News

UNC athletes oppose return of “Silent Sam,” support protesting faculty and students

More than 100 current and former UNC athletes have added their names to a statement against returning the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” to the Chapel Hill campus.

The statement follows a long list of such statements from other groups like the Student Government, Faculty Council and Graduate Student Association Board.

The athletes also say they oppose any retaliatory action against students and faculty protesting the monument, including those who have pledged to withhold this semester’s final grades or sit out teaching the first week of next semester over the plan to return the statue.

The student represent a wide range of sports from basketball, baseball and football to fencing, track & field, gymnastics and soccer.

 

Defending Democracy, News, Uncategorized, Voting

NC NAACP to Gov. Cooper: Veto Voter ID implementation bill

The North Carolina NAACP is urging Governor Roy Cooper to veto Senate Bill 824: “Implementation of Voter ID Constitutional Amendment.”

Members of the civil rights group call the bill the product of “a rushed process by a lame-duck General Assembly that both has been found to be unconstitutionally-constituted by the federal courts and has been voted out of office by the people of North Carolina.”

In a letter sent to the Gov. Cooper Wednesday, NC NAACP President Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman writes:

The rushed and unusual process through which this General Assembly passed SB 824 further demonstrates how little respect the General Assembly has for voters of color. In the two short weeks immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday, this lame-duck General Assembly shepherded a complex bill with the most serious ramifications through a cursory process with few opportunities for public comment and no public examination of the bill’s impact on voters of color and other vulnerable groups. The public was given little to no notice of changes in committee meeting times, and no notice of whether and when there would be opportunities to speak. This mimics the expedited process deployed to enact the ultimately invalidated HB 589 in 2013.

The leadership of the General Assembly contends it was forced to act quickly to pass photo voter ID legislation because of the voter ID constitutional amendment that was passed this past November. But the constitutionality of that amendment itself is an open question that remains pending before the North Carolina courts. Even if implementing legislation were required, a duly-elected General Assembly – one not elected under the cloud of unconstitutionally racially – gerrymandered maps and not sitting in a lame-duck session –will be seated in just a few weeks. And there is no timeline in the text of the Constitutional Amendment that required the hurried actions taken by this legislature resulting in this suspect bill.

Finally, no new justifications have been provided by this General Assembly to rationalize the imposition of the law’s infringement upon the right to vote. A photo ID requirement does nothing to address the state’s most pressing security issues.  It has nothing to do with improving the reliability of voting equipment, safeguards for voter data, protections against foreign interference, or safeguards against the types of irregularities currently under investigation in Bladen and Robeson County. Research consistently shows that fraudulent irregularities in voting are rare, and the types of irregularities that this photo identification could aid in preventing are even rarer—in this state and nationwide.  There is simply no reason, other than the General Assembly leadership’s own improper motivations, that this hastily-ratified bill should go any farther than it already has.

Read the NC NAACP’s full letter here.

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

As investigation inches closer to Trump, Michael Cohen sentenced to three years in prison

Donald Trump speaking

President Donald Trump

By this point, we would imagine the president is hearing footsteps behind him.

Of course, it’s difficult to put yourself in Donald Trump’s size 12 loafers, as it seems increasingly clear that he’s been implicated in at least a pair of campaign finance violations. But today’s news out of a New York courtroom indicates that our toxic tycoon is legally and politically imperiled as he watches the investigations march ever closer to his office.

From Politico today:

A contrite Michael Cohen on Wednesday received three years in prison for a series of tax fraud and lying charges, sending another former Donald Trump associate to jail.

Cohen’s sentence is not as large as the four-plus years that federal prosecutors in New York wanted, but it nonetheless stands out as the biggest punishment to date tied to special counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The sentence also puts a coda on the dramatic downfall for the 52-year-old longtime Trump lawyer who served in the president’s inner circle as recently as this spring but turned on the man he declared he’d “take a bullet for” soon after FBI agents raided his home, office and hotel room.

In the courtroom Wednesday, Cohen, wearing a black suit and blue tie, was visibly emotional. His eyes were red rimmed and at various points he broke down, his voice cracking while he read a prepared statement he had printed out.

