Friday, July 23, 2021

Did Bill Rabon Smoke Dope?

 

Bill Rabon


Bill Rabon, the powerful chair of the NC Senate Rules Committee, dodged the direct question of whether he himself had smoked marijuana during a grueling bout with chemotherapy to treat colon cancer. But that experience in 1999, well before he was elected to the Senate in the 2010 Tea Party uprising, fueled his determination to make medical cannabis legal in North Carolina (Senate bill 711), which now looks likely to pass because of Rabon's sponsorship. He's among the most conservative of Republicans, and he's bringing many of his conservative brethren in the NC General Assembly over to his side.

SB 711 would make North Carolina one of the last states to legalize medical cannabis. California was the first (naturally), but don't think for a minute that North Carolina will be unleashed by Rabon's bill from Victorian abstemiousness. Rabon and the other Republicans supporting the bill emphasize that it will be the most restrictive in the country. The list of "debilitating medical conditions" eligible for treatment with cannabis remains narrow and highly prescriptive. "Chronic pain" doesn't qualify. If you're claiming PTSD, you better have proof of military service in a combat zone. There'll be a higher-than-normal sales tax for consumers. Rabon's bill proposes charging dispensaries $50,000 to get a license, plus another $10,000 a year to keep it, with extra fees if they open multiple locations.

General Assembly Republicans want it clear that no one is going to have fun because of SB 711. The promotion of happiness would be very "off-brand" for North Carolina's Republican legislative majority.

The NC Senate Finance Committee passed the bill on Wednesday after hearing some testimony from the public. One gentleman said "he would qualify for medical marijuana if this bill passes, due to a tumor. But he questioned why there needs to be a higher-than-normal sales tax on marijuana, plus extra costs imposed on growing equipment, plus fees on dispensaries. 'The patient will pay that,' [he] told lawmakers, later adding: 'I’m going to go to the black market if you put a 10%, 18% tax on it.' ”

Will Doran reported, "Democrats in both chambers support the bill, although some say it shouldn’t be as strict as the Republicans backing it want. Some Democratic lawmakers have argued for full legalization, as Virginia just did in addition to another handful of states, while others haven’t pushed for full legalization but have asked — so far in vain — for the list of medical ailments to be expanded to include things like chronic pain or migraines."

"No" was the Republican answer.


Thursday, July 22, 2021

Hourly Workers -- The Short End of the Stick

 

Cross-Posting by Blair Reeves, Executive Director, Carolina Forward


When we were discussing what topic to tackle for Carolina Forward’s first big policy paper project, we kicked around a lot of ideas. After all, our state hardly suffers for want of big, pressing public policy challenges. We wanted to study and address something relevant - a deep, fundamental issue that touched lives all across North Carolina. Since big issues like gerrymandering and Medicaid expansion have already been studied half to death, my co-author Alexander Jones and I decided on something new: North Carolina’s hourly workers.


Nearly half of North Carolina’s total workforce is employed on an hourly basis. They work the jobs, mostly very low-paid, that make our society run. During the COVID pandemic, the critical role of these workers was made so plain that people began calling them “heroes.” Often at very real risk to their personal health, these women and men (though mostly women, who are a consistent majority of hourly workers) kept working, primarily because they couldn’t afford not to. A few of them received bonuses and extra protections, but most didn’t. Republican state leaders flatly refused to help, and as a result, hundreds of hourly workers died unnecessarily of COVID.


In Our Daily Bread - The Hourly Workers Package, we took a broad view to answer a couple of fundamental questions: who are North Carolina’s hourly workers? What do they struggle with? And most of all, what specific, practical measures can our state leaders take to help? We distilled our recommendations into six key areas:


  1. Raise the minimum wage

  2. End wage theft

  3. Guarantee fair scheduling and paid leave

  4. Fix unemployment insurance

  5. Guarantee worker mobility

  6. Strengthen worker power through unionization


There is one important element to this question that we didn’t get to address in the paper, but which remains salient: the role of labor market competition in self-correcting what ails the hourly workforce.


There is a romantic, if not precious, notion that all labor market transactions can be neatly encapsulated as a specific exchange of value between employer and employee. This theory says that the employer offers a wage for an employee’s services, and s/he is welcome to accept it or not. The labor pool’s collective decision-making shapes the market-clearing wage, and that is that.


