Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rest in Peace, Joe Bageant

It pained me so much to hear about the death of Winchester, Va., native Joe Bageant that I turned my face to the wall and refused to study on it, such a loss he is to what David Fellerath calls "radical underground journalism."

It's Fellerath's tribute that I just came across, one of those "wish I'd said that" moments, that now lets me grieve in public.

It was Bageant's 2007 book, "Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War," that made me a huge and endearing fan, though I'd run across some of his self-defined "redneck socialism" before.

We corresponded a bit. I invited him to come to Boone and give a speech. I didn't know at the time that he was already suffering from cancer. He never mentioned any illness but said this:
There's nothing I'd rather do more. I LOVE Boone! ... HOWEVER, please don't write me off. My new book, Rainbow Pie, is the last one I intend on writing. Then I'll have time to do things like go to Boone, Eastern Kentucky...and a whole lotta other places where a hillbilly can ease his troubled mind among kin and kilth. (My mama's people are from North Carolina)....

That last book, "Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir," was published in Australia late in 2010 and is now listed on

I'll read that book, and I'll toast the memory of a great American hell-raiser who loved poor people and understood and sympathized with them like very few others.

I found what I originally wrote here about "Deer Hunting with Jesus" back in 2007. I don't take back a word of it.

Why Are You Supporting This Corporation?

Connections to extreme anti-gay orgs.

It goes like this: "Chick-fil-A is a restaurant where franchises frequently donate to anti-gay organizations like the Pennsylvania Family Institute, Focus on the Family and others. The restaurant's charitable arm, WinShape, holds conferences for opponents of gay marriage and praises their work. And this charitable arm's Retreat program puts a blanket ban on gay couples using their facilities, because they 'do not accept homosexual couples.' "

The Voter ID Bill Gets More Ridiculous

Do you know where your voter registration card is?

Haven't seen mine in years.

But now the bill being considered as a "compromise" voter ID law in the NC House would require both your voter registration card and "one of seven approved photo identifications."

But wait! There's a new hoop for a voter to jump through (according to AP reporter Gary D. Robertson) which will involve hardly any headaches for Board of Elections workers and certainly no slow lines at all on election day (and I'm not making this up!):
...two poll workers first would decide if the signature of the person presenting a voter registration card matches the signature used when the person registered to vote.

The original signature would be scanned and placed in the voter rolls at the precinct. The person would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot if one or both workers don't accept the signature as authentic and prove their identity with county elections officials to ensure it's counted.

Good to know that my right to vote freely and unencumbered will be entrusted to nothing more complicated that the eye-sight and lack of befuddlement of a poll worker given the power to divine if my signature on Election Day exactly matches my signature when I registered to vote in Watauga County 40-odd years ago.

Naw! No problems with this plan!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

BREAKING: NC GOP Blinks on Voter ID Law

Far as we can tell, Barry Smith is the first out with news that NC House Republicans have caved on requiring a photo ID of every voter.

More about this after the new version of the bill becomes available ... presumably after the 1 p.m. hearing today in the Education Committee.

Ugly Is as Ugly Does

Mexican-bashing becomes official public policy for the new Republican majority in the NC General Assembly.

What took you so long?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ideology, Meet Humanity

We need a new Constitutional amendment in North Carolina: Marriage should not be between a man and his political ego, nor between a man and his ideology.

The new Republican majority in the NC General Assembly intend to deliver mass pink slips to hundreds of teachers and other public workers, cripple public education, gut childhood development programs, abandon mental health programs, lift anti-pollution requirements and starve to death other life-line services because they mistake their rigid ideology for the "public good."

Chris Fitzsimon summed it up today:
...At a recent meeting in Charlotte, parents told a group of Republican legislators that they would be willing to pay higher taxes to save teachers’ jobs and protect their children’s schools.

Republican Rep. Bill Brawley told them that was impossible because Republicans ran for office on a no tax increase pledge. They have also said that the pledge means they will not extend the temporary tax increases passed in 2009 to protect schools and services for the most vulnerable people in the state.

That’s what most likely behind much of the [recent polling] decline in Republican legislators’ approval numbers, that voters perceive they are more interested in keeping an absurd political pledge than keeping teachers in classrooms and preschool programs helping at risk kids....

Sen. Hagan has a "Third Way"

Sen. Kay Hagan is honorary co-chair of the new-ish blue dog group, Third Way.

Third Way has THE PLAN for Democrats:

Give up on everything you've ever stood for, including Social Security and health care for all, and follow the Republicans into the abyss.

Tighten your friggin' belts, citizens, 'cause the Corporations/Banksters are feeling peckish (which is to say, "deprived" and "put upon").

Par-TAY! Let's all model ourselves on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Jerry Falwell Knew His Bible!

As in, "If Caesar wants to render unto you big heaping and stinking piles of federal aid, then who art thou, O paragon of Do-As-We-Say-Not-As-We-Do, to turn it down?"

The Lynchburg News & Advance, one of the most Republican newspapers in that state, reports today that Liberty University is the single biggest recipient of federal aid to students in the state of Virginia ... the 8th biggest in the whole friggin' nation.

Just saying "no" to demon socialism do have her benefits. Can we get an "amen"!

Too Dumb for School

The short-sightedness in the new Republican General Assembly can't be surpassed in any deliberative body currently in operation on the face of the earth.

The new Republican bunch, who claimed their Number One priority was jobs, is seriously considering in the NC House Transportation Committee this afternoon this piece of true troglydytism, a petulant Teahadist refusal to accept a federal grant to improve rail service in the state.

But I'll let Winston-Salem City Councilman Dan Besse sum up the dismal prospect of politicians who first enclose themselves in (wet) paper bags and then fail to fight their way out of them:
[Via Facebook] Bad news: NC's jobless rate is still near 10% and we're short on dollars to modernize our transportation system. Good news: We've won a federal grant of over $500 million to modernize rail tracks and crossings on our most heavily used state rail lines--creating 5,000 construction jobs. Crazy news: A dozen NC House Republicans have a bill being heard today which would force the state to turn down the grant.

Seriously, isn't there a point when wrong-headedness can become life-threatening?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bible Wars

This morning’s haul of news includes a couple of interesting items that dovetail with the book I finished reading last night ... “God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible” (about which, way more below).

The New International Version (NIV) of the Bible is reportedly “the world's most popular English translation,” originally released in 1978, updated in 1984, and now again updated to some swirling controversy. If you go to (where I go quite frequently) to search for Bible verses that you partly remember (and partly don’t), the default translation that the site wants to send you to is the NIV. I reject that always and opt for the King James Version, for I’m looking for the language that rang in my ears as a child, not necessarily the literal meanings of ancient texts translated into sodden, pedestrian modern English.

The other article from this morning’s reading is about the controversy that UNC religious studies professor Bart Ehrman has stirred among his Southern Baptist students and particularly the historical evidence he mines in his newest book, “Forged: Writing in the Name of God -- Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.”

I’m not the least interested in historical evidence about who actually wrote “Paul’s epistles” (it wasn’t Paul, Ehrman says). I’m interested in the power of language to express the inexpressible, purely human yearnings for transcendence, which is why the King James Version will always be my version.

