Monday, June 30, 2014

"You Can't Tell Me! I'm an Effing Corporation, Bitch!"

The door that the 5-4 Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision just opened, courtesy of Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James, who wrote on his Facebook page:
"The justices' 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies' health insurance plans. If corporations can hold religious views (they can already have political views under Citizens United) then they could be opposed as a corporation to homosexual rights, trans surgery, abortion, medical coverage for anyone that isn't one-man one woman. This will cause liberals decades of headaches."
Can cause our democracy a few migraines too. Since, now, corporations are not only people. They can also be religiously bigoted people too.

The corporate take-over of the Republic must be 97% accomplished by now, no?

Oh ... Bill James? Yeah, he's a well known conservative jerk.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Soucek & Jordan's Local Bill, and Newton's Third Law

It's all about gravity, isn't it? At this moment in North Carolina history, all the gravitational pull is in Raleigh, and our Republican representatives down there, Sen. Dan Soucek and Rep. Jonathan Jordan, are learning the giddy pleasures of stomping all over smaller entities who have relatively less power.

Decentralized government? Naw, not on their watch. The town of Boone will be crushed by Bigger Government. Resistance is futile.

Watauga County Commission Chair, Republican Nathan Miller, and his 3-2 majority on that governing board had already explored the joys of crippling Boone's ability to survive by depriving the town of $2 million in sales tax revenue, and they did it out of pure spite. That action by Chairman Miller and the subsequent action by Soucek/Jordan were both prompted by the towering desires of one family, the Templetons, who are now running virtually everything, from the local Republican Party to the County Commission to the General Assembly.

Sir Isaac Newton propounded the universal law of gravitation, and he also mucked about with force, mass, and acceleration, but the Newtonian Law that is about to come into effect for Soucek/Jordan and the Templetons is his Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Reaction # 1: Homeowners in the ETJ Cry Out
Without the protections of Boone's Unified Development Ordinance, which governs what can be built, where, and how, the residents of Boone's Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) are now exposed to harm from their neighbors, if their neighbors are of a mind to harm them.

This new reality apparently prompted County Commission Chair Nathan Miller to issue a statement on behalf of the Commission majority (which includes a Templeton son-in-law) that the Commission will hold a public hearing for residents and for property-owners in the ETJ, to see what, "if any, restrictions the citizens and real property owners wish imposed upon them by their elected officials."

That's a direct quote from Mr. Miller's statement, with emphasis added where emphasis was obviously intended. In fact, the entire first paragraph of Mr. Miller's statement is nothing but full-throated crowing over the way the town of Boone has been treated. Mr. Miller is already abundantly on the record as being opposed on ideological grounds to most if not all land-use regulations, and his statement that a public hearing will be called to consider land-use regulations is also a signal that only one sort of testimony is going to be listened to.

We'll see how the homeowners in the ETJ get on with their new masters.

Reaction # 2: Boone Residents Cry Out
The question of the hour: Why should Boone taxpayers now pony up many millions of $$ to acquire, build, and develop new water resources to service the Templeton family's ETJ holdings?

It was always ultimately about the water.

Big developers want it. Big developers intend to get it. Hell, they have a power-hungry General Assembly in place to help them seize it.

But the taxpayers of the town of Boone do not have to build it for them. They would be fools to do so now.

The fact has consigliere Jeff Templeton is now calling for a county-wide watersystem might wake up a few more taxpayers: It was always about the water.

As always, Senator Dan Soucek gets the Out-to-Lunch Award: "Water? There's an issue with water? Why didn't someone tell me?"

Reaction # 3 (and beyond): Who the Hell Knows?

The Soucek/Jordan bill to deprive Boone of its ETJ powers is a one-off. No other town in North Carolina history has ever been treated this way. The bill opens a legal can of worms. Let those worms of unintended consequences wiggle! We're sure that County Attorney Four Eggers can handle every one of them!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nullifying Boone's Town Elections

It would be a major shock if Dan Soucek and Jonathan Jordan's "local" bill to deprive the town of Boone of its ETJ did not pass the full NC House today, since it has already passed a second reading. The bill may already have passed by the time this gets posted.

