Monday, February 28, 2011

The Crisis for Watauga County Schools

Some of the starkest facts laid out for the County Commission at last weekend’s pre-budget retreat were the projected job losses for Watauga County Schools.

The county’s school system faces total projected reductions in state and federal funding – exclusive of any local cuts – of almost $4 million (which includes the loss of over $1 million in federal “stimulus” money). If local county government funding were to hold even with last year – a frail hope – then the local schools would have to fire 33 teachers, 28 teaching assistants, and 12½ administrative, clerical, and other staff positions.

That bloodbath is IF county funding were to stay at 2010-2011 levels. If not, things will be even worse.

Currently, NC Senator Dan Soucek and NC Rep. Jonathan Jordan are part of the Republican majority in the General Assembly busily chipping away at public education. Their Senate Bill 8 (lifting the cap on Charter schools) and House Bill 41 (vouchers for private schools) will be particularly pernicious. Senate Bill 8 alone will cost our public schools some $667,000 just in reimbursements from the federal government for school lunches. Those reimbursements under SB8 will have to be shared with Charter schools, even though Charter schools do not offer meals.

The message to Sen. Soucek and Rep. Jordan: Watauga County Schools are coming up on the third year of budget reductions (federal, state, and local), and we do not need to compound our problems with the hidden bombs lodged inside SB8 and HB41.

School Superintendent Marty Hemric shared the letters he had written Soucek and Jordan after the local School Board voted unanimously to oppose SB8 and HB41. The “money” quote:
“If public education continues to be reduced consistent with the past two years, Watauga County Schools stand to lose approximately 69.5 positions. We encourage you to find ways to fund public education first to avoid the projected 10% reduction in state funding plus an additional 4% discretionary reduction. We have a strong local commitment to education but the severe forecast we’re hearing from state budget projections (not to mention the financial losses if HB41 & SB8 are successful) will compromise the quality of education in Watauga County and threaten to un-employ 33 teachers, 28 teaching assistants, and 12.5 administrative/clerical positions.”

It’s demonstrably doubtful that Soucek and Jordan are listening to anyone other than their partisan masters.

Locally, without new revenue (property tax increase?), the local County Commission can only contribute more fuel to burning down the schoolhouse.

No Decision on Watauga County Farmer's Market

At the County Commissioners' "pre-budget retreat" on Saturday, the subject of leasing the parking lot at the Social Services Building on W. King Street came up again ... somewhat contentiously.

Commissioner Jim Deal wants to do everything possible to keep the market viable and intact, so he said he was in favor of leasing the parking lot on Saturdays during the summer to the Watauga County Farmers Market for $1, with the market paying for county costs like an attendant, clean-up, etc.

Commission Chair Nathan Miller said he thought $7,500 rent was reasonable. We can't just let the market use a county asset for free, when we could be using that asset to raise money, Miller said.

Deal: But who else is wanting to use that space? And you're not looking clearly enough at the benefit the market is to our county. We have big budget issues, but $7,500 isn't doing to make a dent in that, and killing the market will affect many people negatively.

Commissioner Vince Gable said that he'd agree to $5,000 in rent. He also said the market was for profit and that the county should not be facilitating a for-profit enterprise.

Deal said the Watauga County Farmers Market itself is non-profit, though individual vendors are making money. But no one's getting rich, and it's a service to thousands of people, Deal added.

Commissioner Futrelle said, "It would be a travesty if our actions caused the break-up of the market."

The commissioners were very aware that a new board of directors will be voted in at the Farmers Market in March, and in the end they suspended their argument, agreeing to wait until there is a new market board to negotiate with.

Clearly, there will be no unanimity going forward on (a) the value of the market to the citizens and (b) whether county government should nurture it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Better Fasten Your Seat Belts, Watauga County

County Commissioners’ "Pre-Budget Retreat," 2011

Near the very end of the grueling two-day, 12-hour marathon of reviewing county “budgetary challenges,” staged exclusively for the education of our elected County Commission, county manager Rocky Nelson announced that he would be retiring at the end of his current contract. He promised that he would complete the budget for FY 2012 but said it will be the most painful of the 11 county budgets he’s prepared since taking the job.

He wasn’t kidding (and he deserves some sort of local Purple Heart commendation for shouldering one of the most difficult, and thankless, jobs in local government).

Mr. Nelson starkly summed up the choices for current County Commissioners, based on projections that county sales tax revenues “are projected to remain flat.” Watauga County will be short on revenue anywhere from $2.5 million to $4 million (with the higher figure more likely), depending on how many unfunded mandates the NC General Assembly pushes down onto county governments. The four choices Mr. Nelson offered the commissioners:
1. Raise property taxes. Watauga County is currently ranked 6th lowest in tax rate of the 100 NC counties.

2. Call for a public referendum for a quarter-cent sales tax hike.

3. Raid the county’s fund balance (“rainy day,” emergency, and daily cash-flow operations fund), which could put the county in long-range jeopardy and out of compliance with mandates from the state.

4. Cut muscle (and bone) in county services (including appropriations to public schools, since education accounts for over 40% of the budget) ... which will mean firings of many employees (including, naturally, teachers and other school personnel).

The Republican majority made it very clear that option # 1 is off the table. Surprisingly, option # 2 is definitely on the table with the Republican majority, as is option # 3. The county’s fund balance is healthy, due to astute budgeting for the past three years, but it’s a sitting duck, there for the taking (and several commissioners are clearly prepared to take it, despite warnings not to).

Commissioner Gable said he was in favor of a land transfer tax in the county, evidently unaware that since that mechanism (voter referenda) was put in place in NC, every county that attempted to institute a land transfer tax was beaten at the polls, following strong negative campaigns mounted by the real estate industry. Plus the Republican majority in the General Assembly has already announced that they intend to repeal the law that allows counties to even try for the tax.

Quarter-Cent Sales Tax Hike
The biggest problem with a quarter-cent hike to local sales taxes would likely be the timing of a public referendum, since the county’s 2012 budget must be completed by July 1, and there’s a set time mandated by state law between the calling for a tax referendum and the actual scheduling of a vote (60 days? 90 days?).

Not to mention the political hand-stand the Republican commissioners will be performing locally: after campaigning against the quarter-cent sales tax hike last year, they’ll be in a vulnerable position calling for the same thing this year – despite any reasonable explanation about how the money will be used.

Vice Chair David Blust, citing himself as a model of personal budget-cutting, said he was in favor of raiding the fund balance and cutting muscle & bone, which will mean, practically, the firing of many people, including many teachers, teacher assistants, and other school workers.

Former chair Jim Deal said his top priority was still education and that jobs and economic development ranked number 2. Many interesting and even exciting economic development initiatives were presented during the two-day retreat, including the positive revenue stream now beginning to flow into county coffers from “green energy” at the county’s landfill (“energy park"), the development of Watauga County into a premier outdoor-activity destination in the East, the need for water/sewer infrastructure on the Doc & Merle Watson Scenic Byway, etc. All of these initiatives seem prime now for debilitating neglect.

