Thursday, May 30, 2013

Did His Blog Make Him Look Fat?

Bryan R. Holloway is a Republican member of the General Assembly from Stokes County. He's been "outed" for a really strange offense against Southern manhood. Evidently, he's an anonymous blogger about men's clothing styles, a sartorial savant.

Apparently, there's something embarrassing about that, made clear by Mr. Holloway's sudden scramble to disappear his blog and his stark unavailability to answer questions.

Strange bunch down there in Raleigh.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Opposing the Republican Tax-Hike Plan

NC GOP Motto: "If You Can't Make Things Worse, Don't Do Anything at All"

Race to the bottom.

That's the Republican formula for the North Carolina public education system. Cripple it. Starve it. Give what money might have improved things to private corporations. Then complain about those over-paid teachers.

Mike Ward was superintendent of public instruction in North Carolina from 1997 to 2004, so he knows something about the history of public education in the state, and he can tell a hawk from a hand-saw.

Ward writes in the News&Observer, identifying three primary public-education-killing initiatives by the Republicans in the General Assembly:
1. Massive cuts to school funding. This means thousands of lost teaching positions. It means crowded classrooms and the loss of teacher assistants in early elementary grades, even though research shows that smaller class sizes help students, especially struggling students. 
2. Vouchers. If you want to know where money to pay for teachers is going, one place to look is at the proposed voucher legislation. Proponents refer to them as “opportunity scholarships.” Vouchers are bad public policy, snatching millions of dollars away from public schools that desperately need them. We support the choice of private education, but taxpayers will foot the bill for some parents to send their children to private schools. Legislators backing these vouchers will tell you that the vouchers are for disadvantaged students, but the bulk of these vouchers will go to middle-income residents – and you’ll get to pay their children’s private school tuition. Vouchers are an expensive, divisive program with virtually no record of improving overall student performance. 
3. Reduced funding for pre-kindergarten. This is a senseless and self-defeating proposal. Investing in pre-K is not just good for kids – it’s good for all of us. Research shows that quality pre-K returns $5-$13 for every dollar spent by reducing costs for remedial education, social services and criminal justice.
Under the rough handling of the Republicans in Raleigh, North Carolina already ranks 48th in per pupil expenditure and 46th in how well teachers are rewarded. The Republican solution to that abysmal set of statistics ... MAKE EVERYTHING WORSE!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Hit-and-Run Commissioner

Nathan Miller, Chair of the Watauga County Commission, has filed organizational papers to run for District Attorney.

Apparently, he's done what he can to wreck good will, mutuality, cooperation, and civic respect on the County Commission and plans to spread his brand of public service to the prosecution of crime in the 24th Solicitorial District.

Anyone know the lyrics to "I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone"?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

'Nuf Said

Lede paragraph in Anna Oakes' story on the Boone housing study:
A draft housing analysis commissioned by the Boone Town Council concludes there is currently a surplus of student housing in Boone and that the oversupply is projected to increase.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Our Jackass Governor Thinks We're All Idiots

Gov. Squishy talked about the massive protests that have been building at the General Assembly building in Raleigh, especially on what's being called "Moral Mondays," where people are voluntarily being arrested to express their civil disobedience to the regime now in power and its attempts to suppress voter rights, end public education, throw out environmental protections, and seize power from the state's municipalities (among other baleful measures).

This is what the Governor said to WSOC-TV:
"They [the protesters] want to keep the status quo. I am not in favor of keeping the status quo. We have got to fix broken operations in the state government, and in order to do that, I am stepping on the toes of the right, the left, the middle."
Let's break that down a little. "They want to keep the status quo" ... well, yes, in a way, if we understand status quo to mean free and easy ballot-access for the poor, people of color, the homeless, college students -- all the voters who've shown little affection for the Republican schemes to drive us all back to 1920.

Status quo ... a vibrant and fully functioning public education system that isn't privatized for the benefit of a few corporations or shit-canned by laying off teacher assistants and by increasing class sizes to cattle-pen status.

Status quo ... protections for the state's air and water and natural resources and not easy whoring after fracked gas and the unleashing of polluters.

Status quo ... local city governments making decisions about growth and development according to their own lights and in accordance with their own voters' wishes, not having their resources seized with no compensation, yes THAT status quo.

The Guv sez, "I am stepping on the toes of the right, the left, the middle." Who exactly is he trying to kid? He's terrified of THE RIGHT, he gives not a rusty fig for the left, and he's strayed so far from the middle that he couldn't find his own ass with both hands and a head start.

Don't know what crack pipe this grinning idiot has been sucking on, but it must be some pretty powerful rock.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is Nathan Miller's Hatred of Gays Behind His Take-Over of DSS?

It apparently came as quite a shock to County Commission Chair Nathan Miller to learn that there are gay foster parents in Watauga County -- and have been for many years -- and there's some convincing persistence to the explanation that this feeling is behind his seizure of power to take the duties of the board of directors of the Department of Social Services for himself and thus put a stop to a program that actually works.