What Soucek and Jordan have really done is nullify several elections in Boone that ratified steep slope regulations and other development rules, elections that also rejected candidates hand-picked by mega-developers, elections that made the town of Boone a progressive bastion in a sea of red and hence the object of intense conservative spite.

Legislators of the Soucek and Jordan ilk -- in other words, most of the Republican crop in Raleigh -- have been dedicated to crippling North Carolina's cities by any means necessary (the stealing of Asheville's water system is but one example among many). It's a stupid and ultimately counter-productive agenda, since our cities are also our major economic engine. What new or relocating business wants to establish itself in a town with bad schools and a ravaged environment, cluttered with cookie-cutter or ill-planned infrastructure? Maybe coal-ash ponds.

Legislators of the Soucek and Jordan ilk are also much into the idea of "nullification," simply ignoring or rejecting laws they don't like. Such ideological extremists do not like the land-use development rules ("zoning") implemented in cities, because development rules pinch the ambitions of people like the Templetons.

The Templetons have attempted to change the rules in Boone by selecting and campaigning for their own slates for the Boone Town Council, not once (as in 2013) but twice (as in 2007, in the famous "Citizens for Change" town elections). They lost both times. Unable to win at the ballot box, they've turned to their paid puppets in Raleigh, Soucek and Jordan, to accomplish for them what they could not accomplish on their own merits and through the democratic process.

Since the Tea Party take-over of our state in the elections of 2010, we've witnessed month after month such breathtaking acts of ideological extremism that have frankly beggared the imagination. Stripping Boone of its ETJ is now only the newest remarkable example of just how far this bunch is willing to go to drive our state back into a modern dark age. Boone is now the only -- the only -- city in the state to be singled out and treated in this high-handed and tyrannical way, all to suit the wishes of one wealthy family (and their wealthy friends).

The Law of Unintended Consequences
Throwing out steep slope and view shed rules on the mountains surrounding Boone was always just the first step. Getting Boone's water run up into those hills for student quadraplexes, etc. would be the next.

Boone is very short on water resources for new development and has been trying to obtain a new source on the New River in Ashe County for several years. The Templetons and other mega-developers want that water, and now, without development regs in the ETJ, they will use that water to support any new North Carolina Gatlinburg that they can imagine. And -- need we say it? -- they'll use their patsies Soucek and Jordan to enact another "local" bill in the General Assembly to simply seize the water from Boone. Count on it.

The Cottages is a Watauga County
Therefore, Boone needs to stop spending its taxpayers' money on the acquisition of a new water resource that will be taken away to enrich the special interests operating in the largely unregulated landmass known as Watauga County.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Senator Soucek Gets His Way. Boone's ETJ Residents Get Royally Screwed

Turns out that a House committee vote yesterday to reject Sen. Dan Soucek's bill making Boone the only town in the state to lose developmental control over its Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) was a useless, pointless vote, according to the parliamentary ruling of a Republican lawyer who works for the Republican majority in the NC Senate.

"Senate special counsel Gerry Cohen said the bill wasn't actually dead after Monday's vote - just in parliamentary limbo."

Meaning that, if they could round up enough committee members who didn't vote yesterday, or if they could blackmail, bribe, or otherwise coerce those who voted "no" yesterday to change to "yes" today, then they can do whatever the hell they want and high water allows. Soucek's "Punish Boone to the Nth Degree Act of 2014" passed 18-16 in the same committee today that rejected it yesterday 15-12. When you can't win by regular order, go for the parliamentary trick.

If this passes the full House -- as it probably will -- the Templetons and other mega-developers will have finally succeeded in dominating the landscape around Boone, and Boone will be the new poster child of Republican extremism and overreach.

Sen. Dan Soucek's Role in Killing "Common Core" Standards

Both the NC House and the NC Senate are on a wild-eyed mission to kill the new Common Core educational standards because someone suggested that President Obama was behind the whole thing, even though the standards were developed in the states, not in Washington, and even though the Chamber of Commerce supports Common Core along with most educational professionals.