“Today is the day that I am getting my freedom back,” Cohen told U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley, a Bill Clinton appointee who minutes later handed down the prison sentence. “I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired.”

In addition to the prison time, which is scheduled to begin with his surrender to federal authorities on March 6, Cohen will have to forfeit $500,000 in assets and pay $1.393 million in restitution.

Cohen, who has had a relationship with Trump dating back a dozen years, used his time before the court to hit back at the president’s recent declaration that his former attorney was “weak.” Cohen said he agreed with Trump’s assessment but noted his “weakness was a blind loyalty to Donald Trump.”

“Time and time again I felt it as my duty to cover up his dirty deeds,” Cohen said, standing before his whole family in the courtroom. Both his mother and father cried at points during the hearing.

Minutes after Cohen learned his fate in court, Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani took a swing at the president’s former attorney by noting the size of his sentence compared to others in the special counsel’s 19-month old investigation.

“This is the real criminal sentence,” Giuliani told POLITICO. “I have no idea if it’s the right one or not, but I do know he’s proven to be a consummate liar who has lied at all stages of his situation.”

Cohen earlier this summer pleaded guilty with New York prosecutors to a slate of eight charges of tax evasion, financial fraud and campaign finance violations. Trump himself was implicated in the campaign finance crimes, with prosecutors saying he directed Trump in hush money payments designed to sway the 2016 presidential election. Cohen also later pleaded guilty with Mueller in November to lying to Congress about work he did during the election on an aborted Trump Tower project in Russia.

The judge on Wednesday slapped Cohen with a $50,000 fine for lying to Congress in the special counsel’s case, explaining that the penalty was meant “to recognize the gravity of the harm of lying to Congress in matters of national importance.” Two months of his three-year sentence are also tied to the lying-to-lawmakers charge.

Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen

Trump’s legal picture is growing inexorably darker as the White House considers its search for a new chief of staff. North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows is reportedly among the frontrunners for the dubious distinction.

Whether or not federal lawmakers consider the alleged campaign finance crimes to be an impeachable offense is clearly up for debate, but it seems likely that the president’s legal troubles may soon come to a head.

More from Politico:

Although Cohen’s sentence is the largest handed down to date for anyone targeted in Mueller’s probe, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is expected to receive far more time in prison. The longtime GOP lobbyist will learn his fate early next year from a pair of federal judges and is likely spending decades in prison following his conviction earlier this summer on bank and tax fraud charges in Virginia and a separate guilty plea in Washington.

Legal experts said Cohen’s three-year jail term isn’t a surprise for someone who has admitted guilt and helped prosecutors advance their cases.

“It is a fair and reasonable sentence that punishes him and sends a message to others who are considering committing similar crimes,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor from Miami.

Cohen’s conviction and sentence also doesn’t bode well for the president, said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a frequent Trump golf partner who in January will become chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Anytime a former lawyer of yours goes to jail it’s probably not a good day,” the South Carolina senator said.

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper, Legislature

Private firm to investigate Gov. Cooper’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline deal: “We have no political agenda”

A private firm formed by three former federal agents will investigate Gov. Roy Cooper’s controversial memorandum of understanding with Dominion Energy over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

At a subcommittee meeting today, lawmakers announced they had hired Eagle Intel, based in Wilmington, to conduct the investigation. The firm, composed of Frank Brostrom, Tom Beers and Kevin Greene, incorporated last year. Brostrom worked for the FBI, and Beers and Greene for the Internal Revenue Service. Their areas of expertise focused on tax evasion and financial and political corruption, as well as organized crime and terrorism cases.

This is not a criminal probe, but a civil one, prompted by legislative oversight, said Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County.

The firm charges $100 an hour for its services, but until the investigation is under way, it’s unknown what the final cost will be.

Under the non-binding MOU signed by Cooper and Dominion nearly a year ago, the Virginia-based utility and Duke Energy, co-owners of ACP, LLC, would pay $57.8 million for economic development and renewable energy projects along the 160-mile route through eastern North Carolina. The announcement of the MOU coincided by just hours with the Department of Environmental Quality’s granting of a key water quality permit for the project.

