Friday, February 28, 2014

Josh Brannon Files for 5th District Congressional Seat

Press release:
Josh Brannon today filed with the North Carolina Board of Elections in Raleigh to enter the race to become the new Congressman from the 5th District of North Carolina. Brannon is a 36-year-old software developer from the Boone area. Brannon had earlier withdrawn from the race for the North Carolina Senate against incumbent Dan Soucek in support of the candidacy of Jim Sponenberg of Caldwell County.
Brannon said, "Mr. Sponenberg's candidacy gives me the opportunity to focus my energies on our current Congresswoman, Virginia Foxx, who has taken positions that are damaging to the 5th District and to our state. As is unfortunately common now, Ms. Foxx has taken up the mantle of big corporations and her 1% donors, at the expense of the people’s rights, success, and health. I intend to call her out on these harmful policies. I intend to be the voice of the people in our district. Ms. Foxx may do the bidding of multinational corporations and her millionaire contributors both in Washington and nationwide — I will answer to the people she has failed to serve. I grew up in North Carolina. I love this state. And I refuse to sit on the sidelines and watch while her policies continue to damage our people."
Mr. Brannon is a graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He moved to Watauga County 5 years ago to live near his parents, who have retired there.
There was already a Democratic primary triggered for this seat. Gardenia Henley of Forsyth, Michael W. Holleman of Wilkes, and Will Stinson of Yadkin had already filed as Democrats. Those three will face Josh Brannon in the primary on May 6.

Josh Brannon

Last Night, With the Watauga School Board

By a concerned citizen, guest blogging:

Last night at the climactic conclusion of the months-long furor over whether high school Honors English sophomores would be allowed to read Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, the Watauga County Board of Education gave 30 minutes each to both the complaining parent, Chastity Lesesne, who started all of this, and the English teacher under attack, Mary Kent Whitaker.
As I listened to the book challenger speak, all I could hear was the implication that she believed her standards for decency should be imposed on everybody. She listed all of the school's regulations about decency -- what books, language, movies, etc. would be acceptable -- and reminded us repeatedly that this book doesn't meet any of those standards. She read a definition of pornography ("material that is intended to cause sexual excitement") but continued to describe parts of the book that create disgust rather than sexual excitement. Time after time, she said the book is pornographic despite the fact that nothing in the book is intended to cause sexual excitement. She read a passage that described a dirty old man's fantasies as he took advantage of a 6-year-old girl, but nothing in that passage could possibly create arousal -- only disgust.  Her biggest complaint -- other than "pornography" -- was that teens who selected the alternate were deprived of educational services in the form of classroom discussions. She called this discrimination.
In contrast, the teacher talked at length about how hard educators work to incorporate parental requests, always thinking of ways to improve their efforts to meet the needs of students. She listed several specific steps she has taken to improve her handling of issues brought to her attention by the challenger. The challenger had said that there were many books that could be used, and Ms. Whitaker had asked her to send a list. To date Ms. Whitaker has received no such list from Ms. Lesesne. 
Ms. Whitaker said she has tried repeatedly to find a book that would meet criteria set by the state (including Lexile score and focus on Latin American literature), but each book that she had found contained material that would have been found objectionable by some readers.  She mentioned the fact that the accrediting association will be visiting the school, and she is concerned about the possibility that a censorship issue could threaten accreditation. She read examples from some of the essays students have written praising the class and the important learning that had taken place. She talked about the positive messages that readers receive and the fact that the passage read by the challenger was only 1% of the book. The book needs to be studied as a whole, not just a few isolated and out-of-context passages. She gave statistics about how many times students have chosen the alternate book, pointing out that this semester -- despite all of the publicity about the book challenge -- only four students have requested the alternate book. Some 93% of the parents gave approval for their teens to read this book. She mentioned the fact that Watauga High School ranks third in NC in test scores, and the two schools that scored higher teach the book. How could our students compete if they are denied access to it?
Sadly, she mentioned the fact that teachers have experienced threats and are uneasy about their jobs. They need to know that the School Board supports them.
What they got from the school board was a split decision, with board member Ron Henries providing the swing vote. Mr. Henries expressed the difficulty he encountered in making his decision to support the use of the book, saying that he personally did not like the book, but he listened carefully to parents who approached him asking that he allow their teens to study the book under the guidance of Ms. Whitaker. Since only four students chose the alternate book this semester, he believed that the 93% should be given their preference, concluding with the idea that in the future, if most parents do not want their teens to study it, the use of the book will die like the dinosaurs.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

BREAKING: Watauga Board of Education Just Voted 3-2 to Retain Allende Book in Curriculum

Delora Hodges and Lee Warren (neither of whom have filed for reelection) voted to remove the book from the curriculum (though Hodges made an earlier motion to keep the book in the library while taking it out of the 10th grade classroom).

Brenda Reese, Barbara Kinsey, and Ron Henries voted to retain the book in the curriculum.

Game over.

Conservatives Show Their Morally Repugnant Asses

Last night Jon Stewart was marveling that the conservatives in Arizona and elsewhere were distancing themselves from their own License to Discriminate Against Gays law. It's not about losing the Super Bowl, Stewart said. It's not about looking bad to the rest of the nation. It's that the law in question is morally repugnant.

They don't get that.