The current hysteria started in Sen. Dan Soucek's Senate Education Committee, which passed out a bill (subsequently passed by the full NC Senate) throwing out Common Core and mandating that the state write its own standards.

That has been done in Indiana, where conservative dyspepsia can also cause stampedes, but in Indiana the state's standard-writers ended up adopting about 85% of the Common Core anyway. That prospect for NC has sent some far right-wingers into cardiac arrest, so the NC House's version of the Kill the Common Core Act goes completely overboard, mandating that no part of Common Core can be used in North Carolina.

Wake County School Board member Bill Fletcher said about the House version, “I’m trying to understand the impact of saying you can’t use Common Core as you build new standards. If I’m writing a cookbook and somebody tells me I can’t use salt, sugar, pepper and olive oil, I’ve got a problem writing a new cookbook.”

Political overreach, in short.

Some conservative provocateurs are now putting pressure on Senator Soucek to make the Senate bill as extreme and exclusionary as the House proposal (and we know how Soucek stands up to right-wing political pressure!). Who knows what will ultimately pass, but you can bet it won't be in the interests of public education in North Carolina. Soucek is already persona non grata among school teachers in Watauga County, following his public forum on education policy last December. Will he choose to double-down on Common Core?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Soucek's ETJ Bill Fails in House Committee

The NC House committee charged with considering Sen. Dan Soucek's "local bill" to deprive Boone of its ability to hold the Templeton family to certain development ordinances (steep slope ordinance, tops among them) failed in the House committee, 12-15.

Eye witnesses tell us that it was Republican Majority Leader Rep. Edgar Starnes of Caldwell who swayed the vote most passionately in his remarks to the committee. Jeff Templeton also spoke, along with Boone Mayor Andy Ball and Seven Oaks resident Lee Stroupe.

Starnes is a real estate "investor" with property in the Boone ETJ.

Soucek dies in the House, once again.

He faces reelection this November against Democrat Jim Sponenberg, a Lenoir banker.

Rep. Starnes said in the hearing, "This would be the only time in the history of North Carolina that we have removed a town's ETJ authority," Starnes said. "I think it sets a dangerous precedent."

WRAL coverage suggested that several Republican members of the committee made a hasty exit after Starnes spoke, deciding perhaps that it was better to visit the restroom rather than go on the record voting for Mr. Soucek's special interest bill.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Jonathan Jordan Signs on to New Bill to Establish a State Religion

Oh boy!

NC House Rep. Jonathan Jordan has signed on as a co-sponsor to a House Joint Resolution that says the state of North Carolina can establish a state religion if it wants to, never mind the U.S. Constitution nor the rulings of numerous courts.

Because -- hey! -- there's nothing more pressing in state business than grandstanding for your right-wing base.

Budgeting by Stumblebums

The mismanagement of the state of North Carolina by its Republican/conservative overlords was on bizarre display yesterday in Raleigh, as State Budget Director Art Pope refused to show up at a Senate budget meeting to explain two things: "the shortfall [in Medicaid money] for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30; and an estimate of increased spending for the next fiscal year based on health care inflation and the growth of Medicaid recipients" (according to the News&Observer).

These are the same guys who piously refused to expand Medicaid under a federal program that would have cost the state nothing for the first year, and very little after that.

Sen. Tom Apodoca, a Hendersonville Republican and chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, issued a threat aimed, we assume, at Art Pope: “If push comes to shove, we can always issue subpoenas.”

Meanwhile, Governor Squishy was somewhere else, bragging about the "Carolina Comeback" and about how many toes he's stepped on in his illustrious career as a toe-stepper-oner.

Wheels coming off the clown car.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Challenging NC's New Voter Restrictions: Update

NC Policy Watch has a very useful history of the new voter restriction laws in North Carolina and a time-line of the court challenges to those laws, together with some e-mails exchanged between the State Board of Elections and Republican apparatchiks in the General Assembly. Republicans knew all along that their restrictions would disproportionately impact African-American and college-age voters.

