Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. New analysis indicates that toxics were present in Wilmington drinking water at extreme levels


Tests of samples collected between 2014 and 2016 reveal sky-high PFAS readings

Astronomical concentrations of toxic compounds commonly known as PFAS were present in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, years before researchers had the technology to detect them.

According to a new analysis of preserved samples from 2014 to 2016, PFAS that contain an ether molecule were found at concentrations of at least as high as 130,000 parts per trillion near Lock and Dam No. 1, near the drinking water intake for the City of Wilmington. The contamination originated at the Chemours/DuPont facility more than 80 miles upstream.

The samples at Lock and Dam No. 1 were taken in 2015 near by NC State and EPA researchers. But only now, with advanced technology, can scientists more accurately measure the concentrations of PFAS in water. [Read more...]

 

2. Superintendent candidates focus on racial equity at Raleigh education forum

As the proud owner of a new restaurant, Leonardo Williams surely had other things to do this past Saturday.

But there he was, taking notes and listening closely to six state superintendent candidates who want to replace Mark Johnson in the November 2020 general election.

For the record, Johnson has not announced whether he will seek re-election.

Williams, a former educator and two-time Teacher of the Year in Durham who still has more than a passing interest in educational issues because of his work as a consultant, explained that the superintendent’s race will be the most important statewide race on the ballot.

He said the winner of the election — he’s betting it’ll be one of the six announced candidates present Saturday — will be charged with the important work of slowing what he sees as an attempt by the Republican-led General Assembly to privatize public schools. [Read more…]

 

3. Equality advocates express concern, determination to fight on as high court weighs LGBTQ discrimination

This week, five years after a federal judge struck down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up an issue that, for some, could be even more consequential for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians.

The nation’s highest court heard opening arguments Tuesday in three cases that could decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation or status as transgender people.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC, said that while the community has been fighting for employment protection in all states for decades, it is daunting to have it before the current Supreme Court.

“For me personally, it’s creating a great deal of anxiety to have this issue in the hands of the court with its current makeup,” Johnson said. [Read more…]

 

4. Latest Supreme Court battle a reminder that true LGBTQ equality is far from won

“The struggle for gay rights is over,” the writer James Kirchick wrote in The Atlantic in June. And just like that, you could almost smell the smoldering keyboards across the country.

I loathe sports metaphors, but if we were playing football, this headline still smacks of celebrating a touchdown on the opposing team’s 20-yard-line.

Yet it’s safe to assume Kirchick – a Brookings Institute fellow and openly gay reporter who, in 2007, won the National Gay and Lesbian Journalist Association’s award for “Journalist of the Year” – revels in a robust debate, else he wouldn’t pen such a provocative piece. That piece, it should be noted, is more nuanced and thoughtful than the headline.

(Indeed, I’m convinced he enjoys a good dust-up after watching Kirchick’s glorious trolling of the Russian propaganda network RT in 2016, in which he donned rainbow suspenders and dismantled the Kremlin’s anti-gay laws before the network booted him.)[Read more…]

5. It’s up to the court now: A redistricting update after the final round of filings

It’s a strikingly familiar tale in North Carolina: voters are waiting with bated breath for a court to either approve legislatively-drawn remedial House and Senate maps or to assign the job to a neutral third-party to correct unconstitutional gerrymandering issues.

Republicans drew the 2017 legislative maps to entrench themselves in political power and dilute the Democratic vote, a three-judge panel ruled in September. The panel gave lawmakers another bite at the apple to draw districts without partisan considerations ahead of the 2020 election.

Now there is a battle over whether legislators followed the court’s instructions or just ended up creating another unconstitutional scheme that continues to disadvantage voters.

The political stakes are high – 2020 is a Census year, so whichever party is elected to the majority will control the next cycle of redistricting, likely with some partisan intent if history gives any indication. [Read more…]

 

6. Legislature pushes another troubling attack on voting and immigrants

Sometimes you have to wonder if there isn’t a very specific chapter in the political playbook of Donald Trump’s modern American right that includes the following entries under the heading “default strategies”:

A. Attack immigrants
B. Restrict voting rights
C. If possible, combine strategies a and b

After all, any political movement that would, a) stubbornly stand by a president who proposes to employ tactics reminiscent of the East German Stasi in dealing with border crossing immigrants and, b) host “how to” confabs in which architects and defenders of some of the most notorious gerrymanders and voter suppression schemes in U.S. history hold forth for politicians from across the country, is doing little to disguise its objectives.

By almost every indication, the right sees the demographic wave that is headed squarely in its direction over the next few decades and is scrambling madly to do everything its leaders can think of to hold back the tide. [Read more…]

 

7. Weekly radio commentaries and newsmaker interviews:

 

8. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

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