And today, after their governor vetoed the law, they're going nuts that somehow -- I'm not making this up -- Christians are being oppressed because they're not empowered by state law to discriminate against gay people. See this compilation of right-wing tweets that Billionaires for Wealthcare assembled.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Soucek Gets a Caldwell County Democratic Opponent

Jim Sponenberg, 70, a Caldwell County executive with Certus Bank, has filed to run as a Democrat against Senator Dan Soucek. Josh Brannon of Watauga County, who had also filed as a Democrat in the same race last week, has withdrawn in favor of Sponenberg.
Sponenberg said education is his main focus, having been closely involved with education throughout his life, both with personal involvement and with members of his family that are teachers: his wife, daughter, son-in-law and mother.
 “I think education is a very, very important part of what the state of North Carolina is involved in,” Sponenberg said, adding that he wants to make sure public education is supported and given a chance to improve and be innovative.
He also said that education influences economic development, especially in Caldwell County and the 45th District, which covers Allegheny, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties.
 Sponenberg also said he is running to help build cooperation in Raleigh between Democrats and Republicans, saying he has friends in both major parties who think like he does.
 “I want to take that culture and cooperative attitude to Raleigh to get people to work together for the benefit of Caldwell County and Western North Carolina,” he said.
There's also a persistent rumor circulating in Caldwell County that Caldwell County Superintendent of Schools Steve Stone, a Republican, intends to challenge Soucek in the Republican primary. He has until Friday at noon to file if he's serious.

Appears that Mr. Soucek's votes on public education have not gone down well in his district.

Nothing Focuses the Mind Like a Federal Criminal Investigation

Looks like Governor Pat McCrory, a former Duke Energy executive and current Duke Energy cuddler, is trying to look as though he's getting right with Jesus. Yesterday, he publicly called on his former employer and current major political contributor to move its coal ash ponds away from water sources.

Those were words, of course, not action. Action would have involved McCrory's top guy at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, John Skvarla, actually taking tough steps against Duke Energy to keep our water clean. So far that action has been sorely lacking.

But now the Feds have opened a criminal investigation, and McCrory needs to look like something other than a creature owned lock, stock, and leaking ash pond by Duke Energy.

Skepticism about McCrory now runs deep in North Carolina, since he's rarely risen above sock-puppet status during the past full year. Said Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center: “I think it’s good the governor is reacting finally and is communicating with the CEO of Duke Energy, but given everything that’s happened, actions speak louder than words. He says they’re not going to stand for it anymore, but if you’re not going to stand for it any more, clean up the mess.” (Emphasis added, natch!)

It's just sad that it took the tightening reach of federal subpoenas for McCrory to begin to sound like a governor thinking of the public interest, let alone acting in the public interest.

School Board Wrong To Exclude Citizens From Thursday's Vote

From North Carolina General Statutes covering Open Meetings of public bodies:
§ 143-318.9.  Public policy.
Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people's business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly. (1979, c. 655, s. 1.)
§ 143-318.10.  All official meetings of public bodies open to the public.
(a)        Except as provided in G.S. 143-318.11, 143-318.14A, and 143-318.18, each official meeting of a public body shall be open to the public, and any person is entitled to attend such a meeting.
The Watauga County School Board decided that attendance at Thursday's meeting, when a final decision will be made regarding the banning of a novel from sophomore English honors classes, will be limited to those who'll be able to snag a "ticket" of admission to be given out at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The School Board managed somehow to get access to the High School auditorium for a previous public hearing on the book in question. They should do that again. In fact, they must do that again to be in compliance with North Carolina law governing open meetings.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Watauga Board of Elections: The Fix Is In

Yesterday, Chair Luke Eggers and his fellow Republican on the Watauga County Board of Elections, Bill Aceto, held a ... meeting? gathering? get-together? where they purported to listen to citizens about an Early Voting plan for Watauga. The vast majority of those citizens in attendance were there to argue that there needs to be an Early Voting site in the Appalachian State University Student Union, but their opinions don't matter. There will never be an Early Voting site in the ASU Student Union as long as Eggers & Aceto are in control of Watauga County voting.

Whatever else it was, the confab yesterday was not a public hearing, as there were no speaker lists, no record kept, no notes taken, and everyone in that milling, chaotic crowd could not hear the comments of everyone else.

It was all fake anyway. Eggers and Aceto have no intention whatsoever of putting an Early Voting polling place on the ASU campus, because when young people are encouraged to vote in Watauga, Republicans lose, and Eggers and Aceto are, above all else, partisan Republicans. They are also under the thumbs of Republican County Attorney Stacy C. Eggers IV ("Four") and Republican Party Chair Anne Marie Yates.

Eggers and Aceto are also boxed in by new North Carolina voting laws which mandate that Early Voting hours have to equal the same number of hours offered in 2012 even though the Early Voting period has been reduced by a week. To achieve those numbers while singling out ASU students for discrimination will cause them Olympic-worthy gymnastic stretches and considerably more money in staff salaries.

I'm all for Early Voting in Deep Gap, Foscoe, Cove Creek, Blowing Rock, Meat Camp. Absolutely! Let a thousand polling places bloom! But all the rural precincts combined equal maybe 30% of registered voters in the county. Greater Boone, which includes the ASU campus, accounts for over 60% of registered voters. But the 60+ percent majority are about to be actively discouraged from voting by the strategic and partisan relocation of Early Voting sites away from the center of population.

