Friday News: Cultural decline?


DAN FOREST "RETREATS" TO THE MOUNTAINS FOR ALL-MALE CHRISTIAN BONDING: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and dozens of other Christian men spent last weekend in the North Carolina mountains at an invitation-only retreat organized by Forest and his supporters. They slept 10 to a room "like a summer camp," according to Forest's chief of staff and campaign manager Hal Weatherman. “There’s no political conversation," Forest told host Pete Kaliner. "There’s nothing political at all.” The event has a website, but the site makes clear participation is invitation only. Weatherman said volunteers recruit attendees from around the state to create "a strong geographic reach." “Many of you share my concerns about the cultural decline of our country, our state and our communities," Forest, a social conservative widely expected to run for governor in 2020, says on the website. "To combat this decline, I’m continuing to hold the annual Black Mountain Weekend. ... Speakers and presenters will share their real-world experiences and lead the group in discussions on issues that confront our nation, state and communities."

DUANE HALL RESIGNS FROM COURTS COMMISSION, JOE JOHN CHOSEN AS REPLACEMENT: Hall resigned on March 12, in a short letter saying his resignation would be effective immediately. Just five days before Hall's resignation, the NC Insider asked Cooper's spokesman, Ford Porter, whether Cooper would ask for Hall to resign his Courts Commission seat. On March 7, Porter said "The governor has called for him to step down from the legislature and does not believe he should continue to serve on the commission. We are continuing to review all options." The commission is a group of lawmakers, lawyers, judges and others involved in the judicial system that evaluates changes to the courts. The group is also able to make recommendations to the General Assembly. Most recently it had a role in helping pass juvenile justice reform in 2017. John is a former Guilford County District Court judge, chief District Court judge and resident Superior Court judge. In the appointment letter, Cooper wrote that John's "leadership will be invaluable in helping to move our state forward."

BRAZIL CRACKING DOWN ON NC-BASED CULT IN FORCED LABOR CASE: Minors remain at risk and are being forced to work against their will by a Brazilian church with ties to the U.S.-based Word of Faith Fellowship, a senior labor prosecutor said Wednesday after the initial hearing in a civil suit seeking the dissolution of the local church and the school it runs. Word of Faith Fellowship is a secretive evangelical sect founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam. Over the decades, it has grown to a congregation of nearly 750 people in rural North Carolina, with hundreds more followers extending to Brazil, Ghana and other countries. Dozens of former congregants in both the U.S. and Brazil have told the AP that Whaley rules all the branches with an iron fist and that church members — including children — are regularly attacked verbally and physically in an effort to "purify" sinners.

CHARLOTTE'S AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS COMES TO A HEAD IN COUNCIL HEARING: Activists and residents squeezed by rising rents urged the Charlotte City Council on Monday to do more to build affordable housing. Holding signs with slogans such as "I Am Housing Insecure" and "30,000 Priced Out and Counting," the residents filled the council's chamber Monday night. Richard Simmons, a Vietnam veteran, told council members he "wanted to put a face" on the data that show rents are rising. "When I moved into my apartment, I was paying $550 a month, or 40 percent of my income," he said. Simmons said his apartment complex in Matthews has been sold, with new owners making small cosmetic changes. "They painted the countertops and put in new appliances, and my rent is now 70 percent of my income," Simmons said. "There is little left for food, utilities or a car. It's unfair to ask me, at 72 years of age, to leave my apartment."

TRUMP REACTS PREDICTABLY TO COMEY TELL-ALL BOOK ABOUT TO BE PUBLISHED: Firing back at a sharply critical book by former FBI director James Comey, President Donald Trump blasted him Friday as an "untruthful slime ball," saying, "It was my great honor to fire James Comey!" Trump reacted on Twitter early Friday, the day after the emergence of details from Comey's memoir, which says Trump is "untethered to truth," and describes him as fixated in the early days of his presidency on having the FBI debunk salacious rumors he said were untrue but that could distress his wife. The book, "A Higher Loyalty," is to be released next week. The Associated Press purchased a copy this week. In the book, Comey compares Trump to a mafia don and calls his leadership of the country "ego driven and about personal loyalty." "Donald Trump's presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation," Comey writes, calling the administration a "forest fire" that can't be contained by ethical leaders within the government.