Evidently, under Mr. Miller's influence we can expect the new director of DSS to be hostile to gay foster parents. We're eagerly awaiting the evidence.

Body Language

At last night's County Commission public hearing on the fate of nonprofits, with Kay Borkowski addressing the board on behalf of the Hospitality House (and giving the commissioners a history lesson in Watauga County government's commitment to the poor, going back to 1886).

Commission Chair Nathan Miller is dead center in white, with Perry Yates to his immediate left and David Blust to his immediate right.

"Hey, Commissioners! Do the Math!" More Testimony From Last Night

I’m Todd Carter, and I am here representing Hospitality House.

You may choose to not fund us again this year, give us the big fat goose egg - $0, for the third year in a row, but you will pay, one way or the other, for the 225 Watauga residents that we served in 2012.

Let me paint you a picture: Hospitality House has to close its doors; men, women and children begin sleeping in your barns and sheds, camping on your property and living in cars on public property. Eventually, you call the law because these families are trespassing - they’re on your land! Kids are taken from their parents and turned over to DSS, parents are put in jail.

Watauga County pays $64 per person, per day, for everyone at the detention center. Do you want to know what the value of Hospitality House is? $32 per person, per day, is what it costs us to provide food, shelter, and services – and we offer a lot more than the jail! We have continuing education classes, resume workshops, community kitchen, mentoring, and more.

Do the math. It’s your choice, but from where I’m standing, it looks to me like you aren’t doing the fiscally responsible thing for this county or for your budget.

Thank you.

"Please do not tell us to go somewhere else"

My name is Allison Jennings, and I am the Food Service Coordinator for Hospitality House. We provided over 10,000 meals just last month to our residents and others who are hungry and looking for their next meal. The Bread of Life Community Kitchen at Hospitality House also provided food boxes for over 550 people. Some 10,000 meals plus food boxes for 550 people each and every month. I am the only paid staff in our kitchen.

Schools are getting out for the summer very soon. Thousands of parents and children in Watauga County depend on our schools to provide meals for students. For most of these families, this is the only food available to them.

Where will these parents go to feed their children?

The federal government has cut back TEFAP assistance (which is food going directly to food pantries like Hospitality House) by 60%. The House Agricultural Committee has approved over $20 billion in cuts to the Food Stamp Program.

The federal government has told these families to go somewhere else for help.

Our NC state government has cut food assistance through the State Nutritional Assistance Program by 50%. The NC Senate is considering tripling our food sales tax, from the current 2% to 6.5%.

Our NC legislators have told these families to go somewhere else for help.

Will these families turn to churches, our schools and civic organizations to feed their children? There are programs available, called the Summer Foods Program, to offer healthy, nutritious meals in the summertime, while schools are out. I have asked churches and Watauga County Schools to please participate in this program. I have been told "no," "not now," "maybe next summer."

Where will these hungry families turn?

They are turning to you.

As a person who sees the face of hunger every day because of homelessness, job loss, addictions or mental health issues, I ask on behalf of those struggling neighbors that I love so much, please help be a part of the solution. Please do not tell us, like so many others have, to go somewhere else.

Thank you for your time.

"On your watch, one in five people is struggling to put food on the table" -- More Testimony From Last Night's Public Hearing

More of the crowd at last night's public hearing
My name is Christina May, and I serve on the Hospitality House Board.

I’m a retired Naval officer. I have a master’s in public administration, and I am working on a PhD in nonprofit management.

During my career, I observed some extraordinary leaders. And I know what it means to stand watch over the welfare of others.

Studies show that former public leaders reflect on their experiences in common ways.

I recall talking to the commanding officer of the USS Constellation, an aircraft carrier, home to many thousands of sailors. When I asked this man what he was proud of, he did not mention military campaigns or new technology developed on his ship. He said he was most proud of taking care of his crew.

When I asked an admiral this question, she did not tell me about the millions in contracts and construction she brought to her base. She told me she was most proud of helping those on her base achieve a better quality of life.

I know the Marine Corps general who was in charge of all joint operations during the latest Iraq War. When I asked, “General, what are you most proud of?” He practically shouted, “That I took care of my Marines!”

Now, granted, these accounts have nothing to do with Watauga County. But, it’s interesting, isn’t it? These extremely accomplished and well-trained leaders were engaged in matters of national importance, yet their first priority was taking care of their own.

When your term as a commissioner has ended, will you be able to say the same?

Right now, on your watch, one in five people is struggling to put food on the table this evening. Over 26% of our citizens live in poverty. Some of our own are not doing so well. Often, these people find sustenance and shelter at Hospitality House. Hospitality House helps people improve their situations, thereby eventually lowering the poverty rate. But, for the third year in a row, you have declined to fund Hospitality House, putting its sustainability and the care of citizens under your charge in jeopardy.

Gentlemen, studies indicate, this is not something you will be proud of.

