DON'T LET DRILLING PUT THE NC COAST AT RISK: Since the New Year, seven state legislatures along the East Coast have proposed bills to prohibit or restrict offshore drilling in their states in addition to the four states that have already passed their own measures in 2018. Many of these localized bills have been filed in conjunction with legislation at the national level to prevent offshore gas and oil infrastructure development. Even before the drills start spinning, environmental damage occurs during the seismic testing phase of exploration planning, during which sonic airguns are fired to detect pockets of oil beneath the ocean floor. These airgun bursts are disruptive to wildlife behaviors and patterns, as well as drastically increasing the mortality of zooplankton, an important segment of the food web. Oil and gas infrastructure is particularly susceptible to damage from extreme weather conditions. With the wounds of this past hurricane season still fresh, the Southern Environmental Law Center published a report last fall highlighting the dangers and risks of constructing gas and oil infrastructure in hurricane-prone regions.
WAYNE GOODWIN: HEALTH CARE WILL DEFINE THE 116TH CONGRESS: Hardworking families in North Carolina have overwhelmingly spoken out about how unsustainable health care costs are. Congress must focus on legislation lowering the costs of prescription drugs, ending surprise medical bills, expanding financial assistance by expanding eligibility for premium tax credits, and expanding services before deductibles. Later in the year as open enrollment for health plans on the individual market rolls around, Americans will need Congress to restore full outreach funding to the pre-Trump levels and make all information about ways to sign up for coverage easily accessible for everyone. Finally, Congress can strengthen Medicaid and Medicare. Aside from extending and increasing federal funding for Medicaid expansion, they can improve Medicare’s affordability by adding an out-of-pocket maximum for older Americans.
RICHARD BURR COMES OUT SWINGING FOR BIG TOBACCO: Burr’s speech plowed some of the usual ground: menthol cigarettes are a product that adults enjoy; tobacco brings millions in revenue and jobs to states; and, of course, more regulation of a legal product is bad. He also said there was no science backing up the worry about menthol, although the FDA concluded in a 2013 report that evidence shows menthol cigarettes lead to increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults. Burr also introduced a new, logic-free defense of menthol cigarettes: Banning them is the first step toward legalizing marijuana. (A “gateway ban,” if you will?) “This is eerily similar to Canada a few years ago, when they banned menthol products,” Burr said. “How did they follow that up? This year, they legalized cannabis.” There’s no connection, of course, between banning one product that’s harmful for young people and legalizing a separate product that young people would be barred from using. But cigarette advocates are becoming more desperate as the regulatory walls close in on their product, and Big Tobacco has been spending more money in recent years on political activity, including giving more than $200,000 to Burr’s 2016 reelection campaign. That’s almost three times as much as it gave any other candidate, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
JANET NAPOLITANO ON DACA'S ENDURING LEGACY: When you signed the memorandum that created the DACA program in 2012, did you ever imagine it would take on a life of its own?
No. (Laughs). I thought it would help a group of individuals who were undocumented in the country who in any circumstance would be low-enforcement priorities. But nonetheless, so long as they didn’t have any protection they were always having to look over their shoulder and, of course, they couldn’t get work authorization. And it just seemed to me that that was just wrong. And when Congress was unable to pass a DREAM Act [which would write DACA-like protections into law and offer a path to citizenship], we began looking at what could the executive branch do. And we settled on the theory that the executive branch always has the authority to establish prosecution priorities. [The Department of] Justice doesn’t prosecute bad-check cases, they prosecute bank fraud cases. And it seems that in immigration enforcement the same theory would apply. That’s what we based the creation of DACA on.
U.S. ATTORNEY SELECTIVE IN VOTER FRAUD CASES: President Trump, in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, broadly and wrongly portrayed illegal immigrants as murderers, rapists and drug dealers who must be stopped. But Trump does not limit his anti-immigrant zeal to them. In service to Trump, authorities are now handcuffing and shackling noncitizens — including those here legally and those who thought they were following the law — for voting. Robert Higdon Jr., the U.S. attorney for eastern North Carolina appointed by Trump, had 20 noncitizens rounded up and charged last August for improperly voting in the 2016 election, the Washington Post reported. It was a feeble attempt to prove Trump’s claim of widespread illegal voting, and a shining example of misplaced priorities. After all, Higdon was chasing this handful of legal residents even as he ignored repeated claims of absentee ballot fraud in North Carolina’s 9th District — fraud that actually may have swayed an election. While Higdon was threatening a couple dozen legal residents with deportation over a relatively minor offense, questions were repeatedly raised about absentee ballot fraud in the 9th District’s Bladen and Robeson counties.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
THOMAS FARMER: DURHAM ORANGE LIGHT RAIL WILL HELP FIGHT SPRAWL: The Triangle’s population and traffic continue to grow at a faster rate than our road capacity. Currently, our growth in vehicle miles travelled outpaces our rapid population growth. This is the very definition of sprawl. We need a transit plan to bring our communities closer together – literally. We need the places we work, shop, and live connected by more than just increasingly congested and lengthy highways. Sustainable economic growth and a clean environment require solutions that transcend asphalt and automobiles. As the centerpiece of a comprehensive regional transit plan, Durham Orange Light Rail will serve the most travel-heavy corridor in the Triangle while linking 100,000 jobs, 55,000 university students, three major medical centers, and two rapidly growing urban areas. Light rail transit focuses growth and land use with environmentally friendly economic development that creates walkable communities. Light rail will also create jobs and expand the tax base. It is economic development and sustainable growth that doesn’t choke our roadways, pollute our air, or consume our open spaces. Sprawl is here. Time to get off our asphalt.
HARVEY HERMAN: HOW IS MORE CITIZENS VOTING A "POWER GRAB"? Do you want a laugh; the kind of laugh that makes liquid come out of your nose when you’re drinking? Here is the joke that did it for me: Sen. Mitch McConnell called the bill to make Election Day a federal holiday, a ”power grab” by Democrats. He never explained why allowing more people to vote, when they normally couldn’t get off from work on Election Day, would favor one party or the other. It must be that he is afraid it would favor Democrats. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand said that expanding voting isn’t a power grab, but democracy, and “literally, the entire point of our representative government.” The members of Congress who represent us should reflect the views of their constituents most of the time. The best way to ensure this is to increase the voting sample of the registered electorate. A recent poll showed that 54 percent of Americans approved of the bill. Once we stop laughing at McConnell, it behooves us to ensure that our representatives are aware of this.
TILLIS' CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR THOMAS FARR IS ABOUT VOTER SUPPRESSION: North Carolina’s history of voter suppression is shameful, and it seems that Sen. Thom Tillis is determined to lead us backwards as he continues his support of Thomas Farr as a nominee for federal judge. Numerous studies have shown that voter ID laws disproportionately affect minority voters. Not only do we have a new voter ID law, but we also now have Trump-appointed federal prosecutor Robert Higdon Jr, who ignored repeated warnings of widespread election fraud in Bladen and Robeson County. Instead, Higdon ordered the arrest of a small number of legal residents who had believed that they were able to vote, adding to an already fraught atmosphere of intimidation of immigrants. Tillis’s continued support of Farr sends a message that election fraud, voter intimidation and racist voter suppression will continue to be tolerated and encouraged at the highest levels of government.