Commentary

Editorial rightfully derides NC’s on-the-cheap state government

As the 2019 General Assembly prepares to get underway, state lawmakers would do well to read and heed the latest Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com, “Quality is sacrificed with bargain basement government.” Here are some highlights:

When it comes to excellence, North Carolina seems satisfied with achieving unparalleled mediocrity.

Why work to be the best when the state can continue to give unnecessary tax breaks to corporations – on top of massive federal tax cuts? Then, after revenues dry up, explain away stagnation with “that’s the best we can do with the money we have” to deliver important government responsibilities that are just alright?  It’s government on the cheap.  In too many cases, North Carolina taxpayers aren’t even getting what they pay for.

The editorial then goes on to provide a list of areas in which the state’s mediocre (or worse) performance is all too obvious — per student public school spending, overall public school performance, health funding and infant mortality prevention, and even economic development.

Here’s the on-the-mark conclusion:

There is no hiding the diminished aspirations of leaders who aren’t willing to spend more than merely what is needed to get the job done.

There is no demand for excellence and no dedication to constant improvement.

Just get by, that’s fine. That’s the clear message.

But it’s not a message that meets our State Constitution’s mandate that every child receive a quality education.

It is not a message that says North Carolina is a state that cares about the wellbeing of all of its citizens. It is not a message that tells economic development prospects they’ll find an environment that fosters a quality workforce and growth.

As the General Assembly prepares to start a new session, it is time to lift the state out of the bargain basement.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Environmental expert explains utter absurdity of Trump’s border wall

The 2008 Rio Grande Flood, near Presidio TX. CREDIT: National Park Service.

As the Trump border wall government shutdown drags on into its third week, it’s worth considering an important but rarely reported fact that stands in the way of the very idea of a wall along the U.S. Mexico border: a little thing called the Rio Grande River.

Environmental policy expert, Dr. Joe Romm of Think Progress explained earlier today:

…the overwhelming majority of the border, where there isn’t some form of barrier, runs straight down the middle of 1,254 snaking miles of the enormous Rio Grande River.

But the Rio Grande routinely floods. In fact, as ThinkProgress previously reported, flooding has gotten more frequent and more severe in recent years thanks to climate change.

The Trump administration’s own National Climate Assessment concluded in November that “record-breaking flooding events increased over the past 30 years” in the Southern Great Plains (Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas) — and that extreme flooding events are only going to get worse.

That’s why, Romm points out, an almost-50 year old treaty bans such construction along the border:

But putting barriers in the Rio Grande floodplain was actually banned long before countries started worrying about climate change.

The 1970 “Treaty to Resolve Pending Boundary Differences and Maintain the Rio Grande and Colorado River as the International Boundary” states that the joint U.S.-Mexico International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) “must approve construction of works proposed in either country” along those rivers. It explicitly prohibits the construction of projects “which, in the judgment of the commission, may cause deflection or obstruction of the normal flow of the river or of its flood flows.”

…If Trump flagrantly violates the treaty to build his wall, not only will it lead to court challenges, but it will worsen relations with the very country we need to work with if the United States is to improve the border situation….

The bottom line is that building a concrete or steel wall or barrier along the Rio Grande River is a terrible and illegal idea. And yet, the president is shutting down much of the federal government simply because Congress won’t fund it.”

Commentary

The weekend’s most insightful op-ed explains why the rich should pay higher taxes

When you get a minute, be sure to check out Paul Krugman’s Saturday column in the New York Times, in which he lauds newly-elected New York Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez for her proposal to dramatically increase taxes on the rich. Ocasio-Cortez has drawn fire from lots of grumpy old conservatives for saying that marginal tax rates on the very wealthy ought to be raised north of 70%, but as Krugman explains, the proposal is actually on the money and endorsed by some of the world’s smartest economists.

Here’s the conclusion to Krugman’s essay:

So AOC [Ocasio-Cortez], far from showing her craziness, is fully in line with serious economic research. (I hear that she’s been talking to some very good economists.) Her critics, on the other hand, do indeed have crazy policy ideas — and tax policy is at the heart of the crazy.

You see, Republicans almost universally advocate low taxes on the wealthy, based on the claim that tax cuts at the top will have huge beneficial effects on the economy. This claim rests on research by … well, nobody. There isn’t any body of serious work supporting G.O.P. tax ideas, because the evidence is overwhelmingly against those ideas.

Look at the history of top marginal income tax rates (left) versus growth in real GDP per capita (right, measured over 10 years, to smooth out short-run fluctuations.):

Top tax rates and growth Credit: Tax Policy Center, BEA

What we see is that America used to have very high tax rates on the rich — higher even than those AOC is proposing — and did just fine. Since then tax rates have come way down, and if anything the economy has done less well.

Why do Republicans adhere to a tax theory that has no support from nonpartisan economists and is refuted by all available data? Well, ask who benefits from low taxes on the rich, and it’s obvious.

And because the party’s coffers demand adherence to nonsense economics, the party prefers “economists” who are obvious frauds and can’t even fake their numbers effectively.

Which brings me back to AOC, and the constant effort to portray her as flaky and ignorant. Well, on the tax issue she’s just saying what good economists say; and she definitely knows more economics than almost everyone in the G.O.P. caucus, not least because she doesn’t “know” things that aren’t true.