Non-Profits Offer Essential Services to the County at Bargain Prices

Statement for the Budget Hearing before the Watauga County Commissioners, May 21, 2013, presented by William M. Hutchins, a resident of the Green Valley Community and a member of the Board of Directors of the Green Valley Community Park:

Thank you for hearing me and thank you for the $10,000 grant for the Green Valley Community Park last year.

Speaking only for myself, I do not understand the rationale for allocating in the new budget $15,000 for the Valle Crucis Community Park and $4,000 for the Green Valley Community Park. Both parks serve all the citizens of Watauga County and both are run by 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt non-profits with a board of directors.

The Green Valley Community Park is not an association of teapot-lovers who are begging for public support for a private charity that runs a teapot museum. We are providing a public service more cheaply than the County can.

I think that making a big deal of an organization’s tax status is pointless. We do not, for example, normally ask couples we meet, “Are you married filing jointly or married filing separately.” Both the Valle Crucis Community Park and the Green Valley Community Park are currently part of a private-public partnership to improve the quality of life of citizens of Watauga County and of our visitors, a.k.a. tourists.

Does Watauga County currently operate a park in the Green Valley Community? No. In the Green Valley Community, where does a citizen find: public restrooms, a kid playground, a picnic shelter, a soccer field, a canoe ramp, walking trails including birding trails, and a canoe ramp, open to the public during the season —except at the Green Valley Community Park?

We offer these facilities to the public at far less expense to Watauga County than, say, if the County established a duplicate park, which would, I suggest, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Non-profits like our own are private providers of public services, and we do this more cheaply than the County can, if only because we energize a network of volunteers.

We will not be forced to close. We have no debts and no liens. But we may be forced to curtail our services to the public. The restrooms may be open only on weekends, and the grass of the soccer field, which served the Hispanic Soccer League for the last two years, may be cut less frequently. Alternatively, we could bill the Green Valley School for every school trip to the park, etc.

We are not looking for a handout. We are looking for an active partnership to benefit the citizens of Watauga County.

"Food, Shelter, Heat Are Not Luxuries"

Remarks during the public hearing on non-profits last night at the Watauga County Commission meeting, by Christy Welch, a school counselor at Mabel School:
Part of the overflow crowd at the County Commission last night
In the interest of transparency I am the proud wife of the man in the pink tie.

I come to you tonight with a heavy heart. I am dismayed that the attack on Watauga's hardworking citizens continues. I was hopeful that with the extra revenue coming from the tax redistribution non profits would see some relief. That obviously is not the case.

It is unbelievable that many of you sitting up there are voting on non profits for which you have no idea what they do. My family has served at the Hospitality House and seen the children's faces as they go through the line. We've delivered bag lunches to the hunger coalition because their food pantry was empty. My husband and I have attended meetings for WYN, Mtn alliance pancake breakfasts and attended the Children's Playhouse luncheon where I am proud to say they were honoring our daughter for her Hearts for the Homeless event she organized at our church. These organizations do great things.

I've taken the phone call from the mom crying because she and her children had no heat and had to sleep under blankets in one room huddled up together. I sent them to WeCAN, but because of limited funding they were only doing electric, not fuel. So I made the phone call to my spouse saying I know we don't have it, but I can't let them freeze, and took a deep breath when he says we'll figure it out do what you have to. We can't let those children freeze. This is just one story of many.

You may say the churches and people need to step up. Well they are. At my school between individuals, churches, and civic groups over $6,500 in assistance has been give out. This does not include assistance for field trips. This is not sustainable. 
Some may question my family's giving. John and I make less than $80,000,and we would love to just give and give, but unfortunately that is not always possible. However, this year we paid for $1,000 worth of fuel for my families at Mabel. While we don't typically share this information, I think it's important to note that we, who make less than $80,000 only gave $1,500 less to WeCAN than a county getting ready to come into $500,000. Food, shelter, heat are not luxuries or something to be put on a wish list. They are basic needs. 
My family tries to live by Proverbs 31: 8-9: "Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down and outers, speak out for justice. Stand up for the poor and destitute." I encourage you to take Proverbs 29: 14 into consideration: "Leadership gains authority and respect when the voiceless poor are treated fairly."  
So, are you going to follow in the steps of our Lord and take care of your people or are you going to do the opposite and leave them out in the literal cold.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Three Amigos Got an Earful ... If They Were Listening

Some 30 citizens signed up tonight to speak at the public hearing on the new proposed county budget, and very few of them – well, none – said that they think the Republican majority has been fair to, respectful of, or even vaguely knowledgeable about the work of non-profits in the county.

During budget negotiations, which I attended with excruciating pain to my backside, Commission Chair Nathan Miller made it abundantly clear, and repeatedly, that he’d like to zero out all grants for non-profits, which actually accounts for pathetic crumbs anyway in the scheme of things.

But you could not sit in that hearing tonight without gaining new respect for this larger community, which is full to overflowing with “highly qualified, highly motivated people doing essential work for the people of this county” (as one speaker expressed it), and doing it all for next to no money, although with great expertise and commendable dedication, and with clearly little to no respect from our Republican elected officials.