Commission Chair Nathan Miller seemed ready to scapegoat the new Watauga High School as the cause for all the county’s budget problems. He wants cuts to services and inevitably to jobs. Miller and the other Republicans have an eye on the “outside” funding to agencies and non-profits that supply everything from daycare for working families to unwanted and abandoned pet rescue (and many, many other public services).

Commissioner Tim Futrelle wondered out loud how putting people out of work was going to help the local economy. Commissioner Deal said that cutting funding to outside agencies was just another way of cutting services, and the Commission needed to be honest about that. “We’ve been doing budget cuts for the last three years, and we don’t need to be asking Rocky Nelson to make further cuts without being honest that we’re talking about firing people.”

Mr. Nelson pointed out that it’s been three years since county employees have had a raise. Do you want me to cut employees fringe benefits further? he asked.

Mr. Gable said he was against cutting employee benefits, and Mr. Deal added, “If we’re going to cut anybody’s pay, we have to cut ours first.”

Friday, February 25, 2011

People vs. Banks

An International Day of Protest -- Saturday, February 26

Two sites in North Carolina:

Bank of America, 421 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, NC 9:30 am - 1:30 pm

Bank of America, 8551 US Highway 29 North (corner of Wt Harris Blvd & Hwy 29 North), Charlotte, North Carolina

Epic Fail

"ASU: Cultural museum will not reopen."

The lasting legacy of the current administration.

What They're All About

AP headline this a.m.:
"Conservatives vow to make gay unions a top 2012 issue"

Because they haven't got a clue about improving the economy ... beyond giving all the money to the uber-rich and punishing public workers.

All the closet cases in the universe are pissed because the Obama administration said it thought the federal law denying recognition of gay married couples was unconstitutional. Which it is, because it singles out certain individuals for unequal treatment.

Notice the hilariously ironic thing that Jim Campbell of Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group, said: "The ripple effect nationwide will be to galvanize supporters of marriage."

I'm told that the photo above is a likeness of Mr. Campbell, who clearly doesn't recognize irony when it leaps from his own mouth. "Supporters of marriage," who have been galvanized for some time, include thousands of gay couples who would like to solemnize their vows of love and enjoy the benefits (and demerits, ahem) thereto adhering.

The AP article linked above offered quotes from anti-gay activists in several states, but no one appears to have talked to NC Sen. Dan Soucek, who is a chief sponsor in our own state's General Assembly of a law to single out gay people for unequal treatment.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday Yakety-Yak

1. On Monday, while a massed demonstration of labor, civil rights and religious groups rallied in front of the General Assembly in Raleigh in favor of collective bargaining for North Carolina's public employees, a counter-protest of Teahadists and conservatives attempted to shout them down. "Randy Dye of Pittsboro, one of the counterprotesters, said the network of tea party and other conservative groups heard about the rally only 24 hours earlier, and didn't have enough time to mount a larger presence. 'We wanted to face off with them,' he said." (Raleigh N&O)

2. In debate Wednesday on the NC Senate floor over Senate Bill 8 (lifting the cap on charter schools), its main sponsor, Sen. Jerry Tillman (Montgomery and Randolph counties), revealed the depth of his lack of feeling for poor kids. When Sen. Josh Stein (Wake) asked Tillman about the problems created for some families because charters are not required to offer transportation nor free lunches for poor children, like all public schools, Tillman said the following: "It’s certainly okay if they don’t go there [the charter school]. They can go to their public schools. They can get their free and reduced price lunch. And they can do that. But the charter school itself and the commission must decide what they can do and when they can do it financially. And that’s where we are now and that’s where we’re gonna’ be and I’m certainly for that.” Let 'em eat chalk dust! (Laura Leslie)

3. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, yesterday in Madison: "I take phone calls all the time. The bottom line is, the things I said are things I said publicly all along." Got it, Guv! Thanks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tax Fairness?

This report says that lower- and middle-income folks in North Carolina are taxed at a higher rate than the supremely rich: If you make $15,000 a year, you pay almost 10 percent of it in state and local taxes. If you make $15 million a year, your tax rate is less than 7 percent.

Money quote: "So if you were Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat at the time of her election, and you were trying to raise revenue to help fill a $2.4 billion budget hole, wouldn't you look to raise it from the folks who have it — the rich — while also trying to make the tax system in North Carolina at least slightly less regressive?"

The answer to that question would be a big fat "no."

Dan Soucek Primary Sponsor of Anti Gay Marriage Law

Senate Bill 106 was filed yesterday, "Defense of Marriage Act," and one of three chief sponsors is Watauga County's own Dan Soucek.

Section 2 of the draft bill calls for an anti-gay amendment to the state Constitution to be put on the general election ballot on Nov. 6, 2012. Mr. Soucek and his fellow missionaries intend to use the state's Constitution to exclude, to deny, to discriminate.

Ah. With many of the state's young people kept from voting by the proposed Voter I.D. law, and with that Muslim terrorist back on the ballot for reelection, shouldn't be hard at all to bring out the paleos to save marriage from The Gay.

Because Mr. Soucek is sooo focused on bringing jobs back to North Carolina.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Protesting the Banksters

For details and updates about Saturday's protest in front of a Charlotte Bank of America branch, write northcarolinauncut AT

You Get What You Asked For, South Carolina

South Carolina's new governor Nikki Haley ... wholly-owned subsidiary of Reynolds American, General Electric, Exxon Mobil, Walmart, Eli Lilly and Pfizer, Waffle House, and Comcast.

Almost $1 million funneled into the South Carolina governor's race last year to insure that South Carolinians remain wage slaves with little to no benefits.

Thank you, once again, Supreme Court of the U.S., for Citizens United: "The large Reynolds American donation, and four others..., took advantage of a federal judge's September ruling that struck down campaign contribution limits on PACs and other third-party groups in South Carolina."

Monday, February 21, 2011

The GOP’s Contemplated Voter I.D. Law Would Violate the NC Constitution

Article VI, Section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution: "Every person born in the United States and every person who has been naturalized, 18 years of age, and possessing the qualifications set out in this Article, SHALL BE ENTITLED TO VOTE at any election by the people of the State, except as herein otherwise provided.”

Article VI goes on to establish the "herein otherwise provided," outlining that those who are citizens, those who’ve lived in their precinct for at least 30 days, and those who are not felons may register to vote and are eligible to vote. There is no word there about having to show an i.d. and, in fact, there is instead an explicit declaration that registered voters “SHALL BE ENTITLED TO VOTE EXCEPT AS HEREIN OTHERWISE PROVIDED.”

Article VI, Section 3 says, “Every person offering to vote shall be at the time legally registered as a voter as herein prescribed and in the manner provided by law. The General Assembly shall enact general laws governing the registration of voters.”