Eggers and Aceto have to do it to satisfy their masters. After all: there'll be a hot sheriff's race in Watauga, and the Republican candidate is going to need every partisan advantage he can snag.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust

Wake County judge blocks Republican school voucher plan.

"The opponents argued that spending taxpayer money on private schools is unconstitutional, especially when some of the schools discriminate in their admissions and don't have the academic standards or accountability of public schools."

Did we just hear Sen. Dan Soucek's teeth grinding?

Who Is John Skvarla?

We were reminded last night that John Skvarla, McCrory's appointment to head the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), apparently believes the far-right fringe theory that oil and natural gas are actually renewable resources, that the earth is continually making more of it and that the federal government is covering up the truth, and he's the guy who told the employees at DENR that they must be more "customer friendly," which means "be very accommodating to polluting industries," and so how is that working out for you, North Carolina?

Skvarla is also not sure whether global climate change is real, echoing the opinion of his boss The Guv.

That genius of science John Skvarla has said, of the current crisis on the Dan River (and of every other leaking coal ash pit in North Carolina owned by Duke Energy -- there are 13 of them, and they are ALL already leaking toxins into ground water), that it would be scientifically unwise to relocate those ash pits to lined landfills away from water sources.

What he meant to say was that relocating Duke Energy's toxic waste would be injurious to Duke Energy's profit margin, but, hey! what's a little slip of the tongue among renown scientists?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What's Going On Here?

Last night at the end of the Watauga County Commission meeting, Commissioner Billy Kennedy turned to county attorney Stacy C. Eggers IV ("Four") and said that a constituent had inquired whether the Town of Beech Mountain was now working in Raleigh to go around, or somehow overrule, the vote of the County Commission denying a new water intake on the Watauga River. Mr. Eggers is attorney for both the Town of Beech Mountain and the County of Watauga, and he was intimately involved in drafting the original resolution that would have granted the Town of Beech Mountain access to the Watauga River.

The reaction on the dais to Mr. Kennedy's question was akin to introducing red hot pokers to several backsides.

For his part, Mr. Eggers retreated behind the client-attorney wall of silence, and Mr. Kennedy pressed his point that this dual role of Mr. Eggers presents a problem in his eyes. Mr. Eggers commented that if the possibility of a conflict of interest arose, he would certainly inform his bosses on the County Commission and recuse himself.

Does that answer fly? Given Mr. Eggers' blatant conflict of interest in running the Watauga County Board of Elections from behind the scenes, through the instrumentality of his younger brother Luke, while also serving as legal counsel to the BOE, suggests that Mr. Eggers would not necessarily recognize a conflict of interest if he were standing knee-deep in one.

Commission Chair Nathan Miller scolded Kennedy for even asking his question, and Commissioner Perry Yates piled on, along with David Blust, all of them shocked -- shocked! -- that Kennedy would even suggest, imply, insinuate, or allude to a conflict of interest on Mr. Eggers' part.

The Republicans on the Commission looked mighty defensive.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Out of Brannon's Ashes, The Baptist Preacher Will Rise

Greg Brannon, the Tea Party gynecologist running in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate against Thom Tillis (and a host of panic-stricken extras), got a death blow today when a jury found him guilty of misleading two investors in a tech start-up company. Brannon's been ordered to repay $250,000, plus interest. The jury thought that Brannon had essentially lied to the two investors (one of them the husband of one of his patients), bilking them ... not a good line on a bio for a candidate at any level.

Chief beneficiary of this collapse is probably Baptist preacher and moral scold Rev. Mark Harris, who has been trying his best to save North Carolina from The Gays.

O let the conservatives rally round Rev. Harris and smite that Pharisee Tillis!

Somebody Give This Man a Job! Or At Least a Trophy

"Thanks for nothing!" said Reid's Fine Foods cook Drew Swope to Governor Pat McCrory at the Charlotte store on Saturday.

Which, when you think about it, is mathematically about as accurate as you can get.

But The Exalted Guv's security detail complained that someone had disrespected His Excellence, so the owner of the store fired Swope.

Got the text for my next protest sign!

His majestic dignity thus protected, The Guv went on doing precisely nothing.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Does McCrory Hear Himself When He Speaks?

During his interview with Bob Schieffer yesterday morning on "Face the Nation," McCrory actually said, without any sense of context or hint of irony (I swear I'm not making this up!), "My main argument is let’s clean up the environment. And as a mayor and now as a governor, I’m spending my time cleaning our air, cleaning our water and cleaning the ground."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What Did McCrory Know, and When Did He Know It?

The criminal investigation into Duke Energy's pollution of the Dan River will or will not uncover cronyism between the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory and the huge corporation that paid him a substantial salary for almost 30 years and then contributed heavily to his political campaigns. The following builds on data compiled by "Facing South":

1. All the way back in 1994, while working for Duke Energy and serving as a Charlotte city council member and mayor pro tem, McCrory chaired a council meeting and voted on a matter that benefited his employer's bottom line, sparking a case that went to the state Supreme Court. The state's supremes allowed the council's decision to stand though a dissenting opinion from a Republican justice raised concerns about McCrory's conflict of interest.

