Commentary

Strip malls, amusement parks and gated communities for the rich: America without its national parks

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Image: National Park Service

Today is the 100th anniversary of a truly great American public institution — the National Park Service. To commemorate the anniversary, the NPS itself is promoting a host of events on this dedicated website.

Other groups and media outlets are also weighing in as well. This story from USA Today, which features a great three minute video with filmmaker Ken Burns does an especially good job of explaining the importance of the parks.

Here’s Burns:

“What is there were no national parks? Yosemite and Zion would be gated communities that only the rich…all the property along the Grand Canyon’s rim would be owned by the wealthy and the Everglades would have long ago been drained and would be an endless series of developments and strip malls and golf courses. Yellowstone would be called “Geyser World.” It would be a down on its luck amusement park. I mean, that is what we be without the national parks.”

Burns’ musings are not fanciful. The forces that resisted the creation of the parks and that continually seek to expand private development and exploitation within them to this day, remain devoted to the supposed infallibility of the “free market” and resistant to the idea of public ownership as somehow “socialistic.” In other words, while today marks an important day worth celebrating, it is also a day on which al Americans should recommit themselves to preserving and expanding this precious heritage.

Click here for a list of National Park Service sites in North Carolina.

Commentary

Today’s “must read” – Toxic waste site in Columbus County shows impact of lax environmental protection efforts

Current land use near polluted Holtrachem siteIt seems that hardly a day goes by in Raleigh anymore in which some conservative politician, corporate lobbyist or right-wing think tanker isn’t complaining about “burdensome environmental regulations.” The result of this drumbeat over the past five years, of course, has been the dismantling of the state’s environmental protection laws and the agency that was supposed to enforce them.

Most people with any common sense (along with eyes to see and a nose to smell) recognize that this is an absurd state of affairs. If anything, North Carolina’s natural environment is — as both our population and use of resources continues to grow — more endangered than ever.

Still, for those comfortably ensconced in their air conditioned cars and neatly manicured suburbs, the reality of the environmental degradation that plagues our state can be easy to ignore. That’s why stories like Lisa Sorg’s excellent report on the main NC Policy Watch site this morning are so important. As Sorg explains in “In Columbus County, mercury, PCBs and a long-overdue Superfund cleanup point to a larger problem: accountability” the environmental crisis in our state remains just that — a crisis — in many areas. Here’s the introduction:

“The air smells acrid in Riegelwood, where a faint breeze scours your sinuses with the scent of sulfur coming from the International Paper plant. All day long, dozens of semi-trucks, loaded with logs, pull onto John Riegel Road headed for the factory. Here, the wood will be chemically boiled and bleached to make fluff pulp, a material used in disposable diapers.

What you can’t see or smell is nested within International Paper’s property: one of the most contaminated areas in North Carolina. A facility formerly owned by Holtrachem is a hotbed of mercury and cancer-causing PCBs, dioxins and furans. For decades, toxic chemicals from these 24 acres have intermittently drained, at times, even gushed into the nearby Cape Fear River, which runs through Columbus County on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Mercury has poisoned workers and fish. PCBs, so dangerous their manufacture was banned in the U.S. in 1983, still stain the soil….

Holtrachem is one of 39 Superfund sites in North Carolina and 1,300 in the United States. Nationwide, more than 50 million people live within three miles of a site; in Riegelwood, nearly the entire unincorporated town of 597 is within that range of Holtrachem.

And since polluting industries tend to locate in low-income or minority communities, these sites present a host of social justice issues, including damage to health, property values and quality of life. That’s true of Columbus County. A quarter of the population lives at or below the poverty level, yet there are two federal Superfund sites and 14 hazardous waste areas designated by the state.

As a result, these communities often lack sufficient resources to address health and environmental concerns,’ said Mathy Stanislaus, an assistant administrator at the EPA. He spoke at a July hearing of the House Subcommittee on the Environment and Economy, which is scrutinizing the effectiveness of Superfund.”

Use the following link to read the rest of Sorg’s important story and copy and paste it to share it with friends, family and anyone else who tries to tell you that our state has solved its environmental challenges:

http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/08/25/in-columbus-county-mercury-pcbs-and-a-long-overdue-superfund-cleanup-point-to-a-larger-problem-accountability/

Commentary

Wow…just wow. Lt. Governor Dan Forest explains “transgenderism”

Dan ForestNorth Carolina’s Lt. Governor Dan Forest (pictured at left) has never made much of a secret about his extreme positions on the issues of the day. You can click here for a partial summary. Forest’s latest statements in defense of North Carolina’s all-purpose LGBT discrimination law, House Bill 2, however, take things to a new low. This is from a story by reporter Amy Fuhrman of the Statesville Free News on Forest’s appearance yesterday at an event sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Businesses:

“Providing exceptions for transgender people creates a situation that could be dangerous for women and children, Forest claimed.

