for lack of access to the ballot.

As a sure sign that this is all just a Republican feint to distract Manchin and Sinema, both Mitch McConnell and No. 2 Senate Republican John Thune told reporters they are open to changing the Electoral Count Act. Manchin and Sinema say they're only interested in legislation that has bipartisan support, so McConnell's dangle was a slick come-on.

As well as a slap-back at Trump.

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Pilot Mtn Woman Who Brought 14-Year-Old to Insurrection Gets Jail Time

 

Virginia Marie "Jenny" Spencer, 38, of Pilot Mountain was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years of probation for her part in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The US District Court judge said it was "very hard to comprehend" why Spencer and her husband Christopher brought their 14-year-old son with them. All three entered the Capitol on that day and were photographed invading Nancy Pelosi's office.

Christopher Spencer has pleaded not guilty and his case is still pending.

Friday, January 07, 2022

Alienation May End the Republic

 

Brant Clifton over at The Daily Haymaker, is sometimes my window on the North Carolina branch of the national conservative movement (national conservatism = "the intellectual version of Trumpism"). Clifton has never covered up, or even softened, his contempt for anything that smells of "establishment Republican." He's a constant goad for the leadership of the NCGOP. He has launched shitballs at Dallas Woodhouse, Thom Tillis, Renee Ellmers, Tim Moore (among many others). The complaint against the establishment always involves its apparent lack of courage, its frequent failure to scorch the earth, or its corrupt bargains with big corporations. 

Clifton just published (again, as it turns out) a call to action for his brand of politics: 

Are you frustrated with the current state of the NCGOP? Start organizing your like-minded friends to take over — or at least build a sizeable contingent within — your precinct and your county party organization. The county party organization makes the decisions about who goes to the state convention. That’s where the platform AND the party chairman are decided on. He who shows up, wins. That’s how it works.


That alienation from the Republican Party hierarchy mirrors a similar alienation among some Democrats. Many of us are at least sympathetic to an "alienated worldview" because we have our own grievances against long lists of people in power, people with too much money, people who've gotten an unearned advantage at the expense of others. That alienated worldview animated both Tump voters and "Bernie Bros," a sobering but widely ignored connection.

Setting aside Brant Clifton and his brand of conservatism, I understand the attractive pull of some of the basic assumptions underpinning economic populism (and the alienation that goes with it):

Culture War is class war.

"Conventional Wisdom" is the path to stagnation.

Big-time "globalization" -- international deals under the banner of "free trade" -- benefit corporations at the expense of workers.

Globalization moved manufacturing jobs to China (and elsewhere).

The deindustrialization of the US because of globalization destroyed working-class families. 

I can recognize how much of their alienation I might have shared with many who stormed the Capitol on January 6th a year ago. Minus the fundamentally illiberal impulse to fall in behind a selfish and cruel "strong man" who has promised to right all wrongs if only he can be given all the power.


Thursday, January 06, 2022

Confirmed: What We Already Suspected


Reporting: Will Doran, for the News and Observer

RALEIGH A political trial that has mostly been dominated by math and academic research erupted in drama late Wednesday, when a top Republican redistricting leader said on the witness stand that he had used secret maps, drawn by someone else, to guide his work. 

Rep. Destin Hall, testifying in the gerrymandering
trial yesterday in Raleigh.
Photo by Travis Long, N&O


That statement, made under oath, appears to directly contradict what he told Democratic lawmakers at the legislature in November, shortly before the Republican-led legislature passed those maps into law over Democrats’ objections. 

A Durham Democrat and former judge, Rep. Marcia Morey, asked the GOP redistricting leader, Rep. Destin Hall, at the time if he had used any outside materials to help in drawing the maps. Hall said no....

But on Wednesday Hall, a Lenoir Republican who leads the House redistricting committee, said that he would sometimes refer to “concept maps” that his top aide, Dylan Reel, had brought to him. 

Sometimes Reel would bring the maps up on his phone for Hall to look at while drawing the official version of the map, Hall said in a deposition just before the trial, details of which came out during his testimony Wednesday. Other times they would meet in a back room, to discuss the maps away from the public mapmaking terminals which were livestreaming video and audio. 

So the liberal challengers in the lawsuit asked if they could see those concept maps — to analyze them, potentially for signs that they used a process that violated the rules the legislature was supposed to be following. 

But the legislature says those maps no longer exist.

The challengers accused lawmakers of withholding evidence, and suggested they knew it was going to be destroyed and didn’t try to stop it....


Secret fucking maps.