In other words, the state’s Constitution allows legislative laws to govern voter registration, but it does not grant the authority to legislate for additional requirements for casting a vote by a legally registered voter, like state-issued photo i.d.s.

When a photo i.d. law was passed in Indiana, those opposing the law challenged it in federal court. They lost in the United States Supreme Court (Crawford et al. v. Marion County Election Board). The U.S. Constitution contains no language like that in the NC Constitution, and apparently such language does not exist in the Indiana state Constitution.

The Missouri Precedent
However, there’s precedent in Missouri for challenging voter photo i.d. law in state (rather than federal) courts, because the Missouri state Constitution contains language very similar to our Article VI, by which the Missouri Supreme Court found that Missouri’s photo i.d. law violated the state’s constitution for mandating “an impermissible additional qualification to vote.” (A discussion of the Missouri case can be found in Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly.)

Article VIII, Section 2 of the Missouri state Constitution: “All citizens of the United States, including occupants of soldiers’ and sailors’ homes, over the age of eighteen who are residents of this state and of the political subdivision in which they offer to vote are ENTITLED TO VOTE at all elections by the people, if the election is one for which registration is required if they are registered within the time prescribed by law, or if the election is one for which registration is not required, if they have been residents of the political subdivision in which they offer to vote for thirty days next preceding the election for which they offer to vote....”

The Missouri Supreme Court also found that the voter photo i.d. law violated “the prohibition on interference with the free exercise of the right and the requirement that all elections be free and open,” citing Article 1, Section 25 of the state Constitution: “That all elections shall be free and open; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”

There’s language corresponding to that provision in Article I, Sec. 10 of the NC Constitution: “All elections shall be free.” And in Article VI, Section 2: “Any person who has resided in the State of North Carolina for one year and in the precinct, ward, or other election district for 30 days next preceding an election, and possesses the other qualifications set out in this Article, SHALL BE ENTITLED TO VOTE at any election held in this State ...”

The Missouri Republican Party’s remedy for the Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling is to amend the state Constitution, and that is exactly what they are now attempting. The measure has passed the Missouri Senate, must also pass the Missouri House and then be approved by the voters of the state.

Free Elections
The Missouri law was also ruled unconstitutional for “requiring the payment of money to vote, in violation of due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution.”

Article V, Section 1 of the NC Constitution: “No poll or capitation tax shall be levied by the General Assembly or by any county, city or town, or other taxing unit.”

Please note this: Although the Republican legislature in Missouri offered free i.d. cards to anyone not already possessing a driver’s license or other valid i.d., the underlying documents to receive those i.d.s, such as certified birth certificates or social security cards, cost $15 or more. For women who must document one or more name changes, or for people born outside of Missouri, the barriers were even higher and more costly.

Based on those facts, the Missouri Supreme Court said, “The fact that the state does not charge for the nondriver license itself does not void the constitutional issue or economic reality that voters will have to ‘buy’ numerous government documents to get the ‘free’ photo ID to qualify for the privilege of voting. While a license to drive may be just that: license and not a right. The right to vote is also just that: a right and not a license.”

Some Republicans in the NC General Assembly (Jonathan Jordan, for example) are already excusing the cost to state government as "minimal" while also acknowledging that there will be cost. To impose even minimal ($10, say) cost on a registered voter to obtain the correct photo i.d. would amount to a poll tax, which is explicitly illegal under our Constitution. The NC state Board of Elections has already determined that at least 1,000,000 NC voters currently do not have a state driver’s license, and supplying these people with photo i.d.s would cost the state government (us taxpayers!) around $20,000,000.

Republicans have made noise that they intend for the state to pay for the i.d.s for those who cannot afford them, but that’s simply not good enough. Because the NC Constitution says “All elections shall be free,” the state should logically have to pay for those who can afford the i.d.s as well (though we still believe that i.d.s would be an illegal requirement under the state’s Constitution). The words “fee” and “paid for” get tricky since the Missouri Supreme Court said that even free photo i.d.s imposed an undue burden. The documentation required (birth certificates, etc.) are not usually free.

NC Republicans Will Have to Amend the State Constitution
It’s gonna take some work, and maybe they’d like to get started on that before they start ramming photo i.d.s down our throats.

Article XIII, Sec. 4 of the NC Constitution: “A proposal of a new or revised Constitution or an amendment or amendments to this Constitution may be initiated by the General Assembly, but only if three-fifths of all the members of each house shall adopt an act submitting the proposal to the qualified voters of the State for their ratification or rejection.”

New NC Voter I.D. Law Will Target College Students

By an ASU College Voter:

First, a short story
Last May, Melanie Meentz, now 19, arrived as a freshman at her polling place at St. Mary's College in Indiana with her voter registration card for St. Joseph County (where St. Mary's is located), along with her school photo ID, social security card, and driver's license from Illinois, where she grew up. But under a 2005 Indiana law — upheld this April in a Supreme Court decision— she was refused a ballot because she did not have an in-state ID. And without so much as an explanation of her options, such as a provisional or absentee ballot, poll workers sent her home.

The Precedent of Symm v. U.S.
The US Supreme Court found in 1979 that all students have the right to vote where they attend college, but those who don’t want students voting often try to enact local or state laws that make it hard, if not impossible, to do so.

Currently, ASU students must present identification and proof of residence when they register to vote. Many students have driver's licenses issued in other counties or other states, and all of them have photo i.d.s issued by Appalachian State University. But if Republicans in the General Assembly get their way, none of that will suffice for the right to vote because it does not list a local address for the student.

It is already a felony to cast a fraudulent vote. Voter impersonation is extremely rare. Out of every 1,000,000 votes cast in North Carolina, only five were found to be fraudulent. A recent investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation into allegations of "massive voter fraud" in Forsyth County found exactly one case.

What's Happening in Raleigh
There is no big problem in North Carolina, yet the Republican majority in the NC General Assembly is now planning to pass a law requiring us to show a government-issued photo ID with a current Watauga County address on it every single time we vote.

Most of us don't have this type of ID. That goes for students registered as Republicans as well as those registered as Democrats and the many, many more who are registered as Unaffiliated. We are good citizens. We want to participate in our republic. If this law passes, we will be prevented from exercising that right without jumping through many unnecessary hoops, incurring expense as we go.

Here's what ASU students will have to do to exercise our right to vote in Boone and Watauga County if this bill passes:
*Even if you are registered to vote in Watauga County, if your driver's license doesn't have a Watauga County address on it, you will not be allowed to vote on Election Day unless you go and get another government-issued photo ID. Even if you’ve been voting here for years and even if you are a legally registered voter!

**Where do you go to get this government-issued picture ID card in Watauga? From the DMV at Mutton Crossing on Bamboo Road. It’s a pretty good ways out, and once you get there, you will need to present your social security card or your birth certificate to get it. If you don’t have either of those, it’s no go for you.