Watauga County citizens as a whole get an incredible bargain in what our hard-working and underrated non-profits provide, from the services of community parks or the efforts at the Western Watauga Youth Network for keeping at risk teenagers “out of the system” or the benefits to everyone when our homeless are provided some food and a roof at the Hospitality House. The list went on.

Mountain Alliance, the only agency that concentrates on keeping high school students from dropping out, had its budget request cut almost in half. Several people spoke movingly, and from experience, about how that non-profit benefitted them personally and the county as a whole. Isn’t combatting the school dropout rate a social good? And who is performing that function other than dedicated and poorly compensated volunteers and professionals ... because the schools don’t have the resources and the commissioners obviously could care less?

Several speakers expressed surprise that with the windfall the county will now receive from the corrupt redistribution of sales tax revenues, and the concomitant kick-backs from the resort towns of Blowing Rock, Seven Devils, and Beech Mountain, the county has the money to help. They just don’t want to.

Meanwhile, and in defiance of the logic of that sales tax revenue redistribution, whereby the resort towns of Blowing Rock, Seven Devils, and Beech Mountain will suddenly be much richer, the Republicans on the County Commission decided to give those towns either their full budget requests for parks & rec, or very nearly their full requests, while slashing badly needed funding for Foscoe Grandfather Community Center, Valle Crucis Community Park, and especially Green Valley Community Park, which had its request for a measly $15,000 cut to an insulting $4,000. Makes no sense whatsoever!

The Hospitality House has been the most badly treated of all non-profits, getting precisely zero in funding for the last three budget cycles. One speaker said she was somewhat amazed that the County Commission is giving almost $80,000 to the Humane Society while giving $0.00 to our one homeless shelter. “You are providing funds for homeless animals,” she said. “We ask that you also provide funds for homeless people.”

I’m requesting permission to reprint several comments verbatim from tonight on this blog, and I hope to have the first of those tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Nathan Miller Plays the Grinch, and Perry Yates Gets Lost in the Weeds

The Republican three-man majority on the Watauga County Commission voted tonight to dissolve the board of the Department of Social Services (DSS) and to seize the power for themselves of hiring and firing the DSS director, just ahead of current director Jim Atkinson’s planned retirement early in 2014.

Nathan Miller gets his way ... again.

Meanwhile, fellow Republican Perry Yates got wrapped around the axle of his own visible desire to appear moderate. He wanted to change Mr. Miller’s motion to allow the current Board of Directors of DSS to remain in place as a board that “continues to run DSS,” even after Mr. Miller pointed out to him that the DSS Board does not run the department. Their only duty is the hiring and firing of the director. So Yates ended up voting for Mr. Miller’s bare-knuckles takeover of the department while continuing to express vague longings that the current board – all wonderful people, to be sure, cooed Mr. Yates – be kept on in some undefined and totally unstatutory “advisory” capacity.

Perhaps they could come in once a week and water the houseplants.

No one spoke at the public hearing in favor of Mr. Miller’s resolution. No one. Several spoke eloquently and knowledgeably about how the DSS Board has functioned without politics and independently for at least 40 years. Mr. Miller’s resolution, by placing the County Commish in the driver’s seat, inevitably injects politics into the investigation of child abuse and a host of other societal ills.

One speaker against Mr. Miller’s resolution, who described herself as a Christian, a licensed social worker, and a Republican, said, “I hope you don’t do this thing .... This opens the door for corruption .... What if DSS needs to investigate a family member of a county commissioner down the road? ... This opens up all sorts of ethical and legal issues for the continued independence of the department.”

Another speaker asked, “Why has this even come up ... sticking your hand into a department run by professionals?”

Chairman Miller, visibly feeling the heat and noticeably more combative because of it, answered, I’m the one that asked for this. I serve as a county commissioner on the DSS board. This has nothing to do with staff or the current director. This is a county department. We don’t have separate boards for other county agencies that hire and fire directors of those agencies or departments. We [county commission] can’t hire or fire the director, and if you as citizens have complaints against the director, we can’t do anything about it. But as county commissioners, you can fire us in the next election. My motion is for future problems that might arise. Our elected board of commissioners should answer to the people and take the future heat for any director of DSS.

Current DSS Director Jim Atkinson replied that the county commission already has total – complete – control over the department’s budget. “What more do you want?”

Commissioner John Welch, one of the two Democrats on the commission, asked rhetorically, “How many directors of DSS have we had in the last 40 years? Two. Who selected them? The board of DSS. Mr. Miller has made reference to the problems that arose when another board – the School Board – chose a Superintendent who later had to be fired. Who chose that Superintendent? I’ll tell you. It was five elected officials.” At which the crowd in the commissioner’s boardroom erupted in laughter and applause. The laughter was at Chairman Miller's expense. The applause was all for John Welch. Meanwhile, the pen that Chairman Miller was holding, had it been a small animal, would have died at that moment from his white-knuckled grip.

