Commentary

The best editorials of the weekend

Congressman Mark Walker

The Triad newspaper twins (the Greensboro News & Record and Winston-Salem Journal) featured almost identical editorials over the weekend about the state’s newly-approve congressional map. Their shared assessment: the map might be a little better than the old one, but it’s still fatally flawed.

As the Journal put it on Saturday:

The redrawn districts are a slight improvement, but they won’t be as competitive as they should be. Republicans and Democrats are roughly equal in number in North Carolina, but there will still be a Republican advantage, thanks to the party’s success in gerrymandering over the last decade. Ten of the 13 House seats belonged to solid Republican districts before the map was redrawn. Political analysts say the new map is likely to shift the outcome to eight solid Republican and five solid Democrat districts, with the 2nd and 6th districts flipping blue.

After exploring the various impacts the new set-up will have on certain races and the all-too-telling explanation from a spokesperson for Congressman Mark Walker for his boss’s decision not to run in the redrawn 6th District (“Rep. Walker is going to run where his constituents are”), the editorial put it this way:

Fair and transparent elections should be a nonpartisan issue. A new congressional map will be drawn in 2022 after the U.S. Census, but before then, all of our legislators, Democrat, Republican and independent, should work together to authorize an independent commission to draw the lines. The results may not be perfect, but they will be better than allowing legislators to continue choosing their voters.

Residents who want to work for fair elections may resolve, in 2020, to support good-government groups like Common Cause N.C., with donations and volunteer efforts. We shouldn’t have to become activists to ensure fair elections, but with legislators who keep seeking unfair advantages, it may be the only way.

The N&R editorial ended this way:

The results under such a system might not be perfect, but they would be a vast improvement.

Legislators should not be able to handpick their voters in tailor-made safe districts.

In other words, gerrymandering remains a plague on our democracy and needs to come to an end.

Commentary, News

New “must read’ report confirms once again that offshore drilling is not for NC

In case you missed it, a new report released earlier this week by the good people at Environment North Carolina confirms once again the utter folly of the Trump administration’s plan to bring offshore oil drilling to the North Carolina coast. This is from the release that accompanied the report:

Image: Environment NC

Plans to expand drilling off the coast of North Carolina could have significant negative impacts onshore, according to a new report released by Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center. From pipelines running through sensitive coastal habitats to air pollution released by oil refineries, “Offshore Drilling, Onshore Damage: Broken Pipelines, Dirty Refineries and the Pollution Impacts of Energy Infrastructure” highlights how onshore industrial infrastructure created for offshore drilling damages our environment in a variety of ways….

According to the report, pipelines running from offshore rigs to inland processing facilities can degrade estuaries’ water quality and risk spilling oil across our beloved beaches. In addition, toxic waste brought onshore from drilling operations can pollute drinking water and tracts of land. Beyond those issues, air pollution from oil refineries can threaten local residents’ health.

The study shows that these problems could only get worse. Expanding offshore drilling, as the Department of the Interior proposed last year, could lead to additional infrastructure pollution in previously pristine coastal areas, where communities have long been able to avoid this type of industrialization….

“[Oil companies] must undertake a proper impact assessment in order to really avoid the most sensitive receptors, taking into account for example, commercial fishing areas, coastal tourism, reefs, right whale migration routes and shipwrecks,” says Dr. Joni Backstrom of UNC Wilmington.

“The North Carolina coast, along with Florida and Louisiana, are the three most impacted coastlines for storm occurrences in the U.S. Though platforms are designed to resist storm impacts, there have certainly been issues with platforms, pipelines, and onshore storage facilities. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 led to spills of over 11 million gallons,” says Professor Roger Shew (also of UNCW), “And with somewhat increasing storm intensities, such as seen with Dorian and Michael, we should be aware of the possibilities of damages associated with these types of storms.”

In January 2018, the Trump administration released a plan to open more than 90 percent of America’s oceans to oil & gas drilling, including off North Carolina’s coast. The plan is an unprecedented expansion of offshore drilling and faces stiff opposition, including from every governor along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

“Whether it causes oil spills off our coast or pollution on our shores, offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous,” said Duvall, “We don’t want drilling off our coast, now or ever.”

Click here to explore the report.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial takes Richard Burr to task for spreading Trump’s lies about Ukraine

Richard Burr conferring with Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia at a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the new lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer/News & Observer twins on Senator Richard Burr’s latest maddening and disingenuous statements about foreign interference in U.S. elections. As the editorial notes, Burr clearly knows the score.

As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated the issue at great length, Burr knows that Russia was guilty of massive meddling in the 2016 election and that claims by Russia’s lackey (President Donald Trump) that it was actually Ukraine that was doing the meddling are pure baloney.

Unfortunately, as the editorial points out, Burr still went along with other Republican apologists for Trump recently in advancing the debunked claims about Ukraine.