This law will make it much harder for hundreds of thousands of honest citizens to vote, even if they are legally registered voters. In fact, 11 percent of the population doesn't even have the kind of identification that this bill would require. The studies show that the people who will be most disenfranchised by this new law are African-Americans, seniors, college students, people with disabilities and low-income citizens.

This bill works against the very thing that we are fighting for -- a higher level of engagement in government.

Why is the state legislature doing this? There is only one reason: they don’t want us to vote. They want to make it harder and harder for us to exercise our right to vote. They are singling us out. Many of us sat in the audience a few years ago when State Senate candidate David Blust announced that he didn't think students should have the right to vote. The NC General Assembly is on the verge of carrying out his fondest wish.

Much as local registrars in the South once used poll taxes and literacy tests to deny the vote to black citizens, our state legislators are now trying to intimidate us with a mix of legal bullying and added paperwork to prevent civic-minded young people from casting ballots. This is a civil rights issue.

Don’t let our elected officials use partisan politics to take away our rights! Take action now. Regardless of your party affiliation, we have to join together to stop this bill before it’s passed. Sign the petition to stop this bill, and stand up for your rights!

College students speak out in Raleigh.

Stop the Voter I.D. Law, message from David Parker.

Time Magazine: "College Students Still Face Voting Stumbling Blocks."

Over 1 million NC citizens currently do not have the required photo i.d.

NC College students speak out about the proposed law.

Stop the erosion of voting rights in North Carolina.

Join the Facebook uprising: “Operation Stop Voter ID”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Koch Brothers and the Wisconsin Uprising

The Koch brothers were major investors in the gubernatorial campaign of Scott Walker in Wisconsin last year. Koch Industries gave him $43,000. Not to mention the untold hundreds of thousands from the Koch-funded astroturf group, Americans For Prosperity.

Why would they care about Wisconsin?

Koch Industries is a major player in Wisconsin. Koch owns a coal company subsidiary with facilities in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan; six timber plants throughout the state; and a large network of pipelines in Wisconsin. While Koch controls much of the infrastructure in the state, they have laid off workers to boost profits. At a time when Koch Industries owners David and Charles Koch awarded themselves an extra $11 billion of income from the company, Koch slashed 158 jobs at their Green Bay plant.

Koch front groups are closely guiding the Walker agenda. The American Legislative Exchange Council, another Koch-funded group, advised Walker and the GOP legislature on its anti-labor legislation and its first corporate tax cuts.

In response to the growing protests in Madison, Koch fronts are busing in Tea Party protesters to support Walker and his union-busting campaign, particularly the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity.

Before One More Teacher Is Fired...

NC Uncut will stage a peaceful protest in front of the Bank of America in Charlotte this coming Saturday. Poster with details at the link.

"On the morning of Saturday, February 26, we will gather in protest at a Bank of America branch to draw attention to the fact that it received $45 billion in government bailout funds while funneling its tax dollars into 115 offshore tax havens. ... How many more public sector workers will be laid off so the rich can get richer? We must make a stand. Any and all citizens welcome!"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gov. Perdue Knows When to Hold 'em?

Rob Christensen has a very interesting analysis of Gov. Perdue's budget proposal, which was released on Thursday. We can hope that he's right, that the Guv is indeed playing poker with the Republican General Assembly, and not Go Fish:
...In proposing to extend most of the 1-cent temporary sales tax that is due to expire in June, Perdue is taking political heat for having broken her word...

By proposing to extend the temporary tax hike, she was able to limit the loss of state positions to 10,000, but only 3,000 new layoffs. But she said without the temporary tax hike, another 13,499 people would lose their jobs.

The Republican legislative leadership has made it clear that they will not support a tax increase. So Perdue appears to be setting up the GOP legislators as the political heavies who will have to do the layoffs.

As we've already seen with the national Congressional Republicans and the Republicans in states like Wisconsin, when they said they were going to concentrate on jobs, they meant eliminating jobs.

It does not seem to occur to Republicans and their Teahadist political brains that government workers are workers too, contributing to the tax base and the general economy.

Friday, February 18, 2011

We Checked: There Are No Jobs in Women's Uteruses

Instead of dealing with jobs and the economy, the new Repubican majority in the U.S. Congress has continued its wholesale assault on women's rights.

Yesterday, in an hours-long debate on funding for Planned Parenthood, and immediately after New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith’s five-minute recitation of the graphic details of a particular kind of abortion, California Congresswoman Rep. Jackie Speier (D) brought the floor to a hush:
You know I had really planned to speak about something else. But the gentleman from New Jersey just put my stomach in knots. Because I am one of those woman he spoke about just now. I had a procedure at 17 weeks, pregnant with a child that had moved from the vagina into the cervix. And that procedure that you just talked about is a procedure I endured. I lost a baby. But for you to stand on this floor and suggest as you have that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous. To think that we are here tonight debating this issue, while the American people, if they are listening, are scratching their heads and wondering “what does this have to do with me getting a job? What does this have to do with reducing the deficit?” The answer is nothing at all.

Congressman Smith can't be embarrassed, but some of the Republican women in Congress who support anti-abortion legislation ought to be embarrassed ... like Madam Foxx, the former feminist pro-choicer who lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A bill that puts insurance companies back in charge of your health care

By AdamL
Cross-posted on BlueNC

Two bills were filed Wednesday that will have a tremendous impact on how our health care system works, or doesn't work, in North Carolina. These are competing bills that offer radically different visions of how to establish a health benefits exchange.

You can read this editorial for some background. Basically, most people who do not get health insurance through work will purchase coverage through this new entity, called the health benefits exchange.

North Carolina can either set up its own exchange or do nothing and allow the feds to set up an exchange for us. We would like for the state to establish its own exchange. The exchange is a place where individuals and small businesses will band together to get group insurance rates. It is also where people will go for premium tax credits. Consulting firms estimate that more than a million North Carolinians will get coverage through the exchange. That's why it is critical to get this right.

Rep. Jerry Dockham filed a bill that was literally written by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. It creates a feeble exchange that allows for weak consumer protections and is governed by a board stacked with interest groups that either opposed reform (the North Carolina Medical Society), or are actively seeking to repeal health reform (NFIB, Chamber of Commerce), or those with a massive conflict of interest (insurance companies). Oh, did I mention that the board governing the exchange has a permanent seat for Blue Cross? We need to kill this boondoggle before it gets rolling.

Thankfully, Reps. Verla Insko, Larry Hall, Susan Fisher, Tricia Cotham, Diane Parfitt, and Jennifer Weiss filed a different exchange bill. This bill uses language developed after many months of meetings with all major stakeholder groups at the NC Institute of Medicine. It includes a tremendous amount of input from Blue Cross and other insurance companies. It also includes input from consumer groups and physicians and hospitals, etc. Apparently even a small amount of compromise was too much for Blue Cross, so they walked away from the IOM bill and wrote their own legislation.

