Negative reviews for right-wing environmental project at UNC start to pile up

The Greenville Daily Reflector and Greensboro News & Record joined the list of reviewers panning the plan hatched by state Senate leader Phil Berger and first reported by N.C. Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg to establish a right-wing environmental project at the University of North Carolina with a bureaucratic name (the “Collaboratory”) and a Berger staff (Jeffrey Warren) in charge.

Here’s the N&R in an editorial entitled “Stacking the deck”:

“Pardon our French, but who wouldn’t smell a rat?…

In July, East Carolina University professor Stan Riggs resigned from the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission’s science panel after expressing concerns that the legislature was limiting projections of rising sea levels. Among other troubling signs were the placing on hold of efforts to address the pollution of a major Triangle drinking-water source, Jordan Lake, as well as a zealous rush toward fracking in local communities without a thorough scientific vetting of the consequences.

Adding fuel to suspicions is that the new lab will be placed under the business, rather than the academic, umbrella of the university. And that UNC-CH already has an Institute for the Environment, established in 1998.

The evidence is both clear and troubling. Having obviously mastered the art of gerrymandered districts to keep power, state lawmakers now want to gerrymander science.”

And here is an excerpt from “Berger’s political meddling,” in which the Reflector echoed part of a recent editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Berger’s solution: a new policy initiative called the N.C. Policy Collaboratory, where scientists basically will be considering business implications of environmental policy.

Berger said he’d gotten a lot of complaints about “philosophical and partisan homogeneity at UNC.” Meaning, there are too many liberals there.

There’s nothing wrong with a lawmaker having a conversation with a university leader about offering a forum to more politically diverse opinions on the campus. But there’s a lot wrong with direct meddling in curricula based entirely on politics.

Berger acknowledges he’s tried to recommend conservatives for jobs. Now that he’s succeeded in pushing through something like this, he’s certainly going to continue to interfere. UNC’s faculty and leadership should say no to this political meddling in research.”

The new editorial comes on top of this hilarious entry — “Magic formula for computing results conservatives want” from “former” News & Observer cartoonist Dwane Powell skewering the plan.


The best editorial of the weekend: Rucho’s education folly

N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho listens Friday to the UNC Board of Governors discuss closing down three centers. In case you missed it, the lead editorial in Sunday’s News & Observer provides another powerful takedown of the ongoing conservative war on public schools in North Carolina. The focus of the editorial is soon-to-be-retired Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County (pictured at left), who throughout his years in the General Assembly, has been one of the most combative and even belligerent defenders of the right-wing agenda.

As the editorial points out, Rucho is not only seemingly blind to the damage he and his colleagues have wrought, he’s aggressive in denying the obvious. To illustrate the point, the editorial juxtaposes a recent letter authored by Rucho with complaints of a veteran Raleigh high school teacher named Jasmine Lauer featured in a recent article.

In response to Lauer’s complaints that her salary is all but frozen in perpetuity and that she has to spend hundreds of dollars on supplies for her classroom, Rucho tries — we are not making this up — to provide a lecture on how the teacher must have benefited from GOP tax cuts. Here’s the excellent conclusion to the editorial:

“But Lauer’s main objection to Rucho’s letter wasn’t with her pay. It’s with the assumption that it’s OK that she should give some of it back to buy school supplies.

‘That’s backward thinking,’ she said. ‘I shouldn’t be spending my money so the state can provide a free public school education.’

Lauer estimates she has spent $400 this month on supplies. Some purchases are not essential, such as classroom decorations, but most goes for paper, pens, binders and other basic supplies. She said the school supply budget was cut during the recession and has not been restored. Money for textbooks is also scarce. In Lauer’s department, two classes can’t read the same novel. There aren’t enough copies. Students no longer take books home. Some students can afford to buy the books for themselves. Others can’t.

Lauer says the lack of books and learning materials is ‘further dividing the haves and the have-nots. It’s the opposite of what public education should be doing. It should erase the divide.’

