News

GOP election official not wild about being smeared by GOP

One of the most surreal parts about covering Wednesday’s meeting of  the State Board of Elections was watching the board order, in a 3-2 party-line vote, a partial recount in Durham despite the board’s admission they had no evidence of impropriety and didn’t expect the recount to change the results.

Why do the recount, then? Because of a *feeling* that something could have gone wrong, GOP board members said – a sense that there was a dark cloud or a “taint” on the proceedings in the Durham election.

Turns out I wasn’t the only person taken aback by that.

Durham Board of Elections Chairman Bill Brian, a Republican, isn’t wild about having his own party impugning the integrity of the work he and his team did – or that of the other 52 counties, all with Republican-majority boards, that Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign is questioning.

“I was just stunned by the result, given the evidence and the argument that was put forward by both sides, but we are where we are,” Durham County Board of Elections Chairman Bill Brian said Thursday. “I’m not aware of any great pall that has been cast over the returns from Durham by anybody but the people who don’t like the outcome.”

The state board’s own experts had worked with Durham County elections officials to count the ballots late on Election Night and later independently verified the vote totals in the gubernatorial race were correct. No evidence of any mistakes was presented to the state board.

Brian, a Republican, and his two colleagues on the local board, voted unanimously two weeks ago to reject Stark’s protest of the election after hearing the same evidence presented to the state board.

He gritted his teeth through the state board hearing, saying he is frustrated that his staff’s efforts are continually questioned.

“It’s irritating to me, frankly, as somebody’s who’s been a long-time Durham booster to have to go through and reprove and reprove and reprove our results, especially under the circumstances when we’ve had numerous experts stand up and say the results are accurate,” he said. “If there was evidence there was a problem, I’d be the first one to say let’s count them, let’s redo the whole thing, whatever it takes to get straight.”

Durham is undertaking the partial recount ordered by the state board, but is asking for the deadline to be extended to Wednesday.

News

Carrboro joins worldwide movement to abolish death penalty in U.S.

Carrboro made a public declaration this week to abolish the death penalty by joining the worldwide movement, “Cities for Life/Cities Against the Death Penalty.”

Mayor Lydia Lavelle issued a proclamation Wednesday declaring the town part of the movement to raise awareness about it and abolish the death penalty in the U.S., according to an article in The Daily Tarheel.

“They asked me if our town would participate in recognizing the date and bringing awareness to it,” Lavelle told the newspaper. “I did a little research and realized that it was something I thought our board would not mind me putting a proclamation out about.”

Cities for Life has grown from 80 cities in 2002 to more than 2,000 today. Carrboro appears to be the only North Carolina city that has become part of the movement, according to the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome, Italy, which launched the movement.

More than 1,000 people have been sent to North Carolina’s death row since the state began executing people in 1910, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety. There are currently 150 inmates on death row.

Commentary

Workers left high and dry in salaried overtime decision

Typical workers impacted by overtime rule

Image: U.S. Department of Labor

December 1, 2016 was supposed to be a great day for an estimated 156,000 salaried workers in North Carolina. But thanks to a recent federal court order, yesterday instead brought disappointment and confusion for most of them.

For nearly seven months, thousands of North Carolinians have been anticipating an increase in their pay due to the Obama Administration’s new overtime rule for salaried workers.  The rule, which was announced on May 18, 2016 and set to take effect yesterday, would have raised the salary threshold for overtime eligibility from $23,660 per year to $47,476 per year, effectively raising the amount you must be paid in order for your employer not to have to pay you overtime. That means that *most* workers making less than $47,476 per year (or $913 per week) would have to be paid overtime for each hour over 40 in one workweek in addition to their salary. (This rule only changes one of the exemptions from overtime and does not apply in all workplaces and to all types of jobs. It has to do with what are often referred to as white-collar jobs, or the Executive, Administrative, Professional exemption.) The new rule also includes a mechanism to automatically update the salary threshold every three years.

But last week a judge in Texas blocked the new rule from taking effect.

Read more

Environment

This Week in Pollution: Plastic chokes an island paradise — and its birds

A pile of plastic toys and garbage to show the amount that humans throw away.

Plastic debris is killing the ocean and its ecosystem. Flickr/Creative Commons by Orin Zebest

SCENE from The Graduate: Two men chat poolside at a party, one a recent college graduate, Benjamin Braddock, the other a friend of his parents, Mr. McGuire:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuirePlastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

A map shows Midway Atoll lies northwest of Hawaii.