And nothing has scratched that itch to understand the mysteries of the power of that 1611 version of the Bible like Adam Nicholson’s “God’s Secretaries,” wherein he delves deeply into the personalities and the politics behind both King James I, who commissioned the translation, and the 50-odd men who were drafted to the job. They labored in six “companies” of translators, each company with its own bailiwick of books to translate. They compared their work to many preceding English translations (and, yes, they took about 94% of their final product from William Tyndale, the 16th-century English Lutheran who fled persecution in England, but who was nevertheless betrayed in Flanders, garroted to death, and then burnt for his efforts. Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More was very agitated at the time by Protestant non-conformists).

But Nicolson argues that the King James product was greater than Tyndale’s for achieving two principal things:

1. Really creating an English language that had never been spoken by any man -- a sonorous, majestic, simple, and direct language that nevertheless symbolized hierarchy and power without apparently proselytizing for hierarchy and power.

2. Unifying England, politically divided by uber-conservative Catholics on one side and uber-liberal Puritans on the other, through a common language of godly devotion.

(Sidenote: “uber-liberal Puritans”? That phrase might give pause, but “liberal” in this case bears little relation to modern American politics. The Puritans were the liberals of their day, the left-wingers, because they opposed centralized power, they were rebellious to the hierarchical rule of king and bishops, they maintained that every man – but not so much women -- had the right to be his own priest.)

English Puritans had their own English version of the Bible already, the “Geneva Bible,” produced out of the Calvinist shops of the Continent, and King James I (and most of his companies of translators) despised it because it preached resistance to kings. Most radical Puritans were barred from the companies of translators. Where they were allowed at all to participate, like the small, influential nest of them at Cambridge University, they were assigned the less crucial books of the Old Testament, like I & II Chronicles. According to Nicolson, when the King James Version was published in 1611, it was rejected wholesale by England’s stiff-necked Puritans. The “pilgrim fathers” who migrated to the New World in that decade brought the old Geneva Bible with them, not the King James Version.

The fact that now in the United States the King James Version is the only accepted version among the most conservative congregations (“If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me,” the country preacher said) is a bit of a switcheroo that you’ll have to read Nicolson’s book to fully comprehend.

I’ve gone on with this too long, O my Brethren, but it’s a topic that animates my blood. Nicolson’s book is just the most absorbing 263 pages!

Just Say No to Cheap Crap

From the Macon County News (hattip: BlueNC):
The largest association of educators in the state is calling for a boycott of all businesses owned by Art Pope, a North Carolina business man and political insider who has contributed millions of dollars to conservative groups pressing for the elimination of caps on charter school funding. The decision to call for the boycott was made last week at the annual convention of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Art Pope is the president of Variety Wholesalers, Inc., and a director of the conservative political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity. Pope is also a major supporter of the Civitas Institute, and he holds a seat on the boards of directors for the John Locke Foundation, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association. Variety Wholesalers is the parent group to a number of popular stores in the state such as Roses, Maxway, Value Mart, Super 10 and Super Dollar (though not Dollar General), among others owned by Variety Wholesalers Inc.

Trouble at the Door

Trouble for Heath Shuler (NC-11), that is. Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell has announced that he will run against Shuler next year as an independent.

It's not trouble for Shuler because Bothwell can win. He can't. It's trouble because Bothwell has a progressive following (in Asheville primarily, but still), and he'll give them an alternative to Shuler, who causes occasional but persistent heartburn for progressives. If the Republicans can find an acceptable candidate -- big if there! -- that Republican will suddenly have an opening for taking the seat ... if Bothwell (another sizable if) mounts an energetic campaign.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More Plastics! That'll Fix the United States

You're not a real American if you don't use styrofoam, you commie socialist composters! Apparently. According to Madam Virginia Foxx and her fellow Repubs in the U.S. House.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Resistance to Digital Billboards

The Charlotte Observer finally shines a little light on the proposed bill to liberate digital billboards in NC, sponsored in the General Assembly by Republican used car dealer Sen. Harry Brown of Onslow County.

There are still a few environmentally friendly Republicans extant -- a very few -- and in Charlotte at least they're speaking up against allowing digital billboards every 1,500 feet. Mr. Brown's proposed law would also disable local governments from controlling signage on their highways or from regulating the cutting of trees.

Like Republicans who actually believe in evolution, these mildly "environmental" Republicans will likely be run out of the party by next Tuesday.

Mr. Jordan, At Home in the Womb

A new anti-abortion bill in the NC General Assembly (H215), co-sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Jordan, masquerades as a violence-against-women prohibition but is actually a backdoor move to declare every fetus "at any stage of development" an entity that Mr. Jordan and his Republican friends feel privileged by God to rule over.

Let's call the bill by what it really is: "Every Fetus Is Sacred But That Pregnant Slut Carrying It, Not So Much."

Mr. Jordan recently told both the Watauga and the Ashe County Republican conventions that his number one priority is still "jobs," when clearly his number one priority is messing around in women's private lives, stigmatizing gays, making it harder for certain classes of citizens to vote, and freeing up the Robber Barons from their last puny restraints.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bad Law Update

Not so fast on the "Billboard Encouragement Act of 2011" in the NC General Assembly.

News from North of Here

The Ashe County Republican Party takes an even harder turn right: People's Revolution complete.

Can we get an "Amen"?

Ken Peacock Makes the Washington Post

But not in a good way.

Damage Control

Watauga County Commissioner Vince Gable's rewriting of recent history has appeared first on the local Republican blog site, where he perhaps most needs to convince his base that he's holding it in the road and acting responsibly. His letter will no doubt appear this week in multiple print venues as well.

Rewriting history? Here's the key passage from late in the letter:
"...Prior to the public hearing on the referendum, I spoke with state legislators who assured me counties would not be forced to shoulder the burden of balancing the state budget -Governor Perdue's attempted budget manipulation would not prevail. With this understanding, I entered the public hearing convinced a tax referendum would no longer be necessary. Many of those attending the public hearing were concerned about county funding for education. In light of changing events in Raleigh, I feel the Commission will be able to both balance the budget and protect education without a sales tax increase...."

1. "I entered the public hearing convinced a tax referendum would no longer be necessary." That may be true, but it is not true that Commissioner Gable expressed that opinion either at the public hearing nor afterward, when the public had mainly left the room and only a few of us remained to hear their amazing reversal of course on the tax referendum. What had most certainly happened since the March 1st meeting when Mr. Gable and the other two Republican commissioners voted to hold the referendum was (a) a personal cussing out on the Tea Party email list and (b) a somewhat flailing attempt by the local GOP leadership to come to the defense of the sales tax hike in a Watauga Democrat editorial, a piece of writing that evidently caused something of a split among local Republicans.