In the economics literature, this is called “perfect competition,” and it is a standard assumptive model. It assumes things like perfect knowledge -- that I know what wages all my coworkers make, as well as what wages are available across town -- and worker mobility -- the ability to pick up and go elsewhere if I don’t like the deal I’m offered. It also assumes that workers do not need a job any more than employers need a worker. This is not, of course, how the real world works, but it makes theoretical models much cleaner and easier to explain, which is why it’s the basis for pretty much every Economics 101 class.


Unfortunately, that is where most politicians’ understanding -- let alone interest -- in economics stops. (Actually, it would probably be a big improvement if all of our leaders were required to take even Economics 101.) 


Here in the real world, what we are seeing right now in the “labor shortage” discourse is a staunch refusal by employers to freely negotiate wages. Indeed, many employers in industries with a heavy share of hourly workers feel strongly entitled to cheap labor, going so far as to insist that a $300 unemployment insurance benefit - or about forty bucks a day - is a powerful factor in preventing them from finding workers. Such is the power of the big business lobby in our Republican legislature that compliant politicians rushed to pass a bill ending the supplemental benefit, which was later wisely vetoed by Governor Cooper.


Yet businesses in highly price-sensitive industries like restaurants do have some legitimate concerns: namely that in famously low-margin businesses, increased labor costs must be passed on to the consumer, with potential implications for competition. This is doubtlessly sometimes true, though in other cases, such as Chipotle’s much-publicized price increases, are fig leaf excuses for planned increases. In these cases, setting a common wage floor with a reasonable minimum wage is a highly effective way to remove uncertainty and downward wage pressure due to competition. If all competitors must pay $15 an hour for labor, then there’s no incentive to undercut the competition by reducing wages. It’s a win-win for employers and employees alike.


Like most North Carolinians, we consider ourselves to be business-friendly. A healthy and thriving business environment is a very good and important thing. Yet we cannot define prosperity simply by measuring the profit margin and stock price of our biggest corporations, nor the incomes of our most affluent neighbors. A healthy business environment is one that serves the needs of our entire community - employers and employees. A business climate that privileges the profit margins of big, out-of-state corporations over the legitimate needs of North Carolinians is not one worthy of our support.

We hope you’ll enjoy Our Daily Bread - The Hourly Workers Package, and let us know what you think.


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Oh, Optimism, You Had Me at 'Some of My Liberal Friends'

 

The ever readable and eclectic David Dalton, who publishes a blog out of Surry County, Into the Woods, posted weeks ago a sort of roadmap for Trump's Republican Party, "How to keep on losing." I just discovered it this morning. Dalton doesn't write about politics all the time, or even that frequently -- though he was for a time the chair of the Surry County Democrats -- but when he does, I pay attention (belated sometimes) because he's logical, fact-based, and crystal clear.

It's almost like he had me in mind -- looking out for my mental health -- when he wrote this paragraph:

Some of my liberal friends seem to be even more afraid of Trump and Trumpism now than they were when Trump was in power. They seem to be concerned that I’ve had a Panglossian failure of my faculties because I don’t think that doom is inevitable. We always knew that Trump would smash as much furniture as possible on his way out. But Trump lost. He cost the Republican Party the White House and the Senate. The power of the state is no longer at Trump’s disposal. Trump can no longer use the power of government to (like Russia) harass the opposition and obstruct justice to cover up the crimes of the powerful. Neither Trump nor his style of politics has anywhere near the support it would take to return to power. The more noise they make, the more they lose.

Dalton ticks the facts that I have under-appreciated. I go to bed most nights with Rachel Maddow echoing despair in my brain. Dalton offers me a compilation of relief. I hope to Gawd that he's right.

Dalton's closing paragraph speculates that cult members can maybe be made to see themselves as in a mirror and thus back off their foam-flecked white rage. Naturally, I have my doubts:

Thinking about today’s politics always seems to bring me back around to the question of character. What kind of people would lie and cheat to win elections, push rage, like crack, to the point that people actually would invade the Capitol with violent intent, and poison the American democracy to keep the rich rich (and untaxed) and the people they hate down? That kind of people can’t be reformed or reasoned with. They can only be contained. My view is that, not only is their power now contained at the national level, the law and norms that contain them are closing in, in the form of justice. A cracked-up, fact-free, completely unprincipled minority cannot seize or hold power without committing crimes. Seeing their leaders in prison should do a lot toward showing the Trumpian hordes that they’d best go home and rethink their lives.