Commissioner Billy Kennedy, the other Democrat on the commission, said, “We already have control through the budget. I don’t know why we’re doing this, rather than for someone’s top-down...” --but he didn’t finish that thought. Every person in the audience likely finished it for him: “Rather than for someone’s top-down management style.”

Mr. Miller is a man who likes power and intends to have it.

The vote was 3-2, and the DSS Board is dissolved. We’re sure those knowledgeable and dedicated people will all want to hang around while Mr. County Attorney tries to draft some language for what an “advisory board” with zero power might do while Mr. Miller steers the department his own way.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Just Plain Nasty

Alex Jones, analyzing the newly proposed budget for the state of North Carolina that was written by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger:
It’s worth going back over the plan just to fathom the magnitude of its nastiness. Republicans want to cut in half the number of times Medicaid beneficiaries in wheelchairs or with breathing tubes, from broken families or in silent nursing homes, can receive the care of a doctor. If they get their way, there will be $5,000,000 less to insulate a man from the baroque horrors of schizophrenia. Children will struggle to learn in classrooms of indefinite size. And adding insult to stinging injury, Berger sneers at previous fiscal efforts at decency as “failed attempts….to tax, borrow, and spend [our] way to prosperity.” 
None of the foregoing language is hyperbolic. Just this once, Republicans should be ashamed of themselves. For by any decent standard, this plan is a disgrace.

McCrory Signs a Bill To Allow Pollution

House Bill 706, the innocuously titled "Preserve Landfill Space," will exempt from landfill permitting requirements any on-site demolition debris from the decommissioning of a manufacturing building, including electricity generating stations.

Old generating stations -- the ones most likely to be demolished -- are notorious for PCBs spills. As a comment on the WRAL article puts it, this bill, in plain English, allows you to "trash North Carolina anywhere and any way you want, especially if you are 'an electricity-generating station,' and you are not responsible for cleaning up the mess."

McCrory's former employer, Duke Energy, would have absolutely nothing to do with this outrageous new law.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Utter Hypocrisy of Their "Small Government"

The NC House has passed a bill and sent it to the NC Senate, which if anything is much more twisted in its values, that would push the big fat thumb of state government down on any city or town in North Carolina that dared to offer abortion coverage in their health plans for municipal workers.

Don't know why they're so hysterical about Sharia Law when they're more adept at it than your average state lawmaker.

Your Sunday Scorecard For Keeping Up with the Crazy

As they say (surely someone has said it), it's hard to keep up with derangement, so we come to rely on others who are physically closer to the Clown College in Raleigh (formerly known as the General Assembly) and who have more time than we do to track the derangement as it happens.

Thus the editorial in Friday's News&Observer is another attempt to summarize the action (though summarizing derangement is perhaps a fool's errand):
This session of the North Carolina General Assembly won’t remind anyone of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Thus far, Republicans running the show have passed some downright mean bills cutting unemployment benefits (though the federal government would have paid for an extension), not allowing more working-class people to join Medicaid, the federal/state health insurance program for the poor – the feds would have covered that, too – and appear poised to punish the middle-class with so-called tax reform. 
Even House Speaker Thom Tillis, who has visions of becoming a United States senator, has cautioned some of his more enthusiastic tea party friends to pull the reins some. 
But so far, it’s been quite a show. This week, that moment known as the “crossover deadline,” wherein a bill must have passed one chamber to stay alive, came and went. 
There are reasons to rejoice, and others to worry. Most of the good news has to do not with progressive legislation that advanced, but with bills that didn’t cross over. Among those that failed: 
• A silly attempt to repeal a common-sense requirement that motorcycle riders wear helmets. 
• A move to allow lobbyists to again shower lawmakers with gifts. 
• A preposterous attempt to have the legislature overturn local bans on smoking in public. 
Alas, there are some bad ideas still alive, from a bill that would allow concealed-carry gun permit-holders to take their weapons into bars and restaurants with liquor and onto college campuses to another to replace incumbents on various state board with Republicans to curbs on water-quality rules for Jordan Lake. And nixing the city of Raleigh’s contract to lease Dix Hospital property for a park is still in a bill on Jones Street. 
Meantime, both chambers have tax reform plans that would reduce state revenue by $1 billion or more. And naturally, the tax burden on the middle class would grow while the wealthy would enjoy more relief. Sen. Phil Berger, Republican and president pro-tem of his chamber, even had a visit from Grover Norquist, the hard-right ideologue who wanted to endorse Berger’s radical tax reform plan, which he rolled out along with a “calculator” whereby people could figure out how much his tax plan would help them. 
Turned out, if you were in the middle class or a person of lower income, the answer to the “how much will I save” question was “nothing” or “Holy cow, it’s more.” 
Before members of the House and Senate engage in radical tax reform that could dramatically reduce state revenues and perhaps increase the tax burden on average people, they might consider a pause. A long pause. Such as one that would delay any such action until the even-year short session and given lawmakers who are at this point facing many more bills than they have time to really consider a chance to catch their breath. 
Tax reform once done is hard to correct. Revenue lost is hard to regain. A delay of a few months will be no threat to the republic.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Beatings Will Continue

