Commentary

Burr and Tillis stick to their irresponsible, NRA-funded lines in aftermath of Florida high school massacre

Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that North Carolina’s U.S. senators are two of the top four campaign funding recipients from the National Rifle Association. What a shock it is, therefore, to read in the remainder of the story that neither man is willing to say or do anything of substance to address the crisis that afflicts our nation as a result of the widespread easy availability of mass killing machines. Here is the most maddening section of the N&O story:

“On Thursday Burr declined to say whether he thinks assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in Wednesday’s shooting should be banned, or their magazines limited.

‘I’ll leave it up to investigators to finish their investigation,’ he said.

Pressed on whether gun control should at least be discussed, he said, ‘I’ll wait until they come out with their full report.’”

Give us a break, Dick. Wait for a full report? Such a statement is akin to refusing to take a stand on cigarettes until more studies come in about their health effects. What the hell else do we need to know? Did we need an investigator’s report to tell us that bazookas, flamethrowers and long range cannons shouldn’t be sold at Wal-Mart? Dick, our nation is already drenched in the blood of mass shootings committed by sick people with military-style assault weapons and your serial inaction on the matter has aided and abetted the crisis.

For his part, Tillis took his usual route of a political wimpdom by avoiding the issue and calling via a Tweet for people to “keep the victims, their families, first responders and the community in your thoughts and prayers.”

Sorry, Thom, that’s not going to cut it. North Carolinians already know how and when to pray. What they elected you to do is to make their lives better, safer and freer and one of the best ways to do that would be for you to unhook yourself from the narcotic of NRA cash and get serious about passing laws that would save lives and reduce the terror factor in our schools, movie theaters and other public places.

The good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence put it this way in an email distributed early this morning:

“We all saw the awful news. Yet another nearly unspeakable, yet highly preventable, mass killing. 17 people killed at a Florida high school by a murderer using an AR-15 military style assault rifle.

The Florida killer used an AR-15, the same type of military style assault weapon used repeatedly in mass shootings, including Sandy Hook School, Orlando and Las Vegas. These weapons do not belong in the hands of civilians….

Congress’s inaction is outrageous but we can’t stop pushing. Clearly, lives depend on it. And while of course our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones, taking time for thoughts and prayers has become a delay tactic. This has to stop.

Until Congress acts, it’s just a matter of time until the next assault weapon massacre. It is high time to start really honoring the American lives lost and preventing more carnage.

BAN MILITARY ASSAULT WEAPONS NOW!

Commentary

The gun madness continues as American school shootings reach truly obscene levels

Ho hum. Another day, another 17 American children gunned down in what ought to be one of the safest havens in society by a disturbed man-child with a mass killing machine.

As the New York Times explains this morning, the numbers have become certifiably obscene:

“When a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, it rattled Newtown, Conn., and reverberated across the world. Since then, there have been at least 273 school shootings nationwide. In those incidents, 439 people were shot, 121 of whom were killed….

The shootings have taken place at sporting events and in parking lots, cafeterias, hallways and classrooms.

A shooting took place Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., about an hour northwest of Miami. As of Wednesday night, 17 people had been killed and the number of people injured was unknown.

Twelve of the 272 shootings shown below can be classified as mass shootings, events in which four or more people are shot.

On average, there have been seven school shootings each month, including episodes that were not mass shootings.”

A few years back, editors of the online humor website known as The Onion featured a darkly funny but painfully on-the-mark headline about gun violence that read as follows: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Sadly and amazingly, this sentence continues to capture the essence of the utterly mad gun violence crisis that plagues America: the only nation in which mass killing machines are afforded the same societal protection as speech, religious belief and the right to due process of law.

Commentary

Corruption tag team: NC congressman revives payday lending; Trump administration produces “romance scam” placemats

Rep. Patrick McHenry

If you ever harbor any questions as to what Trumpism looks like in all of its corrupt, dog-eat-dog, predatory splendor, there are two classic examples from our nation’s capital today to jog your memory.

Exhibit One is the laughably entitled “Protecting Consumers’ Access to Credit Act of 2017” — a bill on which the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote today at the behest of its chief sponsor, North Carolina congressman Patrick McHenry. As you probably surmised, the measure has nothing to do with protecting consumers and is instead a blatant attempt by the payday lending industry’s favorite congressman to revive the discredited and predatory practice nationwide. This is from an alert distributed by actual consumer advocates:

“The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on HR 3299 this week, a bill that would let 400% payday lenders evade North Carolina’s strong interest rate caps by partnering with an out of state bank.

When payday lenders were kicked out of North Carolina in 2001, some used an illegal backdoor ‘rent a bank’ scheme to keep making 400% payday loans in our state for five more years. Our NC Attorney General and Commissioner of Banks were the first state regulators to put an end to this sham arrangement, forcing the last payday lenders out of North Carolina in 2006.

Now a bill is moving in Congress that would undo this victory. This bill would bless these ‘rent a bank’ schemes and encourage them to spread by legalizing loans that are briefly originated by a bank, no matter how high the interest rate, even if the bank has little involvement and the loans are immediately sold to a payday lender.

Representative Patrick McHenry sponsored this bill and all three House Financial Services Committee members from North Carolina voted to support this dangerous bill: Reps. McHenry (R, NC-10), Robert Pittenger (R, NC-09), and Ted Budd (R, NC-13).”