The IOM legislation includes strong consumer protections and an independent board with good conflict of interest language. This board is built around health care experts instead of interest groups that are trying to squash reform.

Dockham's bill would do terrible damage to our health care system. It would weaken the protections afforded by national health reform. And it would keep insurance companies in control of our lives.

Unfortunately Dockham got some Democratic co-sponsors on his bill. I can only hope that they didn't understand what they were signing. This is their notice. And this is your notice to start fighting. We just passed a health care bill that was decades in the making. Don't let Blue Cross rob us of this historic gain.

Go Wisconsin!

Former Senator Russ Feingold, whom the voters of Wisconsin retired last fall, has launched Progressives United, "aimed at countering the impact of corporate money in politics."

“Washington, sadly, has become a playground for corporations and our lobbyists,” Mr. Feingold said. “It’s time we stood up to the total dominance of corporate power that’s invaded our democracy and hijacked our elections.”

Fight the Kochtopus!

Sidenote: Wisconsin was smoking something really mind-bending last November, because they also turned their entire state government over to the Republicans. Their new Republican governor immediately went to war with public employees, moving to take away their rights to collective bargaining.

The result: an uprising of citizens that makes it look like "Cairo moved to Madison," as someone remarked today. I've been perusing the Wisconsin State Journal for photos and local coverage. And loving it that the 14 Democrats in the state Senate have disappeared, preventing the 19 Senate Republicans from achieving a quorum. Also loving it that there's massive resistance on the part of public school teachers and other workers whose labor is totally essential for the functioning of the state but is dissed by the Republicans.

Watauga Board of Education Slaps Back at Soucek, Jordan

The Watauga County Board of Education passed a resolution at its Monday night meeting publicly opposing NC Senate Bill 8 (as it is currently written) and House Bill 41 in its entirety, directing that Superintendent Marty Hemric send a letter to Representative Jonathan Jordan and Senator Dan Soucek, asking them to reconsider their co-sponsorships of those bills and to make “funding schools first” a priority.

More about the bills below, but it’s striking that this resolution passed unanimously, with all three Republicans on the board – Deborah Miller, Lee Warren, and Delora Hodges – voting to protect public education from the wholesale dismantling currently underway in Raleigh.

NC Senate Bill 8 (“No Cap on Number of Charter Schools”) passed through the Senate Committee on Education yesterday. Though Charter schools get taxpayer money, they will will not be required to provide transportation or food service to their students, one factor alone that tends to make Charter schools enclaves of privilege. New language inserted into the bill would allow revenue from “supplemental taxes” to follow the child from that district to any other charter school in any other county. (Previous law allowed for revenue from supplemental taxes to follow the child only if the child from the supplemental tax district attended a charter school located within the physical boundaries of that taxing district.) The bill retains language allowing charter schools to request capital funds from county commissioners (yikes). There is no language dealing with the practice of charter schools sending children back to traditional public schools within 45 days of a test.

The most substantial change in the bill (from school boards’ perspectives) is a revenue-sharing mandate that would threaten More at Four or other early childhood education programs. These programs are funded largely from privately paid tuition and fees for summer school, revenue generated through private rentals of school board property, interest earned on local school board investment, reimbursement for indirect costs incurred for implementing mandated programs, and program-restricted funds for pre-school offerings. According to new language in Senate Bill 8, those revenue sources will now have to be shared with Charters.

House Bill 41 is an even more obvious assault on public education. It would provide $2,500 in tax vouchers to anyone willing to jerk their kids out of public schools and put them into private academies. Under this provision, a local county commission can add another $1,000 in tax vouchers to that little prize.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wednesday Smorgasbord

1. Union County: "There'll be no memorial to 'loyal slaves' on our courthouse lawn." Decision NOT "based on race." No, never.

2. Sen. Kay Hagan pleased to join the pro-business Washington think tank, ThirdWay.

3. Democratic Party Chairman David Parker wants the Republican Speaker of the NC House to investigate a possible conflict of interest by Rep. Mike Stone of Lee County, who set the agenda for a closed-door meeting featuring presentations by video-gambling interests while profiting personally in his own grocery store from video gambling.

4. State government employees: We're working people, too!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Does Not Compute

North Carolina has consistently ranked as the 2nd most "business-friendly" state in the Union. 2nd most business-friendly.

Yet the Art Pope noise machine and all the Art Pope groupies in the Republican Party continually harp on how horrible, truly horrible the 6.9 percent tax rate on corporations is.

Then here comes the Guv last night in her "State-of-the-State" address pandering to the GOP, saying that the 6.9 percent rate needs to be dropped to 4.9. The Guv was still wiping the Kool-Aid from her lips when all the GOPers in the General Assembly leapt to their feet in wild applause.

At a time when NC has a severe revenue problem, the Guv proposes letting corporations off the hook for another $261 million (at least). While also proposing to put "thousands and thousands" of state workers on the unemployment rolls.

Monday, February 14, 2011

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Dark Overlords of the Universe

The U.S. Chamber has been at war with all elected Democrats. That's just a fact. They clearly hate any progressive idea. They certainly hated health-insurance reform. And recent leaks of some 40,000 e-mails from the "security" and dirty tricks firm HBGary Federal proves that the Chamber had hired them (and others) as "operatives" to smear their critics.

The affiliated North Carolina Chamber of Commerce recently hosted GOP leaders in the NC General Assembly, who are busily carrying water for the powerful business interests that want environmental regulations rolled back, like a cheap rug at a dance house-party.

Meanwhile, President Obama baked the U.S. Chamber a bread pudding (or something) and walked up the street to curry their favor.

With Citizens United the Supreme Court unleashed this would-be tyrant, which means to own our government at every level.

We noted last fall, when the Boone Chamber held its candidate forum in the County Courthouse, that the executive director denied any affiliation with the U.S. Chamber. That denial is apropos the U.S. Chamber's bullying. We're only now finding out just how nasty the bullying is likely to become, both nationally and in NC.

Kentucky Rising

Poet Wendell Berry is leading a sit-in at Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear's office. The sit-in apparently began on Friday and is continuing today.

The subject of the protest is mountaintop removal coal mining, the wholesale strip-mining of eastern Kentucky.

Jeff Biggers has lots of video over at HuffPost.

Landmarks in Naked Self-Interest

Meet Rep. Mike Stone, the Sanford Republican who led the closed-door meeting last week with video gambling lobbyists on Capitol grounds in Raleigh.

Mr. Stone owns a small grocery store where, until Friday night, he had "video-poker-style" gambling machines set up for the fleecing of his customers. He removed the machines Friday night after repeated calls from an N&O reporter.

Mr. Stone still has available in his store "a variety of sweepstakes games on desktop computer terminals. The games mimic the spinning wheels of a slot machine."