2. "Governor Perdue's attempted budget manipulation would not prevail." This is what is known as a red herring. The Guv's suggested budget is pure wishful thinking, since everyone knows the Republican General Assembly will never pass it. As it was, The Guv suggested deep cuts in some areas but strove to protect public education. Meanwhile, the Republican leaders in the Gen'l Assembly have shown no particular concern for protecting the schools. Republicans in the Gen'l Assembly have said that they intend to eliminate between 5 and 10 percent of teaching positions and increase class sizes, on their way to cutting $1 billion from education. "Public schools are going to be squeezed hard," boasted Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

3. "I spoke with state legislators who assured me counties would not be forced to shoulder the burden of balancing the state budget." Believing that Dan Soucek and Jonathan Jordan are going to save public education in Watauga County ... we seem to have flown suddenly to Fantasy Island. Soucek and Jordan are freshmen in Raleigh; they do as they'll told. Period.

4. "I feel the Commission will be able to both balance the budget and protect education without a sales tax increase." The weather has turned lovely here on Fantasy Island! Why the hell have we been worried? (It would have been salutary, of course, if such a rosy scenario had been verbally expressed at some point before, during, or after Mr. Gable revealed his visible anger at county school teachers for coming out to a public hearing, begging that any sales tax increase be devoted to saving their jobs and the future education of children in the county.)

5. In the middle Mr. Gable's letter on the Republican blog site is this sentence: "The Commission passed a resolution to consider a sales tax referendum and held a public hearing on the issue." That's a prevaricating word choice: "...passed a resolution to consider...." No, they passed a resolution to hold a tax referendum. The consideration all came in the long argument they had with Commissioner Futrelle, trying to convince him to vote with them. The public hearing was not required because the decision was already made. The public hearing was a pure courtesy, clearly unnecessary since, as Mr. Gable tells us, he already had his mind made up before walking into the courtroom.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth

Gotta hand it to the NC GOP: they've managed to convince otherwise rational people that there's a massive incidence of voter fraud in North Carolina that only a photo ID law can cure. They've been riling their base about "vanloads of illegal immigrants" being driven to the polls to vote illegally, about "hundreds of dead people voting from the grave," and other tall tales meant to stampede people toward a big-government solution for a non-problem.

If they do get their way, and considering the large numbers of the Republican elderly who lack a driver's license, we do trust that they will eventually learn a lesson about "unintended consequences."

But to the point of all those hysterical claims about voter fraud, Mark Binker with the Greensboro News & Record does the most complete smack-down of Republican talking points that we've seen -- all very well researched and sourced.

1. Are the dead voting?
Some people do vote early under NC law and then pass away before election day, and those votes should not count but occasionally they do because no one noticed that the voter had died. The claim that dead people had been voting recently in Washington County turns out, after investigation, to have been a clerical error.

2. Have There Been Hundreds of Voting Felonies?
No. The claim comes from a (willful) misreading of a typo on a State Board of Elections report. What should have read "Voting Felons" (convicted criminals who are not under state law allowed to vote until their rights are restored) was typed "Voting Felonies," and the NC GOP had their motors racing on that one. The fact that those "voting felons" were actually caught and their votes were not counted gets no acknowledgement.

3. Has There Been Double Voting?
A big ole 44 cases combined over 2008, 2009, and 2010. Binker:
[Gary] Bartlett [director of the state Board of Elections] said this is a type of voting fraud that the state’s system is particularly good at ferreting out.

And election watchdog Bob Hall, of Democracy North Carolina, said there are some “honest mistakes” in that double vote number.

“People forget that they voted mail-in or during the early voting period,” Hall said.

That said, there are some cases of people trying to game the system.

Hall, who opposes the voter ID bill, points out that Voter ID will do nothing to curb such instances.

An ID would only be used to verify somebody is who they say they are, not whether they’re voting for a second or third time.

4. Is There Absentee Voter Fraud?
Yes, and the Republican-sponsored voter ID law would do absolutely nothing about it. In fact, under other provisions in the proposed law, the rules governing mail-in absentee voting would be relaxed, not tightened. Could this have anything to do with the historic fact that Republican mail-in absentee voting has always, in recent years, greatly outnumbered Democratic mail-in absentee voting?

Mark Binker makes clear what was already clear enough: the Republican bill in the General Assembly is not about more honest elections. It's about shaving off Democratic votes in preparation for the reelection campaign of Barack Obama.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

We Hold This in Contempt

The News&Observer editorializes today about the new Republican majority's plans in the General Assembly to make judges partake of the poisoned well of partisan elections.

It hasn't been many years that judges in North Carolina began running without party affiliation. No more of that! sez the GOP leadership in the General Assembly.

They want judge candidates labeled "Republican" (and -- of yeah -- 'democrat') right there on the ballot so's they can know up-front whom Gawd wants on the bench.

The N&O editorial:
...The real change in a return to outright partisanship would be a more heavily politicized judiciary, and possibly more "political" rulings from the bench.

Why? For one thing, judicial candidates would emerge from party primaries that often are dominated by the most zealous Democratic or Republican voters. Only true blue (or true red) hopefuls need apply, and the temptation for candidates to take popular positions on legal issues would increase - the last thing a judgeship candidate should be doing....

But to the guys pulling the Republican strings in the General Assembly, it's just another brick in the wall.

Watauga County Wants More

Buried down in the Watauga Democrat article published on Friday (“Old WHS attracts potential buyer”) is the news that the Town of Boone last Tuesday night (at the same time our Republican county commissioners where trying to fight their way out of a paper bag at the public hearing on a sales tax referendum) set aside about half of the town’s available water supply – 70,000 gallons a day – exclusively for the development of the high school property.

The Town of Boone currently has roughly 145,000 gallons a day available for new development. Giving half of that availability to the county for the development of the old high school property might have warranted a front-page article in the Watauga Democrat. It made page 5, and the news about the allocation of 70,000 gals. was buried a dozen paragraphs into the article.

Meanwhile, at their March 1 meeting, the County Commission heard from Joe Furman that 175,000 gallons per day were needed for the development of the old H.S. property. Following that March 1st meeting, in a letter to the Boone Town Council, County Commission chair Nathan Miller actually requested 200,000 gallons a day.

What gives here? 200,000 gallons a day would be somewhere in the ballpark for what would be needed for a student housing complex as large or larger than the ASU-owned Highland Commons (at the intersection of Hwy 105 and the Hwy 105 Bypass).

70,000 gallons a day, which the town has offered, would accommodate a 150,000-square-foot Target, a Cineplex, other commercial stores, and some condo or town-house residential apartments.

Puzzling ... that the county would ask for considerably more water than the town of Boone has. And will the county get all petulant about the town’s inability to give what it doesn’t have?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Does Foxx Fear the Gay?

If it's all about useless lint-picking -- or grandstanding for the bigots -- you can expect Congresswoman Virginia Foxx to be at the head of the buffet line.

There was some puzzlement at the Republican County Convention last Saturday when Foxx told the GOP faithful that she had signed on with 81 other House Republicans to force President Obama to uphold the no-gay-marriage ban represented by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Like they could hire a lawyer and do that!

'Course, the faithful at the Republican Convention all nodded their heads vigorously at the thought that more pesticide might be dumped on The Gay.

Meanwhile, this issue is not playing well for the national GOP. And perhaps even the fearful Foxx-fanns in the 5th District of N.C. might eventually discover that bashing gay people really has absolutely nothing to do with creating jobs or improving the economy.

