Commentary

Momentum for Medicaid expansion continues to build; another NC GOP legislator lends support

The number of states resisting Medicaid expansion continues to dwindle. Earlier this year, Virginia finally joined the large majority of states by providing coverage to 400,000 people who had been locked out of the Affordable Care Act for years.

Now, word comes that Nebraska may on the verge of following suit. This is from a story in the Omaha World Herald:

“Supporters of a Medicaid expansion proposal cheered Wednesday after the Nebraska Supreme Court cleared away the last obstacle to voters having a say on the measure.

The State Supreme Court ruled against a lawsuit filed by former State Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial and Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft that sought to keep the measure off the Nov. 6 ballot.

The proposal, which will appear on the ballot as Initiative 427, already met the requirements for collecting petition signatures.

Supporters submitted almost 137,000 signatures of registered voters in early July. Last month, Secretary of State John Gale certified almost 105,000 signatures as valid, far more than the 84,000 required to put the measure before voters.

Meg Mandy, campaign manager for Insure the Good Life, which led the petition drive, said the court had ‘once again landed on the side of the voters.'”

Let’s hope that Nebraska voters do the right thing by approving the proposal and that it sends another loud message to North Carolina Republicans that their destructive blockade on this issue must come to a close.

Rep. Chuck McGrady

One small signal that things continue to inch in the right direction on this front comes from a recent news story on WLOS.com in western

North Carolina. In it, Republican state lawmaker Chuck McGrady responds to a question on the subject by saying he will, if re-elected, sponsor legislation in 2019 to end the GOP blockade:

“Would you vote to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act?
Yes. If I am re-elected, I will co-sponsor legislation next year that improves access to quality healthcare by providing an option to lower-income, working residents of North Carolina in a new health insurance product called “Carolina Cares.” It establishes a program for residents of the state who are not currently eligible for Medicaid and have been left out of the Affordable Care Act.”

Commentary

Today’s non-hurricane “must read”: Has NC become democracy’s twilight zone?

For those North Carolinians who find themselves staring at their computer screens and mobile devices today, awaiting Florence’s painfully slow arrival, there’s a non-hurricane related essay on WRAL.com today that ought to be a “must read.” It’s authored by Bob Phillips, the veteran leader of the state’s Common Cause affiliate and it’s entitled “Has North Carolina become democracy’s twilight zone?” here are some excerpts:

“Just as the state is preparing for the November election, the federal government last week dropped a bombshell of a subpoena on 44 eastern North Carolina county boards of elections and the State Board of Elections. The order: Turn over all ballots, poll books, absentee ballot requests, registration applications and other election related documents since 2010. Do so by Sept. 25.

That’s was a request for 20 million voting records to be turned over inside a month. While federal officials have pushed their deadline back to after the election, it is by any standard a massive and expensive request.

This incredible demand is traced to ICE, the federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency. It comes after a federal grand jury’s indictment against 19 foreign nationals for possible voter fraud in our state during the 2016 election.

Nineteen people who may have voted illegally. Nineteen people out of 4.5 million ballots cast in the 2016 election. Nineteen people who range in ages from 30’s to 70’s and come from countries in Europe, South America and Asia.

That is 0.0004% of all those who voted in 2016. Is this what widespread voter fraud looks like?

And does 19 individuals possibly voting illegally in the 2016 election really warrant the subpoena of millions of voting records going back to 2010?

Apparently so for ICE, the U.S. Attorney’s office in eastern North Carolina, the state legislative leadership who’ve remained silent and some of our Republican congressional representatives who seem to think the feds don’t need to be questioned about any of this.

Contrast the muted concern over this massive government request for the personal information of millions of North Carolina citizens with the outrage these same members of congress are expressing outrage over the Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 election.

By the way, the feds’ document demand includes up to 2 million ballots that will show how people voted. Breaching the privacy of the ballot box didn’t seem to matter to our U.S. Attorney serving the Eastern District of our state.

But wait, there’s more. The feds also subpoenaed the state Division of Motor Vehicles asking for every voter registration application since 2010 from foreign-born applicants as well as any application forms completed in a language other than English.

We all want our elections to be fair and without any fraudulent voting. But it’s hard to square the demand for millions of voting records just before an election as being reasonable.”

After noting that the subpoenas target parts of the state with minority populations that have long been the target of conservative voter suppression efforts, Phillips concludes this way:

“Sadly, this is North Carolina’s story in recent years – suppress the vote by law if you can or by intimidation – as in ICE requesting a mountain of sensitive voting records just before an election.

To the State Board of Elections’ credit, the bipartisan board of four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated member all came together and unanimously voted to direct their attorney to fight the subpoena.

The state Attorney General’s office has filed a separate action and at least two N.C. Democratic members of congress are calling for an independent investigation.

So, the drama continues. The request for voting records remains.