As a part of its plan to shift the tax burden to the middle class and to do as much economic damage as possible while also crippling every progressive program in the state of North Carolina, the NC Senate Appropriations Committee is set to vote today on provisions that would do the following:

1. Completely eliminate tax deductions for charitable contributions by individuals filing NC taxes. Apparently, this proposal applies to all charitable donations -- to schools, churches, foundations and all 501 (c) 3 organizations

2. Increase the state sales tax paid on food from the current 2% to the 6.5%, which is the state's current rate of general sales tax. This tripling of the tax rate on food will adversely affect those who already have little money to spend on food.

3. Phase out of the reimbursement to non-profits on state sales taxes paid on purchases, to include taxes on a number of services heretofore not taxed at all.

What is this ... North Carolina as envisioned by Charles Dickens?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"This Is a Moral Issue ... You Can't Just Push Us Around"

100 New Taxes Proposed by the Republican NC Senate

Phil Berger's "Tax Fairness Act" (HEE-HA!) would add 100 new services subject to sales taxes, putting the burden on working-class North Carolinians, while lifting the tax burden on the wealthy and on corporations.

"Tax Fairness"? As if.

At the County Commission Budget Negotiations

North Carolina teachers now rank 47th in the nation when compared for base salaries. Teachers regularly dig into their own pockets to pay for schoolroom supplies, and though there was some sympathetic clucking about that fact from some of the Republican county commissioners, when John Welch proposed adding a 1% adjustment upward on Watauga's teacher supplements, the three Republicans voted that down.

Commission Chair Nathan Miller wondered out loud why the county pays teacher supplements at all.

Commissioner Miller feels the same way about appropriations for non-profits, who supply all sorts of services to the citizenry, especially the poor and at-risk. But the Western Youth Network will get zero, Hospitality House will get zero, Mountain Alliance will have its grant cut nearly in half, the Hunger Coalition will get less than half of what it got in the last budget year.

Curiously, the resort towns of Blowing Rock and Beech Mountain, which are getting a new windfall from the changes in sales tax distribution, are also getting pretty much all they requested for Beech Mountain Parks & Recreation and for Blowing Rock Parks & Recreation. Meanwhile, the Valle Crucis Community Park and Green Valley Community Park were cut, the latter very substantially, from $10,000 allotted last year to $4,000 proposed in the new budget.

Sunday, May 12, 2013


"Now, it's an issue because they hate me."

     --Watauga County Commission Chair Nathan Miller, responding to critics, in the Watauga Democrat, May 9, 2013

God loves you just the way you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay that way.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Gov. Squishy Refuses To Take a Stand on Asheville's Water

Living up to his growing reputation as a finger-in-the-wind sort of guy, Gov. McCrory announced that he would not sign the Asheville water seizure bill, and he would not veto it either. He's going to allow it to become law without touching it, which is what happens in North Carolina, absent a governor who's willing to say what he thinks.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Is Nathan Miller Legally Serving on the County Commission?

Watauga County Commission Chair Nathan Miller no longer resides in the commissioner district from which he ran in 2010 – District 5, which includes the precincts of Elk, Stony Fork, Meat Camp, Bald Mountain, and North Fork.

The current district-based composition of the Watauga County Commission was passed in a public referendum on March 22, 1975, a vote which also increased the size of the commission from three to five members.

The resolution passed by the sitting commissioners at the time of that vote included this proviso:
...that the structure of the Board of County Commissioners be altered as follows: ... (4) that the county be divided into five districts with the members residing in and representing the districts according to the following appointment plan [5 commissioner districts divided by precincts]....
The actual ballot referendum language that citizens voted “yes” or “no” on included this sentence: “Members of the board shall reside in and represent the districts according to the ... appointment plan....”

Stacy Eggers IV (“Four”) told the County Board of Elections, which he sits on as the Republican member, that the language of the statute applies only to the moment that the commissioner is elected. How Mr. Eggers, who also serves Chair Nathan Miller as county attorney, gets to that interpretation, from language that says explicitly “shall reside in,” may have something to do with both his partisan interests as well as his paycheck.

Shall reside in.” Not “shall reside in at the time of his/her election.” Not “may reside in.” “Shall reside in.”

I don’t see any room for interpretation there. It’s what the voters voted for in March 1975. It’s not what the voters are getting, especially the residents of District 5.

Stupidities of the Week

1. The NC House will take up a bill today that would require teens to get notarized written approval from a parent before a doctor or other provider could diagnose, treat, or even counsel anyone under 18 for mental health or substance abuse. Parental approval would also be required for contraception, pregnancy care and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

H693 might as well be titled "Keeping Certain Teenagers Cut Off from Help," because, can you imagine the son or daughter of an abusive and explosive parent (not to mention your occasional puritanical nut) going to said parent to say, "I need help with ________." Ain't gonna happen. Teenagers in trouble are much more likely to open up to third-party strangers than to parents who've never understood them.