 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The New Witch Hunt

 

Lordy, I wanted to think at least one happy thought this Sunday, but then I started reading the newspapers.

Look at the way Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger salted the very ground over his sure knowledge that "critical race theory" has infected at least some of the school systems of North Carolina: “I oppose it, and I will combat it with everything that I have, because I believe the doctrine undoes the framework that produced the most successful ongoing experiment in self-government in the history of mankind.”

Good lord, man! Could you get a little more hysterical for the cameras? "In the history of mankind," a history which just incidentally takes for Phil Berger all its cues from white European cultures, starting with the Greeks and Romans. For Berger (bless his heart!), encouraging students to consider how assumptions about race have shaped our history is tantamount to destroying the very foundation of our civic project. The question hangs there, begging to be asked: Does the truth hurt that much?

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson


Most of Berger's most ardent admirers wouldn't know CRT from SMH. They think the thing -- the goddamn theory -- that has infested all of American culture is too much talk about race, too much whining about equality, and the accommodations for "diversity" where diversity isn't welcomed. Just read the complaints about North Carolina schools gathered up by bully-puppet Mark Robinson, who is our lieutenant governor and a leader of the witch hunt. Robinson, through the power of his elective office, established a hotline for citizens to anonymously call in whispers about nefarious theorizing going on in some of our public schools. The FACTS task force solicited complaints from “parents, teachers, and most importantly, students who are willing to stand up for North Carolina's future by exposing indoctrination in the classroom.” Oops. "Who brought this article from CNN into the 8th grade? Was it you, Teach?" Any discussion of history ain't welcome that isn't the empire version, where great men (white), with a vision from God Hisself, built a mighty nation full of good and true souls (white) devoted to the advancement of individual achievement.

School boards have been spooked all over the state to take steps to censor the teaching of anything destructive of our self-image as an "exceptional" country. Moore County school board and the Cabarrus County board both adopted prohibitions on talk about race that echo the language in a proposed state-wide ban on teaching CRT ... “to ensure dignity and nondiscrimination in schools.” Talking about race is undignified. Who knew?

The Union County school board is considering a policy proposed by board member Gary Sides, who, after a board meeting that featured angry parents yelling about something they truly didn't understand but knew they were against, commented: “As we’ve heard tonight and in previous meetings, we have not only a unique county, but in our state and our country, parents are concerned about bias creeping into their student’s curriculum." It's a big problem when historical fact itself is considered biased.

Wouldn't want to be a public school teacher at this time. How could I resist the urge to risk my job?

Friday, July 16, 2021

What's Clear Today: Washington Dems Are NOT Going to Force the Voting Rights Issue

 

...momentum on Capitol Hill has palpably shifted away from the voting rights push....

--Mike DeBonis, WashPost

Sen. Joe Manchin
"Folksy is as folksy does"


Yeah, we can tell. Voting rights, schmighter lights. That's yesterday's cause. Today what's exciting the Senate is the budget agreement, a whopping big budget negotiated by moderates and progressives, particularly senators Mark Warner (Virginia) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont). 

So while the Texas Democrats are being hailed as "brave, bold, and courageous" (Chuck Schumer), as "defenders of the Constitution" (Jeff Merkley),  and as "freedom fighters" (Amy Klobuchar), they're also being parked in Back Burner Plaza. Hope they like the view for the next long month because their mission hit its media peak days ago and nothing's changed. Meanwhile, praise of their Texas courage costs nothing, while action has become impossibly pricey for Democrats prone to panic.

The prime target of the Texans' attention, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, apparently presented a stone wall, although he visited amicably with the Texans (folksy is as folksy does). But he's not budging, at least not without presidential pressure, which ain't coming, or the calling of the question on the Senate floor. Forced to vote, what's the fallout for him? And for us?

Bottomline: President Joe Biden himself -- ex-Senator Joe Biden -- favors not the suppression of the filibuster. I had not wanted to believe it, but isn't it clear by now? He's a traditionalist, sentimental about the unique and arcane traditions of the Senate, and he clearly has no stomach for squelching one of those traditions.

Barring Biden's pressure on Manchin, Chuck Schumer could announce that there'll be no August recess at all until there's a vote on limiting the filibuster, carving out a ban on the Rule of 60 when a Constitutional right also hangs in the balance. But Schumer has seemed frozen -- not a good look. Has Manchin threatened to re-register as Republican if the Democrats get too frisky?