It would be better if the governor and lawmakers would stop lecturing teachers about how good they have it and start listening and learning from them.

‘When push comes to shove, we go into our classrooms and do what we can for kids. We fill in the gaps,’ she says. ‘It would just be nice if the General Assembly would follow suit.'”



Judge blocks UNC from enforcing HB2 while trial proceeds

Here’s the statement from the ACLU of NC on Judge Thomas Schroeder’s ruling this afternoon enjoining the University of North Carolina from enforcing HB2:

A federal court today granted a request to stop the University of North Carolina from enforcing H.B. 2, the state law that bans many transgender people from restrooms that match their gender identity, against three transgender individuals who are challenging the law in court. In granting the preliminary injunction, the court found that the challengers are likely to succeed in their argument that the law violates Title IX.

The groups that brought the motion seeking preliminary relief, American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal, and the law firm of Jenner & Block are challenging the law on behalf of several LGBT North Carolinians and members of the ACLU of North Carolina. They filed the motion for preliminary injunction while the case proceeds through the court system.

“Today is a great day for me and hopefully this is the start to chipping away at the injustice of H.B. 2 that is harming thousands of other transgender people who call North Carolina home. Today, the tightness that I have felt in my chest every day since H.B. 2 passed has eased. But the fight is not over: we won’t rest until this discriminatory law is defeated,” said Joaquín Carcaño, lead plaintiff in the case.

“We are thrilled that the court put a temporary stop to some of the grave harm H.B. 2 imposes on our transgender clients,” said Tara Borelli, Lambda Legal senior attorney. “This ruling is an important first step to make sure that thousands of LGBT people who call North Carolina home – particularly transgender people – get the privacy, respect, and protections afforded others in the state. As we prepare for trial, we are more determined than ever to ensure equal justice for all North Carolinians.”

The full trial in the groups’ challenge to H.B. 2 is scheduled to begin on November 14. During the trial, the court will also consider challenges to sections of H.B. 2 that prohibit local municipalities from extending nondiscrimination protections to LGBT people.

“We’re thrilled that the court ruled on the right side for our clients today and that our clients are one step closer to being free from the discrimination that this harmful law imposes on them simply because they are transgender,” said Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “We’re confident justice will prevail in the larger case after the judge hears all the evidence at trial this fall so that all gay and transgender North Carolinians will be free from the harm of H.B. 2.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit, Carcaño v. McCrory, was filed days after H.B. 2 was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed by Governor Pat McCrory. In the lawsuit, the groups argue that through the law, North Carolina sends a purposeful message that LGBT people are second-class citizens who are undeserving of the privacy, respect, and protections afforded others in the state.

The complaint argues that H.B. 2 violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex.  It also argues the law is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating on the basis of sex and sexual orientation and violates the privacy and medical decision making rights of transgender people.

To read more about the case:

No word yet if Governor McCrory, Senator Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore will decry the ruling as the work of an unelected Republican judge.


Forsyth County high school teacher attacks conservative claims about “commitment” to teachers

Teacher payForsyth County high school teacher and occasional NC Policy Watch contributor Stuart Egan has another essay in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal entitled “About those teacher salaries and raises….” In it, Egan explains why he views all the recent talk from North Carolina conservatives touting their supposed “commitment” to teachers and raising average salaries above $50,000 as election year spin.

Here’s Egan:

“The last four years have seen tremendous changes to teacher pay. For new teachers entering in the profession here in North Carolina, there is no longer any graduate-degree pay bump, no more longevity pay (for any teacher) and a changed salary schedule that makes it possible for a teacher almost top out on the salary schedule within 15 years with minimal raises for the last 15 years until retirement.

And that top salary for new teachers is barely over $50,000.

So, how can the average pay in North Carolina be over $50,000 when no one can really make much over $50,000 per year as a new teacher in his or her entire career unless they all become nationally certified (which takes a monetary investment by the teacher to get)?