According to the N&O, "State law currently prohibits electronic machines and devices used for sweepstakes purposes," though Mr. Stone maintains that these particular machines are legal.

How come? Because they're his, and "Everything we do is legal." What he apparently meant to say was that he was taking advantage of a period when the anti-electronic gambling law is being litigated in the courts and isn't being uniformly enforced by local sheriffs.

So the "gambling lobby" is swarming in Raleigh, and as of last week Mr. Stone, who makes money on video gambling, was their chief facilitator: "...lawmakers ... are considering making video gambling legal or letting the state lottery run it. Gambling interests are trying to strike a deal and get permission to exist in exchange for more regulation and taxation. The political effort is ongoing and intense."

For his part, Mr. Stone is denying that he was the chief sponsor for the secret meeting. He's fingering Thom Tillis, which is sure to endure the 1st term rep with his leadership: "Stone downplayed his role in the meeting, and said the agenda was put together by the office of House Speaker Thom Tillis. Stone said he had nothing to do with the lineup of lobbyists: 'It came from Tillis' office.' "

So what about that, Speaker Tillis?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"State the Constitutional Provision"

Be careful about the rules you pass, especially when Rep. Anthony Weiner is there to call you to task for not following them. Hattip: RRR.

Do Teahadists Love the State Constitution as Much as They Do School Vouchers?

Tim White in the Fayetteville Observer takes on the Republican scheme to shift spending from public to private schools in North Carolina:
When we elected a new, Republican majority in the General Assembly, I expected conservative principles to be a guiding force. To me, that means paying attention to what the Founders had in mind -- in this case, North Carolina's founders.

That's not what I'm seeing as our new legislative leaders tackle education reform. What we're getting instead is a dose of dogma that's popular with some folks on the right, but doesn't at all square with what our state constitution's framers had in mind....

House Majority Leader Paul Stam has filed a bill that would provide $2,500 tax credits to many parents who move their children from public to private schools. The measure would essentially subsidize private schools and would surely cut funding to public schools. Critics of the plan also point out that it's a fine recipe for funding "white flight" and creating a new system of segregated schools....

Let's go back to basics here. Let's go to the state constitution, Article IX, Section 2: "The General Assembly shall provide by taxation and otherwise for a general and uniform system of free public schools, which shall be maintained at least nine months in every year, and wherein equal opportunities shall be provided for all students."

And then there's Section 5: "The State Board of Education shall supervise and administer the free public school system and the educational funds provided for its support ..."

I don't pretend to be a legal scholar, and Rep. [Paul] Stam [House Majority Leader] will doubtless disagree with my conclusions, but my simple reading is that the state is not empowered to subsidize private schools, and that is exactly what a tax credit would do. It's a passive variation on vouchers. Nor is the state in a position to create an unlimited number of charter schools that aren't accountable to the State Board of Education....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dismantling Public Education in North Carolina

The NC GOP intends to do several baneful things to the citizens of this state (unnecessarily "card" them when they vote, deny abortion rights to women, unleash polluting industries from environmental laws), but one of the worst is the wholesale assault on public education. Raising the cap on charter schools is part of it; worse is NC House Republican Majority Leader Paul Stam's bill to give $2,500 in tax vouchers to any parents wanting to put their children into private schools. It would be a disastrous step toward privatizing education in North Carolina, the very opposite of what democracy promised from the age of Thomas Jefferson.

The public has shown itself (see below) lopsidedly opposed to vouchers for private schooling, so Rep. Stam told a crowd of his supporters to never ever use the word voucher when referring to his plan. (See the video of Stam uttering the words.)

Recent polling on the issue conducted by the North Carolina Association of Educators:
Should North Carolina use taxpayer money to underwrite the cost of educating a child at home?
Yes: 82 (5.8%)
No: 1,333 (94.2%)
Total: 1,415

Should North Carolina use taxpayer money to underwrite the cost of tuition to private schools?
Yes: 90 (6.4%)
No: 1,326 (93.6%)
Total: 1,416

Do you think families of current private/home school students will take advantage of this voucher by enrolling their children in public school long enough to qualify for the voucher program?
Yes: 1,119 (80.2%)
No: 276 (19.8%)
Total: 1,395

Will a voucher bill help jumpstart the North Carolina economy and get its citizens back to work?
Yes: 74 (5.3%)
No: 1,327 (94.7%)
Total: 1,401

That last question was asked, apparently, in RE the Republican promise to tackle jobs and jumpstarting the economy in North Carolina. Instead, they've driving every wedge they can lay their hands on.

Friday, February 11, 2011

NC House GOP Caucus Behind Closed Doors with Gambling Lobbyists

Highly unprecedented, they say.

Partisan political party caucuses in the NC General Assembly are exempt from the open meeting requirements.

But inviting in lobbyists from the gambling industry for an "educational" seminar, even if they also invited in a hellfire preacher too, raises eyebrows.

Why not debate the legalization of video gambling out in the open? It's not as though the gambling industry has ever corrupted any NC politicians or other fiduciary agents of the state!

But Republican Speaker of the NC House Thom Tillis 'splained the secret meeting quite clearly: "There are people that we want to hear from who may or may not feel as comfortable under your lights" -- the "your" in that sentence referring to the media.

Oh. Okay. We certainly wouldn't want to participate in making what is by nature shady feel uncomfortable in the sun.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

They Won't Brake for the Poor

The rich in America, and their facilitators in the Republican Party, have always resented paying taxes to support the poor. If Social Darwinism taught them anything, it taught them that the poor deserve to be poor (and conversely, the rich are rich because God wants them to be rich).

So why should the rich pay taxes to support the un-deserving poor? Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, home heating assistance, meals on wheels, disability, aid to dependent children, food stamps ... the list grows long, and everything on that list is a dreadful, unfair, tyrannical burden on the rich. Why, property taxes to support public education is itself a monstrous outrage, when the rich don’t even use public schools (and the "poorer rich," who do use public schools, are sometimes very successful in finding ways of keeping those others out of their suburban districts)!

In recent memory, the Republican game plan appeared to shift from merely complaining bitterly about having to support the social safety net ... to an active strategy of bankrupting government at every level. How else to explain the enactment of Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which was done under a Republican president (George W. Bush) and by the flexing of muscle in the U.S. House by none other than Tom DeLay, The Republican Hammer (and convicted felon). It wasn't paid for by deliberate design.

With government bankrupt, the poor would once again be on their own. Like in 19th century frontier America. Or like in Victorian England. Ah ... the Golden Ages for the rich!

And that’s what’s going on right now. The poor, the disenfranchised, the hungry, the sick will bear the brunt of paying for those billionaire tax cuts. How much can you hit the helpless? You can hit 'em plenty, cause they don’t form a powerful interest bloc. They have no national leaders. Hell, many don’t vote, and the ones who do – and the ones who might in the future, given what’s about to happen to them – will be flummoxed by new photo i.d.s --the "We-Want-State-Certification-Of-Your-Ass-Before-You-Can-Participate-in-the-Democratic-Process” Act.