Who Owns the GOP?

Is there any question?

Headline in Politico this a.m.:
GOP begins rollback of Wall St. reform
And the opening graph:
House Republicans quietly took their first legislative step Wednesday at repealing Wall Street reform, exposing the difficulty of rolling back a major Barack Obama law that isn’t health care.

Perhaps the American people will stay glued to their reality TV shows and let the bastards get away with ... whatever. Perhaps not.

'Course, it would be nice if we had a president who wasn't hiding out from this particular (and most other) reality.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More News From Rawly-Rawly-Creepy-Crawly

Republican leadership in the NC General Assembly make moves to return partisanship to the election of our judges. Because you can never be too rich or too partisan.

Bob Hall of the non-partisan Democracy NC (they raised hell about Jim Black's nefarious activities and about Gov. Mike Easley's shenanigans) testified at yesterday's hearing on the proposed voter ID bill, and resoundingly panned it. Of particular note is what he had to say about absentee voting:
...[The proposed law] doesn’t add any new safeguards on absentee voting; in fact, this bill makes it easier to get an absentee ballot. But here’s the truth: the rate of somebody impersonating someone else is ten times higher for people voting with absentee ballots than those who vote in person. Ten times!

Conservative Republican warhorse Carter Wrenn gets rueful about the "parade of lobbyists (from Insurance Companies, the Medical Society, the Hospital Association, the Pharmaceutical Industry and the Chamber of Commerce) sauntering into [Republican] Speaker Thom Tillis’ office beaming from ear to ear delighted at the prospect of tilting the laws in their favor." People in power sell to the highest bidder.

Two groups that Republicans have extended "personhood" to: corporations and fetuses. Not so lucky: people out of work and people about to be forced into unemployment by cuts to education in the NC General Assembly.

More Notes from 3/15/11

The Ides of March have sometimes been unfortunate days for short-sighted men in power.

Can Watauga County Afford Its Debt
Yes, according to Commissioner Jim Deal. The large fund balance that the previous Commission built up, while cutting the county budgets for the last three years, is more than enough to handle the "debt service payment" for the next three years, at which time interest payments will drop substantially because one large loan will be paid off.

The Crisis in Education Spending
The unkindest cuts will come from Raleigh, where the Republican dominated General Assembly promises to slash education spending at all levels in the state. Anticipating those cuts, and still reeling from $3 million in cuts over the last couple of years, the Watauga County School Board is asking the County Commission for an additional $1 million for next year. Commissioner Deal's argument is that the projected $1.9 per annum that might have been realized from the additional quarter-cent in sales tax (now bollixed) would have been available to honor the schools' request and thus protect teaching jobs.

The Eloquence of the Young
A 7th grader from Mabel Elementary School spoke last night, defending the schools and praising her teachers, in a concise, clear, and reasonable short speech which demonstrated quite nicely the outstanding effectiveness of our educational system.

The Eloquence of the Not-So-Young
A parent called Watauga's teachers "our anchors in a time of storm."

Another referred to teachers as the heroes of our culture (albeit unrecognized most of the time and underpaid all of the time).

More than one speaker at the public hearing pointed out the abyssmal fact that North Carolina ranks very near the bottom of 50 states in total education funding and teacher pay.

One school employee made a compelling argument that schools are not businesses and that anyone claiming that schools should be run like businesses is not in touch with the reality of what it means to accept every child that comes through the door, no matter his or her preparation, background, and economic condition.

The PTA president at one of our elementary schools commented that she thought that many people in our community "are freaking out" about job losses and that partisan party politics (like the near-fatal allergy to any taxes paid for the common good) needed to be put aside.

A parent of two children attending Hardin-Park Elementary correctly pointed out that there is no fat in the education budget to cut.

Jim Deal's Future Plans
One teacher who took the podium said to Commissioner Deal that she had written his name down to remember it and that she would be voting for him in the next election. Commissioner Deal shook his head "no" very vigorously. Indicating that he will not be running again.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You're Not Going to Believe This

The main courtroom in the County Courthouse was absolutely packed tonight -- standing-room only -- and by my count, all speakers at the public hearing on the proposed quarter-cent sales tax referendum were in favor except for five people who spoke against it. That was 39 in favor, 5 against.

And when the public hearing was over, almost every living soul left the room, and when the commissioners resumed their meeting, the three Republican commissioners were in what could justifiably be described as a snit over what happened at the public hearing. And to make a long, contentious story short, they promptly voted 3-2 to rescind their own resolution to hold the sales tax referendum.

Here's why:

The courtroom was packed with teachers, teachers assistants, principals, and other school personnel along with a fair number of parents of students in the school system, and these folks simply assumed that the sales tax was going to be devoted to keeping the schools strong. Despite what Commission Chair Nathan Miller said just as the public hearing was about to get underway.

Miller reiterated that the sales tax was intended exclusively for "debt service." Mr. Jim Deal then said he disagreed with Miller, and said the sales tax was about "keeping teachers in classrooms" and keeping education strong in Watauga County. There was thunderous applause at that point, and from there on through the public hearing nary a soul mentioned debt service. Everyone -- or very nearly everyone, except for a small clutch of Tea Partiers -- was on board with the money going to schools. In a real sense, education hijacked the sales tax.

So when the room had cleared after the public hearing, Blust immediately made his motion to rescind the tax referendum, and Vince Gable seconded the motion. Gable was visibly angry: What we saw here tonight was clearly orchestrated by the School Board, he said, to change the whole purpose of the tax referendum. "The resolution we voted on was to dedicate the tax to debt reduction. Now we're saying we're going to use it for education!"

Blust went further. He said, "I resent it very much" that the courtroom was packed with school supporters. "They sent out e-mails," he said. Jim Deal answered Blust: "You've never had any trouble packing the courtroom when it's an issue you care about." "I have a real problem with your not allowing a public vote on the referendum that you called for," Deal said, referring to himself as someone very "committed to education."

Blust shot back: "You're committed to spending on education."

Miller: "This has morphed into something that we didn't intend," thus invoking one of the first laws of economics, the law of unintended consequences, of which these three Republican commissioners seem amazingly ignorant.

Deal argued eloquently for not rescinding the referendum, to no avail. At one point he said, "Look, if you three want to allocate all the sales tax money to debt service, you obviously have the votes to do whatever you want." Which might have swayed even Attila the Hun to call off his sacking of Rome, but it did not convince the Republican commissioners. In the end, it was 3-2 (Miller, Gable, and Blust prevailing) to rescind the referendum which the same three voted to hold just two weeks earlier.

The Tea Party Influence
The Republicans kept making reference to all the people they've been hearing from "out in the county" who are solidly opposed to any tax hike, people who apparently aren't comfortable coming to a public hearing. (One might also guess that they were regular Republicans somewhat embarrassed that their own commissioners had voted to raise taxes but didn't like coming out to attack them in public.)

