Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: What I don’t want for Christmas

Like any normal American woman who lives off snark and Little Debbie Raisin Cakes, I was completely mystified the first time I saw the now famous Peloton ad.

Why does that pretty lil waif look so worried when her controlling 50 shades of stupid husband gives her an overpriced exercise bike for Christmas?

But first, some background. The $2,400 exercise bike is a Peloton (from the Latin, “pelo” meaning “pretentious and extra” and “ton” meaning “yeah, I’m talking to you.”) The company has been slammed for previous ads that seemed deliberately snobby.

Part of me has a grudging respect for any company that has the stones to unapologetically wallow in its elitism. Every ad shows a super fit lil hank o’ hair peddling her fool head off, sweating like she was working down in the engine room in the Titanic. Except her sweat smells less like beer made in somebody’s boot and more like an intoxicating blend of jasmine and blood diamonds.

They stop just short of ending every commercial with: “Peloton. Because most of y’all are way too POOR to ever own one.”

So, yes, all that is part of the branding and Peloton has a kitschy sort of “brand you love to hate” image that seems to work for them.

Until…

There was just something in this hashtag MeToo world that didn’t sit right with viewers of this year’s ad. The waif’s darting, vaguely terrified eyes when she’s presented this “gift” gave me, and others, pause. I haven’t seen that kind of on-screen fear of a creepy husband since Julia Roberts hid out on an island to elude her homicidal other half in “Sleeping With the Enemy.” Terrifying.

Note to marketing team: We know your brand leans in hard when it comes to being hilariously elitist but you’re no worse than Matthew McConaughey sitting in that Lincoln like a damn fool talking to himself and admiring his own cuff links. Problem is, you can’t be that tone-deaf these days. Poor Peloton waif looks terrified she won’t live up to HIS fitness goals for her. At the end, she shows him how far she’s come via videos that proclaim her fitness levels as, like, really high. (Unlike my own, which translate as “more blue cheese dressing than blood in her veins.”)

Even the most fitness-obsessed rich person would probably resent getting the modern-day equivalent of a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. It’s just so utilitarian.

Here’s a pop quiz for loyal readers: If Duh Hubby unveils a “reconditioned” treadmill from Ollie’s (we aren’t at Peloton levels, duh) or any sort of workout equipment for me Christmas morning, I will be (A) outwardly plucky and polite but secretly disappointed and a little hurt, (B) honestly touched that he cares so much about my cardiovascular health and obviously wants to keep me around a long time, or (C) outside in the driveway tampering with his brakes and figuring I can finally eat ALL the sticky buns.

Oh.

Sometimes it scares me a little how well y’all know me.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times-bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

Higher Ed, News

Guskiewicz becomes new UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor amid continued Silent Sam conflict

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

The UNC Board of Governors unanimously voted to appoint Kevin Guskiewicz chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Friday.

The Board of Governors, UNC-System Interim President and Guskiewicz himself declined to answer any questions on the settlement Friday.

Guskiewicz, who has been serving as interim-chancellor for the last ten months, enters the role under a cloud: the controversial legal settlement that gives the Silent Sam Confederate monument to the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — along with $2.5 million.

At an afternoon announcement and celebration of Guskiewicz’s appointment Friday, UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Ashton Martin confronted the issue directly, speaking to Guskiewicz from the stage she shared with him and other UNC leaders.

Her remarks:

The announcement that Silent Sam would be permanently moved to another location other than UNC brought with it mixed emotions from the student body. Many students were excited to hear the monument would no longer occupy a space on campus but disappointed to learn that UNC would be paying a Confederate group $2.5 million to effectively handle the statue and by extension this problem. As a student myself who has spoken with other students about their experiences and thoughts: This is not enough.

Silent Sam may be gone but the feelings and sentiments associated with it remain prevalent both on campus and in the minds of students everywhere. Chancellor Guskiewicz, you now  bear the responsibility of making sense of this new situation — and to lead us forward now that Silent Sam is gone.