Plus, let's face it: if there's one thing the rich can buy, it's the ability not to see the poor, not have to look upon them and their pathetic proof of lack of worth. The one thing the rich have above all else in America, it's their ability to be wholly isolated from the rest of society.

Now that President Barack Obama has decided to become a Republican, looks as though the process of burying the poor will speed up considerably. Well, someone has to pay for those tax cuts!

North Carolina's Messianic Republican

Meet Glen Bradley, new Republican member of the NC House from Franklin, Halifax, and Nash counties, tea party favorite and hot to trot "nullifier" of federal laws. (He also describes himself as "Originalist Messianic Christian" on Facebook, which got us Googling. Is there such a thing as a "non-Messianic Christian"?)

He's introduced the NC Farmer’s Freedom Protection Act (H.65) in the NC House which would nullify the federal FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S.510), which recently passed in the U.S. Senate and whose chief sponsor was ... small oops ... Republican Senator Richard Burr.

So we have a back-bencher Republican state rep. slapping at the reigning Senator Burr. What's Speaker of the NC House Thom Tillis to do? First, deny that he knows anything about Bradley's bill and then make a joke about wing-nuttery in his own party: "House Speaker Thom Tillis says he’s not familiar with Bradley’s bill but noted that 'the election cycle has produced a lot of diversity of thought.' " (If there's a nastier word in the current Republican lexicon than diversity, we don't know it. Well, maybe gay.)

Bradley is one of a growing breed of tea partiers, the "Tenthers," who based on their reading of the 10th Amendment reject any federal laws not explicitly enumerated in the rest of the Constitution. His NC Farmer’s Freedom Protection Act explicitly states as much: "Section 2. ... Under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to regulate intrastate commerce is a power reserved to the states, as it is not enumerated as a power of the United States."

Clearly, Thom Tillis wants nothing to do with a state bill trashing the work of Sen. Dick Burr, but he's got to handle Rep. Bradley and the others like him and that fraction of the NC Republican Party (like the Caldwell Tea Party) that thought it was cool sending them to Raleigh to run things.

New Numbers on What We're Paying to Insure Members of Our General Assembly

The American Independent reports that of the North Carolina General Assembly’s 170 members, 147 are enrolled in the State Health Plan, which provides them free health insurance at taxpayer expense. The American Independent is trying to identify those 147 by name, but at the moment both the State Health Plan and the state Office of Personnel are declining to release the names while the Attorney General’s office reviews whether the names of enrolled members are exempt from public records disclosure laws.

(Perhaps the Republican leadership in Raleigh will now want to rush through a new law exempting themselves from any public disclosure.)

Those 147 lawmakers receive health insurance that costs us the taxpayers $410 per month. On that basis, the total costs for the 147 amounts to $723,000 annually.

Which explains, logically and coherently (right?), why all the Republican members of that body have (so far) voted to block the federal Affordable Health Care Act from taking effect in North Carolina.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

NC GOP Will Join This Stampede

The war on the reproductive rights of women is not just being waged in the U.S. Congress. It's being ginned up in the states by new Republican majorities, whose fear of women's liberties has never been far beneath the surface of their legislative desires. These proposed new laws try to legislate morality, and they insult women by treating them like children. Worse, some of the laws appear to consider women like breeding stock that must be carefully monitored by the state (hattip: Think Progress):
OHIO: State GOP Rep. Lynn Wachtmann will unveil the so-called “Heartbeat Bill” today, the “first proposal of its kind” that “would prohibit women from ending pregnancies at the first detectable fetal heartbeat,” which can be heard “within 18 to 24 days of conception” and “in almost all cases by six weeks.”

TEXAS: This week, the Texas Senate will consider state Sen. Dan Patrick’s (R) anti-abortion measure mandating that “pregnant women be shown an ultrasound of the fetus at least two hours before an abortion.” Physicians would be required to show the fetus’ dimensions, presence of limbs or internal organs if applicable, and –if audible – the fetal heartbeat. Similar provisions failed in 2007 and 2009 but two weeks ago, Gov. Rick Perry (R) “fast-tracked the sonogram bill by declaring it an emergency item” to allow early consideration. The bill’s author, state Sen. Dan Patrick (R) says the emergency designation is legitimate because “we have 80,000 abortions in Texas every year” and the emotional pain caused by this bill will inevitably compel “one out of five women” to bring the baby to term.

ARIZONA: State GOP Rep. Steve Montenegro introduced two bills to criminalize abortions if they’re sought because of race or sex. The bill would slam doctors who “knowingly perform abortions for these reasons” with Class 3 felony charges. While neither Montenegro nor independent searches of state records provide support for his claims, Montenegro insists “that there are targeted communities that the abortion industry targets.” He even believes that “an abortion based on race would include situations where the parents are the same race as the fetus.” Arizona Department of Health Services does not collect information on fetus gender and only recently began asking about racial statistics. As of last week, Montenegro has yet to provide the “promised” statistics to support his bills.

FLORIDA: Ordained minister State Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-FL) recently introduced the Florida for Life Act, a bill that mimics Florida’s recent “fetal personhood” amendment which defines all human beings as persons “regardless of age, race, health function, condition of physical and/or mental dependency and/or disability.” The Florida for Life Act is “more overtly religious,” stating that “all life comes from the Creator and begins at conception.” The bill also states that the Supreme Court is unqualified to “determine, establish, or define the moral values” of Floridians and that the Constitution expresses no qualifications for states to “protect life in a manner consistent with the moral consensus of the people, and reflecting the peoples’ belief in a Creator.” The bill would not only prohibit induced abortions but would “punish abortion doctors as felons, should they violate the measures” of the bill.

IOWA: Two Iowa Republican representatives are opposing a bill seeking to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks because “it doesn’t go far enough.” Because she feels the bill “would codify deaths of babies from zero to 19 weeks,” State Rep. Kim Pearson is “not willing” to support this legislation and will instead introduce her own bill “that would define life as beginning at conception” and effectively “end all abortions in Iowa.” GOP state Sen. Randy Feenstra is trying to push the marker with a bill to restrict abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. If all else fails, a resolution to amend the Iowa Constitution to “define a person as starting from a single-cell human embryo” is now pending in the Iowa House.

Thinking Like a Beauty Queen

Morning Edition today profiled a new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," for which two authors followed 2,300 students at 24 universities over the course of four years to measure how much the students improved "in terms of critical thinking and writing skills, in addition to how much they studied and how many papers they wrote for their courses."


More than a third of students showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after four years at a university.

Some 35 percent of students reported studying five hours per week or less, and 50 percent said they didn't have a single course that required 20 pages of writing in their previous semester.

