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Commentary

It’s an open secret that many modern American conservatives want, as one of their ideological leaders put it with horrific and violent imagery a few years back, to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

And here in North Carolina, we can attest that the plan is fully operational. In area after area, our state’s right-wing leadership is doing its utmost to undermine our public structures — in education, healthcare, environmental protection — as part of a plan to hollow them out and sell them off.

Indeed, it’s not too far-fetched to begin to see some parallels between the Flint, Michigan water crisis and what’s going on here. Think about it. As I point out in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing (“The Right’s disingenuous propaganda about ‘choice'”) there are actually some striking parallels and important lessons:

“The simple truth is that public education is not a commodity or a consumer product. It is an indispensable component of a free and healthy society – like clean air and water or a public safety system.

Imagine if we told the people of Flint, Michigan that they are now ‘free’ from the ‘burdensome regulations’ of a failed public water system and have ‘choice’ when it comes to where they get their water. As outrageous as that would be, it’s hard to see how it differs much from the bill of goods school ‘choice’ champions are peddling here.”

Indeed, that’s precisely the nature of the scam: Keep under-funding public systems and structures and then, when they fail to perform up to snuff, blame it on the very nature of government and “bureaucracy” and use it as a justification to perpetuate the vicious cycle by cutting spending still further and selling off more public assets.

Let’s hope the crisis in Flint wakes people up to the simple reality that the only way for Americans to save their public structures and common good institutions from the privatizing vultures is to nurture them, invest in them and keep them strong.

Commentary

Leslie WinnerIn case you missed it, the best op-ed of the weekend was written for the Charlotte Observer by outgoing Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Executive Director Leslie Winner. In “A school that’s trying, succeeding – and gets a D,” Winner offers a devastating takedown of North Carolina’s absurd school grading system (i.e. the one that Senator Phil Berger modeled on Jeb Bush’s Florida scheme).

In the op-ed, Winner looks at the remarkable achievements of a middle school in Hamlet, North Carolina that has, against all odds, made tremendous progress in lifting the performances of its students, retaining good teachers and overcoming the daunting challenges that confront rural, high poverty schools. The numbers she reports are truly impressive.

“In 2015, 88 percent of the students exceeded expected growth, meaning they made a year or more of academic progress that school year and only 11 percent of teachers left, four out of 36, impressive for a high poverty, rural middle school.”

What’s more, school suspensions are down by 75%.

And the reward for principal Jim Butler and his staff? A Winner reports, the state of North Carolina gave the school a “D.” Again, here’s Winner:

“That’s because, under the State’s school grading system, 80 percent of the grade depends on what portion of students are on grade level, and all the work those teachers did to enable the students to achieve high academic growth, getting a year or more of learning that year, only counts for 20 percent of the grade.”

The point of Winner’s column is not to say that everything is hunky dory in Hamlet. The school and the community obviously have lots of progress still to make. But it’s a testament to the clumsy and destructive ham-handedness of North Carolina’s school grading system that it would brand such a school with, in effect, a scarlet “D.’ As she notes in conclusion: Read More

Commentary

This morning’s “must read” is the lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer. It concerns the nagging “Keith gate” story surrounding Gov. Pat McCrory, his Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry and the allegations regarding the demands of one of his big campaign contributors. Here’s the N&O:

“Frank Perry, the former senior FBI agent who now heads the state Department of Public Safety, prides himself on his reputation as a stand-up guy. Indeed, he has been a straight talker from his days in law enforcement and has been respected by elected officials Republican and Democratic.

But Perry seems to be digging himself into a controversy over an October 2014 meeting among Gov. Pat McCrory and senior officials and Graeme Keith Sr. and Graeme Keith Jr., who held through their companies lucrative contracts to do prison maintenance. McCrory, a friend of the Keiths, arranged the meeting.”

As the editorial goes on to explain, Perry’s story has changed. First Perry said he didn’t recall the Guv being in a “side conversation” (as McCrory has claimed) when Keith said he needed to get something in return for his generous campaign contributions and then, later, he claimed his “recollection is exactly the same as the governor’s.” Here’s the conclusion to the editorial:

After the October 2014 meeting, the governor asked Lee Roberts, his budget director, to determine whether Keith’s contracts, not endorsed by other state officials who were not as enthusiastic about “privatization” of services, should be extended. Roberts recommended they be extended for one year. They now have expired. Roberts, after a relatively short tenure, has resigned as budget director.

McCrory has a responsibility to clarify this, and yet he has declined to comment of late. That’s not helping his own credibility, and Perry’s apparently conflicting statements aren’t helping him. The public deserves more.”

Amen.

Commentary, News

There was some great news from Washington late yesterday: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit handed down a major victory for the Obama administration’s anti-climate change efforts (and a defeat for North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and other conservative governors trying to derail those efforts). As AP’s Michael Biesecker reports:

“In what environmentalists hailed as a victory for efforts to curb climate change, an appeals panel in Washington on Thursday rebuffed efforts to delay enforcement of President Barack Obama’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions until legal challenges are resolved.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order denying requests for a stay that would have barred the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing the Clean Power Plan.”

For a detailed explanation of where the case stands, including a look at the panel of judges who will ultimately decide it, check out “Obama Just Got Very Good News About His Environmental Policies From A Federal Court” by Ian Millhiser at Think Progress.

And for a closer look at Gov. McCrory’s destructive efforts to torpedo the Clean Power Plan, click here.