Commentary

Must read: Veteran journalist says GOP tax cuts feed “cancer of inequality”

Hedrick Smith, a truly great American journalist who, among many other positions, once served as Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, is out with some new and scathing analysis of the GOP tax schemes making their way through Congress.

In his latest post, Smith derides the tax cut plans as feeding America’s “cancer of inequality.”

Here are some of the more powerful excerpts:

“The most lethal damage to American society embedded in the Republican tax plan now being rushed through Congress is that it will metastasize the cancerous economic inequality that has been eating away at the health and fabric of American democracy over four decades.

Three years ago, in his monumental work, Capital in the 21st Century, the French economist Thomas Piketty warned that ‘When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income,… capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.’

As evidence, Piketty points to the tumor of concentrated wealth accumulated by American’s super-rich 1% since the late 1970s while middle class incomes have stagnated. Despite long-term growth, his studies show the impact of wedge economics: Trillions of dollars have shifted from the middle class paychecks to ballooning stock grants for CEOs and the bulging portfolios of billionaires….

Piketty’s analysis pin-points the fatal pathology built into the Republican tax plan: Its focus on corporate tax cuts will accelerate the malignancy of inequality….this is a tax cut engineered to fuel what Professor Piketty warned is the most dangerous dynamic of modern market capitalism – skyrocketing gains for investors earned at the expense of slow-growing pay for most people who work for a living. It’s bound to lead, he says, to a self-perpetuating American plutocracy, like the 18th century European aristocracy and “hierarchy of wealth” portrayed by Jane Austen and Balzac, Dickens and Victor Hugo.

That scenario mocks the economic populism that powered Donald Trump’s race for the Presidency and that won the support of working class, blue-collar and rural Americans – the tens of millions left jobless or financially disabled by the rush of American multi-national corporations to cash in on globalization.

For all his mouthy, ostentatious anti-elitism, Trump has shelved campaign populism to forge an alliance with the Republican political establishment on behalf of the super rich, who bankrolled critical GOP campaign victories in 2016 and kept Congress in Republican hands…. Read more

Commentary

Not a joke: Local conservative group attacks Giving Tuesday as “leftist idea”

Art Pope’s Civitas Institute is out with another “you can’t make this stuff up” doozy this morning. The fun folks who gave North Carolina an anti-Semitic online hate rag known as the Carolina Plotthound are now attacking that nefarious commie plot, Giving Tuesday.

This is from an email sent out this morning by the group’s soon-to-be-retired president, Francis De Luca:

“While giving to charity is good and noble, being ‘guilted’ into giving to charity is not, and that’s what #givingtuesday is all about: transforming ‘giving’ into ‘giving back’.

The phrase ‘give-back’ comes from the leftist idea that individuals can’t achieve success on their own; that successful people must have taken advantage of others to get where they are; and that they have an obligation to ‘return’ some of their wealth to those they took it from.

The Left has used this idea as a fundraising tactic for decades. But conservatives believe the exact opposite:

  1. We are individuals, not part of a collective or ‘societal family’,
  2. The fruits of our labor are ours to do with what we please, and
  3. Our choice to support a cause we believe in is not made out of guilt or obligation.”

He then goes on to say that “At Civitas, we’ve never said you should support us because you ought to, and we’ve never taken a dime of taxpayer money like the Left does.” He closes with a plea for cash.

To which, all a sane person can say in response is: Wow. Just wow. De Luca’s diatribe is so downright delusional and disturbing in so many ways, it’s hard to list them all in one place.

Suffice it to say, however, that billions of humans all over the world have been giving of their time, talent and treasure to charitable purposes since the beginning of the species and that each person’s motivations are unique. Let’s hope it remains that way.

To say, however, that people should not acknowledge that they are connected to (and bear an obligation to) their fellow humans is a truly remarkable statement and sadly, precisely what one would expect from a group that champions the presidency of the nation’s crown prince of morally bankrupt greed and malignant narcissism, Donald Trump.

Simply unbelievable.

Commentary

The Right’s assault on an independent judiciary keeps hitting new lows

Ned Barnett, the outstanding editorial page editor for Raleigh’s News & Observer had one of his best columns yesterday. In “An independent judiciary is under siege in Washington and NC,” Barnett shines a light on the relentless Republican crusade to turn the federal and state courts into a repository of partisan conservative lapdogs.

After exploring the outrageous politicization of the federal courts that Republicans inflicted on the nation during the Obama years (punctuated by the lawless blockade of Merrick Garland), Barnett argues that things in Raleigh are even worse. Here’s the conclusion to his essay:

“In North Carolina, the effort to politicize the judiciary is even more brazen. The Republican-led General Assembly has made judicial elections partisan and moved to gerrymander judicial election districts. Meanwhile, Republicans are proposing a constitutional amendment to have judges at all levels run for election every two years, rather than the current intervals of four or eight years. The frequent elections, in which there would be no primaries, would turn judges into permanent partisan candidates and their races into multiple-candidate carnivals.

Some judges think the extreme call for two-year elections is really intended to get judges to support being appointed by the legislature instead. Appointed judges can be a good thing when the appointments are based on merit as determined by an independent commission. But North Carolina’s judiciary would become hopelessly partisan if judge selection is left to the legislature’s majority party.