 

Commentary, Defending Democracy, News

Republicans try a double “Hail Mary” in state gerrymandering case

Not that it comes as much of a surprise, but North Carolina Republican leaders have resorted to filing another “Hail Mary” delaying motion in the anti-gerrymandering case of Common Cause v. Lewis. As you may recall, Common Cause v. Lewis is the state court action which challenges the constitutionality of state legislative maps under the state constitution that Republicans admittedly gerrymandered for partisan purposes. It is different from the cases of League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. Rucho and Rucho v. Common Cause described here earlier today, which deal with the state’s gerrymandered congressional map.

Being a case that deals exclusively with state matters, Common Cause v. Lewis was, appropriately, filed in state court. This fact, however, scares the you-know-what out of Republicans due to their concern that state court judges — most notably the state Supreme Court — may well prove receptive to the argument that partisan gerrymandering of the kind that has been inflicted on North Carolina voters is unconstitutional. State judges in Pennsylvania recently took such a position in a similar case.

Faced with the prospect of losing their gerrymandered state legislative maps in state court, Republican defendants in the case have been flailing wildly to avoid or at least delay such an outcome. Recently, they sought to remove the matter to federal court, but that effort was quickly swatted down by Judge Louise Flanagan, who sent the matter back to state court. Now, however, Republicans are trying another absurd delaying tactic.

Yesterday, GOP lawyer Phil Strach (the husband of state elections board executive director Kim Strach) filed a motion in federal court seeking an additional delay on the grounds that the the court’s remand order is subject to an automatic 30 day stay. In their response filed earlier today, lawyers for the plaintiffs described the GOP motion as “baseless” and a “transparent effort to pile delay upon delay.” This is from the plaintiffs’ brief:

Undeterred by this Court’s rejection of their baseless removal, Legislative Defendants have now filed an equally baseless motion seeking to bar the clerk of this Court from mailing a certified copy of the Court’s remand order to the state court for 30 days. But, as Legislative Defendants would have learned had they called to ask, the clerk’s office already mailed the certified remand order before Legislative Defendants filed the instant motion. As Legislative Defendants themselves acknowledge, this means the state court has already regained jurisdiction over this case and can proceed immediately, and Legislative Defendants’ motion is thus moot. Beyond that, the 30-day automatic stay under Rule 62(a) does not apply here for multiple other reasons, including that this case is exempt from Rule 62(a)’s automatic stay because Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief, and Rule 62(a) does not apply to remand orders in any event.

Legislative Defendants’ motion is nothing more than a transparent effort to pile delay on delay. Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court deny the motion immediately and award such further relief as the Court deems necessary to deter any further gamesmanship by Legislative Defendants to stall state-court proceedings in this case.

The ruling on the motion will, of course, come down to the federal court’s interpretation and application of some rather esoteric rules of civil procedure, but at its core, what this dispute is really about is a desperate GOP attempt to delay the case at all costs in the hope that they can run out the clock on the state court challenge and preserve their gerrymandered maps for another election in 2020.

Let’s hope the federal court quickly sees the scheme for what it is.

Commentary

Editorial rightfully blasts GOP’s “erratic,” “silly” behavior in 9th District controversy

Dallas Woodhouse

Robin Hayes

Be sure to check out this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com — “Playground antics don’t help resolve real worries about election conduct.” The essay rightfully takes GOP bosses Dallas Woodhouse and Robin Hayes to task for their bizarre and irresponsible behavior regarding the flawed election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

The only adjective that the essay probably should have used to characterize the wacky Woodhouse/Hayes show is “Trumpian,” because most of what the pair has been saying makes about as much sense as a Trump tweet storm. Here are some on-the-mark excerpts:

The performances of North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes and the party’s Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse – amid efforts by Gov. Roy Cooper to keep state regulation of elections up and running – might easily be confused with behavior on a bad day at a pre-school child care center.

Their confrontational comments and inappropriate comportment came as a recent court order put the status of the State Board of Elections in limbo as it works to fairly and diligently handle the disputed election in the Ninth Congressional District. Hayes and Woodhouse don’t want an adult resolution. They want a schoolyard bully’s victory….

Their behavior has been erratic. In less than a month, they and other GOP leaders have: Demanded the Republican candidate Mark Harris be declared the winner; Supported a delay in certification of a winner pending a full investigation; Said the alleged improper activity tainted the Republican primary so there needed to be a full do-over and; Now, again, demanding Harris be certified the election winner.

In a silly statement Hayes said if he didn’t get his way he wouldn’t play, refusing to allow ANY Republican to take part in the interim Elections Board Democrat Cooper was forming. He took to playground name-calling.

After reminding readers of the seriousness of the allegations in the 9th District, the editorial concludes this way:

Republican leaders are emerging as a distractive sideshow to the very serious business of elections and governing. It isn’t entertaining.

It is past time for the state’s Republicans to shut down their not-ready-for-prime-time reality show. Stop the stonewalling. Stop the bullying. Join in building a North Carolina that welcomes a variety of voices and serves EVERYONE regardless of ideology or political affiliation.