Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Trying to kick the impeachment football

While many Democrats celebrate the jaw-droppingly damaging revelations spewing from Rudy Giuliani’s associate, Lev Parnas, detailing what Trump knew, and when he knew it, I’m unimpressed.

Ditto the excitement about hearing from conservative curmudgeon and one-time Trump foot soldier John Bolton who is apparently just itchin’ to testify at the president’s impeachment trial.

Let’s put that champagne back on ice, shall we? First of all, Lev Parnas? If ever there was a sleazeball, it’s this guy. I’m just sayin’ if he was a character in “The Sopranos,” he’d be no stranger to the Pine Barrens.

Watching Parnas’s soft-spoken and world-weary performance with interviewer Rachel Maddow was fascinating. He came across as almost wry, at peace and eager to finally do the right thing.

And as delightful as it was to hear so much tea spilled against the likes of the repugnant Devin Nunes (Liar-California), I recall every Southern granny’s advice in matters of gossip: “Consider the source.”

When you pin your hopes on a louse like Lev, you’re fixin’ to get your heart broken.

Lev Parnas has all the authenticity of the odious Michael Avenatti, (former lawyer of Stormy Daniels) who has been charged with a bevy of crimes ranging from embezzling to domestic violence. These charges led this walking sack of ego to decide not to seek the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination. Thanks be to God.

And what of all this unbridled glee among my people when it comes to hearing from Bolton?

While my liberal heart stirs at the fantasy of Bolton’s boots kicking open the double doors to testify against Trump, I dunno. This is very much Lucy and the football stuff.

Bolton has spent his whole career carrying water for the far right wingnuts of his party. Do we honestly think he’s going to dump on Trump now?

But perhaps the most naïve thing I’ve heard yet is the notion that it’s possible a few Republican senators will join Democrats and vote to allow witnesses to be called at the impeachment trial.

Are all y’all high?

It’s a lovely fantasy, I’ll admit, but that’s a relic from bygone days when politicians occasionally put their own futures at risk by voting for something just because it was the right thing to do. No more. Mitch McConnell says witnesses aren’t needed at a trial. It’s like how brakes aren’t needed on a car, duh.

In particular, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska –both representing fringy, snowy, states that don’t get that much attention, routinely do coy little dances with the press intimating they might just vote with the Dems… Perhaps you remember the less than dynamic duo from the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings.

These women only surface when they see a chance to dominate the news cycle by pretending to upset the apple cart. They are hick-teasers, obsessed with kickstarting their increasingly anemic candidacies.

Don’t fall for any of this. Let’s just win at the ballot box–if the Russians let us.

Celia Rivenbark of Wilmington, N.C., is a New York Times-bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. Mark Johnson, state schools superintendent, finds comedy in one troubled school system’s tragedy   (Commentary)

And what North Carolina Republicans, if they truly support public education, should do about it

If North Carolina Republicans are confounded by the notion that every last one of them disdains public education—and, surely, not all of them do—they should tune into Mark Johnson’s bro huddle with right-wing talk show host KC O’Dea last Friday to see where a North Carolinian might get such a notion.

Amidst the self-pity, the self-congratulation, the media-bashing and the repetition (I would go back and attempt to count the number of times Johnson spits the word “bureaucrat” like a slur, but really, honestly, this conversation is too much of a chore) our superintendent of public schools squeezes in an unmistakably hearty laugh at one county school system’s budget troubles. [Read more…]

2. Regulator, experts: State lawmaker’s explanation for incomplete ethics filing falls short

Law “is clear” Rep. Holly Grange should have reported on businesses owned by her husband even if they were inactive

Last week, Policy Watch reported that state Rep. Holly Grange (R-New Hanover) failed to disclose a business owned and operated by her husband on Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) forms for several years.

This week, as the North Carolina lawmaker offered a defense experts said is incompatible with the law, Policy Watch reviewed two more undisclosed Grange family businesses. [Read more…]

3. Surveys, interviews: Responses of Chemours and DHHS to Gen X and PFAS pollution falling short

Last summer, Chemours sent contractors to the Cumberland County home of Katrina Rubiera and tested her drinking water. Shortly afterward, the first shipment of bottled water arrived.

“Our well water tested positive for, well, I’m not sure, because I still don’t have my test results,” Rubiera told Policy Watch last week via email.

Although Chemours has regularly sent bottled water to her home since then, she still doesn’t know what contaminants are in her drinking water and at what concentrations.

The public mistrust of state officials and the alarming lack of information about toxic GenX and PFAS — perfluorinated compounds — in drinking water, fish and food were borne out in a community survey conducted by the NC Department of Health and Human Services; DHHS released the results Tuesday. [Read more…]

4. Environmental groups, scientists say DEQ’s air monitoring program fails the sniff test


Because DEQ limited air monitor sites to meet EPA criteria, they were too far from hog farms to accurately measure their emissions
.

When state environmental officials agreed to a historic civil rights settlement two years ago, neighbors of industrial hog operations hoped that their misery — detailed in court under oath but discounted by the pork industry, their lawyers and several legislators — would be further confirmed by data.