2. In 1997, McCrory, by then serving as Charlotte's mayor while still working for Duke Energy, went to Washington, D.C., to testify as mayor against federal clean air regulations for the city that would have cost his employer an estimated $600 million to clean up its pollution.

3. Last year, Pat McCrory reported owning Duke Energy stock with a minimum value of $10,000, though he refused to say exactly how much stock he owned and how much it is worth.

4. Employees, former employees, spouses, and political action committees of Duke Energy and its Progress Energy subsidiary gave McCrory's two gubernatorial campaigns over $300,000 in direct contributions in 2008 and 2012.

5. On January 4, 2013, just minutes into actually holding office as governor, McCrory received a letter from several environmental and consumer groups asking him to recuse himself from appointing new members to the NC Utilities Commission because of his ties to Duke Energy. McCrory ignored the request.

6. After McCrory took office in January 2013 and his appointees took over management of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), environmental groups tried to use the federal Clean Water Act's citizen lawsuit provision to force Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash pits because DENR was doing nothing to enforce Clean Water ... only to have their efforts blocked by DENR, which essentially declared that it was in charge of enforcing the Clean Water Act.

7. DENR, under increasing pressure from environmental groups, recommended a fine of $99,112 in a settlement with Duke Energy over its coal ash pits, while requiring no cleanup of the pits. Given Duke Energy's 2012 operating revenues of $19.6 billion, that fine's dollar equivalent for a person earning a $60,000 salary = 30 cents. (Duke Energy owns some 14 coal ash pits all around North Carolina. All of them are un-lined and are said to be leaking.)

8. February 2, 2014, the Sunday that coal ash was discovered leaking into the Dan River from one of Duke Energy's coal ash pits at Eden. More than 24 hours later, Duke Energy admitted that tens of millions of gallons of toxic coal ash waste were continuing to spill into the river. At about the same time on that Monday, DENR dispatched regulators to the site. The public at large did not become aware of the toxic spill until Tuesday, February 4.

9. Both Duke Energy and DENR's head John Skvarla declare that drinking Dan River water that's treated by a municipal water treatment plant is perfectly safe. The ash pond is still spewing pollution into the river Tuesday afternoon, February 4.

10. On Thursday, February 6, Governor McCrory, with DENR head John Skvarla in tow, made a show of visiting the spill site and said publicly that this needed to be cleaned up. He made a point of bragging about the $99,000 fine his administration had recommended against Duke Energy for its leaking ash ponds. At the same time that Gov. McCrory was visiting the site, both DENR and Duke Energy were issuing data purporting to prove that the water in the river was not toxic to humans or fish. Plus the spill was not yet fully contained, though it had been slowed to what constituted "a dribble," compared to Sunday's deluge.

11. Monday, February 10, DENR asked a judge to put the settlement with Duke Energy (referenced by # 7 above) on hold, including the $99,000 fine … possibly because DENR had been informed by federal authorities that a criminal investigation was being opened and subpoenas of DENR officials would be forthcoming.

12. Wednesday, February 12, DENR warns citizens not to drink, or even touch, water in the Dan River.

13. Thursday, February 13, news broke that the U.S. Justice Department had launched a criminal investigation into the Dan River spill and that subpoenas had been issued to both Duke Energy and DENR, summoning them to produce records before a federal grand jury scheduled to meet in Raleigh March 18-20.

14. On Friday, February 14, McCrory held a press conference on the state's response to the big snow storm, and he became visibly shaken when reporters asked about his relationship with Duke Energy, and then irritated when reporters pressed him on the issue. He looked guilty.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pat and Duke, Sitting in a Tree ... K I S S I N G!

