Commentary

The question Phil Berger needs to answer

North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger finally spoke out for the first time yesterday on the crisis that has gripped the nation in the aftermath of the horrific events in Charlottesville last weekend. To his credit, he specifically condemned white supremacy and Nazis (though, admittedly, that’s a pretty low bar to negotiate).

Here’s the bizarre and sadly typical thing about Berger’s statement, however: It never once mentions Donald Trump, but somehow manages to attack Roy Cooper for speaking out against a bill that would provide immunity to some drivers who injure protesters with their cars and calling for the removal of confederate monuments.

You really can’t make this stuff up. Only Phil Berger could figure out a way to turn a crisis brought by a buffoon of a president of his own party and some of his racist allies into a reason to attack an honorable man who stands against them.

Here’s the deal, though: Even if one sets aside and dismisses all of Berger’s bombast and bluster as just the usual politically-motivated white noise we’ve come to expect from his office, there remains a central policy question that he needs to answer with respect to the confederate monuments in North Carolina. Berger’s law on the subject (the one he pushed through two years ago) says that local governments may not remove such monuments even if they are on the property of those local governments.

So, the question is this: “Why?”

None of those local governments received — by any available indication — state approval to erect the monuments in the first place. Why should they have to obtain state approval to take them down or remove them to a museum? None of them needs state approval to put up new ones.

Berger’s Facebook post claims that “riots” are not the appropriate way to remove monuments, but what has that to do with the vote of a duly-elected local government that chooses to remove a monument?

Many of the existing monuments go beyond mere celebration of confederate verterans. One in Charlotte (erected 64 years after the end of the Civil War) talks about the confederacy being an effort to “PRESERVE THE ANGLO-SAXON CIVILIZATION OF THE SOUTH.”

Another in Wadesboro, erected 40 years after the war, reads in part: “THEY BELIEVED OUR SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS AND OUR RIGHT OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT IMPERILED BY THE AVOWED HOSTILITY OF A LARGE SECTION OF THE UNION….” Social institutions, huh?

The bottom line: There are very good reasons for all caring and thinking North Carolinians to be offended by the public veneration of monuments such as these. Phil Berger needs to explain why — other than out of a simple desire to appeal to his narrow right-wing base — he has forbidden local governments from removing them from local government property.

Commentary

New report confirms destructive impact, disparate racial effect of NC’s ongoing tax cut frenzy

A new report from the NC Budget and Tax Center provides the latest confirmation that the steady and ongoing erosion of North Carolina’s tax base by conservative state lawmakers is having a destructive impact on the state and its future. The new report finds that “the new tax cuts, when combined with tax cuts passed since 2013, will mean $3.5 billion in less revenue every year for the state.”

Here’s introduction:

“The new two-year state budget passed by lawmakers included another package of tax cuts that will further limit the amount of revenue available for public investments. The latest tax cuts will reduce annual available revenue by $900 million and, when combined with tax cuts passed since 2013, result in an estimated $3.5 billion in less annual revenue compared to the tax system that was in place prior to tax changes in 2013.

The new budget shows only $521 million of the $900 million in annual revenue loss, due to the way in which lawmakers phase in the tax cuts. The tax cuts kick in starting January 2019 – the second half of the second year of the two-year budget. Thus, lawmakers were not required to account for roughly $400 million of the annual cost of the tax cuts, as the fiscal impact of the tax cuts only reflect half of fiscal year 2019 (January 2019 through June 2019). However, future lawmakers will have to address the unaccounted for $400 million reduction in revenue availability, as the state’s constitution requires lawmakers to pass a balanced state budget.”

The report also finds, perhaps not surprisingly, that recent North Carolina tax cuts have disproportionately benefited white taxpayers:

“Not only have tax changes passed since 2013 held in place systems that solidify income inequality, but they also have reinforced systemic racism that excludes racial and ethnic groups from the path to upward economic mobility by delivering the greatest share of the net tax cut to white taxpayers and undercutting public investments. Eighty-one percent (81 percent) of the net tax cut goes to white taxpayers, despite this group of taxpayers representing two-thirds (66 percent) of North Carolina taxpayers. By contrast, only 19 percent of net benefits go to taxpayers of color, despite these taxpayer groups representing 34 percent of all taxpayers.”

Click here to access the full report.

Commentary

The next time someone tries to equate white supremacists and those who decry hatred and discrimination…

Donald Trump speaking

President Donald Trump

One of the more pernicious bits of conservative spin in the post-Charlottesville debate is that there there is some kind of equivalency between the Nazis and other white supremacists who keep emerging from dark corners of the republic and the handful of anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters who have risen in some instances to confront them. North Carolina state senator Dan Bishop even went so far this week as to attempt to equate the violent white supremacy movement with the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

This is, in a word, hogwash.

