Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


UNHAPPY LEGISLATORS SLING MUD AT COURT: The legislature’s redistricting plans have invariably been concocted in secret, keeping motives and methods far from the view of the public they serve. GOP leaders have also relied on their own taxpayer-financed “outside expert” for help drawing the gerrymandered maps, which is conveniently forgotten amid their outrage over Persily’s alternative plan. There’s no mystery about what Persily’s done or how he’s done it. He has been open, transparent and explicit about his methods and criteria. Legislators and others have had broad opportunities for input. Rather than seeking ways to minimize some voters’ voices, Persily worked to give all voters a full voice in picking their representatives. The only transparency coming out of the General Assembly these days is the hyper-partisan, inappropriate and insulting braying to impugn the work of a bipartisan panel of judges -- working simply to bring fairness to North Carolina’s elections.

NORTH CAROLINA SHOULD RESTORE UNEMPLOYMENT CUTS: A report this week by The Century Foundation, a national public policy think tank, details how North Carolina has one of the least generous and most restrictive unemployment insurance programs of any state in the U.S., despite a dramatic turnaround in the state’s unemployment trust fund, which has gone from more than $2.5 billion in debt to a $3 billion surplus. So who has benefited from this economic recovery? Not workers or the unemployed. North Carolina has kept in place its 12-week limit on receiving assistance – currently the lowest in the country. The maximum benefit amount has remained frozen, too. As a result, only one in 10 jobless workers in North Carolina receive an unemployment payment in 2017, the third-lowest in the country. That’s down from 43 percent in 2009. It is our obligation to fulfill the government’s promise to support these workers as they find their next job, especially when we have the means to do it.

AS DEADLINE APPROACHES, NC'S CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION SHOULD DEMAND OBAMACARE SIGNUP EXTENSION: It is no accomplishment to kill something of value by starving it to death. The only redemption: In the slowness of the process there is the chance for everyone to clearly see what will be missed. Such is the case with President Donald Trump and the congressional and legislative Republicans’ effort to abolish the Affordable Care Act. Failing to find the public support to immediately kill the program (why else weren’t they able to get the votes in a Congress they control?), they are making it as difficult as possible for Americans to participate. The assault on Obamacare has been to provide less time and make it more difficult and confusing to sign up. The “good” news – North Carolina ranks third – at 209,500 enrollees – among the 39 states that use and the federal exchange to enroll participants for insurance coverage. Enrollment here trails Texas and Florida.

LEGISLATURE LIMITS JUDGES' DISCRETION: It’s bad enough that rising court costs in North Carolina put onerous, long-term burdens on many people. It’s worse that judges are now hindered in their ability to waive fines and fees for individuals who have no means to pay. A provision in the state budget that took effect Dec. 1 requires courts to give 15 days’ notice to a list of agencies that receive funds from penalties before a judge can waive fees. That supposedly gives those parties a chance to object. But it seems intended to create so much red tape that courts will become too tangled up to grant waivers. The effect is to maintain a court system unique in the country for the amount of money it squeezes out of people unfortunate enough to be caught in the justice system. In North Carolina, the legislature is turning courts into a self-funding operation — and putting excess revenue into its general fund. But when indigents are jailed because they can’t pay, the expense of locking them up is carried by counties.

PRESIDENT TRUMP'S TERRIBLE DECISION ON JERUSALEM AFFECTS ISRAELIS, MIDEAST: There he was again, doing the part of his job as president he seems to enjoy most of all: Donald Trump, his ever-present scowl in place, holding up a signed order – his signature is show-business large, of course – recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The problem with Trump’s move, which fulfills a promise he made during his presidential campaign, is that it will most emphatically alienate Palestinians and make the possibility of a peace negotiation and settlement – which he also promised, of course – all the more unlikely. The president seems to have no understanding of the delicate nature of Mideast diplomacy, with his top priority being able to check off another “promise kept” from his campaign list, no matter what its implications may be for roiling things in this already-volatile part of the world.


TOM KERKHOFF: LESSONS LEARNED ON CONSENT STILL MEANINGFUL: At the age of 13, I was enrolled in a dancing class along with my sister. Not only did we learn to dance, social amenities came along with the program. Here are some of them: 1. You never stepped on your dance partner’s toes. 2. After the dance was over, you escorted her back to her seat. 3. You never shook a girl’s hand unless she extended her hand to you first. 4. Always treat her with respect, to include never engaging in physical contact without her consent. These rules were unconditional. There were no exceptions. Follow the rules, boys, and you should be just fine with the girls. Seems to me these lessons would be appropriate in today’s social atmosphere. I was taught these lessons 70 years ago and they’re still meaningful.

