scharrison's blog

Can Republicans be trusted to keep Special Session free of politics?

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The short answer is "no," but with the election coming up, they may have to:

“The currents will be moving under the surface,” said Gary Pearce, a columnist who was a longtime aide to Jim Hunt, a Democrat who was North Carolina’s longest-serving governor. “You can’t take politics out of anything, and this state is so, so polarized, so politicized, and the last eight years have been so angry and bitter, that even in a disaster like this, it’s going to hard for people to set it aside.”

Few state governments in America have been as divided in recent years as the one in North Carolina, where Democrats and Republicans have regularly fought pitched battles over issues like redistricting, voting rights, bathroom access for transgender people, education, and executive authority.

Republicans take note: When your state-level feud is controversial enough to make the New York Times, you might be tempted to celebrate your success. But voters across the board are extremely tired of such partisan gamesmanship, and they will be watching closely at how you handle recovery efforts after this horrible storm. And thanks to the dynamic campaign of Jen Mangrum, Berger's constituents will be watching closely, too:

Trump's attack dog Mark Meadows gunning for Rosenstein

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The very definition of a traitor:

House Republicans plan to privately question the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, about discussions last year where he suggested secretly taping President Trump to expose a chaotic White House and removing him from office under the 25th Amendment.

Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and a close ally of Mr. Trump’s, said that if Mr. Rosenstein does not comply with their latest request, he will be subpoenaed to appear before lawmakers.

It's important to understand the gravity of what Meadows and others are attempting to do. They're not just defending Trump against an adversary (Mueller), they are putting our national security at risk by trying to undermine an investigation into a foreign (super)power's efforts to manipulate not only our elections, but also our foreign policy. We have been compromised, repeatedly, and because of Trump's many (many) intellectual shortfalls, and Congress' inability and/or unwillingness to balance that, the only defense we have against these attacks is the Mueller probe. We need to stop calling Meadows' little cabal the "Freedom Caucus," and start calling them what they are, the "Happy To Be Ruled By Russia Caucus":

Charter school foxes in the public school henhouse

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Mark Johnson has just proven he's nothing but a shill:

Johnson touted Maimone’s background with the charter school in his announcement Friday, pointing out that he led the school as it grew from 110 students in grades 7-9 in 1999 to about 1,300 students in grades K-12 today. The superintendent’s announcement said students “thrived” at Maimone’s school.

The charter earned a “B” performance grade and did not meet growth expectations on its 2016-2017 assessments, according to the most recent state report available. The school serves a decidedly different population than many typical public schools, however, with just 7.5 percent of its students considered “economically disadvantaged.” Traditional school supporters have often pointed out that the state’s growing charter sector serves a more affluent population.

Aside from being completely in the thrall of the school choice crowd, Johnson may have just hired somebody who's keeping a dark secret:

Robeson County Commissioners face lawsuit over pipeline permitting

Holding a sham hearing when you've already made up your mind:

During a quasi-judicial hearing in August 2017, the eight-member commission voted unanimously to grant a Conditional Use Permit to ACP, LLC to construct the facility on land previously zoned as agricultural. But the rules governing quasi-judicial hearings, which much like a trial include sworn testimony and evidence, are strict and clearly laid out in state statute.

And in deciding on special permits, the governing board, in this case the Robeson County Commission, can’t have a “fixed opinion” on the issue before hearing all of the evidence. To do otherwise would be akin to a judge or jury issuing a verdict before a trial even began. But as court documents show, the commissioners strongly supported the ACP long before they were confronted with the decision to issue a special permit for the station and tower.

I've had to "preside" over a few of these quasi-judicial hearings myself, and you have to watch every step you take. In this particular case, what they said in the weeks or months before the hearing will (likely) not be nearly as important as the procedural process itself. If they crossed their t's and dotted their i's, and if the applicant's testimony was not obviously incorrect or deceptive, the Commissioners will probably skate on this lawsuit. And even this "ex parte" allegation may not have the teeth the complainants think it does:

First in Torture? NC's deep involvement in extraordinary renditions

Flying the not-so-friendly skies:

According to testimony provided to the Commission, “research shows conclusively that aircraft operated by Aero Contractors played a central role in the CIA torture program. 200 From 2001 until 2004, Aero Contractors operated two aircraft owned by a series of CIA shell companies — a 737 Boeing Business Jet originally numbered N313P and a Gulfstream V originally numbered N379P — on behalf of the CIA. 201 Aero Contractors utilized two airports in North Carolina for these purposes: Johnston County Airport (JNX) in Smithfield, N.C. for N379P 202 and Kinston Regional Jetport at the state-run Global TransPark for N313P. 203.

