COOPER'S VETO PEN THWARTS LEGISLATIVE WRECKING CREW: For Cooper, his achievements came most in the wreckage he stopped than any show-piece victories. But don’t think it is without significance. Legislative leaders are unrelenting in their efforts to slash away at state government’s revenue base and leaving it unable to meet its fiduciary responsibility to ALL its citizens – not just corporate taxpayers. That responsibility includes access to a quality education for EVERY child; access to basic health care for EVERY family; a clean and healthy environment for ALL residents and the opportunity for good quality of life for all citizens. Cooper blocked further efforts to slash business taxes – this time reducing and even eliminating – the franchise tax that would have cut state revenues $1 billion over five years.
A REPUBLICAN SENATOR JUST BLURTED OUT WHY JUDGES SHOULD REJECT NC'S NEW CONGRESSIONAL MAPS: It’s sometimes best not to attach too much importance to the things that come out of N.C. Sen. Jerry Tillman’s mouth. He can be the cringe-inducing uncle at the Thanksgiving table, picking unnecessary fights and uttering caustic remarks that make even his fellow Republicans wince. But last Friday, as the N.C. Senate debated a new round of Congressional district maps, Tillman grabbed a microphone and sprinkled some revealing truth into his usual dose of snideness. We hope that Superior Court judges, who will soon declare whether those those Congressional districts are valid, were listening. “It says that in redistricting matters, it is the province of the states and it then becomes the province of the prevailing party. It doesn’t say one thing about splitting a county or a precinct. It doesn’t say anything about being fair.” So if the prevailing party gets to draw the maps, says Tillman: “Do you think it should be anything other than partisan?” Well, yes. So do the Superior Court judges who sent the maps back to Republicans last month with the admonition that their “extreme partisan gerrymandering” was “contrary to the fundamental right of North Carolina citizens to have elections conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people.”
FIONA HILL: A COAL-MINER'S DAUGHTER, RUSSIA EXPERT, WARNS OF ATTACKS ON U.S. ELECTIONS: Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies, confirmed in bipartisan Congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified. The Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country—to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived U.S. threat to Russian interests. President Putin and the Russian security services aim to counter U.S. foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political and economic dominance.
AMERICAN STEADFASTNESS IS IN DOUBT IN SOUTH KOREA THANKS TO TRUMP'S POLICIES: Amid a Capitol Hill impeachment drama arising from tensions between President Trump and a relatively new U.S. ally across the Atlantic, Ukraine, differences were also growing between the United States and an old ally across the Pacific: South Korea. The source of friction, not just coincidentally, is Mr. Trump’s view that supporting traditional allies is a bad “deal” for Americans, and that ungrateful proteges need to pay up. This past week, Mr. Trump sent negotiators to seek a larger South Korean contribution to the costs of keeping 28,500 U.S. troops in that country, from $923 million per year, the current level, to a reported $5 billion. When Korean counterparts balked at this demand — highly unpopular in their country — Mr. Trump’s envoys walked out. Media outlets in Seoul reported that Mr. Trump was considering raising the pressure by pulling out 4,000 troops; Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper denied it, though the fact remains that Mr. Trump himself has spoken of a pullout previously. Meanwhile, South Korea set up more military hotlines with China and promised to “foster bilateral exchanges and cooperation in defence,” starting with a visit by South Korea’s defense minister to Beijing next year. This is more likely a South Korean pressure tactic for the talks with the United States than the beginning of a Seoul-Beijing alliance, but it also must be seen as a hedge against an increasingly less reliable United States.