Commissioner Vince Gable at least had become a target for some harsh personal criticism on a local Tea Party email list. The “steering committee” of the Boone Tea Party sent out a message essentially defending Gable and Miller, saying they had taken a “last-ditch option” in proposing a referendum on raising the local sales tax and that all they wanted was the option and that a popular vote for raising the sales tax would not necessarily mean that the County Commish would actually raise those taxes.

Some on the Tea Party list didn’t take that message at all well. They said (in essence), "Maybe we fell off the turnip truck yesterday, but we sure as hell didn’t land on our head!"

At least one Tea Partier took the occasion to attack Gable personally and in the harshest terms. Which prompted an apology from the Boone Tea Party steering committee to the entire email list for inadvertently enabling personal attacks on public officials.

Meanwhile, the power brokers of the local Republican Party were gamely signing on to the tax hike in an editorial in Sunday's Watauga Democrat. Having the tax referendum sprung on them two weeks ago may pale in comparison to having the tax referendum jerked away from them now that they've endorsed it.

The Beauty of Tonight's Public Hearing
Personally, I have rarely heard more eloquent -- and frankly moving -- speakers at any public hearing in my 20+ years of attending public hearings. The teachers and supporters of teachers who spoke tonight about the dire peril they're in, and about the job they've been doing for the children of Watauga County, made me want to stand up and applaud them. Also made me want to vote for the tax I was leaning against.

But now no one will be able to vote for the tax, not for debt service nor for education.

We are, in short, at sea in Watauga County.

Voter ID Bill Will Be Kangaroo-Courted This P.M.

The text of the new Republican-sponsored voter photo ID law did not appear until last night, and it's to be subject to a public hearing this afternoon at 2 p.m. Then the elections committee is due to act on it by 6 p.m. Laura Leslie with WRAL asks:
That makes one question the point of two hours of public “input” on the proposal. If the ink on the bill is already dry and the votes on it are already counted, can the hearing be much more than political theater?

Some of the new Republicans in the General Assembly might be wanting to slow down the process a trifle and ask some questions, namely, "Does this bill actually hurt our own base more than the Democratic base?" Namely elderly people without driver's licenses.

Plus, if we can read the provisions correctly, a state college photo ID, even without a local address on it, should work for purposes of voting under Section 1.1 (a1) section 3: "A valid identification card issued by a branch, department, agency, or entity of this State, any other state, or the United States authorized by law to issue personal identification." Appalachian State University is "a branch, department, agency, or entity" of NC, and this provision doesn't say a word about that ID containing a local address that matches the local address in the official Voter File.

For those presently without any official photo ID, the bill would make each county's Board of Elections the official issuer of photo IDs, with the State Board of Elections providing each county board with "the necessary equipment, forms, supplies, and training for the production of the North Carolina voter identification cards and shall maintain such equipment." That appears at the moment to be an unfunded mandate.

(Under Section 1.9 (8), the bill sets aside a niggardly $600,000 state-wide for "education and publicity requirements." Yeah. That should cover it!)

There's this lovely provision under Section 1.8: "To obtain a special identification card without paying a fee, a homeless person must present a letter to the Division from the director of a facility that provides care or shelter to homeless persons verifying that the person is homeless."

Shouldn't Republican members of the General Assembly be required to present certification that they're all hopeless dickheads?

(One potentially positive rewriting of existing NC elections law: people requesting an absentee mail-in ballot will no longer have to write out their requests.)



1. The explanation about sales tax referenda by county commissioners Nathan Miller and Vince Gable, when speaking before the Republican County Convention on Saturday, appear to be what is generally called “distancing themselves” from their own vote on a resolution to hold the sales tax referendum. We’re only talking options here, people! It’s not as though we’re actually going to exercise that option! Which was why, obviously, they took the better part of an hour on March 1 trying to convince lone hold-out commissioner Tim Futrelle to vote with them.

2. At both the Watauga and Ashe Republican county conventions, NC House member Jonathan Jordan reasserted that his Number One priority is “job creation.” (He and fellow Republicans are just taking the scenic route.)

3. Open to interpretation: State Senator Dan Soucek said at the Watauga Republican Convention, “We have to force people to take care of each other.” One poor person can be made to take care of the next one?

4. After listening to once & future candidate for NC Gov. Pat McCrory, one participant at the Watauga Republican Convention, said, “It remains to be seen whether North Carolina will want a sarcastic smart-ass in the governor’s office.”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I'm Not Making This Up

If I'm reading this correctly, County Commissioner Nathan Miller and fellow Commissioner Vince Gable, who just two weeks ago voted for a resolution calling for a public referendum to raise the local sales tax rate, are now saying that they themselves will vote against the referendum. What?!

This is according to NewGuy over at the Republican Party blog:
"...Miller and Gable BOTH stated that they personally would not vote for a sales tax increase IF such a referendum were held - but, that given the possibility of heavy cuts from the states, some additional revenue sources might need to be considered, they decided to make arrangements for public input...."

"IF such a referendum were held"??? The two of them voted to hold the referendum, as did Commissioner David Blust (whom no one bothers to interview since he's just a bobblehead exactly mimicking the nearest adults).

The rewriting of recent history is off and running. Now the Republican county commissioners, rather than calling for a sales tax hike, are really just doing us all a favor by making "arrangements for public input." "Arrangements for public input." Never heard a tax referendum described so ... generously.

We guess the blow-back from the Tea Party got a little brisk.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Extreme Unction

Today, at the Watauga County Republican Party convention, Congresswoman Virginia A. Foxx had an opinion about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan:

It is a sign that God is still in charge.

Have you noticed how powerful I've become?

Trouble in the Ashe County GOP

According to the very conservative newspaper columnist Ron Fitzwater, the Ashe County Republicans will be convening for their annual convention today in Jefferson with a bitter fight brewing between the Paint Stripping Tea Baggers and the "Moderate Conservatives."

The Tea-Bagger-appeasing and moderate-conservative faker Jonathan Jordan is in the big middle of the potential mess.

Fitzwater is worried but hopeful (though that Freudian slip in the first sentence below is somewhat telling):
Still, I have faith that the local TEA Party will be more conscience [conscious?] about how they proceed and won’t allow the divide to grow but give a little to keep even moderate conservatives in office.

Yes, as much as I do really hate to criticize something that worked well last fall, if the TEA Party and traditional Republicans don’t learn to work together, then they best get used to the fact that the division in the GOP will result in a Democratic Party resurgence that will spread from Ashe County to D.C.

It’s really that simple .... The work to unify Ashe Conservatives must begin Saturday with compromise and a vision for the future that doesn’t split the party.

We Have Our Own Tsunami

...of bad public policy, courtesy of the new Vandal majority in the NC General Assembly (via "The Outer Banks Voice":
A group of Republicans wants to undo a final legacy of former state Senate leader Marc Basnight — the ban on plastic bags in northern coastal counties.

The Senate bill filed Thursday calls for repealing the ban initiated by the Dare County Democrat and relying on programs that encourage reusing and recycling plastic bags....

At the rate they're going, it won't take a full two years for North Carolina to become as backward, benighted, and blind to reality as ... South Carolina.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Better Wake Up

An old, old saying, updated for today:
First they declared corporations were "people," and I didn't complain because I'm already a person.