Meanwhile, the president came to Capitol Hill for lunch with the Senate Democratic Caucus two days ago, a meeting reported as upbeat and congratulatory because it was devoted "to the massive multi-trillion-dollar climate and safety-net plan, not to breaking a voting rights stalemate months in the making."

Voting rights? All but abandoned, on their way to being forgotten.

If the citizens whom the Senate thinks will benefit most from that big budget cannot get access to a ballot, cannot participate in the functioning of democracy, then all the spending in the world won't save us from the return of Trump.


Thursday, July 15, 2021

The New Republican Mantra: All Elections Are Frauds


NC House member Keith Kidwell,
getting close to power last year


In January of this year the Trumpiest Trumpsters in the North Carolina House formed their own "Freedom Caucus" to push the wing-nuttiest theories and infect the legislative bloodstream with airborne conspiracy theories. This bunch elected freshman House member Keith Kidwell, representing Beaufort and Craven counties, as its leader, and Kidwell promptly began infecting the place with the most popular of Trumpian viruses, that voting fraud must be happening in North Carolina.

Kidwell wrote the State Board of Elections (SBOE) demanding to open up voting machines to see if he could find any modems that could connect to the internet and thus allow Nancy Pelosi to change votes. Never mind that modems in voting machines are expressly banned by North Carolina law. 

Kidwell, however, said in an interview Wednesday that he is confident there was at least some fraud in the 2020 elections. He just wants to find out how much, he said, and who is behind it.

On Facebook, his group has suggested that it may actually be state or local elections officials who are committing fraud, with posts like this one on July 2: “The House Freedom Caucus is now focused on BOE officials and the specific precincts themselves. We absolutely think tampering happens in North Carolina.” [Will Doran reporting for the News and Observer]

Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the SBOE, shut that shit down, accusing Kidwell of spreading misinformation (which he is):

“The State Board has received no credible evidence that the certified results are not accurate, and elected officials from both sides of the aisle have stated that the 2020 general election in North Carolina was conducted fairly,” Brinson Bell wrote to Kidwell last week. “We will not allow misinformation about voting systems or any other aspect of elections to dictate our priorities in administering elections.”

So now Kidwell will claim there's a coverup at the SBOE -- "They're hiding something!" -- and gullible idiots will believe him, and the Republican project of dismantling democracy will continue apace, even in a state that Trump won and where Republicans improved their majorities in the NC House and Senate and reelected Thom Tillis to the US Senate.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

What President Biden Left Out of His Speech Yesterday

 

It was a good speech on voting rights. It was a forceful speech, impassioned even. It called for action. But it was not action. It was a speech.

With the Senate filibuster in place, Democrats have no chance to take action to pass voting rights protections, and the filibuster did not get a mention in President Biden's speech. There is no path to protecting the voting rights of all the people that wouldn't require an end to the filibuster.

Congressman Jim Clyburn


Days before Biden's speech, Congressman Jim Clyburn was lobbying the White House about pushing a "filibuster carve-out," to end the filibuster on issues of constitutional rights like access to the ballot. "Biden could 'pick up the phone and tell [Sen.] Joe Manchin, "Hey, we should do a carve out." ' Clyburn said, referring to the centrist West Virginia Democrat who has resisted filibuster reform. 'I don't care whether he does it in a microphone or on the telephone — just do it.' ”

That from the man who is generally credited with making Joe Biden president by endorsing him in the South Carolina primary early in 2020.

If the For the People Act and the reauthorization of the 1965 Voting Rights Act don't pass the Senate now, Clyburn said, “Democrats can kiss the majority goodbye.” “I can see in a state like Georgia — where people stepped up in January in a way nobody thought they ever would — I can see the disappointment in the voters to the extent that [Sen. Rafael] Warnock would not be back,” he added.

Biden's weak on the filibuster issue, apparently still believing in his ability to convince some Republican senators and, barring that, that a few million $$ can educate voters to overcome Republican roadblocks to voting: "In response to Clyburn’s comments, a White House official noted Biden’s respect and admiration for the congressman and the president’s support for a talking filibuster, which requires a senator or group of senators to physically be on the floor to stall a bill. But Biden has dodged questions about whether he believes filibustered legislation should no longer have to meet a 60-vote threshold to pass."

Existential is a word much overused at the moment, so how about we just admit that this is a life-or-death moment for the Republic?


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

More Democrats Like Texas Democrats!