The settlement required the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to conduct a temporary air monitoring study to measure three pollutants — ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and fine particulate matter, known as PM 2.5 — in and around Duplin County. These are among the contaminants surfing on the wafts of stench emanating from open-pit lagoons and spray fields teeming with feces and urine.

Depending on the study results, the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) could continue to monitor the air and potentially enforce regulations on offending farms or other violators. [Read more…]

5. Governor’s commission adopts recommendations to improve state’s public schools

The Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education approved recommendations Thursday it hopes will help guide defendants and plaintiffs in the long-running Leandro case as they develop a plan to improve North Carolina’s public schools.

The recommendations came two days after Superior Court Judge David Lee signed a consent order in which attorneys for the defendants and plaintiffs agreed to work together to bring the state into compliance with the Leandro ruling. The ruling reaffirmed North Carolina’s constitutional duty to ensure all children have an opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

Lee gave litigants 60 days to submit a plan spelling out how they will meet short-terms goals in the WestEd report, which offers specific recommendations about how to bring North Carolina into compliance with the ruling.[Read more…]

6. At long last, a plan to comply with Leandro education mandate takes shape

More than two decades after a landmark state Supreme Court ruling, NC moves a step closer to assuring every child access to a “sound, basic education”

A North Carolina judge seemed to agree with an independent consultant’s report that says North Carolina needs to spend $8 billion over the next eight years to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a “sound, basic education.”

That is one takeaway after Superior Court Judge David Lee signed a consent order Tuesday in which defendants and plaintiffs in the long-running Leandro case agreed to work “expeditiously and without delay” to create and implement a plan.[Read more…]

Bonus read: There’s movement in the Leandro case. Attorneys for defendants, plaintiffs agree to work to improve K-12 education

7. Five important reminders for a crucial year in American history (Commentary)


And just like that, another critical election year is upon us – maybe the most important election year in modern American history.

For caring and thinking people who find themselves aghast at the greed, dishonesty, violence, phobias, and contempt for the common good and planetary wellbeing that are the hallmarks of the Trump cult, it sometimes feels as if the very soul and long-term prospects of the human species are on the line.

And for those less inclined to harbor such apocalyptic assessments, it must still be conceded that there is a hell of a lot at stake this year – especially in states like North Carolina where essentially every important office, save for Richard Burr’s Senate seat and a handful of high-level state courts seats – is on the ballot. [Read more…]

8. Weekly Podcasts and Commentaries:


Click here for the latest interviews and commentaries with host Rob Schofield 

9. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Environment

Trump administration narrows clean water protections, NC wetlands likely to suffer

A restored stream in Forest Hills Park in Durham, conducted under the state’s mitigation program. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

In case you missed it on Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a new rule that environmentalists say will gut long-established clean water protections.

Announced at a national home builders show in Las Vegas, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the Navigable Waters Protection Rule delivers on President Trump’s promise of a revised definition for “waters of the United States” and results in economic growth.

But as Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg first reported last September, this rule change could hold dire consequences for North Carolina:

In North Carolina, wetlands cover 5.7 million acres of land, about 17 percent of the state. Most of the wetlands are in eastern North Carolina, where they provide crucial flood protection and wildlife habitat. In addition, 51,000 miles of streams — equivalent to two trips around the equator — are at risk from the WOTUS rollback. Some parts of the state, Gisler said, could lose protections for 50 percent of their streams.

Even with Clean Water Act protections, North Carolina’s waters are still polluted: from coal ash pits, chemicals, hog waste, raw sewage — 85 million gallons of which spilled into the state’s waterways last year. Repealing the federal protections would likely despoil the water quality we do have.

“We could see dramatic increases in number of streams plowed over, developed, paved,” if the repeal withstands legal challenges, said Geoff Gisler, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There’s going to be a visible and noticeable difference in the quality of our waters.”

And while the change is clearly intended to benefit developers and industry, the Southern Environmental Law Center notes:

…. the overwhelming majority of the 626,075 public comments EPA received weighed in against the proposed rule. The list of Americans from across the country that the rule drew criticism or concern from is long: floodplain and wetland managers, state wildlife agencies and international councils, state environmental agencies, associations representing family commercial fishing businesses, several fly-fishing-related businesses, river guides and paddling outfitters, outdoor apparel company Patagonia, outdoor recreational enthusiasts represented by several organizations, 59 craft breweries, 12 scientific societies that represent more than 200,000 scientists, numerous associations representing public and children’s health advocates, cities and counties, small and family farmers, environmental law professors, faith organizations, and conservation organizations too numerous to count.

So what’s next? According to Politico, you can expect a deluge of new lawsuits:

Legal experts say the Trump rule is likely to be placed on hold by federal courts in at least some states, if not nationwide, as the litigation works its way through the courts. In the meantime. developers and other industries will have to decide how much of a risk they’re willing to take.

For more, read Sorg’s full story: How a Trump attack on the federal “Waters of the United States” rule imperils the waters of North Carolina.

Education

Governor’s commission adopts recommendations to improve state’s public schools

Geoff Coltrane, senior education advisor in the office of Gov. Roy Cooper, discusses the commissions recommendations.