Then they made unlimited money "speech," and I didn't complain because the American Dream says I'll be rich someday, too.

Then they commandeered the means of production by shipping our greatest strength - manufacturing - overseas, because they don't have bothersome unions over there, and I didn't complain because WalMart has cheap stuff.

Then they bought Congress so they could write the laws, and I didn't complain because I can’t be bothered to vote.

Then they bought the Supreme Court so they could cement their rule, and I didn't complain because I don't have time to pay attention.

Then they bought the news so they could convince everyone it's always been this way, and I didn't complain because it's always been this way.

Then they manhandled an election and I didn't complain because I'm not from Florida.

Then they lied us into wars and I didn't complain because I'm not a soldier, or an Iraqi, or an Afghani.

Then millions died for profit and I didn't complain because the graphics on the news were totally awesome.

Then they started locking people up because they said they could and I didn't complain because nobody locked me up.

Then they started spying on everyone because they said they could and I didn't complain because I'm a real American.

Then they came for the worker, but thanks to supply-side trickle-down economics, I don't have a job.

Hattip: A.M.

Who Doesn't Have a Photo ID in North Carolina?

In early February the NC State Board of Elections matched its database of 6.1 million voters with records at the Division of Motor Vehicles. The BOE found that 1 million voters -- not would-be voters, but actual voters -- did not have a NC driver's license or ID card with matching name and address.

An analysis of those 1,000,000 voters found the following:
114,000 matched except for a variation in name (e.g., women who changed their last name)

334,000 had additional mismatching info but also some indication they had an ID

Out of the remaining 554,000 voters, where no indication of a match existed, 95,000 are classified as "Inactive" registered voters; 460,500 are "Active" registered voters with no indication of a current and valid ID

Of those 460,500 "Active" registered voters with no ID, 276,006 are white

148,988 are over the age of 65

290,541 are women

111,665 are registered Republicans

Hmm. Since three of those four demographic groups -- white people, old people, and registered Republicans -- are increasingly the Republican base in NC, the GOP's proposed voter photo ID law might turn out to be a case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

Our Esteemed 'Honorables' in Raleigh

As Chris Fitzsimon says, the GOP Clown Car in the General Assembly is moving so much bad legislation so fast, with the Capitol press corps greatly reduced in numbers and understandably exhausted, that it's difficult for an ordinary citizen to keep up.

For example, not content to impose additional hurdles on voters, many of whom have been registered and active voters for years, in a voter suppression ID law, the Clown College has also introduced a bill to eliminate straight-party voting. Why? Must be that more Democrats vote straight-party.

Other evidence: Desperate to please their Tea Party ring masters and frustrated in their attempts to override The Guv's veto of House Bill 2, the "Screw Obamacare" act that the Attorney General says is unenforceable and unconstitutional to boot, the House Republicans used a parliamentary trick. Rep. Paul Stam, the Republican majority leader, switched his vote on the veto override yesterday so that under the rules he could bring up the override again for a revote ... should there be an opportunity when four Democrats were simultaneously out of the room for a pee. Rob Schofield has the full description of what went down.

Unleash digital billboards every 1,500 feet on our highways. Cripple the public schools. Try to engrave second-class citizenship for gay people in the state's Constitution. These are only the visible peaks of outrageousness.

There's House Bill 301, which would empower North Carolina to create its own currency when the "inevitable destruction of the Federal Reserve System" comes, presumably about 30 minutes after The Rapture.

Or House Bill 240, a "Tenther" law meant to exempt North Carolina from the federal safe foods act.

Or House Bill 34, another "Tenther" law being pushed by the Art Pope Empire that would assert North Carolina sovereignty over the federal government. Jonathan Jordan is a co-sponsor of this one.

Chris Fitzsimon gathered up a few more examples: may not have heard that the House approved legislation Wednesday that would hamstring efforts to protect rivers and streams from pollution, prevent state officials from adopting workplace safety laws, even make it impossible for the Department of Revenue to adopt rules to crack down on corporations that try to avoid paying their taxes.

Maybe you didn’t know that a House committee voted to change current law to allow people to carry concealed weapons in state and local parks and in restaurants that serve alcohol.

You probably didn’t hear that early Wednesday morning lawmakers considered a list of options to balance the budget that included laying off 18,000 teacher assistants and abolishing a nationally recognized early childhood program for at-risk kids.

Or that legislation is making its way through the General Assembly that could deny access to low interest federal loans to 177,000 community college students, many of whom are unemployed workers trying to learn another skill after losing their job.

Make no mistake: This is Art Pope's state. We're just living here (at least for the time being).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Meet Madam Foxx's Next Primary Challenger

That's evidently Richard V. Carter Jr. At least, that's the picture he posted of himself on his personal blog, An American Perspective, back in 2009. That was the first of precisely three total posts, the last being in October 2009.

But he's getting active again, and in an announcement on NC Conservative, he sez he's getting ready to maybe challenge Virginia Foxx in a primary in 2012. Here's his announcement in toto:

My name is Richard Carter and I am very proud and excited about this announcement. Many already know I am considering running to be the 2012 Republican candidate for North Carolina's 5th district seat in the United States House of Representatives. With this announcement I make official the exploration of my candidacy for the 5th district seat currently held by Representative Virginia Foxx.

The Republican primary to determine who citizens of the 5th district will send to Washington to represent them in the 113th Congress of the United States of America is one year away. As we get closer to the primary I would like to introduce myself via occasional personal emails and, very soon, a weekly newsletter. If you would like to learn more about who I am, what I believe in, and how I would serve you as your elected Representative in Washington, please let me know by sending me an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . I will add your email address to my communications list so that you will begin receiving these occasional communications from me. Please know that your privacy is very important to me so I alone will be using your email address.

Please note that should my candidacy become official I will update everyone with my candidate website. Until that time, I will be responding personally so if it takes me a day or two getting back to you, please let me apologize in advance for the delay. And if you know someone you want to include in the loop please feel free to share my email address with them. I greatly anticipate introducing myself to you all and earning your trust, and possibly your vote, as we move towards the 2012 election.

God Bless,
Richard V Carter Jr
US House 2012

I am currently working on my first newsletter. I have some suggestions from those I have already spoken with about what they would like me to do in Washington. If any of you feel inclined to write me, please let me know what you would want from me in Washington. I am interested in any ideas, suggestions, or requests as these will establish what I will do if elected.

Yessir! Sometimes politics is just so wonderfully ... random.

Not Quite at the Bottom

Headline this a.m.:
N.C. falls to 46th in per-pupil spending

The North Carolina Tea Party must be very proud of stats like these:
10,000 public school jobs lost in the current school year

4,789 teacher jobs and 2,769 teacher assistants cut this school year

North Carolina now ranks above only Mississippi in the Southeast in dollars spent per student

A decade ago, North Carolina had climbed to an all-time-high ranking of 20th in the nation in teacher pay; today the state is 45th

The King Snake

Finally! The North Carolina Independent and the Institute of Southern Studies have produced an exhaustive series of investigative pieces on kingpin Art Pope and his coils wrapped around the General Assembly in Raleigh.