We await court action on whether this blatant voter suppression will be allowed to proceed in the fall 2014 elections.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thom Tillis: A Traditionalist

Does Thom Tillis appear to be flailing to you?

Wind-milling those arms of his in an attempt to connect with something -- anything -- that might resonate with the voting public ... and hitting nothing but soggy air.

Tillis wants to modestly raise teacher salaries by spending more money getting us all to buy more lottery tickets. No, really. The Tillis budget proposed by the NC House would increase advertising for the NC Lottery substantially in order to fund the raises for teachers. But officials with the lottery warned legislators that doubling the advertising budget for the lottery still wouldn't raise all the money that Tillis needs to pay the teachers, falling about $50 million short.

Meanwhile, North Carolina Republicans are on record as opposing all gambling of all kinds, according to their state platform, and they led the opposition to passing the lottery in the first place. Does Thom Tillis even know what his own party stands for?

Then a video clip surfaced of Thom Tillis bemoaning the fact that "the traditional population" of North Carolina isn't growing, while Hispanic and black populations are. By "traditional population" Tillis clearly meant white people like him and his supporters.

Racial politics? Naaaaw, just a tiny slip of the tongue.

Tillis campaign communications director, Daniel Keylin, told Talking Points Memo that by “traditional” Tillis meant “North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations.” Huh? Black North Carolinians have been here for many more than just a few generations, but they were explicitly excluded from the "traditional population." American Indians? They've been here for considerably more than just a few generations, but Tillis didn't mean them either. He meant those white people that he wishes would hurry the hell up and have more children who'll vote for him.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Moral Mondays: The Musical

Thom Tillis and the Gambling Industry: Trying To Keep the Bloodhounds at Bay

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is investigating some $700,000 in campaign contributions to North Carolina politicians from the video sweepstakes (gambling) industry. "The biggest recipient was House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is seeking to unseat [Senator Kay] Hagan in November. Tillis received $127,000, followed by [Gov. Pat] McCrory and Senate leader Phil Berger [who received lesser but still substantial amounts]."

So what do Tillis and Berger do? They introduce legislation to take the State Bureau of Investigation away from Attorney General Roy Cooper and put it under the direct control of their patsy and yes-man, Gov. McCrory.

Yes, Virginia, that is a large and rancid rat you're smelling.

Rob Christensen writes, "Any hopes the [video sweepstakes] donors had of legalizing video gambling in the state again fell by the wayside because of scandal. The major donor from the industry was Chase Burns, an executive for an Internet sweepstakes company, who last year pleaded no contest in Florida to two criminal counts involving a lottery and forfeited $3.5 million in profits."

What's a little legalized bribery compared to all the harm this current Raleigh regime has done to education, the poor, our natural resources, etc.?

It just stinks.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Wake County Judge Strikes Down New Legislative Bldg Rules

New rules put into effect at the General Assembly in Raleigh in response to the Moral Monday protests have been thrown out by a Wake County Superior Court judge who found no rational basis for them.


Anyone keeping count on how many laws, rules, and regs passed by the Republicans have been overturned in court? ... with more to come soon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tillis Family Values

Republican budget writers pose for a group photo
Thom Tillis and his NC House honchos have decided how to fund raises for teachers: get us all to gamble more!

No kidding. The NC House budget proposal is banking on money it hopes to raise from the NC Education Lottery, the same lottery that conservatives have always claimed to hate. Now they're prepared to stake their futures -- not to mention their political reputations -- on a roll of the dice.

Not every House Republican is prepared to do this particular gambling: “I do feel uncomfortable rolling the dice and betting on money that may not materialize,” said Rep. Debra Conrad of Winston-Salem.

Raleigh Republicans have done what they could to cripple public education, open the state to environmental devastation, and drive us into an economic hole. Now they're willing to throw their esteemed family values out the window and budget with buffalo dust.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

State Seizure of Asheville's Water Struck Down by Judge

Yesterday Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. struck down the 2013 General Assembly law that would have transferred Asheville's water system to a county authority.