 

Instead of more talk, including a presidential speech, we need elected Democrats to take action to protect the right to vote, like members of the Texas House did last night in chartering two planes and flying to the nation's Capitol to lobby US senators to pass the For the People Act. Without the 50-plus Democratic lawmakers, Texas Republicans are denied a quorum to pass their new voting restrictions. The special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott is set to end on August 7th. The Texas Democrats vow to stay away from the state until after August 7th.

"We are living on borrowed time in Texas,” top House Democrats said in a statement. “We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans — and all Americans — from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”

The massive Texas bill "includes a number of restrictions championed by former president Donald Trump. The measures would ban several election programs implemented last year to help people vote during the coronavirus pandemic, including drive-through voting and 24-hour and late-night voting. Voting rights advocates noted that voters of color disproportionately used these programs."

A war on democracy? Yeah, with no prisoners. Why aren't US Senate Democrats on a war-footing rather than eternally whistling through the graveyard -- "Someone-- someone might get mad if we did that. Or that. Or for that matter that." Someone might get mad. You bet, but you're looking the wrong direction.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a leader of the absconded, pointed out that it's "an enormous sacrifice for many of the Texas Democrats," some of them with health problems, some single parents of young children, some of them in fear of losing their regular jobs. Not to mention the enormous expense of two chartered private jets and weeks of DeeCee guest services. Yikes.

Schumer, putative leader of the Democrats in the US Senate where all the bucks are piling up, said that he might have to cancel some of the August recess -- some of it, not all of it God knows and relax, you senators accustomed to your comforts! The canceling of the goddamn August recess ticks high on the list of demands from the Texas visitors. Why aren't the senators working through August to protect and expand the promise of democracy?

If Republicans are able to suppress the vote, nothing else in the political world, or in the real world, will count for a fart. Without our right to fight back at the ballot, all will be lost to an authoritarian regime with a cult leader.

I acknowledge the Texas reality, as described by the Texas Tribune: "Even if Democratic lawmakers stay out of state for the next few weeks, the governor could continue to call 30-day sessions or add voting restrictions to the agenda when the Legislature takes on the redrawing of the state’s political maps later this summer." 

So facing sure and ultimate defeat, why shouldn't the Texas Democratic minority shoot the moon, grab the attention of a floundering Democratic Senate majority that could still redeem itself by forcing the issue on Manchin and Sinema. There's got to be a showdown some time somehow. Maybe the Texas Democrats can be its predicate.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

President Biden: A Speech on Voting Rights Ain't Gonna Cut It

 

Watauga County Board of Elections meeting, 
2013, immediately after a Republican majority
took over following the election of
Pat McCrory.
BOE observers are standing. The Board adjourned
to a much larger room to accommodate the crowd.


The White House announced it, that President Joe Biden will be delivering "a major speech" on voting rights on Tuesday in Philadelphia, the cradle of the Constitution. I'm reminded that President Obama delivered major speeches -- often soaring masterpieces of rhetoric -- when he was otherwise dead in the water because of Mitch McConnell. Have Democratic presidents in the Age of McConnell learned nothing? Where is Schumer?

I know ... Joe Manchin and the goddamn filibuster, an unmovable object blocking the way, but Senate Democrats have got to do something, even if it's wrong (worrying they'll do something "wrong" is the everlasting terror of Democrats, but please!). Make Manchin vote in public, make him say why deep-sixing "rule by the minority" is against his religion. Force the issue on him, along with the spotlight -- his role in the greatest shrinking of the right to vote since the Civil War. Make him vote. Make him vote every week, every month, every day if necessary and keep him on the griddle. Then make the Republicans stage an actual stand-up-and-talk-the-thing-to-death filibuster. Let them explain along the way about why it's a good thing to squeeze people out of participating in their government.

The National Democratic Party -- bless its heart! -- has essentially conceded that nothing is going to happen in Congress to pass the For the People Act. Biden's given up, and he designated Vice President Kamala Harris to deliver the concession, that voting rights ain't gonna be nationalized and there'll be no salvation from state-by-state voting restrictions meant to keep Republicans in power in perpetuity. Kamala Harris was announcing a $25 million "‘I Will Vote’ initiative to address and overcome efforts across the country to make voting more difficult and burdensome." The money will go to voter education, voter protection, targeted voter registration, and technology. In other words, the strategy of the national Democrats has become "grit your teeth and learn to live with it."

$25 million. Okay, that's not nothing, but it also screams capitulation. I've always expected more from Democrats, and I've always gotten less.