I've managed to read only the one titled "The Art Pope empire: Media outlets, think tanks and election machines" by Chris Kromm. This is the piece that lays out the massive and relentless attack machine that smeared Sen. Steve Goss and Rep. Cullie Tarleton, though neither of them are mentioned in the article. But the exact same mail pieces that were used against Goss and Tarleton were used in dozens of other General Assembly races. This is the man pulling Dan Soucek's strings and Jonathan Jordan's guy-wires.

NOTE: Part of Art Pope's vision of the future includes voter suppression through his pet "voter photo ID" law.

Other articles in the suite of investigative pieces focus on other areas of the Art Pope empire:

Pope-funded groups and the dismantling of public education (more Charter schools and school vouchers, anyone?)

Pope Foundation failed to file tax returns on time (because the super-rich have different rules)

Pope-backed groups figure largely on N&O's op-ed page (The Echo Chamber)

Pope-backed climate cranks target North Carolina renewable energy law (among the things Art Pope and his minions HATE are solar energy and wind power)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Robbed in Plain Sight

Finally got to see the Academy Award-winning documentary "Inside Job." True to advance billing, it made my blood boil.

Clear, concise, instructive in the best sense of that word, "Inside Job" lays out the hidden dimensions of America's true criminal class -- Wall Street banksters.

Actually, not all that hidden, since every president since Ronald Reagan has participated in the public unleashing of the rapacious egos who have not once but repeatedly brought us widespread ruin ... for everyone but themselves.

Every president. That includes Bill Clinton. It certainly now includes Barack Obama. Because, as someone says on camera in the movie, we now have a government by, for, and of Wall Street.

Charles Ferguson, the producer/writer/director of "Inside Job," famously said as he accepted the Academy Award on February 27, "Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong."

The biggest revelation for me was the extent that academic economists -- particularly at prestigious schools like Harvard, Columbia, Princeton -- were and are corrupted by Wall Street money. The economists that get swooned over and quoted widely on TV talk shows and hired into every president's inner circle are essentially whores for money. They'll agree with whatever fraudulent scheme the big bucks want to sell.

You should watch this movie. You should educate yourself. The banksters are betting you won't.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Here's an Idea, Sen. Hagan: Get Our Money Back From the Banksters Who Stole It!

Sen. Kay Hagan's banker genes reassert themselves.

News, North Carolina: "You little people are going to have to sacrifice even more to 'pay down the national debt,' because we corporatist Democrats will never ever call the billionaires who stole all the money and brought on the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression to account for their crimes."

Charge 'em, prosecute 'em, and get the money back.

GOP Thinks the Time's Right to Suppress the Youth Vote

Timely article is today's WashPost that highlights North Carolina's proposed voter ID law, in particular for the way it (and similar laws proposed in New Hampshire and other states) will disproportionately disenfranchise college students from voting where they're going to school.

For the record, the right of college students to vote wherever they're attending college was established by the Supreme Court in 1979 in Symm v. U.S.

But it's a perennial itch certain Powers That Be can't help scratching, and they think they've got the right "scratcher" in voter ID laws that demand the correct and current local address on the ID.

If there was ever any doubt of why college students are always targeted by voter suppression laws, the Republican Speaker of the New Hampshire state House had a candid and unguarded moment: "Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do."

Well, true, they haven't shown much affection for some Republican death-wishes, like treating gay people as not-quite-full citizens and treating pregnant women like breeding stock. But they are, legally and ethically, full members of the Commonweal after they reach the age of 18.

The movement to disenfranchise them because they carry photo IDs without local addresses (driver's licenses from other counties or other states or college IDs), will eventually bite the Republicans in their posteriors. "There's no doubt that this [New Hampshire] bill would help Republican causes," said Richard Sunderland III, head of the College Republicans at Dartmouth College. But, he added, "this doesn't help if the Republican Party wants to try to win over people in the 18-to-24 age range."

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Grocery Store Dan Soucek

So when Senator Dan Soucek was praised in a local grocery store for his support for Senate Bill 8, which will not only lift the cap on the number of Charter schools in the state but also force the public schools to share increasing amounts of their funding with the charters, Mr. Soucek reportedly said that his main concern was the "amount of misinformation" being circulated.

Actually, he might more accurately have said that he was concerned that the true impact of SB8 was actually getting out to the people, and that's a problem.

· The bill provides funding to charter school students at the expense of students educated in traditional public schools.

· The bill gives charters funding for services they do not provide.

· The bill will require that funds raised by public school athletic or band booster clubs be shared with charter schools.

· School lunch money, both through the federal Free and Reduced Lunch program and through any local supplemental cafeteria sales, will be required to be shared with charter schools.

· The bill will make it unaffordable for local public schools to continue operating a pre-kindergarten program because funds for Head Start, Smart Start and More at Four all must be shared with charter schools.

· The bill will provide a “school choice” for some students but not for all.

· Families of children who cannot afford to provide transportation or food service will be precluded from enrollment in a charter school that does not offer those services.

· The bill is likely to lead to re-segregated schools, particularly in our state's urban districts.

· The bill will mandate that any rental fees a local school collects on buildings used for community events must be shared with charters.

· This is a back-door voucher whereby home schools and private schools can convert to charters to receive public funding.

Gov. 'Dumpling' Strikes Back

Republicans in Raleigh (and a few old-boy Democrats) like to call Gov. Perdue "Dumpling" behind her back (here and in dozens of other places).

Nothing soft and sticky sweet about The Guv lately. She just vetoed that giant piece of GOP time-wasting named House Bill 2, the “Protect Health Care Freedom” act (otherwise known as "Stick a Finger in Obama's Eye Act of 2011").

Saturday afternoon, Perdue called H2 "superfluous" and unconstitutional. "This is an ill-conceived piece of legislation that's not good for the people of North Carolina," the governor said. "Therefore I veto it."

The Guv shows very heartening signs of moving from "Dumpling" to North Carolina's Iron Lady.

From Laura Leslie at WRAL:
In an advisory letter to the governor last week, Attorney General Roy Cooper called the measure unenforceable and unconstitutional. “State legislatures cannot pick and choose which federal laws the state will obey,” Cooper said, “even those laws we don’t like or agree with.”

Cooper also warned Perdue that H2 could cost the state millions in federal Medicaid funding, saying one provision in the bill would ban state Medicaid providers from paying an HCR-required fee for a new anti-fraud program.

Sen. Brown Wants to Unleash the NC Billboard Industry

North Carolina Republican Senator (and Majority Leader) Harry Brown of Onslow and Jones counties wants to let loose the billboard industry, particularly the makers and hawkers of digital advertizing, on every North Carolina interstate or "primary highway."

To achieve that end he's introduced very quietly Senate Bill 183. If passed, it would (among other things)...

1. Allow digital ("automatic changeable facing") and "tri-vision" billboards every 1,500 feet on both sides of every major highway in the state. Advertisements must stay fixed for only 8 seconds.

2. Allow by right the conversion of any existing regular billboards to digital billboards, even if they are locally "nonconforming." In other words, this is a state law which would over-rule local ordinances regulating billboards. An example of Tea-Party-style small government?