Judge Manning found the law in violation of the state's constitution specifying what "local bills" are allowed to accomplish (Senator Dan Soucek ... your day is coming!). Judge Manning also ruled the bill an "unlawful taking," and -- the best part -- the judge said the law had no "rational basis."

When a court of law rules officially that the ruling party is in fact irrational, we find some reason to hope for the future of North Carolina.

Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said Manning's decision is "a huge victory for cities. When you initiate a lawsuit of this magnitude, you need to do so responsibly because it has broad implications across the state."

As Boone voters know, Republicans in the General Assembly are pretty much willing to do anything to hurt, hobble, and high-jack the ability of North Carolina's towns and cities to determine their own futures.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Comedy Stylings of Aldona Wos

The Charlotte Observer's editorial yesterday highlighting the hilarious mismanagement of NC's Department of Health & Human Services by Governor McCrory's "brilliant" appointment, Aldona Wos, also provides a window into the even more hilarious mismanagement of the state's budget by our Republican overlords in the General Assembly.

A $60 million shell game that was so transparent that even a Federal worker-drone caught it and blew the whistle.

Even our emperor Art Pope is said to be angry at Aldona Wos, and he so rarely stoops to give notice to mere mortals.
All of which is decidedly not surprising to anyone who has observed DHHS since Wos was appointed secretary in late 2012. From grossly overpaying personnel to stumbling through a food stamp backlog to being the only state in the country to halt food and formula to pregnant women and new moms (at least until someone noticed) Wos has displayed an historic and almost comic incompetence.
"Almost comic"? Nay, just plain "comic."

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

McCrory, The 90-lb. Weakling


Governor Pat McCrory issued "stern warnings" about the unsustainable NC Senate budget, John Frank reported in the N&O.

At which no Republican senator anywhere trembled in fear. McCrory issued stern warnings? So what are your going to do about it, Bub? Kick sand in someone's face? Or just continue to whine?

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger has had McCrory's sorry ass locked in his valise since Day One. Berger -- and to a much lesser extent, Thom Tillis -- is running this state, maybe even to Art Pope's surprise. Running this state into the ground.

Court of Appeals Reverses Templeton Win From Last Year

The NC Court of Appeals has just reversed a Superior Court ruling last year which would have allowed Phil Templeton to build his methadone clinic on State Farm Drive very near the neighborhood surrounding the VFW.

This case has ping-ponged back and forth between the Boone Board of Adjustment and various courts since 2006.

Will the Court of Appeals decision end it? Probably not, as long as Mr. Templeton still has a higher court he can appeal to. We assume he gets pleasure out of paying lawyers when the object of his contempt is the Town of Boone.

Fracking Will Come to Western North Carolina

Not only are the Republicans in the General Assembly (and their toady in the governor's mansion) putting North Carolina on the fast track to hell (i.e., fracking), they've actually appropriated over half-a-million taxpayer $$ to help find the natural gas for the big companies that want to drill.

And where will the Department of Environment and Natural Resources be collecting rock samples, starting later this summer? Wait for it ... in western North Carolina, specifically the counties of Clay, Cherokee, Macon, Graham, Swain, Jackson and Haywood. Not on Watauga's doorstep ... yet.

All the talk that there was never much natural gas under North Carolina to be fracked never made much sense, considering the lust exhibited by the gas companies and the willingness of our Honorables in Raleigh to risk our water and sell out our future. We're likely to find out that -- lo and behold! -- there was always more gas to be robbed under our feet than anyone ever imagined.

And the General Assembly -- along with their toady in the governor's mansion -- have paved the way and are using our money as enablers of a rapacious, ruthless, nasty industry.

Where is the outrage?

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Governor McCrory Hears From a Voter

A woman yells at Governor Pat McCrory about his failure to expand Medicaid in North Carolina, in the Oasis Shriners Parade in Blowing Rock on Saturday