Easy. He [Gov. McCrory] is counting all of the veteran teachers’ current salaries in that figure. The very people whose salaries simply disgust the governor and the General Assembly to the point that they had to take measures to ‘lower’ them are actually being used to tout the governor’s bold statement.

Furthermore, the governor is counting on local supplements. This comes in the face of a budget that is allocating less money to the central offices of each school system for administrative costs. Now each county has to raise more money to essentially offset those costs and also allow for local supplements. And not all localities provide the same supplements. Just look at Arika Herron’s story in the Aug. 7 Journal, “Schools facing salary pinch.”

Any veteran teacher who is making above $50,000 based on seniority, graduate pay and national boards are gladly counted in this figure. It simply drives up the current average pay. But when these veteran teachers who have seniority, graduate pay and possibly national certification retire (and many are doing that early at 25 years), then the very people who seem to be a ‘burden’ on the educational budget leave the system.

In reality, that would drive the average salary down as time goes on. But McCrory is only talking about the right here and right now.

Remember the word ‘average’ is a very easy word to manipulate. In this case, the very teachers who are driving the ‘average’ salary up are the very people that the state wants to not have in a few years. There will then be a new average. It can’t possibly be over $50,000 then, if current trends keep going.”

Click here to read the entire op-ed.


Former health insurance exec skewers Aetna’s and other industry complaints re: Obamacare

Wendell_Potter_cropFormer health insurance industry exec Wendell Potter, the author of multiple exposés on the greed and bad actions of the industry in which he once worked has a great column at that’s worth a few minutes of your time this morning.

It’s entitled “Cry me a river, Aetna. Retreating carriers whine that exchanges bruised their bottom lines; meanwhile, their profits are off the charts, thanks to … Obamacare.”

Here’s Potter, after noting that Aetna has raked in nearly $7 billion in profits since January 2014 despite its claims of massive amounts of red ink:

“Here’s the thing you need to know. Most of the people who buy coverage on the public exchanges are relatively poor and relatively sick. That’s because most of them were not able to afford Aetna’s policies in the many years before Obamacare became law. Now that those folks can finally afford coverage, thanks to Obamacare’s income-based subsidies, they’re also finally able to see a doctor and pick up their prescriptions. In other words, they’re actually using their insurance.

To make matters worse – at least in the eyes of for-profit health insurance company executives – there are not enough healthy, wealthy and young people buying Obamacare plans to make the ‘risk pool’ more to their liking.

Having worked for nearly 20 years in the health insurance business, I can assure you that the top priority of executives of the for-profit companies is not to make sure low-income Americans can get the medical care they need. Nope. Not a chance. Those guys consider every claim they pay to be a loss (hence the term ‘medical loss ratio’). They’re in this business to make a buck.

Their top priority – just as it is with most other New York Stock Exchange corporations – is to ‘enhance shareholder value.’ And every three months, what those executives want more than anything else is to impress Wall Street with its profits, to ‘exceed analysts’ expectations.’ If they can do that, they can pretty much be certain that their company’s stock price will go up. And when that happens, something else will go up: their net worth. That’s because all of the top executives of for-profit health insurers, without exception, are sitting on a big stash of their company’s stock.

Here’s another data point Bertolini didn’t mention when he was announcing the planned dumping of most of its Obamacare enrollees: Since March 5, 2009 – the day President Obama kicked off the debate on what would become Obamacare – Aetna’s stock price has increased 631 percent….

If you are an executive of a for-profit insurer, and you have to dump poor, sick people to meet your shareholders’ and analysts’ profit expectations – and to get quite a bit richer yourself – so be it. As I’ve written in the past, Aetna, in particular, is no stranger to that practice.”

Potter goes on to explain how corporate and CEO greed is at the heart of the for-profit health insurance industry complaints about the Affordable Care Act rather than flaws in the law itself. The bottom line: One long-term fix to what ails the American healthcare system is removing the obligation of for-profit insurers to meet the demands of their Wall Street masters. Let’s hope Wendell Potter keeps telling this story.