In order to do this, we want you to confront UNC’s history and acknowledge the wrongs it has committed in the name of the Confederacy and furthering a racist agenda with the settlement. We want to see you take an active stance against the sentiments of racism, hate and suppression that have taken space up on our campus for far too long. But most importantly, want to see you publicly denounce hate and provide actionable solutions for the minority populations that have been harmed time and time again because of this statue. It will not be an easy feat, but I think it’s important you get a good idea what assuming this role will mean to the students who call UNC home. Chancellor Guskiewicz, there is a lot to do. And I hope to work directly with you as we push forward solutions that better the lives of minority students in the wake of recent events. I hope you will rely on the student voice when making decisions that ultimately impact students and stand for students always.”

UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Ashton Martin.

Guskiewicz has for weeks faced criticism from students and faculty for not strongly opposing the settlement.

This week he made public a letter he sent to UNC System leadership in which he expressed concerns about how the $2.5 million might be used by the Sons of Confederate Veterans — and that the group’s values are inconsistent with the university’s.

Guskiewicz thanked Martin for her remarks, saying that he heard her voice and those of many across the campus.

“We do have work to do,” Guskiewicz said.

Read more

News

U.S. House Judiciary Committee votes to impeach Trump

(L-R) House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and ranking member Doug Collins (R-GA) speak to each other during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill December 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker – Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump Friday morning along party lines, setting up a likely vote next week in the full House.

The Judiciary Committee voted 23-17 entirely along party lines to advance the two articles, which charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in response to allegations that he improperly pressured Ukraine’s president to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and blocked lawmakers’ efforts to investigate the incident. 

No North Carolina lawmakers serve on the committee.

The roll call came after two days of heated sparring among members on the committee. Democrats declared that Trump gave them no choice but to move ahead on the impeachment articles. Republicans, meanwhile, remained steadfast in their defense of the president, arguing that Democrats had their sights set on impeachment since Trump’s inauguration.

The full House is expected to pass the articles on the House floor next week ahead of a congressional recess. That vote is also expected to be largely partisan, with the likely defection of some moderate Democrats.

If the articles pass the House, Trump will become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House, following Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. President Richard Nixon resigned after the Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against him, but before the full House held a vote.

The U.S. Senate is expected to hold an impeachment trial early next year. Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the GOP-led chamber, but the vote is likely to be a difficult one for some vulnerable Republican senators facing tough reelection fights in 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Fox News Thursday night that there’s “no chance the President is going to be removed from office.”

Ahead of Friday’s committee vote, Democrats called impeachment their solemn duty, arguing that Congress couldn’t let Trump’s behavior stand.

“The reason that we’re moving forward on articles of impeachment is that the president of the United States abused his power by soliciting foreign interference in his own reelection, thereby cheating American voters,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).

“Look, if President Trump’s abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are not impeachable, nothing is,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.). “The primary check on a president becoming a king is elections. This president abused his powers to undermine our elections.”

Republicans accused their colleagues in the majority of failing to provide convincing evidence against the president, and they introduced a series of amendments attacking the articles, all of which were voted down Thursday by the Democratic majority.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, called the panel a “rubber stamp” for Democrats’ agenda. He accused Democrats of defining the abuse of power as “anything they want it to mean.” Democrats “don’t care, facts be damned,” he said.

As the epic vote headed into its 12th hour on Thursday night, Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) lamented, “I have not heard a new point or an original thought from either side in the last three hours. The same talking points have been repeated over and over again, ad nauseum, by both sides.” He offered a suggestion: “If no one has anything new to add they resist the temptation to inflict what we’ve already heard over and over again.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) surprised the GOP by adjourning the vote late Thursday night, declaring that the vote would be held Friday morning. Republicans on the committee were furious, accusing Nadler of upending schedules and failing to consult them about their plans. Read more

Higher Ed, News

UNC Board of Governors dodge Silent Sam settlement questions, appoint new UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor

Protesters gathered in the rain outside Friday’s UNC Board of Governors teleconference meeting.