But it’s encouraging to see a growing number of people realize the overreach of what is an unprecedented and outrageous demand from a federal government agency on our state.

Fight back indeed. Our democracy is worth it.”

Click here to read the entire op-ed.

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Just before Florence, Trump administration transfers $10M from FEMA to ICE

You really can’t make this stuff up. It was just a couple of months ago that the Trump administration’s Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) admitted in a report on the tragically botched Puerto Rico hurricane response that it was “ill-prepared to handle the crisis” and that it “urges communities in harm’s way not to count so heavily on FEMA in a future crisis.”

Now, these people are retreating even further from their duties and responsibilities.

As Roll Call reports:

“On the eve of Hurricane Florence hitting the U.S. coast, Democratic lawmakers expressed outrage that the Homeland Security Department transferred nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a reprogramming move this summer.

Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office on Wednesday released documents confirming that $9.8 million from FEMA’s operations and support budget was diverted to fund ICE’s detention facilities and deportation operations.

The Oregon Democrat first discussed the DHS report on MSNBC’s ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ on Tuesday evening. DHS was allocating money from FEMA to ICE to fund ‘additional detention camps,’ he said.

The DHS documents released by Merkley give this justification for the money reprogramming: ‘Without the transfers and reprogramming identified in this notification, ICE will not be able to fulfill its adult detention requirements in FY 2018. Insufficient funding could require ICE to release any new book-ins and illegal border violators. ICE will not be able to deport those who have violated immigration laws. ICE could also be forced to reduce its current interior enforcement operations, curtailing criminal alien and fugitive arrests — which would pose a significant risk to public safety and national security by permitting known offenders to remain at large.’”

Trump officials deny that the transfer will impact the hurricane relief budget, but given FEMA’s already depleted state and admissions of past failure, the transfer — at a minimum — sends a terrible message about priorities.

As Mississippi congressman Bennie Thompson pointed out:“This is yet another example of the Trump administration’s outrageously misplaced homeland security priorities. We have a president who cares more about locking up families seeking asylum and putting kids in cages than ensuring FEMA has every resource necessary to prepare for and respond to disasters.”

Commentary

Advocate fact-checks Phil Berger’s claims on student literacy — Hint: They’re off-base

In a recent post on his blog, “Notes from the Chalkboard,” public education advocate Justin Parmenter offers a powerful  critique of recent claims by state Senate President Pro Tem regarding the latest school test results. Here’s an excerpt:

“As official public school test results were released this week, Senator Phil Berger sang the praises of North Carolina’s Republican legislature’s education policy. The new batch of GOP campaign graphics he tweeted spoke of effective ‘major education reforms’ which have strengthened student literacy, among other things.

Time for a little fact checking.

Berger’s major education reform when it comes to literacy was the Read to Achieve initiative. When Read to Achieve was passed in 2012, the legislation was intended to end social promotion and help 3rd graders avoid what Berger called the “economic death sentence” awaiting students who are unable to read proficiently. The initiative attempted to improve reading by increasing the volume of assessment in grades K-3 and ratcheting up the threats of retention, essentially punishing children for not being able to read well enough in early grades.  That’s not the approach an effective teacher would take. A good educator works to understand where the child is coming from and develop unique supports that best fit his or her individual circumstances. A good educator knows that punitive measures seldom result in long term success.

Take a look at how Berger’s education reform has really impacted student literacy:

Apart from a 0.1% increase from 2015-16 to 2016-17, third grade reading proficiency in North Carolina has declined every single year since Read to Achieve was implemented and is down a whopping 5% overall, with last year’s test results showing the sharpest decline.

The data are clear that Berger’s Read to Achieve initiative has completely failed in its goal of strengthening student literacy. It’s dishonest and insulting to the intelligence of North Carolina voters to claim otherwise in an effort to gain political support.”

News

Coastal expert: Florence could be “storm of record for North Carolina”

Professor Robert Young, Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, has released a new document this afternoon that analyzes the potential storm surge that could impact North Carolina as a result of Hurricane Florence and it’s not a pretty picture. Young’s analysis shows that Florence could produce a record storm surge because, in part, it will approach the coast perpendicularly similar to past disastrous storms to impact the U.S. like Hazel (1954), Hugo (1989) and Katrina (2005).

“Hurricane Florence is likely to generate significant storm surge in North Carolina or South Carolina because it meets all of the above criteria (assuming that the projected track/intensity will hold). The storm will approach the coast close to perpendicularly. The northern side of the storm will see onshore winds pushing a large envelope of water. The storm will be traveling straight towards the coast for days, pushing a lot of water in front of it. There are two embayments in the impact area that could focus flood waters and accentuate storm surge heights.”

Young’s storm surge analysis goes on to list the highest recorded storm surges at Sunset Beach, Carolina beach, Wrightsville Beach, Topsail Island and Myrtle and North Myrtle Beaches in South Carolina. Click here to read the entire sobering document.