This is backward and stupid law.

2. Senate Bill 132, being heard today in the Senate Health Committee, would mandate that public school health curricula contain the unscientific and religion-based propaganda that a woman who gets an abortion will have more health problems later in life.

This is backward, prejudicial, and stupid law.

3. In 2011, a worker at a Butterball turkey processing plant secretly videotaped other workers abusing the turkeys, which led to a raid by Hoke County deputies and convictions of workers and a state veterinarian, who tipped off Butterball about the raid.

Under a new Senate bill, the worker who did the videotaping would be subject to prosecution. Let's call this proposed law "Stomping on Whistleblowers Act of 2013." Hilariously, Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, said the provision is aimed at "protecting intellectual property" when it's clearly aimed at protecting the cruelty of factory-farming.

This is backward and stupid law, putting cruelty to animals under the umbrella of a constitutional right.


Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Protests, Arrests Escalate at NC General Assembly

A demonstrator is handcuffed and arrested outside the House and Senate chambers during a protest Monday at the Legislative Building in Raleigh. / Gerry Broome/AP
More than two dozen peaceful demonstrators were arrested yesterday in the rotunda of the General Assembly building in Raleigh. They were there to protest the GOP-controlled legislature, which has refused to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to more poor people, has cut unemployment benefits, has ended the earned income tax credit, and has passed new voting restrictions.

Those arrested were charged with second-degree trespassing, failure to disperse on command, and the displaying of signs or placards, which violates building rules. Among those arrested yesterday were William Chafe, former dean of Arts and Sciences at Duke University; Robert Korstad, a professor of public policy and history at Duke; Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, an historian at the University of North Carolina; Charles van der Horst, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine; and members of the social justice group Raging Grannies.

Van der Horst said of the new Republican majority in the General Assembly, “These people don’t believe in the sanctity of life. They believe in protecting their own wealth and their own power.” Their policies targeting the old, the ill, and minority groups, said van der Horst, in addition to their efforts to restrict access to abortion, expose their hypocrisy about "respecting life."

Groups organizing the protests say that they will continue until every voter in North Carolina is aware of the arrogant power being wielded in Raleigh.

Phil Templeton Chokes, Rev. Harris Clears His Calendar, and the NC GOP Plans to Shift Taxes to the Middle Class

1. By the time this morning's meeting of the Watauga County Commission convened at 8:30 a.m., developer Phil Templeton had addressed a letter to the Commission withdrawing his offer on the old high school property, thus superseding at supersonic speed the letter his lawyer wrote the Commission yesterday saying that Templeton wanted another 60 days to decide.

Whiplash, anyone?

Naturally, Templeton blames the Town of Boone and its Affordable Housing ordinance, though the Town had exempted the old high school property from the strictures of the new ordinance. In other words, Templeton has now decided that his development is not feasible though nothing material has changed for that property since he made his original offer.

2. Rev. Mark Harris of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, who already has a notch on his belt in helping deny equal rights to gay couples in North Carolina, is considering running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

3. The new Art Pope budget proposal for North Carolina will be introduced this week, cutting roughly $1 billion from taxes on the rich and powerful and shifting that burden onto the middle class via new taxes on services. Maybe Rev. Harris could pray about that.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Thom Tillis to Gen'l Assembly: "Shut the Eff Up," He Explained

Thom Tillis, just back from his annual jaunt to the Koch-snorting ALEC seance in Oklahoma City, has now gotten the religion of "Let's play nice" and is telling his GOP troops to shut the eff up and stop spooking the horses.

"I was the GOP minority whip in 2009," he began in a Facebook post. "My job was to get conservative Democrats to help us defeat liberal legislation. The Democratic leaders, heavily influenced by their most liberal members and far-left groups, could not resist the pressure to move too far to [sic] fast. They did not compromise and they went too far.

"They got out of step with the citizens of NC and they lost their majority as a result. It was their lack of discipline that laid the groundwork for Republicans to have House/Senate super majorities, a GOP governor, and [lieutenant] governor," he concluded. "Our lack of discipline will lay the groundwork for their ascendency and if they succeed we will only have ourselves to blame."

Tillis's grasp of history is lacking. The Democratically controlled General Assembly was nothing if not "business-friendly," and as he offers zero examples of "liberal" and "far-left" legislation that "laid the groundwork" for the Republican take-over, we believe he's just blowing smoke.

It was some high-profile Democratic sleaze, a comatose NC Democratic Party, and one of the nastiest Pope-directed campaigns in 2010, smearing about a dozen good Democratic office-holders like Cullie Tarleton and Steve Goss, that got Mr. Tillis his drug of choice ... POWER.

The fact that he's now afraid of losing it is practically like a whiff of springtime blossoms. And we count on the crazies in his caucus and in the NC Senate to refuse to play nice. After all, that's not what got them elected.