 

The UNC Board of Governors and UNC System leaders avoided  questions about the controversial Silent Sam settlement at its teleconference meeting on Friday — even as some of its members called for more transparency on the $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

As expected, the board voted unanimously to make interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz the next permanent chancellor. But even as Guskiewicz and board members expressed concern over the details fo the Silent Sam deal, the board kept most of its discussion on that issue in closed session.

Board member Marty Kotis initiated the discussion during the open session, saying that while he didn’t want to “Monday morning quarterback” the settlement he shared Guskiewicz’s recently expressed concerns about how the Sons of Confederate Veterans plan to use the settlement money.

“I think the red flag for everyone has been this letter from the leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans,” Kotis said.

In the letter, from SCV leader R. Kevin Stone to group members, Stone talks about using settlement funds to build the group a new HQ, among other uses.

UNC Board of Governors member Marty Kotis.

Kotis said it was his understanding the settlement funds, to be managed by a trust, would be restricted in ways that conflict with the SCV’s apparent plans. The UNC System has yet to release the trust agreement — or any other communications about the deal requested by Policy Watch and other media outlets.

The UNC System is working to fulfill those requests and make more documents publicly available, system spokesmen said Friday. They could not say when that might happen.

UNC General Counsel Tom Shanahan repeatedly suggested discussion of the settlement might be better conducted in closed session as it could contain legally privileged information. But as other board members pressed on with discussion, Shanahan said he did believe the funds would be restricted in ways not compatible with Stone’s letter.

The letter is also, in part, the basis for a legal intervention in the settlement announced this week by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Board member Jim Holmes, reportedly one of the architects of the settlement, said how the money may be used would be clear once more information about the settlement and trust agreement are publicly released.

“I want to be exceptionally clear,” Holmes said. “There is a document that — if it hasn’t been released, will be released — that outlines the terms of the trust handled by an independent trustee and the uses of the funds are specified.”

“We can’t control what other people say,” Holmes said in reference to Stone’s letter.

UNC Board of Governors member Jim Holmes.

In the absence of a publicly available trust agreement, law experts who have examined the settlement documents dispute that the uses of the $2.5 million are as narrowly specified as Holmes said.

In an interview with Policy Watch after the meeting, Kotis said he and other members of the board have themselves not seen the trust agreement, so they aren’t certain how the funds can be used.

I keep hearing that a lot of documents are going to be released,” Kotis said. “The board members haven’t had a chance to see them yet — I haven’t seen them.”

“I think what Jim Holmes and David Powers are saying is — they SCV say whatever they want, but they can’t use it for that,” Kotis said. “If that’s true, okay — I can live with that. But if they can use it for all the things this guy described, I think there are going to be a lot of concerned people including me. I have no reason to believe that yet besides this guy’s letter — one blustery letter to his group. But we’ll see what the documents say.”

Board member Thom Goolsby, who has called for the Silent Sam Confederate monument to be re-erected on campus at Chapel Hill, said he has also has strong concerns about the deal and the level of public transparency on it.

“I do hope the board of governors and its counsel will make itself available to answer all the questions that are being raised across the state on this issue,” Goolsby said. “It appears to not be dying down to be revving up.”

Indeed, nearly 100 students and community members protested outside the meeting. About 40 of them were let into the meeting during the open session. When the board went into closed session discussion they left the room chanting “No  payout, no BOG, no racist UNC!” The group was escorted back outside by UNC police. Several protesters said they were not allowed to return for the second half of the open session meeting. UNC spokesmen denied that, saying no protesters stayed the length of the closed session for the resumption of the open meeting.

Goolsby said it’s his understanding money has already been transferred — though he did not specify whether that money was from the UNC System to the trust or UNC-Chapel Hill’s endowment to the UNC System.

“It very much concerns me as to what’s been done here,” Goolsby said. “I look forward to all the truth coming out here and there being open discussion between the board, the press and the people of North Carolina as to how this happened and what’s actually going on.”

UNC Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby.

Goolsby has not returned calls for comment from Policy Watch.