‘Transgenderism is a feeling … it could be a feeling just for the day,’ Forest said in explaining the fear of HB2 supporters that any man could claim to be transgender, thus ‘creating the potential for someone with nefarious purposes walking into a girls’ locker room.’

Throughout his talk, Forest invited attendees several times to fact check his statements.

Doing so did not support his claim that identifying as transgender is a ‘feeling.’ Instead, the American Psychological Association defines transgender as ‘an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.’

The APA goes on to discuss the complicated factors involved in a person who identifies as transgender. ‘The diversity of transgender expression and experiences argues against any simple or unitary explanation,’ according to the APA. ‘Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities.'”

Forest went on to make some other absurd comments about the Charlotte ordinance that gave rise to HB2, that Fuhrman also fact-checked: Read more

Commentary

Thom Tillis tells a tall tale about telecom

TillisIf you get a minute this morning, be sure to check out the outstanding letter to the editor that appears in Raleigh’s News & Observer from former North Carolina state lawmaker, Bill Faison. In it, Faison, shreds the lame, lobbyist-inspired excuses proffered by U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (pictured at left) for his kowtowing to powerful cable companies while serving as Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives.

At issue is the question of municipal broadband of the kind the city of Wilson developed and that telecom companies (with Tillis’ help) put the kibosh on. Here’s Faison:

“In a recent letter, Sen. Thom Tillis takes credit for protecting taxpayers when he should take the blame for their high internet and cable bills. In 2011 with Tillis’ help, New York companies shut down North Carolina cities’ efforts to provide high-speed internet to residents. Everyone knows that the information highway is the future….

When Wilson sought better high-speed internet for its residents, the “telecommunications company” with a territorial franchise to serve Wilson said “no….”

It introduced legislation to block residents from using their municipal governments to provide high-speed internet services. It even tried to hide its power grab by misnaming its bill. It was called the ‘Level Playing Field’ bill. The bill was carefully crafted to keep towns and cities out of the high-speed internet business. It created a completely unleveled playing field in favor of the near monopolistic telecommunication companies.

Many of us in the legislature joined forces with then-Speaker Joe Hackney to protect residents of cities and towns across this state and allow them the freedom to use their local municipal governments to provide much needed high-speed internet service. We were able to block the wealthy New York companies from taking away North Carolina residents’ rights through 2010.

When the Republicans gained control of the House and chose Tillis as speaker in 2011, the floodgates were opened to big, out-of-state businesses to take away our residents’ rights under the false flag of protecting taxpayer rights.

One of the first pieces of anti-resident, pro-big business legislation to run through the House was the bill that Tillis now touts as being a taxpayer bill. It was not. It was a power and money grab by wealthy out-of-state companies to disadvantage North Carolina residents – nothing more. The residents lost.

The FCC recognized the power grab and the unfair disadvantage to regular folks. The FCC blocked the big companies for a while. Big business took the FCC to court and won. The people lost.

Tillis’ Aug. 19 letter should have been captioned, ‘Another major loss for taxpayers.'”

Commentary

They cut taxes on the top 1% by how much?!!

Great Tax ShiftSometimes, the brazenness of conservative politicians in crafting public policy to benefit themselves and their rich patrons is just too much to be believed. Take, for instance, Gov. Pat McCrory and the North Carolina General Assembly. A new brief from the fiscal policy wonks at the N.C. Budget and Tax Center paints a truly remarkable portrait of what can only be described as “government of, by and for the top 1%.”

According to the latest BTC calculations, the tax cuts enacted between 2013 and 2016 in North Carolina will produce, among many other travesties, this remarkable result:

Say you had seven North Carolinians in one room representing the following income groups –

  • The bottom 20% (average income $12,000 per year),
  • The second 20% (average income $27,000 per year),
  • The middle 20% (average income $44,000 per year),
  • The fourth 20% (average income $73,000 per year),
  • The next 15% (average income $123,000 per year),
  • The next 4% (average income $259.000 per year) and
  • The top 1% (average income $1,072,000 per year).

The average member of the top 1% (someone who already brings in more than $1 million per year) will realize an annual tax cut that is larger than all of the others combined…multiplied by 5!

That was not a misprint. Under the tax cuts enacted by conservative state leaders in recent years, the richest people in North Carolina will receive an annual tax cut of $15,439. If you add up the tax cuts bestowed upon an average representative of all the other six income groups, the total combined figure is $3,044. And most of that ($2,220) would go to the second wealthiest individual. Folks in the middle get $83 per year. People in the poorest group will actually pay $10 per year more! Click here and scroll to page 5 to see the remarkable numbers.

Not surprisingly, these cuts are having (and will continue to have) a devastating impact on essential public structures and services. By Fiscal Year 2019-’20, the net annual revenue loss to the state will be more than $2 billion per year.

No wonder the supposed “Carolina Comeback” touted by state leaders is looking more and more like a “Carolina Con Job” to so many average working families.