Midway Atoll is an unincorporated U.S. territory, just 2.4 square miles in the North Pacific Ocean. (Screenshot from LearnNC map)

Now think about this: The beaches of Midway Atoll are cluttered with plastic — not just bags but bottles, baskets, bins and even birds, dead from eating fragments of our throwaway society. CNN published a special interactive story yesterday that reports stunning numbers:

  • 5 trillion pieces of plastic are in the world’s oceans
  • By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by weight
  • 8 million tons of plastic trash enters the ocean each year
  • Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles an hour

The environmental harm to the ecosystem can’t be overstated. The corpses of birds, having died from eating plastic fragments, litter the beaches of the Pacific Island and even the airport runway. Fish and plankton ingest the plastic, too.  People who eat the fish also eat the plastic, especially microbeads and very small pieces that are burrowed in the sashimi that you’re having for dinner this evening.

Several states, cities and counties have enacted bans on plastic bags or assessed usage fees. In 2010, North Carolina passed Senate Bill 1018, which  reduces plastic and non-recycled paper bag use on Outer Banks.

Under the law, a retailer subject to certain provisions has to display a prominent and public sign saying the county “discourages the use of single-use plastic and paper bags to protect our environment from excess litter and greenhouse gases. We would appreciate our customers using reusable bags, but if you are not able to, a 100% recycled paper bag will be furnished for your use.”

But plastic is ubiquitous. Think about how many plastic items you use in a day: Toys, laundry baskets, storage bins, flashlights, electronics, toothbrushes, cutlery and of course, bottles of water. (The amount of plastic used in bottles of water is yet another reason for Duke Energy to provide permanent water supplies to customers whose wells are contaminated with chemicals from coal ash.)

The recent destruction on Midway Atoll — a historic World War II battle and a tsunami are others — is part of the plastic crisis in the Pacific. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch , a vortex of trash, is composed of detritus from both North America and Asia.

Plastic doesn’t erode; it breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, and never really goes away. In fact, CNN reports that nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today.

Sadly, Mr. McGuire was right.

Commentary

Charlotte, Greensboro editorials: Only one path forward on GOP gerrymandering

Another day, another pair of strong editorials blasting North Carolina’s outrageously gerrymandered legislative maps and demanding a permanent, nonpartisan fix.

After noting that a recent court order demanding new state legislative districts in 2017 will probably provide a little improvement, but not much, the Charlotte Observer puts is this way:

“There’s a better way. This past session, 63 N.C. House members – both Republicans and Democrats – co-sponsored House Bill 92, which would have established a nonpartisan Redistricting Commission whose members would be chosen by both parties. Those 63 House members made up a majority, but the bill never made it to a vote.

Similar redistricting reform efforts have been supported in the past by Republicans, including N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger. But whenever a party takes control, the prospect of reform suddenly becomes less appealing to its members.

Tuesday’s federal court ruling won’t change that, even if it does provide an incremental improvement in racial gerrymandering. Our best hope: That someday, enough lawmakers will see the greater good of redistricting reform instead of their own small self-interest.”

“Those impacts [of gerrymandering] are clear. One is that voters are denied the opportunity to choose representatives in truly competitive contests.

Another is the fixed outcomes. Here, the gerrymandering is intended to saddle a Democratic county with mostly Republican representation in Raleigh. Democratic candidates received an average of about 60 percent of the vote in Guilford County, yet Republicans won five of nine legislative seats. It’s simply a matter of arranging districts so that votes are apportioned to elect more Republicans than Democrats. It’s clever, effective and undemocratic.

This pattern was repeated in the state’s other urban counties.

The legislature must take seriously the court’s order and draw fair, balanced districts that allow minority voters a reasonable chance to elect candidates of their choice, without packing overwhelming numbers of them into a few districts.

Ideally, elections next November will see full slates of candidates vying in competitive contests — and no more 100 percent victory margins.

Unfortunately, experience suggests that partisan lawmakers still will try to stack the deck to the greatest extent they can manage. Ultimately, redistricting should be undertaken by a nonpartisan commission given the responsibility of drawing balanced districts that serve the best interests of voters, not of the politicians. There has been bipartisan interest in the state House to do this; opposition has come from the state Senate.

Senators should soften their stance and, for once, do something that advances democracy rather than denies it.”