Smart-ALECs in the NC General Assembly

Last week, the NC House voted to slash eligibility for NC Pre-K, the state's premier public pre-kindergarten program. Among the many impious and backward things this Radical Republican-dominated General Assembly has done, this is one of the most impious and most backward. The Honorables want to restrict the program to the poorest children in our state, leaving thousands of low-income working families, who are currently eligible for NC Pre-K, unable to afford pre-kindergarten for their children.

While this idiotic legislation was advancing in the NC House, three House members were missing: House Speaker Thom Tillis, Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, and Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, all left early last Thursday to attend the ALEC Spring conference in Oklahoma City instead. (ALEC stands for "American Legislative Exchange Council" but is really an anagram for "Koch Brothers.")

ALEC is a front group for corporate and far right interests. It links lobbyists -- who write "model" state laws -- with state lawmakers willing to front those laws and file them in state legislatures as their own. It's a way for corporate and far right interests to get around their inability to pass their legislation nationally, and it helps them profit or dictate the social agenda in as many states as possible.

ALEC-inspired legislation has been rolling out of the Republican majority in Raleigh already since early 2011. ALEC wants the tax code rewritten to take the tax burden off the rich and put it on the middle class. Pat McCrory's Budget Director Art Pope has that project well in hand.

What else is ALEC advancing in North Carolina? The roll-back of environmental regs. The privatization of education (slashing Pre-K is only part of it).  And -- O yes, my Brethren -- voter photo ID laws to discourage those pesky poor people from interfering in the god-given right of rich people to run the show THEIR way.

Thom Tillis, Tim Moffitt, and Jason Saine all went to Oklahoma City to get their pistils pollinated by the rich guys.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Carl Mumpower Leaves GOP Over Asheville Water Theft

Carl Mumpower was a conservative Republican member of the Asheville city council for years, until he ran for the U.S. Congress as the Republican nominee against Heath Shuler a few years ago.

But he's leaving the Republican Party to become unaffiliated, and it's the Republican-engineered seizure of Asheville's water system that was the last straw.

“This is not anything more than stealing Asheville’s water system,” Mumpower said. “I don’t care what people say or how complicated they try to make it, it’s just theft through our legislature, and that’s wrong. And this [leaving the party] was a way to fight back.”

According to John Boyle, Mumpower is the only visible Republican to stand up for (Republican) principle against this example of Big Government bullying.

Sunday Morning Music-Break

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Gov. Patsy's True Colors

Data and polling guru Nate Silver rates our dear McCrory, who has yet to distinguish his ideological "brand" from that of his Clown College (because they're identical), as more conservative than Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Ohio Gov John Kasich, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Congratulations, North Carolina voters! You've put us in the running for most backward state in the Union.

Watauga BOE Passes Resolution in Support of Director Hodges

At its May meeting yesterday, the Watauga County Board of Elections passed a resolution in support of Director of Elections Jane Ann Hodges, commending her "for her outstanding performance over 26 years of service. We know she could not be replaced with anyone more knowledgeable or more committed to administering elections with complete adherence to the General Statutes governing elections. Accordingly, we believe that Director Hodges should remain Director as long as she wishes, regardless of the composition of the County Board."

This resolution comes out of not-at-all-secret lip-smacking by the local GOP, which wants Ms. Hodges replaced as director. But Ms. Hodges is covered by the state personnel act and can't be replaced without cause, even when the Republicans take control of the local Board of Elections. Appointees to the local Board of Elections are political appointees; the director's position is not.

The local Republicans want a lot of things, relative to the conduct of elections in Watauga County:

A. They want Early Voting removed from the ASU Campus.
B. They want ASU students disenfranchised to the fullest extent of the law Tea Party fantasies, if their Chief Fantasist Nate DiCola can be taken at his word.

The resolution in support of Jane Ann Hodges passed unanimously, which is to say that Republican member Four Eggers abstained from the vote. An abstention counts as a "yes," according to Mr. Eggers, who also happens to be the attorney for the Republican majority on the County Board of Commissioners. Mr. Eggers previously advised Commissioner Perry Yates that if he abstained from the sales tax redistribution vote, over which there were questions of Mr. Yates's conflict of interest, his abstention would count as a "yea" vote.

Asheville Water Seizure Bill Goes to Governor's Desk

When the state can simply seize a municipal water system, which the city built and maintained, without any compensation for the city, that is Big Government at its most pernicious and intrusive, and literally no one in this state is safe as long as this Clown College is in session.

Larry Pittman, Abject

NC House member Larry Pittman, who laid the wood to Republican Speaker of the NC House Thom Tillis for being an inauthentic conservative and a dictator more interested in appearing moderate than in advancing conservative ideals (see last post, down-column), has now apologized in writing.

True of most such apologies, this one contains some boilerplate "it really wasn't what I said but the fact that what I said got reported widely that caused the problem," which is always a hoot coming out of the mouth of a mouthy politician, especially this one.