Date on which news broke that the U.S. Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) following Duke Energy's massive coal ash spill into the Dan River: 2/13/2014
Month in which DENR's chief lawyer will reportedly appear before a federal grand jury looking into the matter: 3/2014
Number of times over the past year that environmental groups have tried to use the federal Clean Water Act's citizen lawsuit provision to force Duke Energy to clean up its coal ash pits, only to have their efforts blocked by DENR: 3
Under a settlement DENR reached last year with Duke Energy over its coal ash pits, amount the agency fined the Charlotte, N.C.-based company while requiring no cleanup: $99,112
Given Duke Energy's 2012 operating revenues of $19.6 billion, the fine's dollar equivalent for a person earning a $60,000 salary: $.30
Number of plaintiffs in the environmental groups' lawsuits that DENR consulted before negotiating the settlement: 0
Of the 5,000 public comments submitted about the settlement, number that supported DENR's plan: 1
Date on which DENR, after coming under sharp criticism following the spill, asked a judge to reconsider the settlement: 2/10/2014
Number of years that North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) worked for Duke Energy before retiring in 2007 to run for the state's top office: 28
Minimum value of Duke Energy stock McCrory reported owning last year, though he has refused to disclose his exact holdings in the company: $10,000
Amount in direct contributions to McCrory's two gubernatorial campaigns made by employees, former employees, spouses, and political action committees of Duke Energy and its Progress Energy subsidiary from 2008 through 2012: $332,836
Amount Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good contributed to McCrory's successful 2012 campaign:$4,000
Amount the Republican Governors Association (RGA) spent supporting McCrory during his 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial bids with "independent" advertising and electioneering: $10.4 million
Amount Duke Energy and Progress Energy contributed to the RGA from July 2008 to November 2012: $761,800
Date on which consumer and environmental watchdog groups, citing McCrory's ties to Duke Energy, called on the governor to recuse himself from appointing members of the N.C. Utilities Commission, a request he ignored: 1/4/2013
Year in which McCrory, while working for Duke Energy and serving as a Charlotte council member and mayor pro tem, chaired a council meeting and voted on a matter in a way that benefited his employer's bottom line, sparking a case that went to the state Supreme Court, which allowed the council's decision to stand though a dissenting opinion from a Republican justice raised concerns about McCrory's conflict of interest: 1994
Year in which McCrory, by then serving as Charlotte's mayor while still working for Duke Energy, went to Washington, D.C. to testify as mayor against federal clean air regulations for the city that would have cost his employer an estimated $600 million: 1997
Date on which an attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance, a clean-water advocacy group, discovered an ongoing leak of coal ash into the Dan River from Duke Energy's ash pit upstream of where this month's massive spill occurred: 2/6/2014
Number of times the arsenic concentration in the newly discovered leak exceeds the human health standard: 18
Date on which DENR officials denied knowledge of any ongoing leaks at the site when questioned at a public meeting in Danville, Va., a city that draws its drinking water from the river: 2/11/2014
Number of additional details DENR officials requested about the location or character of the ongoing leak, which violates the federal Clean Water Act: 0
Date on which Duke Energy, under DENR's watch, began vacuuming spilled coal ash out of the river and pumping it back into the still-leaking pit: 2/12/2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

How Deep Is McCrory's Ass in the Criminal Investigation of the Duke Energy Toxic Spill?

The question of the day!

Evidence is very clear that North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been dragging its feet and shielding Duke Energy from full accountability in the poisoning of the Dan River. McCrory's role in that as a 28-year employee of Duke Energy becomes a hot issue. McCrory has received a total of some $1 million -- $1 million! -- in campaign contributions from Duke Energy that would seem to have provided ample quid pro quo during the last two weeks for the coddling of the giant corporation by the state's regulators.

No one that we've seen has a more comprehensive accounting of what's gone down and the timeline for building a criminal case against the McCrory administration than Rachel Maddow.

Criminal case.

Virginia's Anti-Gay Marriage Law Struck Down. Is NC Next?

Last night Federal Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia struck down Virginia's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and immediately stayed her own decision pending an appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Virginia adopted its discriminatory constitutional amendment via referendum in 2006. In addition to overturning that law, Judge Allen also ruled that Virginia must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The challenge to Virginia’s ban was argued by the same bipartisan team of legal stars, Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, that successfully contested California’s ban in 2010. The new attorney general of Virginia, Mark R. Herring, announced that his office considered the marriage ban unconstitutional and assisted with the legal challenge, reversing the official position of the last Virginia Attorney General, a conservative Republican who was defeated in November.

Legal scholars are already lauding Allen's decision for its sweeping scope and lofty language. In summing up the decision, she wrote, “We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.”

What's Pending in North Carolina
North Carolina passed its Amendment One banning same-sex marriage in May 2012. In June of that year, Fisher-Borne v. Smith was filed in Greensboro in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina challenging the state’s ban on second parent adoption, a process by which one partner in an unmarried gay or straight couple adopts the other partner’s biological or adoptive child. Fisher-Borne v. Smith was subsequently amended in 2013 to allow a claim against the constitutionality of NC's same-sex marriage ban. Attorney General Roy Cooper could have objected to the amendment of the original suit, but he did not.

A.G. Cooper has said publicly that he thinks NC's Amendment One was a bad idea, but he's also said that he would vigorously defend NC's legal position in Fisher-Borne v. Smith. Cooper's public stand in favor of "marriage equality" led President Pro Tempore of the N.C. Senate Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Speaker of the N.C. House Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) to hire outside legal counsel to advise them on how the state is handling its defense in Fisher-Borne v. Smith. Legislation passed by the General Assembly last year gives these legislative leaders standing to jointly intervene in legal actions to defend state statutes and constitutional provisions that are being challenged in court. In December, Senator Berger and Speaker Tillis stated, “While the General Assembly is not formally intervening in the lawsuit at this time, the outside counsel will provide backup review of the attorney general’s work to ensure he is fulfilling his duty to vigorously defend the law.”

Surely by now panic has set in among the Berger/Tillis crowd as they watch their radical conservative agenda for North Carolina dismantled in more than one judicial venue. Judge Allen's decision in the Virginia case ought to sufficiently chill their spines.

No word on when the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro may hear arguments in Fisher-Borne v. Smith, but we certainly hope to see the tag-team of Olson-Boies touching down at Piedmont-Triad International Airport in the near future.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Monochrome World of Fox News

Franklin Graham: "Ludicrous" and "Un-American"

Scott Sexton, the bare-knuckled Winston-Salem Journal columnist, bares his knuckles at Franklin Graham and the other Watauga County book-banners this morning. Good reading, clear thinking.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Virginia Foxx Has a Primary Challenger

In the 5th Congressional District of NC, Philip Doyle, who is a real estate agent living in Clemmons, Forsyth County, has filed to run against Virginia Foxx in the Republican primary in May.