Sadly, none of this is a particular surprise. McHenry was an avid apologist for the payday sharks during his brief and undistinguished tenure in the General Assembly and has been one of the industry’s most loyal lapdogs in Washington. Unfortunately, the rise of Trumpism has provided new momentum to his destructive scheming and the bill will be tough to stop. If it passes the House, consumer advocates are hoping that the Senate will keep the measure from finding its way to the desk of the Predator-in-Chief and the corrupt lackeys he has installed at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Speaking of the CFPB, its latest malfeasance is today’s Exhibit #2. This week, the bureau abandoned litigation that had been launched under Obama appointees to crack down on a predatory lender that was charging thousands of consumers 950% interest on loans. And, what you might ask, is the bureau proposing to do instead? According to a news release yesterday — we are not making this up — it will now devote significant attention to producing “romance scam” placemats. This is from the news release: Read more

Commentary

National environmental expert: Why Trump’s infrastructure plan is doomed to failure

If you’re trying to get your arms around President Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan, be sure to check out the assessment provided by Dr. Joe Romm at Think Progress. Romm calls the plan “a whole lot of waste, just like his border wall.”

This is from Romm’s post:

“The President’s long-awaited $1.5 trillion plan rolled out on Monday had already been widely criticized for including a mere $200 billion in actual federal money — and a lot of wishful thinking about leveraging vast amounts of state and local revenue.

But the plan’s proposal to gut the normal environmental review process and quickly push through projects without adequate vetting is disastrous. Worsening deluges, sea level rise, extended droughts, and ever hotter temperatures will test even the most carefully designed projects. But it will likely ruin the least carefully designed ones.

‘The impact of not considering climate change when planning infrastructure means you end up building the wrong thing, in the wrong place, to the wrong standards,’ as urban planning and climate expert Michael Kuby told the New York Times. ‘That’s a whole lot of waste.’

Also, failing to consider climate change could put lives at risk if infrastructure isn’t designed to handle the kind of super-storms scientists say we’ll see more of in the future.

A 277-page peer-reviewed report from Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency found that by 2100, the cumulative cost of adapting just the nation’s roads to climate change would be $230 billion. That’s for the business-as-usual emissions scenario for carbon pollution that Trump’s pro-pollution policies would result in.”

The post goes on to explain how the plan would sidestep or eliminate several vital environmental rules and procedures, including important parts of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act and turn environmental reviews over to the states. Here’s the conclusion:

“So the federal government could simply hand over environmental review to any state.

But the fact that Trump and much of the staff of the White House and the federal agencies deny climate science — as do the governors of key states like Florida — means that climate impacts are unlikely to be part of any serious review.

Therefore, if anything like this plan were passed, it could wreak untold environmental havoc on the country — all in the name of quickly building a lot of expensive infrastructure that is doomed to fail.”

In other words, like just about everything else he’s ever done, Trump’s plan is all show and little substance. What a surprise.

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend: State Senate guilty of “felony-level fraud”

The Fayetteville Observer let loose with some real, on-the-mark haymakers this weekend in a scathing takedown of last week’s inadequate effort by North Carolina Senate leaders to respond to the GenX water pollution crisis. This is from “Senate GenX response is a dangerous fraud”:

“At first we thought we were witnessing a miracle. Imagine: N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, barely a month after refusing to consider a bipartisan, unanimously passed House bill funding a stepped-up response to GenX pollution, turns around and pushes a Senate version of the bill that allocates even more money to the project. A stunning turnabout for the state’s champion of deregulating just about everything.

And then we looked at what’s in the bill. Turns out it’s felony-level fraud. It’s also yet another assault on the state Department of Environmental Quality and a plan to further abdicate responsibility for the health and safety of the North Carolina residents who get their drinking water from the Cape Fear River or from wells in polluted countryside around the Chemours plant on the Cumberland-Bladen county line.”

After noting that the Senate bill basically told DEQ officials to get lost on key aspects of responding to the crisis (by, for instance, failing to fund adequate equipment to test for GenX and other emerging contaminants, pushing a bunch of cash to a crony of Senate leader Phil Berger who spent years fighting environmental protection before being been installed at UNC-Chapel Hill and making the money that is in the bill a “one-time” expenditure), the editorial concludes this way:

“And then the grand frosting on the cake: In the next fiscal year, the Senate wants to cut another $1 million out of the DEQ’s already inadequate budget.

This constitutes political fraud on a grand scale and is the most blatant statement we’ve yet seen from the Senate and its powerful leader that they have no real interest in protecting the health and safety of their constituents. The Senate GenX bill makes it clear that Berger and the rest of his Senate leadership are out to protect the interests of big business — and big contributors — and that they really don’t see any problem with the dumping of dangerous wastes into rivers, streams and groundwater that are the source of drinking water for millions of North Carolina residents.

For decades, this state’s voters have shrugged away concerns about pollution, as have our lawmakers. But now they’re confronting something that may be dangerous in even minuscule amounts, something that can’t readily be filtered out of the water supply. The public response to GenX is new and different for North Carolina. Residents of this region want the state to be on their side, to protect them from this threat. The Senate’s cynical response is deeply disappointing. And if the Senate doesn’t get serious, it may come back to haunt Senate Republicans on Election Day.”