Aero Contractors was formed on September 28, 1979. 206 It is incorporated in Delaware as a “[c]ontract aviation services” business, 207 and its filings with the North Carolina Department of State list four corporate addresses in Smithfield, North Carolina. 208 Its founder was Jim Rhyne, “a legendary C.I.A. officer and chief pilot for Air America, the agency’s Vietnam-era air company.” 209 Aero Contractors’ involvement in clandestine transfer of individuals pre-dated 9/11, as the company operated rendition flights in the 1990s for the U.S. government. 210.

I left those footnote numbers in there for a reason. This is an insanely well-researched report, and should not be dismissed out-of-hand. I would also be remiss if I didn't remind readers that Air America engaged in numerous criminal activities during the Vietnam War, including drug-running in order to help finance their operations. Back to the report:

Wrongfully imprisoned, then ripped off by their lawyer

The system has failed them at every turn:

A Florida lawyer defrauded, deceived and embezzled funds from two mentally disabled clients who were declared innocent after spending 31 years in prison, according to a complaint filed Wednesday by the North Carolina State Bar. Henry McCollum and his half-brother, Leon Brown, were exonerated in 2014 after serving decades in prison for the notorious rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. They received $750,000 each from the state in compensation.

The North Carolina State Bar charged that Orlando lawyer Patrick Megaro took excessive fees when he pocketed a third of each award despite having done virtually no work on their exonerations or compensation cases. The complaint lists 16 separate ethical violations. Megaro allegedly lied to federal and state judges, double-billed his clients and misused trust funds.

Not only does this case exemplify the mistreatment of African--Americans in our criminal justice system, it also exposes the disgusting fear-mongering Republicans thrive on during campaign season:

Ted Budd's hold on Congressional seat just got more tenuous

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His race against Kathy Manning is now a toss-up:

This matchup may be the biggest culture clash in the country: Budd is a gun store owner and first-term Freedom Caucus member who homeschools his children in rural Davie County. Wealthy Democratic philanthropist Kathy Manning was the chief fundraiser for Greensboro's $78 million performing arts center scheduled to open next year. If ever there was a race that's "all about that base," this is it.

It's also behaving like open seat: Budd remains relatively unknown and undefined after winning this seat in 2016 with just 20 percent of the vote in the crowded GOP primary and some help from the Club for Growth. And even though the district voted for President Trump 53 percent to 44 percent, Greensboro may be energized and there aren't compelling statewide races to turn out rural GOP voters.

If there's any single "key" to this race (and a lot of others) it's turnout. While Kathy Manning may not be the ideal candidate for progressives, her campaign is vigorous and well-funded. And at the end of the day, when you're running against an empty-suit demagogue who will likely have a lot of money pouring in during the final stretch, having the ability to ramp up your advertising at the last minute is critical. Also, people who pose with their gun while trying to sport a "warm and welcoming" smile are at least three sandwiches shy of a picnic. True story.

Coal Ash Wednesday: Here come the sludge

And this will be fouling the Neuse River for a long time to come:

Matthew Starr had paddled only a half mile of a stretch of Neuse River near Duke Energy’s H.F. Lee power plant in Goldsboro when he saw initial signs that something had gone very wrong. “There was exposed coal ash on trees, floating in the river, on the road,” said Starr, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper. “There was coal ash lying on the ground. We scooped it up out of the water.”

Flooding from Hurricane Florence had drowned two inactive coal ash basins in five feet of water. The active basins, according to state regulators, were structurally sound, but the Half Mile Branch Creek, according to images published by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), was flowing through the inactive basin complex, which is covered in trees and other vegetation. Cenospheres, hollow balls of silica and aluminum that are coal ash byproducts, were floating on the water. But cenospheres are not entirely innocuous; they often contain arsenic and lead, just like the coal they came from.

This is one of the coal ash sites Duke Energy was ordered to relocate, but in late 2016 they sought for and received approval to recycle that ash instead. In other words, it shouldn't have been there to leak out. At least not in the volume it did. But of course that "volume" is hard to quantify, since we can't trust Duke Energy to be honest about its reporting:

Tuesday Twitter roundup

Talk about getting it bass-ackwards:

This is a "balance of powers" argument, which (of course) fails to address the invasive elephant in the room: Republicans in the General Assembly have taken numerous steps to erode the powers of that Governor, taking away not only his "relevance" but also his ability to provide a counterpoint to their often regressive policies. And they've taken (or tried to take) similar steps with the NC Supreme Court since that majority flipped as well, not to mention what they've done to the lower courts. And yet John Hood would have us believe those same power-grabbing Republicans need to be re-elected to "contain" the other two branches. That's rather Trumpian, don't you think?

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