Doyle's Facebook page lists his "likes" as Michelle Malkin, Michele Bachman, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the Tea Party Patriots.

So ... he's running to the right of Virginia Foxx? Which means that he's left any known map of terra firma.

But we certainly wish Mr. Doyle the best of luck. And God speed, adieu, bon voyage, and what the hell are you thinking!

Dan Soucek: He Gone Iron It Out!

Republicans think they have the "fix" for calming down the state's teachers and winning their votes this November: Stage a big, splashy roll-out of a program to "increase teacher pay" and hope that nobody notices the small print and the continuing wholesale disrespect that veteran teachers must suffer at the hands of this governor and this conservative Republican regime in the General Assembly.

And then Senator Dan Soucek opens his mouth.

"There are a lot of other ideas out there we're still trying to iron out," Senator Soucek told Anna Oakes of the Watauga Democrat. "We'll come out with more information as we know more of what we can do. We don't know what the impact Medicaid and Medicare are going to have. That's a wild card that affects everything."

Ironing out those wild cards! That's what Senator Soucek is so goldarned good at! And nice going, Senator Soucek, stepping "off message" like that and hauling in Medicaid as a potential excuse for not treating our teachers with respect, so that you can eventually blame everything on Obama, right?

Senator Soucek, it was your side that rejected the federal dollars for Medicaid expansion. It's your side that created the last two state budgets that squeezed the living crap out of our dedicated veteran teachers. Why, it's almost like you ironed them flat! And now you're trying to reinflate their sense of well-being with some phony, empty rhetoric.

About this purported "teacher pay raise," Gary Pearce posted this morning, "What kind of company would give a raise to its newest, rawest employees, but stiff its most experienced, capable people?" Why, indeed! Does Mr. Soucek think the teachers in his district are as dumb as he continually proves himself to be?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Pugilistic Analysis of Last Night's Public Hearing

By Atticus Finch Jr., Guest Blogger:

Jesse Wood’s unbiased coverage in High Country Press of the Watauga Board of Education's public comment period over banning Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits is excellent. However, I must disagree that the audience's seating locations neatly reflected their positions on the book (right side vs. left). There were many book supporters among the against-the-book side. Altogether, I estimate about 350 people in the auditorium.

BOE chair Dr. Lee Warren explained that he was amending the usual rules for public comment to allow 10 speakers for each side of the debate. One additional speaker was allowed because she identified herself as neutral. The commentary was arranged so that the point of view alternated, beginning with “against” followed by “for,” and so on.

This format easily allowed for comparison between each pair of opposing speakers. Hence, I’m scoring this as a 10-round match using the “10-point must system” familiar to pugilistic fans and so named because a judge "must" award ten points to at least one fighter each round. I’m basing speaker performance on effectiveness, using Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. (Ironically, it was in high school English classes that we learned about these styles of persuasion.) As a quick refresher, ethos refers to the authority of the speaker on the subject; pathos refers to an appeal to emotions; and logos refers to logic.

Round 1 began with the husband of the woman who initiated the challenge. Clearly, some ethos points here. His expression that this affair “has become something it was not intended to be” also scored pathos points. He tried to score a triple crown with logos when saying it was not about censorship. He and his wife just want the book removed as required reading or to have an acceptable alternative. Oops. Does a slip count as a knockdown? Because there IS an alternative. Mr. Craig Fischer responded with a quadruple logos sequence with a knockdown, noting that the NC Department of Instruction has found the book to be appropriate for high school sophomore instruction. Score: 10-8 for the book.

Round 2 began with a woman that claimed she read the book (ethos points) and did find some worthy themes of forgiveness and triumph but that overall the book deeply depressed her (pathos, on target). A vague reference to some Centers for Disease Control statement about U.S. teens having more suicidal tendencies more now than ever missed wildly for logos points. Her conclusion, remembering the depression caused by the book coupled with her research on suicide, left me hoping she gets professional help soon. A Mr. Kelly (a philosophy teacher – ethos points) and his wife delivered a solid round in support of the book expressing “every confidence” in the teacher. They were distraught that their child was deprived last semester of the good experience of reading the book (pathos points). Score: 10-9 for the book.

Round 3 had some real fireworks. Mr. Todd Chasteen opened with a logos- and pathos-packed flurry: “59 sexually explicit descriptions,” “deviancy,” “genitalia,” “one such reference every 7.3 pages,” a definition of child pornography, and a vague reference to some U.S. Supreme Court case that gives the BOE broad discretion. Mr. Woody McKay met this flurry with his own logos/pathos explanation of how passages taken out of context can be perceived as bad but taken in context can be good. His basis for this line of argument were the stories found in Judges 19, Genesis 34, Psalms 137, Ezekiel 23, Song of Solomon 2, and the crucifixion of Jesus. McKay was masterful in how he used these stories to support his point yet kept the Bible on sacred text ground. Score 10-9 for the book.

Round 4 pitted two female WHS students against each other. Both had strong ethos and pathos arguments. The earlier speaker (against the book) explained how she felt ostracized for choosing the alternative text. The latter speaker explained that there are students at WHS that personally experience some of the terrible actions (e.g., rape) that are covered in the book. She wondered why if they are old enough for it to happen to them, are they not old enough to be able to read and talk about it? Score: 10-9 for the book.