"One possible reason" for this decline looms large, though I wouldn't dismiss the influence of video immersion for American children and the decline in reading: possible reason for a decline in academic rigor and, consequentially, in writing and reasoning skills, is that the principle evaluation of faculty performance comes from student evaluations at the end of the semester....

"There's a huge incentive set up in the system [for] asking students very little, grading them easily, entertaining them, and your course evaluations will be high" ....

No One in the Wheelhouse

Apparently, the Republican leadership in the U.S. House thought that the extension of certain intrusive portions the USA Patriot Act would be an easy slam-dunk. After all, the president wanted it, and you know how John Boehner strains to please the president!

So they brought the bill up under expedited procedures which require a 2/3rds vote of the body. Only somebody forgot to tell all those newbie tea party Republicans that they were supposed to vote approvingly for the federal government's ability to spy, unrestrained, on its own citizens. The vote last night failed to reach the necessary 2/3rds, because some 26 Republican members (including eight freshmen) voted no (along with 122 Democrats).

Oh, they'll bring the bill back under regular order, and of course it'll pass. One wonders if those dissident eight freshmen will continue to stick to their guns and oppose the continued over-reaching of government power first instituted under George W. Bush. Or will they just go along?

Another freshman, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), gave Politico a pretty good Constitutional argument against the bill:
“In a free society you have to be very careful as to taking away the civil liberties of the American people. Even if the bill is well intentioned and the law is well intentioned it can be used against innocent people. So that was my concern.”

Yet Rokita voted for it! Why? So much for logical consistency among tea party Republicans.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Soucek & Jordan Still Get Their Free Health Insurance

Courtesy of NC taxpayers.

Plus they get full coverage, even though they're technically part-time workers.

Plus they can get their health insurance coverage for life, even after they leave office.

According to the ABC11 I-Team investigation, "Taxpayers pick up the just over $60,000 tab for the lawmaker's health care plan."

That would be $60,000 each.

Meanwhile, the fully insured state senator and the fully insured state rep. voted last week with the rest of their Republican colleagues in the General Assembly to deny the rest of us what they are enjoying. They passed H.B.2, which would effectively cripple the federal Affordable Health Care Act, ending the (few) actual insurance reforms covering recission and "pre-existing conditions."

Monday, February 07, 2011

Mental Landscapes

We've been trying to figure out the personality depths of our president, to understand why he's such a poor negotiator, and something that Nicholas Lemann just wrote in The New Republic is about as revealing as it gets. Lemann is reviewing, actually, the George W. Bush presidential memoir, and he begins by tossing off an observation about Barack Obama's books-on-tape reading of his own memoir, "Dreams From My Father":
...Obama’s uncanny gift for mimicry. Again and again he will encounter a character and deliver the material that appears within quotation marks on the printed page in the character’s voice. He can do men and women, old and young, foreign accents and street slang.

To pull this off requires not just vocal ability but an intensity of observation of other people—a quality of attention, of absorption—so fierce it’s as if one’s life depended on it. And there is a sense, in the case of Obama, in which his life did depend on it, sociologically and psychologically. He had to imagine his way into the center of American society from a very unusual point on the periphery, to invent an identity for himself that felt comfortable, to find a way to love parents whom one would more naturally resent for having been so often absent. There is no more vivid imitation in the book than the one of his father, whom he barely knew—big, lilting, funny, dominating, elusive. How hard Obama must have strained to drink in every drop of his father’s presence during the rare moments when he had it—but how little effort was required for him to figure out where his father ended and he began....

Don't want to go too far down the rabbit hole of armchair psychoanalysis, but I read that "straining" to mimic as an over-eagerness to please men perceived as powerful (though why Mitch McConnell, for example, would qualify is a pure-dee mystery!).

Thursday, February 03, 2011


The two NC House Dems who voted with 64 Republicans on Wednesday on the Republican bill that seeks to nullify the federal Affordable Care Act:
William D. Brisson (House Dist. 22, Bladen & Cumberland cos.)

James W. Crawford Jr. (House Dist. 32, Granville & Vance cos.)

Way to dance with them what brought you, guys.

Based on the vote totals here, the Republicans don't have the votes to over-ride Gov. Perdue's veto.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Turns Out the Koch Bros. Have Very Thin Skins

Apparently, $21.5 billion each for brothers Charles and David Koch, plus owning hundreds of new tea party politicians and the odd school board here and there, isn't enough to make them care less about criticism.

A "conservative source" told Politico that the bros. were "rattled" by the new scrutiny they're under. "They somehow thought that they could run tens of millions of dollars in ads, but fly under the radar screen and that nobody was going to find out," said the source. "So they're scrambling now because they weren't nearly as prepared for the fallout as they should have been."

Politico's source chose to remain anonymous because the bros. "are known for retaliating against allies and former allies deemed insufficiently loyal. For instance, the source cited the company's investigation to determine who leaked a packet of Koch literature that included a list of the attendees of the previous donor meeting, held in June in Aspen, Colo., and an invitation from Charles Koch inviting potential participants to the Rancho Mirage meeting."

What's scarier to the Koch Bros. than Democratic government? Sign-waving liberals outside their posh resort and media reporters inside:
Inside the resort at the beginning of the conference, "there was an atmosphere almost of paranoia," said Gary Ferdman, a Common Cause official.

Ferdman had reservations at the resort and stayed there Thursday and Friday night. He said he was told Saturday that his lunch reservations at the resort restaurant had been canceled and was urged to check out and leave promptly by a member of Koch's large security detail.

Security manned every doorway and stairwell near the ballrooms where Koch events were held, and threatened to jail this POLITICO reporter while he waited in line at the resort's café, after he stopped by a Koch conference registration table.

The resort grounds were "closed for a private function," the resort's head of security, James Foster told POLITICO, ushering the reporter outside, where private security guards, wearing gold lapel pins bearing Koch's "K" logo, threatened "a citizen's arrest" and a "night in the Riverside County jail" if the reporter continued asking questions and taking photographs.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

NC GOP to the Uninsured: We'll Screw You If We Can

North Carolina has more than 1.6 million uninsured people, most of them in line to have access to health insurance under the federal Affordable Health Care Act. But the new Republican majority in the NC General Assembly is attempting to cut them off at the pass ... with a bill that attempts to block a provision requiring people to buy insurance beginning in 2014 or pay a penalty. It also would direct Attorney General Roy Cooper to join a lawsuit to challenge the law. The Republicans approved this bill through committee without hearing a single witness from the uninsured population. They also wouldn't take testimony from the Attorney General.

The issue of the individual mandate is now in the courts. Two judges have ruled it constitutional; two others, not. It'll land soon in the rumpus room of justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas, where it may be stomped to death and then incinerated.

Why are the Republicans in the NC General Assembly wasting time on this when it's clearly a matter now for adjudication?