The notion that there is any meaningful similarity between armed, hate-spewing marchers who shout “Heil Trump!”, drive automobiles into crowds and position themselves menacingly outside synagogues with assault weapons on the one hand, and passionate unarmed counter-protesters (or even, for that matter, those who commit civil disobedience or wrongful acts of vandalism against inanimate statues and monuments) on the other, is utterly without merit. And as for the Black Lives Matter movement, click here to read the hope-inspiring and life and dignity-affirming guiding principles. Would that Mr. Bishop would do so.

To be sure, there are a handful of anti-white supremacists in the country who have voiced support for the use of violence against the racist Right and they are wrong to do so. As King and Gandhi taught us so well in the last century, non-violence is the only way forward.

That said, it is utter folly to claim that these two sides are on par with each other or somehow equally threatening to domestic tranquility. If you have any doubts about this, just try to imagine what would happen if a group of assault weapon toting men of color wearing battle fatigues stationed themselves menacingly outside of, say, a ultra-conservative white church.

Simply put, this ain’t gonna’ happen and would never be allowed to happen in this country. Never, that is, unless the gun wielding men in fatigues were anti-Semitic white supremacists and the place of worship they were threatening was Charlottesville’s Congregation Beth Israel, as did happen this past Saturday.

The bottom line: Violent hatred and racism have been unloosed in the nation right now and there is one blundering boob of a man who is chiefly responsible for it. What’s more, it is his allies and supporters who are now driving this train and it is not at all clear that he, having spurred on the mob, has the inclination or capacity to rein it back in. Any notion that this crisis is in any way the work of or attributable to the “radical left” is complete nonsense.

Commentary

Glazier: NC legislature should adopt measures to protect safety of protestors, repeal monument statute

Earlier this afternoon, N.C. Justice Center Rick Glazier issued the following statement with respect to the confederate monuments controversy that has arisen in North Carolina and several other states.

“Yesterday, in light of the recent horrifying events in Charlottesville – and the President’s equally stunning remarks equating victims with perpetrators and emboldening the white supremacist movement in the U.S. – Governor Roy Cooper called on the North Carolina legislature to repeal an unwise and unnecessary 2015 law that prevents the removal or relocation of Confederate monuments.

Doing so would allow cities, counties, and the state to have the authority to make these decisions and move these markers to museums, cemeteries, and other less provocative historical sites. The Governor directed his staff to immediately determine the costs and logistics for doing so.

The Governor also urged the Senate to defeat a bill shockingly passed by the House that gives immunity to motorists who strike protestors, stating ‘[t]hose who attack protestors, weaponizing their vehicles like terrorists, should find no safe haven in our state.’

The Governor is spot on, and such actions can be accomplished next week when the General Assembly returns to Raleigh.

These actions should be bipartisan. They are needed to increase vital public confidence in the safety of all residents of North Carolina; to counter the nationwide fear that has resulted from the evil on display by Neo-Nazi and white supremacist terrorist groups filled with hate, shouting slogans of hate, and carrying torched symbols of hate in Charlottesville; and challenge the stunning lack of Presidential understanding in response to those words and acts of violence.

Governor Cooper’s plan should be immediately adopted.”

Commentary, News

Triad TV news story: NC is failing its public school teachers

Reporter Bob Buckley of High Point based WGHP TV (aka “My Fox 8”) posted a fine story last night that explains some of the important ways in which North Carolina political leaders continue to fail the state’s public school teachers and, thereby of course, its students. In particular, the story has harsh words for Senator Phil Berger’s punitive and destructive school grading system:

Jennifer Mangrum is on a mission.

Mangrum was a teacher for 15 years and now helps prepare tomorrow’s teachers as a professor at UNC-Greensboro’s highly-respected School of Education. She also has had op-ed pieces in many of North Carolina’s major newspapers, making the case that the things the General Assembly is doing for education are likely, in her view, counter-productive in the long run.

Among those things was the “grading system” that was started for parents to know how well their child’s school was performing.

“I think the intention was to hold schools accountable,” says Mangrum. “But what we found through research is that an F school pretty much just determines the level of poverty. And when you have high numbers of kids in poverty, they don’t have all those wrap-around resources, right? They don’t have health care, they don’t have vision care. Some of them have a scarcity of food.”

Mangrum’s take on the grading system mirrors the analysis and conclusions of scores of experts that labeling schools as failing is no way to coax or drive better results. Instead, it takes a genuine commitment to improving school resources, combating poverty, hunger and lack of housing and health care and, of course, promoting better diversity and integration in the schools.

The story goes on to highlight the despair that many teachers feel as a result of their low pay, lack of resources and respect and the state’s obsession with high-stakes testing.

Let’s hope Buckley keeps producing high quality segments like this one that it inspires other journalists around the state to keep telling this vitally important story. Click here to read/watch “Teachers say they need more support.”