Round 5 was an evenly matched round that began with a well-dressed woman who said she had read the book and found it indecent. The issue for her was one of defining standards of decency perhaps via a rating system. She reminded her audience that the book may be allowed by the state but is not required by the state and that many successful graduates of WHS have taken the class without reading the book. Mr. Kauner Michael, a WHS junior, spoke passionately on the positive effect he experienced from covering the book last year in the class. He also delivered a student petition of 375 signatures supporting the book. Tough call, this round. But these two factors make the difference: (1) we can’t even decide on one book, so how likely is it that this community can agree on a rating system? and (2) Mr. Michael asked BOE chairman Warren “for permission to approach to deliver the petition signatures.” Wow! That was classy. Score: 10-9 for the book.

Round 6 also pitted a parent against the book versus a student for the book. Mr. Cliff Baldwin claimed that reading the book he found the issue one of "appropriate" vs. "necessary." This promising start was quickly submarined by a lame attempt at explaining the science of the adolescent brain (apparently based on a recent National Public Radio segment) and an even lamer attempt at connecting higher auto insurance rates charged to teenagers due to brain development. (FYI: auto insurance companies don’t know or care diddly about brain development. They only know about numbers like accident frequencies, and they only care about dollars.)  Mr. Patrick Williamson calmly reported, as the student body president (ethos points), that there was widespread support for the book among the student body and that the English department and the teacher were considered trustworthy and capable. Score 10-9 for the book.

Round 7 was contested by two WHS students. The first explained that she, in consultation with her parents, opted not to read the book and chose the alternate. She described being sent into the hallway, feeling ostracized and punished, and not being given an equal educational opportunity. Powerful pathos points scored. The student supporting the book called it her favorite book because of how it helps students become global citizens. Score: 10-9 against the book.

Round 8 began with the assertion to the BOE that their decision was actually quite simple because (1) they took an oath to uphold the laws of the U.S. and N.C. constitutions, (2) current WCS policy prohibits “possession of literature which significantly disrupted the education process or is obscene,” and (3) state statute gives BOE general control. Uh, I’d say that the book itself hasn’t disrupted anything, but the people trying to remove it from the curriculum have. The constitution bit was a red herring to trick me into being impressed. The BOE has general control to decide for either side, which is why it isn’t simple. Attempt at logos points fell flat. Meanwhile, Greg McClure said that reading this book as a high schooler himself led him to become a human rights worker in Latin America. High pathos scored. Furthermore, he claimed that while nearly everyone praises the teacher and says it isn’t about the teacher, it is in fact about the teacher. Questioning curricular decisions makes it about the teacher, and teachers need support. High logos scored. Score: 10-8 for the book.

Round 9 began with a parent claiming he respects the teacher for her ability but has lost trust in her for her accountability. Huh? Her department, colleagues, even the NC Department of Public Instruction have attested to the appropriateness of her choice. Then he slid into bizarre territory, talking about the purity of his daughter and how that was his responsibility until she was 18. Oh, and his son too! (Weird is not a persuasive mode for Aristotle.) Ms. Emily Haas, a 2012 alumna of WHS, spoke passionately in favor of the book and the teacher. She said her sophomore honors English class read Native Son that contained similar themes, but it helped her to grow. It changed her view of life and learning. High pathos. Score: 10-8 for the book.

Round 10 brought back the idea of ratings. Would this book be R-rated if you applied the movie industry rating system?  X-rated perhaps? More vacuous claims of research evidence, this time of the effects of exposing 18- to 21-year-olds to sexually explicit materials. Failed attempt at logos points. Mrs. Trudy Moss concluded the round with an interesting exploration of the stellar reputation WCS has earned over the years and how some of that reputation is due to the presence of Appalachian State University in the community and the elevation of the intellectual discourse. She warned of harming the educational health of our entire county and slipping into mediocrity. High pathos and logos scored. Score: 10-8 for the book.

It was an entertaining evening and an illuminating evening. Those present were clearly divided in their opinions, but everyone remained respectful. This judge’s final tally was that those arguing for keeping the book in the curriculum won the debate 9 rounds to 1, with a cumulative score of 99-78 in favor of the book.

4th Circuit Court of Appeals: "Not So Fast There, North Carolina"

The otherwise very conservative 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond has ruled that the Republican majority in the North Carolina General Assembly cannot legislate anti-abortion license plates without also offering pro-choice license plates. The 4th Circuit panel ruled unanimously.

A lower U.S. district court had already ruled that the "Choose Life" license plates were an unconstitutional governmental promotion of a religious point of view.

Said the ACLU lawyer who argued the case, "As the court reiterated today, the government cannot create an avenue of expression for one side of a contentious political issue while denying an equal opportunity to citizens with the opposite view. North Carolina’s one-sided license plate scheme constituted blatant viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment."

Who's keeping the box score of how much crap passed by the NCGA has already been overturned by the courts?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Franklin Graham, King of the Pharisees

This news has leaked on Facebook:
Franklin Graham announced to his employees this morning he is shutting Samaritan's Purse down at 2pm and instructed employees (one of the largest employers in our area) to "bring a snack" and go to the School Board Meeting room and fill up all the seats. So much for respecting the democratic process!
The Watauga School Board meeting this evening at 7 p.m., which Franklin Graham wants to steamroll, will be making a final decision on whether to ban Isabel Allende's "House of the Spirits" from Watauga High senior English classes.

