Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


IDEOLOGICAL FEUD IGNORES STUDENTS NEEDS, DAMAGES UNC: It is an ideological feud run amok. The roots are in the clichéd notion that North Carolina’s public universities are incubators of socialist, environmentalist, gender-liberating, non-Christian politics. Ideologues who claim a religious, conformist, free-market mantel are on a crusade to cleanse the halls of academia. And so now the clash has devolved into an on-going battle between out-spoken University of North Carolina Board of Governors member Steve Long and equally outspoken UNC Law School professor Gene Nichol, who advocates on behalf of the financially disadvantaged and for civil rights. As has been too often the case lately, the priorities of the privileged, well-financed special interests are of greater concern than the interest of citizens and the institutions that our legislators in general, and our UNC Board of Governors in particular, are supposed to promote.

WHY DID THE CARNAGE IN CHARLOTTESVILLE HAPPEN? BECAUSE WE LIE TO OURSELVES: And leave us not forget how media have allowed the folks who brought such chaos to Charlottesville to brand themselves under a banal-sounding new euphemism — the “alt-right” — as if they were not the same bunch of mouth-breathing, lowlife racists they always were. Where race is concerned, intellectual honesty, the willingness to see and say what is right in front of us, has long been in short supply. And too many of you — not all, no, but far too many — readily embrace these implicit lies because you fear the places to which the truth will push you. But the racial riot and terrorism that just visited Charlottesville and the emboldened brazenness of the white supremacist movement now that one of their own has taken the White House, suggest that you no longer have the luxury of avoidance, at least not if the future of this country matters to you.

MORE QUESTIONS, MORE ANSWERS NEEDED ON WORTH OF PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Again and again, the legislature has failed to provide even the most bare-boned requirements for accountability and transparency on the schools that receive taxpayer funds. At the same time, more and more money is being flooded into the unproven program -- $44.8 million this year with growth to $144.8 million in 10 years. At the same time warning signs of the need for more oversight appear. An employee Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville – the largest recipient of state voucher dollars – pleaded guilty to embezzling $388,000 that was supposed to go to paying school employee state income taxes. North Carolina taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent. The legislature should require appropriate accountability and transparency from the schools. The governor needs to display the determination and independence to demand it himself if the legislature won’t.

PLAYGROUND TAUNTS WILL NOT DEFUSE NORTH KOREA CRISIS: This is what we dreaded. Some international crisis was bound to flare up, and President Trump would make it worse. Now we can only hope that the mature adults surrounding him are able to cool things down. Trump probably thought it was oh-so-clever to answer North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear provocations with a taste of the dictator’s own apocalyptic language, threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” It sounded like a playground taunt, reflecting the president’s emotional immaturity. On Thursday, Trump said that maybe those words weren’t “tough enough.” Soon these two nuclear-armed leaders may be trading insults about the size of each other’s hands.

CAN KELLY CALM THE WHITE HOUSE? The installation of John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, as White House chief of staff is the best personnel move that President Donald Trump could make. Kelly proved immediately that he does not suffer fools gladly or in any other mood, forcing out Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. In his 11 indelible days of service, Scaramucci may have demonstrated affection and loyalty to the president, but the voluble financier served only to encourage the worst tendencies of Trump. The task ahead of Kelly is enforcing discipline in the fractious West Wing staff — which includes the occupant of the Oval Office. The rise of Kelly reflects Trump’s acknowledgement that he needs to be disciplined or the White House chaos will only get worse. If the former Marine commander can enforce parameters on presidential Twitter use, all the better.


ED BLOCK: CUTS TO AG OFFICE REMINISCENT OF OTHER HITS TO DEMOCRATS: The editorial did not mention, however, that what happened to Josh Stein is part of a larger pattern of Republicans punishing Democratic office-holders for winning their election over Republican opponents. For example, Republicans have done their level best to strip away Gov. Roy Cooper’s powers and reduce personnel under his authority. Secondly, some Republican state legislators are now going after Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, threatening to impeach her on blatantly trumped-up charges. But what it’s really about is very simple: Her “crime” is she is a Democrat. N.C. Republicans, with a veto-proof majority in the legislature, are running roughshod over the few Democratic state office holders, making it as difficult as possible for them to effectively carry out their responsibilities. This kind of partisanship should have no place in state government.