3. Increase the "cut zone" (the clear-cutting of trees) around any billboard from 250 feet to 400 feet while also (you got it!) over-ruling any local tree-cutting ordinances.

So far as we can find, no mainstream newspaper in North Carolina has taken any note of this very bad law. Though there is a "No on SB 183" Facebook group growing.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

NC GOP Wants to Cut $1 Billion from Education, Eliminate Teachers

It was your basic Friday bad news dump, with the new Republican majority in the General Assembly announcing that they intend to eliminate between 5 and 10 percent of teaching positions and increase class sizes, on their way to cutting $1 billion from education alone.

"Public schools are going to be squeezed hard," boasted Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

They say their target is "dead wood," bad teachers, and apparently there are thousands of them to hunt down and string up.

Their real target is public education itself.

Meanwhile, the Watauga County Board of Education, with a majority of Republicans, voted unanimously (4-0, with Lee Warren absent) again to oppose Senate Bill 8, which is another assault on public education in that it mandates public schools share more and more funding with charters. Sen. Dan Soucek of Watauga voted for it.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Solidarity Forever

In view of what's been stirring in Wisconsin, and spreading to other states, and the unprecedented verbal attacks on teachers spewing out of Fox News and talk radio, and the wholly skewed values of the contemporary GOP that glorify banksters and vilify public workers, a reader has shared an original verse added to the old organizing song, "Solidarity Forever":

It is we who teach the classes, hold the workshops in the schools,

Go to conferences and meetings to expand our thoughts and tools.

Yet now we are reviled, told we're nothing more than fools,

But united we are strong.

Solidarity Forever, etc.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Everything That Rises Must Converge

Carter Wrenn, the man who turned Jesse Helms from mush-mouthed TV personality into mush-mouthed Avatar of the Right Wing, has some words of warning directed at the new Republican majority in the General Assembly and their decision to embrace the Art Pope Vision for Tomorrow:
...over in the State Legislature, big business is having its best day in quite awhile. According to the newspaper, several members of our newly elected Republican Majority have adopted the Chamber of Commerce’s legislative agenda more or less down the line. For example, they’re pushing bills to implement the Chamber’s plan to make our justice system ‘rational, fair and predictable’ which, translated from political-speak into plain English, means changing our laws to favor big business. Senate Republican Leader Harry Brown is even pushing a beach replenishment-groin building plan to provide relief to beleaguered enclaves like Figure 8 Island and Bald Head Island.

...embracing the political agenda of the second least popular group of folks in America [Big Business] may not be such a good idea. In fact, it could turn out to be the worst idea Republicans have had since Reconstruction.

But, then, what does Carter Wrenn know?

Gerrymandering Outlook

Greensboro N&R political reporter Mark Binker mentions Virginia Foxx's 5th District as part of his crystal-balling what redistricting is going to do this year, particularly across the northern tier of North Carolina counties. Foxx's 5th will have to add a bunch of people.

For a good, color-coded map of the 13 Congressional districts as they presently stand, go here.

All of this speculation prompted by the U.S. Census dump yesterday of new numbers for North Carolina.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Watauga County Budget Issues -- Potpourri

In the order they came up last weekend:

1. Commissioner Vince Gable referred vaguely on Friday at the “pre-budget retreat” to telephone calls he had received that contained threatening language directed at “another commissioner.”

2. The county’s swimming pool: a limping liability. It has been patched and patched and patched over the years for a total accumulation of over $650,000 expended, money scarfed during the last Republican majority from a capital reserve that had been building to replace the entire structure. Commissioner Jim Deal said he was not for spending any more money on bandaids and that a long-term solution had to be found. It currently costs some $300,000 per annum to operate the facility, and it would cost over $1 mill to replace it. (Best guess: If we were the county manager, closing the pool might appear to be our only viable option under current circumstances.)

3. The Watauga County Department of Health had two fairly startling factoids to report: suicide has become a big public health issue, and Watauga County is infested with bed bugs. (Those two things are not necessarily related.)

4. Worthy initiatives like a new classroom building at Caldwell Technical Institute, the Watauga County Housing Trust and economic development ideas seem destined to wither in the next budget year.

5. Courthouse lockdown: Senior Superior Court Judge Phil Ginn has ordered all the counties of the 24th Judicial Dist. to essentially limit and control all admittance to the county courthouse, which is going to cost the county some money. In short, Judge Ginn wants...
A. Public access limited to one entrance only, which means the King Street entrance, with the side entrances both closed permanently and the back entrance either key-coded for employees only or equipped and staffed like the King Street entrance.

B. The judge wants any public entrances staffed during all hours by uniformed officers and equipped with certified metal detectors.

C. The judge also wrote, “Please also be advised that I may very well be issuing an Order in the not too distant future limiting the possession of electronic devices in the courthouse including cell phones and computers by unauthorized individuals.”

D. Judge Ginn added, “I fully understand that there will be costs involved that may be difficult for your respective counties to fund. Nevertheless, ...” just do it!

E. The judge is fully authorized by NC statute to impose these costs on the county.

Here We Go Again!

After campaigning in 2010 against the referendum to raise sales taxes in Watauga County a quarter-cent, the three Republican commissioners voted this morning to submit another referendum to the public to raise sales taxes in Watauga County a quarter-cent.

The vote was 3-1, with Tim Futrelle the lone vote against. Commissioner Jim Deal was absent.

The referendum will be held May 17. The election itself will cost the taxpayers approximately $25,000 - $30,000 ... same as the last sales tax referendum.

Remarkable the speed with which the resolution to call for this vote was conceived, developed, and acted on. The very first public utterance about a sales tax increase occurred near the end of the commissioners' pre-budget retreat on Saturday. By this morning, research had been completed on the scheduling of such a vote, and the resolution language had been drafted.

Speed is of the essence, obviously. If the referendum passes on May 17 and is certified, it will still be October 1, 2011, before the first collections can begin. As it is, and if the referendum passes, the county can only hope for additional revenue during eight months of FY2012.

The projected revenue to be raised for those eight months: $1,160,000.

The discussion focused on (a) the commissioner's unhappiness at having to do this and (b) blaming the new high school for the necessity. They put it in their resolution that the new sales tax referendum would be devoted exclusively to debt service.

Commissioner Vince Gable once again brought up his preference for a land-transfer tax, but legislation is already introduced in Raleigh (which will probably pass) to rescind the ability of counties to pass such a tax.

Food and medicine will be exempt from the sales tax increase.

Waiting until the second meeting in March to pass the resolution would cost the county three more months of revenue ... because of tricky timing issues.

Commissioner David Blust: If we don't pass this tax, then we're looking at a property tax increase or many more firings of employees.

Vince Gable: I know I'll get some grief over this for a "flip-flop on taxes, but it's apples and oranges, what the money will be used for versus the last referendum. I don't like spending the $30,000 on the election.

Nathan Miller: We're going to throw this up there and let the people decide.

David Blust: Our backs are against the wall.

Tim Futrelle: We found a way to balance the budget for the last three years without doing something like this.