The Governor’s Commission on Access to Sound Basic Education approved recommendations Thursday it hopes will help guide defendants and plaintiffs in the long-running Leandro case as they develop a plan to improve North Carolina’s public schools.

The recommendations came two days after Superior Court Judge David Lee signed a consent order in which attorneys for the defendants and plaintiffs agreed to work together to bring the state into compliance with the Leandro ruling. The ruling reaffirmed North Carolina’s constitutional duty to ensure all children have an opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

Lee gave litigants 60 days to submit a plan spelling out how they will meet short-terms goals in the WestEd report, which offers specific recommendations about how to bring North Carolina into compliance with the ruling.

The Governor’s Commission was created by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2017 to develop strategies to help the state live up to its obligation to provide all school children with a quality education.

“Today was a big and important day,” said Commission Chairman Brad Wilson, the former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC. “In the aftermath of the court order this week, the commission formerly adopted our set of recommendations that we hope provide particular and specific guidance to the parties in the litigation.”

Many of the commission’s “core values” lineup with recommendations in the WestEd report. WestEd is an independent consulting firm that was directed by Lee to perform an extensive study of North Carolina’s schools.

The commissions “core values’ include, providing schools with quality staff, teachers and principals, fair pay for educators, equity in funding so that race, ethnicity and geographic location don’t limit access to a quality education and a redesign of the state funding formula.

After 18 months of work, the commission determined that “the state’s current funding formula is not sufficient to ensure every student has access to a sound, basic education.”

WestEd also found that the state comes up short in meeting is constitutional obligation and recommended making higher need students a priority and allowing districts and schools to have more funding flexibility to address local needs.

“This really points directly to thinking about investing dollars in schools and school districts that have student populations that have greater needs, and that it would lift some of the restrictions that have been placed on existing allotment systems in North Carolina in the very near future to create some of that flexibility,” said Jason Willis, director of strategy and performance for WestEd.

Willis joined the commission’s meeting via Skype, along with Susan Mundry, WestEd’s director of learning innovations programs.

He noted that North Carolina’s funding disparity has been made worse by a decline in per pupil spending, which has decreased by about six percent since the 2009-10 school year.

Rick Glazier, a member of the commission and executive director of the N.C. Justice Center (Policy Watch is a project of the Justice Center), called on state leaders to fulfill the constitutional mandate to provide children with a sound, basic education.

“That’s why think this is so historic,” Glazier said. “We now know what the constitution demands. We have a remedy and a plan to get there, and now it’s up to everybody to fulfill the oath they took.”

Wilson said despite “good intentions” North Carolina has failed to meet its obligation to its children.

“As a state, we’re still not there,” Wilson said. “We can now depart from that point and put a plan in place to do something about it rather than arguing over whether or not the constitutional mandate is being met.”

The Leandro case began more than a quarter-century ago after five rural school districts sued the state, arguing they couldn’t raise the tax revenue needed to provide students with a quality education.

In 1997, the State Supreme Court stepped in and held that every child has a right to a “sound, basic education under the state constitution.

News

Former ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach announces new lobbyist position

Dan Gerlach, the embattled former interim chancellor of ECU, has a new gig.

Gerlach will be working for former state Sen. Tom Apodaca’s Raleigh-based Vista Strategies lobbying firm, he confirmed in a tweet Thursday morning.

“It’s an honor to work with Sen. Apodaca,” Gerlach tweeted, along with a link to a Business North Carolina item about his new job. His commitment to excellent public policy to foster a climate for a growing and prosperous NC is strong and unwavering.”

Former ECU Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach.

Gerlach resigned from his leadership spot at under a cloud last October after video surfaced online of him drinking and dancing with students in local bars — and then stumbling down the street before getting into his car and driving away.

In the ensuing UNC System investigation, Gerlach claimed not to be intoxicated when he drove home. However, he could not correctly remember the evening’s sequence of events and some important details. Some witnesses claimed that he had slurred speech and trouble walking straight.

Gerlach initially defended himself over the incident, which he said was just being open and accessible to students. He later admitted to poor decision making but said he was the target of a those who wanted to keep him from becoming the school’s full-time chancellor. In a later resignation statement, Gerlach took full responsibility.

“As Chancellor, I had the responsibility and the duty to live out the East Carolina Creed to the fullest extent possible,” Gerlach wrote. “The Creed states that ‘members of our academic society exemplify high standards of professional and personal conduct at all times.’ On the night of Wednesday, September 25 and early morning of Thursday, September 26, I did not live up to these standards as well as the UNC System standards that demand excellent judgement and discretion from the campus leaders. I did not model the behavior that we try to teach our students and to uphold ourselves. Upon reflection and discussion, I believe that this shortcoming was significant enough that my resignation is in the best interest of the University.”

“Make no mistake: the responsibility is mine,” Gerlach wrote.  “It is not the press, not the University or system leadership, and not anyone else who put me in this situation. It was I who made the choices that led to this action. There is no one to hold accountable for the situation except me.”

Before his short stint at ECU, Gerlach was president of the non-profit Golden LEAF Foundation from 2008 to 2019. Before that, he was a top fiscal advisor to former Gov. Mike Easley.