Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


TIME TO SHUT DOWN NC'S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PARTNERSHIP: Amid the recent discussion over the effectiveness of the state’s economic development efforts, a new report this week exposed a less than flattering assessment of the private Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. The creation of the five-year-old partnership was a top priority of former Gov. Pat McCrory and the leadership of the General Assembly – who’d contended the state’s economic development efforts would be far better in private hands – and save taxpayer money with the use of private funding. It turned out to be meddling in a place that didn’t need it. As the partnership’s contract expires in October, it has little to show that it has met the effectiveness promised with its establishment. In fact, there’s little evidence of any improvement on what it replaced. There’s no way to tell just who is in charge.

HOW THE NEW ELECTIONS BOARD SHOULD RESOLVE THE 9TH: Here’s a radical idea in deciding what to do about North Carolina’s disputed 9th Congressional District election: Go where all the evidence leads. Gov. Roy Cooper will name a new election board by Thursday, and political observers are handicapping how the board’s three Democrats and two Republicans will approach the unresolved race between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready. It is assumed, and maybe for good reason, that the Democrats on the board will seek to call a new election that could benefit McCready and Republicans will seek to certify Harris’s narrow victory. But should it be that predictable? Shouldn’t elections board members of all stripes be able to take off their party blinders just long enough to hear the evidence that state investigators have been compiling for months, then base their decision on that?

REPEAL THE BAN, EXPAND MEDICAID IN NC NOW: Opponents to expansion believe the coverage is not necessary because the people who will benefit are lazy good-for-nothing freeloaders merely taking advantage of the system. That is wrong. Those who would qualify are, in fact, the “working poor” and their families who don’t make enough to afford health coverage, but too much to be eligible for current health assistance. With the opening of the 2019 General Assembly session, it is time to quickly REPEAL the ban on Medicaid expansion and get down to work passing a responsible program to provide services to those who would become eligible. Let’s be upfront. The opposition is rooted in blind prejudice against ANYTHING initiated by former President Barack Obama. It drives reflexive opposition to programs like Medicaid expansion. We are long past time to get over all that.

DUKE UNIVERSITY HAS A PROBLEM WITH RACE: Late Sunday, a Duke administrator who advises graduate students stepped down after sending an email Friday advising students not to speak Chinese on campus. Last August, a racial slur was written on a sign outside Duke’s Center for Black Culture. Last April, a Duke administrator complained about rap music being played at a campus coffee shop, causing two baristas to be fired. That administrator, Larry Moneta, had previously come under fire for equating the destruction of a Confederate monument in Durham to vandalism of a Holocaust Museum. In 2017, a Duke professor resigned after attacking a colleague’s suggestion of racial equity training, calling it “a waste.” In 2015, university officials condemned a professor for controversial comments about race to the New York Times. Also in 2015, a Duke fraternity was suspended by its national organization following an Asian-themed party that mocked the culture. Duke is far from the only school to face bouts of racial insensitivity and ugliness, but what’s most troubling is how many of those Duke incidents involve faculty and administrators. It’s a signal perhaps of a deeper issue, an institutionalized racism that manifests itself not only in incidents that are easy to condemn, but in less overt behaviors that can be far more destructive.

WHEN THE SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT SOLD OUT TO WHITE SUPREMACY: The ratification of the 19th Amendment set off celebratory parades all across the country. But confetti was still rustling in the streets when black women across the South learned that the segregationist electoral systems would override the promise of voting rights by obstructing their attempts to register. Some black women succeeded in adding their names to the rolls. But as the historian Liette Gidlow shows in her revelatory study of the period, the files of the Justice Department, the N.A.A.C.P. and African-American newspapers were soon bursting with letters, investigations and affidavits documenting the disenfranchisement of black women, especially in but not limited to former Confederate states. In what became known as “The Election Day Massacre,” a white mob burned to the ground a prosperous black community in the Central Florida town of Ocoee after African-Americans tried to vote. By this time, white suffragists had declared the battle for women’s voting rights won and embarked on a campaign to prove the amendment successful. They had no interest in signing on to a cause that would undercut that story line.


MAURICE BROOKHART: THE WEALTH GAP IS EVEN WORSE THAN THE INCOME GAP: While there has been much in the press lately concerning the large and growing income gap, the wealth gap is even more dramatic. A particularly astonishing example is the total wealth of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, $138 billion dollars. Bezos could fund NC’s state budget for five years and have 18 billion remaining. The three richest Americans have net assets of half the US population. Twenty percent of families have zero net worth. The income and wealth gaps are widening at an alarming rate and will only continue to expand under the current tax schemes. Where is the tipping point, when the US will no longer function as a viable, humane, democratic society? We need to address this growing problem through constructing a fairer wage scale and increasing taxes on excessive wealth and ultra-high incomes. If we do not we can expect increased poverty, anger and depression and the resultant consequences. A recent Axios poll showed 70 percent of Americans think the economic system is rigged for the wealthy and the government should do more to fix it. Lobby your legislators.