On Thursday afternoon, during a meeting of the board’s University Governance committee, board member Tom Fetzer asked that the minutes of the committee’s Nov. 27 meeting — at which the settlement was approved — reflect that he was not on the call during the vote, and therefore did not vote. Fetzer did not speak on the issue during Friday’s meeting and has not returned calls for comment.

The rest of the settlement discussion happened during a closed session of less than a half hour.

When the board came back into open session, it took a vote on Guskiewicz’s appointment as the next chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill.

“We’re going to do great things to move us forward,” Guskiewicz told the board via telephone. “I appreciate your confidence in me.”

Guskiewicz’s appointment is immediate at an annual salary of $620,000.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper, one of the few university leaders who attended Friday’s meeting live, declined to answer questions from reporters on the settlement, Guskiewicz or any other topic after the board adjourned.

Guskiewicz, who has for weeks faced criticism from students and faculty for not strongly opposing the settlement, will appear at a media event today at 2 p.m. at the Current ArtSpace, 123 W. Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

The University said he will give remarks at the event, but specified that it is not a press conference. It is not yet clear whether he will take any questions.

Commentary, Education

Editorial: Legislative leaders need to stop cherry-picking data, embrace findings in new Leandro report

The highly anticipated WestEd/Leandro report released this week recommends North Carolina increase K-12 spending by $6.8 billion over the next eight years to ensure children have access to a sound, basic education.

While many are still digesting that figure and other findings in the 300+ page report,  some conservative lawmakers are already suggesting that a larger investment may not return better results.

Capitol Broadcasting’s lead editorial Friday plainly states it’s time for leaders of the General Assembly to stop “crowing” about the support they’ve given to public education in recent years, uphold the Constitution and focus on students’ needs.

Here’s more from that editorial:

The rhetoric from legislative leaders is in stark contrast to the findings in a report released this week by State Superior Court Judge David Lee, who oversees implementation of the 1997 state Supreme Court ruling in the Leandro case. The high court ruled the state – particularly the legislature – failed to honor a fundamental right guaranteed in the North Carolina Constitution. That promise is to provide EVERY student with an opportunity for a sound basic education in public schools.

“As North Carolina educators prepare for the 2019-20 school year, the state is further away from meeting its constitutional obligation to provide every child with the opportunity for a sound basic education than it was when the Supreme Court of North Carolina issued the Leandro decisions more than 20 years ago,” according to the report. “there is inadequate funding to meet student needs.” The report was submitted to the judge in June and just released.

It is not about how much. It is about keeping a promise and doing what is required to achieve it.

“The state does not currently provide adequate resources to ensure that all students have the opportunity to meet higher standards and become college and career ready,” the report says.

As much as a statement of fact, it is an indictment of dereliction of duty.

“North Carolina’s per-pupil spending was the sixth-lowest in the nation. When adjusted to 2018 dollars, per-pupil spending in North Carolina had declined overall, about 6%, since 2009-10.”

The report paints a bleak picture of North Carolina’s public education landscape, where resources are diminished, and regulation increased.

“Constraints on local flexibility hinder district ability to align resources with student needs. … In 2010-11, allotments with substantial flexibility represented roughly three-quarters of K-12 state funding. By 2018-19, allotments with substantial flexibility represented only about one-fifth of K-12 funding.”
“School districts lack the funding necessary to meet the educational needs of historically underserved student populations.”
“Funding across districts is inequitable due to differences in local funding, differences in state funding received through Classroom Teacher allotment and differences in regional costs.”

Not only did the legislature, since 2011, cut funding. They made it more difficult for local schools to adjust so they could fit local needs and circumstances.

Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and Forest — Stop wasting time and creative energy in the quest to cherry-pick data and manipulate statistics to tell an inaccurate and phony political campaign tale of support for public schools. Stop breaking the law and violating the order of the state’s Supreme Court.

Read Judge Lee’s report. You can do that right here. Acknowledge its findings and embrace its recommendations. Fulfill your duty and uphold the state constitution’s promise to its people “to the privilege of education” and the “the duty of the state to guard and maintain that right.”

Read the full editorial here.