Commentary
© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

© Greenpeace, David Sorcher, 2012

There’s a fabulous op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by a fellow named David Jenkins of the Virginia-based group, Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. In it, Jenkins exposes the outrageous and dishonest war on renewable/sustainable energy being waged by fossil fuel front groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and their allies in the Pope empire here in North Carolina:

“We have all heard about President Obama’s ‘war on coal,’ but the challenges facing the coal industry are much more complex than the ‘war’ label would imply.

There is a war on energy, but the target is not coal, it is wind and solar energy.

The attack dogs in this war are funded by Koch Industries and include Americans for Prosperity, American Energy Alliance and the American Legislative Exchange Council. They frame their attacks as a defense of the free market and fiscal conservatism. Yet even a cursory examination of their positions reveals they’re not defending the free market but attempting to protect the fossil fuel industry from competition.”

Jenkins goes on to explain that all energy sources are subsidized by government and that the subsidies provided to fossil fuels greatly surpass those provided to renewables. (Indeed, as was explained in this post the other day, the subsidies provided to fossil fuels once one factors in the environmental costs are truly staggering — as much as 6.5% of GDP!)

Here’s Jenkins:

“These groups seek to bolster certain federal subsidies by attacking others, rig the market in the name of preserving it, pick winners and losers under the pretense of opposing such things, stifle freedom while pretending to promote it and encourage waste and inefficiency. All of this while pretending to support free market principles.

This special interest hijacking of the conservative label comes at the expense of real conservative values – and our nation’s long-term energy security. Only courageous and principled conservatives can effectively defend conservatism from such abuse.”

The bottom line: Call it what you want — conservative or liberal — but the simple truth that fair and true competition can help save the planet when it comes to energy is undeniable.

Commentary
[This post has been updated.] This is really strange and a little disconcerting: A Charlotte-based, for-profit political fundraising firm called Harrington Forward Thinking briefly featured a video ad on YouTube today in which the Governor of North Carolina endorsed the firm. The video identified McCrory as Governor, though it appeared that the ad was recorded back before the Guv was elected in 2012. As you can see below, the ad was taken down after a few hours on YouTube. A version of the ad — apparently the original — also appears on the firm’s website here.

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News

An essay penned by a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill claiming a course at one of North Carolina’s flagship schools cast a favorable light on the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack has gone viral in the last week.

The freshman journalism student, Alec Dent, claimed in his essay published on the conservative news site College Fix that readings for the optional freshman seminar course “present terrorists in a sympathetic light and American political leaders as greedy, war hungry and corrupt.”

Problem is, as he told WRAL earlier this week, he didn’t actually take the class or read the listed materials.

UNC offers more than 80 seminar courses to its students but “Literature of 9/11” struck a chord with Dent. The course claims to explore a diverse number of themes related to the September 11 attacks, but for Dent it was not diverse enough.

“The class reading list is what first stuck out to me because it really got me thinking, is this a fair and balanced way of looking at the situation,” Dent said.

The freshman journalism major said that he looked at the reading list as well as the class syllabus before writing a piece for an online student publication called “The College Fix.”

Dent admits that he has not taken the class, nor has he read any of the books on the list, but he still felt the course was too one-sided.

“The more research I did into it, the more it seemed like the readings were sympathetic towards terrorism.”

A student who did do the reading and did take the class took issue with Dent’s description, saying that he enjoyed the class taught by Prof. Neel Ahuja, an associate professor in English at UNC, and found it was balanced.

Since Dent’s review was posted a week ago, it’s gone viral in conservative websites and media outlets, with outrage abounding.

Media Matters took a look at a Fox News segment, which had the header “Required Reading: UNC class sympathizes with 9/11 terrorists” and pointed out that the readings were not required, nor were they pushing a single point of view.

“In addition, the full list of assigned readings for the course does in fact contain diverse literature representing the perspectives of Arab-Americans, residents of New York City, members of the U.S. military and their families, survivors of the attacks, non-partisan terrorism researchers, artists, historians, musicians, and the international Muslim community, as well as several texts aimed to honor or memorialize victims of the attacks,” the Media Matters piece states.

Watch the Fox News segment for yourself below.

Commentary
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Education blogger
James D. Hogan

Following yesterday’s release of North Carolina’s latest A-F school grades—which, for the second year in a row, were largely a reflection of how poor or wealthy a school’s students are—education blogger James Hogan wrote about his own wife’s 15 year career at a D-rated elementary school in Iredell County.

Writing about the students Hogan’s wife teaches, he writes:

Her students have it rough. Many of them don’t get to sleep on beds. Their bikes are regularly stolen. Their fathers aren’t always around. Whenever my wife invites students to share what they did over the weekend at the beginning of class, she often hears stories about parents or siblings who were arrested. Or shot.