OUR NATIONAL PARKS ARE IN TROUBLE: I recently finished writing a book for National Geographic, “Atlas of the National Parks,” based on extensive research, a lifetime of exploring the parks and several years in the 1980s working as a ranger in two of them, Denali and Rocky Mountain in Colorado. I meant the book as a celebration of the 103-year-old national park system, and it is. But what I also discovered was an operation in deep trouble, with some parks degraded by ruinous overcrowding; invasions of nonnative plants and animals that are upending delicate ecological balances; and a warming climate that is melting glaciers and withering away the rare yuccas that give their name to Joshua Tree National Park. Adding to these woes, the system is badly underfunded and suffering from neglect. This is not a new problem, but it is getting worse, with deferred maintenance that mostly predates the Trump administration now topping $11 billion. But President Trump isn’t helping. He wants to cut the National Park Service’s budget by $481 million next year and is reportedly considering privatizing campgrounds and commercializing the parks in ways that contradict the agency’s goal of harmonizing with nature. We need to arrest this decline and make the park system the national priority it should be. We need to assess the health of these magnificent parks and ask some hard questions about their capacity to withstand the millions of visitors who arrive every year.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
HIU SZETO: AMERICA MUST STAND UP FOR HONG KONG: I was born in Hong Kong but raised in Pittsburgh. The price of freedom has always been paid with blood and that is what the people of Hong Kong are paying with now. I urge the U.S. government to sanction China and condemn its actions. We, as Americans, are the shining example of freedom and should support those who are fighting for freedom against a tyrannical corrupt government. There have also been reports of the Chinese government detaining hundreds of thousands of Muslims in “training centers.” As Americans we call them concentration camps. We must stand with the people of Hong Kong and urge our government to sanction China and support freedom all over the world.
ANDY OVERSTREET AND HENRY JOHNSON: SCHOOL "REFORM" EFFORTS ARE FLAWED: Why is it that N.C. legislators seem to jump at every passing educational fad to improve educational attainment? Now, the state is moving to place over 60 at-risk schools in the Innovative School District, in spite of the fact that the first school placed in this scheme over a year ago declined in achievement. Better results may be achieved with more time and better instructional practices. However, the program of some curriculum changes, a longer school day, and uniforms hardly constitute breakthrough innovations in instructional practice. These top-down reforms are well intended and the schools certainly need assistance. However, these needlessly complex interventions are based on the myth of a secret improvement sauce that if enforced will induce great improvement. Unfortunately, the real secret is there is no secret sauce. Should legislators really possess a proven secret sauce they should simply share it with the schools in question immediately. If not, the legislature should focus on real and substantive assistance for these schools and stop chasing fads and political preferences based on the illusion of knowledge.
ALICE LOYD: MEDICAID EXPANSION WOULD SAVE OUR HOSPITAL: Randolph Health, one of our best community assets, is in financial trouble. Once again, the NC General Assembly has adjourned for the year without implementing Medicaid expansion. These two facts are related because Medicaid expansion is the most cost-effective way to stabilize hospital finances. The effectiveness of Medicaid expansion in stabilizing rural hospitals has been dramatically shown. More than 80 percent of US rural hospital closures since 2010 occurred in the handful of states that have not implemented Medicaid expansion, according to a George Washington University study. In North Carolina the five hospitals that closed during this period might still be open today if the legislature had implemented Medicaid expansion. What our state needs is the full, straightforward Medicaid expansion, not a watered-down version with work requirements or premiums. The NC Budget and Tax Center reports that 23 percent of people lost coverage when Arkansas implemented work requirements, many because they didn’t have access to stable employment. Others actually met the threshold for work hours but couldn’t manage the burdensome reporting process. Likewise, a premium keeps people from qualifying. For a single parent with two children earning 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($29,440), a premium at 2 percent of annual income would mean paying nearly $600 over the course of a year, or roughly that family’s food budget for an entire month, figures from the NC Budget and Tax Center report. Work-reporting and premium requirements also increase state and county administrative costs. A Georgetown Health Policy Institute study shows Virginia dropped the requirements for their Children’s Health Insurance Program because it cost nearly $1.40 to administer for every $1 in premiums collected. Seventy of North Carolina’s 80 rural counties are already designated as “medical deserts” for their lack of primary care availability, according to figures presented to the legislature’s committee on Access to Healthcare in Rural NC in 2018.