MARY WESSLING: ROY MOORE DEFENDERS DON'T SWAY ME: Charles Davenport’s and Romaine Worster’s columns of Dec. 3 are callous renderings of a serious issue of abuse and cannot go unchallenged. Davenport wants proof. The eight women who came forward are not proof enough because it happened a long time ago and they may be prone to lie — all of them for political reasons. Worster and Davenport draw up old cases to illustrate how lies can damage a reputation. Sorry, but pedophiles don’t get a defense in my book. Davenport hailed Roy Moore by claiming he “is a refreshingly courageous and fiery defender of traditional, right-of-center beliefs.” Refreshing? No. A master of hate and fear-mongering, yes. Wishing to punish homosexuals and women who choose abortion, and defending fellow pedophiles aren’t traditions one should rally to uphold.

MARY JANE MARSHBANKS: STATE DECISIONS LEAVE THE POOR DOWN AND OUT WHEN IT COMES TO LEGAL AID: Regarding “Center for Civil Rights lawyers have been fired ahead of schedule” (Dec. 2): The phrase defining people as “down and out” is a good title for what is going on in North Carolina. These people who were already down because they could not afford attorneys to argue their cases have been pushed out of the justice system because members of the General Assembly, many of them attorneys, have cut funding for the Public Defender’s Office. Then the UNC System Board of Governors, some of them attorneys, has forced the closure of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, pushing more of those who are “down” out. I keep waiting for the attorneys involved in these decisions to volunteer their legal services to those whom they have forced out of the justice system.



From the dark side

This week's loser is George Will, for his reckless support of the GOP tax scam:

What the legislation’s drafters anticipate, indeed proclaim, is that Congress will not allow to happen what the legislation says, with a wink, will happen. So, this might mark the historic moment when Washington decided that it no longer will bother to blush. The legislation says the tax reductions for individuals will expire by 2025. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, however, says “we have every expectation that down the road Congress will extend them.” Of course Congress will. The phantom expiration is an $800 billion fudge, a cooking of the books in order to cram the tax bill into conformity with arcane parliamentary procedures that make the measure immune to filibuster.

Democrats pretend to worry that Republicans are executing a diabolical double play, using tax cuts to placate donors, then citing the cuts’ enlargement of the national debt as an excuse to cut entitlements. Surely Democrats know that Republicans are not insubordinate to their president, who has vowed to oppose any significant (i.e., touching Social Security or Medicare) entitlement reforms. Besides, whenever Republicans run large budget deficits — the tax legislation probably means that the next decade’s will be even larger than they would have been — they serve the Democrats’ basic agenda: They legitimize the bipartisan penchant for making big government seem cheap. Republicans, too, give people $X worth of government services and charge the recipients $Y, with Y significantly less than X.

In 2002, when Dick Cheney — a strict constructionist, but not of economic data — said “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” the publicly held national debt was 33 percent the size of GDP; today it is 75 percent. At some point, the debt’s size matters, and we seem determined to learn the hard way where that point is.

This tax legislation, an amalgam of earnest hoping and transparent make-believe, is a serious lunge for sustained 3 percent growth. Without this, the economy, and hence the entitlement state, will buckle beneath the strain of 10,000 of the elderly each day becoming eligible for Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans purport to know how changed tax incentives will affect corporations’ and individuals’ decisions, and how those decisions will radiate through the economy. Republicans do not know — nobody, including the Republicans’ equally overconfident critics, does — but they might be right, and their wager is worth trying.

Economics is a science of incentives, and like all sciences it is never “settled.” Both sides, with their thumping predictions, have given hostages to the future, which will deal harshly with some. Perhaps most. Possibly all of them.

Will may be the worst of the worst when it comes to analyzing conservative policy initiatives. He tries to write off the truly underhanded parts, like the scheduled sunset of middle class tax cuts in 2025, as something that "won't be allowed to happen." And he tries to dance around the inevitable cuts to Medicaid and Medicare by making it seem like that's something Democrats have cooked up as a fear tactic. Of course he doesn't mention the Budget Resolution passed in October that promises those very cuts. Oh no, he's talking about the tax cut, not that other thing that would make him look like an idiot.

But by far, the worst part of this piece is his honesty. That's right. He rightfully points out the naivety of Congress' rosy projections on GDP growth, and he beats the anti-deficit drum several times. But then he says we should do it anyway, that it's worth the risk.

See, he didn't write this column for the masses, not really. He wrote it for those Congressional Republicans who are still fence-sitting. All of that fake concern about the deficit and the reckless process was meant to show he is "one of them." He sees the same issues they do, but they are not enough to make him reject the plan. They're being played by a player, but of course they don't realize it. And they won't suffer from being played, but the vast majority of Americans will.