Several years ago, I stopped by my wife’s classroom to drop something off with her that she’d forgotten. After I left, one of her students raised his hand and asked who the man was who’d just visited their classroom.

“He’s my husband,” she replied. “Mr. Hogan.”

“Do he beat you?” the student asked.

Do he beat you? It was an honest question, asked in earnest by a kid who’d seen plenty of domestic violence in his life. And that question said a lot about the baggage this particular student—and so many of his peers—brings to class every day.

Despite the challenges that Hogan’s wife’s students face outside of the classroom, her school exceeded the state’s growth expectations for students’ standardized test scores. Teachers there, it appears, were making a difference.

Here are some examples of her school’s approach to making sure at-risk youth don’t fall through the cracks toward failure:

This year, my wife’s principal has created a school-wide theme called “Operation Possible.” The idea is that, beginning on Day 1, students are pushed to consider what comes at the end of their education. What jobs would they like to work? Where might they want to live? What are their dreams?

The entire faculty has embraced the concept. Several of them are coming to school dressed like doctors and nurses (operation possible, get it?), ready to diagnose students’ passions and enable them to follow them.

One of the administrators runs a leadership program that identifies students on the brink who could use extra one-on-one mentoring. They’re called ambassadors, and they form an exclusive club. The school provides them with collared shirts and ties (there’s a female group starting this year), and they lead visitors on tours, work with younger students, and learn from career professionals about making good choices in life.

The ambassador program has demonstrated great success, keeping kids out of trouble, and reaping the reward of what an investment in a troubled young person’s life can produce.

Other faculty have shown enormous initiative over the summer. One noticed her students’ extra energy distracted them from learning, so she wrote a grant and earned funding to buy standing desks, stability ball chairs, and other furniture that allowed students to work out their kinetic buildups and still stay focused.

Another teacher, whose students attend classes in a mobile unit (did I mention my wife’s school, which was expanded in the last five years, is overcrowded?), grew tired of her students getting soaked on rainy days during the walk to the main building. So, she wrote and earned a nearly $20,000 grant that will help build a covered walkway between the buildings.

When schools receive D or F grades, they don’t get extra resources to make sure students can do better. Teachers don’t get extra help either. The school has to send a letter home to parents simply stating that their children’s school got a failing grade—and that’s it.

Fortunately for Hogan’s wife’s school, their students’  parents can learn more about what that D grade really represents through his writings. Otherwise, they might not know the full story.

Read ‘The Beautiful Story of a D-Rated School” here.

Commentary

BrownMcCollum-v2-web-60percent-grayThe exonerations of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were in the news again yesterday as the state, finally and belatedly, got around to agreeing to compensate the men for having ruined their lives.

In case you missed it, however, Kristin Collins of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation posted this insightful take on what the exonerations mean for the system as a whole, why there is every reason to believe that there are more McCollums and Browns out there and the lack of action by state leaders to address this outrageous problem.

One year after N.C.’s most shocking exoneration: What have we learned?

By Kristin Collins

One year ago today, Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were declared innocent in a Robeson County courtroom. It was a case like North Carolina had never seen before.

McCollum was North Carolina’s longest serving death row inmate. During the 31 years that preceded their exonerations, the half-brothers had been held up by countless politicians and judges — including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — as examples of the kinds of savage killers who make the death penalty necessary.

Last September, we all realized, three decades too late, that we had been utterly wrong about these two no-longer-young men. Instead of the cold-hearted killers we imagined, they had been scared, intellectually disabled teenagers who were coerced into confessing to a crime they did not commit.

They were poor and African Americans living in a deeply segregated county. They were powerless in a justice system that favors the powerful.

Press from all over the world covered the story. It seemed then that our justice system would never be the same.

And yet, a year later, North Carolina has done little to ensure that their story won’t be repeated.

As Gretchen Engel pointed out in her recent op-ed, the N.C. legislature has not proposed a single bill that would help determine if there are more innocent people on death row — even though more than 100 of North Carolina’s 148 death row inmates, like McCollum and Brown, were tried before the enactment of key reforms designed to protect the innocent.

The problems that plagued Henry’s case have not gone away, as we see from the many wrongful prosecutions that continue to today. A recent report showed that North Carolina routinely targets people with the death penalty based on flawed investigations and weak evidence.

What’s more, McCollum and Brown are still waiting on the meager state compensation to which they are entitled for their decades of wrongful imprisonment. (The payment was finally approved today, but has not yet been issued.)

Let’s not forget the lessons we learned one year ago today — about just how wrong our justice system can get it, and how difficult it can be to uncover the truth.