Republican lawmakers then introduced and passed House Bill 90, which funneled the money away from its original purpose and toward public schools in the affected counties. However, no money has been disbursed yet. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has not issued its final construction permits for part of the route in North Carolina, which would trigger half of the amount to be due.

The other half of the money would be payable when the ACP is completed. That could take years. Last week, a federal appeals court halted all construction on the 600-mile pipeline over US Fish and Wildlife’s questionable assessment of the project’s potential damage to endangered species.

DEQ and the governor’s office have denied working in tandem on the timing of the permit and the MOU. But Republican lawmakers want Eagle Intel to determine if the MOU involved “pay-to-play” — that the voluntary monetary contribution smoothed the way for the water quality permit.

Lawmakers, led by a Republican majoriy, informally requested documents from the governor’s office and DEQ about the MOU, but never received them, despite multiple inquiries. They filed a formal public records request last month. (Environmental advocates and the media, including Policy Watch, likewise filed records requests from the governor and received no documents of significance; the requests have yet to be completely fulfilled.)

Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat on the panel that hired Eagle Intel, said the governor’s office and DEQ are expected to provide documents by Dec. 20. “I think it’s premature to investigate,” McKissick said.

But the governor’s office, as if to say, “touche’,” filed its own records request with lawmakers. In a document dated today, Dec. 12, Kristi Jones, the governor’s chief of staff, formally asked for voluminous information that could reveal whether Republican lawmakers’ concerns are legitimate or merely a power play. Among the governor’s request is communications among legislators, staff and any third parties, including the state Republican Party, executive director Dallas Woodhouse and chairman Robin Hayes.

The agents, who were present at today’s subcommittee meeting, emphasized that they have “no political agenda, no dog in the fight.”

“We will follow where the facts lead us,” Brostrom said.

According to voter registration records, Brostrom and Greene are registered Republicans; Beers is unaffiliated.

Commentary

Editorial explains the single best thing state lawmakers could do during lame duck session

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com, which explains the single best thing that the General Assembly could do before year’s end. After explaining that the state’s profitable corporations are about to receive yet another unnecessary tax cut in the New Year, “N.C. has greater needs than more corporate tax cuts” puts it this way:

In the next fiscal year, North Carolina’s corporations will likely pay about $598 million in income taxes. That is less than half the $1.4 billion they paid during the 2013-14 budget year.

Here’s the math. Right now, the income tax rate for corporations is 3 percent. Based on current collections, total taxable corporate revenue for the 2018-19 budget year will be about $23.9 billion resulting in income taxes collected at about $718 million.

On the first of the new year, the corporate tax rate drops to 2.5 percent. At that new rate, with the same taxable revenues, corporations will pay $598 million in state income taxes — $120 million less. That’s enough money for a 2 percent increase in public school teacher pay.

Corporate incomes tax collections are on track to drop 56 percent in the last five budget years. At the same time sales tax collections – taxes that fall disproportionately on those who struggle the most to pay them – will be increasing 32 percent.

Two years ago Gov. Roy Cooper rightly vetoed the budget bill containing these overly generous tax cuts. He called it a plan that “fails to fund promised teacher salary increases in future years along, with funding for early childhood education, community colleges and universities.”

The legislature then didn’t heed his call for “capping tax cuts so they benefit the middle class (and) investing more in public education.”

Gov. Cooper should renew his call to stop this latest tax cut before the legislative session ends. He needs, at a minimum, to call for suspension of the automatic corporate income tax cut. Better yet, he should call for its repeal.

Further, N.C. Chamber of Commerce President David Fountain of Duke Energy, should issue a statement saying that the Chamber, recognizing the critical unmet needs of the state, urges the legislature to repeal the additional tax cut. He knows the state’s corporations don’t need it and as good corporate citizens, businesses recognize they must do their part.

Neglect of the basic needs of citizens to cut corporate taxes is nothing short of malfeasance on the part of the legislature.

Legislators need to repeal this lavish tax cut now and focus on doing the jobs citizens expect done – educating children, maintaining an infrastructure that helps the state prosper, assure all citizens have access to health care and that they enjoy safe and clean communities.