MELANIE RODENBOUGH: TIME TO REJECT BIGOTRY, STOP GOVERNING BY FEAR: Governing by inciting fear is in vogue. We saw it from President Trump as he relentlessly and destructively pursued funding the Fantasy Wall that got him elected. He demeans immigrants in order to incite support from those who happily lap up lies and generalizations. Immigrants commit proportionately fewer crimes than citizens, but The Base gleefully celebrates any crime committed by an immigrant as justification for their bigotry. Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson joined the fray again last week, roaring that immigrants are “raping our citizens in many, many ways.” No proof — because, of course, his claim is as specious as Trump’s. He spreads lies in order to secure votes and fill the detention beds that bring in the federal dollars, justifying his new jail. The overwhelmingly peaceful immigrant community doesn’t deserve these attacks. Those who lap up bigotry don’t deserve our respect for their views either. Like the segregationists of old who railed that blacks had to be lynched to protect their women, they elect the Trumps and Johnsons hoping they’ll save them from “Them.” We need immigration reform based in truth and compassion. It’s time to stop governing by fear and to reject the bigotry upon which these claims are based.

JANET HOY AND KAREN BEAN: JOURNALISTS' ACCESS IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT: The League of Women Voters of NC is concerned about a recent decision to relocate the press room from the first floor of the General Assembly Building to a much smaller space in a corner of the basement. The League has long held the belief that a transparent, open government is a requirement for good government. Citizens who cannot attend these meetings rely on journalists to inform them. The League is concerned that the decision to move the press room will decrease access to legislators by credentialed journalists and affect their ability to report to the people on actions taken by the GA. We understand that office space is a valuable commodity, but so is public information. We encourage legislative leaders to reconsider this decision and allow, even encourage, the work of journalists to inform the people of NC about their state government.



From the dark side

This week's loser is our old friend Donald van der Vaart for his lame defense of hog farms:

Imagine you’re one of the hog farmers on the losing end of a recent nuisance lawsuit over odors coming from your farm. You fulfilled all the requirements of the state’s nuisance odor regulations and believed that if you were causing problems, the state would come to you as provided under those rules. Now you’re on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in punitive and compensatory damages unless the award is reduced or eliminated on appeal.

Starting out with a doozy there, pal. You either don't know what you're talking about or are intentionally lying. Those lawsuits are against Murphy Brown, not the farmers themselves. Those farmers are *not* on the hook for that money, but they are afraid their corporate business partners will relocate. As well they should be.

Imagine you’re former Gov. Mike Easley. As state attorney general, you negotiated an agreement with the hog industry in 2000 to fund research at N.C. State University to identify and develop cost-effective odor control technologies. It was a dramatic clean-up agreement of a burgeoning and valuable industry. You may be wondering why the result of this collaboration and your leadership is being ignored by a judge.

The bulk of that cleanup agreement was a promise by hog farmers that they would contain their waste right there at the animal operations, but they have violated that agreement with a vengeance. Not only do the spray fountains on the lagoons themselves (designed to evaporate) create a mist that carries that waste elsewhere, they also spray that shit (literally) on farmland not even close to the animal operations.

Imagine you’re me, the former secretary of the regulatory agency that oversees the state’s nuisance odor rules and someone who thought he understood what they meant. I’m concerned that either the current Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was not aware of complaints against these farmers, or the agency did not follow its own procedures and enforce its own rules.

The Federal complaints (26) were filed in 2014, you took over at DEQ in 2015. But before and after that leadership boondoggle, you were a supervisor in DENR/DEQ's air quality section. Your fingerprints are all over this thing you're trying to blame on the Cooper administration, so you'd be wise to STFU about who dropped the ball.

In 1998, armed with statutory authority from the General Assembly and technology being developed at N.C. State, DEQ wrote and promulgated rules to stop nuisance odors caused by hog farms. Thousands of farms were required, by mid-1999, to implement best management practices such as ensuring sprayed wastewater did not drift beyond the boundary of the animal operation. Should there be substantiated complaints, the rules imposed additional requirements, including installation of control technologies identified by N.C. State.

The main control technology that NC State developed was a "super soil," but since that cost an additional $7.00 per hog, only a handful of farmers have converted. The ugly truth is, the industrialization of hog farming, much like many other agricultural operations, has severely overtaxed both the farmers *and* the regulators when it comes to environmental compliance.

Van der Vaart should know this, because he witnessed firsthand the irresponsible budget cuts that racked DENR/DEQ over the last 7 years, after Republicans took control of state government. Some 42% of its staff is now gone, many of them experienced field inspectors, and Republicans have shown no desire to build that agency back up to where it should be.

But all that aside, these lawsuits are incredibly important for one other reason: They (finally) shed some much needed light on environmental injustice, how our system fails (miserably) people of color across this state. The link between corporate greed and locals who are used to facilitate that must be broken, and if it takes civil action to do that, bring it on.