“There’s no difference in the way Russia put their feet, early on, on the scale — being for one candidate and everybody called it meddling — and how the Ukrainian officials did it,” Burr said as he and other Republican senators spoke with reporters around their weekly lunch on Tuesday.

That comment must have startled the Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., since the committee’s investigation found that Russia alone engaged in a systematic effort to help the Trump campaign. Warner tweeted: “There is absolutely no factual basis for this Ukrainian election interference/CrowdStrike nonsense. None. Spreading this discredited conspiracy theory only serves to advance Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaign against the United States.”

Discarding his tin foil hat, Burr later retreated from his comment, telling CNN: “I don’t think anybody interfered in the same way Russia did.” Though, deferring to Trump, he added that Ukraine played a role: “But it’s a legitimate argument that they interfered — that they were active.”

That “legitimate argument” is illegitimate according to Burr’s own committee. Politico reported on Monday that in the fall of 2017 the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated whether Ukraine played any role in the election “and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin’s efforts to help Trump win in 2016.”

In other words, Burr is — Surprise!! — talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Of course, if this were Thom Tillis in action, such behavior would be completely expected. In the case, however, of Burr (a veteran GOP lawmaker who has already decided not to run for re-election and who has generally acted as a straight shooter on the election interference issue), the statements are especially frustrating and potentially destructive.
Here’s the conclusion to the editorial:

It’s no surprise that Burr is supportive of Trump. He was the national security adviser to the Trump campaign. But at a time when other Republican senators are giving weight to claims that the nation’s intelligence agencies have found without merit, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman shouldn’t join in.

Trump brought this impeachment inquiry on himself. Let him defend himself. Burr’s role, if he can manage to stay in it, is to defend the United States.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

Editorial blasts Virginia Foxx for impeachment absenteeism

Rep. Virginia Foxx

In case you missed it, another important political observer — the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record — has weighed in on Congresswoman Virginia Foxx’s strange behavior regarding the House impeachment proceedings.

As Progressive Pulse readers will recall from our November 21 story, Foxx, a senior member on one of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, has skipped the vast majority of closed-door impeachment depositions. Yesterday, the News & Record assessed Foxx’s actions this way in a powerful editorial:

Maybe those Republicans who didn’t bother to go to the depositions knew the truth behind the loud public indignation: House Democrats weren’t doing anything wrong. Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. The rules of a courtroom trial don’t apply. Even if they did, the early stages when witnesses are being interviewed to see if impeachment is justified are more like grand jury proceedings — which are closed to the public.

The Democrats were playing by the rules when they chose to question witnesses in the early part of the process in private. They said the closed doors would allow witnesses to speak more frankly. Privacy also means those asking questions are less likely to grandstand. In fact, the rules the Democrats were following had been set by Republicans in 2015, when they controlled the House. Under those rules, it’s fine to do the initial interviewing of witnesses in secret. No sham or Soviet conspiracy is involved. It’s the formal impeachment hearing, like the Senate trial that would follow, that has to be public.

Republicans and diehard Trump supporters were full of sound and fury, railing against those early closed-door hearings. Could it be that they find it easier to try to paint the impeachment proceedings themselves as flawed than it is to defend the president against mounting evidence? Stay tuned.

Commentary

NY Times columnist: NC court decision is another victory for gerrymandering

In case you missed it, be sure to check out New York Times columnist David Leonhardt’s morning essay in which he rightfully describes yesterday’s cop-out of a state superior court ruling in which a three-judge panel approved the latest GOP-drawn congressional map as another win for gerrymandering.

Here’s Leonhardt:

It’s an unfortunate ruling, because it rewards a political party for dragging its feet on gerrymandering: The more slowly a party responds to court orders, the more elections it can win.

Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida, described the ruling as an “open invitation” to gerrymander again in the future. “Hey look! You can use an unconstitutional map for one or two election cycles!” McDonald tweeted. “There is no moral hazard for a legislature who gerrymanders.”

Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections wrote: “Justice delayed is justice denied when it comes to redistricting. Rulings like this one allow legislators to get away with illegal gerrymanders for an election or two simply because litigation takes so long & taxpayers pay the cost.”

Perhaps the clearest problem with the new map is its unnatural splitting of the Fayetteville area, in the south-central part of the state, to protect Republican incumbents, Wolf explained. Under the new map, a tied statewide popular vote would likely leave Republicans with eight of the state’s 13 seats, down from 10 of 13 under the old map.

Leonhardt ends the column on a semi-optimistic note by pointing out that the national fight against gerrymandering continues to build momentum, but his obvious bottom line assessment (and that of many other redistricting experts across the country) is that, having put themselves in a position to strike an important blow for democracy,  Judges Ridgeway, Hinton and Crosswhite blinked and instead issued a dreadful clunker of a ruling that guarantees yet another rigged congressional election in North Carolina next year.

Click here to read Leonhardt’s column.