Guess which side Franklin Graham's on.

What does this political activity do to Mr. Graham's tax exemption? Anything?

Mud Pies

Evidence is mounting that North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) under this Republican regime is in the business of shielding Duke Energy from responsibility for dumping 80,000 tons -- tons! -- of coal ash into the Dan River.

Well, after all, Gov. Pat McCrory worked for Duke Energy for 28 butt-numbing years, and Duke Energy is beset with tree-hugging environmentalists who want, you know, clean drinking water. The bastards! So those who serve the governor also serve Duke Energy, to protect the corporation from accountability:
Over the last year, environmental groups have tried three times to use the federal Clean Water Act to force Duke Energy to clear out leaky coal ash dumps like the one that ruptured last week, spewing enough toxic sludge into a North Carolina river to fill 73 Olympic-sized pools. Each time, they say, their efforts have been stymied by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The state agency has blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the federal act to take enforcement action. After negotiating with Duke, the state proposed settlements where the nation's largest electricity provider pays modest fines but is under no requirement to actually clean up its coal ash ponds.
Just wait until DENR's also coddling and protecting the fracking industry!

(Hattip: BlueNC)

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Republicans Will Attempt to Bribe NC Teachers

Thomas Mills, one smart dude whose analysis I tend to trust, is saying that Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have already won the PR battle over teacher pay: they're bragging, pretty much in unison now, that they're going to raise it, though the small print underlying their promise is a good deal more problematic.

Can North Carolina's teachers be bribed into silence and submission this easily?

Teachers were in the Forward Together/Not One Step Back march in Raleigh yesterday. We detected fire in their eyes, and we're not altogether sure that they're going to now lay down because Republicans are using the term "pay raise."

We know that Republicans like a public that will saddle a gift horse without looking in its mouth, but we also know that North Carolina's hard-working teachers can tell a hawk from a handsaw and may not be so easily bought off.

Republicans Take Some Solace in Empty Language

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition (whose "values" are all about exclusion and demonization), said the marchers in Raleigh yesterday "were anything but moral," casting her aspersions widely on the thousands of protesters who thronged downtown streets at the old Capitol building and the thousands more who took their witness to "Moral Mondays" last summer.

Seriously, Tami?

That girdle you're wearing must be pinching like a sonovabitch.

The Guv (who took his opportunity to get the hell outta Dodge, and who could blame him?), had already delivered himself of the opinion that all these thousands are "outside agitators," showing that his head is securely planted in 1969.

The Republicans can talk "outside agitators" all they want to, and what else can they say? But if they actually believe that crap, they're in deeper trouble than they realize.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

HKonJ Today

They're saying around 25,000 turned out in downtown Raleigh to protest the direction of North Carolina under the Republican regime.

Almost 200 from Watauga County were in the "mammoth" crowd.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Thom Tillis and the Indelible Stench of Karl Rove

The American Conservative Union issued its "Ignorant Camp Followers" "Defenders of Liberty" award to Republicans in the NC General Assembly, based on how their ALEC-addled drones voted on 12 bills, and House Speaker Thom Tillis, without whose iron grip on the flow of legislation none of the 12 bills would have passed, did not make the cut.

He missed voting on two of the 12 bills, and that's a serious -- and serendipitously happy -- no-no to the American Conservative Union. How cool was it to be able to deny recognition to Tillis on a technicality!

Poor Thom Tillis! Dissed once again by conservatives, who owe him everything, really, but who don't trust his sucking up to the country club elite.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

When Good People Get Fed Up

Clay Aiken is announcing today that he is indeed running for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of North Carolina. Incumbent Republican Renee Ellmers' campaign immediately began playing the only gay card they could think of: Aiken, sez Ellmers' flack, represents "San Francisco values."


I believe that the young man who rose out of a bad domestic situation, who became a teacher of special needs students in public school, who started a foundation to help kids with disabilities -- I believe he represents North Carolina values far more than does Renee Ellmers.

A young man who had an amazing talent and who got rich because of it.

He's pictured this morning in the N&O with "consultant" Betsy Conti and "advisor" Gary Pearce, so he's also smart enough to surround himself with some smart, experienced people with deep North Carolina political knowledge.

Aiken has a primary in May with a couple of other contenders, but one of his primary opponents has already announced that he's dropping out and will endorse Aiken.

Clay told the N&O that Ellmers' flailing attacks on him suggested that she was nervous. Yeah. Call it "flop sweat."

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Do You Smell Toast?

Greg Brannon, the Cary OBY/GYN and Tea Party alternative to slick Thom Tillis in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, is facing a civil lawsuit alleging that Dr. Brannon suckered a friend and the husband of one of his pregnant patients into investing $250,000 into a technology company that Brannon claimed was going to be at least as big as Facebook. Didn't turn out that way.

According to "The Morning Memo," "The court file is eight inches thick and filled with political dope, such as his botched investments and how he recruited investors apparently at his OB-GYN practice."

That's just plain creepy.