Donald Stephens, a Democrat who recently retired after 33 years on the bench in Wake County, has sounded a loud alarm about a likely legislative grab for judicial appointment power. Speaking at a recent forum in Raleigh sponsored by the nonprofit group Policy Watch, Stephens said, ‘Although they will call it ‘merit selection,’ I assure you it will be partisan selection. It would be a disaster.’

State Rep Joe John, (D-Wake), who was elected to the legislature in 2016 after serving 25 years a a judge, said at the same event, ‘the North Carolina judiciary is under siege’ as Republicans seek ‘to rip the blindfold of impartiality from Lady Justice.’

The law is a powerful thing, but the legitimacy of the judges who interpret it rests on a delicate public perception of judicial independence. Those who would turn the judicial branch into a party wing will destroy what they claim they’re improving.

Judges, lawyers, law professors and lawmakers must make a major push to preserve and protect the Constitutions of the United States and North Carolina by preserving and protecting an independent judiciary.”

Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend

Everyone saw this coming when Republican lawmakers rammed through their ill-considered scheme last spring, but as a fine editorial in the Sunday Greensboro News & Record reminded us yesterday, the negative impacts of the plan to mandate smaller classes in grades K-3 without actually providing funding to do it are now taking their toll in our public schools.

This is from “Where is the money for smaller classes?”:

“The state legislature set requirements both for smaller average class sizes in grades K-3 and caps on how large any individual class could be, but it provided no resources to make that happen. Perhaps lawmakers thought there would be no cost. They quickly heard otherwise — so forcefully, in fact, that they delayed enforcement of their provisions from 2016 to this school year, when partial compliance was required.

At their retreat last weekend, Guilford County school board members heard from staff that it cost $8 million to meet this year’s mandate of 20 children per K-3 class, on average, and no more than 24 in any class. The bill will be much higher next year if the legislature keeps its promise to require a sharper class-size reduction in 2018….

Schools can save money if they eliminate enrichment classes and teachers, or let classes in higher grades grow larger, which would allow them to move teachers from upper grades to lower ones. The legislature put no restrictions on that. But robbing Peter to pay Paul isn’t a fair or effective strategy, although it may be a necessary one given insufficient resources.”

The editorial goes on to note that this is just business as usual for legislative Republicans who love to fund statewide tax cuts (mostly for the rich) by shifting responsibilities onto local governments. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“Finding funds isn’t the only problem created by the class-size order. Compliance is difficult. If a class has its absolute maximum of 24 students, it only takes one child to transfer in to a school to push it out of compliance. Often, classes have to be rearranged in mid-year, which can be an unsettling experience for all students.

As an abstract idea, holding classes in primary grades to fewer than 20 students is a winner. In practice, it’s less than ideal if the classroom teacher loses a teaching assistant, if there’s less time for music or art instruction or if two classes have to be combined and a room designed for 25 children ends up with 38 students and two teachers, producing a crowded and chaotic environment.

And pity the poor middle school teacher who has classes of 30 or more students by herself because more resources have to be shifted from her school to elementary schools.

The solution to this dilemma is simple: The legislature should fund its mandate. With more than $1 billion stashed in reserves, the state can afford to put money behind its policy. In fact, it has an obligation.”

Commentary, News

As conservative legislators ignore sea level rise, locals move ahead without them

There is a somewhat encouraging story on sea level rise that’s worth your time this week in a Wilmington-based Port City Daily. In “How the Wilmington area deals with rising seas and an increasing number of floods,” reporter Benjamin Schachtman explains how local officials are planning and preparing for the inevitable rising waters that will impact coastal North Carolina more and more in the coming years.

This is from the story:

“Phil Prete was the Environmental Planner for City of Wilmington for 13 years, and helped direct the city’s response to rising sea levels.

‘Probably the most important thing, the first thing, when it comes to planning is not to look the other way, to actually address sea level rise and plan for the future,’ Prete said. ‘The next thing is to look to our neighbors. Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Charleston.’

Prete helped direct the city’s Community Resilience Pilot Project. The 2012-2013 project ultimately pulled in New Hanover County and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, and focused heavily on vulnerable infrastructure.

‘I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of that project. It was pretty much what I considered to be state of the art modeling at the time,’ Prete said.

The story goes on to detail some of the steps that Wilmington-area public officials and Duke Energy have begun to take to help protect public infrastructure. All in all, it’s a pretty encouraging story and, hopefully, emblematic of the kinds of actions coastal communities will be taking all over the planet.

But, of course, what’s obviously missing from the story is any kind of news regarding action by state lawmakers in Raleigh. As the story notes, a 2012 law enacted by Republican lawmakers “blocked state-level agencies from using predictive methods to determine the possible impact of rising sea levels.”

And nothing has really changed since. Not only do conservative politicians like Phil Berger and Tim Moore (and Donald Trump) remain in a criminally negligent state of denial about rising seas, their willful, head-in-the-sand ignorance carries over to one of the main underlying causes of the impending crisis: human-induced global warming.

The bottom line: When it comes to public service and leadership, there is noting more important than protecting the safety of the citizenry and the sustainability of the communities they inhabit. And on this front, conservative climate change deniers in power in Raleigh and Washington have made it plain that their dereliction of duty will continue. Let’s hope/pray/demand that local officials continue to step up to the plate in their stead.