REP. WALTER JONES: AFGHANISTAN IS THE "GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES": America has lost 2,216 service members in Afghanistan and spent roughly $800 billion. Every year we lose more American lives and waste tens of billions of additional taxpayer dollars. All to continue the longest war in our nation’s history, with no strategic endpoint in sight, much less a clear plan for how to achieve it. Meanwhile, congressional leadership in Washington sits on the sidelines, refusing to allow a debate and a vote on the matter. The courageous men and women who put their lives on the line for this country, and the taxpayers who pay the bills, deserve better. As I stressed in a recent letter to President Donald Trump: Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. How many more men, women and tax dollars must we lose before we learn our lesson?

MARTHA GIROLAMI: RENEWABLE ENERGIES ARE MORAL ENERGIES: Duke Energy has selected natural gas (methane) to be its preferred fuel for electricity in North Carolina because huge profits can be extracted from ratepayers for building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and future gas power plants. Duke Energy is a monopoly utility in North Carolina, and its energy miscalculations will harm us all. Every day solar, wind and batteries become cheaper and more competitive with natural gas pricing. Cheaper batteries will revolutionize renewable energy storage. With cheap renewables and battery storage, natural gas will become too expensive. Duke Energy must seek to avoid damage to the climate from leakage of fracked gas methane, which is 100 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Why continue the harm? Renewable energies are the moral energies that North Carolina needs.



And here's my Op-Ed in the Greensboro N&R:


The courts have ruled, and the clock is running out: Several Legislative Districts, in both Houses, relied too heavily on racial demographics when lines were drawn back in 2011, and new maps must be produced by mid-September at the latest to rectify this obviously unconstitutional situation. But aside from the racial aspect, which is widely viewed as morally wrong and a throwback to times we thought we had grown out of, using political criteria to draw these maps is also a serious threat to democracy, even if the legality is ambiguous.

While we often talk about how unfair it is to the party not in charge of drawing the maps, how they are packed into districts in such a way their share of General Assembly seats does not reflect their actual numbers, it’s important to understand this power doesn’t actually rest with the majority, it’s wielded by a very small cadre of powerful Legislators. And abuse of that power won’t necessarily be directed only at Democrats. It’s the rank-and-file Republican Legislators I’m addressing with the rest of this message, and I suggest you pay attention.

You may feel compelled to support the continued use of political data in the drawing of District lines, since your party is the one in power right now. Heck, you may actually owe your particular election victory to those twisted lines. But it’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? What’s given can be taken away. If you take too many steps out of line, speak your mind one too many times, you could find yourself abruptly retired from public service, and very soon forgotten.

Make no mistake, Republicans are just as vulnerable to hinky map-making as Democrats are. You could easily be drawn right out of your District, pushed into a D+15 demographic where no amount of money, no amount of hard work, no amount of reasoning with voters, will get you back to Raleigh. Shut out, ejected from the game, and all those things you wanted to do go back in the drawer unseen.

This is the reality of allowing that much power to rest in so few hands. This is the reality of owing your allegiance to a political Star Chamber, and not the people who live in your District, who are the ones you’re supposed to be representing. The leadership decides to back a policy that hurts the vast majority of your constituents? Too bad. You’ll be lucky to survive your party’s Primary Election, because new candidates love to talk about how they’re independent thinkers and aren’t in the pocket of those powerful people.

But you can’t say that, because you are. You are stuck in the untenable position of being held responsible for the actions of a few men, because those men control your destiny. But there is light at the end of this tunnel, if you have the fortitude to pursue it.

Stand up now for non-partisan redistricting. It will be a tough fight, and your Legislative career may not survive it. But if it does, you can start doing what you’re supposed to be doing, what democracy demands that you do, represent the people who elected you and not a handful of powerful mapmakers.

Steve Harrison is the senior administrator for the progressive website BlueNC